This paper draws on the economic and political sciences literature to examine the possibility that the Arab Spring could bring the region out of the past vicious circle by which regional integration is stalled by political tensions and the latter are exacerbated by the lack of integration. This analysis suggests that the outcome depends on a number of factors, among which democracy plays a major role. Arguments based on the relationship between human capital and the development of democracy are put forward to support the likelihood of a virtuous circle developing.


Political tensions and failed economic integration are two major features of the Arab region. While Arab countries rarely break records or win gold medals in Olympic or other worldwide competitions, they hold three uncontested records in terms of regional integration. First, efforts to integrate regionally were started earlier than in any other developing region in the world (the Convention for Facilitating Trade and Regulating Trade Transit was signed in 1953). Second, Arab countries have signed the highest number (over 20) of regional or sub-regional integration agreements (e.g. the 1964 Arab Common Market, the 1989 Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), the 1998 Pan-Arab Free Trade Agreement (PAFTA), etc.). Beside such regional agreements, Shukair (1986) reports the existence of 11 specialized agencies concerning oil, agriculture, finance, communications, etc., and 21 sectoral agreements covering manufacturing and services. Third, almost none of these agreements was effectively implemented.

In spite of the fact that the number of ‘hot’ intra-Arab wars has been very limited since the Second World War, political tensions between Arab states have been omnipresent (e.g. between Syria and Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, Morocco and Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), etc.). For instance, the Algerian– Moroccan border has been closed since 1994. The relationships between Syria and Iraq have, in general, been troublesome, reflecting political and ideological differences between the two Ba’th regimes (Kienle 1990). The situation worsened with Syria’s support for Iran during the Iran–Iraq War. Saudi Arabia’s relations with Qatar and the UAE are still poisoned by claims over certain territories (Kamrava 2011). These are examples of political tensions that contribute to the blocking of regional integration initiatives. At the same time, surveys conducted in both Maghreb (Martinez 2006; Martinez et al. 2008, 2009) and Mashrek (Sawani 2012) show that a majority of respondents consider Arab integration a good response to globalization and to the risk of marginalization of their economies and societies. The respondents also point to political will, lack of democracy and tensions between Arab countries as major obstacles to regional integration in the Arab world. Hence, the Arab region witnesses a vicious circle linking the lack of integration and high political tensions between states, i.e. integration is stalled by political tensions and the latter are exacerbated by a lack of integration.

Read full text here  Inter-State Tensions and Regional Integration- Could the Arab Spring Initiate a Virtuous Circle


Arab integration

Political tensions

Arab Spring



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