Arab Disunity

October 29, 1976

Report Outline
Contention Among Arab Countries
Theme of Common Enemy in Arab Unity
Prospects for More Arab Cooperation
Special Focus

Contention Among Arab Countries

Lebanon as Symbol of Inter-Arab Combativeness

The crisis in lebanon has brought Arab disunity to world attention. But for the more than 100 million Arabs living in the Middle East and North Africa, unity among a people who share the same language and traditions has been the rare exception. Rhetoric about solidarity and the brief congruence of interests after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war notwithstanding, relations among the Arab states have long been characterized by rivalries between leaders, ideological feuds and, not infrequently, armed conflict. The civil war in Lebanon is merely the most recent, most publicized and perhaps most brutal example of how individual Arab governments will forsake their slogans about pan-Arabism and act solely in what they consider their self-interest.

Self-interest was evident in the agreement for a cease-fire in Lebanon that was signed by six Arab leaders in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Oct. 18. Saudi Arabia called the meeting not only to end the fighting in Lebanon but to patch up the bitter dispute between Egypt and Syria. The Saudis were apparently successful in convincing the warring parties that it would be in their economic interests to accept the accord. But even if the current cease-fire in Lebanon—unlike the 54 that preceded it—takes hold, the inter-Arab bitterness that the conflict has engendered is not likely to be forgotten for some time.

In the past 20 months, at least 40,000 men, women and children have died in what was initially viewed as a struggle between Christians and Moslems over Lebanon's confessional system. That system, embodied in the National Covenant of 1943, gave the Christians the advantage in the distribution of political offices. But the Moslems, with their higher birth rate, are now believed to constitute a sizable majority of the country's 3.2 million people. The Lebanese struggle began not as a fight over religion but as an effort by the Moslems to secure an equitable share of the political power and the economic benefits that such power would bring.

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