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Arab League

By:
Tawfiq Y. Hasou, Joseph Kéchichian
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Arab League

Until the mid-twentieth century, the Arabs of modern times were under foreign domination, mainly Ottoman, British, and French. Their first opportunity to regain independence and unity came when the Hashemite sharīf, Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī, ruler of the Hejaz (r. 1916–1924), launched the 1916 Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, which at the time dominated most of the Arab East. Although Britain pledged Husayn its support in his quest to establish a unified Arab state, the British had secretly signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement a month earlier with France, dividing the Arab East between them. In accordance with the latter agreement, the League of Nations in 1922 approved British Mandate control over Transjordan and Palestine, and French Mandate control over Syria, including present-day Lebanon.

Birth of the Arab League.

Sharīf Husayn's sons, particularly Fayṣal and Abdullah, joined several groups to induce London to accept Arab independence and unity. Anthony Eden, the then foreign minister of Great Britain, responded to these pressures by declaring in May 1941 that Britain supported the Arab quest for unity through an institution that looked after their interests. Abdullah and Faysal supported the idea of an Arab League that would include Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq, but Britain, wary of a rising Arab power, preferred to headquarter the group in Egypt, the center for British activities in the region.

Throughout 1943 and 1944, Egyptian leaders discussed with officials and representatives from Iraq, Transjordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Palestine various proposals for some form of union. When these officials consented to an Egyptian proposal for the establishment of an Arab League, representatives of the seven states met in September 1944 in Alexandria, Egypt, and eventually agreed on a specific structure. Member-states retained their respective sovereignties with binding initiatives applied only when unanimously resolved. With these critical accords sealed, and under British tutelage, Arab representatives met in Cairo and signed the Pact of the League of Arab States on March 22, 1945. The founding members were Egypt, Iraq, Jordan (then Transjordan), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen. In addition to the original members, the following states have joined the League since: Libya (1953); Sudan (1956); Tunisia and Morocco (1958); Kuwait (1961); Algeria (1962); the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (1967, united in 1990 with the Yemen Arab Republic); Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates (1971); Mauritania (1973); Somalia and Palestine (1974); Djibouti (1977); and Comoros (1993). In January 2003, Eritrea acceded as an observer.

Five Egyptians and a Tunisian have led the League as Secretary-Generals since 1945: Abd al-Rahman Hassan Azzam (1945–1952), Abdul Khalek Hassouna (1952–1972), Mahmoud Riyad (1972–1979), Chedli Klibi (Tunisian, 1979–1990), Dr. Ahmad Esmat Abd El-Meguid (1991–2001), and Amr Moussa (2001–).

The League after 1945.

Little of the organization's structure has changed since 1945. The League comprises six major bodies: the Council, the supreme body of the organization, composed of the representatives of the member states; Permanent Commissions, which includes the important Political Committee; the General-Secretariat, comprising the Secretary-General, assistants, and other officials; the Common Defense Council; the Social and Economic Council; and the Specialized Arab Organizations. The goals of these bodies include encouraging close cooperation of the member states in political, security, economic, communications, cultural, social, and financial matters.

In the area of social and economic welfare, numerous joint ventures have been formed, such as the Arab Potash Company, the Arab Maritime Companies, the Arab Satellite Communications Organization, the Arab Monetary Fund, and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development. The last two institutions provide financial assistance for social and economic development in the Arab world, especially in the poorer states. Other specialized organizations present recommendations to assist member states in solving socio-economic problems. In the area of cultural cooperation, the Arab Organization for Science, Culture, and Education organizes educational conferences and publishes studies on science and education.

Dissent within the League.

The Arab League pact prohibits the use of force for the settlement of disputes between member states, but various cross-border incursions doomed its otherwise remarkable record. Its efforts to mediate such disputes have been largely ineffective.

To counter Egypt 's domination of the league, Saudi Arabia, supported by other Arab and Muslim states, founded the Muslim World League (1962), followed by the Islamic Pact (1965) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). In March 1979, when Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, Arab leaders met in Baghdad, expelled Egypt from the League, moved the League 's headquarters to Tunis, and appointed a Tunisian as the new secretary-general.

Yet, soon after the Baghdad summit, Iraq was at war with Iran (1980–1988), which exacerbated Arab divisions and further weakened the institution. Several Arab leaders, notably King Hussein of Jordan and King Hasan of Morocco, attempted to reestablish Arab solidarity. Hussein was instrumental in the return of Egypt to the League during the 1987 Arab Summit in Amman. But the August 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait resulted in further divisions. The Tunisian secretary-general resigned his post, and an Egyptian was appointed in his place. The August 1990 emergency summit condemned the Iraqi invasion of a fellow Arab country, but eight states had refused to participate and sided with Baghdad. Inevitably, these divisions were accentuated in 1994, when the League voiced strong opposition to the Gulf Cooperation Council's decision to end secondary and tertiary trade embargoes against Israel. The six conservative Arab Gulf monarchies rejected a League rule—that only the Council could make such a policy change—asserting, instead, their rights to act independently. Further divisions developed over the U.S. campaign against Iraq during the 1990s. In 1998 Secretary-General Chedli Klibi condemned the use of, or even the threat of, force against Iraq. League officials sided with Baghdad while aggressively pursuing peace initiatives and, equally important, adopted policies to combat terrorism. Arab interior and justice ministers signed an agreement to strengthen cooperation against terrorism, denouncing the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Kenya and Tanzania. Simultaneously, the League voiced strong reservations against the Clinton administration 's missile strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan.

The most important recent initiatives of the League include the 2002 Beirut Summit meeting. Promoted by ʿAbdallah bin ʿAbd al-Azīz Āl Saʿūd of Saudi Arabia, the League agreed to full normalization of relations with Israel in exchange for Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, as well as the right of those Palestinian refugees or their descendants who wished to return to do so. Also significant is the 2003 vote (21–1, Kuwait casting the lone dissent) calling on the unconditional removal of all foreign forces from occupied Iraq. See also MUSLIM WORLD LEAGUE and ORGANIZATION OF THE ISLAMIC CONFERENCE.

Bibliography

  • Anderson, Krister. “Going Major: Reforming the League of Arab States,”Harvard International Review25:4, January 1, 2004, p. 7.
  • Barnett, Michael N.Dialogues in Arab Politics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
  • Gomaa, Ahmed M.The Foundation of the League of Arab States. London and New York: Longman, 1977.
  • Hasou, Tawfiq Y.The Struggle for the Arab World: Egypt's Nasser and the Arab League. Boston and London: KPI, 1985.
  • Hassouna, Hussein A.The League of Arab States and Regional Disputes. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana Publications, 1975.
  • MacDonald, Robert W.The League of Arab States: A Study in the Dynamics of Regional Organization. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965.
  • Maddy-Weitzman, Bruce. The Crystallization of the Arab State System, 1945–1954. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1993.
  • Muḥāfaẓah, ʿAlī, et al.Jāmiʿat al-Duwal al-ʿArabīyah: Al-wāqiʿ wa-al-tumūh (The League of Arab States: The Reality and the Aspiration). 2d ed.Beirut, Lebanon: Markaz Dirāsāt al-Wahḍah al-ʿArabīyah, 1983.
  • Riyād, Mahmūd. The Struggle for Peace in the Middle East. London and New York: Quartet Books, 1981.
  • Salamé, Ghassan, ed. The Foundations of the Arab State. London: Routledge, 2006.
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