Globalization and the Arab World in Middle East Politics: Regional Dynamics in Historical Perspective

Article excerpt

The middle east in general and the Arab world in particular have long held an important place in world affairs, as reflected in the attention given to the region in the Western press, both scholarly and journalistic. However, both have tended to view the area through the prism of great power politics. This paper examines regional dynamics in the Middle East from a historical perspective in order to focus on historical patterns of regional global interaction. Our purpose is to outline successive stages of development in the region over the millennium to understand the place of the Arab world in this context, and identify patterns of continuity and change.

From this perspective, the Middle East is approached as a somewhat fluid unit of analysis in international politics. At any given time, in other words, the parameters of the region are a function of historical context and are delineated in terms of core and peripheral areas.(1) The core, defined as the political center of the region, is characterized by "a relatively regular and intense pattern of interactions, recognized internally and externally as a distinctive arena, and created and sustained by at least two . . . generally proximate actors" (Thompson, 1981, p. 213). Patterns of cooperation and conflict constitute the significant dimensions of core interactions. Actors proximate to the core, but with irregular or less intense involvement in core patterns of interaction, are classified as the periphery. Another category of important actors in Middle East politics are from outside the region altogether and are classified as intrusive forces.

Thus, the concepts of core and periphery provide the basis for outlining the general geographic contours of the Middle East at any given time. The concepts of patterns of cooperation, patterns of conflict and intrusive forces provide the dimensions for examining regional dynamics in Middle East politics at different historical periods. In different historical stages, the dimensions of the region may have been changing, but the dynamics of change were a function of historical context - that is, a function of the regional dynamics driving change in a stage. These are periodized into four stages: Islamic, Ottoman, nationalist and post-nationalist. Although these periods are sequentially related, they are not bounded in time with distinct beginnings and endings. Rather, they tend to blend one into another, with patterns emerging, more or less becoming dominant, then submerging as new patterns come to the fore. The designation of a phase is simply an heuristic label used to connote the central political dynamic through which a period is being viewed.


The Islamic phase covers the period from the 7th through the 13th centuries. The emergence of Islam in Arabia in the seventh century and its rapid expansion outward from Arabia across southwest Asia and North Africa encompassed the central political dynamic of this period. With the expansion, the political center of gravity shifted from Arabia to the Fertile Crescent (first Damascus under the Ummayyad Dynasty, 661-750 A.D.; then Baghdad under the Abbasids, 750-1258 A.D.). It then began to fragment into regional dynasties: in Spain, the Ummayad, 756-1031 A.D.; in Egypt, the Tulunids, 868-905 A.D.; the Fatamids, 969-1171 A.D.; the Ayyubids, 1171-1260 A.D.; in Morocco and Tunisia, the Idrisids, 788-922 A.D.; the Aghlabids, 800-909; the Murabits, 10621145; and the Muwahhids, 1145-1223 A.D.. The socio-political character of the Islamic stage emerged in the context of the process of accommodation and integration of different socio-cultural realities that the spread of Islam presented to civil decision-makers and administrators. Composed of courtiers, clerics, artisans, jurists, the urban based ruling elite adopted Arabic as the language of culture, law and politics, and linked the ruler and ruled in what came to be called Islamic civilization (Amin, 1978, p. …