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Arab League could do more, and better

Nov 21,2017 - Last updated at Nov 21,2017

In better times, the Arab League would meet to resolve inter-Arab conflicts, rather than to endorse rising tensions and condone confrontation.

On Sunday, Arab League Secretary General Ahmad Aboul Gheit was right, however, to clarify that the message of the recently concluded Arab foreign ministers’ session was not to declare war on Iran “now”, nor to immediately take the case to the UN Security Council. The purpose of the meeting, according to Aboul Gheit, was to condemn and to send a warning to Iran in the hope that it would heed the Arab call and refrain from any undue intervention in Arab states’ internal affairs.

“We may bring the matter to the Security Council at a later stage” he said, “but for the moment we will instruct the Arab group at the UN to inform the council of the Arab position”.

The role of the Arab League in resolving, or even managing, inter-Arab disputes, has been steadily declining for decades, simply because of the severe nature of the said disputes.

That the Arab League has managed to survive deep disputes and even wars among its members without disintegrating is to its credit.

Following the first Arab-Israeli war, in 1948, Arab League member states were divided into two categories: “revolutionary”, the traditional constitutional governments that were toppled by military coups and replaced by military juntas, and “reactionary”, the other states which were saved from the trend of military takeover.

The wars on the air, the insults and the accusations levelled at the “reactionaries” from the “revolutionary” broadcasting systems were severe. This had a devastating effect on the people and on what would otherwise be common Arab policies, and led to frequent severing of diplomatic relations and exchange of threats among various Arab countries.

The popular belief that the Arabs were forever united on the Palestinian issue despite their differences on most other issues, had to be reconsidered. The Arab-Israeli issue was equally divisive.

Tactical Arab agreements in moments of crisis appeared sporadically, but there were no long-term strategies, neither for peace nor for war.

The Arab League headquarters were moved from Cairo to Tunis in 1979, when the Arab states decided to boycott Egypt in protest over president Anwar Sadat’s decision to enter into direct negotiations with Israel in an attempt to resolve the conflict in its entirety, not just the Egyptian part of it.

It only turned into a bilateral negotiation after the other Arab states refused to give the bold Sadat initiative a chance.

Arab divisions continued to deepen and to transform into active and vicious wars in the decades of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Notably, the senseless 8-year Iraq-Iran war that depleted enormous amounts of Arab wealth and potential for no justifiable reason. 

The long, ugly war ended with massive losses and no single gain.

It was followed by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, in 1990, another major, uncalled-for military adventure that not only put Arab armies against each other and sucked foreign powers’ armies into the war, but, much worse, led to the disastrous blunder that plunged the entire region into perpetual chaos, the effects of which reverberate until today.

The Arab Cooperation Council, which had brought Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Yemen together just before the war as one coalition within the Arab League framework, as did the Gulf Cooperation Council 10 years earlier, collapsed immediately after the Kuwait invasion.

While Jordan and Yemen were staunchly committed to the liberation of Kuwait, they also had strong reservations against the rush to international military action to evict the occupying Iraqi forces from Kuwait before exhausting other means. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and indeed many other Arab leaders, did not want to wait.

From 1991, when the war ended and Kuwait was liberated, till the second international invasion of Iraq, in 2003, with the participation of Arab states, Iraq was subjected to a stringent regime of international sanctions that caused severe hardships to the innocent Iraqi people. 

It was the 2003 American-led war on Iraq that delivered Iraq to Iran at no cost or effort from the latter.

The swift rise of Daesh that was only made possible by the destruction of the state institutions in Iraq; the attempt to replicate the same experiment in Syria and Libya made it easier for Daesh to take control of huge areas in Iraq and Syria, which became its most convenient breeding ground, as well as appropriate incubator, as a result of the war.

This also helped Iran expand easily under the guise of fighting terrorists and helping both Iraq and Syria liberate their Daesh-controlled territories.

Extended conflicts, wars, terror, the collapse of many states, foreign intervention and chaos have only aggravated the situation on a regional scale, but still without a common Arab stand, let alone a strategy.

As there are no signs of recovery and the deterioration continues, it is unimaginable to expect the Arab League to try to mend fences.

This, however, does not mean that the league should be sucked into disputes by changing its role from that of a conflict resolver to a partaker.

Neither should the league remain indifferent towards its members’ legitimate security concerns.

There is a middle ground: a call for a comprehensive regional dialogue to put all contentious issues on the table with all conflicting parties present.

As Jordan currently holds the presidency of the Arab summit, it has been quietly trying to give diplomacy a chance in the hope that peaceful solutions may be found.

Jordan is committed to the peace, the security and the territorial integrity of every Arab country, and when it comes to any sort of external threats, Jordan would not hesitate to stand by its brothers, particularly in the Gulf region.

Along these lines, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi stressed at the Arab League meeting on Sunday the importance of a joint Arab action to safeguard Arab national, economic, political and social security.

He further emphasised Jordan’s keenness, as the president of the current Arab summit, in cooperating with the league’s general secretariat to host or launch a pan-Arab dialogue to reach an understanding of the threats facing the Arab nation’s security.

Safadi urged the league members to work together to achieve common goals, including the realisation of the rights of the Palestinian people to be free from occupation, helping Iraq in its fight against terrorists and the Syrian, Yemeni and Libyan peoples in restoring stability and security to their countries.

The minister’s remarks prove without any shadow of a doubt that there is much room for constructive joint Arab action, despite the differences, if political will is instantly mustered; and most certainly, there is room for diplomatic action to seek reasonable solutions away from confrontation, escalation, continued fighting and threats of more wars.

The Arab nation is sinking deeper into uncertainty and chaos.

 

We either work out a rescue plan for all of us or the ship will capsize in front of our eyes. Either we all win or we all lose.

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