With the various challenges that Arab foreign policy has encountered, it has been knocked off course, diverting it away from national priorities over the decades. The way to build Arab ties with the outside world has been based on direct and instantaneous interests, but has lacked continuity and objectivity and has been oriented toward the West. Strategic alliances have been limited to the United States and Europe as sole masterminds of the world.
The foreign policy crisis has remained at a standstill, after Arab ties cooled off with a part of the world considered as being among the emerging international and regional powers that have made great strides on the road to economic welfare and political independence.
Yet, the past shifts in the Arab world required radical changes to be brought about in its foreign affairs. In this context, Latin America is considered an important and promising partner. The three Arab-Latin summits of 2005, 2009 and 2013 have broken down the isolation barrier with the South American continent; however, indications of cooperation remain at a low level.
Moreover, ties between the Arab world and Latin American countries have stayed separate from any official or popular interaction. Latin America has not been an influential player in the Arab world. Although there are varying levels of political, diplomatic and commercial relations, they have remained secondary compared with Arab ties with major Western capitals
There are certainly several reasons behind the need to develop Arab-Latin cooperation. Chief among these is the positive official and popular stance of Latin American countries toward Arab rights and issues.
Second, Latin American countries are a reference for developing countries such as Egypt since they have succeeded in achieving significant economic growth. Brazil became the sixth-biggest economy in the world in 2011. Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico have achieved unprecedented levels of growth in recent years, after having gone through major economic problems, such as the high increase in public debt level, high unemployment rates, and decline in foreign investment.
Over the last three decades, Latin American countries have most probably made huge developmental leaps forward due to the democratic shift that occurred in the mid-1980s and the implementation of reform and openness policies toward the outside world.
While American and European economies have suffered from severe financial crises and sharp decline in growth rates, the Latin economy has succeeded in overcoming the negative effects of the global economic crisis, maintaining an acceptable growth rate that reached 3.2% in 2012. Moreover, Latin American economies today are among the hottest investment markets, where the volume of foreign investment flow reached nearly $100 billion in late 2012. In addition, International Monetary Fund (IMF) data indicate that from 2010 until last year, growth rates in Latin American countries have outpaced those of the United States, while public debt has continued to shrink.
It should be noted that nearly 25 million Arab emigrants have played a very influential role in the continent, particularly in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Venezuela. They have constituted a traditional form of capital and a major potential within the South American communities, but they have rarely been exploited and in a very limited way. Arabs in the South can serve as the bridges for renewed and fertile economic, political and cultural relationships that are nourished by the common cultural legacy of the two regions.
Finally, Latin American countries have become an influential player on the international scene today. It should be noted that six Latin countries have recognized a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders since Brazil has led a campaign to recognize the Palestinian entity. In this general context, it is very important for the Arab world to explore the Latin experience that provided a different economic and political model combining economic growth, social justice and the freedom from political dependence.
The reality is that cooperation with Latin American countries could be beneficial in several ways. First among these is addressing the problem of poverty, which has oppressed large swaths of Arab societies, particularly since the Latin experience has lifted nearly 70 million people out of poverty, and nearly 50 million people have joined the middle class in the last 10 years. Second is benefitting from the Latin experience in technology, as Latin American countries have turned from banana republics to digital republics, and have made great strides in the production and export of software. This is added to a potential cooperation in the production of biofuel, power generation from waste and the manufacture of automobiles and airplanes.
Based on this, new horizons can be opened up in trade and investment between the two worlds. The Latin market is promising, and can represent a new alternative to the American and European markets that require difficult procedural requirements. Therefore, heading toward this vital region will not only benefit the economy, but will also provide an opportunity to build an international bloc against the discriminatory policies of the Western capitals. This is particularly true since Latin American countries, with their huge economic capabilities and concrete political role in the international and regional arenas today, are among the influential and active actors in a world that can circumvent diplomatic and economic unilateralism and promote multilateralism.
On the other hand, a rapprochement with South America gives us an opportunity to change the region’s stereotypes. Many Arabs still wrongly believe that these countries are nothing more than the largest producers of soccer stars. The truth is that the opportunity is favorable to support a rapprochement with this region, especially since South American countries have striven to promote ties with the Arab world as part of their efforts to activate multilateralism, to reform the UN Security Council, and endorse Brazil for a permanent seat on the Security Council and as representative of South American countries. It is likely that South American governments and people no longer believe in relying on Washington as a reliable partner. Worries have increased with the unprecedented NSA spying scandals on the phones and emails of heads of state. This is not to mention the US failure in dealing with the international community since the Soviet Union fell in 1989, its use of force alone after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, its involvement in Libya and its responsibility for the worsening of the Syrian crisis .
Moreover, Washington’s behavior and the irregular political and moral [conduct] of the American elite towards the Latin continent, have pushed Latin governments to burn bridges with the US and to push forward to develop international links with the Arab world,
The Arab Latin America Business Council (ALABC), which was established five years ago, includes businessmen and non-governmental bodies, and is sponsored by a number of governments from the two regions. It recently announced from Egypt’s southern governorate of Luxor an initiative for the development of Upper Egypt by developing small and medium enterprises and launching productive activities, especially in the marginalized rural areas.
The ALABC is a bridge of communication between Arab and Latin American countries, and aims to promote economic cooperation, by providing information and communication, through forums, economic conferences, trade exhibitions, trade missions and other activities between the two regions in order to introduce the business sector and the people to the economic, social, cultural and touristic aspects.
This is why it is important for the Arab world to reshuffle its political and economic cards, and become open to active economic powers. Latin America is at the top of the list of potential partners for the Arab world, given its positive stances in regard to Arab issues in addition to its growing economies. The new international rising powers, such as India and China, have doubled their investments in Latin America during 2011, reaching $22.7 billion. Even major regional powers, such as Turkey and Israel, are pushing toward Latin America to establish strategic relationships. Furthermore, Iran succeeded in gaining a political ground on the continent through its economy.