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Arab nationalism

From Academic Kids

Arab nationalism refers to a common nationalist ideology in wider Arab world. It is a claim to common heritage — that all Arabs are united by a shared history, culture, and language. Pan-Arabism is a related concept, which calls for the creation of a single Arab state, but not all Arab nationalist are also Pan-Arabists. Arab independence refers to the concept of the removal or minimization of direct Western influence in the Middle East, and the dissolution of regimes in the Arab world which are considered to be dependent upon favorability with the West to the detriment of their local populations.

Immediately prior to the First World War, before the end of the Ottoman Empire, Arab nationalism was not yet a prominent political force. At the time, Arabs generally did not see themselves as members of a nation of people, and many resented Ottoman rule. Instead, most Arabs held loyalty to their religion or sect, their tribe, or their own particular governments. The ideologies of Ottomanism and Pan-Islamism were stronger than Arab nationalism. Arab nationalist thought was confined to a few intellectuals mostly in Beirut and Cairo.

Nationalist sentiments first became prominent during the collapse of Ottoman authority. The rise of the Young Turks and CUP alienated many of the empire's supporters in the Arab lands. The powerful notable families, excluded by the new governments in Istanbul, turned towards Arabism as an alternative, playing upon the ethic divisions between Arabs and Turks. The CUP government was also accused of trying to "Turkify" the empire. This new spirit became manifest in the Arab Revolt during the First World War, and Arab unity saw its first failed attempts under the Hashemites, who's descendants now control Jordan.

During the war the British had been a major sponsor of Arab nationalist though and ideology, as a weapon to use against the power of the Ottoman Empire. During the interwar years and the British Mandate period, when Arab lands were under British colonial control, Arab nationalism became an important anti-colonial opposition movement against British rule.

Important Arab nationalist thinkers include Michel Aflaq and Sati' al-Husri. Another thinker who is often considered an Arab nationalist was Antun Sa'adah. The most prominent of Arab nationalist dictators include Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Moammar Al Qadhafi, President of Libya, Syrian president Hafiz al-Assad and former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The Arab nationalist movement was strongest in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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Egypt and Syria

In 1958 the states of Egypt and Syria temporarily joined to create a new nation, the United Arab Republic. Attempts were also made to include Yemen in the union, but the UAR collapsed in 1961 after a coup in Syria, leaving only Egypt, which had been its political centre, with Cairo as the capital and Gamal Abdal Nasser as the president. The name United Arab Republic continued to be used by Egypt until 1971, after the death of Nasser.

Ba'ath

Arab nationalists generally were not particularly religious, and did not promote observance of Islamic laws as such; however, the fact that most Arabs were Muslims was used as an important building block in creating a new Arab Muslim national identity. The large number of early Arab nationalist thinkers were not Muslims, but Arab Christians from Lebanon and Syria.

An example of this was Michel Aflaq, the founder of the Ba'ath Party. Aflaq however, viewed Islam as a testament to the "Arab genius", and once said "Muhammed was the epitome of all the Arabs. So let all the Arabs today be Muhammed." Since the Arabs had reached their greatest glories through the expansion of Islam, Islam was seen as a universal message as well as an expresion of secular genious on the part of the Arab peoples. Islam had given the Arabs a "glorious past", which was very different from the "shameful present". In effect the troubles of the Arab present were because the Arabs had diverged from their "eternal and perfect symbol"; Islam. The Arabs needed to have a "rebirth" a "renessance"; this was the Arab Ba'ath.

Throughout the Middle East, regional nationalisms and allegiances to the post-WWI states such as Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq partly compete and partly coexist with broader Arab nationalism. In Lebanon, for instance, the identity of "Arab" is rejected by some Lebanese nationalist groups (especially Maronite), while being enthusiastically embraced by others.

Definitions of "Arab" sometimes vary; see Arab.

Arab nationalist thinkers

See also

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