At the Edges of the Arab World:

Latecomers in Regionalism and the Construction of Trans-regional and -national Spaces

Abstract for the Conference on "Cognitive Capital & Spaces of Mobility", Gšteborg, November 1 & 2, 2008

This presentation concentrates on the emergence and production of new regional structures in and around the Middle East and North Africa in an era of intensified globalisation. Real developments as well as new conceptualizations have led to an understanding of regionalisation as a complex, non-linear, multiscalar and multidirectional, fuzzy phenomenon where inter- and trans-national flows of goods, people and capital intertwine with processes of institutionalisation of regional integration areas and the mental and discursive rebuilding of meta-geographies.

The Arab world is known for long debates on Pan-Arab political and economic unity., However until the 1990s none of the integration projects showed any sustainable success. Instead, the region belonged to those parts of the world where regionalisation (and especially institutionalised regionalism) lagged and remained at very low levels. This contrasts with the formation of a - however vaguely defined - Arab or MENA meta-geographical unit in the world-wide perception of politicians, journalists or researchers, obscuring alternative regional belonging and ties.

This presentation refers to own research findings on North-Western Africa (especially Morocco) as well as to preliminary ideas from a newly begun project on the south-eastern part of the Arab peninsula (especially Oman). Commonly placed in the Arab world and in the MENA region, the western and eastern edges of this area were always linked to other regions and nowadays are eagerly developing their "own" regions at the cross-roads of several well-established world meta-regions. These regional processes will be illustrated with examples of promoting economic links, of institutionalisation processes on bilateral, multilateral and transnational levels and of reviving and constructing historical myths of commercial and political unity. So, for example, whereas Morocco forges trans-Mediterranean as well as trans-Saharan connections, and progressively allows subnational entities to establish and develop their own trans-border relations, Oman is looking south and east towards the Indian Ocean rim, including its bordering seas and vast hinterland. Whereas Oman refers to its history as a seafaring nation, Morocco, for example, remembers its former Trans-Saharan caravan trade. Concomitantly, informal and clandestine flows of goods and people contribute to several "trans-state regionalisations" from below .