Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 May 2007
Issue No. 843
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Why not an Arab Union?

By Mohsen Zahran

Fifty years have passed since the signing of the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community, a miraculous achievement among nations that had emerged battered from the horror, death, destruction and animosity of World War II. The determination and will of its founding states is consolidated now in the institutions and frameworks of the European Union (EU). And the EU has expanded to a current membership of 27 nations, including 11 former members of the Soviet bloc from Eastern Europe. Others, including Turkey, are awaiting admission, hoping to benefit from the economic, political, cultural, scientific, environmental and technological windfalls the union affords.

The miraculous achievements of the EU should serve as a model and inspiration to Arab countries that envisioned, by establishing the Arab League in 1946, the promotion of similar goals but, alas, embarrassingly failed after 60 years of locomotion to have anything to show for it. Despite their common heritage, culture, history, habits, language, beliefs, and many other denominators, the Arabs are entangled, divided, underdeveloped, hopeless, oppressed and helpless. Oil wealth has not supported the emergence of a viable regional unity. Rather, the Middle East has been witness to wars, occupation, fanaticism, foreign intervention, tension and strife, often the result of external interests.

The achievements of a New Europe encourage one to hope for a New Arabia. The Arabs should start with humble but manageable steps in definite arenas, beginning with education. Other domains that may benefit from a regionally unified approach include telecommunications, transportation, environmental protection, information technology development, water resource management, energy policy, agricultural and industrial development, combatting illiteracy, women's empowerment, tourism management, heritage protection and cultural enhancement.

Human and natural resources are abundant, and common Arab culture and values are strong propellants. It is will, determination and commitment that is lacking, and which must be found and made to prevail.

This week's Soapbox speaker is a professor of planning at Alexandria University.

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