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The idea that the Arabs are a distinct people with a common language, history, and culture. Pan‐Arabism emerged in the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire. When the shock of the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire, followed by the imposition of the Mandates at the expense of the Arab Kingdom of the Amir Faisal in 1920, settled in upon the Arabs, some argued that Pan‐Arabism had emerged as a substitution for Pan‐Islamism with the more narrowed focus on the Arabs rather than on Muslims. For others, it was an expression of resistance to the colonialism of Britain and France which had imposed a territorial division upon the region. For yet others, Pan‐Arabism was an expression of opposition to the effort of the newly formed states and governments of the mandates to encourage separate national identities.

Arab nationalism is generally referred to as a Pan‐Arabist ideology incorporating the above ideas. This ideology was strongly influenced by the ideas of Sati' al‐Husri (1879–1968), a Syrian who studied in France, Switzerland, and Belgium, who in turn had been influenced by German romantic nationalists and their ideas of the nation. Al‐Husri saw the Arab nation, comprising the Arab east and North Africa, as a cultural community further united by a common language. It was a common language and a shared history that formed the basis for a national identity and a nation. It is only within the nation that a people could modernize and progress. His view of the Arab nation was inclusive of all groups and races speaking the Arabic language in the Middle East including North Africa. His was a secular concept of Arab nationalism with the added ultimate political objective of Arab unity. This latter was interpreted by the Ba'athists as meaning the formation of a single independent Arab state incorporating the Arab nation. The other main view of Arab unity associated with Jamal Abd al‐Nasir was that of solidarity among Arab governments, concerned less with the abstractions of nationalism than the pragmatic economic and social concerns and the importance of unity of the Arab world in the face of predatory blocs.

While Arabism, the foundation of the ethnos in Arab nationalism, did not deny the Islamic element, the Pan‐Arab nationalism that evolved was secular in character. Until the humiliating defeat by Israel in the June 1967 war, it attracted the hopes and support of the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. This defeat had the corrosive effect of undermining faith in an already weakening ideology that had served as a guide, a strategy, and driving force in the region that competed with other developing local nationalisms. It was apparent that Arab governments were neither inclined to integrate, nor able to unite on the basis of solidarity, nor cooperate to defeat the Zionist state of Israel. From this point onward, Pan‐Arab nationalism began to lose ground to political Islam.

Barbara Allen Roberson


Subjects: Politics.

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