The Arab League
September 2001

Commentary by Rick Francona

The Arab LeagueThe Arab League, officially the League of Arab States (Jami’at Al-Dawl Al-‘Arabiyah), was founded in Cairo in 1945 in reaction to world events following the end of World War II. The charter members were Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan (then Transjordan), Yemen and a representative of the Palestinian Arabs. 


The Egyptian government first proposed the Arab League in 1943 to foster closer cooperation in the Arab world to deal with the emerging Western power structure that would come with the defeat of Germany. After the victory over Nazi Germany, western governments came under pressure from Zionist groups in Europe and the United States to allow greater number of refugees to leave Europe for either America or Palestine. 

Great Britain, who had been the governing authority in Palestine under a League of Nations mandate established in the aftermath of World War I, was reluctant to increase the allotments for Jewish immigration. As pressure mounted for the creation of a Jewish homeland, the Arab League became the focus of Arab efforts to prevent such an occurrence. When the United Nations approved the partition of Palestine in 1947, followed by Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1948, the Arab League launched unsuccessful military operations against the new state. In 1950, the league established a common defense pact. 


The League expanded with new members: 
Libya (1953)
Sudan (1956)
Morocco (1958)
Tunisia (1958)
Kuwait (1961)
Algeria (1962)
Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen (1967)*
Bahrain (1971)
Oman (1971)
Qatar (1971)
United Arab Emirates (1971)
Mauritania (1973)
Somalia (1974)
Palestine (1976)**
Djibouti (1977)
Comoros (1993)

* PDRY and YAR joined to formed the Republic of Yemen in 1990
** Admitted as the Palestine Liberation Organization, now represented by the Palestinian Authority

Comment: The inclusion of Mauritania, Somalia, Djibouti and Comoros raises some questions. Although they are Muslim countries, they are not really Arab states.

The League has been headquartered in Cairo for most of its existence, except from 1979 to 1989 when it was based in Tunis. During much of that time, Egypt’s membership was suspended when many Arab countries broke relations with Cairo following its conclusion of a peace treaty with Israel. 

The Arab League primarily a political organization, but also involves itself in economic, cultural, and social programs in the Arab world. Although its charter calls for military cooperation, it has only been used in Lebanon. 

Arab Deterrent Force

In May 1976, at the request of the Lebanese government, the Arab League agreed to send the Arab Deterrent Force (ADF) to restore security in the country. The League arranged for a 30,000 strong Arab Deterrent Force composed mostly of Syrian troops but including Saudis, Sudanese, Libyans and troops from the United Arab Emirates. As the conflict persisted the Syrian forces stayed while the other Arab forces departed.

By January 1977, of the 30,000 troops, 27,000 were Syrian. By 1979, the ADF was exclusively composed of Syrian forces. Syria pledged to keep its troops in Lebanon as long as their presence was “requested” by the Lebanese government – they remain there today.


Although most Pan-Arab movements have failed and other regional groupings have been marginally successful at best, the Arab League remains a viable unifying force in the Arab world. Although the rhetorical "Arab Nation" is a myth, the Arab League does provide a forum for coherent Arab action. 

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