The Conflict Over the Arab League

Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed

As reflected by the Arab League Summit in Sirte, the primary struggle is 
focused on the Arab League itself; its role, its presidency, and its 
operations. Some may wonder how the Arab League could be described as a useless 
and crippled political organization because if this were the case then why are 
major governments battling for control over this international institution that 
is even older than the United Nations? 

The Sirte Summit is a classic case in the series of battles between the Arab 
camps, except that the emphasis this time was on the Arab League, which means 
that everybody feels that the region is approaching major crises and this 
explains the increase in the value and the role played by the Arab League. 

It is true that throughout its history the Arab League has never undertaken an 
operation to liberate Palestine or Kuwait, or confront terrorism, and that it 
only played a secondary role in [attempting to resolve] the civil wars in 
Lebanon, southern Sudan, and Somalia. It is also true that the Arab League 
never succeeded in solving a single Arab conflict, such as the conflict between 
the Western Sahara and Morocco, or even dealing with the crisis in Iraq in the 
period before, during, and after the US invasion. 

However when the Arab League places its stamp on a decision it grants this 
decision legitimacy. It granted legitimacy to the operation of liberating 
Kuwait from occupation by Saddam Hussein's troops. It would not have been easy 
for these international troops to come and wage a war in order to establish the 
al-Sabah dynasty as the legitimate rulers of Kuwait unless the Arab League 
legitimized this decision. The Arab League also recognized the Palestinian 
Liberation Organization [PLO] as the sole and legitimate representative of the 
Palestinians at a time when several countries and forces were contending over 
the jurisdiction of this homeless nation and the management of its resources 
and the exploitation of its tragedy. This was repeated when the Arab League 
recognized the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, not 
Hamas, as the legitimate Palestinian authority. Hamas responded by launching a 
coup and removing the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip. Due to the 
influence of the Arab League, the Hamas leadership reached an impasse, because 
without the recognition of the Arab League the Hamas movement is treated like 
any other movement. 

Everybody wants to obtain the Arab League's stamp of legitimacy so that they 
can include this in their political manifesto and use this for their own 
benefit. What is taking place today is an attempt to kidnap the Arab League. We 
recall the famous scene that took place at the Arab League following the 
[Iraqi] occupation of Kuwait, when the then Arab League Secretary-General 
Chadli Klibi counted the votes that were in support of Kuwait, and those that 
were in support of Iraq, whilst others tried to prevent Klibi from taking a 
count when it became clear that the majority of Arab countries were in support 
of Kuwait. This resulted in the Arab League announcing an international war on 
Saddam Hussein. This scene could be repeated in the future in the event of 
riots breaking out or confrontation with Tehran, or in the event of Hamas and 
those behind the movement deciding to attack the Palestinian Authority in order 
to delay the expected negotiations. In such cases, the Arab League's seal of 
legitimacy will be extremely valuable. 

This is what makes the moderate section of Arabs insist on the Arab League 
remaining in Egypt because it is the largest Arab country and has always 
adopted moderate positions. At this critical period, it would also be best if 
the position of the Arab League Secretary General remains in the hands of an 
Egyptian, so that the Arab League will not be jeopardized and so that there 
should be no division between the Arab League headquarters and the home country 
of the Arab League Secretary General. Regardless of how other Arab countries 
attempt to end the marriage between the Arab League and Egypt, they will never 
succeed, especially when taking into account that most Arab countries are on 
Egypt's side, and that the Egyptian camp remains the most important in the Arab 
arena, regardless of what is said about its weakness, submission, and losses. 

The Arabs have experimented with moving the Arab League headquarters from Cairo 
to Tunis, and anybody who remembers this period must recall how badly this 
harmed the region and the Arab League organization. This resulted in the 
division of the Arab world - in the name of unity - against Egypt's position 
with regards to its signing of the Camp David Agreement. The relocation of the 
Arab League to Tunis was proposed by Saddam Hussein, and the rest of the Arab 
League agreed with this proposal, however this ultimately had destructive 
results, even to Iraq itself. By the time Iraq sought Egyptian support 
following the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war, the Arab League operations in 
Tunis had come to a standstill. 

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