Towards a Middle Eastern Union
Matthew JAMISON | 11.09.2016 | WORLD / Middle East

Towards a Middle Eastern Union

The situation in the Middle East today is not only a quagmire of violence, terrorism, civil unrest and religious sectarianism and extremism, it is also a growing threat to international peace and security.

The Arab Spring of 2011 has quickly degenerated into an Arab winter, or to be more precise an Arab hell on earth, most starkly illustrated by the never ending carnage in Syria. What is happening in Syria, and to a lesser extent in Iraq has not only profoundly destabilised the region, it has also exposed the world to all manner of spill over and blow back with the growth of Islamist fundamentalism and terrorism.

Saudi Arabia, ironically a close ally of the United States and United Kingdom, is the main source of funding and evangelising for the warped ideology of alQaeda and ISIS. It is not only Syria and Iraq which are basically failed states either engulfed in or on the brink of complete civil breakdown, but also other countries in the region are engaged in proxy wars or military confrontations such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

It is clear for all to see that the Sykes-Picot Agreement is unravelling, and with it the contours and structures of the Middle East as we know it. The Sykes–Picot Agreement, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was a secret 1916 agreement between Britain and France during World War I, to which the Russian Empire assented. The agreement defined their mutually agreed spheres of influence and control in South-western Asia. The agreement was based on the premise that the Triple Entente would succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The negotiations leading to the agreement occurred between November 1915 and March 1916  and it was signed 16 May 1916.

The agreement allocated to Britain control of areas roughly comprising the coastal strip between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan, Jordan, southern Iraq, and an additional small area that included the ports of Haifa and Acre, to allow access to the Mediterranean. France got control of southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Russia was to get Istanbul, the Turkish Straits and Armenia. The controlling powers were left free to determine state boundaries within their areas. Thus, what we know today as modern Syria and Iraq were in fact artificial creations of the colonial powers.

The agreement is seen by many as a turning point in Western and Arab relations. It negated the UK's promises to Arabs made through Colonel T. E. Lawrence for a national Arab homeland in the area of Greater Syria, in exchange for supporting the British against the Ottoman Empire. It has been argued that the geopolitical architecture founded by the Sykes–Picot Agreement disappeared in July 2014 and with it the relative protection that religious and ethnic minorities enjoyed in the Middle East.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claims one of the goals of its insurgency is to reverse the effects of the Sykes–Picot Agreement. The imperial architecture put in place by the First World War victors is now in need of serious repair, if not outright re-design.

It is not just that the Middle East is witnessing some of the most depraved, barbaric and horrendous violence imaginable, it has also become an international problem, exemplified by the European migrant crisis. What is happening in the Middle East is no longer containable within the borders of the Middle East. The near total destruction of Syria has created an unprecedented modern day exodus of refugees. The United Nations estimates that the number of internally and externally displaced persons is at it's highest rate since the days of World War II.

This huge influx of people seeking refuge in Europe has put a tremendous political strain on the cohesion and unity of the European Union while being exploited by right wing nationalists and xenophobes for domestic political gain. The growth in Islamist fundamentalist terrorism and ideology has led to a heightened level of tension in Western cities with significant Muslim populations and an appalling wave of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice.  

The political instability in the Middle East is having an impact on the wider world. There have been far too many outbreaks of war in the Middle East whether it be Arab-Israeli military clashes such as Lebanon in 1982 or again in 2006 or the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. Then of course there has been the Iraq War of 2003 and the uprisings and counter-responses in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Egypt. The Syrian Civil War preceded a 15 year clash in Lebanon. The emergence of the Islamic State is in many ways the final nail in the coffin for a region plagued by nation state conflict, rivalry and sectarianism.

In many ways the situation in the Middle East is reminiscent of Europe during WWI and WWII. With the recent dire EU referendum campaign in the UK the spotlight has been on how the European Union is at a critical juncture. Just when the project of uniting the disparate nation states of Europe in peace, mutual trust and respect seems to have run out of steam for now, the vision, institutions and values of the EU are needed now more than ever in the Middle East.

The Treaty of Rome, officially the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community (EEC), is an international agreement that led to the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC) the forerunner to today's European Union. It was signed on 25 March 1957 by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany and came into force on 1 January 1958. The Treaty of Rome proposed the progressive reduction of customs duties and the establishment of a customs union. It proposed to create a single market for goods, labour, services, and capital across the EEC's member states. It also proposed the creation of common transport and agriculture policies and a European social fund and established the European Commission.

In 1951, the Treaty of Paris was signed, creating the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the first step on the road to creating the European Union. The Treaty of Paris was an international treaty based on international law, designed to help reconstruct the economies of the European continent, prevent war in Europe and ensure a lasting peace. The original idea was conceived by Jean Monnet, a senior French civil servant and it was announced by Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister, in a declaration on 9 May 1950.

The aim was to pool Franco-West German coal and steel production, as the two raw materials were the basis of the industry (including war industry) and power of the two countries. The proposed plan was that Franco-West German coal and steel production would be placed under a common High Authority within the framework of an organisation that would be open for participation to other European countries.

The underlying political objective of the European Coal and Steel Community was to strengthen Franco-German cooperation and banish the possibility of war. Seven decades later Europe has enjoyed it's longest stretch of peace and prosperity in the history of the troubled continent.  

Just as statesmen and diplomats, thinkers and business people came together in the aftermath of such terrible destruction and carnage on the European continent and vowed to forge an new order and framework which would eliminate war and nation state rivalry and nationalism, so too now must the governments and peoples of the Middle East join together, pool their sovereignty, move beyond ethno-nationalism and sectarianism and enter into an organisation which binds together the economies and societies of the region so they have to work together rather than wage war.

Sovereignty could and should be shared and pooled in the fields of economics, culture, education, transport, a single Middle East market for the free movement of people, services, capital and goods enhancing trade, people to people contact, mutual respect and trust.

The regional status quo can no longer hold, indeed it has already collapsed. What would make this Middle Eastern Union even more powerful and transformative would be the inclusion of Israel as well. A radical step which would necessitate the recognition of Israel and establishment of diplomatic relations with the other Arab countries and a resolution of the Israel/Palestine issue. A tall order but if Germany and France could bury their bitter, centuries old enmity, then there is hope for the Israelis and Palestinians.

Tags: Middle East