On Arab self-reliance

Abdel-Moneim Said
Tuesday 12 Mar 2024

Abdel-Moneim Said revives his presentation at the Emirates Policy Centre in Abu Dhabi


The Arab states have only themselves to rely on, I stressed in my presentation at the annual conference organised by the Emirates Policy Centre in Abu Dhabi two years ago.  I underscored this again in the Arab Strategic Forum conference in Dubai and in many other forums and platforms in light of current developments. As I developed this idea along the way, it became both more modest and more detailed. As much as this idea appealed to my audiences, I could read the scepticism in their faces. After all, we rely on others around the world for food, medicine, and arms.

Moreover, the consequences of the Arabs’ pursuit of the slogans of Arab unity and Arab nationalism hardly encourage a return to a trend that mixed a childish leftist revolutionary idealism with an even more childish strategic thinking, leading to an adventurism with arms, rhetoric, and violence. It was a recipe for poor calculations for which the Arabs paid heavy tolls, whether in the Nasserist experience that led to the defeat in 1967, the Saddam Hussein folly that led to the invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent collapse of Iraq, or the Qaddafi madness that ended with his own assassination and the disastrous fate of Libya we see today.

There are many lessons we can draw from these histories, but we should not allow them to cloud our reading of the current state of the world around us and the threats it poses to the Arab state whether they emanate from within the region or abroad. Regardless of the source of these threats, we must be able to rely on ourselves.

The situation internationally is extremely bleak. While world attention has been riveted on the Gaza war, the larger war in Ukraine is gearing up for a major confrontation at the end of winter. It will bring no spring. The delayed US aid and weapons will reach Kyiv, which will launch another counterattack. It will be a catastrophe if it succeeds and another catastrophe if it fails to end the ferocity of the war and its escalation into open conflict between the West and Russia.  Tension appears to have eased up somewhat between the US and China; however, what happens in this relationship, which is characterised by a permanent contradiction between China and the US-led West, is contingent on the outcome of the forthcoming presidential elections. This contradiction is not only about China’s rise as a superpower while not involving itself in international problems that do not concern it directly (note its position on the war in the Middle East), but it also relates to the fact that China has absorbed the essence of Western industrial and technological progress while keeping the cumulative surplus wealth at home. The West cannot prevent this, because if it tried to do that, it would ruin the free world market which is the promise of global capitalism. If Biden wins, which is possible, he will continue to resort to ideological warfare and sanctions. If Trump wins, which is more likely, he will act on his pledge to impose a 60 per cent increase in tariffs on Chinese imports. That will trigger trade wars of an intensity resembling those that precipitated the global depression and then World War II.

 The regional situation is no less perilous. No end is in sight for the fifth Gaza war and its spiralling repercussions in the region. The shores of the Red Sea are already aflame, preventing maritime traffic through the Suez Canal. The skirmishes along Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon are intensifying and the West Bank is on fire. Meanwhile, northern Syria is still occupied by international powers, Turkey, and assorted terrorist groups bent on perpetuating Syrian disintegration and undermining Iraqi unity. Then, to the south, Sudan and surrounding areas from Chad to the Horn of Africa are too hot to touch.

Against this fraught backdrop, several Arab countries continue to pursue ambitious comprehensive reform projects, reflecting how they have matured as nations and their resolve to continue nation-building while resisting provocations and attempts to embroil them in troubles. They have worked miracles to overcome the constraints of cumbersome bureaucracies and deeply entrenched conservatism and reactionary forces, as they fought to shift their development approaches from “strategic conquest” to “strategic potential” and from “distribution of poverty” to “wealth management,” benefitting as much as possible from the multiplicity of development experiences worldwide, especially in Asia.

Perhaps for the first time since the post-World War II national independence wave, the importance of stimulating domestic potentials outweighs attention to international developments unless they are closely connected to economic growth, progress, and national prestige. Two recent news items are noteworthy in this regard. The first is about the Saudi Arabian initiative to attract some $11 billion of investment to its tourist industry, promising a $4 billion yield for the Saudi GDP by 2030. The second is the news of the Saudi-Egyptian Business Council’s call for the creation of a Saudi-Egyptian economic alliance to coordinate entry into other markets in Africa and elsewhere, to promote integration between their respective business sectors in investment projects and opportunities, to achieve self-sufficiency in food security and medicine, and to coordinate responses to global crises.

There was a time when such news was seen as no more than an expression of good intentions. But much has changed since then. The concrete developments unfolding on the ground in Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco reflect their progress in expanding their markets domestically and internationally. The courageous economic steps that Egypt has taken recently with other Arab Economic Partnership countries should be seen in this light. They underscore the need for a closer connection between the alarming geopolitical situation in the region and the current geo-economic promise if it holds to the end of the decade.

In other words, as I said before, we have only ourselves to depend on. It all starts from the base, for though the world has the Lord to protect it, we have the duty to build on the favourable circumstances around us.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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