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Arab League and the War on Terror
CONCRETE REFORMS OR LIP SERVICE?
The Arab League's Contributions to the War on Terror
The League of Arab States, also called Arab League, is a voluntary group of Arab-speaking countries, aiming at strengthening shared ties, coordinate common policies and direct these countries towards a common good (BBC NEWS 2007). It has 22 members, including Palestine, regarded by the League as an independent state. These 22 member-states have a combined population of 300 million, occupying 5.25 million square miles.. The concept of the League was originated by the British in 1942 when they intended to use Arab countries against the Axis powers during World War II. But the intent did not materialize until March 1945 after the War. The preoccupation of the League at the time was to liberate colonized Arab countries and to prevent the Jewish minority in Palestine from turning it into a Jewish state. The Council is the highest body, which is composed of representatives from the members or member-states, who are usually foreign ministers or their delegates. The League's headquarters are in Cairo, Egypt. Its general secretariat runs the activities of the League under a secretary-general. The present Secretary-General is Amr Moussa. The most active members are Egypt and Saudi Arabia (BBC News).
Divisiveness among the members has dented the effectiveness of the League (BBC News 2007). During the Cold War, some sided with the Soviets and the others, with the Western side. They, especially Egypt and Iraq, have competed for leadership. Conflicts between traditional monarchies have also characterized the League. Examples of these monarchies are Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco on the one hand and new republics or "revolutionary" states on the other. Examples of new republics or "revolutionary" states are Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser, Baathist Syria and Libya under Muammar. The solidarity and effectiveness of the League were most severely tried by the U.S.-led campaign against Iraq. Some members favored it, some opposed and the rest just watched without a stand. The decisions made by the League bound only those members who voted for those decisions. This rift, thus, rendered the League ineffective in the field of "high politics." It has been unable to coordinate Arab foreign, defense and economic policies. This inability was specifically illustrated in the case of the Treaty of Joint Defense and Economic Cooperation document and the Joint Defense Council, which were both rendered ineffective. So far, agreements among members have not achieved anything beyond issuing declarations, as in the case of expressing support for the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. A lone exception was the economic boycott of Israel from 1948 to 1993, which was almost total. It has demonstrated effectiveness on a lower level, such as in developing school curricula, preserving manuscripts and translating modern technical terminology and establishing a regional telecommunications union (BBC News).
The proposal of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which was supported by the Arab League, indicated the Arab world's growing recognition of the right of Israel to exist (Bush 2002). It hinted at a forthcoming and just settlement between the two states now in conflict, Israel and Palestine, but eventually living in peace and security. The evolving situation required leadership rather than terror, and a choice to be made by those in the Middle East. They make a choice between the civilized world and the terrorists. From there, they must oppose terrorist acts. The proposal of the Crown Prince lifted the hope for sustained, constructive Arab involvement in the quest for peace. It derived from a tradition of visionary leadership from President Sadat and King Hussein and brought forward by President Mubarak and King Abdullah. The view was for other Arab countries to rise to the challenge and accept Israel as a nation and as a neighbor (Bush).
Arab Vision of Peace
The Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and the Arab League formulated an Arab vision of advancing the peace process in the region and submitted the document to the United Nations Security Council (Nahmias 2006). The formulation or plan included a scheduled revival of the peace process and renewal of the Arab-Israeli negotiations. Critics anticipated that the Palestinians would move to serve their diplomatic motives to pressure Israel before the meeting of the Security Council at the time. Critics felt that, despite diplomatic pressure, the plan was unlikely to work at that time (Nahmia).
US President George W. Bush emphasized that democratic change could help win the war on terror (Gwertzman 2004). In response to the urgent call and the pressure by the Arab world, the Arab League developed a generalized formula for reform. Its goals would deepen the foundation of democracy, increase political participation, advance women's role and rights and improve standards of living. Critics, however, found the plan too broad and generalized to appropriately respond to the need for political reform. It also addressed the problems concerning Iraq, Palestine and Syria only vaguely. The only accomplishment critics attributed to it was that it finally brought the Arab states together at a meeting and came up with something concrete. The members, at first, could not agree on a schedule and on what to contribute on the subject of reform.
A that, in the face of that very public argument, The document they finally came up with did not include mechanics for the implementation of the plan. The ministers and officials who attended the meeting rationalized that their key effort would not be in the document itself but in its implementation. Observers and critics felt that, instead, the lack of substance in the document was the absence of democracy in the Arab world and its lack of regard for human rights (Gwertzman).
Two factors compelled the League members to come up with the document (Gwertzman 2004). One was the reality of a bulging and young population, who needed educational skills and jobs the governments could not provide. The other was the declaration by the United States and Western countries that political and economic stagnation rendered the Arab world vulnerable to Muslim extremists, like the Al-Qaeda. President Bush and his allies argued that part of the war on terrorism was the establishment or advancement of freedom in the Arab world. The lack or absence of an effective means of expressing grievances peacefully and the chance to improve their lives would incline the people towards extreme violence. External and internal pressures from these two factors brought the League members to agree on an interpretation of reform but not on its implementation. Shades of opinion varied between Arabs and Westerners and even among Arab states themselves. They viewed reform as one of four types, namely political, economic, educational and social. It was political if it would increase citizen participation in governance. It was economic if it would privatize state-owned industries, motivate or enhance foreign investment, fuel foreign trade, and similar developments, which would spur economic growth the employment. It was educational if it would involve the education of the young by religious leaders and this would also be controversial. It was social if it dealt with issues within society, such as the status of women, divorce and child custody, and women's ownership of property. These issues were also considered controversial. There were widely divergent views and opinions among the League members on each of the four types. The Jordanians, for example, were most interested on the economic type as they were on foreign investment, restructuring regulatory mechanisms, banking systems and ways to encourage people to invest or spend in Jordan. Other Arab countries, like Qatar, would view reform more as pertinent to education and their perception of Qatar as an education city where they would want American and Western universities to set up branches (Gertzman).
As before, implementation was the problem (Gertzman 2004). The Arab League and most Arab governments were quite averse to externally-dictated reform agendas. They were also particularly sensitive about dealing with Western states in matters of trade aid and diplomatic relationships. They were accustomed to reforms only in their states. Arab intellectuals, Arab liberals and pro-reform activists had their own ideas of the changes their society needed. Security or emergency courts in Arab countries, for example, are not part of the regular court system but are run by the military. The function of these courts is to ward off dissent or punish critics of the regime. Reform advocates have surfaced recently, who openly challenge Arab governments, to make modifications. The U.S. And other Western states, which urge them to adopt reform, could use these advocates' rallying point as a kind of leverage or justification for the reform they too pressure the Arab governments to undertake. The Arab League emphasized that internal political reform could be possible only after major regional conflicts and basic security in the region were addressed and resolved. As it was, the governments used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq crisis as an excuse to evade internal problems and pressures. Their divergent opinions…[continue]
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