A New Arab League for a New Arab World

Article Summary
The confusion and inconsistency which have characterized the Arab League’s responses to the turbulent events of 2011 have made clear the need to reform the league and redefine its mandate, argues Fayez Sara. He envisions an organization greater than the sum of its parts, able to set the policy agenda for the emerging democratic Arab World, and taking inspiration from the European Union.

The Arab Spring uprisings have revealed the urgent need to make revolutionary changes to the League of Arab States. The league took three different approaches during the revolutions, which were further proof that the time has come to make substantial changes [to its political framework]. First, the organization turned a blind eye to the events transpiring in some countries, such as the [revolutions] in Tunisia and Egypt and the uprisings in Yemen and Bahrain. Second, its swift decision was crucial in paving the way for a [UN resolution] and eventual NATO military action in Libya. Third, its decision to halt the violence in Syria was belated. The league was reluctant to take practical measures, although it clearly rejected the regime's military crackdown and use of force against the popular movements. It called on the Syrian authorities to change their policies and behaviour towards the popular movements, which resulted [first] in the Arab League initiative, [and later] the Protocol for the Arab Observer Mission to monitor events in Syria.

The clear inconsistency in the attitudes [adopted by] the Arab League highlights the need for serious Arab efforts at the official and popular levels to elevate and develop the league. This does not imply reconsidering the organization’s institutions so much as its vision and mechanisms. Most importantly, it requires a substantial change in its thinking and methods of action.

In addition to exerting serious efforts to promote the league, it is necessary to introduce a set of reforms similar to the ones the Arab States undertook a decade ago to uphold their interests. Hence, ideas and projects were presented with the purpose of modernizing and developing the Arab League, raising its performance level to better address Arab issues and provide the best conditions for success and progress to face its weakness and decline. Furthermore, these ideas were designed to enhance its ability to serve and address the Arab situations and their repercussions at the internal levels and in National and International Relations.

Reforming the role and activities of the Arab League depends first and foremost on its political framework. This means two things: First, the league ought to take the initiative and play the leading role in [setting and achieving] its goals and tasks, contrary to its present situation. It must establish, develop and contribute to the implementation of Arab policies, as the European Union does with regards to European policies. Second, the Arab League - which by definition is a regional organization representing Arab Governments - must promote its policies to serve as a platform to better represent the interests of the Arab World. Most organizations and international and regional bodies, including the United Nations, strive to evolve and set more ambitious goals [over time]. The Arab League must embark on a similar path to support the major changes generated by the Arab Spring.

Political reform will remain incomplete and ineffective unless other reforms targeting the legal and regulatory frameworks are carried out. Guidelines should be set to reorganize the league's relations with and institutions in the Arab countries, according to the new political approach. Similar steps must be taken in order to develop the internal relations in and among the organization’s institutions. The administrative and financial work of the league - both internal and external - must also be reshaped according to the same procedures.

Reforming the Arab League has become more urgent today than ever. [The need for reform] stems not only from the general needs of the Arabs - which existed before the Arab Spring, and which continue to exist - but also from the Arab Spring [itself] - its movements, ideas, practices and the changes [it has provoked]. The Arab Spring’s wave has produced a series of events. Some resulted in successful revolutions, others are still moving toward victory. Some events are on the offing and may affect the whole region, producing fundamental changes that sweep across all Arab countries. The Arab League will not remain untouched, for it is the home of all Arabs.

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