Arab League: the far from possible unity?

14-08-2016 01:01 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom






Problems on hold







The Arab League (AL) has got a new secretary-general, the Egyptian eminent diplomat Ahmed Abul-Gheit. Mr Abul-Gheit succeeds another prominent Egyptian diplomat who held that post: Nabil al-Araby. The Egyptian media celebrated the rise of yet another Egyptian to this illustrious post, in an almost unbroken line of Egyptian secretary-generals since the AL was founded in 1945. The string was only briefly interrupted in the 1980s when Egypt left the AL on account of Arab censure owing to Egypt’s 1979 peace agreement with Israel. During that interval, the Tunisian Chedli Klibi led the AL as secretary-general.

I received the news of the recent Egyptian-Egyptian change in the topmost AL post with a sense of suppressed bitterness, since I could not help noting the meagre international weight of the pan-Arab organisation on the political, economic, commercial, and military fronts. Did the AL succeed in uniting Arab ranks to render the Arabs a force to be reckoned with in the world of today? The hard answer is that no, it did not. It actually never made it beyond acting as an ornamental umbrella that gathers under its shade all Arab States, but with no impact whatsoever on the international course of events or on world issues. The AL failed to give the Arab World a stature that matches its human, economic and geographic heft; Arabs are no active doers on the global scene but merely respond to or retaliate against international actions.

Egypt’s keenness to lead the AL comes as no surprise, given the country’s prominent regional stature on the scale of human resources and political and military heft, even if not on the economic or trade fronts; also given that Egypt has endorsed the AL since its inception. Yet what did Egypt achieve so far towards initiating a unified Arab entity? Was Egypt able to lead the Arabs along the path of Arab union same as the Europeans did to establish the European Union? The answer is ‘No’ with all the frustration and letdown this ‘No’ carries.

I advise you to read two interviews recently published by the Cairo State-owned daily ++Al-Ahram++, with Mr Arabi whose term as secretary-general expired, and Mr Abul-Gheit whose term has just begun. Interestingly, each interview conveys a true image of the AL basing on the position and viewpoint of the interviewee. The man who left depicts a sorry state of fragmentation and lack of political will within the AL member States, whereas the man embarking on the new task focuses on the glossiness of the post and his ambitions for it, and the heft of its material compensation. This last “unspoken” factor might explain why successive illustrious figures had been keen to hold that post. They put aside honourable credits of political and diplomatic careers and threw themselves into the throes of a huge responsibility that possessed no real criteria for success. Among these men were Amr Moussa and Nabil al-Araby who each undertook to lead the AL hoping this leadership would crown their long, admirable careers in Egyptian diplomacy. Yet both ended their terms at the AL with frustration and distress at the failure to create an effective entity on the international arena.

Mr Araby talked about the absence of political will among Arab States, the fragmentation of Arab leadership, and the failure to work towards achieving the all-time dream of Arab unity. He said that personal interests, conflict over local leadership, and even individual conflicts among the leaders of Arab States stood in the way of the painstaking effort required to undertake the historic responsibility of creating an Arab force to be reckoned with in the world.

On the other hand, it was understandable that Mr Abul-Gheit should talk about his new vision of empowering common Arab effort and a new policy that would give the AL weight and impact on world events. His ambitious words made one fear for him, seeing he was jeopardising his valued credit in Egyptian diplomacy for fragmented, arrogant, egoistic Arab politics.

I believe we should carefully study the history of the European Union, and how the political will of European peoples and leaders triumphed over huge difficulties and obstacles, within a true democratic model. Through hard, arduous work Europe was able over more than three decades to translate this will into the establishment of one unified harmonious bloc. Europe did not unify the language of its peoples, but was able to unify everything else. The Arab World has it the other way round; one language is common to all, but the unity of anything else appears an impossible–to-realise dream.



Watani International

14 August 2016


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