Emily Cunniffe (UWC-AC ’11-’13)
Arab nationalism, an ideology born in the 19th century among Arab intellectuals, aims for the creation of an Arab national identity. Today, the Arab League can be seen as a result of such nationalism. The Arab Spring launched a new phase of Arab unity and also discord; the domino effect which was witnessed throughout the Middle East shows a common discontent among the Arab peoples. In today’s political climate, is Arab unity, such as that intended by the Arab League, as relevant?
The Arab League formed in 1945 between Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Transjordan and Yemen allowed for and maintained a sense of accord and acted as a form of communication between Arab States, at a time when Arab states were gaining independence and the search for an Arab national identity became ever more pertinent. Today, the League’s members are Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, State of Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
However, today we must ask: is there still a need for the Arab League?
The Middle East is a volatile region, relentlessly beset by conflict. In spite of this, for the conflicts which exist in the region today, there appears to be an almost indifference amongst many of the Arab league members. Certainly, in the UAE there is a certain indifference to and detachment from the conflicts which scourge the region. Undeniably, there exists an unquestionable sympathy for the Palestinian plight. However, there seems to be one-sided view of the actual conflict. This is, in some measure, due to the taboo which revolves around all pertaining to Judaism and Israel and the fact that historical events related to Jews, including the holocaust are removed from history books. How do the Arab nation states think they can resolve disputes in neighbouring nations, such as Palestine, if their nations remain uneducated as to the full nature of the conflict? Increasingly, a sense of disinterest is fermenting amongst some Arab League members, making the organisation less powerful and its actions half-hearted.
Besides, can the nations of the Arab League fully cooperate if some remain monarchies, others are in the stages of political transformation and some with a form of democracy? The Arab Spring and the spread of revolution across the Middle East left many dictators, Kings and Sheikhs fearful for their futures. The monarchies of the Gulf were upheld whilst dictators in North African nations were toppled. The schism which is developing in the Arab League is epitomised by the amnesty which Tunisia’s deposed Ben Ali found in Saudi Arabia and the failure of the Saudi government to extradite the dictator back to Tunisia where he would be put on trial. And yet, both nations are members of the Arab League. Both have pledged, according to Article II of the Arab League Charter, to the “coordination of their policies in order to achieve co-operation between them”. Indeed divisions can be seen in Syria, where the Arab league fails to act in solidarity and therefore weakens its stance against the country; as witnessed when Gulf States withdrew their support for the Arab League Observer scheme.
Moreover, it is too often the case that the Arab League appears to be acting in accordance with the overt and covert agendas of Western powers. The majority of its measures are not ground-breaking and comply with the actions of the West. Commerce and economies connect the West and the Middle East and exert much influence over the Arab League’s decisions.
The Arab League certainly has the potential to become an influential body in conflict resolution in the Middle East. Yet, more so now than ever, it appears to have a mere token status among many Arab States, a position which comes second to their relations with the West. The Middle East is no longer as unified and therefore, with rifts forming and a greater disparity developing between those in search of democracy and those upholding monarchies, Arab unity is not only less relevant but simply unattainable.