Middle East Federation - A New Beginning

April 05, 2017

Middle East Federation – A New Beginning


Leo Gher

            A Middle Eastern union of nations allied with a central government is not a new idea. There have been numerous attempts. British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden asked for Arab unity during the 1940s. King Abdullah of Jordan and Prime Minister Nuri al-Said of Iraq proposed the establishment of the League of Arab States in 1945. There were others – the United Arab Republic, the Arab Federation, and the Federation of Arab Republics – ultimately, most failed. All were led by elites, dictators or monarchs, and were designed to be against something (British, Americans, Israel) or for gobbling up something (a smaller neighbor). Some, however, were successful: the United Arab Emirates and the unification of North Yemen and South Yemen are examples. The current Arab League of 22 autocracies is a federation of sorts – a confederation – but it has failed to improve the lives of its citizens or solve the never-ending violence that haunts the region. The League’s founding documents assert all the principals of egalitarianism, but its deep-rooted aim is to maintain the status of the powers that be. “… until democracy is the mainstay of the Arab world, the League will continue to struggle with issues of legitimacy.”[1]

            Unlike the EU, which is a confederation, the proposed structure for the Middle East Federation (MEF) should be a federal system. Until Arab nations agree to sacrifice some sovereignty, nothing can be achieved.[2]  Fundamentally, the MEF can only arise from popular movements, like those that flourished during the Arab Spring. Once given birth, nascent alliances must have a secure place to land (the MEF).  

            Each new member-state emerging from the chaos would benefit from the well-designed, predetermined structure of a federal republic with elected representatives and leaders. To gain entry members would be required to sign off on the essential conditions of civil society. Initially, the prerequisites might seem difficult in the face of long-held tradition and culture, but the rewards would great. Each would enjoy the immediate financial backing of international institutions, which would steady the economy and provide jobs during a transition period. Neutral, stabilizing forces would provide security and safety for the various communities in conflict, and all would experience a quick de-escalation of deadly confrontations and the ruinous degradation of public infrastructures. In sum, all incoming members would be able to avoid the pitfalls of present-day illiberal democracies of the Middle East.

            Institutions that provide assistance in forming the Middle East Federation are already in place. Based in Ottawa, Ontario, the Forum of Federations supports fragile states in post-conflict situations with the purpose of advancing democracy. The Forum runs training programs that address local enfranchisement and governance challenges. In 1999, the Canadian Government founded the organization, and at present, it has nine other affiliate nations.[3] 

Understandably, regional economic revitalization goes hand in hand with an emerging MEF. In October 2010, the World Economic and Financial Surveys found that greater integration with international markets would deliver a significant lift to the income and growth of Middle Eastern countries.[4] Economic criteria for entry would include subsidy reforms in energy allocation and agriculture products, new rules for banking and taxation, and free-market restructurings for the distribution of goods and services. Given a new lease on life, the economy would stimulate a return of foreign investment, fortify macroeconomic growth, and reduce unemployment. Furthermore, backing from the International Monetary Fund, WTO, and the World Bank would underwrite the viability of the Middle East Federation and each member-state.

            The final step for a successful changeover would be the strategic drawdown of Western military forces from Islamic lands. But who would secure a peaceful transition? Such a withdrawal seems irresponsible, even irrational. Conflict armies, tribal militias, criminal gangs and those bent on retribution would not just disappear. But repositioning Western armed forces to nearby territories would not diminish their fighting capacity to any great extent. The preferred answer, however, is to look to history. In the 1990s, the world witnessed multiple crises in the Balkans. Neutral, outside peacekeepers known as IFOR, SFOR, and KFOR, nurtured the emerging democracies through those changes.

            Most importantly, the departure of Western forces would: 1) defuse conspiracy theories about the West and send a compelling message to the Islamic civilization, 2) position our diplomats to reestablish connections with a majority of Middle Eastern peoples – not just the elites, and 3) create the psychological space needed to settle the issues between conservative and progressive Muslim ideologies worldwide.      

            In the late 1990s, I was an on-ground, Forest Gump-like observer who witnessed history in the making. I had no part in causing it happen, but I watched in awe as the Baltic and Balkan states of Eastern Europe plowed through conflicts and protests against autocratic governors. In the end, the people won, founding their democratic societies when no one thought it possible. Can it happen in the Middle East? You bet. It cannot happen all at once, of course. Perhaps two or three smaller states (Tunisia, Lebanon, Palestine?) might lead the way. It will take much diplomacy, forethought, and preparation from a global community, but the MEF is something new, worth a try, and surely better than war.


[1] Jonathan Masters and Mohammed Aly Sergie. “The Arab League”; October 21, 2014. Council

of Foreign Relations; Retrieved: April 2, 2017.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Forum of Federations.

[4] World Economic and Financial Surveys. International Monetary Fund: October 2010. Retrieved: January 31, 2017.

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