To Stay Relevant, Reform, both Structural and Philosophical, is an Imperative for the Arab League

Manish Rai

The Arab League, commonly known as the League of Arab States, was formed in 1945 for the purpose of aligning the Arab nations for matter of mutual interest and concern. Foundations of League were laid by The Alexandria Protocol of 1944 issued by representatives of Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Transjordan (now Jordan). But the undercurrent for Arab unity started since the Arabic Revolution against the Ottoman Turkish rule in 1916. Many Arab scholars at that time had a goal to unify the Arab world into one big entity. After that period, nationalism was on the rise in the greater Middle East and elsewhere. The Arabic Nationalism ideology was adopted as people were looking for ways to end the presence of colonial powers in the region and to achieve independence. Thus, the formation of the Arab League was complementary to the circumstances that the Arab world was living in that time. The said organization has witnessed both good or bad time since its formation but this pan Arab body is struggling to find its relevance today. The Arab League today represents little more than a talking shop where Arab leaders engage in brief meetings whilst exchanging empty pleasantries, before going back and pursuing their vested interests.
The stated purposes of the Arab League are to strengthen ties among the member states, coordinate their policies, and promote their common interests. But, ironically it failed to achieve any of these objectives. There are various reasons responsible for making this biggest grouping of the Arab world after more than seven decades of its formation to lose its appeal. First and most important one is growing divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims which creating fissures among Arabs. Now , there is a growing tendency that people identify themselves as Shia or Sunni rather than Arabs. League is considered by growing number of people as Sunni Arab body rather than pan Arab body. Another important reason is the absence of democracy in the member states of league. Also, there is negligible economic integration among member states flow of capital and labour is highly restricted history has demonstrated that powerful trading blocs have strengthen regional groupings. The best example is the European Union.
Another contributing factor for decline of the League’s relevance is lack of institutional reforms. The League should address the functional overlap between bodies such as the Council, the Political Committee and the Summit meetings, and should reinforce the powers of the Secretariat. Also, there is lack of cooperation among the members to counter growing extremism which is a common threat for whole Arab world. Increased intelligence co-operation and a centralised intelligence gathering mechanism is the need of the hour, one which does not infringe on the sovereignty of member states and one that can be unanimously and immediately passed by the League without any hindrance and lengthy bureaucracy. But still the Arab League after all its flaws, has one core advantage that is it’s the only regional organization which brings together all of the self-identified Arab states. If this organisation is strengthened then it can be a powerful regional platform for coordination and cooperation.
Arab states have to understand that Arab unity doesn’t only mean just criticizing Israel, talking about the Iranian threat and mere statements for support for the Palestinian cause; it has to go much beyond that. The Arab world must rise to meet the challenges it faces and take control of its own fate rather than just leaving it on global powers. The concept of wider Arab identity in the form of a trans-national nationalism (qawmiya) should be promoted. Arabs should also understand the potential of enhanced mutual cooperation. If in the future the Arab world is somehow united to form a single powerful federation or confederation, it would be the third largest state in the world, behind China and India and just ahead of the United States. Because of its energy wealth, its access to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes, its younger population such a United Arab Federation would be a global superpower. At this point in time it looks nearly impossible to think about any Arab federation but if given right direction and sincere efforts it can be a possibility in future. Some small steps of today can lead to major positive results for tomorrow.

—The author is a columnist for the Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geo-political news agency, ViewsAround. He can be can be reached at:atmanishraiva@gmail.com