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Arab socialism (Arabic: الاشتراكية العربية‎, al-ishtirākīya al-‘arabīya) is a political ideology based on an amalgamation of Pan-Arabism and socialism. Arab socialism is distinct from the much broader tradition of socialist thought in the Arab World, which predates Arab socialism by as much as fifty years.


Background and influence

Arab socialism represents a historically important political trend in the Arab world, although its influence has since diminished. The intellectual and political influence of Arab socialism peaked during the 1950s and 60s, when it constituted the ideological basis of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party and, to a lesser extent, of the Nasserist movement. The term "Arab socialism" was coined by Michel ‘Aflaq, one of the founders of the Ba'ath Party, in order to distinguish his version of socialist ideology from the internationalist Marxist socialism in Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia, and the Western European thought of social democracy.


For its adherents, Arab socialism was a necessary consequence of the quest for Arab unity and freedom, as only a socialist system of property and development would overcome the social and economic legacy of colonialism. At the same time, Arab socialism widely differs from the Eastern Europe and Eastern Asian socialist movements, which were atheist and internationalist. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, the basis of Arab nationalism is not ethnic, but cultural and spiritual. Thus, the "anti-spiritual" socialism of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia was considered ill-adapted to the Arab world. While Arab socialism endorsed much of the economic and social programme of Eastern European-style socialism, its divergent intellectual and spiritual foundations imposed some limits on its revolutionary potential: The ownership of the means of production was to be nationalized, but only within the constraints of traditional values such as private property and inheritance. "Primitive" social structures such as feudalism, nomadism, tribalism, religious factionalism and the oppression of women were to be overcome, but not at the cost of severing the social ties that constituted the Arab identity.

Arab socialism was frequently pictured as a "middle way" between the capitalist West and the communist East, and as a modern expression of traditional Arab values.

Arguably, the most notable economic manifestations of Arab socialism were the land reforms in Egypt (1952), Syria (1963) and Iraq (1970) and the nationalization of major industries and the banking systems in those countries. In Egypt and Syria, many of these policies were later reversed. They were more successful in Iraq, possibly due to the country's oil wealth, until the beginning of the Iran–Iraq War in 1980.

Arab socialism and gender

Socialism and socialist parties claim that they can bring the full emancipation of women. In socialist ideology and in its modernization theory there is a need to emancipate women in order to create social equality.[1]

Arab Socialism is different from the classical Marxism and Soviet Socialism and the term 'socialism' has been used as a regime consolidation in Arab Socialism. Rather than an ideological belief, ‘socialism’ was used to describe policies conducted out of nationalist and modernizing concerns in Arab Socialism.[2] However, because of its affiliation to socialist and modernist ideologies; Arab socialism had a modernist and equalitarian perspective on gender issues, at least in rhetoric. For instance, the Iraqi Ba’ath Party changed Iraq’s policies and rhetoric positively towards women in order to change economic, social and political conditions in Iraq. By encouraging women to join the public sphere, especially in the educational system and labour force, the Ba’ath party made an impact on the change of relations between men and women in Iraq.[3] The ideology or at least the rhetoric of Arab Socialism can be understood from Saddam Hussein’s words: The complete emancipation of women from the ties which held them back in the past, during the ages of despotism and ignorance, is a basic aim of the Party and the Revolution. Women make up one half of society. Our society will remain backward and in chains unless its women are liberated, enlightened and educated…(1981).[3]

However, Arab socialism can be accused of being hypocritical. In Nasser's Egypt, feminist voices which were regarded as useful and safe were promoted, other feminists were muted. However, the Egyptian state also created structures and conditions to encourage women to join the public sphere (especially the work force) and to establish a new type of feminism in Egypt.[4] Although Arab socialists were not successful enough in gender issues, they brought a modern perspective to gender discussions in Arab society.


Arab Socialism, woven into Arab nationalism and Pan Arab thought, lost much of its appeal after the Arab defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967, which undermined greatly the standing of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had hitherto widely been seen as the leader of the Arab World. While the ideology continued to hold sway for years to come, the extent of the Arab defeat in 1967 set in motion a fundamental rethinking of Arab politics, that many saw as the beginning of the end of the Arab socialist era. As the Ba'ath Parties in both Iraq and Syria gradually transformed in the late 1960s from ideology-driven movements into instruments of ethnically defined, totalitarian rule, Arab socialism lost its political importance. Today, it is no longer a major political force, although a lasting heritage of Arab socialism is the secular character of many Arab regimes. However, Arab socialist ideas are still widely held by intellectuals of the Arab World, and its ideas of a "third way" between "egoistic" capitalism and "anti-spiritual" socialism remain important in modern Arab political thought.

List of Arab socialists

The following is a list of people who have been seen as adherents of Arab socialism, or have been influential within the Arab socialist school of thought, although some of them may not have used the term, or may even have opposed it.

See also


  1. ^ Young K.,Wolkowitz C., McCullagh R., Of Marriage and the Market, 1984, London:CSE Books
  2. ^ Pratt, N., Democracy& Authoritarianism in the Arab World, 2007, Colorado:Lynne
  3. ^ a b Al-Ali, N. S.,Iraqi Women, 2007, London:Zedbooks
  4. ^ Kandiyoti, D., Women Islam and the State, 1991, London:Macmillan

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