The Elusive Search for Arab Unity

October 19, 1990

Report Outline
Special Focus


Iraq's invasion of Kuwait has created deep divisions in the Arab world. Although many Arabs resent the presence of foreign troops in the region, they have not united behind Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. And no matter how the crisis is resolved, it is likely to leave the Arab states divided. Some observers even believe the Persian Gulf crisis could result in the dream of Arab unity being finally put to rest.

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On Aug. 2, when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait, he got little support from his Arab neighbors. It's not that they didn't have some sympathy for Saddam's economic complaints—that Kuwait had been conducting economic warfare against Iraq by draining more than its share of oil from a field that was mostly in Iraqi territory and by exceeding its production quota. Indeed, the poorer Arab countries like Jordan and Syria have long despised and envied the wealth of the gulf countries and were happy, in that regard, to see Kuwait get its comeuppance.

But the Arab world didn't buy Saddam's claim that he was only retaking territory that colonial powers had removed from Iraq decades ago. After all, the borders of most of the countries in the region, including Iraq's, were drawn in the same fashion as Kuwait's. So if the origin of Kuwait's borders justified aggression, then most states in the Middle East were vulnerable to similar predations. Accordingly, virtually every other Arab government initially condemned Iraq's invasion.

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