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The Arab League’s Secretary-General Amr Musa is striving to sell the idea of expanding the membership of the Arab League, so that it incorporates neighbouring countries. In the recent summit held in Sirt, Libya, he elaborated extensively on this idea. ‘Neighbouring countries’, in this context, would refer to states such as Iran, Turkey, Chad and Senegal.

In fact, inviting a ‘heavyweight’ country to join such an extremely ‘fatigued’ organisation is at very least a cause for concern. Up until now, the “neighbourly” relations between some members of the Arab League have remained tense, abnormal and volatile, and we needn’t to recall this issue in detail. All we need to do is reflect on the neighbourly relations between Syria and Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq, Algeria and Morocco, and Egypt and Sudan. Without exception, relations are tense, and the League, despite its stature and all its notable members, has failed to solve any of these problems. Now the League is considering whether or not to introduce “neighbouring heavyweights” to this already volatile arena!

How will we welcome the Iranian “neighbour”, when its relations with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and Palestine have hit rock bottom, as a result of Iranian interference into the private affairs of these countries? Furthermore, how could we invite our neighbour Turkey to participate in the League, considering its extremely tense relations with both Syria, because of the notorious Iskenderun district, and Iraq, because of the complex and sensitive Kurdish issue? We also cannot ignore the neighbouring relations between Chad, and both Libya and Sudan, which are constantly strained due to ancient tribal and economic factors. All these issues and backgrounds should be taken into consideration, on the principal that League membership depends on the countries’ records, rather than their reputation or good manners alone.

The League of Arab States is in need of internal reform and serious restructuring, in order to restore the trust of the Arab nations, before inviting others from outside the Arab circle. This is a painful reality, and for evidence, one only needs to look at Arab public opinion polls, the extent of confidence and public acceptance of Arab League resolutions and conferences, as well as the overall role performed by the League itself. I’m fully aware that Secretary-General Amr Musa is striving to improve the league’s image, and he is proposing one initiative after the other to promote its status. However, so far, nothing seems to have changed to make the League’s meetings more influential, and satisfactory for the Arab nations involved.

The Secretary-General’s primary mission now is to improve the Arab League’s administrative and executive structure, in order to transform the League into an attractive professional institution, which would gain the respect of both its members and observers. In such a case, no-one would feel embarrassed or irritated about inviting neighbouring countries, or others, to join the League, even if we had to invite China, India and Chile as well!

The practice of major international or regional institutions expanding their membership is not a new idea, and it has been enacted by ASEAN in southern Asia, APEC in the Asia-Pacific region, and others. Yet before inviting others to join them, these organizations were “successful, effective and worthy [of expansion].”

Regarding the Arab League, there are priorities to work on before being preoccupied with other issues. If these two issues [internal restructuring and inviting new members] are mixed up, the result will be disappointing and fruitless. The problem with the Arab League is that it has not taken the demands of Arab citizens seriously into consideration, to make them part of its policies and its basic structure. This should be the top priority of the organisation, rather than inviting neighbours. There is a movie by Adel Emam, and I wish Amr Musa would pay attention to its title; “Take Care of your Neighbours”.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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