The Arab League: Could this be its finest hour ?

The current situation in the Arab world cries out for some regional cohesion. Calls have been made for The Arab League to present the “voice of reason”, one that is representative of the area and to which the global community can respond. Sadly, on previous occasions, the League has been measured and found lacking and for much of its existence, the Arab League has been dismissed as a ‘toothless tiger’, though any comparison to the beast of the jungle was, perhaps, charitable.

Formed in the March of 1945, when war in Europe was yet to be declared over, the League of Arab States, as it is officially known, hoped to ‘draw closer the relations between member States and coordinate collaboration between them, to safeguard their independence and sovereignty, and to consider in a general way the affairs and interests of the Arab countries’.

One can imagine that having been caught in the turmoil of World War II and gazing over the Mediterranean at the ruined cities of Europe, the Arab states of North Africa – where so much fighting took place – and further east toward the Gulf, wanted to take greater charge of their own futures.

There are approximately 300 million people living in Arab League countries. Coupled with the geopolitical significance of many of its member states and the vast hydrocarbon resources owned by large swathes of it, it is at first glance a wonder that as an organisation it is frequently overlooked as an irrelevance. For decades, however, the League was blighted by a lack of trust between its members. Specifically, the dictators who ran most of the League’s member states were psychologically predisposed to paranoia, to seeing conspiracies, lies and schemes where there were none. A suggestion from a leader must, surely, be hiding a secret agenda to strengthen his own position while weakening his rivals’. Though, when one considers whom they were dealing with, perhaps they were right to have their doubts. As a result, the Arab League was crippled into inaction. Regional crises brought summits. The summits would arrive at a consensus. But when the region’s leaders went home little, if anything, was done and opportunities to take charge of their own affairs were regularly squandered.

Then, in 2011, a change occurred. Starting in Tunisia and spreading across the region, a series of popular uprisings, known as the Arab Spring, took place. One by one, in a process that is ongoing, the dictators of the Arab world were toppled. Not only did this show the Arab League how far a little unity in that part of the world could have gone, it proved at least one of those leaders remarkably prescient. At a meeting of the League in 2007, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi warned that what had happened to Saddam Hussein could happen to any of them. He was right. Four years later he was dragged out of the drain he was hiding in and shot.

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