Economic blocs and unions have been one of the most important — yet difficult — issues facing countries, which have tried to overcome this through mutual cooperation. They have also tried to take advantage of opportunities available to them to surmount economic and trade challenges, which are getting complicated by the day in every corner of the world.
Undoubtedly, successful economic unions are backed by a solid economic base that links the interests of all parties within it. Among such coming together of countries, the European Union is the most prominent and successful example.
When founded early 1950s, the bloc included only six countries creating the so-called the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), before gradually developing into a common market and then into the European Union with a single currency more than fifty years after taking the first step towards shared interests.
The Middle East experience
The Arab experiences, however, are moving in the opposite direction. They started from the top and have moved towards the bottom. Arab political unions have failed almost instantly and left frustrations and setbacks in their wake, because of which these countries are still suffering as they had depended more on sentiments rather than facts and economic interests.
For example, the United Arab Republic (the defunct political union of Egypt and Syria) was proclaimed at the end of 1950s/early 1960s and then proceeded to collapse spectacularly. This is in addition to the experience of former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, who established a union between Libya, Egypt and Sudan in the 1970s.
In the same pattern, the Yemeni unification, which is no different from the previous two Arab experiences, can be classified as an unbalanced union. It was established in 1990 between the Yemen’s north and south for political interests and based on a fragile economic ground, which led to a fast collapse in 1994 after a civil war that led to the escape of then Vice-President Ali Salem Al-Beidh, who was President of South Yemen.
A recipe for war
Luckily, the two previous Arab experiences had ended peacefully and without a war. However, some Yemeni parties are trying to blame some other Arab countries for their failure, forgetting that their union failed in 1994 and not now. Yemen was united forcibly under the hegemony of the former president, his army and tribal influence.
Therefore, being governed by emotions and compulsorily continuing the union will cost Yemenis a lot in material and human loss. Instead, they have to be logical.
Yemen can return to the situation before 1990 and establish a new solid economic ground. It can develop a free-trade zone, a customs union and a common market to unify economic policies between the north and south and then move in coordination on other issues.
Such an approach does not underestimate the Yemenis or their aspirations for unity. Yet, they have to realise emotions do not build states, but shared interests as well as the conviction of all parties who believe their interests are achieved through a union and its joint projects. And not vice versa.
Take up such a practical approach and show people how useful a union would be, especially the benefits they will make through economic cooperation included higher living standards, job creation and accelerated growth rates.
Unfortunately, this has not been achieved in the Arab experiences, including the Yemeni one. What happened was the other way round due to wars that resulted from disputes between power centres and the dissatisfaction of influential social groups.
It’s a fact that all Arabs, including those in the Gulf, wish Yemen every success and hope to see a modern and economically advanced state. And they are ready to extend a helping hand as they always do.
This will depend on whether Yemenis will move in the right direction and stop blaming others for their mistakes. It will also depend on addressing mistakes and resolving pending issues in a spirit of tolerance and objectivity, taking into account the interests of all segments of Yemeni society.
Dr Mohammad Al Asoomi is a UAE economic expert and specialist in economic and social development in the UAE and the GCC countries.