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The Arab League: A Dictator's Paradise

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The very recent developments in Syria have clearly shown the impotence of the Arab League, not because of lack of effort, but due to its inability to put its recommendations into effect. The resolutions on Syria have not only been ignored; they have been scoffed at by the Bashar Assad regime. Now there is talk about the "League of Arab States" -- made up of members from six Arab states -- seeking the backing of the United Nations in stationing thousands of monitors throughout Syria, after their own 200 or so observers failed to effectively monitor, let alone control, the brutal acts of the Assad regime against civilians.

At this stage in the game, it is very unlikely that Syria will allow such monitors in, at a time when it seems bent on physically eliminating what it calls "terrorists," a label that has been so abused by the United States that it has become virtually synonymous with anyone who resists anything, including tyranny in this case. At the same time no one, at least publicly, is advocating military intervention of any kind, although arming the rebels is now being talked about.

So, what are the reasons for this impasse?

It is nearly always useful to go back and look at the protagonists in any conflict to understand the dynamics of any problem. On the Syrian side, it is plain to see that yet another Arab dictator, who was counting on remaining in power for the usual 30 years or so, before passing the "throne" to his son, has no intention of giving up that enormous and absolute power or even a fraction of it.

But, what of the League of Arab States? Well, I went to its website. It has 71 different sections, ranging from what they call "Woman Unit" to "Intellectual Property unit." I also went to the section of my own interest, namely human rights. It had five subsections, including "about human rights department," "permanent committee," "expert team," "mechanisms of Arab human rights," and "related sites." The last one led me to the International Declaration for Human Rights, while the other four were totally empty; repeat: totally void! Thus, an organization which was formed on February 22 in 1945 has not managed to provide such information about its most urgently needed work.

On reflection, however, it should not have been all that surprising. Why? Because this is a grouping of dictatorial regimes, the majority of which are ruled either by monarchies, or worse, by military regimes that came to power by killing or removing the previous rulers of those countries. We are talking here about a rulers' club which has nothing to do with the Arab people, and that is why the use of the name "The Arab League" is extremely misleading. What it should be called is "The Arab Rulers' League," or TARL for those who like acronyms.

The contrast with the European Union (EU) is very obvious. That's why when this league urges Ali Abdullah Saleh or Bashar al-Assad to step down, those two might turn around and ask, "And who are you to tell me to step down?" or perhaps "Is this not the case of the pot calling the kettle black?" The fact that some regimes, in the Gulf for example, are less dictatorial or oppressive matters little.

There is a lot more criticism which can be directed at this League. For example, why is it always run by an Egyptian secretary general? There is no justification now or previously for such monopoly. The secretary general of the EU is not always from the country of the headquarters, e.g. Luxembourg or Belgium, or from the most powerful country, e.g. Germany.

My prediction is that this League is on its way to disintegration, which will start with fragmentation into blocks of like-minded regimes, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and possibly the Arab States of North Africa which are already meeting as the 5+5 with European countries on the Mediterranean. There may also be a conglomeration of monarchies.

And as the new democracies go through the difficult and inevitable upheavals of transformation to true democracies, as we witness today in Egypt, the monarchies will no doubt point a finger and warn their own subjects of the dire consequences of seeking democracy. Some might be persuaded that partial democracy, if there is such a thing, under a benevolent sheikh may be better than all the mayhem we have witnessed in the past year.

But such disbanding of TARL is not necessarily a bad thing! The European Union, despite the marked differences in language and history and even culture, managed to achieve unity of purpose only because its members share so many qualities and principles, the most important of which being transparent democracy and commitment to human rights and the rule of law; the very ingredients currently lacking in nearly all Arab countries.

And when such Arab countries agree to commit to these principles, there is nothing to prevent them from joining a true democratic Arab League in a decade or two or three. When the decisions are in the hands of people, it might be much more likely that Arabs in Jordan and Syria and Lebanon, now separated by artificial Anglo-French colonial borders, might see advantage in coming together, knowing that adherence to the rule of law and commitment to human rights would protect them from those who would want to rule and oppress them.

It would also make it possible to keep the five major segments of Yemen: Saada region, Sanaa region, Hujariyyah, Hadhramaut, and Aden region together under one truly cohesive Yemen, no matter who the president might be.

Maybe it is a pipe dream, but the current impotence will not be tolerated much longer by the young, educated and twitter savvy Arab masses.

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