Advertisement

What is the Arab League? Volodymyr Zelensky and Bashar al-Assad attend Saudi Arabia summit

What is the Arab League? Volodymyr Zelensky and Bashar al-Assad attend Saudi Arabia summit

On the same day G7 leaders met in Hiroshima, the Arab League summit brought together leaders in the Middle East with Volodymyr Zelensky.

The Ukrainian president was in the Saudi Arabia capital, Jeddah, to appeal for support for his country as the war with Russia continues.

“Most of us are here for the sake of peace and justice,” he said. “We do not have missiles as our enemy has. We have less air power; we do not possess numerous killer drones that Iran supplies to Russia. We do not have that much artillery, but we do stay strong because we do have truth on our side.”

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, vice-president of UAE and deputy prime minister, is received by Prince Badr Bin Sultan (Reuters)
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, vice-president of UAE and deputy prime minister, is received by Prince Badr Bin Sultan (Reuters)

He will be hoping to get Arabian leaders onside as Kremlin forces continue to attempt to make ground in Ukraine.

In Jeddah, there was also one premier coming in from the cold. Bashar al-Assad attended the event on Friday, making it the first time Syria has been represented since 2011.

Saudi Arabia came out strongly against Mr Assad soon after Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011 but has more recently changed tack along with many Arab countries represented at the summit – despite objections by the West and many Syrians who see him as a war criminal.

Reuters reported that Mr Assad lined up for the League’s family photograph, he shook hands with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. They then spoke to Tunisian president Kais al-Saeid and the UAE’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during the Arab League summit in Jeddah (Reuters)
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during the Arab League summit in Jeddah (Reuters)

Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, however, who in 2018 called the Syrian president a war criminal, did not greet Mr Assad at the beginning of the function.

It marks a new dawn for the group of nations, which has been meeting for more than 60 years. But what is the Arab League?

What is the Arab League?

The Arab League conference (KUNA/AFP via Getty Images)
The Arab League conference (KUNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Since 1945, countries in the Arab-speaking world have held an annual conference to discuss their shared interests and support of each other. It is always held in one of the member countries.

The league itself says the purpose is to “draw closer the relations between member states and coordinate collaboration between them, to safeguard their independence and sovereignty, and to consider in a general way the affairs and interests of the Arab countries”.

When the league began it had only six nations but these days has 22, with Syria rejoining for the meeting in Saudi Arabia.

The member states are: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

In addition, Armenia, Brazil, Eritrea, India and Venezuela have the opportunity to participate but cannot take part in votes.

UAE's Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan meets Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky (UAE’s ministry of presidential affairs)
UAE's Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan meets Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky (UAE’s ministry of presidential affairs)

What have been the successes and failures of the Arab League?

For years, the league concentrated on economic programmes but went on to establish educational programmes and a cultural organisation.

It has also helped give representation to Palestine despite the state not being universally recognised although the Arab-Israeli conflict has led to rifts emerging between member states. The Arab spring events of 2011 also caused problems for the league.

The Arab League has been noted by some critics for its lack of kinship between its members.

Michael Barnett and Etel Solingen wrote in their book Crafting Cooperation: “In its existence the Arab League has achieved a relatively low level of cooperation.

“Although the league has had a measure of influence in socialising some Arab elites, it has fallen short in changing state preferences, in forcing significant adjustment of prior policies, or in achieving a pan-Arab blueprint to guide their collective behaviour.”