Region’s crises a real test of Arab League’s value
Dhahran may not have been deliberately chosen — among 20 Saudi cities that could have hosted the Arab League summit — for a political reason, but it does happen to be geographically the closest city to Iran. With a combination of hints and direct declarations, Iran was the subject of most of the main statements at Sunday’s summit.
In the opening remarks of host King Salman, he called for “a strong global stance to confront Iran’s behavior in the region,” reaffirming once again the dangers of Tehran’s foreign policy. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, echoed this statement by calling for a unified Arab stance against Iranian interventions.
Except, perhaps, for the Palestinian cause, Arab governments have had distinct positions on all issues, and this has been the case throughout the many regular and extraordinary summits that were held over the past 70 years. They have rarely agreed on key issues, which is why politicians often draft general statements that are both vague and long in a bid to reflect some sense of consensus.
In his speech, Aboul Gheit suggested to member states a plan to confront the various challenges through “a dialogue on the priorities of Arab national security.” He noted that “the big challenges confronting us are equally important and equally dangerous.” Aboul Gheit is right in putting all major issues in the same basket, as it is not possible to consider the crisis in Libya, for example, as less important than that in Syria or Yemen.
Furthermore, some threats are common. We have seen how Bahrain and Lebanon have suffered from Iran’s interference, and today we can see that Iran is spreading its interference toward Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria, too.
Thus, if some Arab governments do not feel the danger of Iran’s behavior, either because they are geographically far, or because they have a political entente with the Iranian regime, this means that the core founding principle of the Arab League, which is common defense, has failed. This was the essence of Aboul Gheit’s invitation to the member states; i.e. to establish a dialogue on the priorities of Arab national security and on the definition of the major threats.
Multiple crises in the region represent a real test to the relationship between member states, as well as a real test to the value and efficiency of the modus operandi of the Arab League
Member states are free to adopt various positions that suit them, but they will be committing a crime against the pact of the Arab League if they take sides on dangerous issues.
Although it is neither expected, nor requested, that all countries should engage militarily when the security of other member states is in danger, but at least those states should abide by the membership rules of this club in showing solidarity through a political stance, which is the very least that should be done.
Multiple crises in the region represent a real test to the relationship between member states, as well as a real test to the value and efficiency of the modus operandi of the Arab League. It is not new to see some states failing to abide by the minimum obligations as stated in the League’s pact, which had they signed. Hence, based on the dialogue surrounding these successes and failures, we can judge if there is any hope in treating this ailing old Arab League.
Unfortunately, the Arab region – indeed, the Middle East in general - is still the most politically unstable region in the world. This may be reflected by the failure of its umbrella organization, the Arab League. This organization can play an important collective role in facing up to these crises and if it does, and succeeds even once, it could easily add value to itself and its member states.
The Dhahran Arab Summit concluded on Sunday night, and a new one-year cycle has just started with new attempts that will hopefully achieve a breakthrough in the coming months.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed
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