Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Our Defeat and Their Revolution | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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There is no event that rivals the memory of the 1967 defeat in Arab contemporary history. Forty years later, the 1967 war still remains a bleeding wound in the Arab body, as the floods of articles that we see nowadays assert the anniversary of this tragic war.

What many people failed to notice is that this event had coincided with another violent tremor that had taken place in Western societies such as the United States and Western European countries. This movement was known as the 1968 revolution which began in universities and extended to trade unions, youth and women’s circles as well as cultural and media fields. The term “revolution” was in fact a metaphor and it was never realized in practice. Nevertheless, this revolution was an exceptional event that resulted in distinct impacts upon internal affairs in Western countries.

The regime of General de Gaulle, the liberator of France and its national and legendary leader, was toppled. And in the United States, a movement was launched to protest against the war on Vietnam. Besides, the cultural and societal influences were more entrenched as discussed later.

The 1967 defeat has created a qualitative shift in the path of Arab conditions on three main levels:

ـ A setback of the most important experience of national renaissance from the perspective of the unionist Arab ideology. Undoubtedly, the Nasserist experience that had attracted widespread popularity in the Arab world had collapsed due to the defeat that had undermined the image of a “hero leader and commander of the nation”, which was formed following the tripartite aggression [a reference to the Anglo-French-Israeli aggression against Egypt during the Suez Crisis in 1956].

It is true that many people had taken to the streets in Egypt and in other Arab countries to protest against the resignation of the Egyptian president Jamal Abdul Nasser which created a contrasting dual sense of admiration for the courage of bearing responsibility on one hand and condemning fleeing the battlefield in a moment of bleak despair on the other.

However, there is no doubt that the defeat has clearly expressed the failure of the popular revolutionary model that was endorsed by the Nasserist experience, despite that this model continued to exist in several poorer versions in other Arab arenas.

– The emergence of the Palestinian national movement with its particular features that were sponsored on the Arab level and were internationally recognized: It is true that this movement emerged with the beginning of the dynamics of resistance against British occupation and Zionist settlement and that the emergence of the Palestinian Liberation Organization had preceded the defeat by three years. However, the prevailing approach to the conflict had limited the confrontation in its supreme nationalist dimensions and prevented viewing it in its narrow national perspective, an action that was considered an illegitimate retraction towards a separatist identity. After the defeat, the Palestinian national movement shifted from being a marginal party in the conflict to the “forefront” of the so-called Arab liberation movement, or in other words, the driving force of leadership in the dynamism of radical revolutionary transformation in Arab countries.

The Palestinian national movement has paid dearly for this Arab role that subjected it to liquidation and prosecution being a player in the internal affairs of Arab countries.

– The emergence of qualitative changes in the Arab strategy in managing the conflict with Israel: Arabs had expressed the three no’s at the Khartoum summit, refusing a peaceful settlement with their enemy. Nevertheless, many indicators revealed the issuing of a new international framework for settling the conflict through peaceful negotiation that began with an Arab acceptance that appeared to be dim at the beginning and which was reflected by the Rogers Plan that was deemed the first step on the path [to peace] that was clearly defined after the 1973 war.

Although the Arab opinion was clearly influenced by the climate of the 1968 revolution that had swept the west, the similarity of discourses, dreams and ideas could not camouflage fundamental differences between two very distinct segments: the context of military defeat and Arab ideology as well as the context of societal and cultural transformation which reversed from the path of the World War II legacy to another status whereby major significant features were changing the economic structure of capitalist states that had in turn introduced significant reforms upon its productive and distributive mechanisms so as to contain inherent class conflicts. The societal infrastructure had changed with the alteration of the family institution and the feminist rising as well as the dominance of utopian radical ideologies that had firmly stood against all forms of authority including the state, the university and the prison in what resembles an uprising of a collective dream. Although this trend had quickly disappeared, it left its mark on intellectual and social arenas.

The philosophies of [Herbert] Marcuse and [Jean-Paul] Sartre and the literature of Albert Camus were translated at that time in the Arab arena. Despite that they were widely read among youth and within university circles in line with what was happening in Western countries, such factors were invested in a different direction which is a state of despair generated by the frustration of defeat and the pointless critical position towards the Arab national project.

It was at this time that the severest critical studies of Arab culture and its religious origins were introduced, in the same way as that the growing Maoist Marxism had extended in the same era in European arenas.

At a time when the 1968 revolution, beyond its ostentatious trait, succeeded in undermining sanctities and social and cultural systems and in creating fundamental transformations in both the political and economic units, the defeat had not created any intellectual vigilance nor did it create a constructive critical status except for the outcry let out by the prominent historian and thinker Constantin Zureiq, which has received no positive reactions in the Arab ideology.

One decade after the defeat, new versions of Islamic ideologies had swept the Arab public, substituting the nationalist slogans with other slogans that included Islamic content of the same nationalist ideologies without a critical awareness of the course of the nationalist renaissance experience. At the same time, the rising leftist trend which raided Arab culture after the defeat had diminished.

One could say that the defeat of 1967 according to the Arab mentality resembles what France’s defeat by German armies in 1945 was to the French people, thus creating a rise in resistance movements both on political and intellectual levels. The 1967 defeat had shattered the mythology of radical revolution, which if rich with momentum in the Western arena, seemed fruitless and frustrating in the Arab arena.