Saturday, 8 May 2010

Love of the Land: If the EU seems fragmented, take a look at the Arab world

If the EU seems fragmented, take a look at the Arab world

Michael Young
The National (UAE)
06 May '10
Posted before Shabbat

(It's good on occasion to take a look around the neighborhood. Y.)

The discussion over the future of the European Union offers a useful window through which to examine the destiny of the Arab world. European states are facing a major crisis of meaning as they decide what their intervention to save Greece from financial ruin says about EU solidarity in the future, where other shipwrecks lurk.

The platitudes of Arab unity have long jarred with the reality of Arab states driven apart by mistrust and competition. However, nationalist reflexes notwithstanding, the EU, even in an existential emergency, has not lost sight of what it was set up to achieve. Arab divisions, in contrast, threaten to undermine a unified response to the major existential challenge faced by Arab regimes today: a nuclear Iran.

Iranian hegemony and Greece’s debt are very different things. But they are both good tests as to whether it’s better for states to stand united, warts and all, or fall divided. Surveying the Arab world today, it is difficult to see who might become the engine of a cohesive Arab policy to contain Iran. And here, the EU experience becomes useful.

Arab unity, whether writ large or pertaining to specific events, has always coalesced around certain states. In the same way that EU policy must earn the acquiescence, above all, of Germany and France, traditionally Arabs have looked toward Saudi Arabia and Egypt to build a consensus, with Syria and Iraq having a greater or lesser say depending on the situation. Arab power has fluctuated, however, so that at times poles of influence were built around rivalries between Egypt and Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Egypt and Syria, and so on.

Today, the Arab state system is in disarray. Saudi Arabia and Egypt no longer lead as they once did. Both have seen less powerful states, for instance Syria and Qatar, seize the initiative. Last year the Saudis were forced to give Syria a green light to return to Lebanon politically in the hope that this would draw Damascus away from Tehran and facilitate Syrian co-operation with Riyadh over Iraq. Qatar has also punched above its weight by mediating in conflicts and playing on regional contradictions. The emirate has maintained good ties with Tehran while hosting the largest American military base in the Gulf.

(Read full article)

Love of the Land: If the EU seems fragmented, take a look at the Arab world

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