Your Excellencies, I have prepared this open letter on the occasion of the 27th Summit of the League of Arab States. The mere fact that you are meeting at all is in itself an achievement that must be commended. Of course, however well attended, the summit must not be an end in itself; it must be a means to an end and it is in this context that I write.
When the Kingdom of Morocco declined to host the summit which was originally scheduled to be held in Marrakesh in March, the foreign ministry in Rabat explained the decision thus: “Amid the lack of important decisions and concrete initiatives to submit to the heads of states, this summit will be just another occasion to approve ordinary resolutions and to pronounce speeches that give a false impression of unity.”
It is no secret that Morocco and its neighbour Algeria have been at loggerheads for decades over the unresolved issue of the Western Sahara. Hence, the border between the two countries remains closed. Resolving intractable problems like that is surely a herculean task, but it is possible, with goodwill and purposeful resolve.
Sadly, the list of such problems continues to grow, making it difficult for you to prioritise. Understandably, the bloody conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya should feature prominently on your agenda. Israel’s apartheid occupation of Palestine, its daily violations of Al-Aqsa Mosque and illegal settlement expansion across the West Bank and Jerusalem also demand your special attention.
In addition, there are the stated goals of free trade among your member states and the formation of a customs union. All are commendable and welcome, but let us be brutally frank; no progress will be achieved anywhere unless the evils of corruption, inequality and maldistribution of wealth in your own countries are not tackled.
It is a welcome move for you to hold the summit in Mauritania after Morocco declined to do so. You are showcasing one of your lesser-known members and offering a platform for greater cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa.
With a per capita gross national income (GNI) of $1,270, your host country has a wealth of natural resources, particularly in the fishing and mining sectors. The population of just 3.8 million means that Mauritania has great promise for a bright future.
However, development goals will remain elusive if the government in Nouakchott does not eradicate the debilitating customs of social discrimination and slavery. Although Mauritania officially banned the practice of slavery in 1981 it still persists. The country’s authorities must therefore eschew policies that allow its survival. In February, they prevented a youth football team from travelling to take part in a tournament abroad because the players were “slaves”.
There is no value in having grandiose plans and schemes when institutions like these still exist in member states of the Arab League. Furthermore, while the persistence of slavery remains an ugly scar on Mauritania’s national character and identity, there are other degrading practices in Arab League member states from the Atlantic to the Gulf.
On other matters, it must be noted that many of the political problems confronting the League are of your own making. There is simply too much self-seeking vested interest and far too little concern for the welfare of the 300 million denizens who live in your 21 countries (Syria being suspended). This state of affairs has made the region easy prey to foreign bounty seekers.
Apart from Russia’s support for the Assad regime, we see France aiding the dissident General Khalifa Haftar in Libya, without international approval and in spite of the opposition of the national unity government. Having lost out on the spoils of Iraqi oil after the last Gulf War, France is now positioning itself to benefit from Libya’s abundant oil resources.
There is no doubt that the issue of terrorism and its macabre embodiment in the form of ISIS will feature in your deliberations, and rightly so. Make no mistake, though, terrorism will not be defeated by bombs and missiles. The Western military industrial complex and its belligerents are having a field day with your escalating spending on arms. Some rich Arab League members may be able to afford this, but it is scandalous that some countries which depend almost entirely on foreign aid should be spending lavishly on weapons at a time of growing unemployment and poverty.
Yes, by all means discuss terrorism, but please examine its root causes while doing so. Consider the systemic corruption in public office and the denial of fundamental rights and freedoms which have enabled this cancer to spread across the region.
In conclusion, it almost goes without saying that reform of the Arab League is also long overdue. The organisation is not alone in this respect and this may be your destined opportunity to set an example to others. Like other international bodies that were established in the aftermath of the Second World War, such as the UN and the Non-Aligned Movement, the Arab League has become obsolete and dysfunctional. New structures, new rules and new ways of doing business are needed.
You cannot issue a perfunctory end of summit declaration saying that you support Palestine, for example, and then embrace the apartheid state of Israel. Nor can you make noises about democratic representation, and then support moves to suppress democratic election results. If you do, rest assured that nobody will take you seriously. You must match your rhetoric with deeds; back the words with actions. No more, no less; no ifs, no buts. You have to change if the Arab League is to have any meaning or role in the modern world.
Dr Daud Abdullah