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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 their independence and unity came when the Hashemite sharif, Husayn ibn `All, ruler of the Hejaz (d. 1931) launched the famous Arab revolt in 1916 against the Ottoman Empire, which at the time dominated most of the Arab East. Although Britain promised Husayn its support in his quest for Arab unity, the British had secretly signed the Sykes-Picot Agreement a month earlier with France, dividing the Arab East between the two countries.

The Arab revolt accelerated Arab demands for independence and unity. Sharif Husayn’s sons, particularly Emir Faysal of Iraq (d. 1933) and Emir `Abd Allah (Abdullah) of Jordan (d. 1951), joined several Arab Muslim groups in pressuring London for Arab independence and unity. The British foreign minister, Anthony Eden, responded to Arab pressure by declaring to the House of Commons in May 1941 Britain’s support for the Arabs in achieving their unity through an institution that looked after their interests and tightened their ties. Emir `Abd Allah, who opposed the partitioning of Syria in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, was the first Arab leader to endorse Eden’s statement. Iraq envisaged an “Arab League” that would include Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq, but owing to Egyptian, Saudi, and Syrian opposition and British hesitation, the Hashemite endeavors were unsuccessful.

Britain tilted toward Egypt, the center for British activities in the region. Egypt was also viewed as a bridge between Christian Western Europe and the Arab Muslims. Throughout 1943 and 1944 Egyptian leaders discussed with officials and representatives from Iraq, Transjordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Palestine the Arab proposals for some form of union. These officials consented to an Egyptian proposal for the establishment of an Arab League. Representatives of the Arab states met in September 1944 in Alexandria, Egypt, and eventually agreed on a structure in which member states would retain their sovereignty, and resolutions would be binding on all member states only when voting was unanimous. Majority decisions would be binding only on those states that accepted them. The league would strive to achieve cooperation among the Arab states and to maintain their independence and sovereignty.

Arab representatives met in Cairo and signed the Pact of the League of Arab States on 22 March 1945. The founding members were Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Transjordan. In addition to the original members, the following states have joined the League: Libya (1953); Sudan (1956); Tunisia and Morocco (1958); Kuwait (1961); Algeria (1962); South Yemen (1967, united in 1990 with Yemen); Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates (1971); Mauritania (1973); Somalia (1974); Palestine (1976); and Djibouti (1977).

The Arab League comprises six major bodies: the League Council, the supreme body of the organization composed of the representatives of the member states; Permanent Commissions, which include 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 have been extensive, including encouraging close cooperation of the member states in political, security, economic, communications, cultural, social, and financial matters.

The provisions of the pact outlawed the use of force for the settlement of disputes between member states, and the league is responsible for dealing with any dispute that may arise between members. Any threatened state has the right to request the league’s council to take the necessary steps to repel aggression.

There have been a number of achievements, particularly through the specialized organs of the league. In the area of social and economic welfare numerous agreements have been signed between member states, including joint ventures like 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 have extended considerable financial assistance for social and economic development in the Arab world, especially in the poorer states. Other specialized organizations prepare studies and present recommendations to help member states in solving their social and economic problems. The Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa extends financial assistance to several African Muslim states. In the area of cultural cooperation, the specialized Arab Organization for Science, Culture, and Education has organized numerous educational conferences and publishes extensive studies on science and education.

The league has also played an important role in political issues at the regional and international levels, as in championing the Palestinian cause. It continuously raises Arab and Islamic issues in international conferences such as the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Conference, and summits of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The league has contributed to solving inter-Arab conflicts and helps in strengthening Arab relations with foreign states such as those of Europe, Africa, and Latin America. To facilitate its work outside the Arab countries the league has opened more than twenty offices around the world.

Nevertheless, the league has been viewed by several Arab states as an instrument of Egyptian foreign policy. 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 OIC. [See Muslim World League and Organization of the Islamic Conference.] In 1979, when Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, Arab leaders met in March in Baghdad, expelled Egypt from the league, moved the league’s headquarters to Tunis, and appointed a Tunisian as the new secretary-general.

Soon after the Baghdad summit Iraq found itself at war with Iran (198o-1988), which contributed more to Arab divisions and rivalries and further weakened the league. Several Arab leaders, notably King Hussein of Jordan and King Hasan of Morocco, attempted to “reestablish” Arab solidarity. King Hussein was instrumental in the return of Egypt to the Arab League during the Arab summit of 1987 in Amman. Several Arab summits were organized by the league between 1988 and 1990, resulting in the return of the league to Cairo, although a “second center” remains in Tunis. The newfound solidarity was shattered by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. The league was divided as never before; the Tunisian secretary-general resigned his post, and an Egyptian was appointed in his place.

It is often said that the league is a mirror of Arab politics. Today more than ever, wataniyah and iqlimiyah (local and regional nationalism) rather than qawmiyah `arabiyah (Pan-Arabism) are the main driving forces in Arab politics. This portends a negative impact on the effectiveness of the Arab League in the near future.


Gomaa, Ahmed M. The Foundation of the League of Arab States. London and New York, 1977. Covers the colonial and inter-Arab politics that produced the Arab League.

Hasou, Tawfiq Y. The Struggle for the Arab World: Egypt’s Nasser and the Arab League. Boston and London, 1985. Study of Egypt’s role in the Arab League during the Nasser era, showing how the league was used as an instrument of Egyptian foreign policy.

Hassouna, Hussein A. The League of Arab States and Regional Disputes. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 1975. Written by the son of the former secretary-general of the league, `Abd al-Khaliq Hasunah. Detailed work on the mechanism of the league and its utilization in attempting to solve Arab conflicts.

MacDonald, Robert W. The League of Arab States: A Study in the Dynamics of Regional Organization. Princeton, 1965. The first major English-language study on the Arab League.

Maddy-Weitzman, Bruce. The Crystallization of the Arab State System, 1945-1954. Syracuse, N.Y., 1993. Study of inter-Arab politics in the first decade after the formation of the Arab League.

Muhafazah, `Ali, et al. jami’at al-Duwal al-`Arabiyah: Al-waqi` wa-al-tumuh (The League of Arab States: The Reality and the Aspiration). 2d ed. Beirut, 1992. Publication of a symposium organized by the league in Tunis, April 1982. Excellent and exhaustive collection of papers by League officials and Arab experts on the league.

Riyad, Mahmud. The Struggle for Peace in the Middle East. London and New York, 1981. Riyad, Egypt’s foreign minister under Nasser and Sadat and secretary-general of the Arab League, discusses the Egyptian-Israeli conflict, the road to peace, and his role in the league.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/arab-league/

  • writerPosted On: October 11, 2012
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