CULTURAL COMPETITION….Fareed Zakaria writes today about the slow, almost imperceptible emergence of voices of reform in the Arab world:

Interestingly, these voices are mainly being heard from the Persian Gulf, which has now become the center of reform in the Arab world. Dubai is far ahead of all others in terms of economic openness and efficiency. But Qatar and Bahrain are moving in the same direction with radical plans.

….Indeed, despite the stirrings in Egypt, what is most likely is an increasing divide in the Arab world between the small, nimble states on the periphery?the gulf states, Jordan, Morocco?and the slumbering giants.

Although many in the region would be dismayed by this division, it is a healthy development. Pan-Arabism, which was never more than hot air anyway, has been one of the ideologies that has kept Arabs from modernizing. Competition will force each state to focus on its own future. And as some succeed, others will follow, and regional trade and tourism?currently abysmally low?will expand.

If this is true, it’s probably both good news and bad. The good news is that it’s arguable that this kind of intra-cultural competition was responsible for the emergence of Europe as the most powerful force in the world in the 16th century and after. The bad news is that this competition took a very long time and included a lot of very bloody wars.

Can something that took Europe 500 years and millions of dead be compressed into a single more-or-less peaceful century in the Middle East? Hmmm….

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