The New Levant: World’s Earliest Civilizations of Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan to Create an Economic Union
By: Mohammed Abduljabbar / Arab America Contributing Writer
The idea of an Arab union is not new. Since the beginning of the 20th century, many Arab states have pursued a union with their Arab neighbors. However, some of these unions never saw the light, some dissolved very quickly, and some are simply ineffective. The first attempt in the early 20th century failed due to foreign influence. This is when Iraq, then an ally of the west, and Egypt, then an ally of communism, provided help to the Levantine and the Gulf states to rid the area of foreign powers.
Since then, Pan-Arabism movements did not move forward until after WWII. That’s when the UK and France’s rule in the area collapsed. While many attempts took place, most of them did not survive. To give more historical context, the world was witnessing the cold war between the US and the USSR at the time. Both the US and the USSR wanted a strong foothold in the MENA region which presented more challenges to an Arab Union.
Notable Mentions of Previous Attempts
In the 19th century, the idea that homogenous people should live under one entity shaped much of the politics. Therefore, Arabs pursued their independence from the Ottoman Empire. European powers promised to support an Arab state. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire post-WWI, this promise was not fulfilled. This was a turning point in Arab history.
European influence structured borders creating mini sovereign Arab states. This has fractured the way Arabs see their lands. When the grip of foreign powers weakened, Arabs saw a chance to finally bring their union to life. However, the disagreements over who would lead the union ultimately led to failure.
- The United Arab Republic
The world witnessed the first Arab unification attempt in 1958. Syria and Egypt became united under the United Arab Republic. Ruled by Egyptian former president Gamal Abdul Nasser, the union dissolved after the two states couldn’t resolve major economic hurdles. In 1961, Syria declared its independence.
- The Hashemite Arab Federation
Also in 1958, Iraq and Jordan declared the Hashemite Arab Federation. The Hashemite Royal family, which was in control of both countries, decided to unite the two neighboring kingdoms. Each capital was going to rule for 6 months then hand over power to the other capital and so on. However, this union was very short-lived as the last King of Iraq, Faisal the II was toppled by a coup d’état. Iraqi military generals declared Iraq a republic upon executing the royal family, which automatically dissolved the union.
- The Federation of Arab Republics
In 1971, Libya suggested a union with Egypt, Sudan, and Syria. The Federation of Arab Republics was supported by the leaders of these states as well as the people. Yet again, the union was not accomplished due to disagreements over which state would be in charge.
- Arab League or LAS
The League of Arab States (LAS) or the Arab League is an organization that looks after the interest, affairs, sovereignty, and goals of member states. Many perceive the LAS as ineffective and costly. The six founder states of Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan (later named Jordan), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria (whose membership is currently suspended) formed the league in 1945 in Cairo.
- Gulf Cooperation Council
Six countries in the Arab peninsula declared the creation of a union under the name of the Gulf Cooperation Council (known as the GCC). In 1981, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, and Qatar entered this union to form, represent, and protect their interest. While this union is not as effective as it is designed to be, it still exists today and shapes much of the geopolitical reality of the region.
- Arab Cooperation Council
In 1989, Baghdad declared the formation of the Arab Cooperation Council which included Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, and Egypt. It was mainly a response to the creation of GCC. The purpose of this union was to create a regional power that forms the seed of a larger Arab union. The Jordanian capital, Amman, was going to be the council’s center. Indeed, many Arab countries expressed interest in joining the union including Somalia and Djibouti. In spite of this serious attempt, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait dissolved the union as members conflicted on whether or not to support Iraq.
Al-Sham Al Jadeed | The New Levant
After many failed attempts, it seems that in spite of the determination to unify the Arab world, the challenges seem far too great. That, however, didn’t stop Iraq from suggesting the New Levant. As Iraq continues to use its significant diplomatic relevance to mitigate the complicated nature of Saudi-Iranian relations, as well as other complicated affairs in the region, it restarted the New Levant initiative to substantiate its role in the region and revolutionize its economy. This new economic vision for the region can be considered as a reconstruction of the former ACC that also included Yemen back in the late 20th century.
- Economic Goals
This optimistic union carries many aspirations for the states involved as well as a new vision of the war-torn region. Perhaps the most explicit of which is economic cooperation. Relying on each state’s assets, the three countries aim to create what Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi referred to as “a mini-EU”. Iraq will continue to provide heavily subsidized oil to both Jordan and Egypt. In return, Jordan will grant Iraq the possibility to further its exports through Al Aqaba port and expand its pipeline to Egypt’s Suez Canal. Egypt will connect Iraq to the Egyptian power grid to provide electricity. Also, Egypt will provide its expertise and human resources to Jordan and Iraq.
- Political Aspirations
In addition to the economic goals, this anticipated initiative has implicit political goals as well. It aims to include Syria in an effort to reconstruct the country after the destruction caused by a long, bloody civil war. It also aims to include Lebanon, hoping the union would help the country overcome its economic crisis. The three countries, so far, have shown a great deal of seriousness. Baghdad hosted a summit where the three leaders discussed the initiative. This summit was not the first and was followed by one in Amman, one in Cairo, and others. The three administrations are working on crafting the mechanism under which this union would operate. Each capital will get to lead the union for a year starting with Amman.
The United States has already blessed this initiative. This isn’t a surprise. The US is welcoming because three of its allies aim to be more politically united and economically flourished. However, the future of this union heavily relies on (or lack of), a nuclear deal between the US and Iran. So far, Iran has welcomed the initiative. If this initiative will result in minimizing Iran’s isolation and bringing it closer to other Arab nations that it otherwise wouldn’t have access to, Iran would continue to welcome the initiative. However, if the US aims to use this union as a tool to further isolate Iran, the latter would certainly respond negatively to the initiative which can lead to Iraq’s withdrawal.
Why is it Important?
This union’s intended outcomes are economic progress, and a stronger grip on the region which would mean a heavy crackdown on terrorist activities in the region, It can also lead to the reconstruction of war-torn Syria and economically-crippled Lebanon. These aspirations would reintroduce the middle east in a new light. Economic cooperation can lead to more resources for all states involved to face the security challenges that pose a threat to world peace. This could also mean a stronger ally for the US in the region that is friendly with Iran; a dramatic twist that could ease the tension in the troubled MENA region and build new bridges of cultural and economic exchange with western counterparts.
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