The Arab League breaks with the past and attempts a rebirth

Daily News Egypt
7 Min Read

With the United States Congress appealing to Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa for intervention in Darfur, and with Moussa’s offer to provide peacekeeping troops, one gets the impression that the League is finally taking itself seriously.

Historically, the Arab League has been perceived as quasi-legitimate due to its western alliances, since Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan remain cozy with the US Its tardy and toothless chastisement of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon proved for critics its pro-Western inclinations. But with its peacekeeping offer last week, and Moussa’s high-level negotiations with Sudan President Bashir, it appears that the League is attempting a rebirth.

Arab states of the Middle East and North Africa have long lacked strong regional representation on the world stage, while practically every other region enjoys the protection of economic and political powerhouses. Consequently, the Arab League might learn a thing or two from peer precedent:

Europe’s oldest political organization founded in the wake of World War II – the Council of Europe – is comprised of 46 democracies that place primary import on the rule of law and guarantee fundamental human rights and freedoms to their citizens. The lesson for the League? Model a modest mission statement akin to the Council’s, remembering to highlight human rights and individual freedoms. Such a proposition will undoubtedly garner much resistance from Western-allied members like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose citizens lack key freedoms, but it is worth the risk and the publics certainly deserve it.

Asia’s active economic organization, the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) places primary emphasis on the vital and unexploited linkages between “economic growth, social progress and cultural development . The lesson for the League? Connect the dots between economic growth, social progress and cultural development. For too long, the League’s richest players, Gulf countries specifically, have dwelled on oil-dependent economic growth while ignoring socio-cultural institutional development. The region is indisputably rich with socio-cultural resources. So start exploiting.

Americas’ young yet vibrant Organization of American States (OAS) has championed the motto “Peace, Justice and Solidarity in the Americas since 1994, and with good reason. The OAS has helped keep South America fairly free of major conflict by promoting good governance, expanding trade, and addressing complex problems caused by poverty, drugs and corruption. The lesson for the League? Focus on the “complex problems. The Middle East and North Africa are desperately impoverished and in need of immediate assistance. Moreover, eradicating poverty will solve many of the security threats plaguing the region.

Africa’s struggling African Union (AU), the youngest of all regional organizations (established in 1999), is enduring a temporary test in Darfur of its long-term regional viability. Not dissimilar to aforementioned organizations, the AU promotes solidarity among states, safeguards territorial integrity, and coordinates development. Most uniquely, however, the AU aims to “ride the continent of the remaining vestiges of colonization and apartheid and “to promote international cooperation within the framework of the United Nations . The lesson for the League? Examine for residual colonialism; Western prowess must be extricated from the region in order for the League to gain respect from all member states. A second lesson: engage the UN Frequent trips to UN headquarters are a must if the League desires appropriate international attention to regional issues.

Until the Arab League is able to emulate effective regional organizations, there are issues to remedy in the meantime. First, and quite simply, the League’s website lacks an English version (it’s under construction) which is sorely indicative of the League’s lack of professionalism and accessibility among non-Arabic speaking publics. The websites of the Council of Europe, ASEAN, OAS or AU all offer a comprehensive English translation in addition to their native languages. This is easily fixed, yet critical if the League wants to be taken seriously.

Second, the Arab League’s inability to ensure Arab consensus on the recent Secretary General vote at the UN, in which Arab consensus in favor of Prince Zeid Al Hussein of Jordan was undermined by Qatar opposition, highlights the need for improvement in the consensus-building mechanisms among member states. A united Arab appeal for the Prince would have gone far in establishing a formidable Arab front at the UN and paved the way for future Arab alliances on UN-related matters. Third, last month’s resignation of Ambassador Mokhtar Lamani, the League’s representative to Iraq, due to lack of funding and organizational vision, heralds a substantial decrease in League attention to one of the most critical issues facing Middle East stability, that of the Iraq war. The League’s Iraq office was mandated to bring together representatives of Iraq’s ethnic and religious-based political groups. The League must waste no time in reinvigorating its Iraq program. As the death toll mounts (600,000 by recent findings) and as the US commits its troops until year 2010, League absence is inexcusable, especially because Iraq is a founding member.

Conceived in 1945 to “Serve the common good of all Arab countries, ensure better conditions for all Arab countries, guarantee the future of all Arab countries and fulfill the hopes and expectations of all Arab countries , the Arab League seems to have lost its luster somewhere along the way. With last week’s events, however, it appears the League is beckoning a comeback. If so, it better be in good form soon, because it is needed now more than ever. Iraq, Somalia, and Palestine are waiting.

Michael Shank is a PhD student at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.

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