Tribes with Flags: The Myth of Arab Statehood

(Foreign Policy) Aaron David Miller - In the wake of the Arab Spring, we're witnessing the beginning of the end of the illusion of the functional and coherent Arab state. Egypt, Iraq, and Syria once competed for power and influence in the Arab world. In the wake of the Arab Spring, all three have essentially gone off line, their regional reach much diminished. It has been said that, with the exception of Egypt, the Arab states are essentially tribes with flags. Sectarian and ethnic identity, rather than national affiliation, is the driving organizing principle in much of Arab politics. When these societies undergo stress, it's loyalty to the tribe, family, sect, and religious group that provides the primary source of identity and organization. Forget about the establishment of democracies, or liberal, secular societies. Right now, what the Arab world needs most are stable polities that can provide basic security and some material improvement in the lives of their people. America's room for maneuver in the Middle East is shrinking. The authoritarians have gone - and good riddance. The democrats haven't yet arrived - and won't for a good while. And with the end of that old order, perhaps we can finally cast off the illusion that the U.S. can somehow fix all of this. The writer is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

2013-02-28 00:00:00

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