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How relevant?

Mar 25,2014 - Last updated at Mar 25,2014

Regardless of the resolutions that the Arab summit in Kuwait will adopt on Palestine, Syria, terrorism, economic and social development, and others, few in the vast Arab world, and beyond, will take notice.

Most likely, most of these resolutions will join hundreds of others that Arab leaders have adopted over the years, most of which never carried out.

Most certainly the burden on the host country, Kuwait, to achieve consensus and accord on some of the contentious issues that member states face will be huge.

And as has been the case for so many years, Arab leaders meet at a time the region is facing critical challenges. But what will surface after all said and done is one bitter truth: Arabs remain a divided nation and the Arab League is proving to be an irrelevant institution.

The Arab League is the oldest regional organisation in the modern era, at 69, older than the UN. But throughout its turbulent history, it has often reflected inter-Arab squabbling rather than common goals and the aspirations of millions of Arabs across two continents.

And just like its most important organ, the Arab summit, its organisations have also failed to fulfil their mandates.

In every field that matters — education, culture, science, economic unity and integration — the Arab League has been found wanting.

It is also an anomalous creature, featuring members with few things in common: traditional monarchies and revolutionary republics, pseudo-democracies and authoritarian regimes, few of the richest countries in the world along with some of the poorest and most destitute.

The goals and objectives are often contradictory and bitter political rivalries have often forced the Arab League off its course. The organisation has failed to evolve from the time of its birth, post-World War II, to the present.

More often than not, it underlined inter-Arab differences over ideological and political issues. Today is no different.

The Arab Spring has crippled the pan-Arab organisation. Few countries have been spared the tsunami of changes that swept through the region in the past three years, and even before.

The US occupation of Iraq has divided the Arab League and scuttled its efforts to reach accord on regional issues. And the recent toppling of regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen has brought new challenges to conservative states that feared change and fought it.

But such issues are rarely discussed in the Arab League or at Arab summits. As a rule, member states cannot interfere in the internal issues of other members.

And thus the biggest geopolitical event that has rocked the foundations of the Arab world today is barely discussed at the highest Arab forum.

Iraq’s slow disintegration is off limits. Libya’s quick turn into a failed state is its own problem. The plight of Somalia is a crisis better left for the international community.

Even the recent dispute between Gulf states, which threatens the integrity of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), did not make it on the agenda.

Palestine is one cause that the Arab League had embraced from the onset. And yet, after more than 60 years, it remains the organisation’s biggest failure.

There were historic instances, like the Khartoum summit of 1967 with its famous rejections of any peaceful settlement.

And there were others, like the 2002 adoption of the Arab Peace Initiative at the Lebanon summit.

There was the 1974 Rabat summit, which recognised the PLO as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. And there was the Baghdad summit in 1990, which pledged unprecedented support to the Palestinians. 

But these were fleeting moments of accord in a rather troubled and divided history of the Arab League.

When tested, the Arab League often failed to rise to the occasion.

That happened when Iraq invaded sovereign member Kuwait in 1990. And it happened when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and waged war on Gaza in 2008.

The league’s deficiencies are structural and legal. Its charter limits its movement. The fact that it is a club of 22 states with few things in common is another weakness.

For more than three years, the Arab League was unable to deal with the Syrian debacle. It had failed to mediate or present a solution.

Today the league remains divided even after more than 130,000 Syrians perished in the civil war.

If it cannot solve such problems, what is it good for?

The Arab League could never move beyond its present limitations. It can never become another European Union because its leaders lack the political will to do so.

It manages to hold a leaders’ summit once a year, but as we have seen this week, few leaders are in talking terms with their counterparts.

The Arab League is indeed irrelevant almost 70 years after its birth. It had done little to bring Arabs together or achieve economic integration and pan-Arab social and cultural development.

This is why it has failed to affect political, social and economic development in the Arab world today.

A region so vast and versatile still lacks an organisation that can fulfil the aspirations of over 400 million citizens.

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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