Disunity: A grave threat to the Arab world

I have reached the conclusion that the majority of Arab states are their own worst enemy

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
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I have reached the conclusion that the majority of Arab states are their own worst enemy. The Arab nation of which we were once so proud has disintegrated. Great swathes have descended into violent trouble spots. Millions have been killed, millions more rendered refugees, while our leaderships, with few exceptions, have morphed into do-nothing spectators keen only to preserve their own patch. Big mistake!

One by one, our countries will go down like nine-pins unless we stand together, united and strong. The all-for-one, one-for-all spirit has all but died. This attitude has to change for our very survival over the coming years and decades. We continually pile blame on interfering foreign powers for our woes, and they have a lot to answer for. But the time has come to put our own actions – or lack of them – under a microscope.

This is our part of the world and ultimately we must take responsibility for fixing it. To be sure, that is easier said than done. I do not minimize the challenges and obstacles in our path. But if we cannot bring ourselves to put our hands together and take a leap of faith towards mutual trust, not only our territories but our very identity as Arabs will exist only in history books.

Let us first quit fantasizing that any major power is our friend; one that will rush to our defence if attacked. They will only do so if their geopolitical interests are at stake and correlate with our own.

Our security cannot be left to the whims of foreign presidents who would sell us down the river when it suits, which is seemingly what US President Barack Obama did when he sealed an empowering deal with a sponsor of terrorism on the planet, with which he “instructed” us to share the neighbourhood. That alone should have been a wake-up call to all Arab governments unwilling or unable to see ‘danger’ flashing in neon.

Moreover, Obama’s weak-kneed response to the carnage in Syria was fodder for the emergence of a Russian-Syrian-Iranian troika allied with the Iranian-dominated government of Iraq as well as Hezbollah and Shiite militias.

This link-up (which could not have occurred but for Obama’s attack of cold feet) seems to have undercut America’s ability to project power, making Washington look like a paper tiger.

Potentially this new axis poses a direct threat to all Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states which are sacrificing blood and treasure to free Yemen from Tehran’s armed bands of scruffs at the behest of the internationally recognized president. If our Arab allies were similarly committed, that mission would have been over many months ago and many lives saved.

Just imagine the strength and influence all Arab countries would enjoy if all were pulling in the same direction instead of pulling apart!

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Problematic approach

Here is the nub of the problem: Some Arab leaderships reason “How is it my problem?” It is that approach which has left the Palestinians isolated and seen Lebanon, Syria and Yemen drift into the Iranian camp.

Others have lined up within loose, unofficial blocs or are occupied, trying to keep their countries afloat both in terms of security and the economy. They are on a different page to Saudi Arabia and, in some cases, are working out of an entirely different playbook.

For instance, Algeria, that has a large and sophisticated military machine, has adopted a fortress-like mentality. Morocco and Tunisia rely on tourism and seek a quiet life. Libya has been abandoned to clambering out of the mess created by former President Muammar Gaddafi’s ousting all on its own.

Lebanon and Iraq put on a show of being allies of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states when in reality they are sheltering under an Iranian umbrella. Both are unsupportive of GCC stances in the League of Arab States and international forums. Beirut is anxious for Saudi aid and to that end has officially recognized that the Gulf is the “Arabian Gulf”, yet Middle East Airlines uses “Persian Gulf” on its in-flight map.

Egypt is engaged in a balancing act attempting to please all its allies at the same time. On Syria, Cairo is not being transparent, recently voting for a French/Spanish-sponsored resolution with reference to Aleppo in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), doomed to fail because Russia used its veto. Then, during the same session, Egypt voted for the Russian resolution that omitted the imposition of a no-fly zone over the bombed and besieged city.

Egypt, which currently represents the Arab List within the UNSC, pledged to work “vigorously” to defend and prioritize Arab and African causes upon winning its non-permanent member seat. While I understand that Cairo is engaged with Moscow in major joint projects, it should not permit financial concerns to override its responsibilities towards its Gulf Arab friends – or, even more importantly, its Syrian brothers and sisters.

Pulling apart?

Just imagine the strength and influence all Arab countries would enjoy if all were pulling in the same direction instead of pulling apart! Where are such enlightened leaders, such as the former President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who dreamt of a powerful and independent Arab nation and worked fearlessly towards that objective?

At a time when most of the Arab World was under the boot of European imperialist power, he was inspirational. His photograph had pride of place on the walls of homes all over the region. People would wait anxiously to hear his weekly radio address. He ignited our emotions. He gave us hope that soon our shackles would be removed. He told us to hold our heads high.

He began his unification project with a political union between his country and Syria, together known as the United Arab Republic that was loosely confederated with North Yemen. He solidly backed Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian independence, both diplomatically and materially, and, in partnership Syrian President, Nureddin Al-Atassi, he fought to liberate the Palestinian people.

As bad as things were during that era, almost every Arab was deeply touched by Palestinian suffering and even those unable to help opened up their hearts and very often their pockets. Nasser made mistakes but because he was loved they were forgiven.

‘Arab nationalism’

Arab nationalism was alive and well. We were all Arabs first and foremost willing to stand up for our freedom no matter the cost. Besides Nasser, we had leaders with wisdom and foresight, such as Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who devoted his life to serve not only the United Arab Emirates but the entire Arab nation.

They were in the mould of our great Islamic leaders – Omar bin Al Khattab, Khalid bin Al-Waleed and Abu Ubaidah bin Al-Jarrah; noble and courageous warriors who formed a united front to conquer their enemies.

Nowadays, Arab commentators scoff at the concept of Arab nationalism as being naïve then or way past its sell-by date today. The cynics are wrong because they ignore the fundamental principal of strength in numbers. They dismiss the thought that Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya are all in intensive care while tomorrow it could be our own homeland that is the new target. Then they will be yelling for help, but there will be no one left to hear them.

I would strongly urge our GCC leaders, our last hope, to hold frank discussions with Arab states who we have always considered to be our closest allies. We need to know whether they are with us, against us or straddling a fence. The hesitant should be scrutinized and if they are found to be anything other than sincere, we should bid them farewell.

I am sorry to say that more than one of our sister countries in the GCC have acted in ways that are diametrically out of line with the others. The GCC is not a monolith. Every member state is sovereign and has the right to form its own opinions on various issues. But when it comes to security and defence issues affecting all, we must demand nothing less than honesty and loyalty. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates should review the situation.

Let us create a circle of trust around us and our proven loyal partners. No matter how small it may be to begin with, its outward radiation will be fuelled by goodwill and success.
Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.

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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