Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What is the Purpose of the Arab League?

[By Michael Sharnoff. Crossposted from the Huffington Post.]


On February 23, Arab League chief Nabil ElAraby urged the United Nations Security Council to issue a ceasefire in Syria. This appeal comes 11 months after Bashar Assad began his brutal crackdown, which has taken the lives of more than 7,500 civilians.
What then, precisely is the purpose of the Arab League? Formed in 1945, Article II of the Arab League Charter states that its mission is to strengthen ties between member states and "safeguard their independence and sovereignty; and a general concern with the affairs and interests of the Arab countries." While Articles V and VI stipulate that resorting to force between two or more member-states is prohibited and may lead to suspension from the League, there is no clause specifying appropriate action if a member-state oppresses its citizens.
This omission is no accident. Shlomo Avineri's recent article "It's the sovereignty, stupid," illustrated why Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution which would have insisted that the Syrian Government and anti-regime protesters cease all violence and reprisals. Apart from their traditional support and sympathy with Syria, both Russia and China have at times brutally suppressed secessionist movements in Chechnya and Tibet, respectively. Moscow and Beijing fear that if the Syrian opposition succeeds, Chechens and Tibetans may revolt, and therefore they no doubt will quell these rebellions, knowing full-well that neither the UN, NATO, nor anyone in the West will intervene. Protest, yes; intervene, no.
The Arab League, like Russia and China, adheres to this same policy of self-interest and supreme internal sovereignty. It is clear that the Arab League is not a military pact like NATO, but it does purport to promote Arab solidarity, peace and unity. Moreover, Arab League members devote a disproportionate amount of their expenditures on military defense.
In a global ranking of military defense expenditures, in which the United States ranks number one, Egypt and Saudi Arabia rank 16 and 26, respectively. In 2011, Egypt's defense budget was $7 billion, and had more than 4,200 tanks and helicopters. Saudi Arabia's defense budget was $39 billion, and had more than 9,700 land and air weapons. Who it must finally be asked, are their enemies? Do they think Israel will attack them? Iran, possibly, but that threat is a new phenomenon and does not explain the 30 years of military buildup in the Middle East.
Why then, does the Arab League demand that the UN (i.e the West) intervene when it is perfectly capable of deploying soldiers and personnel who could provide humanitarian and military assistance to those in need? Why did the Arab League allow NATO to lead the anti-Gaddafi coalition when on the one hand, many League members rejected outside intervention and while Morocco, Jordan and Gulf states could have done it themselves? That is, if they wanted to do so. The real issue is that, for most Arab League nations, a strong military has primarily guaranteed that the ruling strongman will maintain power.
It can be expected that the Arab League will continue calling for a UN intervention in Syria, which is what they have historically been programmed to do. In the end, their rhetoric will remain empty. The death toll will surely rise and they will do nothing, relying only on the West to intervene on their behalf. This bitter truth underscores the true nature of the Arab League. After all, it is all about the sovereignty and internal control over their people.
Nine months ago, I wrote that the 22 member Arab League and 56 member Organization of Islamic Cooperation demanded a UN (Western) intervention in Syria to protect Syrian civilians against President Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown.
Fact: Muslim nations are perfectly capable of intervening themselves. That is, if they wanted to.
In March 2012, there were more than 7,500 Syrian deaths. Now there are more than 40,000 deathshalf a million refugees and 2.5 million internally displaced persons. What will it take for Arab and Muslim nations to offer open and direct assistance to Syrian civilians? How many more must perish before someone responds to this crime against humanity?
In the West, mainstream news continues asking the wrong questions. Why is Russia and China protecting Assad by blocking UN resolutions? Should the West arm the Syrian opposition? Should the West impose a no fly-zone?
Why, it must be repeated loudly, clearly and in no uncertain terms, should the West intervene when Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, UAE and Morocco are perfectly capable of doing it themselves?
The reality has always been that disputes within the Arab world are not remedied by other Arabs. The Arab and Muslim world, which spends a disproportionate amount of their budget on military hardware sheepishly waits and relies on the West to save them.
During my interview with Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian dissident and founder of the Tharwa Foundation, he said that Arab and Muslim countries all have domestic concerns which prevent them from intervening in Syria. Abdulhamid added that this enormous and influential bloc of nations is too terrified to act alone, and therefore require international support to act in Syria. At least that is what Arab leaders say privately, he said.
Why are Arab and Muslim leaders reluctant to unilaterally impose their own no fly-zone to protect Syrian civilians? They could use Turkish airbases to accommodate their Western made fighter jets. But these same leaders waste no time when it comes to condemning Israel and embracing Hamas.
In October, the Emir of Qatar became the first international leader to visit Hamas leaders in Gaza since the Islamist militant group seized the territory from the Palestinian Authority by force in 2007.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi denounced Israel as the aggressor for defending itself against Hamas after the terrorist group launched over 100 rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians. Some rockets even reached as far as the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Israel as a "terrorist state" and guilty of "ethnic cleansing" for its military campaign against Hamas. Does he truly believe that Israeli behavior is worse than Assad's? Or can he just not control his hatred for Israel and enjoys relishing in any opportunity to falsely equate Israeli behavior with fascism?
Upon Turkey's request, NATO will provide Ankara with Patriot anti-missile batteries, which NATO ministers stated would not be used in an offensive attack against Assad or as a no fly-zone.
Erdogan and the Arab leaders have the same narrative -- criticize Israel and ignore the suffering of fellow Muslims when the killing is done by other Muslims -- and then, of course, criticize the West for not helping.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post that accurately notes the many, many ways that the Arab League is basically useless (though, to be fair, it isn't any more incompetent than the Organization of American States or the Organization for Africa Unity; to be fair as well, though, it has a track record of much uglier bigotry than those groups).
    However, the part about NATO and the Patriot missiles in Turkey has an interesting Israeli element. According to news reports, Turkey has dropped its veto on Israel being part of NATO activities as part of this deal. And it's been frankly hilarious to go to the bottom-feeding anti-Israel websites and read the howls of outrage from readers who just CANNOT BELIEVE Ankara sold out on its anti-Israel principles. Oh well, when your neighbor is Syria, life's not a bowl of cherries, amirite?

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