The agenda of the upcoming 29th Arab Summit includes a very important topic that pertains to the health of millions of Arabs and non-Arabs living in Arab League countries.
The Executive Office of the Arab Health Ministers Council recently met in Cairo and decided to propose to the summit that will be held in Riyadh at the end of this month a resolution to impose a comprehensive smoking ban in the League’s member states. If this summit approves this resolution, it will do people in Arab countries a great favor. However, I advise the Iraqi delegation, whoever its chief is, to take a neutral position and to neither oppose nor accept the resolution.
Why is that?
The League’s member states must abide by the summit’s decisions if their kings, presidents, or representatives sign them. However, experience has taught us that this is not always the case. Hundreds of decisions have been made at the previous 28 summits but more than half of them were never implemented because those decisions were mainly made for domestic consumption and under the influence of dictatorial and nationalist regimes.
Even if all Arab countries comply with this resolution to ban smoking in public places, Iraq in particular will not be able to implement it. This is why I suggest that it takes a neutral stance as not implementing the resolution will diminish the Iraqi state’s worth and value. Subsequent summits and health ministers’ meetings will thus note that Iraq has failed to fulfill its commitments in this regard.
The reason I say so is because the Iraqi government had already enacted a law banning smoking in public transport but no one complied. None of the state representatives, such as the police, sought to hold those who violated the law accountable. Smoking remained common even in clinics, public and private hospitals and state institutions’ departments. We have never heard that a minister or a director punished his employees for smoking to set an example to others.
Apart from all that, Iraqi cities and rural areas are full of what violates basic health conditions. Garbage is spread in every street, yard and ally. Rivers and drinking water are contaminated. Cars emit all kinds of toxic gases and there is no health or environmental control or supervision whatsoever. Restaurants and vendors serve contaminated and even carcinogenic food, and no one is monitoring their work or holding them accountable.
Interestingly the only "achievement" accomplished by the "reforming" decisions which the government made in 2015 was abolishing the environment and the science and technology ministries.
In addition to this, we have a country that cannot implement public safety laws and regulations, such as the traffic law.
It’s certain that a state like this one cannot abide by the upcoming Arab League Summit’s decision to ban smoking. So why disgrace ourselves by signing such a resolution?
This article is also available in Arabic.
Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists. Previously, he has held the position of Managing Editor in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. He tweets under the handle @adnanhussein.