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Arab League, popular name for the League of Arab States, formed in 1945 in an attempt to give political expression to the Arab nations. The original charter members were Egypt, Iraq, Jordan (then known as Transjordan), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. A representative of Palestinian Arabs, although he did not sign the charter because he represented no recognized government, was given full status and a vote in the Arab League. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), now the Palestinian Authority, was granted full membership in 1976. Other current members include Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. In 2011 Syria was suspended due to its government's violent suspression of the opposition uprising.
The league is organized into a council, special committees, and a permanent secretariat; the secretariat has its headquarters in Cairo. The constitution of the league provides for coordination among the signatory nations on education, finance, law, trade, and foreign policy, and it forbids the use of force to settle disputes among members. A joint defense treaty was signed in 1950. In 2005 an Arab Parliament was established; its members are drawn from each member nation's parliament. The issues the parliament may discuss, however, are restricted to the social, economic, and cultural spheres.
Among the most important activities of the Arab League have been its attempts to coordinate Arab economic life; efforts toward this aim include the Arab Telecommunications Union (1953), the Arab Postal Union (1954), and the Arab Development Bank (1959, later known as the Arab Financial Organization). The Arab Common Market was established in 1965 and is open to all Arab League members. The common market agreement provides for the eventual abolition of customs duties on natural resources and agricultural products, free movement of capital and labor among member countries, and coordination of economic development.
In 1945, the league supported Syria and Lebanon in their disputes with France and also demanded an independent Libya; in 1961, it supported Tunisia in a conflict with France. The league early announced opposition to the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine and demanded that Palestine as a whole be made independent, with the majority of its population Arab. When the state of Israel was created in 1948, the league countries jointly attacked it, but Israel resisted successfully. The league continued to maintain a boycott of Israel and of companies trading with Israel. The summit conferences of 1964–65 established a joint Arab military command, which proved unsuccessful in implementing a united strategy for the liberation of Palestine. Egypt's membership was suspended from 1979 to 1989 because of its treaty with Israel, and the league's headquarters were moved to Tunis. In 1988 the league endorsed the PLO's plan for a negotiated settlement with Israel, and in 1991 Cairo once again became its headquarters. In 2002 the league for the first time offered Israel normal relations with Arab countries if it met certain conditions, but many of those conditions were not acceptable to Israel.
For many years, closer political unity among members was hampered by a division between pro-Western member countries and neutralist or pro-Soviet ones; more recently the division has been between militant Islamic fundamentalists and Arab moderates. The league ultimately supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88) but was divided over the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (see Persian Gulf War). In 1993 the league issued a statement condemning all forms of terrorism. In 2015, the Arab states agreed to establish a voluntary joint military force, to counter Islamic extremists and Iranian influence.
(League of Arab States; Jamiat al-duwal al-arabiya), a regional organization of independent Arab states, founded Mar. 22, 1945, at a Cairo conference of representatives of Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan (from 1946, Jordan), Saudi Arabia, and Yemen (from 1962 the Yemen Arab Republic). It was later joined by Libya (1953), Sudan (1956), Tunisia (1958), Morocco (1958), Kuwait (1961), Algeria (1962), the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (1967), Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates (1971), and the Somali Democratic Republic (1974). Since 1964 the Palestine Liberation Organization has participated in the work of the league.
The Arab League’s covenant calls for “strengthening the ties between the participant states and coordinating their political program in such a way as to effect real collaboration between them, to preserve their independence and sovereignty, and to consider in general the affairs and interests of the Arab countries.” The covenant calls for cooperation between the Arab states in economics, culture, and other fields.
As the national liberation movement in the Arab countries gained strength, particularly after the July Revolution of 1952 in Egypt, the Arab League played an important role in coordinating the actions of its members in support of the struggle of individual Arab countries for freedom and national independence. The league has called for and continues to call for the fullest possible unification of the Arab countries against imperialist plans aimed at establishing neocolonial regimes in the Middle East and at drawing the Arab countries into the imperialist sphere of influence. The league has consistently supported its members’ demands for the liquidation of foreign bases on their territory.
The league has strongly condemned the Israeli aggression that began in June 1967 against the Arab countries as well as the support shown to Israel by international imperialism and Zionism. The league has advanced a series of proposals aimed at working out a unified political and economic strategy for the Arab countries to liquidate the consequences of Israeli aggression. The Khartoum conference of heads of Arab states in August 1967 decided on ways to struggle for the liberation of Israeli-occupied lands and to give aid, including financial, to countries that are victims of aggression. Sessions held by the league’s Joint Defense Council in November 1971, November 1972, and January 1973 were instrumental in unifying the Arab states’ military, political, and economic efforts in the struggle against Israeli aggression. When military actions were renewed in the Middle East in October 1973, the league helped coordinate the actions of the Arab countries in exerting pressure on Israel and its supporters; one of the leading tactics was the limitation on the production and supply of Arab oil for the international market.
The league’s executive organ is the council, composed either of the heads or the prime ministers of the Arab states or of representatives designated by them. The council also has the Joint Defense Council, a political committee, an economic council, the Unitary Arab Command, and other bodies. Between council sessions (held twice yearly), the league’s activities are supervised by a general secretary, who is elected to a five-year term. The decisions of the league council and of organizations tied to the league (including the Common Market of Arab States, since 1964, and the Arab Financial Institution for Economic Development, since 1959) are binding only for those member states that voted for them. The league’s headquarters are in Cairo.