Upon the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the presence of imperial powers shortly after, the Middle East had to contend with a radical change in both the dynamics and the concentration of power within the region. These circumstances would lead in turn to chronic conflict in the Middle East and consequent repeated attempts at unifying the Arab world. This essay will look at how and why attempts were made at uniting Arab states and why these attempts often failed at delivering any significant unification.
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First it is important to look closely at the position the Middle East found itself in, in the early 20th century. The Ottoman Empire had ruled the region for over four centuries and had done so through divisions of people in different autonomous communal groups. This was in stark contrast to the territorial borders imposed by the imperial powers. As Ayoob argues, boundaries imposed by imperial powers fragmented the region into the multitude of weak, competing and often artificial state units on the basis of great powers interests and not indigenous wishes. The position the Middle East therefore found itself in was one in which indigenous groups were divided by territorial borders imposed by imperial powers, with these borders often simply being drawn with a ruler on a map with little attention being paid to the dynamics of the peoples living in these areas.
Next it is important to look at the challenges states faced in nation building and how this would HAVE/of contributed to the need of Arabism. As Hinnebusch explains, one of the great difficulties facing Arab nations was incongruence within the new founded states. Identification of the people within the territorial state was weak compared with loyalties to sub-state units, such as the city, the tribe, or religious sect. The imported idea of the nation state had little historic tradition on which to build.
As a result of Arab states being in a weakened position due to their challenge of nation building the ARABIST/Arabism movement meant that states could be UNITED MORE STRONGLY/stronger united. Leaders of Arab states would call for unity within the region in order to counter pressures from western powers. Hinnebusch explains that within a group, identity facilitates cooperation and mobilizes agents for change and where identity converges with shared territory and economic interdependence, resulting in a nation state or regional community, legitimacy and stability is reached. This was the mentality of Arab leaders when calling for unity.
Kienle (1995) argues that states turned to Pan Arabism when they feel vulnerable and insecure. The use of “identity” is merely an instrument used in order to call for support in times of potential danger. Benedict Anderson argues that certain processes tie groups together into an “imagined community”. For example the development of local and regional economies engage different groups creating a link between them.
The one-state-one-nation Western ideal contrasted with the Arab notion of one-nation-many-states. This follows the basic principle of Arab Nationalism or Arabism, which calls for the unification of all Arab people. The Arab world is unique in that the region shares, to a large extent, a common language, culture, history and religion. These are all important factors in determining nationalism of a state. Therefore the region looked set in establishing an Arab nationalism movement as it held all the ingredients to do so. However the issue was that the region had been divided into states, some of which WERE deemed “artificial”, and so as these new founded states attempted to consolidate power within their own territory and gain some form of identity, Arabism would face several constraints.
From the outset there had been no agreement on how Arabism would be combine with more local loyalties (such as within the state). As states started to gain independence nationalistic movements started to take place in order to unify the peoples within territorial borders. For example Iraq, WHICH/who became the first Arab state to achieve its official independence in 1932, went through a process that attempted to create a sense of Iraqi Patriotism. King Faisal conducted a competition between poets and musicians to provide words and music for the first Iraqi national anthem. Therefore one of the issues that first arose in causing a difficulty in the establishment of Arabism was the need of consolidating power within new FOUND/founded territorial borders and the call to local loyalties that would put a wider call to Arabism on hold.
Another issue that faced Arabism was the competition between the stronger Arab states in taking lead throughout the region. As state building became more and more important, leaders were often concerned about losing power to other Arab states. An example of this was King Faisal attempts at holding an Arab congress in Baghdad, in order to use Arab support to help reduce Iraqi weakness and overcome the dangers threatening the integrity of Iraqi society. However Humphreys, the British High Commissioner, NO WHO NEEDED/who argued it could provoke hostility from Iraqi neighbours and bring about the very dangers that the king feared, rejected the proposal. It would have built up hostility from leading Arab states like Saudi Arabia who resisted any moves made by states that could put them into a leading position within the region.
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The outcome of the six-day war is often used to signal the end of the Arabism movement. The war led to the astounding Israeli victory over a united Arab force (primarily Egypt, Syria and Jordan) and the inability of ARAB/Arabic countries to generate economic growth. One of the major reasons to why this would be the downfall of the ARABIST/Arabism movement was the extent to which Egypt suffered major losses in the war. Egypt’s losses meant that they would no longer at the front food of Arab politics. From 1967 and throughout the 1970s we see the country move further and further away from the pursuit of Arabism. The Camp David Accords, promoting peace between Israel and Egypt and the expulsion of Egypt from the Arab league in 1979 highlight the end of Egypt’s quest in uniting Arabic nations.
The lack of efficiency of Pan-Arab institutions was another factor in the failure of the movement. In an anarchic system whereby states have no one to report to, there was no way in ensuring that Arabic states would adhere to Pan-Arab friendly practices. One OF the first institutions to be set up in order to promote Arabism was the United Arab Republic (UAR), established in 1958, which included Syria and Egypt. However the institution only lasted until 1961 as Syria pull out of the initiative due to Nasser’s want to dominate both countries. In 1963 the new UAR was set up, this time including Iraq as well AS Egypt and Syria, and including an entirely federal system where by each state was able to keep its identity. The institution lasted longer than its predecessor had, but again was abolished in 1971 due to the differences between Syria and Egypt.
Gamal Abdell Nasser, the Egyptian President, had been a key figure in the push for unity among Arab states. Soon after his assumption of power in 1956, becoming the second president of Egypt, Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, and at the same time denounced Western influence in the Arab world. This created a strong feeling of support throughout the Arab world for Nasser, and the way in which he dealt with the repercussions of the British and French powers consolidated his position as the face of Arabism. From this point on Nasser would attempt to unify Arabs throughout the region although often he was seen as overbearing, one example NO BEING NEEDED/being mentioned above whereby the early break up of the UAR was caused through his domination of Syria’s government and consequently Syria’s decision to leave the institution.
The death of Egypt’s second president on the 28th of September 1970 is often seen as the “final nail in the coffin” for Arabism, after the devastating results of the 1967 war. It meant that there was no leader to which Arabs could aspire and turn to in the name of Arabism and as a result meant there was nothing holding the fort in preventing the movement NO INTO NEEDED/into dissolving into something of the past. There is conclusive evidence that Nasser’s death was in fact the end of Arabism. By the mid-1970’s “the idea of Arab unity became less and less apparent in Arab politics” (The Continuum Political Encyclopaedia of the Middle east). Nasser’s death also clinched the end of Egypt as the leading state of Arabism. Anwar Al Sadat, Nasser’s successor, revived an Egyptian orientation, unequivocally asserting that only Egypt and Egyptians were his responsibility. Ultimately the death of Nasser led to the Arab world losing its leader in the quest of uniting its peoples.
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