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Is Arab Unity Dead?

US President Donald Trump's disdain for multilateralism makes it even more likely that Arab governments will continue cooperating with regional allies on key issues rather than trying to reach a broader consensus within the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council. And the already slim prospects for Arab unity will fade even further.

BEIRUT – Historically, the task of promoting multilateralism in the Middle East has rested with two institutions: the League of Arab States, a broad alliance for collaboration on political, economic, and cultural issues, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which deals mainly with economic matters. Despite the differences in their history, focus, and membership, both bodies were intended to serve as vehicles for ensuring Arab unity on crucial issues – such as opposing Israel – and avoiding conflict among member states.

For decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rallied Arab countries around the common cause of supporting Palestinian statehood. But since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, three far more divisive issues have come to the fore: the perceived threat posed by Iran, the spread of regional terrorism, and the rise of political Islam (or Islamism).

These developments have ruptured traditional alliances and created much more fluid patterns of multilateral cooperation in the region. And current Western policy toward the Middle East – in particular that of the United States – is likely to reinforce this trend.

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