The West cannot fight ISIL without Arab support
AHMED MOKHTARBetween day and night, the U.S.-European approach towards the threats of armed groups in Iraq and Syria shifted from anticipation and silence to slow reluctant steps in the direction of forming a coalition to counter the looming danger. An observer of this transformation can clearly see that it followed the response of Arab countries which detected, earlier in time, what a massive threat these groups impose on the whole world.
The Arab arena has witnessed active efforts led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and in line with Kuwaiti measures that primarily aimed to set the stage for settling differences between this trio and Qatar. These efforts culminated in a meeting that brought together the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and the UAE, along with the adviser to the Jordanian minister of foreign affairs, and goals set to bridge the gaps and evolve means to push away dangers. During the pentathlon meeting, negotiations touched upon the formation of a “new Arab axis,” featuring Egypt with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to act as a defensive umbrella to protect Arab interests.
Some may think that this Arab axis will not be effective, given measures currently taken by the U.S. to establish an international coalition to face armed insurgent groups. However, the fact is that the Arab axis is the only way to confront this threat, especially when Washington’s desire to establish an international coalition to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is currently only on paper. This was expressed through officials’ statements indicating that the U.S. has no interest in returning to Iraq or sending ground troops to the region, as well as statements issued by the EU summit in Brussels on Aug. 30, which emphasized the importance of a coordinated response by countries in the region to face ISIL.
This confirms that the U.S. and Europe will not take on the task of fighting terrorism on Arabian soil. They will, however, support regional efforts to confront it as a first line of defense for their own countries. Accordingly, if an alliance is to materialize, it is more likely to be within the region with American and European support, which means that the launch has to be Arabian and steps that Arab Gulf states and Egypt have embarked on must continue and reach deeper horizons in order for this axis to be a key player in shaping updates, or redirecting them, and in putting together scenarios for handling rapid changes in Iraq and Syria.
The intent of this is not to arm forces or crossing Syrian and Iraqi borders, but rather to emphasis that the Arab axis is capable of taking the initiative. The danger is real, and the risk is not an easy one, and naïve is the one who thinks that the threat facing the Arab world ends with ISIL or al-Qaeda. These are a mere prelude to risks and perils that face the whole world and threaten to redraw the political map and the global economy. Hence, there is an urgent need for a unified Arab position to be formulated, to predict the outcome of the U.S. and the European moves, for the region to avoid being dragged into a battle that it is unequipped to end
We all recall the actions of leaders of the Arab Gulf states, following the June 30 revolution, which threw the Muslim Brotherhood out of power. At the time, the EU members threatened to impose sanctions on Egypt, but the Arabs’ voice responded as a strong deterrence, prompting them to revise their position towards developments in Egypt. We also remember the economic aid provided by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which contributed to strengthening Egypt’s position of not complying to the terms of the International Monetary Fund, that would have cost Egypt a hefty bill for economic recovery.
Reviving the dream of Arab economic integration does not need to follow conditions of the traditional interpretation of integration, to include a unified currency or the removal of tariff barriers between countries. I believe the timing is right for the Arab axis to be a way into rediscovering our strengths and deal with our weaknesses.
*Dr. Ahmed Mokhtar is the deputy editor-in-chief of Al Ahram Al Masaai. The article was originally published in Khaleej Times online.