3. Ideology and Political Economy in Inter-Arab Alliances
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3 Ideology and Political Economy in Inter-Arab Alliances Too often pundits and casual political observers of the Middle East attribute the many realignments in the region to the heavy weight of ideology in the politics of the Arab world. Perhaps one reason for this attribution is that, during almost every Middle East crisis in the last several decades, the events themselves were quickly shrouded in a mist of ideological rhetoric. When this rhetoric is taken at face value, the fluid patterns of shifting alignments in inter-Arab relations tend to be seen as the result of ideological nuances that seem baffling in their complexity. But is ideology really the driving force in inter-Arab alignments and alliances? And if so, why do we so often see alignments between states that do not appear to be ideologically compatible ? Indeed, why have so many regional realignments defied the predictions of Western observers? This chapter explores two key dynamics of inter-Arab politics: political economy and ideology. The former includes the tangible, material interests of the states and societies in the region, while the latter is largely intangible , representing broad ideas and philosophical outlooks. I will examine how both ideological considerations and economic interests influence the foreign policies and alliance choices of Arab states. But in both cases these should be understood as variables in addition to other concerns of Arab states, such as external threats and the regional military balance, as well as internal security and domestic politics. I will attempt to make two major points in the pages that follow. First, despite the pervasiveness of ideology in Middle East politics, alignments and realignments in inter-Arab politics are determined far more by elite perceptions of threats to regime security than they are by ideological concerns . It is essential to bear in mind, however, that just as an overemphasis on ideology in the Middle East tends to obscure the real material interests guiding alignment choices and foreign policy behavior, it is also true that a complete dismissal of the importance of ideology misses a key part of the 44 / Chapter 3 dynamics of inter-Arab relations. And this brings me to the second point, which is to explain how Pan-Arab ideology in particular continues to matter in international behavior, even when it is not a primary causal variable in alignment decisions. Thus, in response to the question of whether ideology drives alignment choices, one might be tempted to provide two opposite answers. Yet the paradox is simply this: ideology may not be the key independent variable explaining alignment choices; but it retains a remarkably durable utility as a marketing tool in state-state and state-society relations. Is it causal? No. Is it important in understanding domestic and international politics in the Arab Middle East? Yes. In this chapter I will explain how and why this is so, as well as how and why the material economic interests of Arab regimes are critical to understanding their behavior in the shifting alignments of inter-Arab politics. In the analysis below, I will turn first to a discussion of Pan-Arabism and ideology in Arab regional politics, second to an examination of the economic bases of Arab alignment politics, and finally to a brief analysis of some specific alliance choices in light of this overall argument. Pan-Arabism and the Persistence of Ideological Politics Many observers of Arab politics have long seen the Middle East as “awash in ideology.”1 The political development of the region has resulted in a “triumph of ideological politics” which often serves in place of concrete policy decisions aimed at remedying the many ills of the region.2 These ideologies vary from the secular to the religious, from radical to conservative. Yet in general terms there are two major strains of particular importance to the international relations of the region—the predominance of Arabism, on the one hand, and the resurgence of Islamism on the other. In this section, I will examine each in turn, but with particular emphasis on the role of PanArabism , since it is that ideology that has so deeply pervaded inter-Arab political relations. Pan-Arabism rose in the late nineteenth century, predominantly in Damascus and Beirut and other urban centers of the Eastern Arab world.3 With the onset of the First World War, Arab nationalism took on a more activist political role as Sharif Hussein Ibn 'Ali of Mecca joined forces with the British against the Ottoman Turkish Empire, in what...