Millions of Arabs dreamed of smashing down the border fences erected by the British and French colonists to achieve unity, from Morocco in the west to the Gulf states in the east.
All the ingredients seemed to be there as energetic young leaders took power: shared religion, language, history and culture - and a craving for a return of Arab self-esteem.
But surely today it can be no more than a handful of starry-eyed idealists who still cling to the dream of Arab unity.
Half a century or more of inter-government jealousy, rivalry and war have long buried that dream in the minds of most Arabs.
The start of the popular uprisings in 2011 - the Arab spring - raised expectations again, not of Arab unity, but of something that would still come close to meeting popular aspirations.
The overpowering urge to remove dictators from power was driven to a large extent by that same desire for dignity and self-esteem.
The new regimes, it was recognised, would not break down the colonial borders, it was too late for that.
But the hope was that they would at least work together in the common cause of facing shared regional challenges: Israel, the plight of Palestinians, inequality in wealth distribution, youth unemployment, failing education systems, paltry intra-Arab investment, and so on.
Even in the one corner of the Middle East where there is a regional body, the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC - comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), there are fresh challenges.
Formed in 1981 as Britain withdrew from the Gulf, the GCC has failed to achieve its most ambitious targets of economic integration and the establishment of a credible joint defence capability. But today it faces unprecedented discord:
Further afield, the list continues:
Against this background it will be surprising if many Arab heads of state feel enthusiastic about attending the next summit in Kuwait (Syria is already suspended from the Arab League). An agenda that took into account even a fraction of the above grievances is unimaginable.
Unity has been off the table for many years. Today, meaningful intra-regional co-operation, too, is looking like a distant prospect.
This leaves individual Arab states to cope alone as best they can with the range of challenges facing the Middle East - that is when the regimes are not preoccupied with fighting for their interests in the maelstrom of regional disputes.
[By Gerald Butt]