Tough time to have an Arab League meeting?

This week the Arab League is holding its annual meeting entitled "Solidarity for a Better Future" in Kuwait. The timing of the event is of additional value. From the security perspective, the growing rift between the GCC states and the transition in Egypt and Libya is troublesome, and challenges the entire concept of solidarity.

The changing situation in Syria is weighing on all participants' minds as well. It is quite doubtful that the Qatar issue will appear publically while the Damascus problem may be part of the final communiqué in terms of humanitarian necessities.

The fact that Syria is not an active member, having been kicked out of the group for President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime’s military actions, is important because opposition will also not be present, leaving the inability to agree on an official representative.

According to reports from Kuwait City, the Arab League summit is most likely to focus on ways to enhance the Arab League, the establishment of an Arab court for human rights, the activation of the council for peace and security to address conflicts that could threaten Arab security, the setting up of a crisis management center in cooperation with the European Union, the identification of goals to boost trade, ways to eliminate illiteracy and unemployment and improving the Arab League charter.

For the first time, a representative from South Sudan will attend the Summit to give a report on the progress the country is making on stability and prosperity. The Summit intends to provide the troubled country a springboard for Arab integration. Thus, the agenda is robust and full of numerous goals to be agreed upon.

The Brotherhood issue

But if the GCC issue springs up, there may be a clear delineation and split within the Arab League over the Muslim Brotherhood, setting a dangerous precedent. A Them versus Us mentality may emerge over who supports the Ikhwan and who sees the Brotherhood as terrorists, and most importantly, if states give “sanctuary” to the Ikhwan being “state sponsors of terrorism.”

Such statements will likely come from the mouths of pundits and not officially from Arab League official attendees. We will all know for sure if there is a major dispute behind the scenes if there are empty chairs around the table.

The recent history of the annual Arab League meeting has focused on rallying Arab states around the need for economic and social welfare and improvement in correcting the disparity between member states.

The problem is that the Arab League appears to be racked by an ongoing identity crisis. There are religious, ethnic, secular, and political differences that affect the ability of the Arab League to function in unison.

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Palestine is always a main, unifying cause. In the wake of the Arab Spring, the Arab League seemed to be trying to emerge as a stronger regional organization because of the Syrian conflict, but appeared to fail to follow through because of internal regional disputes between member states.

Uniting the Arab countries

For some Arab observers, the Arab League is a debate club with little power. Hopefully, this year’s summit will be a bit more exciting and policy relevant. As such, two Egyptian journalists called to end the divisions among the Arab countries in order to pave way for stability and security for the Arab people. They argued that Arab leaders needed to activate a Defense Agreement in order to address violence and thus end divisions marring the Arab world.

One of the journalists asserted: “The Arabs should be united against the West's vision to partition countries of the Arab world” and cited the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, which led to the division of Turkish-held Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine into various French- and British-administered areas.” This type of mentality may be counterproductive at this critical juncture in the regional environment.

This year, the Arab League Summit may add more “energetic words” to the final communiqué. It is interesting to note that last year’s conference in Doha is being linked to the Kuwait Summit. Qatar's Arab Summit in 2013 approved decisions aimed at solving Arab economic and social issues, especially those that hinder the establishment of an Arab free zone.

According to Kuwaiti officials, in order to complete the Arab free trade zone, it is of utmost importance to make progress in the Arab trade services agreement by setting up a timeframe to eliminate non-customs' restrictions and agreeing on unified custom tariffs in order to launch the Arab Custom Union. However, actions will speak louder than words in the current environment. Given regional turmoil, implementing such unifying economic reforms is going to be a tall order.

Identity crisis

Overall, all of the intentions of the above goals are well, good, and notable. The problem is that the Arab League appears to be racked by an ongoing identity crisis. There are religious, ethnic, secular, political differences that affect the ability of the Arab League to function in unison.

And the issues are only getting tougher with the changing geo-politics of the region and the impact that events in Ukraine and Iran’s negotiations with the West are having on Arab states. The good news is that Kuwait is a respectable location for such an event at this particular juncture.

Given Kuwait’s own unique political system and the willingness of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and his royal court and advisors to act as mediators in all types of regional disputes, the Kuwait Summit may make one step forward but may also take two steps backwards depending on the assertiveness and agendas of attending states.



Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:42 - GMT 06:42
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