Torn leadership

The Arab League foreign ministers meet in Rabat, Morocco, Wednesday, Nov 16. 2011. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

Lebanon assumed Wednesday its six-month presidency of the Arab League, a development that will, if it is possible, render the body even more ineffectual when it comes to the most pressing problem in the region today.

The League already suffers from chronic inaction. For the nearly 70 years of its existence, it has been stymied by bureaucracy and internal strife on nearly every subject. Its inaction has become legendary to the point where it lends itself all too easily to ridicule.

The last two of those years have seen the most dramatic shifts in the region’s history, and the Arab League has had virtually no input in its direction, nor provided solutions to any of the major, or minor, crises it has gone through, preferring instead to issue empty statement after empty statement. The League stood by as the international community intervened in Libya, and individual regional players stepped into the situation in Yemen.

The greatest example of the Arab League’s ineffectuality is, of course, the fact that it has been unable to do anything to improve the Palestinians’ situation in more than 60 years.

As the situation in Syria descends into seemingly intractable civil war, the Arab League faces one of its greatest challenges. If ever there was a need for strong and delicate leadership, it is now.

Instead the challenge has fallen at the feet of Lebanon, a country whose political class splits along a line drawn directly from Syria. The crisis in Lebanon’s neighbor has paralyzed domestic politics and, at times, provided an excuse for violence.

Lebanon both has a stake in and is threatened by Syria’s crisis. Loyalties both to and against the Syrian regime extend from its politicians deep into society.

It is still unclear to whom Lebanon’s foreign minister, Amal Movement member Adnan Mansour, is loyal: the government, or the party which elected him.

Past experience with the minister shows a clear gulf between the message of the president and the prime minister, and the actions of Mansour.

The next six months therefore do not bode well for the Arab League. With the leadership in the hands of a divided Lebanon, the body is susceptible to being not just held up on, but entirely derailed from the right path.

At the helm of the body, Lebanon is likely to avoid any action at all, wary of the repercussion on its internal politics and security. It is a country that cannot be expected to make any decisions, particularly tough ones, regarding to Syria.

Rather than try to create a consensus for action, it is almost guaranteed that Lebanon will create more division within the League and hamper any advancement. Lebanon’s presidency is likely to be a means for the Arab League to waste another six months, to be piled upon the wasted decades that came before.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 06, 2012, on page 7.




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