Mending bridges in the fractured Arab League

Kuwait hosted an extraordinary Arab League summit at a critical time, with member countries facing serious internal problems

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi
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Kuwait hosted an extraordinary Arab League summit at a critical time, with member countries facing serious internal problems and political polarization, not least the potential division of Libya, Iraq and Yemen. In addition, sectarian strife in Syria and elsewhere threatens to tear the region apart.

Arabs are losing confidence in these summits. The feeling is that any decision taken requires virtual blood and sweat; and even if some sort of consensus is reached and a resolution passed on an issue, it would not be implemented.

The Palestinian cause used to be the common rallying point for previous Arab summits, but the security of member states is now at stake. Complicating matters further are the activities of terror organizations operating under the guise of religion to fulfill their self-serving political agendas.

Who is to blame?

The recent political events and revolutions in the Arab world have made it clear that the status quo has not evolved much since the birth of the Arab League in 1945. But it would be unfair to blame the Arab League for all the changes and failures since then. After all, it is only a secretariat controlled by its members, which wield the real power.

There has been much talk over the years about changing the rules of the League. But I believe it is not simply a matter of cosmetic amendments. The League must include public and civil society institutions in its deliberations and decision-making, and introduce a mechanism that can translate its resolutions, consistently and systematically, into reality on the ground.

Arabs are losing confidence in these summits. The feeling is that any decision taken requires virtual blood and sweat

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

The Arab world needs a new regional order that rearranges the roles of the leading nations, while at the same time achieving a minimum level of solidarity. Countries such as Iran and Turkey are now influencing the internal affairs of Arab nations. This is because of the obvious weaknesses of Arab political decision-making and policy choices. A new Arab order is needed to address these vulnerabilities, and to establish a fundamental approach that there should not be any interference in the internal affairs of other states. There should also be a framework introduced to bind states to certain decisions, with measures on how to deal with those that violate agreements.

Important role

However, for all its shortcomings, and the criticisms heaped on it, the Arab League still plays an important role in bringing member states together. Arabs ignore the League at their peril. It is a venerable institution, the first organization in modern history catering to the needs and aspirations of all Arabs.

Frankly though, Arabs must move beyond their petty differences, and in a mature manner focus on their common interests. To achieve even a modicum of solidarity, leading Arab nations must play a more significant role in regional affairs.

A matter of immediate concern is finding a way to deal with sectarian conflict now rearing its ugly head in the Arab world. Political conflicts are feeding into this sectarian infighting. If it goes unchecked, it could burn everything to the ground. Arabs must neutralize this by making it clear that political differences are based on individual interests, not religious schools of thought.

Daunting challenge

Arabs everywhere are hoping that their leaders would reconcile those with diverging views. It’s a daunting challenge and intentions count, but these are still lacking. Looming large is the unprecedented crisis in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) involving Qatar. Until this point, the GCC member states have had an exemplary record, setting the standard for consistent and unified decisions. Their difficulties now simply add to the woes of the region as a whole.

What is needed now cannot be solved solely by Kuwait, whose leaders have historically played a major role in mediating differences between countries. We have to be realistic, they do not have a magic wand. Leading Arab leaders must now step into the breach and sort this out.

Arabs have grown tired of delays and procrastination. They feel justifiably frustrated and let down. They deserve to live a life of dignity and integrity. It is the responsibility of Arab policy makers to rise to the occasion, putting aside their minor disputes.

One thing is certain, regional powers must not meddle in Arab affairs; only Arabs can effectively sort out their differences.

This article was first published in Arab Times on March 26, 2014.


Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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