By Marina Makary
The Arab region has been long seen conflict, and proved to be a region lacking unity or unified action to change its status. It is safe to say that, during every summit, Arab leaders “condemn terrorist attacks” and blame the international community for not taking actions towards the ongoing threats in the region, which at the moment are mainly Yemen, Libya, Syria, and, as-always, Palestine.
While the united Arab force, which the Arab foreign ministers agreed to form on Thursday, may break this tradition, the Arab League has been best known for its lack of action throughout most of its existence.
The Arab League consists of 22 full members and four observers. Officially called ‘League of Arab States’, its main purposes are the “creation of closer relations among its members, the promotion of the collaboration among them, the protection of their independence and sovereignty, and the implementation of a common way for the affairs and interests of the Arab countries”.
One of the main obstacles of the Arab League is its decision-making process. In September 2007, the Arab League made amendments to its pact, including its decision-making procedures. It stated that the league is to take its decisions by consensus “whenever possible”. However, the text provided no guidelines for how to determine when consensus is “impossible”. For a 22-member council, reaching a consensus is practically impossible, which therefore often delays taking decisions.
Daily News Egypt reviews Arab League action on the key files of the past years.
The Saudi Arabia-led military operation targeting Houthis in Yemen received support from the Arab League, and now appears to be followed up by unified Arab action: the formation of a united Arab force.
Yemen was hit before by serious political upheaval early in 2011 when protesters – inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt – rallied against the three-decade rule of President Saleh. He stepped down as part of a deal brokered by neighbouring countries at the end of the year, ushering in a transitional period of political reforms. In the meantime, Yemen had become a major base for Islamist militants. Recently Shi’a Houthi rebels swept into the capital Sana’a and seized control of it. In Kuwait’s Arab League summit in 2014, Arab heads welcomed the outcome of Yemen’s national consensual dialogue and stressed their support of the unity and sovereignty of the country. They also stressed the need for abiding by the UN Security Council resolution 2140, which encourages the Yemeni public “to continue their active and constructive engagement in Yemen’s political transition”.
In January 2015, the Arab League held an emergency meeting where Secretary General Nabil El-Araby stressed the importance of decisive action in the pursuit of Libya’s unity without interfering with its domestic affairs. Libya has been witnessing a rising insurgency by different rebel groups and militias, with increased weapons usage since the overthrow of Muammar Al-Gaddafi’s regime in 2011. Currently, two opposing governments are operating in the country, with Abdullah Al-Thinni’s government in Tobruk in eastern Libya, opposed by Omar Al-Hasi, in Tripoli in western Libya. During the Arab League Summit in 2014, Arab leaders expressed their solidarity with Libya in preserving its national sovereignty and independence, and rejected all attempts aimed at undermining its stability and territorial integrity.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in March 2011, taking refuge in neighbouring countries or within Syria itself, over 3 million have fled to Syria’s immediate neighbours Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria. Today, the numbers are still increasing. Last year, the host country’s Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah’s called on the UN Security Council to find a “rapid end” to the Syrian civil war. That plea was echoed by Secretary General Nabil El-Araby, stressing the importance of a “foreign military intervention”. Arab leaders called for finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis in accordance with the Geneva I conference which allows a peaceful transition of government, rebuilding the country to achieve a national consensus and preserve the Syrian unity and sovereignty.
The situation in Palestine keeps evolving from bad to worse, and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent win in the Israeli elections will most likely hinder Palestinian interests. Netanyahu had previously promised that a Palestinian state will not be established on his watch, although reiterating that statement later, which only makes his re-election a negative sign for Palestine. Israel has been accused by Arab nations of being behind the stalled peace process in the Middle East and the continuation of tension in the Middle East. Arab leaders constantly claim that the Palestinian cause remains the core issue of their nations. However, since the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948, no action has been taken towards a two-state solution except “calls” for the solution to be made.
The Arab leaders also urged the United Nations Security Council to take up its responsibilities and move quickly to take the needed steps to set up the mechanisms to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and achieve a comprehensive peace in the region based on the two-state solution according to the 4 June, 1967 border line over ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands and withdraw to the 4 June, 1967 border line.
The two-state solution will probably be the core issue for the Arab and Muslim nations in this summit as well, but with no practical measures taken.
Last year, Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah acknowledged that the summit was being held under “highly delicate” circumstances, and that Arab countries were faced with serious challenges. This year, the circumstances in the Arab region only got worse. The 22-state council also previously condemned hatred, terrorism, sectarian discrimination and/or violence. Yet, sectarian violence increased, especially with the emergence of “Islamic State” (IS), and the renewal of religious discourse has only been the subject of talks, not more.
Will the 26th Arab League Summit be a repetition of the previous years; a mere routine-based ceremonial meeting? Or will it lead to ground-breaking decisions and solid solutions to the chaotic, war-torn region?