Sunday 22 September 2013

Arab Nationalism

“Don’t fear the tears from our maternal eyes.
Away from us grief-making cowards!
When you take up arms we must triumph;
It is for Kings to shed tears.
We gave you life;
Warriors, that life is no longer yours;
All your days belong to the Motherland,
She is your mother before us”

 This extract from Le Chant du depart (The Song of Departure) c. 1794 after the call of Levee en Mass in Revolutionary France.

Arab Nationalism is dichotomies of religious, ideological and geopolitical forces that could have come together towards the end of the First World War but instead it imploded by its internal struggle.  Such considerations added to selfish interests and totally bounded by lack of coherence and near total absence of common national interest that today still cries out for an Arab motherland.  Far from a heartfelt call to French solidarity at nation building, the result of The Arab Revolt of 1917 saw a furthering degeneration of the Arab cause towards an intended pan-Arabian nationalistic unity.   By contrast, the effect fastened itself to one of greater dominance; British and French colonialists’ forces in the shape of a Mandatory power (held in trust with curtailed sovereignty),  granted to them at The Treaty of Versailles in 1919.  It was to be the new chapter of the Middle East subaltern state but subsequently caused one of the severest damage to territorial and human loss the region would experience for many years and does so to this day.  The damage further increased after WWII by planting Israel, a Zionist State, marginalising the Palestinians to build homes for the displaced European Jews.  The revolt, in the meantime, proved a watershed in Arabian political thinking that went to disengage the Arabs from Ottoman hegemony that had until then chained them for almost 500 years in exchange to one sourced from Imperialist forces – Imperial Britain and France.

Having encouraged the formation of the Arab League in 1944-45 the hope was this would serve in keeping the Arab states together and also to act as a vehicle for Arab cooperation to contain the influence of outside powers such as American and Russian forces as much as from potentially predatory neighbours.  

 For many young Arabs, this post-war age promised to be a new ‘national age’.  “The false dawn of freedom from Ottoman power after 1918 – which had led instead to Britain’s regional overrule – might, at last, give way to the glorious morning of full Arab nationhood.”   Having secured a political friendship with the Hashimite kingdoms of Iraq and Jordan and securing the rights to the oil that came with Iraq and Persia, the British were able to lever their way over the Egyptian people. At the time comprising more than a third of Middle East population,  further validating, in their view, their hold on the Middle East. 

The Arab revolt in 1917 was not only to remove the Ottoman yoke of domination over the Arabs but also to help the British forces in their continued break-up of the remaining remnants of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. At the time, the Ottoman Empire allied itself with Germany as part of the Central Powers declaring a ‘Jihad’ (Holy War) against Britain, France and Russia.   Despite the victory, Britain reneged on its promise for Nationalist and Independent Arabia.  The colonialist insisted that Arabia was not only unfit for self-government but went on a carving spree like the Sykes-Picot agreement, dividing Arabia at will but with an additional conciliatory promise of British assistance against internal revolt and external attack.  In the event, it bestowed kingdoms to those most cooperative and least inflexible.  Those kingdoms were to no other than satisfying the narcissist greed of the Hashimite tribe.  In the process, it was the Saudi Monarch who seized the holy places of Mecca and Medina from their Hashemite guardians and turned Hashemite Hejaz into a province of what became Saudi Arabia.  As a consequence there developed a rivalry between Egypt, the Hashemites and the Saudis which focused on Syria; a fertile ground even then for religious and regional conflict and prone to outside influences.  Since then there has been a separation of powers void of a centralised or dominating structure resulted in an ever-widening schism among the Arab nation; increasingly individualistic and egotistical in ideology.   

Soon after Egypt asserted its position as first place among the Arab states it suffered a shock defeat in 1948 Arab – Israeli conflict consequently led to the overthrow of its King Farouk in 1952.  The revolution that ensued brought with it the Republic of Egypt with young nationalistic officer Gamal Abdel Nasser shortly after that succeeding as its President.   The defeat was also a crushing humiliation but had an added effect to galvanise Pan-Arab sentiments provoking a nationalistic cause in the leading Arab states.  The struggle with the British was becoming increasingly violent none more so than the nationalising of the Suez Canal by Nasser in 1956.  The canal was constructed in 1859 and was jointly owned by the French and British. The British had purchased its share from Muhammad Sa'id Pasha, son of Mohamed Ali Pasha, ruler of Egypt under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire.  The purchase had an added value of saving Egypt’s economy from going bankrupt.  With the help of the Americans, by exerting pressure on the British pound sterling, the British ended its short but at the time destructive foray into Egypt.  To exert Egypt influence on the Arab world, Nasser mobilised his nationalistic ideas for Pan-Arabism succeeding in Uniting Egypt and Syria under the banner of United Arab Republic but unfortunately that was short lived.  That, in fact, was the nearest any Arab nation came to unite with another.

Arab countries gained independence separately, with varying anachronistic timing.  Such was the 

Disjointed social and geopolitical nature of the Middle East.  Reflecting on the whole region including Egypt and the Arabic-speaking North African countries one wonders whether there could ever be a social cohesion to an Arabised nation. To put it more simply at times it seems there is so much divergence in Arab culture and ideology that even Islam seems unable to bridge those differences. Although this, however, may be hemmed in the difficulty of defining an ‘Arab’, regional majority religions, nevertheless, fails to prove a unifying force but ultimately aimless and helpless in cohering what an otherwise a typical Semitic race is.  One sometimes wonders whether heritage, history or language can ever be the wellspring of weighted ideas to influence Arab ideological unity.  It points to the contrary, however, that divisional religious ideology with Tribal ethno-heritage background is instead igniting the catalyst; fuelling the diversity and sectarian violence we see today in the Middle East. Moreover, what is happening in Syria and elsewhere is evidence that Arab national identity is hollow; a clear evidence, therefore, that Arab Nationalism and civilisation has finally been exhausted.  Generally speaking Arab society, chiefly its leadership is proving effortless and incapable to exercise its rational stance to override Religion. We are, however, left with a conundrum to draw a typology of what is an Arab because many severely entrenched in the confusion of Islamic and Tribal nationalism for Arabism and holistic approach to nationalism remains totally defunct of a mother country.

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