The Arab State: Dilemmas of Late Formation

The Arab State: Dilemmas of Late Formation

The Arab State: Dilemmas of Late Formation

The Arab State: Dilemmas of Late Formation


This book explores the conditions of state formation and survival in the Middle East. Based on Historical Sociology, it provides a model for study of the state in the Arab world and a theory to explain its survival.

Examining states as a 'process', the author argues that what emerged in the Middle East in the beginning of the twentieth century are 'social fields'--where states form and deform--and not states as defined by Max Weber. He explores the constitutions of these fields--their cultural, material and political structures--and identifies three stages of state development in which different cases can be located. Capturing the dilemmas that 'late-forming states' face as regimes within them cope with domestic and international pressure, the author illustrates several Middle East cases and presents a detailed analysis of state developments in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

He maintains that more than the domestic characteristics of individual states, state survival in the Middle East is also a function of the anarchic nature of the international (and by extension the regional) states-system.

The first to raise the question on the survivability of the territorial states in the Middle East while engaging with both International Relations and Comparative Politics theories, this book will be of interest to students and scholars of Middle East politics, Comparative Politics and International Relations.


The origins of this book go back to my quest for the ‘state’, and henceforth for the meaning of the state, whilst I was a student of Political Science in Lebanon. I was bewildered by the fact that children and parents, nurses and doctors, workers and taxi drivers, government ministers and opposition politicians, all made claims on the state; but I was unclear as to who it was that they were talking about. Political claims reflect underlying social grievances and expectations, and in the course of social conversations they almost always include blame. Suddenly the claims on the ‘state’ evaporate to more concrete targets of blame: ‘the political class’, ‘the people’, or ‘the (former or aspiring) coloniser’.

Though I might be forgiven for finding it difficult to locate the ‘state’ in the politically-fragmented Lebanon, the search for the state in the Arab world or in academic debates did not prove any easier. In the Arab world, the state seems to be an ephemeral condition awaiting modification, either by the proponents of sub- or supra-state ideologies or through external design. The state in the region generates high levels of political agitation. Political leaders invest a lot of capital to emphasise ‘Egypt first’, ‘Jordan first’ or that ‘Lebanon is a final state’. With every regional political upheaval leaders rush to caution against bids to ‘redraw the political map of the region’ (tagheer kharitat almintaka). Policy-makers in faraway capitals have come to the region with ambitious plans for establishing a ‘new Middle East’: some with rosy aims of installing democratic systems and others with audacious plans to revise the region’s borders.

Scholarly attempts to define the state in the Middle East and to explain its survival have not been entirely immune to this political agitation. Some intellectuals have dubbed the Arab state as a Western fabrication; or as an alien system imposed on a reluctant environment; or as an entity that lacks the credentials associated with modern states. Others have portrayed the Arab state as a natural political entity – an expression of the national aspirations of different peoples – that has roots in the history of the region. What remains constant since 1920, however, is the resilience of the state. It has survived the retreat of colonial powers, the appeal of transnational ideologies (such as Arabism and Islamism), and the unrelenting external infiltration, with very little change in its borders or political regimes.

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