Time to put the redundant Arab League out of its misery and disband it

Rami Rayess
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The Arab League is in its death throes. The announcement hasn’t happened yet, but it’s inevitable, and the startling fact from looking at its history is that it had little chance of survival from its inception.

A noble venture, it was established in 1945 to advance cooperation between Arab states, but it has simply failed on this mandate.


Politically and economically, nothing constructive has happened over the years. With plenty of bickering and selfishness, it has become a talking shop with all countries represented understanding this. It has created the impression that they are happy to play along.

The Arab League never put the much-hailed, so-called collaborative defense policies into practice. Instead, history shows that several Arab states are aggressive towards each other.

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Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the long tutelage of Syria over Lebanon are two examples. Consider too that some Arab states supported the Iraqi military campaign.

Possibly the league’s biggest failure is a proper consensus that tackles the Palestine question. There has never really been a significant breakthrough. Repetitive rhetoric in press releases, including the most eloquent statements of condemnation and denunciation of Israel, hardly gives the impression that its members care.

Contemplating the creation of a unified Arab Army was muted but was never really put forward for discussion. Perhaps this is because so many countries at the table are seated next to an arch enemy. There is no overarching position about who the enemy is at any one time, so there is no real reason for a regional military force.

Arab League Assistant Secretary-General Hossam Zaki meets with Lebanon’s PM Najib Mikati in Beirut, Nov. 8, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)
Arab League Assistant Secretary-General Hossam Zaki meets with Lebanon’s PM Najib Mikati in Beirut, Nov. 8, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)

Regional security has always proved difficult to tie down, with the total disaster of the Arab Deterrent Force established by the league in 1976 to put an end to the two-year Lebanese civil war. The steady drip, drip, drip of nations withdrawing their troops happened, all except for Syrian soldiers. Syria’s aspirations to control Lebanon were never contested.

Although it was one of the first post-World War II multilateral bodies, the Arab League has never played a pivotal role at the international level. Most of the summits convened were tedious and futile. They still are.

Television cameras often catch Arab leaders falling asleep during the opening session of the summits. Most decisions are superficial and fail to address the enormous challenges facing the pan-Arab region.

On the economics’ front, the league never pursued its ability to address the potential for a significant contribution to the world economy from a unified region. Inter-Arab economic cooperation has never really got off the ground by any reasonable means.

The Arab League is a very heterogeneous organization regarding the priorities of its member states. It comprises contradictory alliances and interests. The ability to develop a standard margin of cooperation - taking the economy as an example, regardless of the deep political divisions, was never an option, even if it meant mutual prosperity.

The Arab League also lacks the necessary tools to employ against those member states violating collective mandates.

Egypt remained out of the league for almost 11 years after signing a peace treaty with Israel in Camp David in 1978. Invited back following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the situation about Egypt’s re-entry did not include an explanation about its departure or return.

After the eruption of the Syrian revolution in 2011, the Arab League ousted the regime. Its seat remains vacant, but there is chatter behind the scenes about the country’s return. Any such step lacks a logical explanation.

Several other regional organizations have launched over the years with mixed results. The Arab Cooperation Council was incorporated in 1989, comprising Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Northern Yemen. It aimed to counterbalance the Gulf Cooperation Council established eight years earlier. The GCC thrived. The ACC collapsed.

For the Arab League, its whole remit has failed. Any semblance of expectation, let alone aspiration, has crumbled. The organization’s role is redundant, and if it continues, it will not make a difference in the region, politically, economically, or socially for the Arab people.

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