The Arab League The Arab League, actually the “League of Arab States” (LAS), was established in 1945 in the light of an emancipation process regarding the Arab States and the former colonialist powers, especially France and Great Britain (Schmolinsky 2000: 67). Whether the establishment was free of influence by Western interests is an open question, nevertheless, Arabian nationalism was clearly a key motivation. As some regional powers attempted to establish a unitary Arab state but others, particularly Saudi Arabia, had their doubts the LAS was the lowest common denominator (Schmolinsky 2000: 73pp.). The founding members of the LAS, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Transjordan, agreed to strengthen cooperation, coordination and collective security among the Arab World but no one was willing to give up a serious amount of sovereignty (Schlicht 2013: 320; Hassouna 1975: 3pp.). The functional structure is comparable to other international organisations involving a Council, a Commission and a General Secretariat. To the present day, the LAS has grown to 22 members and witnessed a major institutional evolution having established specialised agencies for purposes such as education, health or science (Hassouna 1975: 11). Nevertheless, the basic problems remained and even intensified due to the increase of member states. Due to different interests, different religious directions, different levels of political and economic power and other distinctions the LAS is divided and hardly reaches consensus in controversial discussions. Conflicts arising from territorial disputes, the distribution of oil and water and the issue of Israel and Palestine keep the region away from becoming entirely peaceful (Schmolinsky 2000: 176pp.). Furthermore, every member agreed to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs of other member states and binding procedures for the case of conflicts are still missing (Hassouna 1975: 9, 97pp.).
The Arab Spring After decades of stagnation in the Middle East, material hardship for large parts of the population, a lack of perspectives even for young well-educated people, political humiliation and exploiting regimes that made no move towards transformation – Gaddafi in Libya ruled for 42 years straight – made the population's discontent finally break free in 2010 (West 2011: 5; Dittmann 2013: 205p.). Beginning in Tunisia the revolutionary momentum quickly spread across the Arab World leaving not only bystanders such as the EU but even regional actors astonished as the Arabian regimes were regarded as undemocratic but extremely stable (Jünemann 2013: 96; Olimat 2014: 10). The Arab regime's reactions were inconsistent. One could observe the resignation of political leaders (Egypt and Tunisia) as well as attempts to reforms (Morocco, Algeria) and extraordinary benefits to assure the population as executed in Saudi Arabia (Al-Absi 2013: 223). In this case, the behaviour of Saudi Arabia can be considered to be controversial as apart from that the rebellion in Bahrain was confronted militarily (Olimat 2014: 8). Even more violent approaches were chosen in Libya and Syria: While unarmed protesters were confronted violently by the Assad-regime giving rise to a civil war, al-Quadafi equally initiated a war within the country (Schlicht 2013: 359p.; Wieland 2012: 27). The Arab League's behaviour in light of the Arab Spring The previous record of the LAS reacting to regional conflicts is a list of non-interference and remaining neutral. From 1948 on the LAS's answer to territorial disputes was mainly calling for negotiations, fact-finding and mediating whereby the operation of security forces was more of an exceptional case (Hassouna 1975: 28pp.). Various internal disputes such as the oppression of Shiite muslims in Iraq and major civil and inter-state wars were not addressed at all (Bröning 2014: 3). The sobering balance until 2011 has been summarised as ineffective and the role described as observing rather than acting (Tokmajyan 2013: 2). The LAS as an agent of an “Arab consensus” suffered from its vague founding texts exacerbating coercive measures and the member state's inability to reach a consensus on specific terms summarised in the quote “Arab states agree to disagree” (Kröning 2013: 72). In that light the Arab Spring marked a “breakthrough” regarding the behaviour of the LAS unexpectedly breaking with its premise of non-interference (Kröning 2013: 7). The initial reaction to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt was restraint and distinction. By contrast, Libya and Syria were different insofar that specific characteristics made the conflicts substantially more violent (Al-Absi 2013: 235). No noticeable reaction was achieved by calling on states to respect freedom of speech, resort to dialogue and refrain from use of excessive force, provoking a more firm approach on behalf of the LAS (Rishmawi 2013: 7). After Libya's right to participate in the LAS was suspended, a resolution of the Council condemned the violence against civilians and the rebels were officially recognised as legitimate representatives, ten days afterwards the UN Security Council was included by asking to impose a no fly zone. Despite rejecting foreign interventions a UN resolution paved the way for a joint operation of NATO and Arab forces that helped putting an end to the regime's power (Rishmawi 2013: 8; Buera 2015: 111). A comparably clear position was chosen towards Syria. After appeals failed to have the desired effect an agreement with the Syrian president was signed in October 2011 that should pacify the conflict including an observer mission. Due to a lack of cooperation on behalf of the regime the LAS Council suspended Syria's right to participate in the LAS – as it did towards Libya – but also provided for the imposition of economic and political sanctions (Rishmawi 2013: 9p.). The LAS's position gradually became more decisive providing support to Syrian people to defend themselves, meetings with members of the opposition and calling on the Syrian president to leave power. Since the NATO repeatedly declared not to be willing to take actions against Syria the LAS lost a strong argument compared to the Libyan case (Tokmajyan 2013: 4). For the first time in its existence the LAS agreed to sanction one of its members and include non-Arab organisation setting a precedent for the LAS and creating new standards (Jedea 2011: 2). However, taking action against Libya and Syria was relatively easy as both leaders had few friends among the Arab leaders and only Lebanon and Yemen voted against the measures (Hendawi 2012: 3). It can be attributed to a shift of power within the Arab World in favour of the Gulf countries allowing them to exert domination in the LAS. Until that, the only country denounced for human rights violations was Israel (Al-Sayyid 2015: 60). Considering the key role of Saudi Arabia a realist perspective reveals why protests in Bahrain and Yemen were not addressed by the LAS. Taking action is only to be expected as far as the national interests of the key players in the Middle East are not negatively concerned, whereby luckily Qatar and Saudi Arabia as two of the most influential countries were in agreement when it came to Libya and Syria (Al-Absi 2013: 237). That a solution for Syria is still lacking today is because of the high level of polarisation within the Syrian society and the ability of its regime to outmanoeuvre the LAS making use of the tensions among its members (Wieland 2012: 79p.). In fact, even Israel called for a military intervention of the LAS in Syria since the involvement of the USA is seen critically (Der Spiegel 2013b; Der Spiegel 2013a). But while the Gulf monarchies, especially Qatar that hold the presidency at that time, pleaded to take a tougher stand, not even the ranks within the LAS were closed let alone the international community since China and Russia prevent a UN mandate (Beck/Hüser 2012: 13pp.). The aftermath of colonialism and Western influence remains important when it comes to recent disputes as a marxist cut would emphasize. A strong alliance between the Alawite military corps and the Sunni-merchant class stabilises the Syrian regime (Wieland 2012: 121). As the middle class revolted the Arab elites managed to consolidate their power by a mixture of small-step reforms, material benefits and withdrawing their support from the weakest links in the chain (Libya, Syria) while holding others (Yemen, Bahrain) in place (Al-Absi 2013: 225).