As reflected by the Arab League Summit in Sirte, the primary struggle is focused on the Arab League itself; its role, its presidency, and its operations. Some may wonder how the Arab League could be described as a useless and crippled political organization because if this were the case then why are major governments battling for control over this international institution that is even older than the United Nations?
The Sirte Summit is a classic case in the series of battles between the Arab camps, except that the emphasis this time was on the Arab League, which means that everybody feels that the region is approaching major crises and this explains the increase in the value and the role played by the Arab League.
It is true that throughout its history the Arab League has never undertaken an operation to liberate Palestine or Kuwait, or confront terrorism, and that it only played a secondary role in [attempting to resolve] the civil wars in Lebanon, southern Sudan, and Somalia. It is also true that the Arab League never succeeded in solving a single Arab conflict, such as the conflict between the Western Sahara and Morocco, or even dealing with the crisis in Iraq in the period before, during, and after the US invasion.
However when the Arab League places its stamp on a decision it grants this decision legitimacy. It granted legitimacy to the operation of liberating Kuwait from occupation by Saddam Hussein’s troops. It would not have been easy for these international troops to come and wage a war in order to establish the al-Sabah dynasty as the legitimate rulers of Kuwait unless the Arab League legitimized this decision. The Arab League also recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinians at a time when several countries and forces were contending over the jurisdiction of this homeless nation and the management of its resources and the exploitation of its tragedy. This was repeated when the Arab League recognized the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, not Hamas, as the legitimate Palestinian authority. Hamas responded by launching a coup and removing the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip. Due to the influence of the Arab League, the Hamas leadership reached an impasse, because without the recognition of the Arab League the Hamas movement is treated like any other movement.
Everybody wants to obtain the Arab League’s stamp of legitimacy so that they can include this in their political manifesto and use this for their own benefit. What is taking place today is an attempt to kidnap the Arab League. We recall the famous scene that took place at the Arab League following the [Iraqi] occupation of Kuwait, when the then Arab League Secretary-General Chadli Klibi counted the votes that were in support of Kuwait, and those that were in support of Iraq, whilst others tried to prevent Klibi from taking a count when it became clear that the majority of Arab countries were in support of Kuwait. This resulted in the Arab League announcing an international war on Saddam Hussein. This scene could be repeated in the future in the event of riots breaking out or confrontation with Tehran, or in the event of Hamas and those behind the movement deciding to attack the Palestinian Authority in order to delay the expected negotiations. In such cases, the Arab League’s seal of legitimacy will be extremely valuable.
This is what makes the moderate section of Arabs insist on the Arab League remaining in Egypt because it is the largest Arab country and has always adopted moderate positions. At this critical period, it would also be best if the position of the Arab League Secretary General remains in the hands of an Egyptian, so that the Arab League will not be jeopardized and so that there should be no division between the Arab League headquarters and the home country of the Arab League Secretary General. Regardless of how other Arab countries attempt to end the marriage between the Arab League and Egypt, they will never succeed, especially when taking into account that most Arab countries are on Egypt’s side, and that the Egyptian camp remains the most important in the Arab arena, regardless of what is said about its weakness, submission, and losses.
The Arabs have experimented with moving the Arab League headquarters from Cairo to Tunis, and anybody who remembers this period must recall how badly this harmed the region and the Arab League organization. This resulted in the division of the Arab world – in the name of unity – against Egypt’s position with regards to its signing of the Camp David Agreement. The relocation of the Arab League to Tunis was proposed by Saddam Hussein, and the rest of the Arab League agreed with this proposal, however this ultimately had destructive results, even to Iraq itself. By the time Iraq sought Egyptian support following the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war, the Arab League operations in Tunis had come to a standstill.