Wither the Arab League

The failure of the Arab League is not an Arab thing. It is symptomatic of a much deeper, global problem

Abdullah Hamidaddin
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There is a consensus among Arabs and even non-Arabs that the Arab League needs a major overhaul. A review of its history in the past quarter-century reveals what little impact it has had on inter-Arab relations and on resolving major Arab issues.

One stark example of the state it has reached is its recent summit. Though publicized, few Arabs knew of it, and those who knew did not care. A quick Google search for “Arab summit 2016” reveals the lack of attention and interest from Arabs and non-Arabs alike. Morocco was supposed to host it earlier this year, but decided it was not worth the effort, passing the honor to Mauritania.


To be fair, many international organizations are not doing much better. The failure of the Arab League is not an Arab thing. It is symptomatic of a much deeper, global problem. The United Nations is a clear example of a dysfunctional organization that has not been able to achieve its purpose of world peace and order.

Collective action

International organizations are as effective as the willingness of their sovereign member states to act collectively. Collective action between states that have so many competing interests needs creative solutions, a delicate balance between immediate and long-term benefit, and trust. All three are lacking in today’s world, including the Arab world.

Some say the Arab League can facilitate Arab collective action. For example, in recent days two events encouraged or organized by the Arab League took place. One was the 90th Boycott Israel conference that took place in Egypt. The second was a meeting of the Arab League’s Committee of Senior Arab Officials on Nuclear and other Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The failure of the Arab League is not an Arab thing. It is symptomatic of a much deeper, global problem

Abdullah Hamidaddin

Furthermore, it seems the Arab League intends to support a bid by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to file a lawsuit against Britain in international courts for issuing the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Such cases show that the Arab League can facilitate collective action, but they also point to a major defect in its workings: it facilitates collective and futile rhetoric against an external enemy.

Arabs need the Arab League. It is a recognized international organization with a seat at tables of major issues facing the world and Arab countries. Its institutions have gained legitimacy and experience. It is a platform for communicating Arab interests to Arabs and to the world. More importantly, we need it because the challenges facing Arab countries - and the world - are no longer local.

The environment, refugees, poverty, education and transfer of technology - to name but a few - are major issues that need collective action. Even unemployment, once thought to be a local matter, is now recognized as a global problem that requires collective action.

We need the Arab League, but we need it to change. We need it to acknowledge that it is futile to unite the Arab world behind a political agenda. We need to it to generate collective action to solve the day-to-day problems of individuals living in the Arab world.

We need to unify Arabs against social, economic and environmental challenges instead of unifying them to combat history. We need to it reimagine who we are as Arabs, rather than insisting on archaic visions of pan-Arabism. We need it to be an extension of the aspirations of Arabs, or we do not need it at all.

Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1

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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