Time for region’s leaders to put Arab interests first
With the Middle Eastern policies of Western nations more fickle, uncommitted and unreliable than ever before, the Dhahran Arab League summit was an opportunity for Arab states to stand up and display strategic regional leadership.
Iranian meddling is the common denominator straddling the perfect storm of geopolitical crises the region faces. Tehran should not be feared or placated — combined Arab League GDP, at over $3.2 trillion, is nearly 10 times that of Iran. Tehran boasts third-rate military capabilities and only constitutes a threat because it spent decades mobilizing Arab militants against their own countrymen. Should we pity or despise those who sold their souls for pennies from Tehran, when the Arab world boasts such immense capacities and riches? If only we could come together to deploy these resources effectively and wisely.
The Tehran regime cannibalized its own economy to bankroll overseas terrorism and militancy. Iran furthermore invests billions in media, educational and theological institutions that sow seeds of sectarian hatred throughout the Arab world. We should not demonize the Iranian people, or resort to vacuous rhetoric while failing to take action. Our end goal should be a peaceable administration in Tehran, which the Arab world looks to as a neighbor and friend. For Arab League decision-makers pursuing this objective within a holistic vision for enhancing regional security, the principle cornerstones are straightforward.
Active measures are needed to ensure that no Arab state hosts paramilitary forces whose primary loyalty is to foreign powers. Such principles, for example, are in harmony with Iraq’s own laws. The problem is meaningful enforcement, perhaps through an Arab League task force that assists states in extending control over ungoverned spaces and reining in non-state militias. Saudi Arabia’s impressive $1.5bn in pledges for reconstruction should be beefed up with an Arab League role for restoring Baghdad’s central position within its Arab heartland, away from malignant influences.
The Arab League summit can be a first step toward the restoration of an assertive Arab position on the world stage.
The Arab League must play the principal role in substantive negotiations concerning member states. For Syria, this means ensuring that no future status issues conflict with Arab interests. A handful of rockets fired at Syrian chemical weapons installations will not alter the situation on the ground. With Donald Trump tweeting mixed messages about his desire to cut and run, a joint Arab role is required to obstruct the consolidation of enemy forces in Syrian territory toward a solution that allows Syrians to be free of violence and tyranny. In Libya and Yemen, a broadened Arab role is required to bring these conflicts to a quick end, ensuring a stable Yemen that doesn’t host hostile forces.
Pro-Iranian narratives are propagated through a plethora of media outlets, while the Arab world either remains silent or deploys its media outlets against each other. This doesn’t mean replicating the deranged propaganda of Al-Manar TV: Rather, a sophisticated, evidence-based communications strategy is needed to actively promote Arab interests around the world, raising awareness about the consequences of Iranian meddling and other challenges. To counter hostile ideologies and internal divisions, the Arab world requires a cultural revival: A reassertion of what it means to be Arab, through the arts, literature and educational activity; along with collective action against poverty and social grievances — promoting Arab unity, banishing sectarian divisions, and ostracizing those serving malicious ideologies.
Our enemies gloat at our divisions. The Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council must jointly act to compel Doha to implement necessary concessions, thus restoring our Qatari brothers and sisters to the Arab fold. This bitter experience demonstrates the need for Arab institutions to efficiently address disputes. An enforceable set of principles for acceptable behavior by organizations and the media would ensure that the Arab world doesn’t host entities serving hostile agendas. The infestation of hostile media and political offices in “Hezbollah-land” is a reminder that Doha is only the tip of the iceberg.
Finally, we must grasp the roots of this pestilence with both hands. Since 1979, the Islamic Republic never missed one opportunity to destabilize the Arab world, and the Arab world hardly lifted a finger in response. Right-minded Iranians consistently vote, protest and act against their theocratic, totalitarian leadership. A multi-faceted strategy against misrule in Tehran would support Iranians in realizing their potential. This strategy, nevertheless, wouldn’t resort to even one percent of the vicious and malicious tactics that this regime wielded against Arab states over the years.
Certain states will predictably baulk at such principles. Yet much of the above is simply implementing what has long existed as ink on paper. Rather than squandering our energies confronting one another, it is time for the Arab world to unify and demonstrate what it is capable of. For all its past failings, the Arab League remains the institutional heart of the Arab world and will remain the forum for coordinating joint Arab action.
The Palestinian question has held the region back for too long, providing a pretext for Tehran, Hezbollah and others to meddle. The Saudi-based 2007 Arab League summit reaffirmed the Arab Peace Initiative. The Arab League should act to restore this initiative to the top of the world’s agenda. Benjamin Netanyahu must be forced to understand that stealing Palestinian land has consequences. A shared solution for Jerusalem is required so that Israelis and Palestinians alike can reap the benefits of peace.
Progress on all these issues is achievable if members act together to promote regional security and put Arab interests first. The Dhahran summit can constitute a first step toward the restoration of an assertive Arab position on the world stage — an aspiration that every proud and nationalist Arab would share. Let us pray that our leaderships rise to the challenge.
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.