The Saudi weekly magazine Majalla run an article worthy of attention. In it, scholar Andrew Bowen looks at the history of the Arab world since the fall of the Ottoman Empire through the rise of Arab Spring. He notes the shifts in politics and positions, the rise and rein of authoritarianism, and its dissolution. He particularly points out that Arab Spring will have – but does not yet have – a profound affect on the foreign policies of states in the region. For now, Arab Spring is about domestic politics and domestic economies; the individual states’ relations with outside world are for another day. Do read the whole piece.
A Region Transformed?
The Arab World after the Arab Awakenings
The Arab World has experienced a number of shifts and shocks since the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the Great War. It has never been immune to moments of change, but such moments while transformational at the time have often failed to take root in the sands of the region.
The Moroccan scholar Abdallah Loroui observes that the Arab World’s experience can be divided into four distinct phases.The first period (1850-1914) is The Nahda [Awakening], the Arab Renaissance, when the Arab World attempted to modernize and adopt Western technology and innovation. The second period (1914-1950) represented the struggle for independence as the region confronted both the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the development of the modern state system in the Middle East under colonial rule. The third period (1950-1967) marked the “unionist movement” as both Nasser of Egypt and the Ba’ath party in Syria struggled to create an Arab national state.
The fourth period (after 1967), where Loroui’s analysis ends, is a period of “ moral crisis”- the search for a new identity after the defeat of the Arab nationalist states in their war with Israel. Building on Loroui’s analysis, Fouad Ajamai in The Arab Predicament argues that the period after 1973 marked the struggle to de-radicalize Arab politics and to construct a stable state system in the region.
The Arab Awakenings of 2011 have caused a systemic rupture- the forces that underlined the regional system after 1973 became unsettled – and a new regional order has been born on the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Tripoli, and Damascus. This new order is yet to be fully reconciled, but it’s critical to examine its development and trajectory to understand the implications it has for the future of the region.
Another Majalla piece, written by a Saudi student at American University, takes a look at the Arab League. He notes how its organization is based on fallacious assumptions that make it impossible to do what it was apparently intended to do. The voluntary handcuff of ‘unanimity’ in League decisions makes decision-making an exercise in finding the lowest common denominator, not effective resolution to important issues. The Arab world needs and deserves better.
We are Not One
In 1990-1991, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and the Arab League faced one of its toughest situations. The leaders of the Arab League, many of whom are the same people who gather there today, met in Cairo to approve a resolution to condemn Saddam and allow foreign troops to launch an attack on Iraqi forces. The meeting, chaired by Hosni Mubarak, was unusually loud and controversial. The Arab World was fiercely divided. In the meeting, Mu’ammar Qadhafi was shouting “The decision has to be unanimous, it has to be unanimous.” Mubarak, on the other hand, did not seem to believe so and passed the decision after a majority of 12 supporting votes were cast. Kuwait was liberated and Saddam retreated his forces.
The outcomes of the meeting are indeed plausible. However, there is something to be captured about the structure of the institution and the mechanism by which decisions are made. In simple terms, Qadhaffi was right: the decision had to be unanimous.
The Arab League charter notes in Article 6: “In case of aggression or threat of aggression by one state against a member-state, the state which has been attacked or threatened with aggression may demand the immediate convocation of the Council. The Council shall by unanimous decision determine the measures necessary to repulse the aggression. If the aggressor is a member-state, his vote shall not be counted in determining unanimity.”