Arab League

What Is the Arab League?

The Arab League is a union of Arabic-speaking African and Asian countries. It was formed in Cairo in 1945 to promote the independence, sovereignty, affairs, and interests of its member countries and observers. The organization began with seven founding members and is now comprised of 22 different member nations and four observer states. The League is bound by a charter and has a council in place to ensure that its goals are met.

Key Takeaways

  • The Arab League is a regional multi-national organization of Arabic-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Established in 1945, the League is headquartered in Cairo.
  • The Arab league's mission is to promote trade and economic growth as well as sovereignty and political stability in the region.
  • The League is made up of 22 member states and four observer nations.
  • Members of the Arab League adhere to the charter, which is an agreement of 20 articles and three annexes.

Understanding the Arab League

As noted above, the Arab League is an organization that is made up of 22 different nations across the Middle East and Northern Africa. Many of these countries are part of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. It was founded in 1945 and is headquartered in Cairo. Known officially as the League of Arab States, it focuses on the economic and political development of its member states along with conflict resolution.

The members of the League (and the years they were admitted) include:

Member Nations of the Arab League
Algeria (1962)  Jordan* Oman (1971) Syria*
Bahrain (1971) Kuwait (1961) Palestine (1976) Tunisia (1958)
Comoros (1993) Lebanon*  Qatar (1971) United Arab Emirates (1971)
Djibouti (1977) Libya (1953) Saudi Arabia*  Yemen*
Egypt*  Mauritania (1973) Somalia (1974)
Iraq* Morocco (1958) Sudan (1956)
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

*denotes a founding member state

There are four nations that were conferred observer status by the League: Brazil, Eritrea, India, and Venezuela.

The Arab League countries have widely varying levels of population, wealth, gross domestic product (GDP), and literacy. They are all predominantly Muslim, Arabic-speaking countries, but Egypt and Saudi Arabia are considered the dominant players in the League. Through agreements for joint defense, economic cooperation, and free trade, among others, the league helps its member countries to coordinate government and cultural programs to facilitate cooperation and limit conflict.

When Jordan joined the Arab League, its official name was Transjordan.

History of the Arab League

The League was formed in 1945 after the seven founding members signed the Alexandria Protocol in Cairo the previous year. The prominent issue at the time was freeing the Arab countries that were still under colonial rule.

Cairo was the original headquarters for the League in 1945. That changed in 1979 when it was moved to Tunis, Tunisia. The organization revoked Egypt's membership after it signed a peace treaty with Israel. The League reestablished ties with Egypt in 1987 and moved its headquarters back to Cairo when it was admitted back as a member state in 1989.

The Arab League acted decisively and unanimously during the Arab Spring uprisings in early 2011 by revoking the country's membership that same year. It supported United Nations (UN) action against then-leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces. Libya's membership was reinstated later that year after a representative of the National Transitional Council was installed following Gaddafi's removal from office to act as the interim government.

The Arab League condemned the Islamic State in 2014 and several of its members launched airstrikes against the militant organization. But it did little as a whole to assist the Shiite-led Iraqi government. Syria's membership was also under threat because of government violence against civilian protestors as the League passed a resolution to revoke it in 2011. In 2018 and 2019, the organization called on Turkey to withdraw from Syria.

In April 2021, the League called on Somalia to hold postponed presidential and parliamentary elections.

Views on Israel

One of the original goals of the Arab League was to prevent the breakup of Palestine via the creation of the Jewish state of Israel, as the organization recognizes Palestine as a separate nation.

The League's position on Israel has been inconsistent. In 2019, it denounced Israel's plans to annex the Jordan Valley. In February 2020, the League denounced the Middle East peace plan put forth by President Donald Trump’s administration, saying it “does not meet the minimum rights and aspirations of Palestinian people."

Several members seemed to approve of the plan. And in September 2020, the League didn't condemn the decision by the United Arab Emirates to normalize ties with the Jewish state.

One of the Arab League's longest-lasting and unanimous actions: Its members' economic boycott of Israel between 1948 and 1993.

The Arab League Charter

The charter of the Arab League was established on March 22, 1945, and is referred to as the Pact of the League of Arab States. It was signed by the leaders of the seven founding member states: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen. As per the agreement, the member states aim to strengthen their ties and reinforce their sovereignty.

The pact is composed of 20 articles that outline the goals, governance, headquarters, and the creation of the Arab League Council. It also features what actions must be taken to resolve disputes among members.

There are also annexes on the following issues:

  • Palestine
  • The cooperation with other non-member Arab countries
  • The appointment of the League's Secretary-General

The Arab League Council

The League Council is the highest body of the Arab League and is composed of representatives of member states, typically foreign ministers, their representatives, or permanent delegates. Each member state has one vote.

The Council meets twice a year, in March and September. Two or more members may request a special session if they desire.

The general secretariat manages the daily operations of the league and is headed by the secretary-general. The general secretariat is the administrative body of the league, the executive body of the council, and the specialized ministerial councils.

Arab League Member Conflicts

(The Arab League's effectiveness and influence have been hampered by divisions among member states. During the Cold War, some members were supportive of the Soviet Union while others aligned with Western nations. There has also been rivalry over League leadership—especially between Egypt and Iraq.

Hostilities between monarchies such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco have been disruptive, as have the conduct of states that have undergone political change such as Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Libya under Muammar Gaddafi. The attack on Saddam Hussein's Iraq by the United States also created significant rifts between members of the Arab League.

Resolutions by the Council don't have to be unanimously approved by members. However, because they are binding only on the nations that voted for them (no country has to abide by them against its will) their effectiveness is somewhat limited, often amounting to little more than declarations rather than implemented policies.

What Is the Purpose of the Arab League?

The Arab League's state purpose is to seek close cooperation among its members on matters of common interest—specifically, economics, communication, culture, nationality, social welfare, and health; to strengthen ties, improve communication, and promote common interest among Arabic-speaking nations.

The Pact of the League of Arab States, the organization's founding document, identifies the mission of the League as follows:

“The purpose of the League is to draw closer the relations between member States and coordinate their political activities with the aim of realizing a close collaboration between them, to safeguard their independence and sovereignty, and to consider in a general way the affairs and interests of the Arab countries."

Who Is the Leader of the Arab League?

The Arab League is headed by the Secretary-General. As of June 4, 2022, Ahmed Aboul Gheit holds that post. He assumed it in 2016.

Does the Arab League Still Exist?

Yes, the Arab League still exists. But members are skipping League summits and declining positions, possibly a sign of waning enthusiasm for the organization.

Some scholars and statesmen feel that the League is unable to overcome a fundamental paralysis, due to internal divisions among its member nations, leading to "resolutions [that] are prefabricated, out of date, out of touch, and reflexively anti-Israeli," as states a 2020 article posted by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. The conclusion of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies is that "the time has come to close it down."

"The League’s paralysis reflects its irrelevance since the 2000s," Sean Yom, associate professor at Temple University, Philadelphia, and author of From Resilience to Revolution: How Foreign Interventions Destabilize the Middle East, said in a 2018 interview. "If we are going to see the League simply dissolve away, it will probably take another decade or two."

Why Is Turkey Not in the Arab League?

Turkey has expressed interest in having an observer status in the League but has been refused for several reasons, most noticeably opposition from Iraq (whose Kurdish citizens Turkey has frequently battled with) and Syria (the latter still claims Turkey's Hatay Province). The League also condemned Turkey's military interventions in Libya and other countries.

Is the Arab League a Military Alliance?

The Arab League is not a military alliance per se. But its founding members agreed to cooperate in military affairs and coordinate military defense. At the 2007 summit, the leaders of its member states decided to reactivate their joint defense and establish a peacekeeping force to deploy in South Lebanon, Darfur, Iraq, and other hot spots.

At a 2015 summit in Egypt, member states agreed to form a joint voluntary military force in principle.

The Bottom Line

There are many different intergovernmental organizations found around the world. Some of these are global, such as the United Nations, while others are focused more on certain regions like the Arab League. This group is composed of 22 member nations that span the Middle East and Northern Africa. Like other, similar groups, the Arab League's goals are to strengthen the relationships between member states while promoting their political and economic development.

Article Sources
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