The league’s membership has had to wrestle with questions about how to rebuild Syria’s shattered infrastructure and economy — an undertaking that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars — and what to do about the more than five million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.
Those questions were always going to be extra-fraught at a summit meeting in Lebanon, where the three major political and religious camps — Christian, Shiite Muslim and Sunni Muslim — have been so deadlocked, in part over Lebanese-Syrian relations, that they have failed to form a government for eight months and counting.
Mr. Assad’s government enjoys the support of Shiite-dominated factions in Lebanon and beyond, and in the weeks before the summit, Lebanon’s Parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, a Shiite, called for the whole event to be postponed until Syria was invited. What was the point of discussing Syrian reconstruction and refugees, Mr. Berri asked, if Syria was absent?
He earned nothing but irritated shushings from Lebanon’s Christian president and Sunni prime minister, who were anxious to present the host country in a good light.
There was not much either the president or prime minister could do, however, about the supporters of Mr. Berri’s party, Amal, who threatened to block the Libyans at the airport if they tried to fly in, and then burned a Libyan flag for good measure.
They were aggrieved about a four-decade-old incident in which a revered Lebanese Shiite leader, Musa al-Sadr, disappeared on a trip to see Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. Mr. Qaddafi was killed in the 2011 Libyan uprising, but Lebanese Shiites say Libya’s current government could do more to investigate Mr. Sadr’s disappearance.
Perhaps understandably, Libya soon announced that it would decline to attend. Then, one by one, the Arab presidents and kings sent their regrets, until only the presidents of Mauritania and Somalia remained on the guest list. (A leaders’ summit is held each year, but the economic and social development conference that Beirut was hosting takes place only periodically.)