The late Muammar Gaddafi erred in many policies and positions, but he was very correct in his lack of faith in the Arab League. Despite his discontent with it and its accumulated flaws, and despite his repeated threats over the years to withdraw from it, Gaddafi did not have the courage to withdraw from this crumbling league. He did not find an alternative, in his direction towards the depth of Africa. This is a sign of the difficulty of the trap of belonging to the Arab League and the almost impossibility of escaping from it.
The League was in better regional political condition than it is now and it did not encourage the divorce of the Arab League. Today, given the deterioration and fragmentation of Arab relations, withdrawal seems less difficult to implement and promote.
At the time of Gaddafi, it was possible to reform the Arab League, albeit with difficulty. However, some members, led by Egypt, refused to open the door to talk about any reform because it would have meant reconsidering the General Secretariat and the rest of the leadership positions and how they are assumed. This would have affected the sanctity of Egypt’s monopoly on the General Secretariat and its control over the organisation’s work mechanisms and positions.
Today, there is neither hope nor an opportunity for reforming the Arab League. It should be dissolved, and its employees and diplomats should be returned to their homes and countries. Algeria’s relentless pursuit of hosting the next Arab summit, and its insistence on making it a success, is an unrealistic thought. The so-called Arab ranks no longer exist, and President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s talk about its unification is also far from reality and political realism.
Even if Algeria hosted the summit, its success remains a completely different story – and the terms of its success and failure need to be defined in this context. The fault is not in Algeria’s intentions as much as it is also in other objective data, and in the members, their positions and their political mentalities.
The Algeria Summit, if and when it is held, will be the most difficult and dangerous. It may be the lowest ranking in terms of official representation (the quality of attendance has become the only measure of the Summit’s success).
Aside from limited exceptional cases, such as the summits that followed major events, such as the “Three No’s” summit in Khartoum after the setback of 1967, the Tunis Summit (1979) following the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel and the Fez Summit (1982) following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, it has not witnessed a summit of kings and presidents at the level of gravity of the awaited summit in Algeria this year.
The difference today is that the Khartoum, Tunis and Fez summits, for example, were held against the background of the dangerous events that preceded them and were punctuated by similar feelings and moods that led to similar positions. However, the 2022 Algeria summit is being held amid unprecedented division. It is also held to save face and show off, and not against the backdrop of dangerous unilateral decisions such as the normalisation of the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain and Sudan with Israel (does anyone know what the Arab League’s position is on this normalisation?). These decisions are comparable in severity to the Camp David Accords at the time, and are even more than that.
The Arab region today is drowning in quantity and type of crises that cannot be solved. Syria needs a special summit. Libya as well; Yemen, Iraq, Tunisia, Lebanon, the Moroccan-Algerian crisis and the relationship with Iran. This is in addition to the crises of health, education, poverty, hopelessness, and illegal migration, which are concerns far more dangerous than politics and threaten human beings in their existence.
The other danger is that Arab governments and regimes are deeply divided over each of these crises, without exception. There is no similar Arab position (let alone unified) regarding any of these crises, and there will not be. Some crises were created by Arab countries, and they played dangerous sabotaging roles in them, so are we waiting for the wolf to assume the role of the shepherd?
There is a fact that Algerian officials need to consider seriously, which is the absence of any noticeable influence for them in the Arab environment. The centres of influence and their tools in the Arab world have changed and moved to other countries. This happened in the absence of Algeria, either because of the civil war in the 1990s, or when Bouteflika monopolised everything and decided to paralyse the country as soon as he was paralysed by illness.
Influence over the Arabs today is monopolised by certain countries, and Algeria is not one of them. This includes Saudi Arabia due to its economic and spiritual power, the UAE, by virtue of its economic strength and daring to engage in strategic risks, and Egypt is trying to hold on to the remnants of its traditional influence, supported by the Gulf. Then there are other countries like Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.
Algeria does not have the new tools of influence. It does not have the economic power to compete with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Its diplomatic traditions inherited from the Cold War are crippling it, and these traditions themselves discourage it from any diplomatic boldness. All this makes Algeria incapable of imposing its word in a forum such as the Arab Summit.
Algeria should think of finding a suitable excuse to give up hosting an Arab Summit that may not take place, and if it does, it will be nothing more than an occasion to exchange hollow diplomatic words and take pictures for memory. Then each guest will go back to their country at lightning speed. If Algeria cancels the Summit at all, no one will be sad, but rather it will lift the embarrassment from many Arab leaders.
If the Algerian authorities want to restore their place in regional diplomatic work, the Arab League is not the best door to this. Even worse, the Arab Summit is a trap, not a launching pad. Algeria should stop waiting for something from the Arab League. It should pay attention to Africa, and it should also fix its relationship with France, the European Union and other economic and strategic spaces on the five continents.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 31 January 2022
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.