“We will render war not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman declared at the end of World War II.
The plan was to establish economic cooperation among European countries that would lead to the cohesion and interdependence of their economic interests, and make warfare a highly unlikely option; the result of such was the Treaty of Paris (formally the treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community) on April 18, 1951, with the following objectives:
- Remove obstacles and open borders for coal and steel trade between the signatory countries.
- Apply a consolidated policy towards countries that remained outside the group.
- Provide freedom of workforce rotation among signatory countries.
The group evolved to a common market with a unified currency established in 1965 and later into the European Union, which included giving up some powers of the national state to the union’s institution as one of its most important principles.
The union has continued to develop at all levels up to now.
With this, the Europeans succeeded in establishing a political economic project through which they managed to overcome their centuries-old differences. When interests converge ties deepen, relations get stronger, and narrow ambitions therefore fade away.
Indeed, with true will, the impossible becomes possible.
Now a question comes to mind: Why did the Europeans succeed while we failed?
Although the idea of joint Arab action, represented by establishing the Arab League as a confederation entity in 1945, had preceded the European Union, it failed to meet the aspirations of our peoples.
We were able to develop a confederal institutional entity, yet it did not lead to achieving deep and effective cooperation and partnership among Arab countries.
Consequently, disputes and conflicts continue to tear apart our region, pushing it towards a tunnel with no light at the end so far.
Rather than discussing all the experiences of joint action that we have done and failed, I will discuss in depth the political and cultural views that have resulted in shaping our collective mind and thus made us “prisoners” to a system of values belonging to a realm of chaos and fragmentation, thus leading to the disintegration of most of our unitary endeavors.
It makes us wonder: Do the peoples of our region suffer from a “masochism” that makes them cling to the roles of the oppressed and repressed victim?
The law of conflict and us
Although conflict as a concept involves a contradiction of interests or values between two or more parties, indicating that it is a “curse, not a blessing,” the world has managed to make it a creative product.
Conflict by the interaction of an idea and its opposite is the law of the universe, the controversy that leads to the emergence of a new idea and carries development forward, just as Hegel said: “The course of history and ideas runs by the existence of the thesis, then the antithesis, then the synthesis between them”.
Remaining prisoners of history has led to our continued absence from the scene of influential political action, both in our region and the world. This made us lose the ability to manage our conflicts in a practical way thereby contributing to political or even historical settlements, as others have done.
Centuries ago, the Europeans succeeded in carrying out a historic reconciliation that put an end to the religious wars that lasted for around three decades: I refer here to the “Treaty of Westphalia” in 1648. They succeeded in stopping the wheel of violence and absurd wars which brought nothing but ruin and destruction, while we still wallow in the mud of our futile wars!
In my opinion, managing integration or effective coordination on the model of the EU or other experiences requires us to dismantle the values that have settled in our political mind’s structure, which have led to deepening the Arab world’s divide and fragmentation , so that we can overcome the obstacles in operating our political thought.
Then we can agree on a set of creative political values which will lead us to fruitful cooperation for the benefit of our peoples, fulfilling Darwin’s saying: “Survival is not for the strongest, nor the most intelligent, but rather for the most adaptable to change”.
Since its inception, the Arab League was subject to violent and harsh attacks by partisan currents and ideologies, as is the way of our region’s societies which views every new idea as a conspiracy targeting identity, history and religion.
Therefore, we are not surprised when any project, even if unfulfilled, fails due to this mindset of continuous rejection and doubting everything for no reason at all!
A spirit that fears the slightest change or anything new undermines the possibilities of advancement with our own hands, just as the verse in the Holy Quran says: “They destroy their homes with their own hands”.
It seems to me that we enjoy torturing ourselves, and therefore we ignite wars based on extremely miserable political values such as the “zero-sum conflict” theory which most nations have already overcome after having gone through its costs and tragedies.
Yet we do not study history, therefore it repeats itself in our region in tragic and ironic ways!
Many visions and ideas have been proposed about the ways for the success of establishing unity or a union among Arab countries. However, all of them – in my view- have not, and will not, succeed, because our history shows that we are still clinging to conquests of the past when tribes used to operate.
Therefore, I urge modesty by making practical proposals as a first step on the road that may move us from idealistic dreams into reality.
For all of that, I previously proposed the necessity of establishing an ambitious project (an Arab Marshall Plan) based on the economy as one of the pillars of comprehensive development in our region.
So that we can overlook political differences based on outdated narcissism, and think in a pragmatic, practical way that prioritizes general interest over narrow selfishness.
This way, through the economy, we can crown our efforts by building institutions that contribute to the development of our region just as Europe has done, and save ourselves from the clutches of the monster of political misery, so that we rise from a passive mind to an active one.
It is time for us to negotiate common interests, and there is nothing wrong with giving up some of the national state’s power for the sake of integrated development.
This is achievable if we succeed in managing our differences, and give up the illusions of individual success, because our era is the age of blocs and alliances. On the other hand, ignoring the higher interests of our region will keep us in this circle of unproductive political inaction placing us on the sidelines of history.
However, there is still hope in establishing an entity or a project that will benefit from the Arab League’s institutions to overcome difficulties and obstacles, given its long experience in dealing with various Arab issues.
Therefore, success can be ours, especially in light of the current difficult circumstances that call for the region’s wise to adopt constructive dialogue to get it out of its impasse, and to succeed in changing our current practice’s slogan of “The way of everyone against everyone” to “Everyone needs everyone”.