As a regional body, the Arab League has more often than not been the focus of ridicule in light of the torpor and ineffectiveness that has characterized its history. Since the league’s founding in 1945 by Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Transjordan, the Arab world has suffered myriad political disputes and armed conflicts, including colonial, interstate and civil wars. In addition to its failure to encourage economic, political and security cooperation, the Arab League has certainly underperformed in its mission to curb the use of force or mediate these disputes.
In many ways, this is a reflection of the fragmented and contentious regional system, historically characterized by periods of intense competition and rivalry, in which the league operates. Writing in 1965, the eminent historian Malcolm Kerr opened his seminal work, “The Arab Cold War,” by noting that, “ever since the second world war, popular political sentiment in the Arab world has been dominated by urgent appeals for Arab unity, while the field of activity between governments and parties has been dominated by bitter rivalry.” While grand ideological notions of Arab nationalism have long since faded, popular frustrations with the inability of Arab states to work cooperatively persist.
Regional competition has ensured that member states have been reluctant to involve the Arab League in formal conflict resolution or management, and the mechanics of consensus have afforded member states an avenue to thwart more-ambitious approaches. More importantly, however, the role of the Arab League has been circumscribed as a result of ingrained notions of state sovereignty and a long-standing disregard for the manner in which regimes have dealt with their citizenry.