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Pan-Arabism is a movement for unification among the peoples and countries of the Arab World, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Seamarker. 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. Pan-Arabism has tended to be secular and often socialist, and has strongly opposed colonialism and Western political involvement in the Arab world. It also sought to improve security of states from outside forces by forming alliances and, to a lesser extent, economic cooperation. Pan-Arabism is a form of cultural nationalism.

Origins and Leaders

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 Kingdommarker 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 and the two nations assumed guardianship of several newly-created states. Ultimately, Hussein became king only of Hijaz (later incorporated into Saudi Arabiamarker) 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 pan-Arabists designs for a geographically contiguous pan-Arab state from the Arab Maghreb and Egyptmarker to the Mashreq. 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 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, who 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. Once Abdallah was assassinated by a Palestinian nationalist in 1951, the vision of Greater Syria was dropped from the Jordanian agenda.

In contrast to pan-Islamism, pan-Arabism is secular and nationalistic as many prominent pan-Arabs, such as Aflaq (Greek Orthodox) were not Muslim. Tariq Aziz, an Aramaic-speaking Chaldean Christian and the once deputy prime minister of Iraqmarker under Saddam Hussein, was another prominent pan-Arabist. However, in de-emphasizing the role of Islam, pan-Arab ideology has been accused of inciting prejudice against and downplaying the role of non-Arab peoples such as the Berbers,Turks, Persians, and Kurds, amongst others. Additionally, while Lebanonmarker is traditionally thought of as an Arab state, there is a movement in that country supporting the idea that Lebanese are Phoeniciansmarker. As such, these groups are quite hostile to pan-Arabism.

Attempts at Arab union

There have been several attempts to bring about a Pan-Arab state by many well known Arab leaders that ultimately resulted in failure. The United Arab Republic (UAR) in 1958 was the first attempt. Formed under Nasser, it was a union between Egyptmarker and Syriamarker, although Nasser exerted so much control over the union that the UAR functioned as a Nasserist takeover than a cooperation between two governments. It lasted in this form until 1961 when Syria's withdrew from the union, but "[i]n 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." The UAR was finally abolished in 1971 due to irreconcilable differences between Syria and Egypt.

Two later attempts were conducted by Libyamarker's Muammar al-Gaddafi; these were the Federation of Arab Republics and the Arab Islamic Republic. Both failed before beginning. Unity between Southern and Northern Yemenmarker, though, was successful. Also, the unity of seven Arab emirates that form the UAEmarker today stand as examples of the possibility of success of Arab unification. The current Syrian government is, and the former government of Iraq was, led by the Ba’ath Party, which espouses pan-Arabism.


The high point of the pan-Arab movement was in the 1960s, when the movement was spearheaded by Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, but pan-Arabism was strongly hurt by the Arab defeat by Israelmarker in the Six Day War and the inability of pan-Arabist governments to generate economic growth. Nasser too 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." Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel in 1978 fractured the Arab world further. By the late 1980s, pan-Arabism began to be eclipsed by Islamist ideologies. It continues however, to exert a strong influence in Arab print media and intellectual circles, particularly in the Levant.

See also


  1. "Arab Unity." The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. Ed. Avraham Sela. New York: Continuum, 2002. pp. 160-166.
  2. El Watan, July 18, 2007
  3. Raymond A. Hinnebusch, Anoushiravan Ehteshami, The Foreign Policies of Middle East States. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002. pg 169
  4. "United Arab Republic (UAR)." Sela. The Continuum Political Encyclopedia of the Middle East. 873-874.

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