The Pan-Arab Parliament - Can it be a Seed of Change?

Posted in Other | 07-Feb-05 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

After years of modest actions, the Arab League or as a Lebanese diplomat once told me, the Arab “Leach" has finally come up with an idea. If you think the idea is to reform this ossified and largely ineffective administrative body or for that matter the Arab world, think again. Instead, the Arab League proposes a common groundwork for the Arab states - a Pan-Arab parliament. The idea in itself is not a bad one, but is it really necessary to create another bureaucratic body in the region when one already exists? If the goal is to achieve freedom and democracy, then it is necessary to establish a transparent process instead of more bureaucracy.

In 1945, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen decided that the Arab world should be represented by an official body. The official body became known as the Arab League. The League's main aims were to promote a coherent political program for the Arab states, to promote social and economic development and settle conflicts that erupt in the region without outside intervention. Over the years, more countries have joined the Arab League. Today, there are 22 member states. However, both the economic and political aims aspired to at the time when the Arab League was founded are still in the project phase.

Why has the Arab League not been successful? The role of the Arab League was absolutely insignificant when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Instead of adopting a clear policy against Saddam Hussein, it merely looked on silently. With regard to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it has done nothing to stop acts of terror. More recently, the Arab League has made no effort to stop the horrific crimes that have occurred in Sudan and the rising insurgency in Iraq nor has it attempted to put an end to Syrian interference in Lebanon's internal and external affairs. In all these important events, the role of the Arab League was at most modest. Instead, the UN dealt with these matters together with the US and European countries.

The Arab League's lack of a dynamic presence may be caused by the absence of solidarity among the member states. Another reason is that the League's charter, approved in March 1945, does not bind member states to the resolutions that are made. Therefore, it would make sense to amend the charter and establish a common Arab progressive policy; otherwise, the Arab League will remain futile. So far, the Arab states have avoided bestowing power upon the League out of fear that it could turn against them.

While many intelligent and capable individuals work for the Arab League, as a team they are not helping the Arab cause in any meaningful way. In its various summits and conferences, the Arab League instead of discussing the necessity to start a revolution against tyranny, backwardness and corruption prefers to continue the usual political bickering and point out the common enemy: The imperialist US. The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, expressed skepticism over the Iraqi elections although in spite of the obvious dangers the turnout at the polls was remarkable. He criticizes the presence of foreign troops in Iraq but has failed to suggest a viable alternative. Two member states of the Arab League, Syria and Saudi Arabia, have also complained about the fairness of the elections in Iraq: This is a paradox, since these two countries never have free, democratic elections.

The Pan-Arab Parliament

The newest and probably the most peculiar project ever proposed by the Arab League is the establishment of an Arab parliament. The plan is that the parliament would be comprised of four MP's from each member state and would act as an extension of the Arab national governments, thus supervising the implementation of the democratic reforms that have been suggested by the US and EU. Although the inspiration for this idea is based upon the European Parliament model, it lacks the real willingness to reform. The Arab countries are neither united nor are they genuinely interested in adopting a liberal democracy in the immediate future. Given these circumstances, why would some authoritarian leaders empower a decision-making body such as a Pan-Arab parliament to strip them of their absolute power? It seems that the real objective of the project is not to accelerate democratization but rather to delay it as long as possible.

The new Pan-Arab parliament would have an independent budget and a secretary-general. How can a Pan-Arab parliament please despotic tribal leaders, or for that matter, the authoritarian monarchs who have oppressed their own people for decades, forbidden political pluralism and strong oppositions: How can they be obliged to respect the parliament's rules and decisions? Until now, the Arab League has not received a reasonable response to this question.

It is like cleaning the house by sweeping the dirt under the carpet. This is not a brilliant or very efficient method of transforming authoritarian regimes into democratic ones. These regimes will not expose themselves in a common parliament while they are oppressing their respective people in their own, national parliaments. Therefore, the Pan-Arab parliament can only serve as yet another excuse for Arab states to delay general political reform in the region.

On the other hand, the idea of establishing a common groundwork should be praised albeit mildly. At least there is the willingness to keep open the channels of communication. Nevertheless, it would be a miracle if this communication were to lead to some considerable action.

While it is obvious that the Arab world needs a voice of its own, must loudly condemn terrorism, solve the region's conflicts and tell the world about its interests and future expectations, the Arab League in its present form is not able to deliver.