Arab nationalism or Pan Arabism is a nationalist ideology of political and cultural unity among Arab countries. The idea originated among the elite and educated Arabs of the middle east. Read here to learn more about Arab nationalism and its role in Arab integration.
The fundamental tenet of Arab nationalism is that all Arabs, from the Atlantic to the Indian Oceans, are members of a single country united by a shared ethnicity, language, culture, history, identity, geography, and politics.
One of the main objectives of Arab nationalism is the removal of those Arab governments seen as being dependent on Western power as well as the end of Western influence in the Arab world, which is seen as a “nemesis” of Arab strength.
It gained popularity after the Ottoman Empire was demolished and defeated in the early 20th century and faded away when the Arab troops were defeated in the Six-Day War.
Origin of Arab Nationalism
Arabia had been under the Ottoman rule since the sixteenth century.
- The Arabian Peninsula in the nineteenth century, however, remains an isolated and peripheral domain of the Ottoman empire.
- It was virtually untouched by the cultural and artistic developments in Istanbul.
- Ottoman influence is seen only in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, with the Ottoman restoration and enlargement of the Mosque of the Prophet and Haram Mosque.
- In the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf countries, Western aesthetics and modern art training do not appear until the second half of the twentieth century.
During the 19th century, Iraq, Palestine (renamed the state of Israel in 1948), Jordan, Syria, and Cyprus are all part of the Ottoman empire.
- European powers, primarily the British and French, move into the region as the Ottoman power loosens.
- As a result, Arab culture yields increasingly to Western art forms and styles.
- Lebanon is among the first Arab countries to adopt Western art, which infiltrates the country through European missionaries, who open convents and schools and introduce lithography and printing.
- The missionaries in Lebanon are responsible for establishing the basis for a cultural, social, and political life centered on Christianity, which leads to a flowering of art and culture and the evolution of the Gothic school of religious painting.
- The first Arab reaction against the Ottoman government is witnessed in this region at the end of the nineteenth century.
The intellectual Circles among the Arabs developed a sense of loyalty towards the Arab fatherland during the 1860s.
- This developed from observance of the technological successes of Western Europe which they attributed to the prevailing patriotism in those countries.
The arrival of Christian missionaries and educators from the west in a way helped revive the Arab political zeal and numerous secret societies were established.
- In 1911, Arab intellectuals and politicians from throughout the Levant formed al-Fatat (“the Young Arab Society”), a small Arab nationalist club, in Paris.
- Its initial aim was to raise the level of the Arab nation to the level of modern nations.
- They sought greater autonomy within a unified Ottoman state rather than Arab independence from the empire
Levant: A historical region consisting of present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and most of Turkey.
The growth of Arab Nationalism
The British, for their part, incited the Sharif of Mecca to launch the Arab Revolt during the First World War, primarily as a weapon to use against the Ottoman power.
The League of Nations gave Britain trusteeship for Palestine, Iraq, and Transjordan. France gained Syria and Lebanon.
- The Ottomans were defeated and the rebel forces, loyal to the Sharif’s son Faysal ibn al-Husayn entered Damascus in 1918.
- Damascus became the coordinating center of the Arab nationalist movement as it was seen as the birthplace of the ideology, the seat of Faysal, the first Arab “sovereign” after nearly 400 years of Turkish suzerainty.
The resentment towards European powers grew as the French and British divided the Ottoman empire among themselves after the end of world war I.
The Iraqi revolt of 1920-21 was carried out by the urban population as well as the rural tribes of Iraq against the British mandate.
- This started the rapid growth of the Arab nationalist feeling among the Arab population.
The 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine led to the foundation of the Arab nationalist Ba’ath Party, which asserts that the Arab nation is the group of people who speak Arabic, inhabit the Arab world, and feel they belong to the same nation.
The events of the region influenced the creation of the Arab Union Club in Egypt in 1942 which called for developing stronger ties between Egypt and the Arab world.
Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, had a crucial role in the emergence of Arab nationalism after the Second World War.
- Nasser sought an Arab security alliance within the framework of the Arab League because he was against British control of the Suez Canal Zone and worried that Egypt would turn into a Cold War battleground.
- A crucial component of this was the requirement for economic assistance that wasn’t contingent on a deal with Israel and the installation of British or American bases in Arab nations.
The defeat of Arabs in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war further strengthened the Arabs’ resolve to unite in favor of a pan-Arab nationalist ideal.
Major events like the Algerian independence movement and the Suez crisis of 1956, all played further roles in growing Arab nationalism and resentment of Europeans.
By 1971, UAE gained independence from Great Britain, the last of Arabic nations to do so. This completed the decolonization of the middle -east.
Diversion to Pan-Islamism
Arab nationalism was a secular and political movement in the beginning. But the question of Palestine and opposition to Zionism became a rallying point for Arab nationalism from both a religious perspective and a military perspective.
Gradually, the fact that most Arabs were Muslims was used by some as an important building block in creating a new Arab national identity.
Pan-Islamism was promoted by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia as a counterweight to the regional effects of Arab nationalism and communism.
- He advocated for the creation of the Muslim World League by traveling to numerous Muslim nations. With Egypt’s Nasser, he also waged a propaganda and media war.
The decline of Arab Nationalism
The conflicting identities and competing loyalties to tribe, sect, region, and religion was major obstacle to the unity of the movement first of all.
Second, there was always tension between Iraqi, Syrian, Egyptian, and other regional identities and the larger, all-encompassing Arab identity.
The third, and perhaps most ironic, the obstacle to the concept of a clear Arab nation was the linguistic diversity in the Arabic region.
But the most powerful competing alternative to the idea of a secular Arab nation was the concept of a united Muslim community or pan-Islamism.
The Arab nationalism movement is believed to have experienced an irreversible fall following Israel’s victory over the Arab coalition during the 1967 Six-Day War.
Factional divisions and ideological infighting greatly damaged the movement starting in the middle of the 1960s.
After officially rejecting Nasserism in favor of Marxism-Leninism, the once-pro-Nasser Arab Nationalist Movement disintegrated.
Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president when Arab nationalism reached its pinnacle in terms of political and social expression, was its most charismatic and successful proponent.
After Nasser’s passing, Islamism emerged as a viable option due to dissatisfaction with Arabism to bring about long-lasting prosperity in the Arab world.
Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Fi al-Assad of Syria, and Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya were among those who attempted to succeed Nasser as the Arab leader despite waning support for the pan-Arabist policy.
Islamist revival replaced Pan-Arabism in the region, but the Pan-Arab ideology led to Arab integration eventually.
Late in the 1960s, fresh initiatives for Arab regional integration were launched, mostly abandoning the notion of Arab unification through political fusion as an urgent objective.
- This included creating organizations that supported inter-Arab commerce, cultural interaction, joint economic endeavors, coordinated educational initiatives, and military cooperation.
- To promote commerce and political collaboration, Arab governments also established many subregional organizations and signed numerous bilateral agreements.
- The Gulf, Cooperation Council, Arab Common Market, the Arab Maghreb Union, and the Arab Organization for Industrialization were the most noteworthy of these groups.
The Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 created deeper political divisions among the Arab countries and marginalized the Arab nationalist treatise.
The idea of Arab integration has been resurrected within a different setting since the mid-1990s.
- Arab economies were forced to remove trade restrictions and liberalize monetary policy as a result of the wave of economic liberalization that was sparked by many Arab states and supported by international lending institutions.
- International organizations, particularly the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), promoted more regional integration and commerce in parallel with those changes in economic governance as a step towards economic integration on a global scale.
-Article written by Swathi Satish