Constructing International Relations in the Arab World

Constructing International Relations in the Arab World

Constructing International Relations in the Arab World

Constructing International Relations in the Arab World


This book explores the emergence of an anarchic states-system in the twentieth-century Arab world. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Arab nationalist movements first considered establishing a unified regional arrangement to take the empire's place and present a common front to outside powers. But over time different Arab leaderships abandoned this project and instead adopted policies characteristic of self-interested, territorially limited states.

In his explanation of this phenomenon, the author shifts attention away from older debates about the origins and development of Arab nationalism and analyzes instead how different nationalist leaderships changed the ways that they carried on diplomatic and strategic relations. He situates this shift in the context of influential sociological theories of state formation, while showing how labor movements and other forms of popular mobilization shaped the origins of the regional states-system.


All too often the Arab world is written off as a region where the normal rules do not apply. This attitude produces one of two equally deleterious consequences for academic inquiry. The most common result is that students of political science simply ignore events, trends, and developments in the Arab countries. Theoretical debates in international relations and comparative politics go on without taking into account any empirical evidence drawn from the Arab world. Textbooks include no cases from this part of the globe, either by original design or, as in two cases with which I am familiar, after deciding in the end not to include a chapter on a pivotal Arab case that had been explicitly commissioned for the collection. One of the reasons that Stephen Walt's pathbreaking study of the dynamics of international alliance formation caused such a sensation, it seems to me, was that it treated interArab diplomacy as an ordinary regional system. It is disappointing, albeit it par for the course, that Walt's book remains unique in this respect.

More rarely, the Arab world is incorporated into mainstream debates or textbooks, but is presented as the antithesis of whatever outcome or pattern is under investigation. Because so much current work in political science concerns liberal democracy (why it appears, what institutional forms it takes, what impact it has on international disputes, and so on), this state of affairs might be understandable. But to paraphrase a Brian Barry remark about the prisoner's dilemma, there is more to social science than liberal democracy. Once a wider range of research topics comes back into fashion in academia, we can only trust that scholars will at last give up the presumption that there is little to learn from Arab experience.

One great benefit of having spent the last two decades working at a small college, pretty much by myself, is that I have been inoculated against (or able . . .

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