The Forgotten Arab League

On April 15, the summit of the League of Arab States will be convened in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. It will serve as a reminder that Arabs have a regional, albeit futile, organization that represents their collective interests. Meanwhile, Palestinian, Yemeni, and Syrian civilians are killed with impunity and the international community is either silent or incapable of action.

The simple act of holding the summit might be the only news coming out of Dammam next Sunday. The final communiqué will not matter, nor will the redundant speeches of Arab leaders who continue to bicker over trivial issues as the Arab world experiences unprecedented disarray. Since the last summit, hosted by Jordan in March 2017, new challenges have emerged. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) entered a stalemated crisis in June of that year, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was forced to resign while visiting Riyadh in November, US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, and Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria. Today, we might be on the verge of an international war in Syria. Nevertheless, the Arab League secretariat decided to focus on Iranian and Turkish interference in Arab affairs instead of raising the alarm on the collapse of a regional order from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea.

The traditional power centers of the Arab world—Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia—have lost their influence in shaping the Middle East. Palestine is no longer a top priority nor a point of unity for Arab leaders; instead, they are now divided about whether Iran should be deterred or engaged. The promise of the 2011 Arab Spring led to a renewal of autocratic practices, and the protests for change turned into armed conflicts.

Against this backdrop, Arab leaders will meet on April 15 with no consensus on a single issue they face as a regional organization. Most probably, they will not condemn the US-Russia show of force on Syrian territory, send a clear message to Israel to refrain from violence in Gaza, or protest the coming relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem. Indeed, the Arab League seems to be a part of the Arab predicament rather than an impetus for its solution. Despite these significant challenges, however, many continue to hope that the Dammam summit will not turn out to be yet another missed opportunity to restore some sense of unity and coherence to the Arab League.