United Nations and the history of declining Arab influence

Declining Arab influence in international organizations, particularly the UN, is no surprise

Dr. Naser al-Tamimi
Dr. Naser al-Tamimi - Special to Al Arabiya English
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As the UN opens its annual 71st General Assembly, the Arab world is aflame with chaos, sectarianism and authoritarianism. Arabs are living one of their worst moments since the signing of the Sykes-Picot agreement nearly 100 years ago. In this context, declining Arab influence in international organizations, particularly the UN, is no surprise.

Arabs over the years succeeded in passing multiple pro-Arab UN resolutions, especially those condemning Israel’s occupation of Arab lands. However, most of them are non-binding, and the binding ones remain unfulfilled.

For most Arabs, the failure to uphold UN resolutions concerning them, particularly over Palestine, represents injustice and the organization’s double standards. Arabs continue to have a negative impression of the UN.

Declining Arab influence in the organization is clear. It began decades ago, especially after the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and escalated in the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the signing of the Oslo Accords between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel in the 1990s.

Things worsened during the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which resulted in eliminating one of the region’s strongest armies, and the destruction of a key Arab state. Above all, the Arab Spring turned into a terrifying nightmare that could lead to another redrawing of the Middle East’s boundaries.

These developments have contributed significantly to deepening Arab divisions and paralyzing their political leverage internationally, especially at the UN. Last June was perhaps one of the great ironies in its history, and exposed the weakness of Arab influence. For the first time since joining the UN in 1949, Israel was elected to chair its committee overseeing issues related to international law. This shocked many Arabs.

The occupier of their land, which has ignored so many UN resolutions, will be lecturing them about the importance of respecting international law. Adding insult to injury, Arab media reported that some Arab countries secretly voted for Israel to chair the committee.

Protecting the interests of any country, or a regional organization such as the Arab League, needs three pillars: strong economic and technological abilities; specific, clear and unified political objectives; and above all military power. Regrettably, most Arab states - individually and collectively - lack all three.

Despite there being nearly 350 million Arabs, the combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the 22 Arab League members in 2015 was around $2.5 trillion. This represents only 3.4 percent of the global economy, equivalent to the GDP of a country such as France, with a population of 66 million. If the Gulf states are excluded, 300 million Arabs produce only a trillion dollars, the equivalent of the GDP of a small country such as Spain.

Arab exports (excluding energy) to the world are also modest. Last year, the 22 Arab League members exported goods worth $827 billion - representing only 5 percent of the world’s total exports - 70 percent of which were energy exports and raw materials.

Arab countries squander their wealth buying weapons, most of them used in fighting among Arabs themselves. Over the last decade, Arab states’ military spending hit almost $1.2 trillion, although they recorded the highest unemployment rates in the world, and failed miserably in stopping foreign interference.

Politically, Arabs are more divided than ever. Today, the list of enemies within substitutes the danger of external enemies. To complicate matters further, the definition of an external enemy is interpreted differently among and even within Arab countries. One need only look at developments in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Lebanon and Yemen to see Arab regimes’ utter failure.

The keys to any solution are not at the UN, nor will they be provided by foreign powers. They are in the hands of Arabs themselves. As the Dalai Lama once said: “When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways - either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.” This statement applies to Arabs now more than ever.

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