'The concept of unity is obsolete'

Young Arabs tell Al Jazeera what they think about the League of Arab States.

    The Arab league was established to increase cooperation between its member states [Reuters]

    As Arab leaders gather in Qatar for the 21st summit of the League of Arab States, many in the region say the organisation may have outlived its usefulness.

    From Egypt to Bahrain, young Arabs tell Al Jazeera they have seen its influence on regional affairs wane since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

    They say they are worried the league is unable to address the concerns and aspirations of Arabs.

    Alya Kebiri, 27, market research freelancer, Tunisia

    Kebiri: 'The concept of Arab unity no longer exists, it is obsolete and holds no relevance'

    It is easier for me to recollect the failures of the Arab League than it is to draw on their achievements over the past few years.

    My father's friend used to work as a diplomat in the league; one time he visited us at our house and I remember him complaining that the league had failed to pay their employees for four months. It led me to question how people can rely on them as an organisation.

    If they can't function internally, how can we rely on them to solve problems outside of their own meeting halls?

    At a time when the idea of establishing an Arab League was still new, there were, mainly, two things that brought the Arab world together - Arab unity and the question of Palestine - but I can't see how those two concepts are valid in today's world.

    For one thing, the concept of Arab unity no longer exists; it is obsolete and holds no relevance to the Middle East and its current social and political make-up. Evidence of that is in the way the Arab League has dealt with the question of Palestine.

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    They have had more than half a century to solve the issue, or at least play a more effective role, but 60 years on the Palestinians still don't have an answer. Their inability to come together on an issue they preach is so important to them demonstrates how poor they are in terms of conflict resolution.

    If one looks at their involvement in the US war in Iraq, the Arab League could have done so much more. When the invasion started in 2003 they condemned the war, but they didn't reach a consensus on how to assist Iraq during the invasion or how they could challenge US troops from occupying Iraqi soil. At the end of the war, all they did was launch a campaign for Iraqi refugees.

    I think they've become so inactive because of the kinds of ties they share with the Western world - and many of the leaders have become puppets with no clout.

    Sami Khayat, 24, junior financial analyst, Syria

    Khayat: 'The Arab League should be active, not reactive'

    If we are to measure competence in terms of results and achievements, then the Arab League is not competent simply because they have not achieved anything.

    Geopolitically, it has failed to prevent or end regional war, and it has failed to bring different factions together within an Arab country, such as the Sudanese government and the Darfur rebel groups or Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

    If Arab unity led to the establishment of the Arab League, then it should mean that member states make an effort to unify the divisions that are threatening to tear Arab countries apart.

    What is stopping the league from getting them to unite under one umbrella? Natural resources and the kind of strategic interest that superpowers have in our part of the world give us a lot of clout - so why not use that for the betterment of our own region?

    Non-political issues such as women's rights, the right to a fair education or offering an appropriate balance of cultural exchange and interfaith dialogues between member states, these are topics that, as an organisation, could bring us together.

    Instead, their decision to steer away from these pertinent issues also steers our relations further apart.

    As a Syrian, I do not see how using Arabic as a language is a strong enough common denominator.

    In Syria, it is quite usual to come across people who do not believe in Arab unity as a concept, as far as they are concerned, it is a misnomer and they reject the idea as a whole.

    On top of that, there exists a number of non-Arab entities in the country, such as Kurds, Armenians and the like - all of which put the credibility of the Arab League in question - because you wonder whether the organisation can succeed to represent Syria, let alone this vast and complex region, under one umbrella and still call it Arab. 

    If, in principle, people do not believe in what defines it, how can you expect them to accept it as a representative body?

    Secondly, the Arab league needs to show itself as an active body, not a reactive one.

    They meet at least once a year... nothing substantial comes out of these meetings, nothing is decided and if they do reach that point, rarely do they take the next step of implementation.

    Thirdly, the Arab League must determine how much sovereignty they have over their member states. One questions the amount of power they have over the Arab world and how far they can interfere in affairs between its member states.

    For instance, some say the Syrians and the Lebanese should solve the Syrian-Lebanese problem on their own, while others call for action from the Arab League, but all they do is issue statements and that is simply not enough.

    Amir Matar, 24, law student, Egypt

    Matar: 'Unlike the EU, the Arab League has no direct relationship to its citizens'

    The Arab League succeeded on some level to unify and thereby put in practice their proposals, for instance the Arab Peace Initiative which was first proposed in 2002 by Saudi Arabia.

    But they failed to act in a unified manner to really push through other proposals, while ignoring the kinds of repercussions that come from not establishing themselves as a decision-making body.

    To solve what I think exists as an apparent divide between its member states, the Arab League should demonstrate why Arab unity and a common position on various issues affecting the Arab world would benefit each country and its citizens.

    Unlike the European Union, the Arab League has no direct relationship to its citizens, and its message - which assumes that Arab unity is still alive and thriving - is, to me, totally irrelevant in 2009.

    There has been no material gain from Arab unity in the past, only loss of territory, and the Arab League has not demonstrated ways in which Arab unity can benefit any one country or its citizens since its inception.

    The Arab League has been very ineffective in conflict resolution in my opinion. They are deeply divided by ideological differences and they have failed to solve them and failed to recognise potential political and economic gains from a more integrated Arab union.

    And for an issue such as the Palestinian question, which Arab leaders have indicated is central to their geo-political identity, the least they could do is push for peace in Palestine, but no one takes them seriously. They don't even take themselves seriously, so why should I?

    Faris Arouri, 27, West Bank

    The main problem is not the Arab League, but the Arab governments and leaders. First of all, it is up to them to reform the Arab League if they believe the organisation is not fulfilling its mandate. Secondly, they are the ones that make the decisions in the Arab League.

    I believe that Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, is more than competent, and no one can claim that he is not patriotic or not strong enough.

    Unfortunately, it seems that the only way to bridge the divide is through intervention by a superpower that "orders" the countries lagging behind not to make more trouble, and to deal with the those who don't put diplomacy into practice with the policy of the carrot and the stick.

    The agendas and the interests of member states are contradictory at the moment, and I don't see them agreeing on much.

    Therefore, the issue is not an issue of the Arab League as an institution, it is a matter of the Arab governments, and the vast majority of the Arab governments are either not willing or not interested in solving conflict.

    Yazen al-Safi, 27, business development manager, Iraq 

    Al-Safi: 'The league needs to define its relationship with the US, Israel and Iran'
    The Arab League is not competent enough to end differences between its member states. I would divide these differences into two major categories: political differences and economic differences.

    Some of the political differences include defining the relationship between the Arab states, Israel and America.

    They also need to define their relationships with neighbouring states such as Iran.

    They must also clarify their positions on the peace process with Israel, democratic reforms, US presence in the region and so on. I believe there are few collective standpoints for the Arab League towards these issues.

    Economic differences are obvious with the significant difference in wealth between the rich oil states and poorer states. There is an obvious need for a collective economic development programme to improve the economies of those poorer Arab states.

    I think the Arab League needs to have a strong, proactive leadership rather than a weak inactive one. In other words, the Arab League requires a leadership that anticipates challenges ahead of time.

    A fine example of what ails the league was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

    I agree that the invasion was wrong, yet internationalisation of the crisis was another mistake which sent Iraq backwards. This mistake could have been prevented by diplomatic means before internationalising it.

    For the past decade, the Arab League has been ineffective in dealing with the Arab countries affairs and interests. It has failed to achieve its main objectives.

    Ali el-Alfy, 24, Bahrain

    El-Alfy: 'Accept the league has been a failure and then disband the group'
    The Arab League has achieved far too little in terms of unifying its members, supporting the Arab people or giving us a voice in the international system.

    While the intended mission of the organisation is admirable, mobilising for the 'Arab Cause' or addressing the plight of the Arab people has proven well beyond its scope.

    Why, then, do the members continue to meet if they cannot come to the assistance of individual Arab nations and peoples?

    The Arab League will soon be 65 years old and it's high time we retired it.

    The lack of a real response to the second invasion of Iraq or any of Israel's more recent incursions into Arab territories are prime examples of the group's ineptness.

    We need to accept that the endeavour has been a failure, disband the organisation and try to resolve some of our main issues before we attempt another union or alliance.

    If there is any hope for an effective pan-Arab initiative, like the Arab League, our leaders must come to accept that the collective welfare of our countries should supersede any individual nation's interests.

    Individual sacrifice is the only route to a unified Arab world. That said, our leaders must also put aside their petty and personal differences. For too long pride, selfishness and arrogance have stood in the way of our collective good.

    Jenny Wannas, 32, professor of inter-cultural education, Egypt 

    Wannas: 'Gaddafi seems inclined to leave the Arab fold and focus on African affiliations'
    Unfortunately, I don't think that the league has strengthened Arab ranks.

    Some of the central goals of the league are to safeguard the independence and sovereignty of countries involved. Since the group was established in 1945 there's never been much unification.

    Egypt was completely ostracised in 1979 for making peace with Israel and the headquarters were then moved from Cairo to Tunis.

    Egypt was only restored to the league in 1987. Though Egypt's decision to pursue peace with Israel fell within its sovereign choice and decision-making, it was not respected by the league.

    Furthermore, every time there are conflicts involving Palestine, Iraq and Iran, on the one hand, and Israel and the west on the other, discord between Arab states weakens any resolve and undermines the league's efforts to mount a united front.

    Perhaps one of the most vocal Arab leaders to actually say something about this is Muammar Gaddafi. During the first Gulf war, he arrived quite late to a summit meeting and began laughing as he entered the conference hall as other leaders patiently waited his arrival.

    He did this to ridicule the meeting's usefulness, almost as if to say nothing would come of it. Gaddafi is also the founder of the new USA - United States of Africa - highlighting his inclination to leave the Arab fold and embrace his country's African affiliations.

    I think the question the league needs to consider now is how successful it has been in safeguarding Arab sovereignty and independence - as originally laid out in the Arab League mandate - in the face of Western economic interests in the region.

    The answer, unfortunately, is that economic interests take precedence over the true independence and sovereignty.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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