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Notes on the ‘Arab Spring’ and Pan-Islamism

July 26, 2011

As summer has worn on, results and reforms hoped for during the heat of the ‘Arab Spring’ have begun to show some tarnish, if not deeply faded.  This excellent article provides some history, as well as a look forward at the Muslim Arab region today.  The Muslim Arab region has always shifted and heaved, and the current ‘Arab Spring’ is no different.

From the Mashriq to the Maghreb, one end of the Arab world to the other, people are contemplating where the six-month-long upheavals that began with the Arab Spring are fated to deliver them.  Those with longer memories may recall the dramatic summer fifty years ago when an earlier experiment at reshaping the political contours of Arab governance came unraveled: the 1961 breakup of the United Arab Republic (UAR).

 Declared in February 1958, the UAR was the union of Syria and Egypt. It was created in response to Syrian lobbying of Egypt’s Gamal Nasser for an alliance and was popularly backed in both countries. The ideal of pan-Arab unity was all the rage and the hope was that other states, beginning with Iraq, would join.

Pan-Arabism was seen as a workaround for the lack of legitimacy of most Arab leaders as well as the political systems they oversaw.

The author goes on to lay out other attempts to unite under the pan-Arab banner:  Jordan and Iraq; Egypt, Syria and Iraq; Egypt, Syria, and Libya; North Yemen and Egypt; Iraq and Kuwait; Tunisia and Libya (1974); and, finally, a confederation of the West Bank and Jordan. 

As we know, today, these attempts at ‘regionalism’ failed.  Looking at the ‘Arab Spring’, it is time to wonder if ‘nationalism’ will succeed or if growing ‘pan-Islamism’ will take root.  The view is not encouraging.

…fifty years since the breakdown of the UAR and its promise of legitimacy through pan-Arabism, prospects for democratization seem improbable.  This is compounded by the failure of Arab nationalist movements, such as the Ba’ath, and the current ascendency of national-based Islamist parties.  In light of all this, there seems to be a distinct possibility that the Arabs might abandon entirely the Western nation-state model, and opt instead for the pan-Islamist alternative. 

Among the many problems that the ‘pan-Islamist alternative’ brings, one of the largest will be a definitive lack of understanding as to how to deal with this entity, on the part of Western powers.  This fact alone will throw the region into greater chaos, and cast a darker pall across the tiny Nation of Israel.

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