Arab League, the

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Arab League, the


Officially known as the League of Arab States and consisting in 2006 of twenty-two countries, the Arab League was formed in 1945 by the governments of the then-independent or semi-independent Arab counties of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan (now Jordan), Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Other Arab countries joined the League as they became independent, including Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. In addition, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), while not ruling a sovereign territory, was granted full membership in 1976 as the representative of the Palestinians. In 2003 Eritrea became an observer, but has not pursued full membership.

The main purpose of the Arab League is to provide a forum for coordinating policies concerning education, finance, law, trade, and foreign policy among signatory members, and to help resolve their disputes. The secondary institutions that have resulted from that mandate coordinate developments in such areas as communication, transport, construction, medicine, and some minor industries. The Arab Common Market, established in 1965, has generally failed to live up to its expectations and original goals of abolishing custom duties, free movement of capital and labor among member countries, and coordination of economic development.

The most visible feature of the Arab League, however, is its political role as a governmental forum for common Arab national concerns, showcased in its highly publicized, though usually ineffectual, summit meetings. Historically the League sustained a consensus on supporting the independence of still colonized Arab countries. In the same spirit it opposed the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and for decades supervised a joint Arab boycott of Israel and of companies doing business with it. For ten years after 1979 the League suspended Egypts membership because of its treaty with Israela treaty that violated a prior principle of coordinating Arab policies regarding the Jewish stateand moved its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis, where it remained until 1991 before returning to Cairo.

The political history of the Arab League has often been characterized by factional infighting among member states, which during the cold war took the form of a split between pro-Soviet and proUnited States regimes. A unified stance vis-à-vis Israel was broken when Egypt, Jordan, and the PLO signed separate agreements with Israel, although a semblance of a common position reemerged once the peace process stalled. With the notable exception of Syria, the League also held a unified position supporting Iraq during the devastating Iran-Iraq War (19801988). However, it was thrown into turmoil after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which highlighted a low point in inter-Arab rivalries and also violated the Leagues charter prohibiting the use of force by member states against each other.

Generally the Arab League is regarded not to have been successful in effectively promoting Arab unity and even coordinating policies, and many Arab governments are reluctant to agree to reforming and strengthening the League so that it could better pursue its aims. However, as a highly publicized forum for Arab governmental discussions, the League maintains an important symbolic status as a voice of a common aspiration for more Arab unity and coordination.

SEE ALSO Arabs; Peace Process; Zionism


Barnett, Michael N. 1998. Dialogues in Arab Politics: Negotiations in Regional Order. New York: Columbia University Press.

Hudson, Michael C., ed. 1999. Middle East Dilemma: The Politics and Economics of Arab Integration. New York: Columbia University Press.

Mohammed A. Bamyeh

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Arab League, the

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