It was not a particularly original idea but Robin Wright, the author of several popular books on the Middle East, imagined a remapped region in a recent New York Times essay that, inter alia, saw a break-up of several countries and the rise of 14 new political entities.

The sketch was not novel because Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, an independent Canadian writer associated with the Centre for Research on Globalisation, drafted a similar epitaph last January. Henry Ridgwell told the Voice of America in August that the civil war in Syria would threaten neighbouring states and redraw the map of the entire area for the first time in a century. Even Dr Azmi Bishara, an Israeli citizen from Nazareth and former Head of the Philosophy Department at Bir Zeit University in Palestine, shocked a University of California (Berkeley) audience back in 2007 — that is before the Arab Spring — when he anticipated “radical changes from a unipolar world to the mode of unilateralism”.

Long before these speculations, other analysts contemplated various divisions — especially of Saudi Arabia — that bordered on the hysterical, which was not uncommon.

Wright’s comical assessment started with a constant, that the modern Middle East was “in tatters” and while she concentrated on Syria, it was that country’s putative unravelling which would presumably act as a domino effect. Iraq would quickly fall apart, followed by Saudi Arabia, ostensibly to give rise to Sunni entities that would stand apart from Shiite ones. Syrian and Iraqi Sunnis, that shared tribal ties, would thus form a de facto or formal Sunnistan, while Iraq’s south would effectively become Shiitestan, with Baghdad emerging as a possible independent city-state.

Once this Mickey-mouse scenario was validated, the remaining parts of Syria, presumably subjected to sectarian and ethnic rivalries, would metastasise into an Alawistan for Alawis, a Kurdistan that merged with the Kurds of Iraq (no mention of more than 20 million Kurds in Turkey), and another city-state in the Jabal Al Druze for that minority population.

Wright then jumps across the Mediterranean, for a copious Libyan serving that envisaged the Benghazi vs Tripoli division, which historically separated Cyrenaica from Tripolitana. To spice things up, she delves into a bizarre Maghreb vs Mashriq dichotomy where there are no contradictory opinions. All Libyans are part and parcel of the Muslim world even if the Cyrenaica National Council declared its autonomy last June and Southern Fezzan tribal residents shared African traits. One can read all kinds of cultural, tribal and identity differences, even envisage Misrata as a city-state, but that would be akin to finding existential gaps between England and Wales.

The most intriguing aspects of this selective tour d’horizon of choice states — Wright conveniently overlooks Gargantuan identity problems in Iran, for example, which could easily tear that country into a half-dozen components — focused on those that apparently lacked “a sense of common good or identity”. She focuses on Yemen — a country that united in 1990 and is working through a serious National Dialogue to share power — and Saudi Arabia. According to the crystal ball under examination, “Arabs are [apparently] abuzz about part of South Yemen’s eventually merging with Saudi Arabia,” which betrays cursory knowledge of fierce Yemeni nationalist sentiments. Be that as it may, while many Yemenis are Sunnis, they tend to be spirited. Joining the Kingdom may facilitate commerce via a more direct access to the Indian Ocean, and effectively diminish dependence on the Gulf where Iran retained an ability to cut off the Straits of Hormuz, though absorbing millions of new citizens would surely threaten Saudi society.

An even more ludicrous follow-up involves “the Balkanisation of Saudi Arabia,” that apparently “faces its own (suppressed) internal divisions that could surface as power shifts to the next generation of princes”. Wright informs her reader that the Kingdom’s “unity is further threatened by tribal differences, the Sunni-Shiite divide and economic challenges,” and could easily break into the five regions: North Arabia, Western Arabia, South Arabia, Eastern Arabia and Wahabbistan. Not particularly clairvoyant and devoid of what actually united Hijazis, Najdis and others.

According to the grapevine, Saudi Arabia seemed to be “physically secured in glass high-rises and eight-lane highways, but still ha[d] disparate cultures, distinct tribal identities and tensions between a Sunni majority and a Shiite minority, notably in the oil-rich east,” which translated for our intrepid writer into insurmountable socio-economic strains. It would, of course, be absurd to deny that Saudi Arabia faced serious challenges though those were no different from what existed in most modernising societies. Yet, to leap from such evaluations to a split of a country that was painstakingly united is little more than fiction, especially since the vast majority of Saudis supported the ruling family.

Wright’s map builds on the “New Middle East” that first surfaced in June 2006 in Tel Aviv, Israel, when the then US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, proposed it to replace an even less attractive but far more imposing term, the “Greater Middle East”. Both contemplated a fresh architecture to replace the one introduced in 1916 by two imperialists, Britain’s Mark Sykes and France’s Francois Georges-Picot, who carved up the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. Their actions, classic divide and rule schemes ruined the Arab world, though the post 2010-Arab Spring was a belated first correction.

Even if few Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis and Syrians, among others, wished to recreate the ideal “Arab Nation,” it was now a foregone conclusion that the overwhelming majority wished to live in countries governed by responsive rulers. Hundreds of thousands fought to oust dictators and many are continuing with their search for transparency and accountability in their respective countries without any demands to redraw borders. To contemplate alternatives is to misread events on the ground. In fact, while true Arab nationalism may have taken a beating, it is still stronger than any tribal or religious identity. Simply stated, and though few westerners seem persuaded, the Arab quest for freedom is even more durable.

Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is the author of the recently published Legal and Political Reforms in Saudi Arabia (London: Routledge, 2013).