News / Middle East

Arab League Seeks Relevance in Arab Spring

Anti-Syrian government protesters flash V-victory signs in the southern city of Daraa, March 23, 2011
Anti-Syrian government protesters flash V-victory signs in the southern city of Daraa, March 23, 2011

Syria has rejected criticism from the Arab League about the crackdown on unrest in the member nation, and other league members are said to be at odds whether to suspend Damascus from the grouping.

Syria's envoy to the Arab League says the criticism of his country was unbalanced and shows an ignorance of what he called the "foreign plots" behind the unrest.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa this week said the league was angry about the situation in Syria, but he would not confirm a report that some members were seeking to suspend Syria's membership.

"We are following the situation in Syria with a lot of concern and there are a lot of consultations, phone calls from many Arab officials on this issue, but we have not received any official request for an urgent meeting -  so far," Moussa said.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa (File)
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa (File)

Syria has reason to be wary of a suspension. In March, the league isolated Libya, then made the key recommendation for a U.N.-backed no-fly zone over the country. Though the Arab League quickly regretted the move, arguing NATO overstepped its mandate, the league remains an important regional voice in international decisions.

Yet only back in January, the 22-member group seemed to teeter on the brink of irrelevance. Headquartered just steps from Cairo's Tahrir Square - the focal point of Egypt's uprising, in spirit the league was far removed from the change demanded there. To the protesters in Egypt and across the region, the men inside the headquarter's marble halls represented exactly the stagnant, corrupt governments they rejected.

Egyptian columnist Fahmy Howeidi says a key to the disconnect can be seen in the group's official name - the League of Arab States, with no claim to represent the Arab people, especially those rising up in protest.

"They didn't talk about what happened in Bahrain. So you can imagine as long as the Arab League is representing the Arab governments and the Arab leaders, they will deal with all changes in the area in a very cautious way and indirect messages either positive or negative," said Howeidi.

That hesitancy has opened the door for potential rivals. The Gulf Cooperation Council has been active in league-member Yemen, mediating a still-unsigned transition deal between the opposition and the government.

Mounzer Sleiman is the director of the Washington-based Center for American and Arab Studies.

"There is a sign that maybe the GCC countries could expand their influence to be a kind of unofficial replacement of the Arab League and they will control the Arab official position," Sleiman said. "Of course, Saudi Arabia would like to play, utilizing its 'money influence' because they do not have political influence or military power to project in the region."

Syria offers a particular challenge for the Gulf-based GCC, and indeed for the Arab League. The country has a strong backer in Iran, rare among members of both alliances. Sleiman believes some figures in Saudi Arabia would like to see the current Syrian government not removed but weakened to a point it would seek help from the GCC, and in particular Riyadh.  
That's a scenario that could further undermine the Arab League. But Secretary General Moussa is upbeat about the group and the region's future.

"We are doing a lot.  We are in the midst of those events and we believe and I believe that the change will be the order of the day," Moussa said. "This region and the Arab world is undergoing a major movement towards the future and the item is change, modernization. There will be no U turns on this."

He may have a rosier perspective than others in the group. He is leaving his post soon, and plans to run for president of Egypt - along with Tunisia the only countries to have fulfilled the immediate promise of the Arab Spring.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs