Many have struggled to distinguish and understand the underlying reasons for the continuous geopolitical challenges occurring within the Arab homeland. Is it really because of national, ethnic, religious, and social diversity? Or, rather, because of the opposite: in essence a nationally united nation that remains politically and economically divided?
I believe the loss of the Arab national identity has been the main problem, and thus, the cause of the Arab world’s social mayhem. However, since the spark of the Arab Spring, different attempts carried out by ordinary people have demonstrated the Arab national awakening and relentless persistence to seek a clear definition of who they really are.
To begin with, the story of the Arab nation cycle has gone through numerous phases and was exposed to endless conflicts, internally as well as externally. In all of the three states (Al-Umayyad State, Abbasid State, and finally the Fatimid State) a dominating characteristic of one Arab state was unquestionably present, and in no way were minor differences ever favored over the oneness of the nation. Therefore, the history of the Arab identity during the period between 661 until 1171 A.C was based on absolute national Arab grounds and was shielded with Islamic laws.
"The story of the Arab nation cycle has gone through numerous phases"
It was not until the age of empires began to invade people’s minds and lands that reality shifted and has now propelled into a bizarre national philosophy as far as the Arab world is concerned. In order words, the colonialism formed within the Turkish (Ottoman) occupation of the Arab land was the primary step towards Arab divisionism, through extensive exploitation of the land and a total negation of the Arab persona. Regionalism was the upcoming fraction that further deepened Arab’s geographical diaspora under the western colonial attitude.
Westerners played on the minor differences and were able to exaggerate and permeate those dissimilarities in order to bring about a fake realization of differentiation between the people who once shared one title: Arab nation. Dividing the Arabs meant weakness that translated into complete subservience, launching diverse political as well as economic systems.
However, after almost a century from the establishment of the first “independent” Arab state (Saudi Arabia), the notion of nation-state inside a nation has proved to be irrevocably defective and totally erroneous, generating severe social confusions and violent expressive outcomes.
The most overlooked leftovers of the western experiments across the Arab world were and have always been two dominant factors: Language and religion. It is maybe easy to build a state, change it, indulge into another, or even destroy it and subsequently reestablish another one, but it may not be as simplistic to lead people who are under this state or regime to devote complete obedience and respect to it.
Islam was the main derive and fuel that stimulated Arabs in Algeria to resist and finally push away the French in the Arab land, and it was the Arabic language and literature that eventually defeated the Ottoman’s Turkification polices in Great Syria, which was meant to be replicated over the entire Arab world, had it succeeded in Syria.
Therefore, religion and language have been dominant factors of the Arab nation cycle. As a result, even though people are being governed under different political regimes, the majority have obtained their national loyalty to the absent flag but maintained at the same time their religious dogma.
Signup to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
For example, my uncle was exposed to three different political eras in Libya and in each one of them aggrandizement and faithfulness was intrinsically devoted to the ruling figure and his ideologies. “National patriotism” is not what he would hear in schools, streets, or even at home since all of those three locations lacked the self-consciousness of being loyal to a region framed within national margins. Every time the country entered a new political era, its leaders applied their national patriotic characteristics believing that a national sense of belonging could be as fast transformative as the political cycle.
Countries’ establishment in the Arab world has not led to a transformation in people’s national belonging! If Ibn Saud, the first king of Saudi Arabia, had succeeded in driving the British out from Transjordan and Iraq, there would not have been any “Iraqi”, “Kuwaiti”, or “Jordanian” nationalities.
As a consequence, certain side effects have started to show, starting in the 70s when a member of the Mujahedeen who were fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan decided to establish an organization that unites not only Arabs but also all Muslims, and was ultimately targeting the western existence in the Arab homeland.
9/11 happened and Iraq was invaded. This has speeded up Arab’s realization of their Arabhood, because ever since that incident Arabs rather than Muslims have remained isolated and were faced with a wave of western criticism. A Muslim from Kazakhstan does not have the same movement restriction or mirror image perspective as any Muslim Arab located anywhere between the Atlantic and the Arabian Gulf. When a Sufi Moroccan or a Sunni Saudi Arabian faces the same dilemma and criticism as a Christian Syrian or a Shia Iraqi, then these people realize the correlation and common elements that they share; namely Arabhood.
Such attentiveness led to a crystallization of Samuel Huntington’s second part of his famous saying: “We know who we are often only when we know whom we are against.”
"Religion and language have been dominant factors of the Arab nation cycle"
Apart from that, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the recent atrocities that were conducted by the Israeli military has further revived the conflict and regionally personified it, since it was clear that no other rather than the Arab community was concerned with what was happening in Palestine.
Ultimately, though, the revolutions that took place in the Arab world are the biggest evidence of Arab’s eternal past, present and future singleness. The Arab Spring occurred fundamentally due to the total Arab national frustration from the inefficient political mechanisms of its leaders to realize a concrete national identity and their continuous failure to reach a cohesive plot of a religious mesh. These leaders symbolize(d) a reluctance to think in a new social perception, believing ironically in the myth of the Arab state’s sovereignty.
There is a reason why people of rich states like Libya or even Saudi Arabia attempt to bring about the exact same change as people living in the most underprivileged states, such as Yemen or Tunisia, or why those who live in one of the most agrarian countries (Syria) fight persistently to achieve what one of the most industrialized states in North Africa (Egypt) has accomplished. It is not a matter of political or economic needs as much as an issue of a lost identity. It is a unique moment to distinguish and break up the molten identities, which came as a consequence of the three main derives of the Arab identity crisis (Colonialism, Tribalism, Islamism.)
To conclude, there is no question that Arabs are one nation, but under different political and economic systems. The numerous Arab states may have been able to acquire their citizens with some political and economic rights but have not been able to provide them with a national sense of patriotism or even a national sense of belonging. If Arab leaders are really seeking ultimate solutions to their dilemmas, they ought to work closely together. Secondly, they need to work towards a reaffirmation of their Arabhood and their Arabism, by reviving their language, and resuscitating their religious cohesion and social integration. Or else they will be bound to welcome extremism in all forms until the Arab national needs are met.