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Can Arab Nationalism be Revived? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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During one of the joint-Arab meetings, the majority of participants wanted to add a sentence to the founding charter emphasizing the importance of the role of Arab nationalism. I could not keep quiet, and I objected to this however the others in the meeting looked at me as if I had committed a grave taboo.

After around a month I met a figure whose opinion and political activities I greatly respect, and I consider this figure to be a symbol of moderation and objectivity in a country that has no place for objectivity. He said, do you not see that we in the Arab world are confronting a dangerous vacuum; we are living without an ideology to bind us together; all countries are proud of nationalism except us, and this vacuum has made it easy for religious extremism to emerge, along with the spread of sectarian strife, and this has also constricted the majority of groups to being concerned with small local issue. I told him that this was good analysis, and I asked him “What then is the solution?” He answered quickly, Arab nationalism. I quickly objected to this, saying that nationalism is the source of all the problems that we are experiencing today. The figure did not contradict me, and he acknowledged that the previous experience was full of mistakes.

I asked, firstly can you even revive dead ideas, like the pharaohs or the Ottoman Empire or Arab nationalism? Can you clean up contaminated ideas? And what kind of nationalism are we talking about? Nasserite or Baathist nationalism or a special nationalism such as Syrian nationalism in the Levant?

The truth that is known to everybody who experienced any popular ideology, from nationalism to communism to Islamism, is that these are raised as slogans in order to seize power. Abdul Nasser’s nationalism found the greatest resonance throughout the Arab world, however it did not find any such resonance in his own character, and his sole nationalist project, a union between Egypt and Syria [United Arab Republic] transformed Syria into a mere extension of his empire, which resulted in the Syrians rebelling against him and taking to the streets demanding a divorce.

As for the Baathist party, its evil and horrific actions in Iraq have harmed Arabs everywhere, and it will not be easy to market Baathism after this, regardless of any propaganda. The idea of Arab Baathism is resonant, and it declared an eternal Arab nation. However this proved to be nothing more than a façade for destructive authoritarian rule and geographical expansion that aimed to seize the rest of Arab land. As for Arab Communism, this was an alien ideology and has been rejected, and it was only ever applied in South Yemen. Despite the slogan, “workers of the world unite” this idea soon died out due to Marxist and Leninist power struggles resulting in wars that killed thousands of Yemenis. Now it is the era of the Islamists, who have raised the slogan of “According to the Prophet…” and “God said…” however they are no different than the Arab nationalists, Baathists, or Communists, whether we are talking about the Sunnis in Gaza or the Shiites in southern Lebanon, or the resistance groups in the Afghan caves – they all aim to seize power.

The experiences of Arab countries over the past seven decades have made them indifferent towards any ideological bond, new or old. Despite this instantaneous rejection, one must admit that the idea of Arab nationalism remains attractive, after it is repaired. This does not mean the Arab race, because some “Arabs” are not Arab at all, but are Berbers, Kurds, Turkmen, or African. The race connection is something that is rejected by modern society where race is mixed and where there is increased migration. While the religious connection has created disputes over history, worship, and [religious] marjas, and ultimately caused more fragmentation than nationalism. In the name of the Sunni – Shiite conflict, rivers of blood have been shed, cities have been split in half, and mosques have been destroyed. Splits have even emerged within sects themselves, and we are facing an imminent dispute within the Sunni sect between the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Sufis. This will see several decades of conflict unless this rivalry can be extinguished by the wise.

The simple idea is based upon a broad Arab nationalism away from chauvinism and blind fanaticism, and which puts forward the interests of the people, and which benefits from the close geographic and linguistic ties, as well as multiple common interests.

It may be too early to put forward Arab nationalism for discussion nonce more, but the small states are becoming smaller in a world where only the strong survive.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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