Arab Nationalism - Rise and Fall

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In 1945, Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen came together to form the
Arab League, strengthening ideals of Arab solidarity and opposition to Zionism.. When the Jewish
State was declared in 1948, the armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Trans-Jordan entered into
war with Israel, giving a fleeting boost to Arab solidarity. However, the total disharmony between
the Arab states and thus between their armies caused them to lose the war, and ultimately
reinforced state separatism. Veterans from the 1948 war, including Gamal Abdel Nasser (the
soon-to-be-president of Egypt) saw how Arab disunity caused their military defeat. After the war,
they began a movement for real Arab unity throughout the region.
We're up to the 1950s, the time of the Cold War, when the US and the Soviets were trying to get
just about the whole world to align themselves with one or the other. This wasn't just about political
power ­ it was also about economic systems ­ capitalism vs. socialism.
Arab Nationalism, from the outset, carried a socialist ideology. Experiences under colonialism had
convinced Arab intellectuals and nationalists that democracy, as imported from the west, was
"nothing more than a way to facilitate corruption and preserve a ruling class that would advance
western interests over the interests of the local populations" (Houri, Walid). Arab Nationalism
developed, in part, as a response to the social and economic changes that came from the colonial and
early post-colonial period.
In 1952, Mohammad Naguib led the Egyptian Revolution that overthrew the Egyptian monarchy. Two
years later, Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew Naguib's government and became president. As Egypt's
new president, Nasser refused to align with the US. So what did the US try to do? Isolate Egypt from
the rest of the Arab states by bringing them all onto the side of the United States. What did Nasser
do in response? He tapped into Arab nationalist ideology to turn all the Arab countries against the
US. While he did not fully succeed, Egypt's powerful stance against the West produced rapid growth
in the spread of Arab nationalism. People throughout the region started believing in the future of a
single, United Arab State. Nasser's socialist program and populist platform further inspired people to
identify with this growing movement.
A few years later, in response to Israel's import of arms from the French, Nasser secured Soviet arms
in what was the first Soviet intervention into Middle East politics. The result? The West lost monopoly
over the region, shifting power considerably. This move was seen as a victory by Arab nationalism
over Western imperialism. Soon, Arab nationalism became the "uncontested ideological force of the
Arab world, Nasser its uncontested ruler" (Dawisha, Adeed. Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth
Wait a minute ­ ideology doesn't grow by itself. What else led to the rise of Arab nationalism? Well,
modernization and globalization lent a hand. The post-WWII era was a time of major shifts in
traditional values, customs, and systems of authority throughout the Middle East. With the fall of the
Ottoman Empire, new spaces for leadership, organization, and loyalty opened up that Arab
nationalists filled. Modernization and mass media enabled Arab nationalism to reach parts of the
region previously isolated. Egypt controlled most of the region's media at that time, and the
onslaught of messages for Arab nationalism won the people's hearts and minds. So much so that it
threatened the authority of certain heads of state . . .
In 1970, Nasser died, and Anwar al Sadat took power in Egypt. He focused on Egyptian patriotism,
often at the expense of solidarity with other Arab nations. His treaties with Israel in 1975 and 1979

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Arab cause," and were viewed as a betrayal by Palestinians, many of whom
had been the most adamant supporters of Egyptian-led Arab nationalism. Egypt moved from the
center of the Arab movement to a place removed from the rest of the Arab world.
During this time, individual states functioned as political structures used to preserve stability in the
region. State sovereignty, and to some degree, state patriotism, increased during this time. Leaders
of Arab states focused on strengthening their own economies and on internal security.…read more


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