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During the two decades following World War II, Egypt amassed significant regional political influence in the Arab Middle East. As a result, Egypt used its leadership to unite the Arab Middle East region in order to oppose Western influence. According to Russell and Cohn, Egypt emerged as a regional political power as well as a leader of the Arab Middle East between 1952 and 1967 (56). Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egyptian President, showed himself as a notable leader. The dominance of Egypt was attributed to its geographical position, military power, social structure and industrial-based economy. Nevertheless, these resource advantages alone cannot be used in explaining the emergence of Egypt as a leader during that period of time (Dawisha 102). Nowadays Egypt uses the same resource advantages but it does not weld political influence in the region it has previously had. As Russell and Cohn explain, the rise of Egypt in influence and power between1952 and 1967 can be attributed to Nasser’s ideologies, particularly pan-Arabism (63). According to this ideology, Egypt is considered the only nation in the Arab World that has been effective in leading other countries in the region for a significant amount of time. Although this concept arose at the beginning of the 20th century, Nasser contributed to its development in the 1950s. For others, pan-Arabism has never materialized due to the unsuccessful attempts to create a unified Arab world. This paper addresses the following statement “to say pan-Arabism is ‘dead’ would be inaccurate – because, in any meaningful sense, it was never ‘alive’ in the first place”. The current paper is aimed at assessing the viewpoints, which support and refute this argument giving specific reference to Egypt.
Pan-Arabism Materialism Materialized
Those who argue about pan-Arabism existence agree that it was ‘alive’, albeit for a short time, especially at a time when Egypt was under the leadership of Nasser, who supported this ideology that, in its turn, propelled Egypt into the role of the regional leader. Pan-Arabism embodied the unification of Arab World countries. This ideology was popular in the 1950s and 1960s when it embraced socialist principles and maintained a strong opposition against Western countries which were politically involved in the Arab World (Dawisha 103). In addition, pan-Arabism had the main objective of empowering Arab World countries through establishing alliances and economic cooperation, although to a small degree.
The significance of pan-Arabism in the Arab Middle East affirms that the ideology was ‘alive’ and relevant at that time. For Arab people, pan-Arabism provided a means through which their society could express itself. This ideology embodied all Arab cultural aspects such as politics, art, religion and language. In addition, it provided people of the Arab World with a sense to be linked with each other – a concept that was very crucial for people in the middle of the20th century (Aburish 120). It should be noted that at that time, decolonization of the Arab Middle East regions by European powers started, and the populace was in need of something that could help in bringing them together. As a result, pan-Arabism was perceived as a viable alternative to achieve this goal. As Miller, Vandome, and McBrewster explain, pan-Arabism has exerted significant influence in the popular and intellectual domains in the Arab World; this is evident by increasing calls for Arab nationalism, which is also relevant in the contemporary Arab World (80). Miller, Vandome and McBrewster further argue that decolonization resulted in a power vacuum, which weakened the Arab population because European imperial powers had fragmented the Arab World as wanted to divide the Arab-speaking countries in order to satisfy their interests (88). European imperialist powers had the main objective of ensuring that Arab countries did not unite since their interests were threatened by the united Arab Middle East. It becomes apparent that in a particular situation the Arab countries needed to unite and follow some ideology such as pan-Arabism (Miller, Vandome, and McBrewster 90).
Pan-Arabism existed during the 1950s and 1960s because the cultural aspects embodied ideological appeals of Arabs from the Middle East region (Aburish 121). According to Aburish, Arab nationalism denoted a renewal of old loyalties and traditions as well as a basis for new myths (122). This resulted in the increasing importance of Arabic languages and literature; it also brought to development of a sense of pride in Arab people. It is evident that the significance of Arabic language and literature as well as the sense of pride among Arabs have never been experienced during the imperialist rule in the Arab Middle East (Dawisha 105). As a result, for the first time, Arabs had an understanding of what it means to be Arab. Aburish explains that the newly established sense of importance and pride has compelled the Arab World leaders rethink their governing methods (125).
Pan-Arabism was proved to be alive in the Arab Middle East as evidenced by the influence of the ideology on the systems of government at the time. In the Arab World, leaders had to show their commitment towards achieving the valued success by pan-Arabism (Miller, Vandome, and McBrewster 85). For leaders who were not able or unenthusiastic about embracing pan-Arabism values, their survival in the Middle East political system was not guaranteed. In this respect, the Arab World leaders had to achieve four goals during the time when pan-Arabism was rife in the region. These included social justice, progress, dismissal of outside influence, pursuing Arab unity, and proper adherence to Islam. Leaders who were able to achieve these goals appeared to be leaders of revolutions and military coups which took place during the 1950s. In their view Arabs had to resist Western influence; they made significant promises to deliver Arab socialism, revolution, anti-imperialism, and pan-Arabism. Gamal Abdel Nasser was the main leader who advocated for these goals (Miller, Vandome, and McBrewster 90).
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The rise of pan-Arabism in Egypt is also an indicator that this ideology was ‘alive’. Despite the fact that Nasser played a crucial role in championing the pan-Arabism movement in Egypt and the larger Arab World, it is necessary to point out that this ideology had been embraced in the Egyptian society before Nasser became the president (Aburish 123). Moreover, it is important to have an understanding of when and how the pan-Arabism ideology first emerged and subsequently developed in Egypt. Pan-Arabism is thought to emerge in Egypt during the late 1920s and early 1930s (Aburish 124). In the middle of the 20th century, Egypt embraced the culture and ideas advocated by pan-Arabism ideologies. The emergence of pan-Arabism in Egypt has been associated with an Egyptian ruling class, who were of the view that Egypt was relatively ahead in terms of socioeconomic and political development when compared to other countries in the Arab World (Dawisha 100). As a result, the ruling class felt that they could use this point of view in spreading the pan-Arabism principles. This resulted in leaders and the press advocating for building of cultural and economic relationships with other Arab World countries.
Another sign that pan-Arabism was ‘alive’ relates to the transition that took place in Egypt and was aimed at making people highly self-conscious. In the course of this transition, together with the rise of the pan-Arabism beliefs, Egyptians were looking for a national identity. A significant number of Egyptian scholars argued that Egyptians supposed to be connected to their Arab brothers (Dawisha 103). They believed that Arabs having similar cultural ties and the same language were united. In championing for these principles and beliefs, scholars forced encouraged Egyptians to develop a sense of pride in the Arab culture. With the realization of the meaning of being Arab, there was an increase in the calls for Arab unity where Egypt was identified with the natural leader of the anticipated union. Several politicians believed that Egypt was perceived as a savior and leader of the Arab Middle East due to its resistance to Western Imperialism. Many Arab leaders considered Egypt to be able to lead other countries and help them deal with the struggles associated with Western Imperialism. In 1931, the communist party of Egypt called all Arabs for resistance against Western imperialism. Thus, the concept of a united nation which became leading in the Arab Middle East emerged from the Egyptian society and their politicians. The President Gamal Nasser promoted this novel idea during his rule (Miller, Vandome, and McBrewster 90).
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The leadership of Nasser during the 1950s and 1960s is also an indicator that pan-Arabism existed. Nasser played a crucial role in making the notion of Arab Nationalism popular. He increased strategic importance of Egypt in the Middle East and spread his pan-Arabism principles. Egypt was considered unique in terms of spiritual and religious power, culture, geopolitical features and virtues; as a result, there was a widespread perception that Egypt was destined to lead the Arab World and achieve the pan-Arabism vision (Miller, Vandome, and McBrewster 91). For Nasser Gamal, being Arab did not only involve a cultural identity, but also the capability to exert influence over other countries in the Arab World. As a result, a considerable portion of speeches delivered by Nasser emphasized on the issue of pan-Arabism. For instance, he usually considered Egypt as an Arab country rather than an African country. Nasser also perceived the Arab World as one nation, with Egypt being a part of that nation. In addition, Nasser believed that Arab nationalism and Egyptian patriotism did not conflict each other . During his rule, Nasser constantly suggested the pan-Arabism beliefs and resonated with Arabs. He also stressed on the need for Arab unity and cooperation in order to successfully resist Western powers (Miller, Vandome, and McBrewster 92). In order to affirm the actuality of pan-Arabism, it should be noted that the foreign policy decisions made by Egypt under Nasser’s regime were influenced by the pan-Arabism ideology. Examples of such policies include Suez Canal nationalization, establishment of the United Arab Republic, and the ratification of the Arab Solidarity Pact. These foreign policy approaches enabled Egypt to preserve its Arab identity as well as build close ties with other Arab nations in the Middle East (Aburish 120).
The refutation of the argument about pan-Arabism existence is also used to argue that this ideology was real in fact. The Arab defeat following the Six-Day War as well as the incapability of pan-Arabism regimes to produce a significant economic growth had a negative effect on the integrity of ideological beliefs and principles (Aburish 125). As a result, the dominance of Arab unity reduced significantly in Arab politics although Arabs still hope for it to be achieved. People had doubts about the leading role of Egypt as regards pan-Arabism after the Arab defeat in the Six-Day war. Some critics state that Nasser tried to create pan-Arab hegemony (Miller, Vandome, and McBrewster 92). People were disappointed in their Arab politics. Essentially, pan-Arabism was actually ‘alive’ before its decline. Therefore, saying pan-Arabism is ‘dead’ is accurate because it was first ‘alive’.
Pan-Arabism Never Materialized
Those who argue that pan-Arabism has never materialized argue that, saying that pan-Arabism is ‘dead’ is inaccurate since it was never ‘alive’ in the first place. The dream of having a united Arab World, which is a goal of the pan-Arabism ideology, has never been achieved. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to create a pan-Arab state by several prominent Arab leaders. For instance, in the 1940s, British Foreign Minister (Eden Anthony) advocated the unity of Arab countries and it was even supported by, pro-British leaders in the Arab World such as Prime Minister al-Said Nuri of Iraq and King Abdullah (Transjordan) (Miller, Vandome and McBrewster 95). In addition, Egypt made proposals to establish a larger group of autonomous Arab countries following the founding of the League of Arab States in 1945 (Aburish 126). The Suez Crisis provided Gamal Nasser with an opportunity to gain popularity of the idea among people in the Arab World. The United Arab Republic (UAR) was the first instance of unity between two Arab nations that were previously autonomous. The UAR helped in solidifying the leadership role of Egypt in the Arab World. It comprised an alliance between Syria and Egypt and lasted during 1958-1961 (Russell and Cohn 65).
There is an agreement that the establishment of the UAR was an indicator of how Egypt espoused the principles of pan-Arabism and Arab unity; however, its short-lived nature resulted in criticism from those who argue that pan-Arabism has never materialized. For instance, UAR was a unitary state rather than a federal union; this has been likened to the annexing of a small country by a larger one (Russell and Cohn 68). The Egyptian government was approached by Syria to establish a union because the Syrian government suspected the Ba’ath Party and Syrian military in a potential government overthrow. UAR helped Nasser in spreading his ideologies of a united Arab World with Egypt being the leader. The formation of UAR resulted in Egyptian law and policies being implemented in Syria with Cairo being the UAR’s capital. Even after UAR was disintegrated, Nasser continued calling for collaboration and unity with other nations in the region that had similar values. During 1961-1967, Nasser utilized the newly established Arab leadership under Egypt in causing destabilizing pro-Western regimes in Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, and showed the support of the actions undertaken by Palestine against Israel (Aburish 126). The vision of Arab Unity was still popular, with political leaders from Iraq, Syria and Egypt agreeing to enter into an agreement to establish the new United Arab Republic, which was envisioned to be a federal union, with each country maintaining its institutions and identity. Other unsuccessful attempts to achieve Arab unity included the Arab Federation (a union between Iraq and Jordan) that lasted only for six months and the United Arab States (a union between the Kingdom of Yemen, Arab Federation and United Arab Republic) that collapsed in 1961 (Russell and Cohn 70). Based on these unsuccessful attempts to achieve Arab unity, it should be argued that pan-Arabism was only a dream that has never materialized.
This paper presented the arguments supporting and refuting the idea of existence of pan-Arabism. From the discussion, it is evident that those arguing that pan-Arabism is not ‘dead, because it was not ‘alive’ in the first place cite the unsuccessful attempts to achieve Arab unity. Therefore, they argue that pan-Arabism is a dream that has never been achieved. Nevertheless, the influence of pan-Arabism in the Arab politics of the 1950s and 1960s cannot be disregarded. They argue that pan-Arabism was short-lived but its influence was prevalent. This is due to the fact that pan-Arabism was important and relevant for the Arab World at that time; it appealed to Arabs, and it influenced the Arab governments of that time. In addition, pan-Arabism was ‘alive’ due to its rise in Egypt, transition of Egypt into a self-conscious Arab country. The fact that Nasser’s foreign policies represented the influence of pan-Arabism of Arab society cannot be neglected. Overall, despite the unsuccessful attempts to achieve Arab unity, the influence of pan-Arabism during 1950s and 1960s was pervasive in other aspects such as governments, foreign policy, Arabs taking pride in their culture, and Egyptians associating with Arab countries and considering itself a part of the Arab world.
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