Politicians, experts stress need to reinvent the Arab League

Sunday 17/07/2016
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C-L) and Palestinian chief negotiator, Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Saeb Erekat (2-L), and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi (2-R) speak during a meeting of Arab foreign m

Cairo - Changing conditions in the region, the failure of the Arab League to solve problems and the threats faced by its member states have created an urgent need for a new regional system away from the Arab League, analysts and politicians say.

The Arab world is not what it was 20 years ago, the nature of the chal­lenges faced are not the same and some Arab states are about to be wiped off the map, the analysts and politicians add.

“This is about time the Arabs thought of creating their own new regional system, one that is more capable of dealing with the nature of changing conditions in this re­gion,” said Saad al-Zunt, head of the Cairo think-tank Centre for Political Studies. “The Arab League does not play an effective role in holding the Arabs together or even solving their problems anymore.”

When it was founded in 1944, the Arab League aimed to strengthen relations among its member states — nine at the time — and coordinate policies to safeguard their inde­pendence. The league also sought to bolster economic, cultural and social cooperation among its mem­bers.

However, 72 years after its emer­gence, the league, which now has 22 members, has achieved none of these objectives, analysts say. It is turning into a pot of Arab contra­dictions and differences, they add.

The league had no functional mechanism to prevent the US oc­cupation of Iraq in 2003. Some Arab states helped occupy the country to get rid of Saddam Hussein, the Sun­ni-Arab ruler who, after the occupa­tion of Kuwait in 1990, was seen as a problem for Arab sheikhdoms in the Gulf.

The occupation of Iraq opened a regional inferno, one fuelled by sec­tarian differences in a region need­ing only a minor spark to explode.

When they left Iraq in 2011, US and allied troops had turned the country into a number of sectarian and ethnic cantons, which contrib­uted to the emergence of radical organisations such as the Islamic State (ISIS), analysts claimed.

The sectarian and ethnic malaise inflamed conflicts in other Arab countries, including Syria and Yem­en, where the crisis initially took on a political and economic nature. Here, too, the Arab League does not sway the course of events or have a mechanism through which it can end the bloodshed.

The Arab League sanctioned an international coalition to strike the Libyan Army in March 2011. Five years later, Libya faces an uncertain future with the country divided, having two governments, parlia­ments and two armies and ISIS ex­panding its influence in the coun­try. In March, Libya had its third government with the formation of the UN-backed Fayez al-Sarraj gov­ernment.

Perhaps aware of the waning power of the league, Morocco in February said it would not host, as scheduled, the next Arab summit. Moroccan Ambassador in Cairo Saad al-Alami said the decision should encourage Arabs to create new realities.

“The Arab world needs reawak­ening,” Alami told the private CBC TV in March. “This reawakening should be brought about by the col­lective will of the Arabs.”

He said his country decided to not host the summit, usually the peak of Arab political, economic and military cooperation, after ana­lysing realities of the situation.

“Morocco was obliged to ring the alarm and it did this publicly and in a transparent manner,” he said.

Observers and politicians famil­iar with inter-Arab relations agreed with Alami. Omar Metwali, a former Egyptian assistant foreign minister, said Morocco was confident that nothing valuable would come out of the summit.

“Smaller organisations, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council, are proving more effective than the Arab League,” Metwali said. “These organisations are effective be­cause they include states that have shared security, economic, political and strategic interests.”

This is probably why Zunt called for discarding the league and creat­ing a number of smaller organisa­tions, ones that could strengthen the collective security and econo­mies of states within the same geo­graphic zones.

“North African Arab states, for example, can have their own grouping, which will integrate them at the political, economic and military levels,” he said. “Countries within the Arab Peninsula can do the same.”

Other observers warn against this, saying replacing the league with smaller organisations will fragment Arabs even more and do away with their aspired unity.

“The strength of the league pri­marily depends on the strength of its chief,” politician Gamal Bayoumi said. “Against all odds, the league plays a role in integrating the Arabs economically and coordinates their anti-terrorism efforts.”