“Open up the borders” [Archives:2003/667/Opinion]

September 11 2003

Of all the leading Arab intellectuals of prominence that one listens to these days on television, Ghassan Salamah, the erstwhile Lebanese Minister of Culture (and thanks God a survivor in the UN HQ bomb attack in Baghdad) is perhaps one of the most impressive. In a recent interview in the Al-Arabiyah Satellite TV Channel, Dr. Salamah was asked what he views as the most effective solution to most of the ills confronting the Arab nation in all spheres. With very little hesitation or thought Mr. Salamah plainly said: “open up the borders between the Arab states for the free movement of people, capital, expertise and assets”. There is indeed a lot of wisdom in that. He confirms this by noting that the Arab states have so much in common between them keeping the sovereign status of the independent Arab states so rigidly defined by impregnable borders that do not allow the flow of people, assets and ideas between the states is baseless and inexcusable.
In historical retrospect it is well known, even our parents' generation that there were really no set borders between the Arab states and even Moslem states. This observer recalls the famous Arab poet, Ahmed Al-Hadhrani, the father of the famous Yemeni poet and patriotic personality, Mr. Ibrahim Al-Hadhrani (and grandfather of Ms Bilquis Al-Hadhrani). The patriarch Hadhrani used to travel from Indonesia to the Atlantic Coastline without any legal documents to speak of except his name. He was not subjected to any hindrances or obstruction as he journeyed from one country to another over the span of his 120 years of life. He was famous throughout the Islamic World for his dissertation of poetry of all the famous poets in the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods and of grandiose tales in the courts of the Sultans, Kings and Presidents that ruled the different countries he went to. There were also many Arabs who were able to relocate in other Arab countries, depending on the shift of the economic and or political tide at home. This general free flow of people was an important cushion against economic and social degradation and more importantly an important source for the movement of ideas and cultural heritage, as well as the propagation of Islam.
It is worth noting that even during the days when the colonial powers divided their influences or dominions in the Arab World and the Islamic World, there was still substantial free movement of peoples between the different areas of the Moslem and Arab World.
However, when the independence of most of the states that make up the Arab and Islamic World was attained, the achievement of sovereignty not only led to the closure of whatever regional breakdowns that might have been around in these areas, but set up newly drawn borders, which even led to further splits among peoples and tribes. This was a serious drawback to achieving uniform progress and development for the Arabs in particular and the Moslems in general. Much of the pain and social unrest that currently exists in the Arab and the Moslem Worlds is attributed to this rigid enforcement of borders. In addition these borders, in part, derived from imaginary lines delineating the spheres of influence of domination enjoyed by the former colonialists for the most part have nothing to do with demographic or ethnic considerations. Moreover they do not have any approval from the people that matter the most – the dwellers of these make-shift countries, who would have surely objected to the break-up of kin and clan and former regional economic and cultural ties.
Thus, Mr. Salamah hit the nail right on the head when he suggested that the Arabs in their present fragmented “sovereign” arrangements would never see any resolution of the problems they are facing. These sovereign arrangement do not serve any real tangible sovereign interests to speak of, and in fact encourage these sovereign states to look outside the Arab World for expertise, resources or capital when in fact these resources abundantly available within the Arab World. With the Iraqi and Palestine situations as clear evidence, it is obvious that the continued division of the Arab World into meaningless sovereign entities is actually working against the protection of our cultural and social heritage as well as the rapid depletion of the scarce valuable (and irrecoverable) combined resources of the Nation, before the Arab Nation is able to make any substantial gains in development by the proper utilization and allocation of these resources.
It is not meaningful anymore for Arab states to insist on maintaining rigid sovereign status, especially when that status can be so easily taken away, as Iraq and Palestine so clearly have shown. In fact, this status quo is bound to prove more painful than resourceful for the people involved and surely the Arab people from Mauritania to the Hormuz Strait will applaud any move towards the removal of these artificial and self-defeating lines. The Arab Leaders who diligently work towards the erasure of these imaginary lines will stand to be remembered not just by their own domestic constituents but by the Nation as a whole.