One of the startling discoveries a few years ago in producing the Beirut Daily Star amid the perpetual death-dealing Israeli-Arab conflict, was that while bullets, bombs, and bombast volleyed and thundered, Lebanese smugglers galore were running big-ticket items—refrigerators to furniture—to Israeli accessories by land and sea. But, then, the Lebanese are descendants of the indefatigable Phoenician traders who, like St. Paul’s merchant father, sold regional goods for centuries all along the Mediterranean corridor and points north and south.
Traders or traitors, both parties undoubtedly are still making fortunes instead of war—undeterred by patrols, snipers, or snitches. They have known how lucrative merchandising is, beginning with the first trading posts (“souks”) on Tigris and Euphrates riverbanks for caravans freshly from North African deserts and Asia’s silk road. Not even today’s powerful European Union (EU) had such entrepreneurial roots when its six founders stepped from the devastation of World War II to provide peace on that continent that has lasted for 64 years.
They also have provided perhaps the only solution for a lasting peace in the Mideast: a return to a mutual marketplace that thrived in antiquity—and can again. Charter members of a Middle East Common Market (MECM) would be 16 nations east of the Mediterranean and the Gulf area, Turkey to the emirates and Iraq to Israel.
In early 1960, a Daily Star editorialist—plus a scholar and economist or two—repeatedly advocated this solution for the decades-old savagery between Arabs and Israelis. Soon after, even Israel’s premier Shimon Peres and U.S. President Clinton championed economics as the best and untried approach to peace—a Middle East Common Market (MECM). President Bush chimed in right after the 2003 attack and long occupation of Iraq—so long, that is, that it didn’t interfere with the U.S. seizure of the nationalized oil fields and pipelines. 
As Peres declared after the 1993 Oslo Peace Plan was signed:
“Ultimately, the Middle East will unite in a common market—after we achieve peace. And the very existence of this common market will foster vital interest in maintaining peace over the long term.” 
A year later, Clinton’s Secretary of State Warren Christopher touted the EU’s success as the region’s trade model at the Casablanca Economic Summit of Middle East and North Africa:
“…if governments here adopt free market reforms, the Middle East and North Africa will enjoy an era of economic growth that exceeds anything they have seen in this century. There is no reason why the economic miracles that are transforming parts of Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America cannot also transform this region. I can foresee a day when the 300 million people of the Middle East and North Africa, so long held back by strife and hatred, can finally join the mainstream of international commerce.” 
As for Bush, his regime’s directors had him say:
“Across the globe, free market and trade have helped defeat poverty and taught men and women the habit of liberty. So I propose the establishment of a US-Middle East free trade area within a decade to bring the Middle East into an expanding circle of opportunity, to provide hope for the people who live in that region. We will work with our partners to ensure that small and mid-sized businesses have access to capital, and support efforts in the region to develop central law on property rights and good business practices.” 
The West’s Control Efforts
That was the broad hint any such organization would be quietly controlled by Western powers—especially the U.S.—and particularly those balloon-loan bastions of “disaster capitalism,” the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Many victims of their alluring blandishments probably issued an “if-only” sigh about their smashed dreams of a MECM.
Now, the EU was founded amid the bloody rubble of Europe’s three major wars from 1870-1946, basically fought by France and Germany to possess coal and iron ore deposits in Alsace-Lorraine. It led to 77,798,559 combat casualties and millions of civilians over that 76-year period. Survivors were condemned to homelessness, poverty, starvation, disease, and lifetime physical and mental disabilities. Property losses in today’s dollars were estimated to be $470,628,000,000 for World War I, and nearly $2 trillion for World War II. Business losses from those wars seemingly have been too vast and too unknown to be calculated. 
To prevent another cataclysm, six economically shrewd and powerful men in 1949 were to prevail over militarists, the machismonic, jingoist politicians, and Europe’s munitions industry. French foreign minister Robert Schuman and adviser Jean Monnet conceived what was to become today’s EU: the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). It was launched in 1952 as a free trade and visa-free plan for charter members France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg. 
The ECSC operated above and beyond control of its national governments. It ended trade and travel and residential barriers. And it pooled labor from members and outsiders for its mines and factories by offering attractive wages and benefits. Governance was by a European-elected Common Assembly (today’s EU parliament) and “High Authority” (executive commissions). Its international court enforced policy and penalties. In 1957, it morphed into the Common Market (aka, the European Economic Community—the ECC) and added agricultural goods and nuclear power under its widening umbrella. By 1993, it became the EU which today has 28 nations using a common currency (the Euro), permits open borders for workers and tourists, and a bank capable of lending billions to members and metes out tough discipline to defaulters. It took eight treaties over the years to iron out commercial disputes. High profits and European privileges and, most of all, another European Armageddon has buttressed this confederation and enforced obedience to rules and regulations by threats of expulsion. 
It follows that if the EU has kept the peace between two historically bitter, critical, and suspicious enemies for three score and four years—and become the America’s commercial rival—why wouldn’t a common market do the same for the Mideast’s equally bitter, critical, and suspicious peoples? The wars since Israel’s 1948 creation have cost 79,696 and 7,948 casualties to Arabs and Israelis, respectively, and initially displaced 1,000,000 Arabs after 1948 alone. Today, the count is multi-millions. In the last 20 years of wars, the cost is estimated at $12,000,000,000, seemingly benefitting only the world’s weapon manufacturers , suppliers, and cunning vendors. In mid-August, Western military experts were predicting a “long war” with sporadic cease-fires for belligerents to reload. U.S. Gen. David Petraeus’s counter-insurgency adviser was among American hawks and military industry anticipating such a baleful future. Learning of such a prediction, Tom Hayden, the famous U.S. anti-war leader, wrote:
“…Long War theorists have projected an 80-year military conflict with militant Islam over an ‘arc of crisis’ spanning multiple Muslim countries. Starting with 9/11, the Long War would continue through 20 presidential terms.” 
Without a MECM in place, that bleak and bloody forecast could come true. Unfortunately, nothing like it has ever materialized beyond empty words. Each time a promising regional economic confederation has surfaced in Middle East circles, the U.S. and its financial cohorts have either strangled it or left the job to their pawns to do it by benign neglect. That’s been Western policy since 1918 when the British and French carved the Ottoman Empire into artificial states. They put puppet kings and dictators in charge to ensure possession of oil resources—and up to 1956, the Suez Canal for oil transit to global customers. Just as the British-propped Raj protected their colonial “interests” for three centuries, most Mideast rulers have known better than to oppose such “interests” lest like Saddam and Maliki in Iraq and Assad in Syria, they are deposed or dead.
Past Impotent Conferences
The past half-century has been littered with evidence of Western noses under Mideast tents at those lavish economic conferences. Plenipotentiaries and princes strut, sup, and sport in sumptuous settings, then dramatically sign empty trading agreements for the record—and cameras. Who can forget such “substantive” meet-ups and pacts as these:
• 1953: Agreement on Trade Facilitation and Regulating Transit Trade
• 1964: Council of Arab Economic Unity.
• 1993: Middle East Free Trade Area Plan (MEFTA).
• 1994: Attempt to institute a MENA Bank.
• 1995: US-Israeli Free Trade Agreement with Israel, Jordan, Egypt,
• 1996: Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ).
• 1997: Greater Arab Free Trade Area.
• 2000: U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement.
• 2003: Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).
• 2004: Various Bi-Tri-Lateral Free Trade Agreements.
• 2006: Pan-Arab Free Trade Area
• 2010: Close Neighbors Economic and Trade Association Council
for free-trade and visa-free region (CNETAC).
• 2014: Middle East Commercial Center (MECC), a U.S. Chamber
of Commerce creation for private development. 
It’s difficult not to conclude that the only beneficiaries of these meetings have been hotels, restaurants, private “clubs,” casinos, and chauffeurs in host cities: Casablanca, Amman, Cairo, Doha, Istanbul, or Beirut, Geneva, London, and Paris.
By stark contrast, the EU had a simple birth during May 1949 in Jean Monnet’s modest garden. He and Schuman and four others sat at a table and “with neither instructions nor an agenda,” under a no-holds-barred protocol, brainstormed and hammered out a marketing institution to prevent World War III. As one of the four recalled:
“There were three themes: Franco-German relations; coal and steel…and supranational authority…[and] the merging of markets instead of an interventionist organization [i.e., U.S. controlled]. Monnet created a style that was without precedent. No translation. No minutes. Agreement on one point was not dependent on agreement on another…there was no conditionality…[We] were not afraid to argue in front of the others. It was not in order to flaunt any disagreement: it was research that we made a point of conducting openly.” 
Other critical trading issues were smoothed out as they occurred in later years, but the basic framework for today’s marketing powerhouse emerged and has endured. Their agenda was almost instantly implemented, thanks to alliances with influential French and West German business and industrial leaders. No tariffs and the pick of Europe’s sizable labor force meant high profits. Their financial engines and clout rolled past the political mighty and influential such as France’s jingoist, xenophobic president General Charles De Gaulle and West Germany’s wise and flinty chancellor Konrad Adenauer. The ECSC took off almost from the start, electrifying both cynics and cheerleaders. Its success fed on success and, then, began to be replicated in other parts of a recovering, war-weary world. Two Turkish economists described the phenomena:
“More than two-thirds of word trade today is estimated to be accounted for by regional economic projects. Among the expected benefits…[is promotion of] international trade and investments, hence accelerating economic growth. In addition, free trade and economic integration help reduce political conflicts and tension between neighboring countries, hence contributing to international peace and stability.” 
No-Nonsense, Purpose Required From Creators
The same confederation is possible in the Middle East if a handful of their no-nonsense, men and women who are marketing movers and shakers decide to follow suit. What if, say, a Beirut banker, a Turkish industrialist, a Saudi oil manager gathered four others and, without pomp and posturing, created a simple, yet powerful, regionalexport organization. What if they also barred infiltrators or influence, loans or training from Western “interests” or pressures from the regional Raj?
Selecting a Saudi export manager as a MECM founder is obvious because of the country’s long and successful experience in global oil and natural gas marketing. The choice also would open the conduit to start-up capital from the Saudis and other oil-rich Gulf nations.
Why a Beirut banker and a Turk industrialist?
Beirut is still the Mideast’s principal banking center, historically capital’s refuge whenever neighboring nations have been rocked by political or economic upheavals. Today, Beirut has 10 banks “with a significant presence domestically and overseas,” 10 foreign banks including those from Paris, Rome, and Kuwait, and 28 local institutions. “Banking locally” would free a MECM from the rapacious grip of the U.S. or other major financial houses such as Goldman Sachs, the Bank of England, and both the IMF and World Bank.
Beirut also has the region’s central and largest port. A world-class shipping center, it has six docks, 98 storage silos, 12 mammoth warehouses, a new container terminal, 24 gantry cranes, and parking for 500 vehicles. The facility’s equipment is state-of-the-art and well maintained, and personnel are well trained and experienced. Best of all, the harbor is a duty-free zone and near all those banks. 
The Turkish founder comes from the region’s only heavy-industrialized country. Turks know the territory well because the Ottoman Empire governed it with an iron hand for centuries (1300-1922). More than 6,000 years ago—when most of EU’s ancestors had barely climbed out of caves and bogs—Turkey was a key player in a thriving Middle East “common market,” buying and selling goods to and from the region. But thwarted since 2005 from joining the EU despite spending millions fulfilling its 35 requirements, Turkey’s leaders have begun turning to this familiar region for economic benefits and to present a neutral voice among Arabs and Israelis. Its pipelines move oil from Iran and Iraq to the Mediterranean. Underwater pipelines will send water, oil, and natural gas to Israel. It also has partnered with Saudi Arabia and Libya to export everything from metal products to chemicals and processed foods. This directional shift has drawn notice in major marketing circles. A Spanish observer commented:
“The bilateral economic relations between Turkey and the…Middle East…have been transformed into a dense and increasingly solid network, comprised of public- and private-sector companies (especially small- and medium-sized enterprises) chambers of commerce, business associations, municipalities, governors, think tanks, universities, NGOs, etc. The explicit objective of the authorities and the implicit objective of the other socioeconomic stakeholders, is to promote a growing and complex economic interdependence that enables shared development, prevents conflict through fluid dialogue at all levels, and allows for the development, by the region’s states, of possible common futures.” 
In keeping alive the purposeful spirits in Monnet’s garden, a setting for designing a MECM should not be an opulent hostelry, say, in Abu Dhabi. Instead, why not one with few creature comforts like my family’s isolated Meldal compound three miles on foot above the fjords of northern Norway. The test of sincerity to the cause would be suffering through snow, sub-zero temperatures, a midnight sun, bunks and benches, lutefisk, and no electronic devices. “Roughing it” might be a first for these framers, but force them to get down to business.
“First Things First” was the credo for Monnet’s team to keep priorities on track for their momentous achievement. It would be an equally ideal credo for MECM founders. That would mean total focus on export trading with a brief glance at future key needs such as instituting a parliament, policy enforcement, and a common currency. Kept off the agenda, therefore, would be a long list of Mideast issues: reparations, renewables, women’s rights, humanitarian fights, terrorism, unionism, electrification, discrimination, education, desalination and security. All are highly important, but divisive, time-wasting distractions.
The first two items on the agenda would have to entail nations merging similar products and a system for dividing expenses and profits. Next, would be lining up truck, rail, and ship vendors. Once those decisions were made, it would be headhunting for two vital personnel areas: an incorruptible, hard-eyed chief financial officer with the soul of Geneva banker to ensure honesty of all operations; and a crackerjack sales team with a knack for locating niche markets. Then would come the policing of tariff-free zones and transit routes to Beirut, followed by obtaining and retaining top-quality, loyal employees with more than tying wages to cost-of-living increases. Should benefits be offered such as profit-sharing, single-payer health care, and generous pensions? 
Immediate implementation of the plans should echo Monnet and Schuman-like strong pitches to regional business and industrial leaders to merge products for export. If the EU has proved that the greater the size of the exporter, the greater the sales and profits, MECM’s merging of one product from several nations—e.g., fertilizer from Jordan, Kuwait, and Qatar—certainly would expand the size, variety and profits for them all.
The focus on exports rather than imports stems from widespread regional poverty. Though the customer base of the Middle East and Gulf is 402,600,000, last year’s average annual income ranged around $8,500. Most might buy heating fuel from oil-rich nations, but it’s doubtful they would buy Jordan’s potash, or Israeli software, Yemeni stamps, Turkey’s trucks, or Gaza’s carnations. 
Another drawback to inter-regional importing was cited in a major Canadian study. A key passage was:
“…Middle East countries in their respective sub regions have similar resources and production structures; accordingly, each country has a low comparative advantage with its neighbor. Although there are distinctions within the Middle East, namely oil-exporting rentier states and import-substitution industrialisation states, there tend to be few complementary trade patterns. This lack of complementing trade patterns explains why countries of the Middle East trade with the European Union….Moreover, it has been noted that for some countries the difficult physical terrain of the Middle East discourages East-West trade [within the region]…” 
Export profits in 2013 for 16 prospective member nations was a collective, eye-popping $1,353,482,000,000—this despite continuing tribal conflicts in Iraq and revolution in Syria. Most of that total was from oil countries, but those with little or none at all still earned a collective $316,103,000,000.
Consider the astronomical profits if combatants finally decided to make money instead of war. [17}
Outside of fossil fuels, some of the unified products and sources could be:
* Minerals: Lebanon, Syria • Metals: Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Turkey
* Machinery: Israel, Lebanon, Turkey
* Chemicals: Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Libya • Fertilizer: Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar
* Livestock: Iraq, Syria • Cotton: Egypt, Syria
* Textiles: Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Oman, Syria, Turkey
* Fruits/Vegetables: Gaza/West Bank, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey
* Singular goods: dried fish (Oman, Yemen); coffee (Yemen); phosphates (Jordan); wheat (Syria); metal products (Turkey); dates (Syria, Turkey); furniture (Gaza); pharmaceuticals (Jordan); jewelry (Israel, L); tobacco (Turkey, Lebanon); munitions (Israel). 
A huge labor force is available for a MECM consortium from which to select the best and brightest. Currently, the region has 105,022,500 on the job, the highest proportion (66%) in service positions. Industry ranked second (25.49%), with the remainder in working in agriculture. Knowing about this division of labor should strengthen decisions about what kind of business and industries could be expanded or left untouched. 
In this regard, what has to be worrisome for regional governments are skyrocketing unemployment levels because idleness, hunger, anger, and pride breed revolution if left unaddressed, as revealed in the Arab spring riots. In Yemen, unemployment last year was 35%; in Gaza/West Bank: 32%, Libya: 30%, Syria: 17.8%, and Iraq: 16%. The levels will rise significantly if oil prices continue their significant decline and carbon taxes sweep the globe. 
The IMF’s May report about fossil-fuel sales should make leaders of oil-rich nations tremble. In Saudi Arabia alone, nearly 20% of its work force (8,412,000) is in the oil industry. If no alternative industries replace oil, a potential “army-of-the-downsized” may overthrow the royals and their retinues. The report warned:
“Oil-exporting countries face a longer-term challenge of reducing reliance on oil. Increased oil supply from unconventional sources [i.e., fracked oil and natural gas] and rising energy efficiency are placing downward pressures on oil prices, which are also volatile due to fluctuations in expectations of global demand growth and geopolitical risks…. Economic diversification would not only reduce volatility of output and fiscal revenues, but also strengthen economic growth potential…. Extensive structural reforms would help boost confidence and tap into the region’s vast potential for high and sustained non-oil growth and jobs.“ 
Solving Unemployment by a MECM.
However, a solution could be on the way—which is where a MECM enters the picture.
For one thing, it could prod existing businesses and factory owners to step up product output. Secondly, their sales forces would be bound to discover new product opportunities for start-ups in their trips abroad. Who knew software or that sand for silicon wafers would be billion-dollar operations? Or that because few areas of the earth get as much sun as the Mideast, the possibilities are unlimited for solar-powered factories out on the desert floor to convert imported materials into new products.
Additionally, if government leaders were to cooperate with a MECM and underwrite free education from K to BA or BS, the result would be emerging generations of technocrats able to design and manufacture almost any kind of product are equally limitless. For example, those multi-generational software products could become a staple for the world’s billion computer users. Other spinoffs might be graduates founding companies packaging an array of goods: everything from school lessons, desalination systems and potash food supplements to films, clothing accessories and flash-frozen Middle East foods.
The EU founders didn’t face a deep and rigidly prescribed caste system among its ranks or religious, tribal, and gender cultures governed by fanatics. Standing armies existed, but their commanders have never dreamed of staging a governmental coup or shutting down EU operations. If such issues interfered with an employee’s work, termination was swift. Nor did that confederation tolerate overt corruption, nepotism, tax evasion, debt default, embezzlement, or blatant theft—until it began admitting nations where such crimes were accepted workplace practices.
A MECM would face all of these challenges.
The region’s social structure resembles India’s before Gandhi’s democratic reforms. Not that it has eliminated the “haves’ ’” ostracism and disdain in dealing with “have-nots”—unless they are involved with a joint moneymaking venture.
For instance, the Daily Star’s pretentious and officious business manager once called a meeting with us and the shop foreman. It was held in his impressive, Persian-carpeted office that had a private WC. Our quarters were grubby, uncarpeted, cockroached, and had paper pasted on windows to prevent glass shatterings from street shootings, stonings, or bombs. He offered us cigarettes from a pack, but tossed one to the floor for the printer; we got coffee and chairs; he got neither. Then, there was our elitist, Europhilic advertising manager. He would be chatting animatedly in Arabic with a colleague, but when we came into the room, both suddenly switched to French.
None of our polyglotal workforce—American, Canadian, French, Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi, Syrian, Yemeni, Romanian—socialized during or after work. No one ever considered asking a colleague personal questions. We all lived in different arrondissements and had far different lifestyles—and, assuredly, different political, religious, and economic views. And women staffers were expected to stay out of the print and pressroom even though we had to “close” pages. As the uncomfortable proofreader explained, “men get nervous.”
The bottom line, however, was that we all worked well together whether we were producing the publisher’s three dailies, the English-language Star, Al-Hayet, the “mother” paper, and the short-lived Le Matin. When a bomb finally exploded in the building, all hands rushed around to help each other—and then quickly returned to work so that story could make the morning editions.
That was unspoken on-the-job cooperation, actions that ignored nationality, caste rank, income level, and all those differences noted above. We were a community driven by two main purposes: doing our jobs to keep the company profitable, and saving the lives of fellow employees. If this miracle could happen in our company, it canhappen in any business, factory, or nation linked to a MECM. Also, distinctions will become blurred within MECM operations because mercantile talents outrank inherited wealth—or abject poverty, for that matter.
All that is required, as has been said, is a handful of driven, no-nonsense regionals to have the same unflinching dedication to achieve peace despite the Middle East’s bitterest hatreds, and its blood-soaked, volatile history. The EU never expected or required any participant to set aside those biases and hatreds —unless they threaten production. What it did require was a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.
Those Lebanese smugglers and Israeli accessories proved business could be done by working together despite centuries of murderous enmity.
In quite another vein, playwright George Bernard Shaw years ago in Major Barbara pointed up the immense profits and full-employment benefits of the world’s munitions industry—and its clandestine supply chain—to stoke hatreds into generating never-ending war. But the EU has shown the world—and the Middle East—that peace can be even more profitable. Ergo, quick action is essential to start a MECM lest past failings, Western “interests,” and the merchants-of-death strangle it even before it gets into a cradle.
The alternative to that “long war” is to do nothing and let the carnage continue until the region’s genocidal direction is accomplished. The EU’s long and profitable success proves that a Middle East common market is the only solution to reverse that terrifying projection. That old axiom lays down the challenge of “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” This venture’s gain ultimately is both peace and prosperity as in the olden days of souk and caravan from desert sand, “silken Samarcand and cedar’d Lebanon.”
Barbara G. Ellis is a longtime journalist (Life magazine, Washington, DC, Evening Star; the International Medical News Group), and a TruthOut, OpEdNews contributor. I’ve been a journalism professor (Oregon State University, Louisiana’sMcNeese State University) and book author, one of which was nominated for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in history (The Moving Appeal). Currently, I’m a principal of a Portland, OR, writing/PR firm.
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