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Arab League fails to meet potential after Arab uprisings

Unnamed Arab League diplomat says Arab League failed to support the changes of the Arab uprisings of 2011

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 7 Sep 2014
Arab Foreign Ministers
A general view of the opening session of the Arab Foreign Ministers meeting at Arab League headquarters in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

“I remember when Nabil El-Arabi was elected secretary general of the Arab League; I remember the hopes and the dreams we had at the time about our league and what it could do to support the demands of the Arab Spring; but this is all something of the past; we are back to where we were before the Arab Spring, or even upon the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait [over 20 years ago],” said an Arab League diplomat who declined to be named.

The Arab League, under the leadership of Amr Moussa, managed to immediately identify itself with the demands of the Arab peoples, right after the ouster of then Tunisian president Zine El-Abidine

With the subsequent ouster of Hosni Mubarak, only a few weeks after Ben Ali, the Arab League that had traditionally been associated with the Arab regimes, was unequivocal in its association with the freedom calls made in Libya suppressed by the heavy military intervention of the later ousted Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi upon the green light given by the Arab Organisation to NATO’s aerial intervention.

“Then when we had Nabil El-Arabi we thought it would not be long before we get to see the call for freedom triumphant in Syria and Yemen, with our help; but alas; things took a different turn,” commented the same saddened Arab League diplomat.

The unfortunate turn, she said, is not really the doing of the new leadership of the Arab League. “I have talked to him several times; in fact I have seen him at Tahrir Square during the 18 days [of the 25 January Revolution]; at his heart Nabil El-Arabi is someone with genuine faith in freedom; but he did not push hard enough; he did not want perhaps to over-agitate the traditional Arab regimes that were already feeling uncomfortable with the tide of the Arab Spring as it was clear from the remarks they made during the ministerial meeting where we received the post-Qaddafi representatives of Libya”.

“It is true that these traditional regimes particularly wanted to get rid of Qaddafi and they helped with the finance of the NATO operation but they did not want things to move much further,” the Arab League diplomat added.

Inevitably, it was the influential Gulf capitals, particularly Riyadh that intervened to fix the situation in Yemen – with Saudi diplomats at the time being so open to the “strategic interest of Saudi Arabia in keeping the Shi’ite from finding their way to share power in Yemen” next to the hardcore Sunni Kingdom where Shi’ite minorities are not permitted to make complaints about their political and socio-economic rights.

Then, the same Arab Gulf powers tried to use their petro-dollar influence in Syria by financing segments of the Sunni opposition that had for its turn suffered historic discrimination. This was exactly what the Alawite regime of Bashar Al-Assad needed as he turned what was originally a multi-ethnic and cross-faith call for democracy into “a Sunni attack on the Alawite regime that threatened the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“Obviously with the unfortunate performance of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the huge sense of discontent that Egyptians were showing towards Morsi, the pro-democracy sentiment in Syria started to recede considerably; and with the Iranian intervention to support the Syrian president, the Arab League was again siding with the wish of the rich and powerful Arab Gulf countries without really offering a way out for Syria,” the same diplomat said.

As she helped prepare for the regular Arab foreign ministers meeting that was scheduled to open today at the headquarters of the Arab Organisation, this diplomat said that the volume of resolution offered for adoption by the top Arab diplomats, reminded her of the kind of resolutions that would have been discussed and offered for adoption when she first joined the Arab League shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

“These are the type of traditional resolutions that reflect the views of the government without regard for those who do not agree with them internally or international and regional powers,” she said.

According to several Arab diplomats who spoke to Al-Ahram Online in the lead up to the Arab League’s routine ministerial meeting, a top issue on the agenda of the foreign ministers is the coordination to react to radical Muslim groups, particularly ISIS.

Coming right ahead of an expected visit to the Middle East by US Secretary General John Kerry and an international conference that Saudi Arabia is planning to host to coordinate international efforts to combat terror, the Arab League meeting is expected to adopt a clear language endorsing an action-oriented decision to stop the expanding influence of ISIS.

In press statements made shortly before the announcement of his phone with Kerry, the secretary general of the Arab League was clear in asserting the combat of ISIS and other similar groups as a priority for today’s meeting.

The Arab foreign ministers are expected to openly reflect on the worry over the growing influence of radical militant Islamic groups in Libya and the need for Libya to find a negotiated political deal for its political conflict that is threatening to split the country in two.

The pan-Arab organisation is expected to support an Egyptian initiative to host a political meeting to resolve the Libyan conflict – which is by the account of several Arab and Western diplomats the last diplomatic attempt before the time comes for all concerned powers to consider a more interventionist, likely military-oriented, approach.

On the Palestinian developments, the Arab League is expected to show support to the position of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his attempt to re-introduce the presence of the PA into Gaza.

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