Friday, February 18, 2005

The Inconsequential Existence of the Arab League


To understand the state and legacy of the Arab League today, one should revisit the cause for its existence in the first place. This is an organization that was formed in 1944-45 to promote “the unity of the Arab world” in order to face threats during a time of grave international dangers including World War II, European Imperialism, and the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was, as the website of the organization explains, created to counter the ‘Zionist threat’ and the European imperialist designs on the region. The organization stipulates that its creation was also motivated by the desire to coordinate the "growing volume of commercial exchange and transfer of individuals between the Arab East countries”. Nonetheless, this remains an organization of which the genesis is primarily based on the premise of war and resistance and NOT that of fostering a new path for the development of the Arab people. It is, then, no surprise that the failure and irrelevance of the Arab League can be attributed to:

1. The failure of the Nasserist (Arab Nationalist) movement, which sided with the Soviets in the Cold War, and

2. The military defeats suffered by Arab armies in their conflict against Israel.

The only decision of consequence that the Arab League has ever made was calling for the oil embargo of 1973. The inspiration and motive for the only unified decision of international consequence by Arab governments was war against Israel. Since then, the Arab league’s cause for existence slowly eroded and its membership became increasingly polarized. On one hand, you had the revolutionary nationalists who courted the Soviet Union and on the other you had traditional monarchies seeking Western protection from local dissidents and Communist influence. Then there was obviously the oil-rich versus the desert poor, the modernists versus the traditionalists, the religious versus the secularists, and later those who formally recognized Israel versus those who continue to vehemently deny its existence. With so much division, it is a surprise to many that such an organization can still exist today. But, It is with a degree of confidence that we can say that what held the League together is the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Now that some of its members have elected to negotiate peace with Israel on an individual basis (Egypt-1979, Jordan-1994, and Palestine-ongoing), the league has become irrelevant on the issue that has come to define its very existence for the past half century. In addition, Libya presses on with threats and tantrums to quit the organization.

Whether it is regional conflict, human development, political reform, humanitarian aid, market integration, or economic development, the Arab League has been embarrassingly ineffective. On Palestine, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan, to cite a few, the Arab League has been shamefully incompetent and decidedly impotent. On the atrocious crimes committed in the backyard of one of its members, the league manages to find the audacity to ignore the plight of the people of Darfur who are being exterminated by Arab militias with the helpful hand of the Sudanese government. On Iraq, the league has long ignored the plight of the Iraqis when they were brutalized by the Saddam regime and are today inconsequential in that country’s political future. Most importantly, on ending tyranny, undertaking political reform and serving the long-term interests of its people, the Arab league would rather focus on blaming the West than take a hard look at itself. On democratic reform, they would rather "denounce" the West for "trying to impose democracy" than develop a common agenda that aims to usher their members into a new era of good governance. It has gotten so bad that anything and everything now is blamed on the U.S. and Israel. If someone were to fall and break an arm, Israel would surely have something to do with it!

This is now in the realm of the ridiculous and the Arab World needs to come to grips with its failures, past and present. The biggest challenge facing Arab countries, today, is undoubtedly human development. After more than 40 years of independence from European colonialism, the legacy of Arab governments is one of tyranny, human rights abuses, poverty, ignorance, and extremism. Unless the Arab world collectively accepts its responsibility in creating the swamp of misery, poverty, and hate that it is has become, any hope for a better tomorrow would be but a distant mirage. The Arab league will convene in Algiers on the 22nd and 23rd of March. Some still hope that the organization will finally make headlines by announcing a roadmap to democratic reform, taking concrete steps to stop the genocide in Darfur, formulating strategies to resolve territorial disputes among its members, define its responsibilities towards Iraq's security and political stability, and react decisively to the Syrian-Lebanese issue. I am not under such illusion.


Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Personally, I'm suspicious of any such organizations, because in many cases a few weaker members tend to rally around one or two dominant ones. The dominant ones are more interested in power than in brotherhood. One failed attempt at unity was Pan-Slavism, with Russia as a dominant force, mostly interested in promoting its own ambitions. Perhaps individual nationalism would be somewhat more productive...

February 21, 2005


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