Hope or bedlam?Getting serious on Arab Unity [Archives:2005/872/Opinion]

August 29 2005

By Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz al-Tarb
The Arab world arguably faces more challenges today than ever before in its modern history. These range from general development issues as diverse as sanitation to good government, education, healthcare and human rights to the Palestinian question and the nacient trauma of the new Iraq. The question remains, can the upcoming Arab summit, adjourned out of respect for the death of HM King Fahd bin Abdulaziz, overcome both history and expectations to get serious about regional goals? In the event that this summit will be a success, solidarity and cooperation are needed both on a large scale and with good will. Previous Arab conferences and summits have issued decrees, statements and agreements that were broken by signatories before the ink was dry. The current state of Arab unity is more a mythologized ideal than a political reality, but it will take more than poetic sentiment to repair 50 years of bedlam and self-interest in the face of so many challenges. Many hold that the occupation of 'Arab land' and the century long history of European interference were a consequence of the weakness Arab factionalism, isolation and posturing caused.

Disunity has also helped accelerate Sharon's construction of the apartheid wall and expand the settlements in al-Quds and the West Bank. He is now more encouraged to decoy the Palestinian Authority into negotiations under the cover of the Road Map and persuade it into yielding to Israel's pressures to strike at the resistance's infrastructure and exterminate Intifada. Sharon has succeeded in putting a color of honesty on what he called his one-sided plan – two withdrawals from Gaza – as the word withdrawal is associated with the desire to avoid wars and their causes and a concession of Gaza Strip settlements. To this deception do contribute the scene of Israeli opposition and Sharon's claim that his “project” would cost him his own and his aides' lives.

On the other hand, the terrorist attacks in Sharm al-Sheikh came when Condaleeza Rice announced that an international conference would be held but not to achieve peace in the area, taking into consideration the bleeding wounds of Palestine and Iraq. However, this conference is planned according to the American vision, “The Great Middle East”, to serve the US and Israeli interests. Meanwhile, pressure continues to be exercised on the Syrian and Iranian regimes and more interference in Lebanese affairs occurs.

With the Sharm al-Sheikh terrorist attack, we are invited to consider that “terrorism” may be orchestrated by those who want to “mix cards and trouble water.” This necessitates a comprehensive Arab strategy to be set up as terrorism did not any Arab state. Consequently, terrorism needs to be clearly defined, both legally and politically. We should also think of the causes of terrorism so that our counter-terrorism measures become effective. No doubt, the US policies in the area, namely the occupation of Iraq and the unconditional support for Israel's projects, aggressive and expansive plans, are the fundamental reason behind the growth of terrorism as a phenomenon and the proliferation of bombings both here and there.

The prospective Arab summit's main task should be to discuss the conditions in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon and the pressure exercised against Syria to ultimately draw an integrated Arab strategy based on unity of stand and goals.

We live in the era of giant conglomerations, an era where small countries hold little political influence when they stand unilaterally. With our civilization, cultural resources and geography, we can, by means of economic and political unity, build up an Arab union with international respect and authority. To play ball on the same court as the US, EU, China, India and even ASEAN, the Arab world needs to let unity and coordination supercede fractured self-interest. E plurubus unum or impotent obscurity, the Arab summit must ask some hard questions.