Politics & Policy

Taking Care of League Business

A response to the Arab League at the U.N.

Taking the war to the United Nations, the Arab League, this week, has called on the Security Council to stop the U.S.-led operations and withdraw from Iraq. Following an Arab foreign ministers’ summit a few days ago, an offensive strategy was put in place on the diplomatic front. Led by Syria, and supported by the hard-core regimes in the region, the move aims at isolating and eventually defeating Washington — in New York.

Recent discussions led Arab leaders to conclude that a change of regime in Baghdad could well lead to similar changes in their capitals. The fear now spreading in Arab palaces is not of a projected military assault by the U.S., but of the potential for a breakup of the decade-long status quo. Democratic opposition movements, even if not necessarily pro-American, are certainly anti-Baathist and anti-Wahhabi. And that is the problem: Arab regimes are fearful of political consequences that could undermine their legitimacy in the post-Saddam era.

Accordingly, Arab and Islamic ambassadors soon launched their diplomatic campaign against the “Anglo-Saxon” aggressors. A mere 19 months after the destruction of the Twin Towers, New York is witnessing a second offensive, this one aimed at bringing down the United States and the United Kingdom. One after another, representatives of a number of Arab and allied states vilified Coalition forces, barely managing to refrain from calling them “infidels.” The Iraqi ambassador told Secretary General Kofi Anan plainly that his regime is interested not in humanitarian assistance, but in firm condemnation of the U.S. Evidently, the “humanitarian and human dimension” of international relations were never high on the Baathists’ agenda — just ask the Kurds and the Shiites.

However, the single most important speech was delivered by the permanent representative of the Arab League at the U.N., Ambassador Yahia al-Mahmassani. The seasoned diplomat accused the U.S. of breaching the Charter of the United Nations. “The U.N. is the only party which has the right to lead such campaigns,” Mahmassani charged. “This aggression is not about weapons of mass destruction but a plan to be imposed on the governments and the peoples of the region.” He added that the military action in Iraq is fundamentally about imposing changes on the region and intervening in its internal matters — and went on to warn that the campaign would have tremendous consequences on the region and on the “eastern Mediterranean.”

Mahmassani further predicted a collapse of the United Nations, and of international relations as we have known it since 1939. He predicted wars and violence to follow. And, finally, he warned the United States of irreversible deterioration of its relationship with the Arab world. In sum his message was: If you change the regime in Iraq, the Arab world will clash with the West. Mahmassani called for pressuring the Security Council, and eventually the U.N. General Assembly, to force the Coalition to withdraw and cease its “occupation” of Iraq. As Mahmassani put it: “Instead of one occupation in Palestine, we have now another, that is in Iraq.”

Originally founded in 1945, the Arab regional organization is now facing historical realities. It’s calling for justice for an Arab dictator, yet it has miserably failed to serve the just causes of the peoples it pretends to represent at the United Nations.

Here are just a few questions for Mr. Mahmassani’s organization:

1) Speaking of withdrawal from Iraq, shouldn’t the Arab League be asking Syria — a League member — to withdraw from Lebanon? That small country was invaded in 1990 by an Arab army following an Arab League decision — which, let us remind Mr. Mahmassani, was never authorized by the United Nations. Since 1976, the Arab League has sponsored armed interventions in Lebanon quite independently of the U.N. Worse, it legitimized the onslaught of the Syrian forces in Lebanon — complete with 15 years of shelling, massacres, kidnappings, and terrorism, and the forceful imposition of a new regime in October 1990.

2) The League’s representative warned against the “harm that could be caused to the peoples of the region.” But the League shows such thoughtfulness only to certain populations. Kurds are not on its list, nor are the Berbers or the Copts. The Kurds are massacred by the Iraqi regime, the Algerian government suppresses the Berbers, and the Copts are persecuted by both their own Egyptian government and by fundamentalist organizations. The list goes on. Despite a range of atrocities stretching from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, the League has remained heavily silent.

3) Last but not least, the Arab League charges that its people do not want change, especially if it comes from the outside world, and particularly if it is to be at the hands of the United States. It claims that Arab matters are settled among and by Arabs. But if that’s the case, why don’t we call for free elections in Damascus, Riyadh, and Tripoli, and learn more about the real will of the people of the region? Let’s grant the masses there what the League wants to grant the Palestinians — nothing more, nothing less. Why should the United States be urged to intervene in one Arab matter (the Palestinian one) and not in another one (Iraq)? Are the Kurds and Shiites second-class communities?

— Walid Phares is professor of Middle East Studies at Florida Atlantic University and an MSNBC analyst.


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