Interview: Nabil Elaraby

How can the broader LAS membership reinforce the gains made in the region since the Arab Spring?

NABIL ELARABY: The LAS response to the experiences born out of the Arab Spring varies from one country to the next. The case of Egypt is different from Libya, from Yemen and so on. LAS members have been very supportive of all the Arab Spring countries, whether in offering political support, such as in the cases of Libya and Yemen, or in helping the economies weather the instabilities that come with any revolution. The league has also supported the capacity-rebuilding process in the case of Libya, for example.

As emerging markets deepen their economic ties, how can Arab countries to strengthen their relations with Asian and Latin American countries?

ELARABY: The Arab countries are open and willing to strengthen relations with most countries and international groupings. LAS has established a number of cooperation forums with China, Japan, India, Turkey, Russia and the countries of South America. These forums discuss cooperation on all aspects, from politics to economics to culture. They have proven effective in enhancing relations, especially in trade relations.

We have seen an increase in trade volumes, particularly in the case of the Arab-Chinese Forum. LAS also has special relations with the EU, wherein consultations are ongoing, specifically political ones. The dialogue with the US is also ongoing on a number of issues of mutual interest. There are areas of agreement and others of disagreement, naturally. What is important is that we discuss those areas openly and frankly. We are currently exploring ways and means by which we can deepen and enhance this dialogue.

What must be done to improve the prospects for greater inter-Arab cooperation and integration?

ELARABY: There are major differences between Arab economies; there are the rich oil countries in the Gulf, developing countries in North Africa, the Palestinian question, as well as a number of less developed countries throughout the Arab bloc.

LAS has established an Arab free trade area that became effective in 2005 with 18 countries. We are now in the process of establishing an Arab Customs union, hoping it will become effective by 2015. We also aspire for an Arab common market by 2020. On the other hand, the Arab Economic Summit, which took place for the first time in 2009 in Kuwait, has come up with major Arab projects that are being followed up by the different specialised organisations and ministerial councils. The next summit, which will take place in Riyadh in 2013, will discuss a major Arab strategy for renewable energy, as well as other economic and social projects that should reflect positively on the livelihood of the people of the Arab world.

How might the heightened speculation regarding Egypt’s review of the Camp David Peace Treaty with Israel affect Middle Eastern politics?

ELARABY: The peace treaty, like all other contractual agreements, is subject to change according to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which stipulates that if one side fails to carry out its obligations, the other reserves the option to suspend, amend or annul the agreement, depending on the gravity of the breach. Article IV of the treaty further stipulates that “the security arrangements provided for in paragraphs 1 and 2 of this article may at the request of either party be reviewed and amended by mutual agreement of the parties.” The parties to any treaty should be ready to sit around a table and review its provisions if there is such a need.

Any review of the peace treaty must take into account that Article IV of the peace treaty stipulates that UN forces would be stationed in both Egypt and Israel. Due to the veto threat from the Soviet Union, the US proposed to both parties to create an independent peacekeeping force financed by Egypt, Israel and the US on equal basis. After 30 years, the return to the original design is long overdue; a UN presence is now needed.