Monday, January 30, 2006

Arab Nationalism

Arab nationalism can be understood as a political movement of a twentieth century product. However, it may originate with the presence of the Arabic language itself or with the Arab’s social, intellectual and political culture. Arab nationalism aims at the political reunification of all Arabic speaking states and their transformation from a ‘kulturnation’ into a ‘staatnation’. The movement of Arab nationalism acquired its present form only gradually, from 19th century. Though the sense of Arab nationalism based on national collectivity started since the Arab language was spoken, but politically it emerged clearly along with the emergence of Young Turk in the Ottoman Empire.

When Young Turk came to power in the Ottoman Empire, it tried to abolish the old Turkish policy of diverse ‘religious state’, which had previously lived together, and to replace it by a new ‘Ottoman policy’. Arnold Hottinger wrote, “The fact that the Turkish element began to appear more and more as the most reliable element among all the ‘Ottoman citizens’ had its effect on the racial policy of the nationalists. In practice it amounted to the first class ‘Ottoman citizens’, the Turks, being differentiated from the second class ‘Ottoman citizens’, the religious and ethnic minorities”. The Arabs which were the largest and most important among minorities reacted to this and demanded to separate from this empire, in which they were nothing but second class citizens, and to set up their own states.

The lost of Ottoman control over the route from Black Sea to Mediterranean Sea humbled the Empire and led to the decline of Ottoman power was one of the factors which contributed to the development of Arab nationalism. The invention of printing press opened up the media to propagate the doctrine and spirit of Arab nationalism. It has an important role in the growth of Arab nationalism by publishing the speeches and articles written by the Arab nationalist writer.

World War I marked the beginning of an explicitly political phase. Sharif Husayn, the ruler of Mecca, and his sons, in collaboration with Britain and France and with the active help of T. E. Lawrence, rebelled against his sovereign in far off Istanbul to establish a single Arab kingdom in its Arab provinces.

Prof. Z. N. Zeine of Beirut, in his book, “Arab-Turkish Relation and the emergence of Arab Nationalism”, comes to the conclusion that a sense of Arab nationhood and Arab nationalism only developed later. At first, preparatory period of this development began with the Young Turk Revolution and as reaction to their nationalism. Arab nationalism only became effective in extensiveness during the World War, under the pressure of the Turkish occupation and the methods used by the Turkish against the Arab civilian population. It then grew under the pressure of the European mandates, which were established after the war, into a general movement for emancipation.

The idea of mandates was born in Versailles. Arab provinces were divided between France and Britain according to the secret 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. Palestine and Iraq became mandates while Lebanon and Syria came under the mandates of France. All that left to the Arab was the Arabian Peninsula. In November 1917, British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, promised Palestine as a national home for the Jews.

The Arab consider this division of their lands among the victors of the first World War a betrayal. They insisted insisted that an Arab kingdom was promised to them, since to some extant they liberated themselves by their own efforts from their Turkish overlords. Directed against European domination, the basic we/they dichotomy of nationalism facilitated the movement’s politicization.

Following the establishment of the Arab League in 1945, the disastrous end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war made Palestine a core issue in the Arab politics and its relation with outside power. Egypt and Syria united under charismatic leadership of Nasser, which resulted to the emergence of the United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1961, aimed at the establishment of a unified Arab state. A conservative Pan-Islamic strategy promoted by Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco, opposed the radical Arab nationalism and emphasized the convening of Islamic conferences.
The Arab region was shaken to its roots in 1967 by the third Arab-Israeli war. The magnitude of Arab defeat restructured regional leadership, culminating in the decline of revisionist forces and the rise of the oil-producing powers.

The policy of Arab territorial state was changed after 1968. They were more tempted by the riches of the oilfields than the hardship of battlefields. Egypt approaches with Israel, culminating in the 1978 Camp David Accords, seemed a threat to Arab nationalism. In Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988), Syria, Libya and Algeria supported non-Arab revolutionary Islamic Iran instead of an Arab Iraq. Harrased on two sides by territorial ‘raison d’etat’ and revolutionary Islamism, Arab nationalism was severely wounded, though not dead.

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