For decades Arab countries have been on a difficult quest for unity, which has seen several different calls to arms. While Palestine remains a centrally important political issue for many Arabs and Muslims, the Arab political order has, if anything, demonstrated a considerable amount of disunity when it comes to agreeing on practical and effective ways to help the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, pan-Arab nationalism provided another possible way to unify Arab countries, but pan-Arabists have fought each other with gusto, and not even the Baath Party – dedicated to pan-Arabism – managed to help things, with its Syrian and Iraqi wings so dedicated to fighting each other.
Finally, religion has failed to unify Arab peoples and states. Political regimes have been unable to agree on this “unifying” factor, and with sectarianism as a divisive factor, even religious leaders are not immune to serious disagreements and political tension.
The only area in which Arab states have experienced true unity of late is that of refugees. There are millions of Palestinian refugees who continue to inhabit camps, inside and outside Palestine. They have been joined by Syrians, again in the millions, while new waves of Iraqi refugees appear to be created daily.
To them we can add the many Somali refugees, eking out an existence in camps in neighboring Kenya and Uganda, and the many Sudanese refugees, from both the “original” Sudan and the newer South Sudan. In recent months, the Mediterranean Sea has become the graveyard of thousands of Arabs trying to reach Europe, in a bid to escape refugee-like conditions, or possibly become refugees abroad.
Arab countries are thus finally closing in on a possible unifying factor – refugee status – and if the percentage of Arab refugees continues to rise, it might be time for the Arab League to recognize the members of this new constituency, and offer them their own seat in time for next year’s Arab Summit.