The Arab League is a weak organization with no notable success but rather status quo and failures in many occasions. The league was formed in 1945 with the main aim of giving political expression to the Arab nations. According to Sayegh (1958), "The original drive behind the league was given by the British in 1942 who hoped to rally the Arab nations against the Axis powers; however the league did not form until the final months of World War II". "The original charter members were Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Although not an original signatory of the charter because he represented no official government, a representative of Palestinian Arabs was given full status and a vote in the Arab League" (Sayegh 1958). The league was a brain child of colonial powers. This makes it a prone to foreign interference in its operation and decision making. This paper takes a critical analysis of Arab league as a weak organization and the influence of Nasser, Saddam, UN and international community in the affaires of Arab league. This paper further analyzes the league instability to strike a decisive action on its member states.
Organization of the league and its weaknesses
"Arab league is organized in a council, committees, and a permanent secretariat; the secretariat currently has its headquarters in Cairo" (Sayegh 1958). Each member country has got one vote which hold similar weight. "The Arab league has got constitution spells out provides coordination among the signatory nations in the areas of education, finance, law, trade, and foreign policy, and it forbids the use of force to settle disputes among members" (Sayegh 1958).
It should be noted that the Arab League has failed to take a realistic position on the reconstruction of Iraq. "It has not discussed any humanitarian aid plan and has not discussed what role the Arabs would play in reconstruction. Furthermore, no member-state has dared discuss democracy in debating the new Iraqi government's future" (Go, and Davis, 2009). It has even become a taboo for Middle Eastern journalists to propose that their may be beneficial outcomes to the war. "Hala Mustafa, an analyst at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo said she was struck by the Arabs' unwillingness to debate What next? and their failure to offer creative responses to the opportunities and dangers presented by Hussein's overthrow" (Nash, 2010). Emad Shahin, an Arab specialist at the American University in Cairo said the current crisis offers the 22-member Arab League an opportunity to regain relevancy by formulating a common strategy on Iraq. Unfortunately, the Arab League has failed to take advantage of this bid for legitimacy by failing to address the pertinent issues (Go, and Davis, 2009).
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Nasser and Arab League
Nasser manipulated Arab league to help him further his political ambitions in the region rather than fighting for the whole organization and Arab community. This is evidenced by a number of his behaviors and how he governed Egypt affairs with the backing of Arab league. "It was Suez that made Nasser a magnet of Arabism by making him the dominant leader in the Arab world and his leadership was not based on any constitutional or institutional foundations"(Toffolo, 2008). It was based on the consent of the Arab masses through the traditional cultural practice of bay'a (acclamation) when choosing a tribal sheikh or a Caliph with a unique exception, there was not any processions or formalities involved.
The strong reactions of the Arab people to Nasser's Campaign against Baghdad Pact made Nasser more convinced to foster links between Egypt and the Arabs. The Egyptian Constitution of January 1956 identified Egypt as an "Arab" country. The preamble reads:" We the Egyptian People who recognize our existence within the great Arab world, we appreciate our responsibilities and commitment to join forces with our Arab fellows to achieve dignity and glory of Arab nation" .The First article stated that "Egypt is an Arab sovereign state , and the Egyptian people are part of the Arab nation". "The constitution marked a turning point in Egypt's previous affiliation to a territorial nationalism, a departure from Egyptianism to Arabism. This closer linking of the Egyptians and Arabs was an asset of Nasser's leadership of Arab people" (Toffolo, 2008).Suez brought Egypt and other Arab countries closer together in two ways. It confirmed Nasser's belief that Arab solidarity was an indispensable part of Egyptian national security, not only for defense against Israel, but also because of the deterrent effort on the West of Arab control of oil-fields and pipelines.
Toffolo,(2008) states, "there is no evidence that Arab solidarity made him think about its value as a decisive military asset against Israel, because there was not any indication of military confrontation with Israel in his statements or actions other than calling for commitment to UN resolutions regarding Palestine". The sympathies aroused by Suez and the admiration for Nasser's success in handling the crisis had created a new emotional bond between Egyptians and other Arabs, especially in Syria. "Nasser has been encouraged by his Suez success to widen the dimensions of his Arab role taking advantage of the weakness and instability of the other Arab states through an active Arab policy" (Toffolo, 2008). His main target was to strengthen Arab position on international political arena and prevent any attempts to drag the region into the spheres of influence of great Powers.
Saddam and Arab league
Saddam Hussein positioned himself as a powerful member of the Arab league and constantly held the organization at ransom. This is because he furthered his political ambition as well as economical ambition with then help of the league. Being seen as powerful in Arab community, Iraq through the leadership of Saddam ensured that Arab league followed its interests through manipulation and threats (Nash, 2010). The league being weak and toothless could not take any decisive action against rebellious behaviors by Iraq for instance during Iraq Iran war. This significantly shows the extend to which this Arab league is held ransom by a few member states yet in the chatter which created it, each member state has got one vote which has got similar weight.
Arab League Failed plans in Israel
Toffolo, (2008) illustrates that, "During the inception year of the Arab league, it took a position supporting Syria and Lebanon in their disputes with France and also demanded an independent Libya". Later, in 1961, "it supported Tunisia in a conflict with France. From the beginning years the league made public its opposition to Israel and offered its support towards the formation of a Palestinian States with a majority Arab population" (Toffolo, 2008). "Shortly after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 the league countries jointly attacked it, but Israel resisted the multi-faced attack successfully" (Toffolo, 2008). "The league continued to maintain a boycott of Israel and of companies trading with Israel. The summit conferences of 1964-65 established a joint Arab military command, which has failed to provide a unified strategy towards the formation of a State of Palestine" (Toffolo, 2008).
"Egypt's membership in the League was suspended from 1979 to 1989 because of its treaty with Israel, and the league's headquarters were temporarily moved to Tunis" (Toffolo, 2008). In 1988, the league endorsed the PLO's plan for a negotiated settlement with Israel, and therefore returned its headquarters to Cairo in 1991. After much debate, the league ultimately supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). However the league remained divided over the Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the ensuing Persian Gulf War.
However Kuwait, instead of welcoming this apology and joining forces with Iraq as Saddam had hoped, instead labeled the apology as "efforts to create disorder amongst the leadership and people of Kuwait." Arab League chief Moussa declined any involvement in the Iraq Kuwait issue, responding to questions about the confrontation by stating: "It is not obliged for the Arab League to make any statement on what Saddam is talking about. My stance is clear that it is imperative for Iraq to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions." This example illustrates the hesitation that the Arab League had shown in attempting to resolve any conflict within its member nations. "By completely avoiding the issue, the Arab League let the hostility between the nations grow which led to further complications as the war approached" (Toffolo, 2008).
In the weeks prior to the war, Kuwaiti and Iraqi delegates were openly insulting one another at Arab League meetings. Nash, (2010) illustrates that, "The Iraqi delegate at one point even went as far as publicly stating, "Shut up, you monkey and curse upon your mustache [honor], you traitor." Certainly when one is invoking primates and speaking of another delegate's mustache, things have gotten far out of hand.
An additional factor creating tensions and mistrust within the Arab League in the months leading up to the war was the situation in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians. According to columnist Liu Yunfei, as quoted by (Nash, 2010) "The negative factors to the Mideast peace process caused a heavy blow to confidence on the side of the Arabs, and consequently channels criticism to the Arab League." Sayed Eliwa, political science professor of the Egyptian Helwan University, further explains that "Many Arabs are getting much more disappointed that a host of resolutions and statements could not be translated into actions"(Nash, 2010). This mounting disappointment could clearly be seen in the actions of the member countries in the months leading up to the war.
For example, on October 24th, 2003, Libya informed the Arab League of its intentions to quit the league because of the displayed inefficiency in dealing with Arab issues, especially the Palesinian-Israeli conflict and the Iraqi Crisis. Libyan leader Omar Muammar Ghaddafi states, "Why should we remain as a member of an ineffective organization?" Reports later surfaced that Qatar intended to follow Libya's example and leave the league as well. However, in November "Libya reversed its position and decided to remain a member of the league. The Libyans concluded that in the time of crisis leading up to the Iraqi war, that "despite some limits, the Arab League is required to play an even more effective role at a time when the Arab nation is facing dangers" (Nash, 2010)
However Libya was not done creating rifts within the Arab League. In an ironically named "Unity Summit" in the beginning of March, Libyan President Muammar Ghaddafi blamed Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and others for involving the US in the area twelve years prior in the Gulf War, which he claimed was the source of the current Iraqi conflict. Gadhafi had previously accused Saudi Arabia of entering into "a pact with the devil" by inviting US troops to defend its territory in 1990. Gadhafi's comments at the summit prompted the Saudi, Iraqi, and Syrian leaders to immediately leave the room and respond harshly to the comments, accusing the Libyan leader of ignorance. The Saudi representative further called Libya an "agent for colonizers." This series of insults prevented anything constructive from happening for the day at the conference, as the major issues were forgotten in a series of insults. Furthermore, the conference was broadcast live on Arab satellite television, making the disunity and arguments within the Arab League public for the whole Arab world to witness. In Saudi Arabia, Khaled al-Maeena, editor of the Arab News, as quoted by (Nash, 2010) said he was "shocked, appalled and saddened by the news." "I felt embarrassed," he said. "In front of the world we've become a laughing stock. The Arab people are disappointed and confused...The spat took the steam off the main thrust, which was the Iraq issue" (Nash, 2010)
Furthermore, The United Arab Emirates caused an additional stir at the same summit when it called for Saddam Hussein to surrender power and leave Iraq. The proposal requested that "The Arab League, in cooperation with the U.N. secretary-general, should supervise the situation in Iraq for an interim period during which all necessary measures are taken in order to return the situation to its normal situation according to the will of the brotherly Iraqi people" (Nash, 2010). While many in the Arab world were calling for a unified front against the incursion by the Western powers, others were advocating surrender to the demands of the West. Moussa responded to this proposal by stating that it was not considered an official request and it "was excluded from the consideration of the council" (Nash, 2010). The proposal was generally publicly ignored at the conference, in spite of the fact that it was well known such ideas had been floated around several of the countries individually for several weeks. In response to this, the Emirati information minister grumbled that the Arab League "didn't have the courage" to respond to the proposal. However the Iraqis responded to this proposal angrily. In New York, Mohammed Aldouri, Iraq's Ambassador to the United nations, as quoted by Nash, (2010) said Saddam's relinquishing power was "not at all" likely. He further called the proposal by the UAE silly. At the summit, an angry Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said that the proposal was not discussed because the "summit does not discuss silly, dirty, trivial ideas." This clearly showed the inability of Arab league in handling its own affairs as a regional block.
Arab League and Hamas of Palestine
Arab league relation and full support of Hamas of Palestine is a great violation of the organization constitution. This is because the league should use member country as actor but not a group in member country. Towards this, the group has gained a lot of confidence in its sordid operation in Palestine and abroad. The result of this relation is that it has become difficult for the Arab league to decisively take action and stop Hamas from negative operations in Palestine. It is on this ground that the league has immensely failed and publicly showed that it is a weak organization which cannot take action against its members to solve a problem.
Arab League and member state sovereignty
The organization charter and constitution spells out that the league must respect member states sovereignty. In this case of Somalia and Yemen, the two countries have great political problems which began long time ago. But since the league could not directly involve in the situation to prevent further problems, they have fallen in the abyss of statelessness and lack of the rule of law. This further has opened the wounds in the league's inability to solve problems in its member state. This raises question on the importance of the league to in the Arab community and the value of its existence is questionable.
The UN interference in the Arab League
Toffolo, (2008), "United Nation contribution and interference in Arab League is evidenced in many ways for instance, reconstruction of Iraq began following the war, the previous U.N. oil- for-food program was awash in accusations of Hussein's corruption as well as corruption on the part of the U.N." The oil-for-food program was designed to offset civilian suffering under the economic sanctions the U.N. imposed after the 1990 Iraq invasion of Kuwait (Toffolo, 2008).
According to Toffolo, (2008), "more than 90 percent of Iraqis survived on the U.N. food basket and medical supplies. Sixty percent used to sell part of their rations to pay for other essential needs, because it was their only source of income". The program was suspended March 17th and the U.S. led assault began on March 20th. (Lederer) After the war, while some parties called for an expansion of the role of "oil-for-food" to achieve a reconstruction like that which followed the bloody East Timor revolutions, others (namely the U.S. administration) called for a lifting of U.N sanctions upon which "oil-for food" depended. In an effort to get aid to Iraq quickly, on April 24th, the Security Council voted unanimously to extend U.N. "Secretary-General Kofi Annan's authority to speed additional food and medicine to the Iraqi people till June 3rd. On May 22nd, after pressure from the U.S. and negotiations between the U.S. and opposing powers within the Security Council, such as Russia and Germany, the U.N. lifted 12 years of sanctions on Iraq" (Brian, and Steidle, 2007).
"Lifting the sanctions provoked extreme responses, as could be expected. While Iraqis and most Arabs declare the institution of the sanctions after the Gulf War unjust, their suspension gave cause for another outrage" (Toffolo, 2008). U.S. Secretary of the Treasury John Snow gave a press conference to announce the U.S.'s lifting of the sanctions declaring "Today marks a new beginning for a liberated Iraq. Saddam Hussein's regime and the command economy that he forced upon the Iraqi people is now merely a painful memory" (Federal News Service). "One glaring discrepancy is evident in Secretary Snow's statement. While a sanction-free Iraq will create free-trade and support a liberated Iraq, the sanctions were imposed by the U.N. with the U.S.'s overwhelming support, and these sanctions were the foremost barrier to trade, not Hussein's "command economy." As a further example, Snow went on to say "As other nations follow the lead of the United States, and implement, as we have today, the resolution passed by the U.N. (Brian, and Steidle, 2007). Security Council last Thursday, the people of Iraq can look forward to an end to the crippling economic deprivations they have suffered under the Saddam Hussein regime." In Secretary Snow's statement, he attempts to conflate Hussein's regime and the sanctions themselves, in effect making them synonymous. That Snow even begins the first quote from above with "today," that is, the day that the U.S. lifted sanctions, as opposed to the day that the U.N. approved sanctions, or the day when all sanctions on Iraq had been lifted the world over, is telling. It is a complicit allowance that the U.S. played a large role in keeping Iraq out of the world economy, and is now playing a large role in re-introducing Iraq, albeit on the U.S.'s terms.
Brian, S. and Steidle, (2007), "While the world fights over Iraq's future, the future of the Arab League and Arab relations with the rest of the world are, as could be predicted, in a state of flux stemming from mistrust on all sides and disagreement from within the Arab League as well as the Western powers". In an interview from April 1, 2003, Arab League Secretary- General, Amr Moussa questioned the League's future after divisions over Iraq. The interview took place with a London-based Arabic paper, Al Sharq al-Awsat (Brian, and Steidle, 2007). During the interview Moussa expressed the belief that war would not have broken out had the Arabs adopted a unified position. The war had brought out such deep divisions that Moussa himself expressed apathy over whether or not the Arab League would survive. He stated, "Arab states wanted the war and I do not care if the Arab League remains or goes. Moussa as quoted by Brian, and Steidle, (2007), went further to make a distinction between the administration's positions and the desires of the people" (Brian, and Steidle, 2007). As he said "The Arab [nations] are not united, the people are. All Arab people reject the war." Responding to queries on the Arab league's future, Moussa Moussa as quoted by Brian, and Steidle, (2007) declared that "the Arab League could be reorganized in another form. He made a comparison with the League of Nations' dissolution with World War II that led to the formation of the United Nations". According to Moussa, the current goal of the Arab League should be to protect the regional and strategic interests of the Arab states which could potentially be more effectively achieved under the auspices of a different organization. However, this sentiment never saw the light of the day the league failed in its mandate and responsibility. He pointed to the "two big shakes" that have jolted the Arab system, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and "the failure" there, and the Iraqi events.
Now that simultaneous seeming solutions, or at least respites from the "two big shakes" have occurred-- reconstruction of Iraq has begun and Sharon has approved the formation of a new Palestinian state-- initiation of the reform process for the Arab League has also been declared. On May 29th, Agence France Presse reported a meeting to take place in Cairo on June 15-16 to begin a six month study of reforms aimed at saving the Arab League. The committee's task is to draft a consensus formula on the development of the organization using proposals floated from Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia among others. The article noted that several of the proposals posited the European Union's structure as a model.
Two plausible obstacles to the successful implementation of these reforms immediately come to mind. Firstly, within the charter of the Arab League, Article VII states that "Unanimous decisions of the Council shall be binding upon all member-states of the League; majority decisions shall be binding only upon those states which have accepted them" [see appendix]. Thus, to accept the reforms, the Arab League must be unanimously in favor of them, which given the disunity within the League, seems unlikely. Second and a less direct impediment, but as confounding, is the discrepancy between proposed models based on the European Union and the preexisting Arab League and member states' governments. "European governments, have by in large settled on some form of socialist-democracy which enables more equality for the citizens as well as transparency between the administrations and the citizens" (Brian, and Steidle, 2007). Although this may be a generalization, it can be stated that Arab nations in general have not enjoyed as many rights in alignment with democracy as those of European nations.
Arab league is toothless dog with no notable and glaring success to pride itself of. The league has been taken by a few powerful member states to use as a buffer zone in furthering their national interest instead of fighting for the entire Arab community. It is therefore as good as nothing to have the league dismantled. The foreigners' interest and continuous interference has further compounded the league's inability to handle its affairs.
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