The Arab League Stuck in Flawed, Ineffective Role

Abdelkader Zaoui
Abdelkader Zaoui

The Arab League Stuck in Flawed, Ineffective Role

The announcement of the delay of the Arab summit scheduled to be held in Algeria in March has revealed the depth of the fundamental political differences that afflict inter-Arab relations.

It once again underscored the weak and fragile joint Arab action institutions and their inability to launch initiatives or submit proposals that would at least curb the differences if they cannot bridge the rifts among conflicting parties.

The weakness and fragility of these institutions, topped by the Arab League (AL), is not new. It dates back to the League’s establishment in World War II, during which the borders and sovereignty of many world countries were violated.

The main reason behind its formation was to serve as an effective tool to enable its member states to defend the sovereignty of their homelands. It also aimed at securing a peaceful evacuation of the troops deployed by the major powers from their military bases established on Arab territories and providing support to the occupied Arab countries to gain their independence and liberate their lands.

The AL Charter presented this approach in its second Article, which pointed out that the organization was established to bolster relations between and among Arab member states, coordinate political plans to achieve cooperation and protect their independence and sovereignty, and consider the Arab states’ general affairs and interests.

It also listed the possible fields of cooperation in the economic, social, cultural, health, and other affairs, while taking into account each country’s internal regulations and conditions.

But the goodwill to establish an effective framework for joint Arab action did not last long although the AL was keen to carry out the tasks entrusted to it in a way that could build up the collective spirit. It helped many Arab peoples gain their independence politically and diplomatically and formed a legal arsenal necessary to open promising prospects for joint cooperation, topped by the 1950 Arab League Treaty of Joint Defense and Economic Cooperation.

Its inability to last long is due to several factors, some of which are linked to the structure of the official Arab regional system and its flaws, while others are associated with the international and regional conditions in which the Arab countries found themselves immersed.

Most of the differences among these counties are due to the greed in the region and attempts to control its natural resources (oil and gas).

The region has also become a battlefield resulting from the conflicting interests of international and regional powers wishing to extend their influence or impose their hegemony.

The internal Arab factors behind the AL’s weakness and its transformation into a flabby bureaucratic body emerged during the initial consultations to establish it. Some wanted it to serve as a framework for building a comprehensive unity, while others wanted it to be an optional forum for consultation, cooperation, and coordination of stances.

Therefore, this divergence of views was reflected in a set of legal loopholes contained in some of its charter’s main articles, the most important which are those related to the decision-making system and the settlement of disputes.

These articles were formulated in a way that responds to the concerns and reservations expressed by most of the founding states and comes in line with their keenness to maintain their sovereignty and modern independence.

The decision-making system had proven useless when it required a unanimous vote on substantive issues, which according to experiences is impossible to achieve.

In terms of decisions on procedural issues, the AL decided they require a majority vote, and it exempted the member states that voted No to implement them. Thus, the states’ will overpowers the League’s in a way that makes voting on the decisions pointless.

The articles drafted on dispute settlement procedures are also non-binding, rendering powerless the AL role in settling inter-Arab disputes.

Article 5 of the Charter restricted the League’s intervention in any settlement to the consent of the conflicting parties to resort to it. Therefore, over its 78 years of service, the League has interfered in a very limited number of Arab disputes, due to the reluctance of most Arab countries to refer to it to settle their differences.

The predominance of the territorial trend in all Arab countries made the largest institution of their joint work (AL) just an empty structure. The AL’s successive secretariats did not have the courage to submit proposals to activate it.

They could not even maintain, in some critical disputes, the minimum level of consensus among the member states, creating deep rifts within the Arab body that resulted in two opposite axes.

The first included republic regimes that described themselves as revolutionary and progressive, and the second included other regimes that are mostly hereditary with moderate policies, which the first considered as retro.

This policy of axes has caused a sharp division within the Arab regional system. It was fueled by the Cold War that broke out after the Second World War between the Western and Socialist camps and the variance in Arab stances.

This division contributed to consolidating the image of the Arab world as an open arena that is easy to manipulate and control.

This was evident in the first serious test during the Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The division then developed into a complete fragmentation of the institutions of the Arab regional system, which no longer suffers from its many flaws, but has become paralyzed.

Neither its flaws nor its ineffectiveness helped change its role. All the organizations across the world experience contradictive situations. Some are considered incentives that enable them to overcome their setbacks, while others are considered obstacles that could curb their recovery. A successful organization is the one that knows how to develop the incentives and address the obstacles.

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