Arab League

Across the globe, there are intergovernmental organisations which promote regional security, political cooperation and economic growth. The Arab League is just one of these many intergovernmental organisations. The organisation represents nations with links to Arabic culture and history on the global political stage.  

Arab League Arab League

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Table of contents

    Below we will explore this exclusive regional club, consider its overall objectives, assess its political significance on the world stage and analyse the organisation's strengths and weaknesses.

    What is the Arab League?

    The Arab League is a regional organisation consisting of 22 members. The League was founded in March 1945 and the headquarters for the league can be found in Cairo in Egypt. The member states are geographically located across Africa and Asia, with many being located in the region denoted as the Middle East.

    The League was established to facilitate fostering unity and collaboration among Arab nations. Like many of the regional or international organisations that emerged in the 20th century, such as the European Union, African League and United Nations, the Arab League sought to protect the sovereignty and independence of its member states.

    The Arab League represents more than 407 million people across each member state and reaches over 5 million square miles.

    Arab League A green flag with a white inscription above a crescent moon within a circle of chain and all around a white wreath StudySmarterwith a ribbon at the base.Fig. 1 - Flag of the Arab League

    Arab League Founders

    Founded in March 1945 the Arab League was initially comprised of six member states. These included:

    1. Egypt,

    2. Saudi Arabia,

    3. Lebanon,

    4. Syria,

    5. Transjordan (now Jordan)

    6. Iraq.

    Yemen also joined the Arab League, just two weeks after the Arab League was established.

    The Arab League was founded after the Second World War, the alliance intended to maintain the independence of Arabic nations in the face of concerns that territory would be divided between colonial powers such as France and Britain.

    Colonial threat

    The threat to the independence of Arab-speaking nations across North Africa and the Middle East has a long history owing to the actions of colonial powers such as Britain and France across the regions.

    Succeeding the First World War, Britain and France had previously carved up the Middle East claiming territory using the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916) and the Balfour Declaration (1917). Following the Second World War, to withstand the threat of further colonial territorial claims the Arab League was formed.

    Want to know more about attempts to unify the Arab-speaking world? Take a look at this article on Pan-Arabism.

    Objectives of the Arab League

    The principal objective of the Arab League is to encourage the cooperation of the member states, protect their individual and collective independence and sovereignty and represent Arab countries in the Middle East and Africa. The Charter of the Arab League outlines the following objectives:

    • Achieving a closer relationship between Arab countries

    • Maintaining the independence of member states

    • Coordination of member states' plans and policies

    • Promoting social, health and economic, cooperation as well as cooperation in wider areas

    • Examining the interests and affairs of Arab states

    • To regulate economic and social relations with international organisations in order to assure peace and security

    In order to achieve its objectives and regulate its workload, the Arab League's structure allows for the delegation of tasks to a number of organisations and councils. The Arab League Council has the most authority in the League, and summits take place annually in March with the presence of the Arab Leaders. Members of the Arab League are each given a single vote in the Arab League Council.

    As per the Arab League Charter, the Objectives of the Arab League Council are:

    1. Assuring that member-states are complying with their agreements in a variety of areas.

    2. Taking the appropriate steps to ensure hostility amongst member states is deterred

    3. Resolving disputes among member states through peaceful methods.

    4. Preserving global peace and security by cooperating with international bodies.

    The Economic and Social Council (ESC) is responsible for making arrangements for the Arab League Council's annual summit and also oversees the creation and activities of specialised ministerial councils.

    There are a number of specialised ministerial councils where tasks are delegated.

    For example, the Council of Arab Economic Unity (CAEU) or the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation (ALESCO).

    These councils all ensure the Arab League is able to cover all policy areas and specialisms relevant to meeting its organisational objectives.

    All but one of the Secretary Generals for the Arab League have been Egyptian, whilst the headquarters of the Arab League are located in Egypt, the preference for an Egyptian Secretary General does warrant debate.

    Arab League Countries

    Below is a table of the 22 members of the Arab League and the date they joined the league.

    Members of the Arab League
    Egypt - 1945Lebanon - 1945Morocco - 1958Oman - 1971Djibouti - 1977
    Syria - 1945Yemen - 1945Kuwait - 1961Qatar - 1971Comoros - 1993
    Jordan - 1945Libya - 1953Algeria - 1962Mauritania - 1973
    Saudi Arabia - 1945Sudan - 1956Bahrain - 1971Somalia - 1974
    Iraq - 1945Tunisia - 1958United Arab Emirates -1971Palestine - 1976

    Table 1 - Members of the Arab League

    Arab League map of the world with Arab League member states shaded in green StudySmarterFig. 2 Map of the Arab League

    The Charter of the Arab League states:

    Any independent Arab state has the right to become a member of the League."1

    But what do we mean when we refer to "independent Arab states"?

    Whilst the majority of states within the Arab League have a Muslim majority population, a strict Islamic affiliation is not a requirement for membership in the Arab League. Rather admission is based predominantly on whether the nation is Arabic-speaking, if Arabic is one of the official languages or if the population has Arab origins.

    This can be seen in Lebanon, whilst there is a Muslim majority population, a large proportion of the Lebanese population are Christians. Whereas in Somalia, the population largely speaks Somali, however, Arabic is an official language. Therefore, both nations can be classified as independent Arab states.

    Additionally, there are also a number of observer states in the Arab League, these are :

    1. Armenia

    2. Eritrea

    3. Chad

    4. Brazil

    5. Venezuela

    6. India

    7. Greece

    Observers are not granted voting rights but can express their opinions, many of these nations have sizable Arab populations.

    Chad is a nation where Arabic is an official language and in 2014 chad applied for full membership in the Arab League, though this has not yet been granted.

    Despite these requirements, not all countries with sizable Arab populations are member states. For example, Iran, Turkey, and Israel are notably not affiliated with the Arab League as either full members or as an observer. The reasons for this are usually political, and often because of conflicts within the region.

    Membership Suspension

    Only three members of the Arab League have been suspended from the League, these are Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Egypt was suspended for 12 years after forming a peace agreement with Israel, and Libya and Syria were suspended in 2011 due to the violent response of the Syrian and Libyan governments to the events of the Arab Springs.

    Arab League Summit

    The annual Arab League Summits consists of meetings with all members of the league in which current matters and issues are discussed and a number of resolutions are adopted. Below are some examples of some important summits that have occurred throughout the Arab League's existence.

    Khartoum Summit of 1967

    This summit occurred in the aftermath of the Israeli-Arab Six Day War, a conflict which resulted in Arab defeat by Israel.

    The summit produced the Khartoum Resolution. In this resolution, members of the Arab League agree not to negotiate with Israel, not to formally recognise Israel and not to establish peace with Israel.

    The summit also highlighted the support of the Arab League members for Palestine and supported the Palestinian campaign to regain control of contested territory.

    Casablanca Summit of 1989

    As previously mentioned, Egypt was previously suspended from the Arab League owing to its involvement in a peace treaty with Israel. From the previous example, you can see why this action led to Egypt's suspension from the League.

    The 1989 Casablanca Summit saw the readmittance of Egypt into the Arab League.

    Successes and Failures of the Arab League

    The Arab League and its effectiveness are often closely scrutinised with there being a large consensus that the infighting and disagreements among Arab states are a hindrance to the effectiveness of the League. Below, we will explore some of the successes and failures of the Arab League.

    Successes

    The Arab League has had many successes since its creation. Here are a few of the important ones.

    • The Arab League's swift intervention in the events of the Arab Spring led to the condemnation of the actions of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the violence enacted on protestors in Libya.

    • After the Israeli-Arab Six Day War, the Arab League placed an oil embargo on the states that supported Israel in the war either directly or through the provision of arms to Israel such as the US, the UK and the Netherlands. As the Arab nations were the world's largest suppliers of oil, the embargo, had devastating effects in relation to the cost of oil for the nations that supported Israel. This resulted in the infamous oil crisis of the 1970s, where for countries such as the USA, the price of oil per barrel increased by 400%.

    • The Arab League has also been successful in providing Palestine with recognition and support to a degree. Whilst the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists, the Arab League had created a space in which Palestine can be represented through the admission of Palestine as a member of the league and the continued concern for the State of Palestine in the affairs of the Arab League.

    Failures

    Despite this, they have also had failures. The following are some prominent examples.

    • A structural failure of the Arab League is the fact that decisions and resolutions passed by the League are non-binding except if the vote was unanimous. This then creates the image of the Arab League as simply a talking shop where members have no obligation to act on decisions further.

    • Members of the Arab League also often fail to prioritise their role in the Arab League, annually many members often fail to pay their required donations to help fund the League on time or even at all. This can be crippling to the organisation and the work of the league and hinders its ability to undertake humanitarian programmes.

    • Finally, another failure of the Arab League can be seen by its constant infighting on how to react to matters, the King of Saudi Arabia himself stated that "Arab reality has never been so distant from unity".2 Many of the members of the Arab League are constantly in disagreement with one another, for example, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait highlighted the lack of unity amongst the Arab League members.

    Arab League - Key takeaways

    • The Arab League is a regional organisation within the Arab world containing 22 members.
    • The initial members of the League were Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan (now known as Jordan), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria.
    • The role and main objectives of the Arab League are to encourage cooperation between member states, protect their individual and collective independence and sovereignty and represent Arab countries in the Middle East and Africa.
    • The Israeli-Palestinian conflict sits at the core of many of the debates and issues addressed in the Arab League.
    • To achieve its objectives and regulate its workload, there are a number of ministerial councils attached to the Arab League- such as the Council of Arab Economic Unity.
    • A structural failure of the Arab League is the fact that decisions and resolutions passed by the league are non-binding.

    References

    1. Arab League Charter, 1945.
    2. Asa-El Amotz, The Jerusalem Post, 2007.
    3. Fig. - 2 Arab League Map (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arab_League-Map-WS.PNG) By Arab Hafez (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Arab_Hafez) licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
    4. Table 1 - Members of the Arab League
    Frequently Asked Questions about Arab League

    What is the purpose of the Arab League?

    The Arab League seeks to protect the sovereignty and independence of its member states, whilst encouraging cooperation and unity between Arab Nations.

    Is Iran a member of the Arab League?

    No, Iran is not a member of the Arab League. 

    Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are often strained, and whilst Iran comprises multiple ethnolinguistic groups, many Iranians consider themselves to be Persian and do not consider Iran as an Arab nation. 

    When was the Arab League formed?

    March 1945. The Arab League initially had 6 members.  

    Does the Arab League pass laws? 

    Decisions and resolutions passed by the Arab League are non-binding except if the vote was unanimous. This then creates the image of the Arab League as simply a talking shop where members have no obligation to act on decisions further. 

    How many countries are in the Arab League?

    Currently, there are 22 member states that make up the Arab League.  

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