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How Important is Libya's Membership in the Arab League?

It now appears Libya will remain a member of the Arab League, after threatening to quit the organization last Thursday. The League's secretary-general, who made an emergency visit to Tripoli, announced Monday that the withdrawal plan has been put on hold. Analysts say Libya's threat reflects growing frustration with the Arab League, but they are divided on what impact a Libyan withdrawal would have.

Last Thursday's announcement that Libya was leaving the 22-member Arab League was not the first time it has threatened to do so.

During a speech in March, Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi was harshly critical of the Arab League, suggesting it didn't have the muscle to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian issue or the threat of a possible U.S.-led military strike against Iraq. As a result, Col. Gadhafi said Libya would resign its membership.

But Arab League Seceretary-General Amr Moussa was able to convince Mr. Gadhafi to change his mind back in March, and he has apparently done the same this time.

Even so, political analyst Uraib el Rantawy says whether Libya stays or goes makes little difference to the future of the organization. The director of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman says, in recent years, Libya has played a mostly negative role in the region.

"It will make no difference at all because the whole Libyan participation in the Arab activities is very limited and I think, in general, didn't play a solidifying role among Arab countries. Many times Libya makes a lot of trouble for many Arab countries here and there. And for many years Libya was apart in the Arab struggles not in the Arab activities to make unity. I don't think there is a big deal if Libya remains in the Arab League or removed from the Arab League," he said.

Over the past several years Mr. Gadhafi has been working to develop African unity. Mr. el Rantawy says he believes, in part, that is because the Libyan leader has seen his voice in Arab affairs diminished.

But Arab League spokesman Hisham Youssef says that is not true. "Libya is important because Libya is an Arab country. It is a member of this organization. It has been active on a number of issues and a number of fronts. Col. Gadhafi has presented ideas to the summit in Beirut addressing strategic issues important to the Arab world including facing issues like how to deal with the Palestinian question, how to deal with Iraq, how to deal with the threats that are facing the Arab world. And he has an outlook that is important and adds to an important dimension to the work of the organization," he said.

That is the official view of the Arab League. But many political analysts do not agree. Sami Baroudi heads the political science department at Lebanon-American University in Beirut. He says if Libya should decide to leave the League it will, in his words, not be a tremendous loss.

"Population wise it's not among the larger Arab countries. Economically it's important because of the oil but they haven't been giving much aid to other Arab countries and, of course, it's not one of the, what we call, confrontation states because it doesn't have any borders with Israel. So if your question is about whether that will be a tremendous loss to the Arab League I don't think so. But it sort of indicates some growing frustration with what this organization has been achieving," he said.

It is a frustration felt by many Arabs including Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. On Sunday, he said the Arab world is facing a critical situation and complained Arab societies are showing what he called weakness politically, economically and intellectually.

Earlier this month 50,000 people marched in Tripoli demanding Libya's withdrawal from the Arab League and political analyst and expert on Arab Affairs Abdullah el Ashaal in Cairo says if Libya ever pulls out of the League other states might decide to follow. "This would give signals for any other Arab state to withdraw and this would mean also the Arab League is weakened and the house of Arabs is going to be demolished," he said.

The Arab League was formed in 1945 as a means of developing Arab unity. In 1953 Libya joined the organization and, for now, will remain a member. Secretary-General Moussa says Libya's anger and frustration have been heard and he is promising to take measures aimed at dealing with the League's failings.