The Arab League (AL)

The League of Arab States / Arab League was founded in 1945 and is an organization that works for economic, cultural and political cooperation between Arab states. Issues debated in the Arab League include the situation in Iraq and Syria, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Sudan, terrorism and reforms.


Short for AL on, the Arab League is a voluntary association of Arab states with the aim of working for economic, cultural and political cooperation for the benefit of all Arab states.

The alliance was formed in the spring of 1945, when its statutes were signed by the first seven member states: Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Today the organization has 22 members. Palestine is considered a separate state by the Arab states, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is a full member.

The emergence

In the early 1940’s, various plans for Arab cooperation circulated in the Middle East and North Africa. The plans originated in Syria and Lebanon but also gained a strong foothold in Egypt’s capital Cairo, the region’s political and ideological center.

Britain was the dominant colonial power in the region, although many states had become independent. The threats against the new states were many, and coup attempts were not uncommon. Several leaders fought for the political initiative, and political coordination between the countries appeared necessary. Increasing Jewish immigration to Palestine, which was managed by the British, was perceived by the Arabs as a provocation against the entire Arab world. The British, who had not previously been in favor of Arab nationalism, now preferred to support the aspirations of the Arabs rather than make enemies of the Arab states and risk losing power. Egypt, which pushed the issue of an Arab cooperation organization the hardest, initiated a conference in Alexandria in 1944, where guidelines for the Arab League were drawn up.

The goal of the Arab League was to ensure the independence and integrity of the Member States by coordinating economic, cultural and security policy development, while achieving a unified Arab policy towards external enemies. According to the charter, co-operation would focus on six areas: economics and fiscal policy, communications, culture, border control, social issues and health issues.

The members undertake in the charter to respect the sovereignty of the individual states and thus not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. If conflicts arise between Member States, violence may not be used. The highest decision-making body of the Arab League, the Council, shall mediate in the event of conflicts. In 1950, the Arab League’s statutes were supplemented by a security agreement, in which the states promised to protect each other from external attacks.

During the 1950’s, the Arab League gained four new members: Libya, Sudan, Tunisia, and Morocco. In the early 1960’s, Algeria and Kuwait were added. While the Arab League’s statutes emphasized the sovereignty of the states, there were states within the organization that saw the Arab League as an embryo of a future Arab federation. A union between Egypt and Syria in 1958 was the first attempt to realize this pan-Arab stance, that is, the ambition to unite all Arabs across national borders. The union was short-lived and disbanded at the initiative of Syria in 1961. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser continued to advocate pan-Arabism for a long time, not least in 1964–1965 when the unity ideas were particularly prominent. Nasser received support from, among others, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Algeria and Lebanon.

The defeat of the war against Israel in 1967 shattered visions of the possibilities of Arab nationalism and clouded the image of the Arab League as a national entity. At the same time, a conflict erupted within the alliance between Saudi Arabia’s King Feisal and Egyptian President Nasser. Egypt opposed not only the influence of the Western powers in Saudi Arabia but also the proposal of Jordan and Saudi Arabia to form an Islamic cooperation organization, which later came to be called the Islamic Conference.

In the 1970’s, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Mauritania, Somalia and Djibouti joined the Arab League. The Palestinians gained membership in 1976 as the nation of Palestine.

As oil production expanded, the influence of the oil-producing states within the union grew.

The division within the Arab League increased in the late 1970’s when Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979. Egypt was expelled from the League and the secretariat was moved from Cairo to Tunis. It was not until the Casablanca Summit in 1989 that Egypt rejoined the organization. The country once again gained a dominant role, since Cairo during the war in the Persian Gulf in 1990-1991 had supported the Western-dominated alliance that drove Iraq out of occupied Kuwait. In the same year, the secretariat was moved back to Cairo. Egypt’s influence was also strengthened by the fact that the Secretaries-General from 1991 onwards came from Egypt. In 1993, the Arab League got its last member: the Comoros northwest of Madagascar.

Several countries outside the Arab world have observer status. Turkey, which has partners in several Arab countries but also recurring disputes with several member states of the Arab League, has applied for observer status.

The Arab League