Going Major: Reforming the League of Arab States

By Anderson, Krister | Harvard International Review, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Going Major: Reforming the League of Arab States


Anderson, Krister, Harvard International Review


It is a difficult time to be an Arab state. Saddam Hussein fell more quickly than expected, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has continued to fester. A growing population and a stagnant economy makes the future appear ominous for the region. Sadly, the Middle East has no regional organization to turn to for help. The once lauded forum of pan-Arabism, the League of Arab States (LAS), is impotent, lacking the consensus and legitimacy to take action. Yet as the only regional body of its kind in the Middle East, the League of Arab States needs to pursue reform based on economic integration to regain influence in international and Middle Eastern politics.

LAS no longer is (if it ever was) seen as a bargaining partner by the United States and the United Nations. Its external image is that of a group of unelected dictators who cannot form a consensus or take action on pertinent issues. While the LAS has tried to promote an Arab opinion on the world stage, its attempts have been largely ignored. The UN Security Council and General Assembly have largely disregarded LAS Secretary-General Amr Musa's call to resume the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, protect Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, and condemn the Israeli bombing of Syria. The peace process remains stalled, Arafat is vulnerable, and Israel has yet to be criticized.

The LAS has also attempted, but failed, to sway international decisions regarding Iraq. After re-accepting Iraq as a member-state, the LAS demanded that sovereignty be transferred quickly from the United States through a constitutional convention and free elections. However, LAS demands for democratic transition in Iraq have been dismissed as hypocritical since none of the LAS member-states have democratically elected governments. As a result, the LAS had little involvement in the recent passing of an Iraqi reconstruction timeline by the United Nations.

The LAS is able to articulate its interests, but lacks the international respect necessary to make its voice heard because it is not respected by its own members. Middle Eastern belief in the LAS has waned gradually but plummeted most dramatically after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Paralyzed by division, the LAS failed to reach a consensus as LAS member Iraq attacked fellow member Kuwait. It took international intervention to resolve a conflict that should have been determined internally. Member-states began to turn to other bodies, such as the United Nations, to solve problems, instead of to the LAS. Consequently, little substantive action has taken place through the LAS during the past few years. …

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