As the situation in Syria intensifies, the Arab League is once again playing into its reputation as a toothless organization whose sole purpose is the publishing of statements, decisions and recommendations.
Many of us had believed that the change sweeping the Arab region might take the league with it, but we are finding that no matter what new leadership or location it undergoes, it is the same organization it has been since the 40s.
We have all witnessed the somewhat unimpressive history of the league, but some had begun to hope that it had a more distinguished future. That future now looks to be in jeopardy.
Its handling of Syria is the clearest example of this. Its reaction to the Syrian government’s bloody crackdown on protesters was a chance for the Arab League to prove it could fulfill its potential.
Instead, we are seeing more of the same. The league has promised sanctions, but provided few details and little evidence of them. It has repeatedly called for Syria to let in observers, but has declared the ball on action to be in the government’s court.
What we do see, however, are extended deadlines, further delays and ever more negotiations. A meeting that was due to take place this weekend was postponed, and the league has been seeking further discussions, with Iraq, which is opposed to sanctions, in the role of mediator.
The end result is more people dead. Every day that the league waits for further replies from Syria, or puts off a decision, more of the country’s citizens die. Over the course of three weeks the United Nations estimated the death toll to have grown more than 500. That is dozens of deaths for every day of inaction.
If it cannot fill the position it imagines for itself, others will. Many of those who support the Arab League’s role in the Syrian conflict hope to keep the wider international community out of the country, but the league’s behavior makes that ever more difficult.
No matter how apprehensive they may be about intervening, the international community cannot stand by and watch a massacre to which the only response is a scolding from the organization.
This is the last chance for the Arab League. After so much time building hopes that they are able to make a difference, and seeking to carve out a niche for themselves in the region as an effectual body, they must prove that they are capable and willing to do so.
Their current inaction instead proves their skeptics right, encouraging governments to ignore the league’s threats and disregard its promises, and ensuring its influence in the region will continue to wane.
If the Arab League is sincere in seeking to play an effective role in uniting 300 million people across the region, then they must begin to take that task more seriously, and show it, or be honest and let us all attend their funeral.