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The League of Arab States

Hausarbeit 2006 16 Seiten

VWL - Internationale Wirtschaftsbeziehungen



1. Introduction

2. The Genesis of the League of Arab States
a. Arab Nationalism
b. The political situation in the Middle East after World War
c. Great Britain
d. Palestine
e. Egypt

3. The contractual foundations The Pact of the League of Arab States
a. Objective target and principles
b. Membership
c. Organisation and structure
i. The League Council
ii. The General Secretariat
iii. The Arab Summit Conference
iv. Further special organisations

4. Attainments in the work of the League of Arab State

5. Conclusion

1. Introduction

Ever since the appalling events of 9/11 and the war in Iraq the developments in the Arab world are back again in the focus of public interest. But what is this undefined body called the Arab world? Is there a common Arab voice, and if so, who is representing it?

The Arab world is often taken to mean the 22 members of the League of Arab States (ﺔﻴﺑﺮﻌﻟا لوﺪﻟا ﺔﻌﻣﺎﺟ)1, better known as the “Arab League”, accounting at present for about 300 million people, or roughly the same as the United States.

The purpose of this treatise is to introduce this regional organisation, to the ignorant reader in order to give a better understanding of what the Arab League is and what it was meant to be.

To achieve this, initially, the genesis of the Arab League will be regarded. In the following, after the short historical overview, the legal framework of the Arab League, the Pact of the League of Arab States, and its effects on the organisation will be described. Therein the main goals and principles, the actual organisation and structure, including the major organs and questions of membership are amplified.

The third part will discuss the actual achievements of the Arab League. Concluding the main results will be summarized and a short outlook in the possible future of the League will be dared.

Concerning the used literature, it has to be mentioned, that there is a lack of up to date papers and books dealing with the Arab League, especially out of the Arabic speech area. For this reason, the author relied mainly on 3 books respectively dissertations, and a range of newspaper articles, which guaranteed a certain actuality.

2. The Genesis of the League of Arab States

If one wants to understand the functioning of the Arab League, it is inevitable to take a closer look at its pre-history. In doing so, one can identify 5 major driving forces behind its foundation.

a. Arab Nationalism

The political development from World War I to about 1930 was dominated by the constitution of new political systems for the Arab states and their claim of autonomy. It can be described as a fight against colonialism. There was no discussion yet about an Arab unity, since the imperialistic hegemony of France respectively Great Britain was still out of question.

Nevertheless at the outset of the 30ies German national-socialistic and Italian fascist propaganda, influencing the nationalistic circles within the Arab states, resulted in Arab nationalist groups like, e.g., the “Greenshirts”, which were fighting for the autonomy of the Arab regions and claiming Arab unity. Supporter of the new Arab nationalism were Arab intellectual elites which initialized a intellectual renaissance, based on the ideals of the French Revolution, which were brought to Arabia by the French.2 (Eberlein 1995, p. 228 ff.).

b. The political situation in the Middle East after World War I

After World War I the area of the “fertile crescent”3 was divided in to French and British zones of control.4 Only from this division new states as Syria, Lebanon, Jordania and Iraq emerged. By degrees, since the beginning of the 1920ies some countries were regaining their independency. Of course their focus was rather on keeping their new gained sovereignty than on the creation of an Arab Union.

But this sovereignty was questioned again by the developments in the Middle East, especially by the Conference in Teheran and the strong Jewish immigration as a result of the Balfour Declaration 19175 . There was unity amongst the most Arab countries that there was a need of collective and coordinated actions to avoid the dreaded new division of the Arab region (El-Salamoni 2003, p. 52 f.).

c. Great Britain

The Middle East played an important strategic role in World War II. It was of immense strategic importance especially for the Britains.

Great Britain tried to win the Arab countries over in the threatening conflict. Because of the coup d´etat in Iraq6 and the fact that German and Italian troops were gaining ground in Northern Africa, the British tried to enhance their own prestige in the Middle East. Up to World War II Britain ruled according to the principle “divide and rule”, but now it tried to influence the Arab countries according to the principle “unite and rule”.

In a statement from the 29th May 1941 the British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden declared that Britain would support any move towards Arab unity.7 The reactions of the Arab states on the British initiative were rather cautious. They were much busier with their own problems, e.g. Syria and Lebanon were fighting for their independence of the French mandate. So Great Britain had to seize the initiative again, and on the 24th February 1943 Eden declared in a speech in front of the House of Commons:

“As I have already made plain, the British Government would view with sympathy any movement among the Arabs to promote economic, cultural or political unity, but clearly the initiative in any scheme would have to come from the Arabs themselves. So far as I am aware no such scheme which commands general approval has yet been worked out.”

In the wake of this declaration some Arab states developed plans for the realization of the Arab Union. But the attitude of the Arab states with reference to an Arab Union was divided. On the one hand there were states which supported the idea, and there were states, especially Saudi Arabia or the Lebanon and Yemen, which rejected any abandonment of sovereignity in favour of an Arab Union (Eberlein 1995, p. 256 ff.).

d. Palestine

Maybe the most lasting effect in the direction of collective political actions amongst the Arab countries had Palestine. The fear of losing the Arabic character of Palestine was an existential threat for the entire Arab world and a good enough reason to join forces against the Zionist enemy. But without such an “existential threat” all efforts towards some kind of Arab union had a dynastic or power striving flavour (Eberlein 1995, p. 244).

e. Egypt

The triggering force behind the foundation of the Arab League was Egypt. Mustafa Al-Nahhas, the Egyptian Prime Minister, suggested the foundation of a multifunctional federation and agreed to act as a mediator between the Arab states and to organize a meeting to develop a program for an Arab Union (El-Salamoni 2003, p. 56 f.). July 1944 Nahhas invited the Arab states to a conference in Alexandria, known as the “Arab Unity Consultations”.8 3 forms of organization were discussed: A centralized state, a federal state and a loose alliance.

On the 7th October 1944 delegates of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq agreed on the lowest common denominator, a loose alliance, and signed the so called “Alexandria Protocoll”.9

Primarily the protocoll comprised the political, legal and institutional framework and the political, economic and social goals of the future organisation.After some more negotiations,on the 22nd March 1945 the delegates of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Lebanon signed the “Pact of the League of Arab States”, and therewith founded a a very loose10, regional and intergovernmental organisation with its headquarters in Cairo. Therewith the Arab League is the second eldest supranational organisation. It was founded even before the United Nations11 (Emig 2004, S.1).


1 Gami ´at ad-Duwal al-´ arabiya.

2 In Arabic this renaissance is called “nahda”, the English literature speaks of the “Arab awakening”.

3 The area of the “fertile crescent” consists of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and Jordania.

4 This understanding is referred to as the Sykes-Picot-Agreement.

5 The Balfour Declaration is a letter, signed by Arthur James Balfour, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in which he promised to create a Jewish state in Palestine.

6 On the 3rd April 1941 the deposed Rashid Ali el-Khailani was made Prime Minister again. Therewith the Middle East became a seat of war for the British.

7 „ [...] The Arab world has made great strides since the settlement reached at the end of the last War, and many Arab thinkers desire for the Arab peoples a greater degree of unity than they now enjoy. In reaching out toward this unity, they hope for our support. No such appeal from our friends should go unanswered. It seems to me both natural and right that the cultural and economic ties between the Arab countries, and the political ties too, should be strengthened. His Majesty’s government for their part will give their full support to any scheme that commands general approval. “(El-Salamoni 2003, p.53)

8 Following the conference for the foundation of the United Nations in Dumberton Oaks taking place at the same time, they called it inofficially “Dumberton Palms”.

9 Saudi Arabia joined on the 7th January, and Yemen on the 5th February 1945.

10 The basic thought of a loose alliance becomes also quite clear by inspecting the Arabic word “gami`a”, which is used in the title of the organisation, and which is translated as “league”. According to Emig this is the wrong translation. A better translation would be “assembly” or “meeting” which is a much weaker term.

11 Only the Organisation of American States (OAS) is older.


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Institution / Hochschule
Universität Hohenheim – Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences Chair for International Economics
League Arab States



Titel: The League of Arab States