Nationalism in Our World
After WW2, colonial rule was still holding strong in many regions of the Arab world. However, increasingly there were widespread civilian sentiments of anger and humiliation at the continued western interferences and occupations in the Middle East; this sense of resistance was accompanied by the increasing popularity of Arab Nationalist ideals, which saw the Rise of Pan- Arabism. Support for the project, was especially prevalent in Egypt which was a monarchy under colonial British rule. Arab Nationalism or Pan-Arabism is an interesting ideology, because on the one hand, it seems to be anti-nationalistic as it attempts to transcend the Westphalian order of sovereign nation states with bound territories, but on the other hand, it can actually be understood as a nationalistic movement in that it stipulates that all Arab countries from North Africa, West Asia and the Middle East constitute a single nation.
The Pan-Arabism project reached its apogee in the 1950’s – 60’s, however the precedence for the movement stems right back to the universalist system of the Ottoman Empire, which the Arab states had been part of for about four centuries; this legacy meant that the Arab Nations shared one language and cultural heritage. An important historical event in understanding the Pan-Arabism movement was the establishment of the Ba’ath Party in 1947, which had branches in several Arab countries and became the ruling party in both Syria and Iraq. The Ba’ath Party spread propaganda that attempted to cultivate a sense of nostalgia for what they referred to as the “Golden Age of Arabism”. They spun a rhetoric that welded together the Westphalian sovereign state model with Western imperialism. Proponents of the Pan-Arabism project argued that any Arab leader who was opposed to unification of the Arab world was a puppet of the West.
Pan-Arabism advocates often had a socialist agenda; they believed that uniting the Arab world would lead to greater prosperity and economic co-operation for all the Arab countries. Fouad Ajami writes in ‘The End of Pan Arabism’: “From this perspective, the individual Arab states are deviant and transient entities; their frontiers illusory; their rulers’ interim caretakers or obstacles to be removed” (Ajami 1978:258). In 1952, a successful bloodless coup took place. A group of Egyptian army officers, calling themselves the Free Officers Movement were able to overthrow the corrupt regime of King Farouk. At the forefront of this revolution was a young army officer called Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Revolutionary Command Council was established by the Free Officers and General Muhammad Naguib became Egypt’s first president. However, Nasser’s growing popularity leads to Naguib removal, and in October 1954, Nasser was appointed as the second president of Egypt. Nasser transformed Egypt into a republic, introduced centralised parliamentary rule and instituted a wide array of socialist domestic reforms that aimed to improve the living conditions of the peasant majority.
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