What is the Arab League and what does it do?
The Arab League is a regional organization of Arab states that was formed in Cairo on March 22, 1945. The founding members were Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Transjordan (now Jordan), Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The main purpose of the Arab League is to promote cooperation and integration among its members on political, economic, social, and cultural matters. The Arab League also aims to mediate disputes among its members or between them and third parties, and to defend the interests and sovereignty of the Arab world.
The Arab League has 22 members as of 2023, including the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the representative of the Palestinian people. The Arab League has a Council, which is the highest decision-making body and consists of representatives from each member state. The Council meets twice a year at the ministerial level and occasionally at the summit level. The Arab League also has a General Secretariat, headed by a Secretary-General who is elected by the Council for a five-year term. The current Secretary-General is Ahmed Aboul Gheit of Egypt, who took office in 2016.
The Arab League has several specialized agencies and committees that deal with various aspects of cooperation among its members, such as education, culture, science, health, agriculture, trade, industry, defense, security, and human rights. Some of the notable achievements of the Arab League include the establishment of the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA) in 1997, which aims to eliminate tariffs and barriers among its members; the creation of the Arab Monetary Fund (AMF) in 1976, which provides financial assistance and policy advice to its members; and the adoption of the Arab Charter on Human Rights in 2004, which affirms the principles of human dignity and equality in accordance with international standards.
However, the Arab League has also faced many challenges and criticisms over its history. Some of these include the lack of a binding mechanism to enforce its decisions and resolutions; the divergence of interests and policies among its members on various regional and international issues; the inability to prevent or resolve conflicts and wars among or involving its members; and the failure to address the aspirations and grievances of the Arab people, especially in relation to democracy, human rights, and social justice. The Arab League has also been accused of being dominated by certain powerful members or external actors, such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt or the United States.
Despite these limitations and shortcomings, the Arab League remains an important forum for dialogue and coordination among its members and a symbol of Arab identity and solidarity. The Arab League also plays a significant role in representing the Arab voice and perspective on global matters and in engaging with other regional and international organizations and actors.
Current issues and challenges of the Arab League
The Arab League faces many issues and challenges in the current regional and international context. Some of these are:
- The ongoing conflicts and humanitarian crises in Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, which have caused massive displacement, suffering, and instability in the region. The Arab League has been unable to play an effective role in finding political solutions to these conflicts or in providing adequate humanitarian assistance to the affected populations. The Arab League has also been divided and influenced by the competing interests and interventions of external actors, such as Iran, Turkey, Russia, and the United States.
- The unresolved question of Palestine and the Israeli occupation, which remains a core issue for the Arab world and a source of tension and frustration. The Arab League has supported the two-state solution and the Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for a just and comprehensive settlement of the conflict. However, the Arab League has not been able to exert enough pressure on Israel or to mobilize international support for the Palestinian cause. The Arab League has also witnessed a normalization of relations between some of its members and Israel, which has undermined its common stance and credibility.
- The lack of democracy, human rights, and social justice in many Arab countries, which has led to popular discontent, protests, and repression. The Arab League has not been able to respond effectively to the demands and aspirations of the Arab people for more freedom, dignity, and participation. The Arab League has also failed to uphold its own human rights charter and mechanisms, which have been weak and politicized. The Arab League has also been accused of being silent or complicit in the face of grave human rights violations committed by some of its members.
- The economic challenges and disparities in the region, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the decline in oil prices, and the impact of sanctions and conflicts. The Arab League has not been able to foster economic integration and cooperation among its members or to address the root causes of poverty, unemployment, inequality, and corruption. The Arab League has also not been able to leverage its collective resources and potential to achieve sustainable development and prosperity for its people.
These issues and challenges require urgent attention and action from the Arab League and its member states. The Arab League needs to reform its structure, governance, and decision-making processes to become more representative, accountable, transparent, and effective. The Arab League also needs to enhance its cooperation and coordination with other regional and international organizations and actors to address common threats and opportunities. The Arab League also needs to engage more with civil society, youth, women, and other stakeholders to ensure their participation and inclusion in its work. The Arab League also needs to uphold its principles and values and to defend the interests and rights of the Arab people.