Amr Musa, the new secretary general of the Arab League, has announced reforms that he claims will transform the moribund 55-year-old organisation into an effective agency that is less bureaucratic and more responsive to the needs of the ‘Arab nation’. The reforms entail raising the League’s annual budget from $27 million to $72 million. Further funds will be required for new projects that are expected to be launched.
But reviving an institution devoted to serving the interests of dictators and absolute monarchs, which should have been consigned to the out-tray of history by now, will not only be a waste of money and effort, but will also be at the expense of Islamic causes, such as the Palestinian intifada and Islamic movements worldwide.
It will also restore the US’s indirect control through the Arab League members allied to it. It is no accident that the only action the moribund agency has agreed on since the second Gulf war (1991) is the ‘anti-terrorism’ pact concluded by its members. The pact, agreed by the Arab interior ministers, is directed primarily against Islamic movements such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main props of the intifada, and commits Arab governments to cooperating with Western intelligence agencies and exchanging information related to ‘security’ with them. Nor is it a great surprise that the new secretary general’s first tour of Arab countries has been confined to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (Iraq’s most obdurate Arab adversaries) despite his public criticism of the UN sanctions against Baghdad.
Amr Musa’s election as secretary general at the Amman summit just over two months ago was greeted with great optimism and satisfaction, even in the radical Arab media that are strongly critical of Israel, the US and its Arab allies. As Egypt’s foreign minister, he used to indulge in anti-Israel rhetoric and often criticised Washington for its bias towards Tel Aviv. His undeserved reputation as an Arab activist was also reinforced by continued attacks on him by Israel officials and media; the Hebrew press, for instance, described him as “our enemy in Cairo,” in contrast with their friend Mubarak. He was also compared favourably with his predecessor, Ismat Abdul-Majid, a former Egyptian prime minister closely associated with the US-led coalition that bombed Iraq.
Exploiting these advantages, Amr Musa reportedly turned the sluggish body he inherited into a “beehive of activity” and quickly formulated a reform programme. The plan aims to turn the League into a leaner, meaner body by winnowing its 900 employees (half of whom are on temporary contracts), reducing the number of bureaucrats, employing well-known personalities in specific areas such as information and human rights, and by imposing stronger control on the various specialised agencies of the organisations. Among Amr Musa’s first appointments have been Hanan Ashrawi, a high-profile member of the Palestinian Authority, as head of the information department, and former Jordanian prime minister Tahir al-Missri.
But the proposed reforms are narrow and cosmetic. The main problem of the Arab League is political, not bureaucratic, and recruiting former ministers and prime ministers — especially from Egypt and Jordan, the only two countries that have diplomatic links with Israel — will not transform it into an effective political body. Ashrawi will remain in al-Quds and continue to function as a member of the Palestinian Authority, while Missri, like Amr Musa and Abdul-Majid, is well-versed in the art of serving Arab dictators.
Amr Musa, as Egypt’s minister, may have spoken against Israel and the US, but he was also conscientious in implementing president Husni Mubarak’s foreign policy, whose main aim is to maintain links with Israel, to contain the Palestinian struggle and ensure that the US has no reason to reduce its financial aid to Egypt, the largest recipient of such assistance after Israel.
Those who expect Amr Musa to transform the Arab League into a political body capable of resisting outright orders from his former bosses and colleagues, and an effective international body representing Arabs, are deluding themselves. He has already shown his true face, by conferring his first Arab tour as secretary general on Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and by refusing to comment on the World Trade Organisation’s conference in Qatar, which Israel is scheduled to attend, saying that the matter was at the discretion of the WTO and of Arab foreign ministers.
Both cases show that no new direction can be expected, either on Iraq or Palestine. At a time when millions of Muslims in both countries, and others, are suffering appalling hardships, the money being sunk in such empty political posturing is a disgrace.