Atmosphere Changing for Arab League

On September 22, Matt’s post–“Arab Institutions Face Darwinian Moment“–discussed what the Arab uprisings mean for Arab cooperation. Two recent stories are worth considering. First is an Associated Press report highlighting the League’s divisions and its failure to respond to Assad’s brutality by suspending Syria from the Arab League. Consider the following:

To suspend Syria’s membership, at least two-thirds of the members would have had to support the measure. A bloc of six Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, was leading the push for the measure along with recognition of the opposition leadership, the Syrian National Council, said an Arab diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Many Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, already have withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria to protest the regime’s bloody response to the protests.

However, the diplomat said a significant bloc of countries was opposed, including Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon and Yemen, whose leader is also facing a serious uprising. According to Arab League diplomats, Mideast heavyweight Egypt did not indicate yet which side it is on.

The Arab League is still very much an autocrat’s club and some members refuse to suspend Syria’s membership precisely because they might face a similar fate. Lebanon, in this case, can be excused for its hesitance, because the country is still susceptible to Syrian intrigue–Sudan, Algeria, and Yemen, however, can not be excused because their authoritarian motives are clear. Meanwhile, the Gulf states have taken the principled position, which surprises many for sure. If the Arab League fails to suspend Syria and the body count keeps climbing, it’s hard to imagine the League being anything more than obsolete during a period of popular uprisings and (hopefully) democratic transitions. For now the League has settled on language that requires Assad to end his crackdown in 15 days. Given that Assad has shown no signs of stopping what King Abdullah called the “killing machine” in the past seven months, a 15-day grace period is a limp-wristed response to say the least.

Also worth reading is an article from the Financial Times, which focuses on the Arab League’s Secretary General and the multitude of issues that complicate his job:

Why is Syria different from Libya? Mr Elarabi [Secretary General of the Arab League] was asked by reporters; why are Syrian civilians not accorded the same protection that the League had called for in Libya, after having kicked out Colonel Muammer Gaddafi from the organisation?
The article continues:
For now, though, he said the Arab world should not expect too much from an organisation that can express a point of view but “cannot change things on the ground”. His objective is to make the League “more responsive, with more agreed competence to intervene at the right moment, with more power behind the resolutions adopted”.

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