I have been thinking about the arab world a lot after coming to America. I have met a lot of Arabs here mainly from African Arab countries who are quite humble and very open minded. Contrasting the Arab world with India we see the Indians have a variety of cultures, languages and religions (though Hindus still form a majority) whereas the Arabs speak Arabic (different dialects) and also follow the same religion yet they are fractured on mainly colonial demarcations.
Saudi Arabia is the defacto "head" of the Arab world and the muslim world. They are ruled by two groups. The House of Saud and the Ulema. Where the royal family ensure that materialism thrives, the Ulemas ensure that the religious doctrine according to their
interpretation (Muwahiddun)is imposed. So all in all we have a very materialistic yet religious state. Kuwait is more or less the same but again Kuwait is ruled by two groups. The Sabahs and the Parliament. The power of the fundamentalists is weaker than in Saudi Arabia making Kuwait more liberal but most of the power still lies with the Sabahs. Kuwait has had the good fortune of having a more open minded royal family as compared to the Wahabis but again this depends on the individual ruling the country.
Lets zoom out and look at the Arab world now. What will it take for them to come together and function like a massive unit like it is in India. The religion is not an impediment because Islam dictates that all muslims are one. So what are the impediments? Why is the Arab world so divided when they have so much in common? When Europe is trying to come together as the EU why wont the Arabs come together?
One reason is loyalties to ones tribe. In Kuwait a miniscule country, lower level parliamentary elections were put off because Kuwaitis would vote on the tribe level and thus undermine Kuwait as a whole. The other I would think is the lack of separation between the religion and the state. Why does religion need to be separate from the state? Because far from being one single sect, Sunnis can be divided into
1) Hanafi (Turkey, Pakistan, the Balkans, Central Asia, Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan, China and Egypt)
2) Maliki (North Africa, the Muslim areas of West Africa, and several of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf)
3) Shafi'i (Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Egypt, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Yemen and southern parts of India)
4) Hanbali (Arabia).
By the lack of separation of state and religion these divisions manifest themselves in the state thus giving each a different identity.
The third reason is authoritarian regimes. None of the countries in the Arab world are a democracy. The division amongst the Arabs is what keeps "the powers that be" in power and therefore everything will be done to maintain this power.
With a population of 325 million people, straddling two continents Arabs are a people with great potential for power and development and it is a tragedy to see the same people live under the illusion of being so different.