THE BLOG
28/05/2014 13:05 BST | Updated 27/07/2014 10:59 BST

Why Somalia Should Leave the Arab League

The Arab league was formed on 22 March 1945 and its six founding members were: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria. The League's main goal is "to draw closer the relations between member States and co-ordinate their political activities with the aim of realizing a close collaboration between them, to safeguard their independence and sovereignty".

Somalia joined the League of Arab States (Arab League) in 1974, becoming the first non-Arab member of that organization. A seat in the Arab League meant potential economic fortunes and political (military and diplomatic) support. After the civil war, it still retained its membership of the Arab League until today, even if by name (and recent attendance) only.

Is being a member of the Arab League right for Somalis? Let's have a look at the Arab League's main goal, "To safeguard their member's independence and sovereignty". We can see that The Arab League has not involved itself politically in much of Somalia's affairs over the last few decades. But individual League member states, such as Egypt have continued to get involved. In the late 1970s, the Soviets had switched sides to supporting Ethiopia with the Ogaden War. This led to other Arab countries providing more economic aid to Somalia during the 1980s, resulting in Somalia becoming increasingly dependent on these Arab countries. But this came with a price-tag. Two particular price-tags to be specific. The first price tag, was the initial decision to support the United States-led coalition of Arab states against Iraq in 1990. This led to Saudi Arabia offering Somalia a US$70 million grant and Qatar cancelling further repayment of all outstanding loans. The second price-tag? Closer religious ties with Saudi Arabia and the influence of Wahhabism to replace the Sufi traditions of the Somali people. The first the price-tag we see little of in today's Somalia, but the evidence of the second price-tag is very apparent. But the Arab League as an entity has had almost no involvement and has done very little to 'safeguard [Somalia's] independence and sovereignty" All the countries in the world prefer to join some group of countries to make a trade block. The Somali government did not necessarily make a mistake when it decided to join the Arab League. The mistake was not benefiting from this trade block at all.

So no real economic benefits, no real connection to the Arabs apart from a history of trade but no real current trade block benefits. At least Somalis are able to find a safe haven in the Arab countries right?

Guess again! Arab countries have deported back more than 12,000 Somalis since the beginning of 2014 without allowing any to make refugee claims. They are violating their international obligations not to return anyone to a place where their life or freedom is threatened or where they face other serious harm. Saudi Arabia has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have an asylum system. And the frightening thing is that the conditions these Somalis faced whilst being deported. With one exception, none of the detention centres had bedding and detainees slept on the floor. Somalis said that beatings and other abusive treatment continued during the deportation process. A woman in her ninth month of pregnancy, who was arrested and deported separately from her husband, told Human Rights Watch that a Saudi policewoman beat her on the back with a baton while she stood in line at Jeddah airport. She went into labour and gave birth on the cabin floor of the plane as it flew to Mogadishu. She gave birth on the cabin floor 1000s of miles in the air on their way to Mogadishu! I don't know how that can even be remotely justified. It has been reported that the Somali Interior Ministry expects Saudi Arabia to deport another 30,000 refugees in the coming weeks. So far, Somalia being a member of the Arab League has had no impact in influencing these deportations.

The case against Somalia retaining membership of the Arab League includes how the Arabs have failed to stand by Somalis in their moments of trouble, their treatment of Somalis, no real economic or trade benefits, but also that the majority of Somalis are not Arabs and should not, therefore, belong to an organisation whose criteria for a membership requires that one should speak Arabic and practice Arab culture, both of which are alien to Somalis. Somalis are Muslim but they are not Arabs. It should be clear to anyone by now that Arab and Islam are not synonymous terms. If Somalia leaves the Arab League, the latter will not lose a valuable member by our departure, and nobody will miss Somalia once they leave. Unless that changes, and Somalia can have some real benefits from their membership in the Arab League, Somalia should really leave. Let's hope they consider that.