[Middle East Dilemma: The Politics & Economics of Arab Integration]

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The ideas represented by the terms 'Arabism' and 'Arab unity' have died a hundred deaths in the last fifty years. The Middle East and North Africa are littered with the remains of countless failed schemes to unite various sets of Arab countries. The Arab League has proved to be the weakest and most ineffective of the regional organizations recognized by the United Nations, no mean feat when the competition includes the Organization of African Unity and the Organization of American States. And all too often relations among Arab states are characterized more by hostility than by solidarity -- from the campaigns of propaganda and subversion pitting traditional against revolutionary states in the 1950s and 1960s to the outright military invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in the 1990s. Whenever there has been serious competition between the ideals of pan-Arabism and the realities of state or elite interests, the latter have almost invariably won out.

Despite the numerous tombstones, is Arabism really dead? In his introduction to this collection of essays by a dozen American, Canadian, and Arab scholars, Michael Hudson answers the question this way: 'If by Arabism we mean the fusionist romanticism of the Ba'th, or the Prussian model of Nasserist Egypt or Suddam Hussain's Iraq, then we should summon the coroner, not the paramedics. But if we are imagining an Arabism based on cooperation and coordination, with respect for existing (but diminished) sovereignties, then I think we should call for the obstetrician. Arabism of this kind, I believe, has a future.' This relatively optimistic diagnosis for a far more limited version of Arabism is, however, subject to a host of reservations brought out in the ensuing chapters.

The obstacles to Arab co-operation or integration -- ranging from the absence of political will to the absence of economic complementarities -- always seem more formidable than the forces operating to promote it. …