The Arab Community (al-Jama'aa al-Arabiyyah in Arabic language) is an international organisation composed of all the independent Arab states.
The organisation’s charter states that the Community shall co-ordinate economic affairs, including commercial relations, communications, cultural affairs, nationality, passports and visas as well as social and health affairs. It also states that the Community shall defend Arab interests worldwide and that member states shall not solve their disputes with violence against each other.
Cairo, the Egyptian capital city, hosts the permanent headquarters of the Community.
Shukri al-Kuwatli (1891-1967), president of Syria, after failing in the attempt to merge his country and Lebanon in the Levantine Arab Republic (1944), contacted the governments of all the independent Arab states thinking to create an organization where common interests could be discussed and protected at a time when the whole world was at war (the Second Great War and the Great Oriental War).
On 22 March 1949 he joined with the rulers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Hijaaz, Iraaq, Maghreb, Kuwayt and the Bedouin Free State to sign the Treaty of Alexandria which established the Arab Community.
These nine founding states defined, according to the first article of the Treaty of Alexandria, the main goal:
"Serve the common good, defend the common interests, ensure better conditions, guarantee the future and fulfill the hopes and expectations of all the Arab countries."
The Early Years
The Egyptian Abdul Azzam was elected the first secretary-general of the Arab Community when the treaty was signed.
He made efforts to ensure that the organisation would be recognised worldwide and made the member states sign new treaties for common interests (mutual defence and economic co-operation).
In 1951 Libya became the tenth member state after becoming independent.
At the end of Azzam’s five year mandate (1954), the League of Nations recognised the Arab Community and designated it as the LoN’s organisation for education, sciences and culture in the Arab world.
Despite his importance to the Community, Azzam was not re-elected and was replaced by another Egyptian, Mahmoud Hassan, close to pan-arab interests in a time when Pan-Arabism was growing in influence across the whole Arab world.
This election was seen as a personal victory for the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and his ideology. He also defended the right of self-determination for Al-Jazayra (Algeria) and the Thousand Emirates, which were under the Federated Kingdoms' protection.
Hassan followed his pan-arabist influences and, to ensure a higher cohesion among the member states, he changed the organisation’s name to the Arab Union in 1955.
In 1956, the organisation held its first emergency summitin Beyrut, Lebanon, to discuss the Suez Crisis. All the member states defended the Egyptian positions of nationalising the Suez Canal and defending itself against the Federated Kingdoms and France in the matter of Arab nationalism among all the member states or of oil policies among the oil-producing states which saw their profits increase as a result of the maximum oil prices caused by that crisis.
In 1958, the United Arab Rebublic replaced Egypt and Syria as member states because of their union.
A second emergency summit, held in Damascus (then in the United Arab Republic), was held to discuss the fall of the Hashemite royal family in Iraaq. Except for the United Arab Republic and Saudi Arabia no member state recognised the new government in Iraaq, headed by Abdul Karim Qassim. They recognised instead, the Iraaqi Government in Exile which in fact had no real power over its country.
Azzam was re-elected in 1959 and in that year another emergency summit was held in Marrakesh, Maghreb, to discuss the Hajji War between the two member states, Hijaaz and Saudi Arabia. This war occurred after Hijaaz prohibited the citizens of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Republic to enter Hijaaz because of their recogntion of Qassim’s government in Iraaq. As a result, their citizens were not allowed to perform the Hajj.
The United Arab Republic solved this problem in a bureaucratic way. As this federation was very recent, most of its citizens still had documents declaring them Egyptians or Syrians. The issuance of the new documents was delayed and, as Hijaazi law was aimed at the United Arab Republic, the police were unable to stop those pilgrims.
In Saudi Arabia things were much different. The Saudi government considered the prohibition a serious provocation and wahhabi clerics organised a pilgrimage with common people who would cross Hijaazi borders. In the Islamic month of Dhu al-Qi’dah of A.H. 1378 (May, 1959), the month before their arrival at the Holy Cities, those pilgrims crossed the border and were arrested by the Hijaazi police. Things became confusing and more than 200 Saudi Arabian pilgrims were killed. The Saudi government accused Hijaaz of the killing of innocent pilgrims while the Hijaazi government accused Saudi Arabia of sending soldiers disguised as pilgrims.
King Said, instigated by wahhabi clerics, declared war on Hijaaz and soon Saudi troops invaded their neighboring country. Although short, this war was fought to a stalemate as both countries had similar military strength.
Hassan was able to negotiate a cease-fire and had both belligerent countries sign an agreement which allowed everyone to make the Hajj in exchange for the ending of Saudi pretensions to takee the Holy Cities. This was respected by the Saudi government until 1975.
As Mahmoud Hassan said: At the moment of the Hajj we lose our nationality. We are all just Muslim. Just as Mecca and Medina are not the property of Hijaaz, so they do not belong to the Saudi for the same reason. They belong to all Muslims.
This agreement earned him the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1959 and gave worldwide prestige to the organization.
In that same year, to celebrate the organization's tenth anniversary, Nasser offered the building which is today its headquarters.
Upon the dissolution of the United Arab Republic in 1961 both Egypt and Syria returned separately to the Arab Union.
Hassan was not a candidate for a third mandate and retired as the pan-arabist ideal was losing strength. Ahmad Riad, a Syrian, was then elected the new secretary-general in 1964.
His first years of mandate were quite calm. Ahmad Riad dropped the name Arab Union in 1964 and replaced it with the original name, Arab Community. During his first mandate the Community was generously helped with funds from King Faisal I of Saudi Arabia.
In 1968, Qassim’s rule was finally recognized by the Arab Community as the Hijaazi king finally gave up his claims to the Iraaqi throne and the Iraaqi Government on Exile was abolished.
Riad was re-elected in 1969.
In 1971, The Thousand Emirates received its independence from the Federated Kingdoms and joined the Community as the eleventh member state.
Riad’s mandates were marked by a certain lose of interest among the oil-producing member states, notably Saudi Arabia, Kuwayt, The Thousand Emirates, Maghreb, Iraaq and Libya, which often preferred COPEN as a place to discuss Arab interests.
On 17 October 1973 (20 Ramadan 1393), oil prices felt almost 20% in a single day because of the Iraaqi policy of high oil production. As a result the oil-producing countries went into a serious economic crisis because of the massive loss of profits. This became known as the Oil Crisis of Hijra 1393. A fourth emergency summit was held in T’arabulus, Libya, to discuss the crisis. The Arab Community saw itself much divided as the non-oil-producing countries defended the Iraaqi position while the others opposed it. Riad paid heavily for this division as he was not re-elected, but was replaced in 1974 by Rahman Hassouna from Maghreb.
Hassouna was too close to the oil interests and he tried to forbid the use of Tesla generators by the member states following pressures from COPEN. He was a weak secretary-general and in time divisions caused by the Oil Crisis of 1393 within the Community made him unpopular and so he was not re-elected. Such divisions caused a certain blow to Arab Community prestige worldwide.
In 1979, a third Egyptian, Ibrahim Klibi, was elected secretary-general. For Egypt this was proof of its influence over the Arab world. He convoked the fifth emergency summit in Baghdaad, Iraaq, to discuss the Persia-Iraaq War. This seemed to cause a return to unity among the Arab countries who defended the Iraaqi claims to the Persian province of Khuzestan. But outside the Arab world countries were not so convinced and became divided between those which supported Iraaq and those which supported Persia. Soon Libya started to support Persia in the Perso-Iraaqi War.
This unity among the Arab world permitted to Klibi to be re-elected in 1984 and 1989. But in time divisions appeared as Saddaam Hussayn’s regime was becoming more and more radical. Arab countries with large non-Muslim communities, such as Lebanon and Libya, or moderate Muslim nations like Hijaaz, Syria and Egypt, became more critical of the theocratic Iraaqi regime.
Following the Dalmatian bombings of T’arabulus and Berenice in Libya on 14 April 1986, Klibi convoked the sixth emergency summit in Medina, Hijaaz. Here the Arab countries found themselves divided because of Libyan support of Persia in the Perso-Iraaqi War and of “liberation movements” around the world. For many, Qadhdhafi's regime was a trouble to the world by causing instability and helping terrorism. Later, in 1992, Egypt was the only Arab country placing sanctions on Libya because of its involvement in terrorism.
On 2 August 1990, Iraaq invaded Kuwayt which led to the seventh emergency summit, held in Dubai, The Thousand Emirates. The only country to defend the Iraaqi position was Saudi Arabia. Joining forces with the LoN the Arab Community placed an embargo on Iraaq and delivered an ultimatum to retreat from Kuwayt by 19 December 1990. As the Iraaqi did not retreat from Kuwayt, the Arab Community created a coalition of international troops to free Kuwayt. To make Saudi Arabia co-operate it threatened the Saudi government with an embargo. Saudi Arabia agreed to let the coalition use its territory but did not send any troops.
For the rest of the world the Gulf War was An arab internal matter and the LoN did not send any peace-making forces. These came mostly from the Arab moderate countries, mostly from Egypt and Syria, but in small numbers from Hijaaz, Bedouin Free State, The Thousand Emirates and Maghreb, as well as exiled Kuwaytis. Kuwayt was finally freed in February 1991.
In the wake of the Gulf War, the Shiites in southern Iraaq rebelled and were terribly persecuted by Iraaqi forces. The Shiites the declared the independence of Al-Basra which was promptly recognized by the Arab Community. Al-Basra joined as the twelveth state member in 1991 with the opposition of Saudi Arabia which would not accept a Shiite-ruled Arab country. Until the fall of Hussayn’s regime (2003), Iraaq was kept under an embargo which was often violated by the Saudis. Both Kuwayt and Al-Basra were aided in their reconstruction.
Abdul Moussa, a Syrian, was elected the new secretary-general in 1994. He continued the aid to Kuwayt and Al-Basra as well as the embargo against Iraaq. All the attempts he made to make Iraaq stop attacking Al-Basra failed.
He has begun talks with the governments of France, Two Sicilies, Aragon and Castile and Leon with the intent of decolonizing of the last Arab colonized territories, (Tunisia, Algeria, Melilla and Oran, Ceuta and Western Sahara). He is also talking with the Persian government to ensure that Arab civil rights will always be respected in Khuzestan.
Re-elected in 1999 and 2004 he made agreements with the richest Arab countries to finance the reconstruction of post-Saddaam Hussayn Iraaq. As a result, in 2002, he sent peace-keeping forces (mostly from Egypt, Syria and Maghreb) to ensure the pacification of Iraaq according to the decision of the eighth emergency summit, held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. This pacification is also being supported by funds from the League of Nations. For this he was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize. Although his efforts are recognized worldwide, he has yet to receive the Prize.
Some question the Arab Community's efficiency in fulfilling its mission to ensure better living conditions among the Arab people, as well as the Community's political issues, notably making Arab countries more democratic in an organization where most member states are not so.
Structure and organization
The Arab Community system consists of:
Arab Community Summit
The highest policy-making organ, attended by the heads of state and government of the member states, is convened every two or three years. In cases of exceptional troubles, emergency summits can be convoked. Every five years the Community gathers to elect or re-elect the secretary-general.
Arab Community summits
- 1950-Cairo, Egypt
- 1952-Baghdaad, Iraaq
- 1954-Damascus, Syria
- 1956-Marrakesh, Maghreb
- 1956-Beyrut, Lebanon (1st emergency summit)
- 1958-T’arabulus, Libya
- 1958-Damascus, United Arab Republic (2nd emergency summit)
- 1959-Kuwayt, Kuwayt
- 1959-Marrakesh, Maghreb (3rd emergency summit)
- 1961-Beyrut, Lebanon
- 1963-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- 1964-Ha’il, Bedouin Free State
- 1966-Alexandria, Egypt
- 1969-Fez, Maghreb
- 1971-Damascus, Syria
- 1973-Medina, Hijaaz
- 1973-T’arabulus, Libya (4th emergency summit)
- 1974-Abu Dhabi, The Thousand Emirates
- 1976-Baghdaad, Iraaq
- 1979-Medina, Hijaaz
- 1980-Baghdaad, Iraaq (5th emergency summit)
- 1981-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- 1984-Kuwayt, Kuwayt
- 1986-Medina, Hijaaz (6th emergency summit)
- 1987-Marrakesh, Maghreb
- 1989-Cairo, Egypt
- 1990-Dubai, The Thousand Emirates (7th emergency summit)
- 1992-Beyrut, Lebanon
- 1994-T’arabulus, Libya
- 1996-Kuwayt, Kuwayt
- 1999-Damascus, Syria
- 2001-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- 2003-Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (8th emergency summit)
- 2004-Al-Basra, Al-Basra
- 2006-Ha’il, Bedouin Free State
- 2009-Casablanca, Maghreb
The Arab Conference of Foreign Ministers
The Conference meets once a year at the headquarters in Cairo to examine a progress report on the implementation of the decisions taken within the framework of the policy defined by the Arab Community Summit.
The Permanent Secretariat
The Secretariat is the executive organ of the Community, entrusted with the implementation of the decisions of the two preceding bodies. It is located at the organization’s headquarters. The current secretary-general is Abdul Moussa from Syria.
Depending on the Permanent Secretariat are several subsidiary organs and specialized institutions that deal with social, economic, financial, scientific, cultural, statistical and communications issues. These are headquarted in different member states.
List of secretaries-general
- Abdul Azzam (Egypt): 1949-1954
- Mahmoud Hassan (Egypt): 1954-1964
- Ahmad Riad (Syria): 1964-1974
- Rahman Hassouna (Maghreb): 1974-1979
- Ibrahim Klibi (Egypt): 1979-1994
- Abdul Moussa (Syria): 1994 to present