National identity in the Middle East (Written May 16, 2010)

National identity based on a pluralist, secular state with constitutional guarantees of protection for ethnic, tribal, and sectarian minorities has the greatest potential for social coherence in the Middle East. In the film Lawrence of Arabia, Colonel Lawrence makes a bold statement:

“So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people – greedy, barbarous, and cruel, as you are.”

As the peoples in the Middle East have fought tribe against tribe, Sunni against Shiite, Arab against Jew, the toll in human suffering has been catastrophic; but politically, such internal conflict has ensured that the Middle East remain backward and unable to compete with the rest of the world economically or militarily. Our text states that “Consociationalism – power-sharing, grand coalition of government, proportional representation, community autonomy and constitutional vetoes for minorities… could offer the best chance of maintaining nation-states in the region” (Milton-Edwards, 2006, p. 231). The violence in Palestine is a perfect example of what happens without consociationalism; the Palestinians were denied any meaningful means of political participation or peaceful means of change and the result has been unending violence. Iraq has an opportunity to become an example for the Middle East of cooperation and peaceful coexistence for diverse ethnic groups, with a Kurdish president and a Shiite prime minister, but such an opportunity has only come as a result of Western intervention and remains dependent on American security guarantees. Secular and pluralist nation states are the best hope for stability in the Middle East.


Milton-Edwards, B. (2006). Contemporary politics in the Middle East. Padstow, Cornwall: Polity Press.

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