The League of Arab States is one of the oldest regional organisations still in existence - what explains its survival, and what lessons does it have for the study of the Middle East? Surprisingly, the League has attracted limited academic attention, indeed the majority of the scholarly work focuses on what the League has 'failed' to achieve - usually in terms of promoting regional cooperation and mediating regional conflicts. In this paper, we challenge this common perspective by instead looking at the League's remarkable resilience rather than its perceived failure.
The paper examines the reasons for the resilience of the organisation, not just in terms of pure survival but in its ability to reinvent itself despite the odds it faces. By examining the lifecycle(s) of the Arab League; its moments of decline (some have even talked even of gridlock or dormancy) and moments of revival, we present a conceptual framework for its resilience that specifies three scope conditions under which the League has been able to survive: Environment (Supply and Demand); Structure/Ambition (Bureaucratic Agency and Culture); and Depth and Diversity (Breadth and Flexibility).
Utilising insights from a decade of fieldwork on, and at, the League, along with theories drawn from Comparative Politics, International Organisation Studies and IR, we demonstrate how the intersection of the three scope conditions enables the League not only to survive but to actually continue to develop and drive forward initiatives. Scrutinizing the lifecycle(s) of the League provides useful insights which foster our understanding of the resilience of international organisations, helping us not only to map the scope conditions which underpin its cycles of rebirth and revival but also to identify the critical junctures and processes through which the League has been able to seize opportunities. These opportunities also link to wider regional processes, making the League an ideal site of study which can challenge existing perceptions of regional politics in the Arab World.