The Arab Tomorrow
that might have rippled through the Arab world hadhe lived. Though many reviled him for signing apeace treaty with Israel in 1979, Egypt remained themost dynamic force in Arab affairs.Mubarak’s accession would bring an abrupt end toEgypt’s preeminence. Cautious and unimaginative,the former air force commander has never in his 29- year reign come close to filling the shoes of his pred-ecessors. Afflicted by health problems, he will turn 82in May and is not expected to reign much longer.Cairo is awash with speculation about who willreplace him. Its discontented intelligentsia is debat-ing intensely whether Egypt any longer has the wherewithal, or vision, to shape Arab policies towardan immovable Israel, a belligerent Iran, fractiousPalestinians, or an imposing America, much lessgrapple with the Islamist challenge to seculargovernments.During the Mubarak years, other voices and cen-ters have arisen, particularly on the western shores of the Persian Gulf. There, monarchies once thoughtquaint relics of Arab history—including Qatar, Oman,and the United Arab Emirates—have taken on newlife. The accumulation of massive oil wealth in thehands of kings and emirs amid soaring demand andprices over the past few decades has given birth to afar more diverse and multipolar Arab world. It hasmade possible innovations in domestic and foreignpolicy and supplied vast sums for the building of glittering, hypermodern “global cities” that lure West-ern and Asian money, business, and tourists away from Cairo. As the Mubarak era nears its end, Egyptians arenot alone in wondering whether a new and moredynamic leader will restore the nation to its centralrole and take the lead in giving the Arabs a strongerand more united voice in global affairs. Whether any Egyptian leader, or for that matter any Arab leader,can rise to lead this fragmented world will be a cen-tral issue in the years ahead. Another is whether Arabunity is any longer a desirable goal.
rabs have long shared an unusually strongsense of common identity and destiny. The Arab states, unlike those ofWestern Europe, Africa, Asia, or Latin America, are bound together by a common language and shared religion. They havea border-transcending culture rooted in 1,400 yearsof Islam, with its mem-ory of the powerfulcaliphates based in Dam-ascus and Baghdad. Withthe exception of Saudi Arabia, which escapedthe European yoke, they also share a history of fer- vent anticolonial struggle against France and Britainthat began with the crumbling of the OttomanEmpire during World War I. The Ottomans had ruledthe Arabs for nearly 500 years, deftly dividing them while governing with a relatively light hand. The Arab Revolt (1916–18) against the Ottoman Turks, led by the emir of Mecca, Sharif Hussein ibn Ali, andabetted by Britain’s legendary Lawrence of Arabia,ignited the dream of a reunified Arab nation.But the victors of World War I had different ideas.The League of Nations put the vanquished OttomanEmpire’s provinces in present-day Iraq, Syria,Lebanon, and Palestine under French and Britishmandates, giving fresh impetus to the Arab awaken-ing. During World War II the European rulers cyni-cally encouraged hopes for independence, intent onpreventing the Arabs from siding with Hitler’s Ger-many. With the war’s end in sight, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, then the region’s only independent countries, joined with four other Arab lands to raise the bannerof the League of Arab States, a new association ded-icated to ending European rule.The Arabs’ sense of common cause was jolted to anew level of intensity in 1947, when the UnitedNations approved the establishment of a Jewish statein Palestine. The ensuing war over its creation led to what Arabs call the
or disaster, meaning the
CAIRO IS AWASHwith speculation about who will replace the aging Hosni Mubarak.