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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Pan-Arab army is needed to defeat ISIL

Ravages of extremists and other regional threats require united response ‘to restore the Arab situation’, League leader says.

DUBAI // A pan-Arab military force is needed to battle extremism and protect against regional threats, the Secretary General of the Arab League said on Monday.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the region was facing the most critical time he had witnessed, with the rise of ISIL and situations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

“We must wake up and this must come to an end,” Mr Aboul Gheit said at the opening of the Arab Media Forum in Dubai on Monday. “We need to have a joint force for defensive military action.

“And we need to fight Daesh and extremism through education, economic development and by providing a media framework to control their message, which is sabotaging young people’s mentalities and minds.

“I am 74 years old and have never seen any situation worse than what I see now. I’ve witnessed many severe Arab disputes and the situation has never been this dire.

“Syria used to be called the heart of Arab nations and now it’s about to explode under pressure to have three different governments.”

The war in Syria has led to almost 500,000 deaths since it began in early 2011, with five million refugees and more than six million displaced people within the country, while Iraq is facing similar turmoil.

“Iran is enjoying the situation facing Arab countries,” Mr Aboul Gheit said. “They are saying, ‘let them destroy themselves’. And Turkey has forces in Iraq and Syria.

“We will restore the Arab situation. We have failed to understand our potential and strength. But the future is bright and there is hope.

“Egyptians and Emiratis have been conducting joint military exercises for many years, as well as Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

“At a certain point, we need to establish a joint military force for defensive military action and it can be achieved with political will.”

Beating ISIL, however, will take more than just military action, he said.

“It starts with education,” Mr Aboul Gheit said. “We intend to gather all ministers from all fields to look into how terrorism can be combated.”

Dr Fahed Al Shelaimi, president of the Gulf Security and Peace Forum, said economic factors played a major role in conflict-stricken countries.

“These have been accumulative problems,” he said.

“Forty per cent were living below the poverty line in Yemen, so we can’t blame the people. Egypt is one of the richest countries but resource management is a problem.”

Dr Al Shelaimi said citizens’ feelings of social injustice had harmed the region and led to the need for a new role to be played by the GCC.

“There were countries that were central to decision-making, such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq, then the GCC would fund the decision-making process,” he said.

“This isn’t going to happen any more. We’ve lived this for 60 years but the balance of power has changed. It’s not just about human resources, it’s the power of impact and we need to set a new example and have joint Arab projects to shape the Arab equation.”

The forum stresses the roles and responsibilities of the media in conveying the UAE’s message of peace and cooperation.

“The objective is to provide clear ideas of the role expected to be played by media in the coming period,” said Mona Al Marri, chief executive of the Dubai Media Office.

“This is not an easy mission in light of the developments in the Arab world over the past couple of years, because they have brought many challenges that doubled the media’s responsibilities.”

Last February Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, expressed during the Government Summit his trust in the ability of Arabs to boost civilisation by introducing indicators that shape the future.

“Media is now required more than ever to be highly supportive of accommodating these developments by paving the way in the coming period,” Ms Al Marri said.

“The UAE has chosen that its message to the world is always a message of peace and cooperation based on tolerance, peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.”

cmalek@thenational.ae