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International Organizations and Arab Spring: An Iranian View

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

In addition to roles played by state and non-state players as well as freedom movements and ordinary people in developments of the Arab world up to the end of April 2011, many international organizations and institutions also did their part in guiding and steering those developments. In an overall review, their roles can be divided in two general groups.

The first group of such organizations consists of those which have fulfilled their original missions as per their statutes (including the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union). The second group includes international organizations which followed the wishes and demands of governments which have been influential in their foundation or performance [such as certain affiliated bodies of the UN, the Arab League, the African Union, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, and Organization of the Islamic Conference]. Although this is only a relative classification, roles and activities of these organizations which aim to protect and promote international peace and security is of high importance. This is especially true with regard to analysis of their performance.

From the viewpoint of influencing developments in the field, positions, activities and performance of three important international bodies, that is, the United Nations Security Council, NATO and the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council in relation to developments known as the Arab Spring are noteworthy. The most important measures taken by the Security Council was adoption of resolutions 1970 and 1973 on the situation in Libya, authorization of humanitarian intervention in Libya, enforcing severe sanctions, bolstering responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine, referring the case of Libya to International Criminal Court (ICC), enforcing no-fly zone over Libya and discussing the situation in Yemen in a botched session of the Security Council.

NATO was another international organization which assumed command of Operation Unified Protector in Libya to play its role in Arab Spring. Experts on NATO have been heatedly speculating identity, functions and future outlook of this organization following its intervention in Libya.

The role and performance of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council in recent developments of the Middle East is noteworthy from standpoint of its interactions with other international institutions (such as the European Union, the Arab League, and the UN Security Council) and its confrontation with such an influential regional actor as Iran over the political developments in Bahrain.

The European Union, the African Union, and the Arab League are other organizations whose performance with respect to the Arab Spring are representative of conflicting international demands on them to play an effective role in global developments.

Apart from ineffective political stances, the European Union has failed to play a prominent role in recent developments of the Middle East despite available grounds in multilateral diplomacy and crisis management.

The roles and performance of two other regional organizations, that is, the African Union and the Arab League proves that they are no more than regional mechanisms to entertain leaders of member states. Their function during the Arab Spring holds up the claim that none of these two apparently international organizations are able to play an effective role to help international political processes, especially in their respective geographical areas of interest. Another international organization which has been actually inactive since the Arab Spring began, is Organization of the Islamic Conference. It is the most important international organization with religious identity whose passive role in developments of the Arab world proved that it is in serious need of restructuring its activities. The role of big powers and major trends governing Organization of the Islamic Conference need special attention.

Evaluation of international organizations’ reactions to the Arab Spring shows that the Middle East developments at the beginning of the Third Millennium are another litmus test for assessing activities, performance and future outlooks of a host of important international organizations and institutions.

Existing evidence shows that outlooks, roles, positions and importance of such international bodies as the UN Security Council, Secretary-General of the United Nations, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, the European Union, and other important international institutions have been put to serious test by freedom-seeking states and nations, especially those in the Middle East.

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