In the period of globalization and simultaneous regionalization of the international economic relations system, researchers and practitioners are discussing the efficiency of the world’s different parts economic integration. The Middle East is no exception in this respect. Moreover, it seems at first sight that every prerequisite for this is in place: a common ethnicity (for the Arab countries), a common religion (for all countries, except Israel, despite differences between denominations of Islam), and a largely common recent past (the majority of the region’s states are relatively new political entities that emerged after the collapse of the European empires and their colonial systems). However, at the turn of the third decade of the 21st century, the use of the region’s integration potential remains fairly weak.
In this paper, we will review the integration potentialities of states in the Middle East. The inclusion of three major non-Arab regional players (Iran, Turkey, and Israel), as some scholars are trying to do, complicates the picture to such an extent that any discourse becomes purely theoretical and divorced from reality. That said, in terms of economy, these countries’ potential could certainly make the regional integration group more stable and important.
It is common knowledge that during the past few decades Arab countries have made several attempts to achieve political and economic integration. Both domestic and foreign experts have written many analytical papers dedicated to these processes. In this context, there is no need to analyse the functioning of the Greater Arab/Pan-Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA/PAFTA), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU). Notably, as Egyptian expert Ahmed Ghoneim suggests, these specialists may be divided into two groups: those that proceed from gravity models (models of mathematical analysis of international trade) and believe that the potential of intraregional trade in the Middle East has reached its peak; and those that use cross-industry estimates and argue that, despite certain achievements, the existing integration potential is far from fully used. In principle, most domestic and foreign experts tend to be in the second group.