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Dialogues in Arab Politics

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  • CIAO DATE: 11/98

    Dialogues in Arab Politics: Negotiations in Regional Order

    Michael N. BarnettColumbia University Press

    Fall 1998Bibliographic Data

    PrefaceA Narrative of Arab Politics

    Which Dialogues Among Which Arab States?n Organization of the Bookn


    The Game of Arab Politics

    The Structure of Arab Politicsn Symbolic Exchangesn The Changing Game of Arab Politicsn


    The Creation of Arab Politics, 19201945

    Arab Nationalismn Arab Nationalism and Independencen Arab Nationalism and Palestinen Arab Nationalism and Unificationn


    Securing Arabism, 19451955

    Palestine and Israeln Arab Nationalism and Sovereigntyn


  • Arab Nationalism and the Westn

    The Ascent and Descent of Arabism, 19561967

    Suez, Arabism, and the Westn Arabism and the Rise and Decline of Unificationn The Debate About Israeln


    Sovereignty and Statism, 19671990

    Khartoum and the Consecration of Sovereigntyn The War of Ramadan, the Peace Process, and Constricted Arabismn Fragmentation in Arab Politicsn


    The End of the Arab States System?

    Arab Politics Since the Gulf Warn The Gulf Warn The Reorganization of ArabIsraeli Politicsn The Changing Security Ordern The Future Arab Ordern


    The Making and Unmaking of Arab Politics

    The Game of Arab Politicsn The Pattern of Strategic Interactionn A Narrative of Arab Politicsn



    Dialogues in Arab Politics: Negotiations in Regional Order

    http://ciaonet.org/book/barnett/index.html (2 of 2) [7/29/2004 3:30:41 PM]

  • AUTHOR: Barnett, Michael N.TITLE: Dialogues in Arab Politics: Negotiations in Regional Order

    SUBJECT: 1. Panarabism. 2. Nationalism Arab countries. 3. Arab countries Politics and government. 4. Arab countries Foreign relations.

    PUBLISHED: New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. ISBN 0231109180 (cloth). ISBN 0231109199 (pbk)

    ON-LINE ED.: Columbia International Affairs Online, Transcribed, proofread, andmarked-up in HTML, October 1998.

    Dialogues in Arab Politics: Negotiations in Regional Order

  • Dialogues in Arab Politics: Negotiations in Regional Order

    Michael N. BarnettColumbia University Press

    Fall 1998


    Albert Hourani, the distinguished historian of the Middle East, once observed that any book ontwentieth-century Arab politics must express a dialectic of unity and variety. Local interests andgeopolitical imperatives pull Arab-speaking peoples apart, while the persistence of inherited traits,historic memories, and the attempt to address certain shared problems of identity bring them closertogether. 1 Hourani was not alone among historians of Arab politics to note how the tension betweentransnational bonds and territorial divides has produced a rich mixture of conflict and cooperation amongArab states. For many observers, inter-Arab politics can be defined by the search for integration amongArab states and peoples, inspired by the belief that they are members of the Arab nation, only to beundermined by the existence of latent mistrust and manifested conflict. Such antagonisms, however,never fully extinguish the promise of integration, for the Arab states almost always return to solidarityafter such conflict. Inter-Arab politics exhibits an inescapable rhythm of conflict and cooperation, itself aproduct of the dialectic of unity nurtured by the existence of transnational bonds and of the varietygenerated by rivalries that are part and parcel of territorial possessiveness and personal jealousies.Scholars of international relations have another way of characterizing inter-Arab politics.Quintessentially realist. Perhaps with good reason. Arab politics has seen more than its share of wars,conflicts, and unfriendly acts. The region boasts of a number of strategically skilled and savvy leaderswho are noted for their acumen at exploiting the political environment and regional ideology in order topursue their goals of state power. Gamel Abdel Nasser of Egypt. Hafiz al-Asad of Syria. King Hussein ofJordan. These and other Arab leaders have a well-earned reputation for their survival skills, derived inpart from an appreciation of the international and regional forces and the direction in which the wind isblowing, and the flexibility to adjust their policies accordingly. Because security dominates all otherconcerns, given the prominence and persistence of inter-Arab conflict, transnational loyalties and unityslogans do not have any appreciable effect on interstate patterns.

    Realisms view that Arabist sentiments fold in the face of anarchy contrasts decidedly with Houranisinsistence that Arabism animates the very texture of inter-Arab politics. A consequence of these obversestarting points is that observations of the region and explanations for those observations sometimes arestartlingly different. Where Hourani finds an inescapable rhythm to the region that is generated by a

  • dialectic of diversity and unity, realists note cycles of power whose origins reside in anarchy and theself-help behavior that it generates. Where Hourani implies that inter-Arab conflict derives in part fromArabism, realists respond that such conflict is a predictable manifestation of anarchy and power politics.Where Hourani and other seasoned observers of the region imply that what makes Arab politics Arab isArabism, realist-inspired interpretations usually dismiss the claims that Arabism is causallyconsequential and that Arab politics has a social or cultural foundation, and instead advance theexplanatory power of anarchy and the distribution of power. These substantial differences have led todivergent conversations and, at the extreme, to mutual dismissal: those concerned with theory tend totreat closely observed historical narratives as interesting but ultimately idiographic, and students of theregion frequently indict theoretically generated interpretations as offering some important insights butultimately contorting history. Any effort to narrow these differences must recognize that Arab politicshas a social foundation that is culturally distinctive yet theoretically recognizable. This is my startingpoint. The claim is that doing so can generate an historically intuitive and theoretically inspired accountof inter-Arab politics. My reinterpretation of the history of inter-Arab politics aspires to approach thatlofty goal.

    I view Arab politics as a series of dialogues between Arab states regarding the desired regional ordertheongoing debate by Arab states about the norms of Arab politics and the relationship of those norms totheir Arab identities. Since the beginning of the Arab states system, Arab states and societies have beennegotiating the norms of Arabism. Can Arab states conclude strategic alliances with the West? Are theyexpected to work for unification? Is it permissible for them to negotiate or have relations with Israel?Arab states have addressed and debated what the norms of Arabism should be as they have responded tothe important events of the day, and as they have done so they have asserted that certain norms areexpected or proscribed because of their shared Arab identity. By organizing Arab politics according tothe debates about the desired regional order, I am offering a decided alternative to how we typically tendto think about Arab politicsor international relations, for that matter.

    Arab states have had strikingly different views of the desired norms. Although such differences might beattributed to principled beliefs, the more prominent reason was regime interests, beginning with but notexhausted by survival and domestic stability. As a consequence, over the years Arab leaders have vied todraw a line between the regimes interests, the norms of Arabism, and the events of the day. Theyattempted to do so through symbolic technologies. A defining feature of these moments of normativecontestation was that Arab states competed through symbolic means to control the foreign policies oftheir rivals and determine the norms of Arabism. Nassers ability to define the agenda and to rally thepeople in the streets in Damascus and Amman in his favor came not from the barrel of a gun but from hisability to deftly deploy the symbols of Arabism. Although students of international relations willprobably receive this observation warily because of their tendency to assume that military and economicinstruments define the technologies of influence, scholars of the region will quickly recognize thisfeature of Arab politics. And once the norm of Arabism was stabilized, few Arab leaders possessed thebrazenness or recklessness required to defy them. Indeed, the rivalry and sometimes vicious name callingthat marked the period of normative contestation usually yielded, however awkwardly, to speeches ofsolidarity and a general coordination of their policies. The conflicts between Arab governments haveconcerned the norms of Arabism and not the balance of power; their weapons of influence and controlhave derived from the symbols of Arabism; and they have impressively demonstrated their solidarityover the years because of their desire for social approval, which comes from being associated with theArab consensus. To recognize these fundamental features of Arab politics requires an appreciation of the

    Dialogues in Arab Politics: Preface

    http://ciaonet.org/book/barnett/preface.html (2 of 5) [7/29/2004 3:30:57 PM]

  • power of Arabism and its capacity to invite both conflict and cooperation among Arab governments,which possess a keen sense of self-preservation.

    But Arab politics is not what it used to be. The unity that was defined by the presence of Arabismappears increasingly elusive, and the diversity defined