Afro-Arab Relations in Retrospect
How we got to today’s situation
Extracted from ‘The Arabs and Africa’ edited by Khair El-Din Haseb; published in
1984 by Croom Helm, London, for the Centre for Arab Unity Studies, Beirut, Lebanon
Being the proceedings of a seminar co-sponsored by the Arab Thought Forum, held in
Amman, Jordan 24-29 April 1983
The Role of the Arab Group in the Organisation of African Unity
Mohamed Omer Beshir
This paper is a study of the role of the Arab group, that is, the five North African
countries (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco) in addition to Sudan, Somalia,
Djibouti and Mauritania which are members of the OAU, and their involvement, either
through the Arab League and the OAU, or on a bilateral basis, in the shared issues and
problems concerning the African group in the OAU. Due to the diversity of the issues
and the dimensions of relations between the institutions and member states of the two
organizations, I will focus on the issues directly related to liberation and cooperation for
The Facts and Major Characteristics of the Member States of the Arab League and
The total number of member states of the Arab League and the OAU is 63, all of which
belong to the Third World. Table 6.1 compares some of their characteristics with the
European Economic Community countries. For instance, as regards per capita income -
$720 as against $7,000 – we get a striking picture of the degree of economic
backwardness of those countries, despite the huge wealth which some of them own. The
differences between the countries of the two groups are also manifested in political and
cultural characteristics since all of them are newly independent, have a high percentage of
illiteracy, and are mostly characterized by the absence of democratic systems.
Compared with the other members of the OAU, the Afro-Arab countries are in the
minority in terms of the number of states, populations and gross national products, but
they outstrip the former in terms of per capita income and average GNP. On the other
hand, the Afro-Arab countries.
Table 6.1: Characteristics of Arab League, OAU and EEC Countries
OAU Members Arab League Members Arab League/ EEC Members
Africa Asia Total OAU Total Members
No. of states 50 9 13 22 63 9
Population (millions) 415 115 45 160 460 260
Av. Pop. (millions) 8 13 3.5 7 7.7 30
GNP (billions of dollars) 195 85 135 220 330 1830
(billions of dollars) 4 9.5 10 10 5 203
Per Capita Income
(dollars) 470 740 3000 1400 720 7000
compared with the other members of the Arab League, are in the minority in terms of the
number of states, and have a much lower per capita income, while the former have a
larger population than the latter.
The Afro-Arab group can be divided into four economic categories:
(a) With oil as major source of wealth (Libya).
(b) With both agricultural wealth and oil wealth (Algeria).
(c) With both oil and industrial wealth (Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia).
(d) Less advanced, less industrialized countries (Sudan, Mauritania, Somalia, and
However, facts and characteristics are not sufficient criteria for assessing the real weight
of each country. Other factors should also be considered such as the standard of
education and the type of political and industrial system. The military power of each
country, or group of countries, should also be considered.
Each country has a complicated social complexion, and has relations with countries
outside its immediate circle. Thus we have an overlapping network of relationships,
which is due to the lack, or even absence, of a clear identity in each country’s
constitution. Mauritania’s constitution, for example, issued on 20 May 1961 before the
establishment of the OAU (in 1963), does not mention Africa at all, while the constitution
of Somalia, which is similar to Mauritania’s mentions Africa only once in its preamble.
The Libyan constitution, in the last paragraph of its second article says: ‘The province of
Libya is a part of Africa.’ But the Sudanese constitution says in its first article that ‘the
Sudan is part of the Arab and African entities’. In its second article, the Algerian
constitution states that ‘Algeria is an inseparable part of the Arab West, the African world
and Africa’. The Tunisian constitution mentions in its preamble that ‘Tunisia belongs to
the Arab family, in cooperation with the African peoples for building a better future, and
in cooperation with all the struggling peoples’.
Despite deliberations on the present Egyptian constitution, a controversy over Egypt’s
African identity arose. Some suggested that it should include an article confirming this
identity and Egypt’s commitment to African unity, but this was not approved and the
constitution was issued without any mention of Africa. Morocco is the only one of this
group whose constitution stipulates, in the second paragraph of its preamble, a
commitment to work for African unity, and emphasizes that it is an African state with
African unity as one of its goals. It is noteworthy here that the Moroccan constitution,
while stressing its African identity and unity, does not mention that Morocco is part of
the Arab nation, nor refer to its commitment to Arab unity, although it states that
Morocco is part of the Arab West.
Thus there is a lack of clarity of identity in each of the Arab, African or Afro-Arab
countries of this group.
Overlaps and Contradictions in Afro-Arab Relations
The relations between the Afro-Arab group and the rest of the continent are not new.
Firm and old relations have been established and expanded throughout history due to a
number of objective factors, such as geographical proximity, continuous migrations,
mixed marriages, and the spread of Islam. Then came the common experience of
subjection and resistance to European colonialism, and the political, economic and social
similarities which resulted. This interaction, which lasted for centuries and is still going
on, led to the mixing of populations and thus the establishment of strong ties between
them, which none of them can esily evade. Their destinies and futures are thus the same.
Furthermore, the relations between the Afro-Arab group and the rest of Africa, on the one
hand, and the Asian Arab group, on the other, are also old, with roots going back to pre-
Islamic times before the migration of the Arabs to this part of the world, and they cannot
be evaded or ignored, since they are extremely effective. However when we talk about
the overlapping of relations in these three arenas or circles, we should not ignore two
1. Each of these countries has its own issues and problems and its own aspirations
and goals, which it takes into consideration in determining or planning its
relations with other countries.
2. Each country has relations with other parties, regional or international, which
should not be excluded in the context of its relations with other countries.
These considerations, which fit into what may be called ‘national interests’, besides the
objective considerations alluded to earlier, make the study of Arab, Afro-Arab and
African relations rather difficult, but not impossible, at least for those who live their daily
lives among them.
It is not correct to argue that Afro-Arab cooperation, whose major power base is the
Afro-Arab group, has failed, as some claim, despite all the negative factors which
accompanied it. Nor is it correct to say that some Afro-Arab countries focus on their
relations with Africa ‘at the expense of inter-Arab interaction’, as the working paper in
preparation for this seminar maintained and described as ‘serious’. I cannot see why it is
serious, since relations between the Afro-Arab countries and the rest of the continent are
natural ones. I cannot think of any Third World group of countries more qualified to
cooperate with the African group than the Afro-Arab countries. What this leads or
amounts to is that there is a contradiction between Arab unity and African unity, and
subsequently that priority should be given to the relations between the Afro-Arab
countries and the Asian Arab ones.
The Arab Unity and African Unity Movements
Although relations between Arab and African countries, mentioned above, have always
been strong and even though the circumstances in which each of the African League, the
Arab League and Islamic League movements came about were similar, the
rapprochement and meeting between these three movements did not take shape before
the end of the Second World War. This, in my opinion, is because the Islamic League
movement did not at the outset have contacts with Africa’s Muslims, due to the tight
control by the colonial powers on African Muslim countries and their suppression of any
Islamic movement that would have threatened their interests in any way.
Another reason, I think, is that the African League movement was essentially
preoccupied with sub-Saharan Africa and African unity meant, to many of its
founders, the unity of only this part of the continent. Its concern for the Negro Africa,
or for the African of Negro descent, predominated over its concern for other Africans.
On the other hand, the Arab League movement was, at its inception and until
recently, inhibited by the narrow concept of nationalism and had a rather chauvinistic
or idealistic vision.
However, these three movements were not totally isolated from each other. Some of their
leaders used to attend anti-colonialist international conferences in Europe, such as the
1929 Brussels Conference of the Oppressed Peoples, which was attended by delegates of
more than 143 Asian, African and Arab organizations. The outcome of this first
conference was the establishment of an anti-colonialist front among whose members
were Nehru, Ho Chi Minh, Sun Yat-sen, George Padmore and Masali al-Hajj (from
Algeria) and Mohamed Hafez Ramadan (from Egypt).
Mohamed Ali Dosi was among the important figures who participated in creating
connections between the African League and the Arab League movements. In 1912 he
published the African Times and Orient Review. He came from Nubia and his mother
was from Darfour (Sudan). He lived first in Egypt, then went to France after Urabi’s
revolt, and then to Britain, where he worked in the theatre and met the founder of the
African League movement, Du Bois, who encouraged him to issue this magazine. He
was also a friend to Garfi and Ezikwe of Nigeria. The magazine, which continued until
1919, was the only one which reported news of African and Asian countries and was
open to writers from these countries, such as the Egyptian leader, Mustafa Kamel. The
Egyptian nationalist movement was from the outset supported by the African League
movement thanks to these conferences and encounters between leaders of nationalist
movements in Africa and Asia and the Arab countries, especially educational institutions,
such as the Sorbonne in France and the Institute of Indian Studies in England, which was
headed by Krishna Menon. This made the fifth conference of the African League
movement, held in Manchester in 1945, even more representative than previous ones.
Among those who attended it were Nkrumah, Kenyatta, and Yacoub Othman from
Sudan. But it was not attended by any delegates from Egypt and other Arab countries.
The Arab League and Cooperation with Africa
Afro-Arab relations developed after the establishment of the Arab League in 1945.
Although its charter did not explicitly mention anti-colonialism, the League Council
passed a resolution on sending a representative to the independence negotiations then
under way between France, Syria and Lebanon. The League also pushed for the
independence of Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Due to circumstances and limited
resources, the League’s efforts were limited to Arab liberation movements. But on the
question of Sudan, the project of union with Egypt did not receive much support from
other League members because some Sudanese were opposed to it at the time. The
League started to be interested in African liberation movements only after the
victory of the 1952 Egyptian Revolution.
The July Revolution and Africa
The July Revolution, under Nasser’s leadership, was undoubtedly a major landmark in
the history of Afro-Arab relations. This was because the Revolution, contrary to what the
leaders of the Egyptian nationalist movement said before it, emphasized Egypt’s African
identity in cultural and political fields and established close relations with the African and
Asian liberation movements following the Bandung Conference and encounters with the
leaders of the People’s Republic of China and other Third World countries. Furthermore,
this revolution had another positive effect, namely the creation of a strong sense of self-
confidence amongst the Arabs and the Africans, which in turn lent momentum to
liberation movements in Africa and other Third World countries and made Egypt a sort of
pilgrimage spot visited by the leaders of these movements to receive diplomatic, political
and material support for their movements. Besides the achievements of this Revolution,
the construction of the Aswan High Dam and the nationalization of the Suez Canal,
presented a wonderful example to those peoples of the fact that the West no longer had a
monopoly of knowledge, weapons and power. In this sense Mr Fayek wrote: ‘When the
Egyptian Revolution steered Egypt toward Africa, it did not impose anything strange on
the Egyptian character. Rather, it was a discovery of its true character, revealing its
African face, which had been hidden for some time. From that point on, Egypt became
the most effective country in the region in Afro-Arab relations, given its history, location,
economic, diplomatic and international activities.
The new consciousness of Egypt’s African identity, besides its Arab and Islamic identity,
was reflected in its foreign policy, and in the Arab League’s policy of directing Arab
delegations to the UN to support the cause of independence for African countries. Both
the 1955 Bandung Conference and the 1956 Tripartite Aggression against Egypt gave
momentum to Afro-Arab cooperation in general and to Egyptian-African relations in
particular. Although the Bandung Conference was attended by delegates of only 29
African and Asian countries (some of which were still at the stage of self-government,
like Sudan and Ghana), besides observers from African liberation movements and the
Arab organization for Palestine, it increased Egypt’s faith in the potential for realizing the
African goal of eliminating colonialism. The Tripartite Aggression demonstrated to the
Arabs, the Africans and the whole world, that Israel is part of the imperialist camp. In
1957, the Arab League Council passed a resolution consolidating Afro-Arab relations and
in 1958 it urged the member states to support Cameroon’s independence. In 1959 it
passed a resolution supporting all freedom causes and calling for cooperation with
African countries, most of which were on their way to independence. In August 1960 the
Council passed the following resolutions:
1. Welcoming the newly-independent African states.
2. Supporting the efforts of African states to consolidate their independence and
forestall foreign threats against them.
3. Opting for complete cooperation with African states in economic, social and
4. Granting African countries scholarships and exchanging teachers and technical
experts with them.
5. Asking Arab chambers of commerce to send economic missions and financiers,
industrialists, merchants and farmers to establish contacts in African countries for
the purpose of coordination and cooperation between the Arab and African
countries in these fields.
The Standing Committee of Arab information ministers at the League issued a number of
important recommendations between 1957 and 1960 on Arab relations with African and
Asian countries and on protecting the interests of Arab communities in Africa. It also
recommended that the Arab states elevate their diplomatic representation in Africa,
especially in countries where there were large Arab communities.
In March 1967 the Arab League Council declared the support of its members for African
liberation movements and the League’s solidarity with OAU in the interest of the Arab
and African peoples.
These resolutions reflected the growing consciousness of the need for Afro-Arab
cooperation to realize liberation causes, especially the Palestinian cause. However, most
of them were not carried out by the member-states, except for Egypt which was the most
enthusiastic of them and the one most able to implement them within the limits of its
The Egyptian press, especially from the late 1950s until the early 1970s, contributed
greatly to the creation of a public opinion supportive of African causes, both inside and
outside Egypt, while encouraging some journalists to specialize in African affairs by
forming modern archives and establishing contacts with African embassies in Cairo.
These and other factors increased interaction between the Afro-Arab and other African
countries within the OAU, which since its establishment in 1963 became the main focus
of interaction in all its various forms, despite the adjustments of the non-aligned
Africa and the Palestinian Question
With the growth of Afro-Arab interaction on both the bilateral and collective levels,
Israel’s interest in Africa increased. Hence the importance of containing Israeli activities
in Africa and at international forums. When the Tripartite Aggression by Britain, France
and Israel took place in 1956 there were only seven African members of the UN. Their
number increased to 35 in 1960, to 38 in 1967, and to 41 in 1973. As expected, UN
interest in Arab and African issues and in those of the rest of the Third World increased
year after year. The newly-independent African states supported the Palestinian cause
but to differing causes. The diversity of African positions on this issue was then
understandable since a large number of African countries were not familiar with it until
they joined the UN.
The role of Egypt, from the viewpoint of African countries, was significant and effective
on African and Arab issues as well as on the Palestinian problem, and this was attributed
to the good relations between Egypt and newly-independent African countries and to
Egypt’s status in the Arab League and OAU. The late 1960s and the early 1970s
witnessed extensive activities by the Arab group at the UN and at Afro-Asian
conferences, starting with the 1958 Accra Conference, and at non-aligned conferences
since the first one held in Belgrade in 1961. This period was also characterized by
intensive activities and diplomatic coordination between the Arab and African groups
within the OAU on the Palestinian question; these succeeded in changing the position of
some African countries that had close relations with Israel. The outcome of this and
other factors was the 1971 African summit resolution to form the ‘Committee of the
Wise’ whose task was to study the Palestinian question objectively through contacts with
Egypt and Israel in search of a permanent and just peace in the Middle East. The
persistent diplomatic efforts of the Afro-Arab countries, especially Egypt, bore fruit with
their acceptance of the Arab view, for the first time, at the Rabat African summit of June
1972 and the Addis Ababa summit of 1973.
But aside from all these positive moves within the OAU during the first decade of its
history, there were some negative aspects owing to internal and external factors. It is
undeniable that inter-Arab differences have always had a negative impact on the OAU’s
position vis-à-vis the Palestinian question.
Among the positive results of Arab efforts within the OAU was Morocco and Tunisia’s
success in enhancing the Africanist direction among West African conservative
governments, which had been under French influence in the past. Algeria has always had
close connections with both the southern African liberation movements (especially those
which resisted Portuguese colonialism) and with radical anti-imperialist governments.
Because a number of these liberation movements had offices in Algeria, and were
assisted by the latter, Algeria gained considerable influence in the policies and actions of
the OAU, second only to Egypt. Due to the great respect of many Africans for the
Algerian Revolution, Algerian representatives played a prominent role at OAU
conferences and meetings in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sudan did not play a role
similar to Egypt’s and Algeria’s due to its preoccupation with its domestic
problems, especially that of southern Sudan.
The Arab Group and the OAU (1973-8)
The intensification of mutual support between the Arab and African groups in the first
decade of the OAU’s history, as hinted earlier, took a number of concrete forms, such as
the Arab economic boycott of Rhodesia and South Africa and of Portugal before it gave
independence to its colonies. However, this support was not always shared to an equal
degree by the Arab states. Lebanon, for instance, did not end its consular relations with
South Africa until 1973. Trade relations between some Arab states and South Africa also
continued until 1983 and South African goods were unofficially circulating in some Arab
markets much of the time.
Some consider the tenth meeting of the OAU in May 1973 as a real turning-point in
relations between the Arab and African groups. When Libya called for a boycott of this
meeting, because of Ethiopia’s relations with Israel at the time, and the rest of the Arab
group refused to agree, the result was the support of all African states, except three, for
the call to sever relations with Israel, thus achieving a long-held goal of the Arab League.
Thanks to Israel’s dynamic foreign policy and its direct and indirect assistance from the
USA and Western Europe, plus the distorted image of the Arabs in the African mind,
Israel succeeded until 1967, in winning the support of some African states in the
international arena. The economic weakness of African countries and the lack of know-
how also helped Israel in this respect. Thus some argue that the African change of
position toward Israel in 1973 was not only a turning-point in the course of Afro-Arab
relations but also the start of a new era characterized by desire of a large number of OAU
members to leave the Western sphere of influence – except for the conservative states
which had strong relations with Israel, like Ethiopia, the Ivory Coast and Liberia and
barring leaders with strong relations with Zionism, like Mobuto and Idi Amin (the coup
which brought the latter to power was the result of Israel’s assistance). At the November
1973 Arab summit in Algiers, following the October War, the Arab heads of state
unanimously supported African liberation movements and took practical steps towards
consolidating Afro-Arab cooperation, also cutting oil supplies to Portugal, Rhodesia and
South Africa. The context, as well as the contents, of this resolution were helpful in
improving relations with Africa regardless of whether or not it was faithfully
Table 6.2: Cooperation Agreements Between Arab and African Countries (1972-4)
Country Economic Good Neigh- Trade Military Transportation Miscellaneous
Agreements bour Agree- Agree- Agreements Agreements Total
Agreements ments ments ments
Jordan - 1 1 - - - 2
United Arab 5 1 1 - - 3 10
Bahrain - - - - - - -
Tunisia 1 1 3 - 1 1 7
Algeria 10 5 5 - 3 11 34
Saudi Arabia 6 - - - 2 7 15
Iraq 4 2 1 - - 2 9
Oman - - - - - - -
Qatar - 1 - - - 1
Kuwait 12 - - - 1 13
Lebanon 2 - - - 2 - 4
Libya 25 - - 3 - 8 45
Egypt 5 2 4 - 1 2 14
Morocco 3 3 2 - - 7 15
South Yemen - - - - - - -
North Yemen - - - - - - -
The Arab League later on passed several resolutions in this context, such as Resolution
63 (24 March 1975) and one on 28 April 1975, both of which approved an emergency
assistance programme to the newly-independent African countries (Angola,
Mozambique, Cameroon, Sào Tomé and Príncipe). Table 6.2 lists the agreements
between Arab and African countries between 1972 and 1974. It is noticeable that Sudan,
Somalia and Mauritania did not sign any such agreements, which can be explained by
their poverty and the fact that they are ‘more African’ than other Arab League members
(at least I do not have information about any such agreements involving these three
The Arab summit in Rabat in October 1974 was the culmination of all these efforts when
it approved holding a joint Afro-Arab summit, which was actually convened in Cairo in
March 1977. However, certain differences between the Afro-Arab group on the one hand
and the rest of the Arab League members on the other, arose over some African issues
(Eritrea, Somalia and Chad). The Afro-Arab group’s position on the Eritrean question
was that is should be looked at from the angle of containing Israeli expansion in Africa
and weakening Israel’s presence in the Red Sea before considering Eritrea’s future as an
independent Arab state. The rest of the Arab League members focused on Eritrea’s
independence and membership of the League. It is noteworthy that the support for and
sympathy with Eritrea’s cause of the Afro-Arab group increases whenever the Ethiopian
regime draws closer to Israel – except for the present position of Libya and South Yemen
after both of them signed military and economic agreements with Ethiopia.
Sudan is the one Afro-Arab state which is directly influenced by the different positions of
the Arab countries on Eritrea. This explains why it deals with it cautiously – a position
which satisfies neither the conservative nor the radical Arab regimes any more than the
Ethiopians and Eritreans themselves. The Sudanese government advocates a solution to
this problem similar to that of the problem of southern Sudan – namely self-government
without secession. In contrast, the African states, to varying degrees, consider Eritrea
part of Ethiopia and none of them agrees to its secession.
The other African issue which concerns the Arab groups is the dispute between Somalia
and Ethiopia over the Ogaden. The Arab countries in general support Somalia and a
number of resolutions were passed by the Arab League to this effect.
The subject of the ‘identity’ of the Red Sea has been an extension of these two issues: is
it an Arab or an African sea? The Red Sea has great strategic importance, especially after
it was discovered that it contains 20 deep-water areas rich with an estimated 850 million
tons of minerals. But more than that is the strategic importance of the Red Sea to Arab
security and African security and the linkage between these and the security of the Indian
Ocean, the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean. Its strategic importance was accentuated
after the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution and thus the direct access of the Soviet Union to the
area, and then by the conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia, the disputes between South
and North Yemen and Oman, and the new alliance between Ethiopia, South Yemen and
Libya. With these developments, the area turned into one of tension and a potential arena
for superpower conflict.
Although the Arab countries were unanimous in supporting African liberation
movements, especially against South Africa’s apartheid, the Afro-Arab group took
different positions from the African group on a number of issues, such as the Congo,
Angola, Zaire, Uganda and the Western Sahara, which leads to the conclusion that
national interest is the decisive factor.
Despite the many resolutions passed by the Arab League on apartheid, not least of which
was that cutting off oil supplies, South Africa defied these as well as UN resolutions.
According to various reports, South Africa has been able to obtain Arab oil one way or
another, which is very disturbing to Southern African liberation movements and
undermines Afro-Arab cooperation.
Before Camp David, Egypt took a strong position against apartheid, in support of
liberation movements and in opposition to peaceful settlements in Southern Africa.
Indications are that Egypt’s position has not changed much after Camp David and it is
still assisting these liberation movements.
The Afro-Arab Group and Afro-Arab Cooperation
Afro-Arab relations, as well as relations between the Afro-Arab group and the rest of the
African group, have undoubtedly entered a new stage since 1977. It is also undeniable
that the first Afro-Arab summit (held in Cairo in that year) was the result of the efforts of
the Afro-Arab group, especially Egypt, and was an acknowledgement by the Africans of
Egypt’s great contributions to Afro-Arab relations under Nasser’s leadership.
The period from 1977 until 1982 was one of great and new interaction between the
different groups and circles through conventional and new institutions (formed after
1977). Not least among these have been the financial institutions, the most important of
which is the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA), and the Arab
country funds which performed a positive role, compared with others. Such contributions
were important at a time of economic difficulty which the African countries have been
enduring because of the rise in energy costs and the fall in the prices of raw materials on
But there were some shortcomings due to the deficiency of many institutions which were
expected to bear a greater burden of responsibility than they did. I believe this is
attributable to the lack of commitment by the staff of some of these institutions to the
goals of Afro-Arab cooperation.
The African Countries and the Resumption of Relations with Israel
Despite the declared, unanimous and unified positions of the Arab and African countries
regarding the Palestinian question, some African countries, such as Zaire, deviated from
the rest and resumed their relations with Israel. However, this was not a surprise, since
Zaire, Kenya and the Ivory Coast did not go beyond severing their diplomatic relations
with Israel and the presence of Israeli experts and companies continued uninterrupted.
Zaire’s resumption of relations with Israel was preceded by a series of visits by Israel’s
defence minister, Sharon, to a number of African countries in 1981 (the Central African
Republic, Zaire, Gabon, Liberia and the Ivory Coast). Some of his representatives also
paid visits to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. At that time many in the Afro-Arab group
warned the Arab League and the other Arab countries of the seriousness of such moves
but this was not heeded. Needless to say that among the reasons for Zaire’s resumption
of relations with Israel was the desire to seek the support of the Israeli lobby in the
American Congress to improve Zaire’s poor standing with the American administration.
France, under Mitterand, has also encouraged the Francophone countries to resume
relations with Israel. Zaire’s economic crisis made it vulnerable to American and Israeli
pressures. It tried to justify its position on the basis of Camp David and Israel’s
withdrawal from the occupied African (Egyptian) territories. On 9 January 1978 Lagos
Radio also hinted that Camp David was a justification for the future resumption of
relations between African countries and Israel.
The Arab reaction to Zaire’s decision was sharp and Saudi Arabia’s severing of its
diplomatic relations with Zaire was the first Arab-Islamic response, which was seen by
many as prompt and strong. The Kuwait National Assembly condemned Zaire’s position
and urged other Arabs to sever their diplomatic and economic relations with Zaire. The
Secretary-General of the Arab League described Zaire’s action as part of an American-
Israeli conspiracy. Tunisia brought Zaire’s attention to all the dimensions and
consequences of recognition. Algeria recalled its ambassador to Zaire for consultation.
South Yemen described Zaire’s action as a deviation from the fundamental African
position. The United Arab Emirates followed Saudi Arabia’s steps and severed its
diplomatic relations with Zaire. The PLO considered Zaire’s action as a stab in the back
for the liberation movements in Namibia and South Africa, as well as to the Palestinian
Revolution. The Arab League considered that the action was contradictory to Afro-Arab
cooperation and solidarity against hostile racist regimes and sent two emissaries to the
Secretary-General of the OAU and to a number of African countries explaining the Arab
countries’ position. It also made contacts with the Islamic Conference Organisation
urging its members to take prompt measures against Zaire. For its part, BADEA
suspended all loans and aid to Zaire.
In a meeting between President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya and the Secretary-General of
the Arab League in May 1982, the former stated that Kenya’s position was different from
Zaire’s and that it is committed to Afro-Arab cooperation. President Nyerere of
Tanzania, in an interview, affirmed his country’s commitment to Afro-Arab solidarity
and said that Tanzania severed its relations with Israel because it was a racist state which
occupied Arab land and cooperated with racist South Africa. An Arab League report
stated that Nyerere described the Arab reaction to Zaire’s action as exaggerated since the
Arabs had anticipated it and failed to do anything about it until it occurred. The report
went on to say that Nyerere regarded the position of some Arab states toward South
Africa as similar to Zaire’s towards Israel. Both, he was described as saying, are indirect
and discreet. In the same report Nyerere was quoted as forecasting that other African
states (Nigeria, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, the Central African Republic and Kenya)
would follow Zaire’s example.
Some observers believe that Israel takes a special interest in Kenya due to its location on
the Indian Ocean, its proximity to the Red Sea, its common borders with Sudan, Ethiopia,
Somalia, Uganda and Tanzania and because it has the only international airport which
links this area to South Africa.
At the Fez Islamic summit of May 1979, 33 of the 40 states attending rejected Camp
David and voted for suspending Egypt’s membership in the organization while seven
states abstained, six of them African: Senegal, Niger, Upper Volta, Gambia, Gabon and
Guinea-Bissau. However, the OAU refused to suspend Egypt’s membership in the
African organization as the Arab League had done. This situation encouraged Egypt to
increase its diplomatic activities in Africa. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry established
the Egyptian Fund for Technical Cooperation in Africa, whose goal is to supply technical
assistance to African countries, whether in the form of experts, scholarships, training
grants or grants for feasibility studies. Such assistance used to be the responsibility of the
Arab League’s Fund for Technical Assistance to African Countries, founded in the wake
of the October 1973 War.
The Egyptian fund signed several cooperation agreements in 1981 and 1982 with 14
African countries whereby it provided 85 experts in various fields of specialization,
financed 95 training grants and contributed $1 million to the African Refugee Relief
Fund. The number of students from developing countries, including Africa, studying in
Egypt in 1980-1 reached 26,541 compared with 31,678 in 1978-9 and 32,608 in 1977-8.
The number of African students at Al-Azhar in 1980-1 was around 2,415, of whom 958
had Egyptian scholarships – which shows that Egypt’s attitude toward Africa did not
It is also noteworthy that Egyptian foreign policy during this period gave high priority to
relations with Sudan (within the framework of economic and political interdependence
and given that Sudan is Egypt’s gate to Africa), besides reinforcing bilateral relations
with African countries, especially those which stood by it against the suspension of its
OAU membership. Egypt also stepped up its activities inside the UN and in the non-
aligned movement to demonstrate the importance of technical cooperation between
At any rate, the resumption by some African states of relations with Israel, and the
OAU’s refusal to suspend Egypt, point to the fact that Afro-Arab cooperation is currently
going through a serious crisis. It is the responsibility of the Afro-Arab group to work out
a practical and new formula for this cooperation.
To guarantee the maintenance of the boycott of Israel, many efforts in the political and
economic fields have to be made, especially by the Afro-Arab group. Israel still has
diplomatic relations with Malawi, Swaziland the Lesotho, and Israeli companies are still
operating in 12 African countries, extending from Kenya in the east to Nigeria in the
west. In 1980-1 the volume of Israel trade with these countries amounted to $100
I suggest that a possible solution may be found in the diversification of Afro-Arab
cooperation through the establishment of joint-venture investment in different public and
private sector fields such as culture, technology, education and training. Arab diplomatic
representation in Africa should also be expanded, especially with countries of strategic
importance. There must also be an exchange of information about the activities of the big
powers and Israel and cooperation in solving disputes between African countries.
But all this will not lead to positive results unless the Arab oil-rich countries make more
serious efforts to prevent their oil from reaching South Africa. These countries must also
revise the conditions and dividends they require in return for loans and assistance they
provide to Africa as well as review the size of this assistance, diversify their investments
and increase their support to national liberation movements in Southern Africa, regardless
of their ideological complexion. They should realize that these movements are unique
ones, fighting colonialism. They should also develop a better approach in dealing with
individuals and groups of African thinkers, scientists and intellectuals, than that used
Even if this does not yield quick and concrete results, it will at least bolster the position
of those who reject dealing with Israel and will intensify the interaction between Arab
and African unity movements.
I am optimistic about the potential for Afro-Arab relations to move from mistrust and
confrontation to acceptance and solidarity after observing how these relations have grown
over the past twenty years and how they have exceeded the confines of diplomatic
discussions to become the subject of public debate and international conferences. Afro-
Arab relations now constitute an academic field of study in their own right.
This study discussed the role of the Afro-Arab group in the course of Afro-Arab
interaction, both at the OAU and bilateral levels during the different phases of the Arab
and African unity movements. As we saw, Afro-Arab relations went through three stages
– the stage of isolation; the stage of interaction; and the stage of alliance (post-1973, post-
1977 and post-Camp David) – each with its own characteristics and features.
It is remarkable that these relations became cohesive and strong during the wave of
liberation whether at the world level, the regional level or inside individual countries.
And when this tide retracted and suffered a setback, these relations were affected at all
these different levels. The post-Camp David relations were affected at all these different
levels. The post-Camp David relations demonstrated this. When the Arabs split over
Egypt’s peace with Israel, this was reflected in Afro-Arab relations. The first of its
victims was Iraq’s draft resolution at the UN General Assembly to ban arms sales to
Both the OAU and the Arab League embrace three categories of member states:
traditional, conservative and revolutionary (or radical). There are Arab front-line states
(like Jordan and Syria) and there are African front-line states (Tanzania, Zambia,
Mozambique, Botswana and Lesotho). The recent Israeli aggression against Lebanon is
similar to the constant South African aggression against Angola, Mozambique, Botswana
and Lesotho. Just as the Arab League is going through a crisis, so too is the OAU. Both
crises are caused by the differences between the members of each organization on a
number of issues. Some believe that the failure to convene the OAU summit in August
1982 was a serious indicator of its crisis. However, its seriousness is not in ideological
differences but rather in the outcome of these differences which enable the big powers to
pitch the Arab and African countries against one another.
Due to the complexities involved in the disputes and splits in the Arab and African
regions, and given the international struggle over them, local, regional and international
organizations were no longer able to stop the deteriorating situation in both regions.
This, in turn, led to a lack of confidence in the OAU and the Arab League for their failure
to achieve their goals. The skepticism and despair which ensued made any talk about
unity and solidarity mere rhetoric, which is a very serious problem facing any people or
group of peoples.
All this has led to a call for revising the Arab League and OAU charters, as well as their
mechanisms and procedures – which of course cannot be done without the political
willingness and support of these mechanisms.
What is needed is to mobilize the political will and abilities of all the groups that belong
directly or indirectly to these two organizations with the purpose of achieving their
shared goals. This is what cooperation institutions have been trying to so since 1977.
They succeeded on some scores and failed on others.
It is also well known that inter-Arab and inter-African differences have had a
considerable impact on African positions, both at the individual and collective levels.
The African countries wonder how they can cooperate with the Arab countries, when the
latter are not themselves unified, and how they can believe in the good intentions of
the Arabs when most of the continent’s problems are Arab problems or Arab-
caused in the first place (such as the issues of the Western Sahara, Chad, the Horn of
Africa, and Eritrea).
Afro-Arab cooperation does not receive the proper support of all Arab countries in the
Arab League, whether on the individual or the collective level. The danger here, in my
opinion, is that some of them maintain that there is no place for the African unity
movement in the framework of the movement for Arab unity and cooperation with
other Third World countries. However, Afro-Arab cooperation has made new gains
since 1977 thanks to the role of the Afro-Arab group, which will always be decisive in
determining cooperation within the OAU’s framework – especially with regard to the
Palestinian question. The majority of the Afro-Arab group is aware of its responsibility
in this respect, and this underlies the OAU’s reiteration of its stand on the issue at
successive OAU summits, the most recent of which was held in Nairobi in July 1981,
when Resolutions 858 and 861 re-emphasised the Organisation’s position on Palestine
and the Middle-East conflict, and Resolution 863 on Jerusalem, conforming with the
Arab position on this issue.
What the Arab countries are asked to do is to implement the OAU’s
recommendations as well as those of the non-aligned movement and the UN on
African issues, to include Namibia and other Southern African issues on the Arab
League’s agenda and to grant the national liberation movements recognized by the
OAU observer status at League meetings. This way the organic and strategic
linkage between the movement for Arab unity and that for African unity, which
started after World War II, can be reinforced and enabled to forestall the vicious
attacks of the two racist regimes of Israel and South Africa.