On September 22, British MP George Galloway blew away an Arab audience at the Lebanese University when he commanded Arabs to unite with the words “Al Arab shaab wahed" (translated: The Arabs are one). Many Arabs often call for Arab unity, asserting to the fact that we share a common language, and a common history. But if so why has Arab unity failed?
The greatest factors that damaged the credibility of pan-Arabism were the defeat by Israel in 1967 and the lack economic growth of the nations that adopted pan-Arabism. But what if these factors were simply a byproduct of what is fundamentally a misguided alliance?
The question comes at a time where unities and alliances between world powers are more powerful than ever. It is undeniably true that nations gain strength in numbers. A collection of small nations united will always be more powerful than a collection of nations divided.
Although a common language could facilitate international unity, it is not a catalyst for it. In fact it is not a common ethnicity, nor a religion, nor geographic proximity that forges unions. Unions are formed out of a need, and that is a need to protect a common political agenda of governments.
"With the end of colonialism and a lesser threat of Israeli imperialism came a lesser need for pan-Arabism"
NATO has an alliance so strong that they are prepared to engage in battle against any country that poses a threat to their member nations. It is not a cultural, religious, or geographic bond that establishes this alliance. Essentially the purpose of NATO’s alliance is to protect and promote the democratic values they share.
In May of 2011 when the Gulf nations invited Jordan and Morocco to join the GCC it had nothing to do with their ethnicity or geography or religion. It came out of a need (in the wake of the Arab Spring) to protect their political monarchies.
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At the height of pan-Arabism, Arab nations shared a common need to protect themselves from imperialism and colonialism. This came at a time soon after the inception of Israel when British forces still colonised most Arab nations and imperialist Zionists posed a real threat to the existence of Arab nations. Pan-Arabism was an essential need between these nations.
The end of World War II brought an end to the threat of colonisation. After the war, British forces did not have the resources to maintain their Middle Eastern colonies and started the process of decolonizing them, and leading the Arab nations to independence.
With the end of colonialism and a lesser threat of Israeli imperialism came a lesser need for pan-Arabism. Secularists who originally championed the cause abandoned it for it’s lack of economic growth.
Pan-Arabism universally espoused socialism. It only makes sense that a political system that fundamentally enforces a rhetoric that opposes cooperation with ‘the west’ and other international powers would bread an economic system that is socialist and protectionist. Hardly features that lead to economic growth.
Islamists also opposed pan-Arabism for various reasons. Islamists’ ideology starkly contrasted pan-Arabism’s secular ideology. Pan-Arabism was also shunned for it’s exclusion of non-arab people like the Kurds, Turks and other ethnic minorities.
Seculars and Islamists both went on to champion their respective ideologies. Islamists championed movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and secularists went on to support nationalist movements in their separate nations. Leaving behind pan-Arabism as a movement of the past. A distant dream.
Islamists forming a movement exclusive to Islamic nations, pan-Arabists exclusive to Arab people, and nationalists exclusive to their nations. And all of them exclusively separatist.
For the nations of the Middle East to ever unite they must come from a movement not based on but inclusive to religion, ethnicity, culture, and even geography. Exclusively based on their ideology.