Standard Arabic: Lingua Franca of the Arab World
Does anyone know if there's a course in the works for Standard Arabic? It's such a widely used language, and would give a good basis of understanding for the dialects and sub-dialects.
Egyptian Arabic is closer to an Arab lingua franca. In a sea of mutually unintelligible dialects, everyone watches Egyptian TV and movies- Egypt is the Hollywood of the Arabic-speaking world.
MSA is common among better-educated Arabs, but you can't guarantee on using it to get by with everyone you meet in every Arab country. Among those who are knowledgable in MSA, many will go out of their way to avoid speaking it.
You're right in saying that it's widely-used, but it's widely-used in politics and certain media. It's not widely-used as a language of everyday communication by the average person on the street.
I'll answer with a hypothetical scenario.
Imagine being forced to learn Old English at school, no matter how you felt about it. Imagine never using it in the years since you left school. Then imagine tourists coming to your home town and trying to speak this language you had to learn and haven't used for decades rather than your mother tongue.
How would you feel? A lot of us wouldn't mind, but like Arab MSA learners, there would be a lot of us who didn't do well in the subject, others who didn't enjoy it, and still more who simply prefer speaking the modern, local version of our mother tongue.
One huge hurdle people who focus on MSA as learners face when they travel is this: most people you speak to will understand you, but when they choose to respond in the local variety of Arabic (and they often will), you will barely understand a word of it.
For that analogy to work it should be pointed out newspapers, most television programmes and virtually all books are in Old English, parking tickets, ballot papers and tax returns are in Old English and the whole of the government and civil service conducts itself in Old English.
Depending on the country, of course. A great deal of media in many Arabic-speaking countries are in the local varieties of Arabic.
If you want to live an everyday life, you need a dialect. My point is that MSA is not enough to get by on, and a local variety of Arabic will always serve you better as a beginner. MSA is for reading. Local varieties are for speaking. You're going to need to learn two languages in the end, and I think it's better to start with the one that enables you to get out, talk to people and enjoy the local culture.
There will always be newspapers available in (for instance) Egyptian, there will always be local news in Egyptian and, in domestic affairs, you'll find that government conducts itself in the local vernacular, especially when dealing with non-governmental locals. Learn a dialect first and you will be able to function in the vast majority of day-to-day situations outside of the most formal. An Egyptian farmer with a grievance is not going to visit an Egyptian governmental office and speak to an Egyptian civil servant and be forced to speak in MSA.
As for 'most television programmes', you'll find that an overwhelming amount of popular Arabic movies and TV shows are produced in Egypt, and in Egyptian. National news is a notable exception.
Of course, if one's primary goals are literary and / or bureaucratic rather than interpersonal, MSA is the way to go.
Edit: I guess you've never spent much time in Egypt if you think people fill out tax returns. You're unusual if you don't evade at least some taxes. Tax evasion is almost a national sport. :)
I'm more interested in using the language for official documentation and business/government purposes, but I fully understand what you mean in terms of speaking to actual people; however I wouldn't be able to pick one specific region that I'd need to know the dialect to use in every day life, so MSA would be a more appropriate choice for me.
In my humble opinion, some of these answers went off topic. I answered a specific question about a good course for Standard Arabic and I gave my opinion about one that I own. I didn't think it my place to convince someone what to study or not, which dialect to choose or not. The person has obviously already done some research and asked specifically about MSA (Modern Standard Arabic). I think it best to give answers about a good MSA course, as asked, rather than offer multiple other courses of study that have nothing to do with the question.