Arab League

views updated May 23 2018


ARAB LEAGUE , league of Arab states comprising 22 members. The League was founded in March 1945 in Cairo as a regional organization by the then seven independent or almost independent Arab states (Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen). Its foundation was a result of two conflicting processes. One was the Pan-Arab ideal, which had gained immense popularity since the 1920s and called for political unity of all Arabic-speaking peoples. The second was the formation and perpetuation of the state system (a "West-phalian order") in the Middle East and the struggle for regional hegemony among these states. Thus, despite the fact that Arab nationalism was the ideological force behind the process that led to the establishment of the League, in practice the League sanctified the existence and sovereignty of the Arab states. Hence, the term "Arab unity" was not even mentioned within the League's charter and decisions did not have binding force among the League's members. It reflected the fact that member-states had conflicting interests which impaired their ability to cooperate politically within the framework of the Arab League and forced them to find the lowest common denominator as grounds for cooperation.

At first the League enjoyed respect. Yet with time and as a result of its inability to coordinate any serious pan-Arab action, it gradually lost prestige. From 1964 the League served as an organizational framework for Arab summit meetings. Although the Council of the Arab League, headed by the member-states' foreign ministers, was scheduled to meet twice a year, Arab summit meetings were irregular and dependent on the problems of the day.

Since its foundation, the League has made Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict its most important axis of engagement. The Charter of the League contains a special appendix relating to Palestine, committing its members to support the Palestinians in their national struggle for independence. The League was also involved in coordinating the Arab front in the 1948 war. The Arab defeat in that war symbolized the poor performance of the League and the inability of the Arab states to cooperate successfully even for the Palestinian cause. Palestine remained the most important issue on the League's agenda. Nevertheless, the League was never able to translate its preoccupation with this subject into an effective political agenda.

The attitude of the Arab League towards the Palestinian problem and Israel reflected the changes these two related issues underwent. Until the 1970s the League officially did not recognize the State of Israel and advocated the resolution of the Palestinian problem only within the context of Israel's annihilation. Yet, after the 1967 war and the gradual change in the dynamics of the conflict that led to a slow implicit recognition of Israel, the League started to change its tone as well. Thus, when Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, the League's headquarters were moved from Cairo to Tunisia, and Egypt was stripped of its membership. Yet gradually the League's members reestablished their ties with Egypt and by 1990 the League's headquarters returned to their original location. In addition, the League's official declarations, as manifested in the 2002 Beirut summit, even offered an official Arab peace plan which recognized Israel within its pre-1967 borders in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state and a solution to the refugee problem based on un Resolution 194.

The May 2004 Tunis Arab summit reflected the challenges the League's member-states faced after the American occupation of Iraq. The summit's resolutions reiterated the call for a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace based on the 1967 borders. They also called for amending the League's charter to improve its effectiveness and to conduct internal political reforms in each state based on universal democratic values. Although the wording of these resolutions was promising, in reality they did not produce major changes either in the League's structure or in the political systems of its member-states.


R.W. MacDonald, The League of Arab States: a Study in the Dynamics of Regional Organization (1965); H.A. Hassouna, The League of Arab States and Regional Disputes: A Study of Middle East Conflicts (1975); T.Y. Hasou, The Struggle for the Arab World: Egypt's Nasser and the Arab League (1985); B. Maddy-Weitzman, The Crystallization of the Arab State System, 1945–1954 (1993); M.N. Barnett, Dialogues in Arab Politics (1998); A. Sela, The Decline of the Arab-Israeli Conflict: Middle East Politics and the Quest for Regional Order (1998); M. Hudson, (ed.), Middle East Dilemma: The Politics and Economics of Arab Integration (1999).

[Asher Kaufman (2nd ed.)]

Arab League

views updated May 14 2018


Also known as the League of Arab States (Jami˓at al-Duwal al-˓Arabiyya), the Arab League was founded in 1945 as a grouping of Arab states. The Arab League's objectives are to solidify cooperation among its members in the areas of defense, politics, communications, society, and culture. It has its roots in pan-Arab nationalism and anticolonialism, but it recognizes in principle the independence and sovereignty of the diverse nation-states that constitute its membership. Its founding members are Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Permanently based in Cairo, the Arab League now has twenty-two members, the most recent to join being Djibouti (1977) and the Comoros Islands(1993). The Palestine Liberation Organization (now the Palestinian Authority) was launched and given observer status by the League in 1964; it won full member status in 1976. The League houses a number of specialized agencies, including those dealing with communication, labor, Palestine, civil aviation, and cities. It also convenes the Arab Summit, a periodic gathering of Arab heads of state.

The Arab League has established ties of cooperation and mutual consultation with other international and regional organizations, including the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity. Islamic religion does not constitute either its core ideology, nor its primary purpose; Islam is notably absent from the League charter. Moreover, the overt secular influence that Jamal ˓Abd al-Nasser's Egypt exercised over the League was a major factor in the creation of the Muslim World League in 1962. Nonetheless, the Arab League does maintain formal relations with the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Islam has also shaped its organizational style, as reflected in its flag, which has a crescent moon (hilal) on a green field.

The League's effectiveness has often been called into question. Its efforts to forge a common front against Israel have been unsuccessful, as evidenced by the expulsion of Egypt for signing the Camp David peace accords with Israel in 1979 (Egypt was reinstated in 1987). In March 2002, however, it unanimously supported a Saudi-sponsored peace initiative that offered recognition of Israel in return for that state's withdrawal from the West Bank and the Golan Heights. The League has also had mixed success in resolving conflicts among its own member states, as demonstrated by its failure to prevent Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and its inability to force Iraq's withdrawal in the face of international intervention.

See also˓Abd al-Nasser, Jamal ; Organization of the Islamic Conference .


Hasou, Tawfiq Y. The Struggle for the Arab World: Egypt'sNasser and the Arab League. London, Boston: KPI, 1985.

Juan Eduardo Campo

Arab League

views updated Jun 11 2018

Arab League Organization formed in 1945 to give a collective political voice to the Arab nations. Its members include Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Sudan, Algeria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. It has often been divided, notably by the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel (1979) and over the Gulf War (1991) and has been politically less effective than its founders hoped.

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