Samir Amin, The Arab Economy Today (London: Zed Press, 1982).
Ismail-Sabri Abdalla et al, eds., Images of the Arab Future (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983). (Translated from Arabic)
Adda Guecioueur, ed., The Problems of Arab Economic Development and Integration (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984).
Robert Aliboni, ed., Arab Industrialization and Economic Integration (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979).
These books, on the future of Arab economies, have two points in common. First, all authors agree on the desirability, if not the necessity, of Arab economic integration. The Israeli economist Z. Y. Hershlag, however, includes Israel in this scheme, and clings to the old notion that it could somehow make the Arab technological desert bloom — as if what the Arab states lacked was technology and expertise.
Second, there is consensus that Arab integration has made only limited progress, despite countless joint committees, institutions and agreements to that end. With the exception of Samir Amin, who speculates that Arab unity might occur in the “foreseeable future,” the authors expect the integration process to be painstaking at best. Amin’s optimism is hard to reconcile with his own finding that Arab incorporation into the world capitalist economy — which he views as a major obstacle to Arab unity — has already become quite extensive. What, then, makes him think that this hurdle, not to mention others, will soon be overcome? The Guecioueur and Aliboni books do not see these extensive international ties as impeding Arab integration, but they offer no persuasive argument.
Samir Amin, cognizant of the pitfalls of speaking of a single Arab economy, chooses to do so anyway for “political reasons.” In this short empirical text he addresses income distribution and the use of labor power in the Arab economy, as well as linkages with the international capitalist economy. He estimates that the income distribution gap between the upper strata and the poor has not been narrowed by the development effort, and finds the Arab economy strikingly more dependent on the world economy than any other Third World region. The statistical appendix of the book reveals at a glance the structure of Arab economies.
Images of the Arab Future, authored by four veteran Egyptian economists and planners, is a product of the UN University-sponsored Arab Alternative Futures Project. The first two chapters criticize futurist images envisaged in global models such as Limits to Growth, Leontieff and others, for their tendency to append individual Arab countries to other world regions rather than treating the Arab world as a distinct entity. They likewise criticize official Arab documents for a lack of specific schedules and mechanisms for Arab integration, and for contradictory visions and strategic concepts.
The Problems of Arab Economic Development and Integration is based on a 1981 symposium at Yarmouk University, Jordan. It treats a wide range of topics — agriculture, industry, technology, currency — and expresses sometimes conflicting opinions on the obstacles to and benefits of Arab economic integration. The factors that work to stymie Arab integration, as perceived by Adda Guecioueur, the main contributor, are political instability, the sometimes inappropriate timing of agreements, bad faith by Arab regimes which manipulate the Arab integration concept for domestic political consumption, uneveness of development among countries, and social and economic imbalances resulting from colonization.
The fourth book, Arab Industrialization and Economic Integration, is edited by Roberto Aliboni who is also a contributor to the previous collection. Z. Y. Hershlag, author of the lead article, concisely presents regional and country industrial structures, and considers optional industrialization and integration strategies. He favors not only Arab, but also Arab-Israeli economic integration, rejecting the notion that this would entail a center-periphery relationship. Some form of Arab-Israeli integration takes place within the book itself, as two of the authors are Arab academics. One of these, Lebanese economist Samir Makdisi, attributes the limited effectiveness of Arab economic cooperation to disparities of development levels and structural incompatibilities among various states. He cautions against “undue weakening” of economic relations with the outside world. Tunisian sociologist Abdelwahab Bouhdiba tries to identify the links between inter-Arab migration and Arab emigration to Europe, and their implications for Arab development.
The proliferation of books, articles and conferences of this genre indicates that even the intellectual agenda of Arab unity has decisively shifted, despite Mu‘ammar Qaddafi’s irrepressible optimism, from the “superstructural,” single-stroke at unification approach to a more cautious gradualism.