Also known as the Arab League, the League of Arab States is arguably the oldest functioning regional organization in the world. Similar in many ways to NATO, which would form 4 years after, the Arab League formed in an attempt to build political, social, and economic consensus within the Arabic world. On March 22, 1945, seven Arab nations1 signed the Pact of the League of Arab States, which laid down four goals:
  • Serve the common good of all Arab countries.
  • Ensure better conditions for all Arab countries.
  • Guarantee the future of all Arab countries.
  • Fulfill the hopes and expectations of all Arab countries.

Of course, the League of Arab Nations didn't spring into existence from nothing. Post World War II, the Arab world was focused on (and generally divided over) two ideas: the Palestine Question (or, how to deal with the growing influx of Jews into the recently divided Palestine) and Arab unity in the Middle East as a whole. In the early 1940s, Britain turned its attention to the Arab world, declaring officially its support for Arab unity, in whatever form it might take, in the hopes that the disjointed nature of Arabic politics could be brought to a beneficial focus. While this was met with a fair amount of skepticism by the majority of the Arab nations (Britain, in 1939, had set the rules for Jewish immigration into what would become the state of Israel, so it's not unreasonable to assume its concern over the Arab world wasn't completely selfless), it nevertheless laid the groundwork for the formation of the Arab League.

The Alexandria Protocol and the Formation of the League

After a failed attempt by Egypt and Iraq to form an alliance among a few of the Arab states, Egypt called for a meeting in Alexandria to officially discuss the possible unification of the Arab word. The result was the Alexandria Protocol, signed on October 7, 1944, which called for two things: the formation of the League of Arab States, and "cooperation in economic cultural, social, and other matters" among all the Arab nations that would become members.2

The League itself was given authority over the interactions between Arab countries. Each member nation would have equal representation to the Council of the League of Arab States. The Council settles disputes between states, and decisions on these and any other matter brought before the League would be binding for all members. The Alexandria Protocol specifically forbade violence between member nations, as well as the adoption of foreign policies by any member nation that "may be prejudicial to the policy of the League or an individual member state". It was because of this last clause that Egypt, after signing a peace treaty with Israel, was suspended from 1979 to 1989.

Israel, in fact, has been the one subject where Arab nations have maintained a consensus. The second of the two special resolutions in the Alexandria Protocol (the first being the recognition of the sovereignty of Lebanon) was "the opinion that Palestine constitutes an important part of the Arab World and that the right of the Arabs in Palestine cannot be touched without prejudice to peace and stability in the Arab World."

The Protocol called for the cessation of Jewish immigration into Palestine, the "preservation of Arab lands", and an independent Palestine. None of these goals, of course, have been successfully achieved, which is a major source of soreness (to put it mildly) between the League of Arabs and the state of Israel. After the UN Partition Plan in 1947, the Arab League essentially declared war on the newly formed state (while the League itself can not declare war, it did encourage member nations to invade). The Arab League was the birthplace, in 1964, of the PLO, and the point where the peace proposal of 1967 was firmly rejected. It was here the Arab League established what would be called the "three nos" policy: no recognition of Israel as an independent state, no negotiations with Israel, and no peace with Israel. 3

Agreement on the Palestine Question, however, has not led to agreement on other issues. There was a firm division among the Arab nations during the Cold War with regard to Soviet and Western alliances. Poor relations between nations - such as the land disputes between Iraq and Kuwait in the early 1960s and the early 1990s - have led to further divides. It is telling, in fact, as to the changing influence of the League that it was able to avert war between Iraq and Kuwait in 1960, but unable to prevent invasion - indeed, unable to reach a firm consensus beyond condemning the action - in 1990.

The League Today

Currently the Arab League has 22 members: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine (in the form of the PLO), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. In general, though, the League is dominated by Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The League, like most organizations, is broken up into different bodies with different areas of focus. The Council of the League, already mentioned above, is the Arab League's supreme authority, with each member nation given an equal vote. The only exception to this is when there is violence between two member states; in this case, the aggressor nation's right to vote is suspended. The League also has three technical committees: the administrative court (which examines and declares the validity of cases the General-Secretariat deals with), the Investment Arbitration Board (which acts as arbiter in economic disputes between member states), and the Higher Auditing Board (in which seven member states, selected every three years, examine the finances of the Arab League). The General-Secretariat is the administrative organization within the Arab League. The highest-ranking individual is the Secretary-General, who coordinates activities among the various League committees. Since the League's formation, six different men have held the position.4. There are also various committees and sub-committees, the number andpurpose of which change depending on current need.

While the influence of the Arab League had been waning in recent years, the appointment of Amre Moussa (a diplomat from Egypt) to the post of Secretary-General and a general shift in focus by the rest of the world towards the Middle East has increased the importance of the organization dramatically. In the past, the focus of the League has been mostly political, but recently there has been a change of emphasis onto economic development (following the examples of the European Union and Mercosur in South America). In all, the role of the League of Arab States may be more vital than ever. With the rest of the world forming tight alliances, an Arab world without a unified front may lose its place at the political table of the future.

1 - The seven original members of the League of Arab States are Egypt, Iraq, Trans Jordan (or Jordan), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen.
2 - In all, five nations signed the document: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria (Saudi Arabia and Yemen would not join until the signing of the Pact five months later).
3 - This policy, of course, has never been set in stone, and has not been a driving policy for all member states. Indeed, at the time of this writing, the Arab League is meeting to discuss another peace proposal, similar in many ways to the rejected proposal of 1967.
4 - Mr. Abdul-Rahman Azzam (1945 - 1952), Mr. Abdul-Khaleq Hassouna (1952 - 1972), Mr. Mahmoud Riyad (1972 - 1979), Mr. Chedli Klibi (1979 - 1990), Dr. Ahmed Esmat Abdul-Maguid (1991 - 2001), and Mr. Amre Mahmoud Moussa (2001 - present).