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Pan-Arabism is a movement that calls for unification among the peoples and countries of the Arab World, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea. It is closely connected to Arab nationalism, which asserts that the Arabs constitute a single nation. The idea was at its height during the 1960s. In theory, and depending on the ruler, Pan-Arabism has tended to be sometimes near secular (in theory) and often based on socialist principles, and has strongly opposed Western political involvement in the Middle East. It also sought to improve security of states from outside forces by forming alliances and, to a lesser extent, economic cooperation.[1]


Origins and development

Pan-Arabism was first pressed by Sharif Hussein ibn Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, who sought independence from the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of a unified state of Arabia. In 1915-16, the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence resulted in an agreement between the United Kingdom and the Sharif that if the Arabs successfully revolted against the Ottomans, the United Kingdom would support claims for Arab independence. In 1916, however, the Sykes-Picot Agreement between the United Kingdom and France determined that parts of the Arab Mashreq would be divided between those powers rather than forming part of an independent Arab state. When the Ottoman Empire surrendered in 1918, the United Kingdom refused to keep to the letter of its arrangements with Hussein,[citation needed] and the two nations assumed guardianship of several newly-created states, including Jordan and Lebanon. Ultimately, Hussein became king only of Hijaz (later incorporated into Saudi Arabia) in the then less strategically valuable south.

States and Territories of the Arab League

Additionally, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 as reason to administer Palestine and the subsequent creation of the British Mandate upset the pan-Arabists' designs for a geographically contiguous pan-Arab state from the Arab Maghreb and Egypt to the Mashreq.[citation needed] A more formalized pan-Arab ideology than that of Hussein was first espoused in the 1930s, notably by Syrian thinkers such as Constantin Zureiq, Zaki al-Arsuzi and Michel Aflaq. Aflaq and al-Arsuzi were key figures in the establishment of the Arab Ba’ath (Renaissance) Party, and the former was for long its chief ideologist, combining elements of Marxist thought with a nationalism to a considerable extent reminiscent of nineteenth century European romantic nationalism.

Abdallah of Jordan dreamed of uniting Syria, Palestine, and Jordan under his leadership in what he would call Greater Syria. He proposed a plan to this effect to Britain, which controlled Palestine at that time, but to no avail. The plan was not popular among the majority of Arabs and fostered distrust among the leaders of the other Middle Eastern countries against Abdallah. This distrust of Abdallah's expansionist aspirations was one of the principle reasons for the founding of the Arab League in 1945.[citation needed] Once Abdallah was assassinated by a Palestinian nationalist in 1951, the vision of Greater Syria was dropped from the Jordanian agenda.[1]

Pan-Arabism has been at times in contrast with pan-Islamism as being more secular. Tariq Aziz, an Aramaic-speaking Chaldean Christian and the once deputy prime minister of Iraq under Saddam Hussein.However in exchange for his status he had to Arabize his name from Mikhail Yuhanna to the Arabic Tareq Aziz. As well as the mass murder of Kurds, Saddam Hussein's Anfal campagin caused the destruction of Many Assyrian Churches were destroyed in the North of Iraq and caused the displacement of many Chrisitans. An Assyrian priest interviewed by HRW/Middle East said that he had assembled a list of 250 Christians who disappeared during Anfal and its immediate aftermath. (Iraq's Crime of Genocide, 1995, Human rights watch, pp. 209)[2] Along with Islamism Pan-Arabism who both prioritize loyalty to the Arab or Islamic community. [3] with exclusion of others [4], are seen to be greatly responsible for the persecution of Iraqi Christians [5] & contributed to driving out non Arab minorities out of Iraq which the Christian community put blame directly on Arab nationalists,Pan-Arabists, and Radical Islamists.[6]. Michel Aflaq embedded Islam within Arabism [7],in the mind of the Christian (who reportedly later converted to Islam)[8] Michael Aflaq, Islam and Arab nationalism were inseparable[9] He stated in the 1940s that Arab Nationalism was vital to the survival of Islam in the region and the duty of Arab Nationalists was to defend Islam in the name of the Arab nation.[10][11] He is well noted for his fascination and inspiration for the Islamic faith when he stated his belief that Islam provides Arabs with "the most brilliant picture of their language and literature, and the grandest part of their national history."[12] In Ba'athism he and Sati al-Husri, composed a Koranic super narrative of Arabism, soil and Islam [13]. TheMuslim Brotherhood's Hasan al-Banna incorporated & associated Pan-Arabism with his radical Islamic ideology in view of Arabism’s growing appeal in Egypt at the time.[14]

The pan-Arab ideology has been accused of racism, inciting prejudice against and downplaying the role of non-Arab peoples, such as the Berbers,[15]Turks, Jews, Persians [16], Maronite [17][18], and Kurds ["Arabism" by persecuting the Kurds (and going to war against the Persians in Iran) [19], amongst others, (prompting such editorials like "Arabism equals racism") [20][21] An Egyptian writer Masri Feki wrote that it is the ideology of Pan-Arabism that prevents lasting peace in the Middle East;

Real lasting peace will come the day Israel's neighbors recognize that the Jewish people are on this land de jure, they are not just there de facto. Pan-Arabism is in ruins because it did not take into account the diversity of the region, the specificities of its various identities and the communitarian preoccupations of its minorities.Like pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism is an exclusivist ideology." [22]

Abdul Ghafor al-Ani, who headed Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party in southern Iraq, shouted at the trial of Chemical Ali who led the Anfal attack on the Kurds: "I welcome death if it is for Iraq, for pan-Arabism and for the Ba'ath" [23], or "Welcome to death for the sake of Arabism and Islam" - as the death sentence was read.[24].On the background of the genocide in Darfur: it has been linked back to Libya's Muammar Gaddafi's meddling in the region his support for the militantly racist pan-Arab organisation in Darfur known as Tajammu al-Arabi (Arab Union), which stressed the province’s solely ‘Arab’ nature.[25], he began to meddle in the affairs of his African neighbors in an attempt to establish Pan-Arabist hegemony in the region. His weapons were racist and supremacist ideologies.[26] It has been described as a deliberate genocide carried out in Darfur by the Pan-Arabist regime of Khartoum".[27][28]

Grand Mufti of Palestine Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, one of the leaders of Pan-Arabist ideology, meeting with Adolph Hitler in 1941.

Modern Pan-Arabism is also known to have had Nazi and Fascist roots. During the 1930s, Pan-Arabists developed proto-fascist organizations such as the "Al-Muthanna Club" and the "Al-Futuwwa movement". the pan-Arabist Futuwwa Youth was a model of the Hitler Youth [29], it was part of Pan-Arab radicalism which was expressed in diverse forms in 1930s Iraq, it was sponsored by the government and officially instituted in Iraqi schools[30],[31][32][33] Sami Shawkat, a firm believer in pan-Arabism and totalitarianism, was an admirer of Nazi ideologies In one of his addresses, "The Profession of Death," he called on Iraqi youth to adopt the way of life of Nazi Fascists. In another speech he branded the Jews as the enemy from within, who should be treated accordingly. In another, he praised Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini for eradicating their internal enemies (the Jews). (Syrian and Palestinian teachers often supported Shawkat in his preaching).[34]. There was a wide Nazi propaganda in Pan-Arabist ideology [35]. Beginning at 1933, Muhi al-Din Nasuli, the leader of the Islamist and Pan-Arabist group "Najjada" (Helpers) in Syria and Lebanon, promoted many of Hitler's speeches and printed excerpts from Hitler's Mein Kampf in his group's newspaper. Hitler and Mussolini were viewed by Pan-Arabists in both Syria and Lebanon as models of strong state builders. The ambivalent relation of such Pan-Arabist concepts to ethnocentric and racial nationalism became visible in Nasuli's newspaper slogan "Arabism Above All", which featured on his newspaper's masthead, which also printed glowing accounts of German youth's support of Hitler [36][37][38][39], Key among some Gestapo men was Fritz Grobba, often called "the German Lawrence" because he promised a Pan-Arab state stretching from Casablanca to Tehran [40], Adolf Hitler's collaborator and close Arab confidant, the Islamic leader and Mufti al-Husayni, was promoted as a Pan-Arabist leader by the Nazis who both found sympathy in each other's ideologies.[41][42]

Although Pan-Arabism began at the time of World War I, Egypt, the most populous and arguably most important Arabic-speaking country, was not interested in Pan-Arabism prior to the 1950s. Thus, in the 1930s and 1940s, Egyptian nationalism - and not Pan-Arabism - was the dominant mode of expression of Egyptian political activists:

What is most significant [about Egypt in this period] is the absence of an Arab component in early Egyptian nationalism. The thrust of Egyptian political, economic, and cultural development throughout the nineteenth century worked against, rather than for, an "Arab" orientation.... This situation—that of divergent political trajectories for Egyptians and Arabs—if anything increased after 1900.[43]
Grand Mufti of Palestine Mohammad Amin al-Husayni saluting Muslim Bosnian soldiers modeled after the Nazi military system


November 2, 1943 Himmler's telegram to Mufti telling of support of the Pan-Arabist cause by Nazis: 'To the Grand Mufti: The National Socialist movement of Greater Germany has, since its inception, inscribed upon its flag the fight against the world Jewry. It has therefore followed with particular sympathy the struggle of freedom-loving Arabs, especially in Palestine, against Jewish interlopers. In the recognition of this enemy and of the common struggle against it lies the firm foundation of the natural alliance that exists between the National Socialist Greater Germany and the freedom-loving Muslims of the whole world. In this spirit I am sending you on the anniversary of the infamous Balfour declaration my hearty greetings and wishes for the successful pursuit of your struggle until the final victory.' Reichsfuehrer S.S. Heinrich Himmler

In 1931, following a visit to Egypt, Syrian Arab nationalist Sati' al-Husri remarked that "[Egyptians] did not possess an Arab nationalist sentiment; did not accept that Egypt was a part of the Arab lands, and would not acknowledge that the Egyptian people were part of the Arab nation."[44] The later 1930s would become a formative period for Arab nationalism in Egypt, in large part due to efforts by Syrian/Palestinian/Lebanese intellectuals.[45] Nevertheless, a year after the establishment of the League of Arab States in 1945, to be headquartered in Cairo, Oxford University historian H. S. Deighton was still writing:

The Egyptians are not Arabs, and both they and the Arabs are aware of this fact. They are Arabic-speaking, and they are Muslim —indeed religion plays a greater part in their lives than it does in those either of the Syrians or the Iraqi. But the Egyptian, during the first thirty years of the [twentieth] century, was not aware of any particular bond with the Arab East... Egypt sees in the Arab cause a worthy object of real and active sympathy and, at the same time, a great and proper opportunity for the exercise of leadership, as well as for the enjoyment of its fruits. But she is still Egyptian first and Arab only in consequence, and her main interests are still domestic.[46]

Attempts at Arab union

Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose ideology of "Nasserism" defined the pan-Arabism of the 1960s

It was not until the Gamal Abdel Nasser era more than a decade later that Arab nationalism, and by extension Arab socialism, became a state policy and a means with which to define Egypt's position in the Middle East and the world,[47] usually articulated vis-à-vis Zionism in the neighboring Jewish state of Israel.

There have been several attempts to bring about a Pan-Arab state by many well known Arab leaders, all of which ultimately resulted in failure. The United Arab Republic (UAR) in 1958 was the first attempt. Formed under Nasser, it was a union between Egypt and Syria, although Nasser exerted so much control over the union that the UAR functioned more as a Nasserist takeover rather than a cooperation between two governments. It lasted in this form until 1961 when Syria's withdrew from the union. In April 1963, Egypt, Syria and Iraq agreed to form a new 'United Arab Republic', which was to be entirely federal in structure, leaving each member state its identity and institutions."[1] The UAR was finally abolished in 1971 due to irreconcilable differences between Syria and Egypt.[48]

Two later attempts were conducted by Libya's Muammar al-Gaddafi; these were the Federation of Arab Republics and the Arab Islamic Republic. Both failed before beginning. The unity of seven Arab emirates that form the United Arab Emirates stands today as the only example of successful unification between Arab neighbors. The current Syrian government is, and the former government of Iraq was, led by the Ba’ath Party, which espouses pan-Arabism.


However, Pan-Arabism was strongly hurt following the Arab defeat by Israel in the Six Day War and the inability of pan-Arabist governments to generate economic growth. Nasser overplayed his hand in trying to form a pan-Arab hegemony under himself. "By the mid-1970s," according to The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East, "the idea of Arab unity became less and less apparent in Arab politics, though it remained a wishful goal among the masses."[1]

The Egyptians' attachment to Arabism was particularly questioned after the 1967 Six-Day War. Thousands of Egyptians had lost their lives and the country became disillusioned with Arab politics.[49] Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel in 1978 further fractured the Arabic-speaking countries. Nasser's successor Anwar Al Sadat, both through public policy and his peace initiative with Israel, revived an uncontested Egyptian orientation, unequivocally asserting that only Egypt and Egyptians were his responsibility. The terms "Arab", "Arabism" and "Arab unity" became conspicuously absent.[50]

By the late 1980s, Pan-Arabism began to be eclipsed by both nationalist and Islamist ideologies. In the 1990s, many voiced their opposition to Pan-Arabism. For instance, some Kuwaitis viewed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 as caused by an urge for Pan-Arabism.[51]

Today, Pan-Arabism is viewed by many as an outdated and failed ideology. This view emanates from the many disasters brought upon the Middle East by the ideology of Pan-Arabism. For instance, the Ba'th party, which sowed a Pan-Arabist ideology, was responsible for the genocide of Kurdish people and Shiites in Iraq. Pan-Arabism does not give equal rights to minorities living in the Arab world, since it views every one in this "world" as Arab.[52] The radical pan-Arabist ideology is also known to have shown deep hostility to Black people, Persians, Jews and other ethnic and religious minorities that opposed Arabization.[16][53][54][55] A Tunisian liberal activist has described Pan-Arabism as the following:

The true nature of the twin fascism of Islamism and Pan-Arabism ... this particular case seems to be Pan-Arabism [56]

Many Egyptians continue to believe that Egypt and Egyptians are simply not Arab, emphasizing indigenous Egyptian heritage, culture and independent polity, while pointing to the failures of Arab and pan-Arab nationalist policies, and publicly voicing objection to the present official name of the country as Arab Republic of Egypt.

In late 2007, el-Masri el-Yom daily newspaper conducted an interview at a bus stop in the working-class district of Imbaba to ask citizens what Arab nationalism (el-qawmeyya el-'arabeyya) represented for them. One Egyptian Muslim youth responded, "Arab nationalism means that the Egyptian Foreign Minister in Jerusalem gets humiliated by the Palestinians, that Arab leaders dance upon hearing of Sadat's death, that Egyptians get humiliated in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, and of course that Arab countries get to fight Israel until the last Egyptian soldier."[57] Another felt that,"Arab countries hate Egyptians," and that unity with Israel may even be more of a possibility than Arab nationalism, because he believes that Israelis would at least respect Egyptians.[57]

Some contemporary prominent Egyptians who oppose Arab nationalism or the idea that Egyptians are Arabs include Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass,[58] popular writer Osama Anwar Okasha, Egyptian-born Harvard University Professor Leila Ahmed, Member of Parliament Suzie Greiss,[59] in addition to different local groups and intellectuals.[60] This understanding is also expressed in other contexts,[61][62] such as Neil DeRosa's novel Joseph's Seed in his depiction of an Egyptian character "who declares that Egyptians are not Arabs and never will be."[63]

Egyptian critics of Arab nationalism contend that it has worked to erode and/or relegate native Egyptian identity by superimposing only one aspect of Egypt's culture. These views and sources for collective identification in the Egyptian state are captured in the words of a linguistic anthropologist who conducted fieldwork in Cairo:

Historically, Egyptians have considered themselves as distinct from 'Arabs' and even at present rarely do they make that identification in casual contexts; il-'arab [the Arabs] as used by Egyptians refers mainly to the inhabitants of the Gulf states... Egypt has been both a leader of pan-Arabism and a site of intense resentment towards that ideology. Egyptians had to be made, often forcefully, into "Arabs" [during the Nasser era] because they did not historically identify themselves as such. Egypt was self-consciously a nation not only before pan-Arabism but also before becoming a colony of the British Empire. Its territorial continuity since ancient times, its unique history as exemplified in its pharaonic past and later on its Coptic language and culture, had already made Egypt into a nation for centuries. Egyptians saw themselves, their history, culture and language as specifically Egyptian and not "Arab."[64]

Minorities in the Middle East are particularly sensitive to and dismissive of Pan-Arabism. Thus, the prominent Libyan Berber community leader Belkacem Lounes stated in April 2007:

'"There is no worse colonialism than that of the Pan-Arabist clan that wants to dominate our people.[65]

The Copts, the Middle East's largest religious minority, are equally hostile to Pan-Arabism. For instance, Bishop Thomas, the Coptic bishop of Cusae and Meir gave the following speech at the Hudson Institute in 2008:

If you come to a Coptic person and tell him that he’s an Arab, that’s offensive. We are not Arabs, we are Egyptians. I am very happy to be an Egyptian and I would not accept being "Arab" because ethnically I am not.

Similar comments were made by many prominent Coptic figures, such as Bishop Picenti of Helwan and Massarah, as well as the prominent Coptic writer Magdy Khalil (see Coptic identity).

Furthermore, Pan-Arabism is considered today to be the source and origin of political totalitarianism in the Middle East, suppressing democratic movements and development of open free thinking. For instance, in the Lebanese newspaper 'The Daily Star, (March 23, 2005):

"Over the past 50 years, authoritarian leaders in the region have banded together in support for each other almost blindly, despite all evidence of despotism, totalitarianism and heavy handed oppression. Although the ideal of pan-Arab unity was never realized, it seems that what has been achieved is a union of corrupt regimes. Grossly misusing the language of Arab unity, they casually dismissed the mass murders that occurred under Saddam Hussein's rule, as well as genocide in Sudan, Syrian oppression of Lebanon, and countless other tragedies."[66]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Arab Unity." The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Ed. Avraham Sela. New York: Continuum, 2002. pp. 160-166.
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  15. ^ El Watan, July 18, 2007
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  21. ^ Raymond A. Hinnebusch, Anoushiravan Ehteshami, The Foreign Policies of Middle East States. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002. pg 169
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  38. ^ Colonial Citizens By Elizabeth Thompson p. 193
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  43. ^ Jankowski, James. "Egypt and Early Arab Nationalism" in Rashid Khalidi, ed. The Origins of Arab Nationalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, pp. 244-45
  44. ^ qtd in Dawisha, Adeed. Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century. Princeton University Press. 2003, p. 99
  45. ^ Jankowski, "Egypt and Early Arab Nationalism," p. 246
  46. ^ Deighton, H. S. "The Arab Middle East and the Modern World", International Affairs, vol. xxii, no. 4 (October 1946), p. 519.
  47. ^ "Before Nasser, Egypt, which had been ruled by Britain since 1882, was more in favor of territorial, Egyptian nationalism and distant from the pan-Arab ideology. Egyptians generally did not identify themselves as Arabs, and it is revealing that when the Egyptian nationalist leader [Saad Zaghlul] met the Arab delegates at Versailles in 1918, he insisted that their struggles for statehood were not connected, claiming that the problem of Egypt was an Egyptian problem and not an Arab one." Makropoulou, Ifigenia. Pan - Arabism: What Destroyed the Ideology of Arab Nationalism?. Hellenic Center for European Studies. January 15, 2007.
  48. ^ "United Arab Republic (UAR)." Sela. The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. 873-874.
  49. ^ Dawisha, p. 237
  50. ^ Dawisha, pp. 264-65, 267
  51. ^
  52. ^ "Genocide in Iraq: the Anfal campaign against the Kurds"
  53. ^
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  56. ^
  57. ^ a b Ragab, Ahmed. El-Masry el-Yom Newspaper. "What is the definition of 'Arab Nationalism': Question at a bus stop in Imbaba". May 21, 2007.
  58. ^ In response to queries about Tutankhamun in a recent lecture, Hawass declared "Egyptians are not Arabs..." "Tutankhamun was not black: Egypt antiquities chief". AFP. Retrieved 2007-09-27. 
  59. ^ An Interculturalist in Cairo. InterCultures Magazine. January 2007.
  60. ^ We are Egyptians, not Arabs. 11/06.2003.
  61. ^ Egyptian people section from Arab.Net
  62. ^ Princeton Alumni Weekly
  63. ^ Review by Michelle Fram Cohen. The Atlasphere. Jan. 17, 2005.
  64. ^ Haeri, Niloofar. Sacred language, Ordinary People: Dilemmas of Culture and Politics in Egypt. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2003, pp. 47, 136.
  65. ^
  66. ^

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