Global Policy Forum

Arab League Credibility Depends on

Daily Star
May 25, 2004

"Reform" was the magic word at the Arab League summit in Tunis last weekend. Statements followed signed declarations and pledges to promote democracy, civil society and human rights in the states making up the Arab world.

Fine words. But before the Arab League can proceed in the direction of reform, it must demonstrate an ability to play a meaningful role - at ground level - in Arab world politics. Unfortunately, far from demonstrating an ability to tackle regional problems, the organization has failed to demonstrate even a willingness to attempt such a hands-on approach: instead, the preference for talk and bravado is well entrenched.

Palestine and Iraq - the two most pressing and stubborn issues in the Middle East today - appear to be no-go zones for the Arab League. While the latter is a recent crisis, the tragedy of Palestine has haunted the pan-Arab organization for more than half a century, and has, time and time again, torn the fig leaf of potency from its body politic. Perhaps, then, effective political action - such as reform - begins at home. If playing any effective role in resolving the imbroglios of Palestine and Iraq is clearly beyond the ability of the league or of any of its individual members, the Darfur crisis in western Sudan should not be.

Darfur. The name is becoming synonymous worldwide with shame and outrage, and it is a purely home-grown calamity: there is no outside hand to conveniently blame. The conflict is escalating as the Sudanese government shifts its appetite for civil war to Darfur, and a humanitarian crisis on the scale of Rwanda is in the making. International human rights and aid organizations and the United Nations have all condemned Khartoum for its policy in the west of the Darfur region, adjacent to the border with Chad.

Khartoum and its proxy militia in the troubled region have been accused, and not without reason, of massive abuses, including systematic starvation. Some eight or nine children are reported to be dying of malnutrition every day. Mass killings, village destruction and rape are also reported. Around 1 million refugees have already been created. It is, in fact, one of the world's latest examples of ethnic cleansing.

Thus, the fledgling aspirations allegedly born at the Tunis Arab League summit could have no better opportunity to see the light of day in the form of practical action than for the league to exert itself in easing and then solving the Darfur dispute. If Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa cannot muster the political muscle to bring serious pressure to bear, then perhaps his only other option is to resign.

It is unacceptable that the league is calling for funding and support when it cannot bring its 22 members to negotiate an end to this de facto civil war in its midst. It is not only the credibility of the Arab League that is on the line, but the honor of the entire Arab world. Action, not just words, is needed, more than ever, right now.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Regional Organizations and Peacekeeping
More Information on the Sudan


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