All talk, no action: Time to rethink, restructure the Arab League
Regardless of the resolutions that the Arab Summit in Kuwait will adopt on Palestine, Syria, terrorism and economic and social development and others, few in the vast Arab world, and beyond, will take notice. Most likely most of these resolutions will join hundreds others that Arab leaders had adopted over the years, most of which have never been carried out.
Most certainly the burden on the host country, Kuwait, to achieve consensus and accord on some of the contentious issues that member states face will be huge. And as has been the case for so many years, Arab leaders meet at a time when the region is facing critical challenges, but what will surface after all said and done is one bitter truth: Arabs remain a divided nation and the Arab League is proving to be an irrelevant institution.
The club that is the Arab League is the oldest regional organization in the modern era — at 69 years it is older than the UN. But throughout its turbulent history it has often reflected inter-Arab squabbling rather than their common goals and the aspirations of millions of Arabs across two continents. In every field that matters; education, culture, science, economic unity and integration and others, the Arab League has been found wanting.
The goals and objectives are often contradictory and bitter political rivalries have often forced the Arab League off its course. The Arab League has failed to evolve from the time of its birth in post World War II world to the present. More often than not it underlined inter-Arab differences over ideological and political issues. Today is no different. The Arab Spring has crippled the pan-Arab organization. Few countries have been spared the tsunami-like changes that swept through the region in the past three years, and even before. The US occupation of Iraq has divided the Arab League and scuttled its efforts to reach accord on regional issues.
And the recent toppling of regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen has brought new challenges to the Arab world. But such issues are rarely discussed in the Arab League or at Arab summits. As a rule member states cannot interfere in the internal issues of other members. And thus the biggest geopolitical event that has rocked the foundations of the Arab world today is barely discussed in the highest Arab forum. Iraq’s slow disintegration is off limits. Libya’s quick turn into a failed state is its own problem. The plight of Somalia is a crisis better left for the international community. Even the recent dispute between Gulf countries, which threatens the integrity of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), is not on the agenda.
Palestine is one cause that the Arab League had embraced from the onset. And yet, after more than 60 years, it remains the organization’s biggest failure. There were historic instances; the Khartoum summit of 1967 with its famous rejections of any peaceful settlement. And there were others like the 2002 adoption of the Arab Peace Initiative in the Lebanon summit. There was the 1974 Rabat summit, which recognized the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. And there was the Baghdad summit in 1990, which pledged unprecedented support to the Palestinians. But these were fleeting moments of accord in a rather troubled and divided history of the Arab League.
When tested, the Arab League often failed to rise to the occasion. That happened when Iraq invaded sovereign member Kuwait in 1990. And it happened before when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and waged war on Gaza in 2008. The League’s deficiencies are structural and legal. Its charter limits its movement. The fact that it is a club of 22 states with few things in common is another weakness. For more than three years the Arab League was unable to deal with the Syrian debacle. It had failed to mediate or present a solution. Today the League remains divided even after more than 150,000 Syrians had perished in the civil war. If it can’t solve such problems then what is it good for?
The Arab League could never move beyond its present limitations. It can never become another European Union (EU) because it lacks the political will to do so. The Arab League is indeed irrelevant after almost 70 years since its birth. It had done little to bring Arabs together or achieve economic integration and pan Arab social and cultural development. This is why it has failed to affect political, social and economic development in the Arab world today. A region so vast and versatile still lacks an organization that fulfills the aspirations of over 400 million of its citizens.
By Osama Al Sharif