Hudson: Middle East Dilemma
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The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University had a lofty goal in organizing the 1992 conference where these papers first were presented. The normative intent is made clear by Michael Hudson in his introductory chapter: to encourage realistic efforts at Arab cooperation at a time of profound inter-Arab division. The cumulative effect of the contributions, however, is to leave the reader profoundly pessimistic about the prospects for even the most modest efforts at institutionalized cooperation, on either political or economic issues, among the Arab states.
In places, the authors round up the usual suspects on which to pin the blame for Arab disunity: Israel, the United States, the colonial powers; even Vasco da Gama gets cited as the original cause of Arab fragmentation (p. 260). For the most part, however, this volume concentrates on the conditions of and the choices made by the Arabs themselves to explain the failures of unity and integration efforts. This is a salutary analytical trend, but not one that leads to much optimism about the future of the Arab integration project.
On the political front, both Bahgat Korany and Paul Noble trace the changes over the past decades within the global and regional international systems, reaching similarly pessimistic conclusions about the prospects for greater Arab integration. The logic of sovereign statehood, developed over the last half-century in the Middle East, and the material interests of both regional elites and great powers are powerful impediments to any kind of unity. Bassam Tibi says that as modest a goal as greater Arab cooperation--not unity or integration--requires both a profound change in the dominant understanding of Arabism and a shift to democratic government in Arab states. He gives no indication of how likely he thinks those changes are.
The case studies of unity and integration efforts give no more reason for hope. Mustapha Kamil al-Sayyid questions whether the United Arab Republic could have endured even if it had a federal framework, a more open political system, and a more balanced division of power and prestige between Syria and Egypt. Abdul Khaleq Abdulla and William Zartman assess the very modest accomplishments of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab Maghrebi Union, respectively, and come to the conclusion that subregional Arab cooperative institutions have yet to transcend the role of fora for occasional diplomatic coordination among their members. The informative and interesting accounts of successful unity efforts (the United Arab Emirates by Frauke Heard-Bey and Yemen by Robert Burrowes) emphasize the specifics of each case, offering little guidance for more general efforts at Arab integration. The financial and diplomatic leadership of Abu Dhabi within the UAE and the overwhelming military power Ali Abdallah Salih brought to the preservation of Yemeni unity in 1994 have no current analogues in the larger Arab world.
The chapters on Arab economic integration provide no more comfort for advocates of greater Arab cooperation. Yusif Sayigh puts the blame squarely on political factors for the failures of economic integration efforts in the 1980s, when many of the economic requisites for integration were present. Antoine Zahlan sees European technological advances as having a profoundly disintegrative effect on the Arab world and the inability of the Arab states to absorb technological change as perpetuating that disintegration. Roger Owen makes the sensible point that, as most Arab economies pursued import substitution industrialization policies in the 1950s and 1960s, it is not surprising that intra-Arab trade did not develop. He also raises, indirectly, the ironic point that the most serious efforts at economic coordination--the Middle East Supply Center during World War II for the Mashriq and the evolving Euro-Mediterranean free trade area for the Maghrib--were the result of outsiders' pressures. Atif Kubursi warns that yet another outsider-inspired integration plan--the "New Middle East" of Shimon Peres--will benefit Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. Nemat Shafik looks at the one area of "successful" Arab economic integration, labor migration, and sees it more as a substitute for economic unity than a stepping-stone toward it.
This volume is a good place to start an investigation of the effects of the strong impulses both for and against greater integration among Arab states. The next step in this research agenda is to go beyond an explanation for what has not happened and identify the empirical consequences for Arab state behavior and the regional system of these powerful and contradictory impulses.
F. Gregory Gause III is an associate professor of political science at the University of Vermont.