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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A True League of Arab States

Until recently, the Arab League was often described as a failed organization devoid of any executive powers. This image was based on the League’s long years of existence but lack of authority; always lagging behind significant events and regional crises demanding swift and decisive leadership.

In the last decades in particular, when Arabs desperately needed a unified forum to positively attract world’s attention and earn the international community’s respect, the Arab League had left a lot to be desired. Arab Summits rolled on year after year more like theatrics for leaders who showed up for ceremonies, speeches and photo opportunities.

From Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the US’ invasion of Iraq that followed to the second invasion in 2003, passing by the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States in 2001 and the animosity that befell Arabs as a result, the Arab League remained in the background with no significant role to play. With multiple Israeli incursions and raids on Gaza and an ongoing blockade, the Arab League was not moved to act beyond condemnations that have led nowhere. The Arab League we are accustomed to takes a long time to call an “emergency” meeting, usually too late to make any difference.

With the exception of a few Arab Summits that made news, the Arab League was just a series of meetings that made no difference in the lives of the Arab populations.

This year, however, the Arab awakening looks like it has inspired a new brand of Arab League capable of making history despite its old age and track record of inaction. When the Palestinians submitted their bid for full membership at the United Nations in September, the Arab League stood up in full support of the bid and invited other UN members to join them.

With imposing sanctions against Syria this week, the Arab League steps up its game and shows teeth. This comes after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ignored pleas by the League to end the violence against anti-government protesters followed by suspension and threats of economic sanctions in case he did not comply.

Now we stand in front of a unified Arab League that imposed tough economic sanctions against one of its own. The historic sanctions include cutting off transactions with the Syrian Central Bank, banning key political figures from traveling and freezing President Assad’s assets. They are likely to hurt the regime but it is not clear whether they are enough to force Assad down.

Syria sees the sanctions as a betrayal of Arab solidarity; but with 19 votes out of 21 in favor of the sanctions, this move represents true Arab solidarity against Assad’s tyrannical practices.

The Arab League is made up of 21 Arab members, many of which are going through various degrees of their own Arab Spring. If a united League can afford each of them the same compassion, poise and firmness it applied on Syria, we could be witnessing an Arab League awakening ushering in a welcome new dawn of Arab leadership.

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