Pan Arabism

During a period of high tensions in response to the effects of colonialism from the British, many nations had an appetite for independence and one example of this can be seen with Pan-Arabism. After much of the Arab world had been colonised by the British and then conquered by the Ottomans, nationalist ideas introduced the concept of a united and independent Arab nation. We will be exploring the history behind Pan-Arabism, whilst exploring the significance behind the idea and some key thinkers involved.

Pan Arabism Pan Arabism

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Contents
Table of contents

    Pan-Arabism definition

    The ideology advocated for a united Arab nation, with countries from Northern Africa and Western Asia coming together to form this nation.

    Pan-Arabism

    Pan-Arabism, also known as Arab nationalism, is a type of pan-nationalism, an idea that can be regarded as an extension and higher form of nationalism that is based on individuals’ geography, race, religion and language, and creating a nation based on these ideas.

    Below we have included an overview of Pan-Arabism which may help you understand a little more about the key features of this political ideology.

    Key Features of Pan-Arabism

    • Cultural and political unity between Arab countries. Examples of cultural unity include the use of a shared language such as MSA Arabic

    • Opposition to Western political involvement in the Arab world.

    • The ideology seeks to empower Arab states through political and economic cooperation.

    The history of Pan-Arabism

    Pan Arabism, Portrait of Jurji Zaydan, StudySmarterJurji Zaydan, PD-US Via Wikimedia CommonsPan-Arabism has a long history. Let's take a look at some of the key influences which have helped to shape this political ideology.

    Early influences on Pan-Arabism

    The establishment of the idea can be explored through Jurji Zaydan, a Lebanese journalist who through his writing established a common form of Arabic known as the Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and his collection of stories from the pre-Islamic and Islamic era that Arab nations could share.

    Zaydan believed journalism1 was key in educating and influencing people. He was the founder and editor of Al-Hilal magazine where he explored politics, economics and science with the intention of educating readers whilst respecting their beliefs.

    For Zaydan the existence of the Arabic language...as a functioning means of communication and information for society was proof that an Arab bond existed” - Phillip, 'Jurji Zaydan’s Role in the Syro Arab Nahda'

    A key influence of Zaydan's contribution to the ideas of Pan-Arabism was the Arabic language, a way in which he saw Arab nations were able to unite. Alongside this, he emphasises the role of Islam within Pan-Arabism by collating stories and forming 'The History of Islamic Civilisation', in which he dedicated his life to exploring the history of Islam which has deep Arab roots. We can therefore see Zaydan's heavy influence on Pan-Arabism, where he wanted to showcase and educate different ideas and the heavy importance he laid on the Arabic language and Islamic history within the ideology.

    Post-war influences on Pan-Arabism

    Later in World War I, we can see the idea of Pan-Arabism growing as a political movement whereby the Sharif of Mecca (leader of Mecca), Sharif Hussein ibn Ali who wanted to get independence for the ‘Arab’ nations in Northern Africa and Western Asia from the ruling Ottoman Empire in order to form a united nation. In order to do this the Sharif formed relations with the United Kingdom (UK), they agreed that the UK would support the idea of a united nation as long as these nations betrayed the Ottoman empire, this was known as the Husain-McMahon Correspondence. Nevertheless, later the UK and France agreed that these nations would instead be split between them in the Sykes-Picot Agreement and therefore the united Arab nation was not established.

    It is key to remember that until the mid-1900s, Egypt was not interested in Pan-Arabism and it was Gamal Abdel Nasser, an Egyptian politician who increased the popularity of Pan-Arabism during the 1950s-1960s. Nasser became popular during the nationalisation of the Suez Canal and the victory against Israel, France and the UK. He then advocated for independent Arab states to group together, which led to the creation of the United Arab Republic, which contained present-day Syria and Egypt. However, this only lasted until 1961 where Syrian officers arranged a coup d'état and withdrew. This was one of the examples of Pan-Arabism, which like many others failed.

    Pan-Arab flag:

    The Pan-Arab flag was established in 1916 as the flag to signify the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire in World War I. As you can see, the flag is made up of four colours, which each represents a key aspect of the Pan-Arab ideology.

    Pan Arabism, Pan-Arab Flag, StudySmarterPan-Arab Flag, PD Xiquet, Via Wikimedia Commons

    Black represented was the dynastic colour of the Ummayad and Fatimid caliphates whilst also being a primary colour used under the Rashidun and Abbasid caliphates. Green represented the primary religion within the Arab nations - Islam and the red represented the Hashemite clan, who have ruled Meccan since the 10th century and also where the clan of the prophet of Islam, Prophet Muhammed (PBUH).

    The flag was designed to represent all Arab nations and the colours are still seen in the present day, such as for the United Arab Emirates, Palestine, Kuwait, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.

    Pan-Arabism significance

    Pan-Arabism originated in the 20th century and we can see its influence and prominence moving onto the late 20th century, so we will be exploring the significance of Pan-Arabism whilst also exploring the challenge it faced.

    Pan-Arabism and Anti-colonialism

    Anti-colonialism: opposing the role of one country over another

    Pan-Arabism and anti-colonialism are two terms that work in conjunction with one another. In the 1900s when the idea of Pan-Arabism was growing we can identify that it was due to their ideas of anti-colonialism. The Sharif of Mecca wanted independence from the Ottoman Empire and also from the later British rule, and the leader of Egypt wanted an Arab nation that could stand united, again, from British rule. We can, therefore, determine that Pan-Arabism and colonialism are two ideas that were at odds with one another and that Pan-Arabists tend to also be anti-colonialists.

    Anti-colonialism and Pan-Arabism

    The Arab world went under the colonial rule of the British and as expected many did not favour this, but after the Ottomans conquered and the British gave the Arab leaders a way out they took the opportunity to achieve freedom. This catalysed the ideas of Pan-Arabism, based on individuals’ geography, race, religion and language, and creating a nation based on these ideas.

    The Arab League and Pan-Arabism

    The Arab League

    A regional organisation within the Arab world containing 22 members that work together to encourage the cooperation of the member states, protect their individual and collective independence and sovereignty and represent Arab countries in the Middle East and Africa.

    King Abdullah I of Jordan was the Emir (leader) of Transjordan, a British protectorate, who dreamed of creating a nation containing present-day Syria, Palestine and Jordan and to name this Greater Syria. To carry out his plan, King Abdullah proposed the prospect of a Pan-Arab nation to the British government. However, the British government did not support or endorse Abdullah's vision for the Arab world.

    Instead, this idea created tension within the Arab world and established apprehension towards Abdullah as the Arab world believed in the creation of a Palestinian state whilst Abdullah wanted to remain as an ally of the British and this would jeopardise the relationship. As a result, on 21 July 1951 he was assassinated.

    This was the main reason for the creation of the Arab league in 1945, a regional organisation within the Arab world containing 22 members that work together to encourage the cooperation of the member states, protect their individual and collective independence and sovereignty and represent Arab countries in the Middle East and Africa.

    Pan-Arab movement

    The Pan-Arab movement consisted of a core idea to have a united independent Arab state, free from colonial rule, whilst sharing a common language - Arabic. We will be exploring their significance within this movement.

    Arabic Language

    Pan Arabism, Arabic speaking world, StudySmarter

    Arabic Speaking World, Keteracel, CC-BY-SA-3.0 Via Wikimedia Commons

    The Arabic language is a very important component of Arab nationalism. We can see from Jurji Zaydan, a Lebanese journalist who through his writing established a common form of Arabic known as the Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). This means that all Arab nations now had a common language that they were able to understand and was taught in education as well and was an important step to the idea of Pan-Arabism. This was imperative as before the creation of MSA, different Arab nations had very distinct dialects and so were not able to understand each other.

    The diagram on the side explores which countries have Arabic as their official language or official co-language:

    • Dark green: Official sole language

    • Light green: Official sole language but have a minority in native individuals

    • Dark blue: Co-official language with a high proportion of native speakers

    • Light blue: Co-official language where a minority speak Arabic and/or for cultural and historical reasons

    25 countries state MSA Arabic as their official language: Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen

    Pan-Arabism Challenges

    The goal of having a united nation was to have all Arab countries from Asia and Africa be united under one voice that advocated for the same ideas. A key example can be seen with the Sharif of Mecca, who was able to unite the Arab states to oppose the Ottoman empire. This was to please the British in return for a united Arab nation, and although they carried out the revolt, the British did not give what was promised.

    However, the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, which consisted of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Six-Day War of 1967, and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 was a reason why the idea of Pan-Arabism has lost its support. Although the Arab nations stood and fought together in an attempt to establish a Palestinian state, they failed to do so. This failure was assumed to be caused by the lack of unity amongst the Arab states, as many Arab states were accused of fighting not for unity but for personal gain and therefore their loss was a result of them not working as a united body, thus leading to the idea of Pan-Arabism being abandoned.

    Key Thinkers in Pan-Arabism

    In every ideology it is important to explore some key people within the ideology itself, for Pan-Arabism we will be exploring Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein and Sati‘ al-Husri.

    Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein

    Pan Arabism, Photo of Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein, StudySmarterGamal Abdel Nasser Hussein, PD Egypt Via Wikimedia Commons

    Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein was an Egyptian politician who served as the second president of Egypt from 1954 to 1970. After the Suez Crisis in 1956, the popularity of Hussein and Pan-Arabism grew, with him being assumed leader of the Arab world. However, although he was against communism he became a rising threat to the Western world, with President Eisenhower trying to overthrow his power. This led to the leaders of the Arab nations losing their faith in Hussein although their citizens did not.

    By 1957, Hussein’s popularity had decreased drastically with other Arab nations and Syria remained as his only ally and led to the formation of the United Arab Republic. However, problems were mounting and instability was increasing in Syria and Hussein was losing popularity, this eventually led to a coup and break-up of the United Arab Republic in 1961. We can see that Hussein had a very important role in the popularity of Pan-Arabism, when he was popular so was the ideology and when he lost support so did the ideology.

    It is important to note that Hussein had also influenced unity in Africa and played a role in the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, now known as the African Union.

    Sati‘ al-Husri was an Ottoman, Syrian and Iraqi writer who was also very influential in the idea of Arab nationalism. Husri was inspired by the teachings of Johann Gottfried voPan Arabism, Portrait of Sati' al-Husri, StudySmarterSati' al-Husri, PD-Syria, Via Wikimedia Commonsn Herder, a philosopher who influenced the ideology of nationalism. Like Herder, Husri believed that culture and language were two important factors of nationalism and disregarded factors such as religion.

    Husri was against the idea of having an Arab nation that was Islamic as he argued that there were Arabs before Islam, and it would be too broad as Muslims were not present solely in Arab countries. He also believed that although the different dialects of Arabic meant different Arab nations were unable to understand each other, there should be a form of Arabic that is formed that is more comprehensive than classical Arabic that should be taught in all nations.

    Pan-Arabism - Key takeaways

    • Pan-Arabism is an ideology that advocates for a united Arab nation, with countries from Northern Africa and Western Asia coming together to form this nation.
    • The early establishment of the idea can be explored through Jurji Zaydan, a Lebanese journalist.
    • Pan-Arabism grew in the 20th century, with it peaking during the 1950s-1960s, but has since lost popularity.
    • The key components of Pan-Arabism are; the Arabic language, Arab nation and unity.
    • Key thinkers of Pan-Arabism were; Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein and Sati‘ al-Husri.

    1. Jurji Zaidan: His Contributions to Modern Arab Thought and Literature, Ismail Serageldin, 2012

    Frequently Asked Questions about Pan Arabism

    What does pan Arab mean?

    Being a pan-Arab is in individual who follows and advocated for pan-Arabism ideas. Pan-Arabism represents an idea that can be regarded as an extension and higher form of nationalism that is based on individuals’ geography, race, religion and language, and creating a nation based on these ideas. 

    When did pan-arabism finish?

    Pan-Arabism has not necessarily finished but it has not been very prominent since the late 20th century.

    What is a simple definition of Pan Arabism?

    A type of pan-nationalism, an idea that can be regarded as an extension and higher form of nationalism that is based on individuals’ geography, race, religion and language, and creating a nation based on these ideas.

    What is the difference between Pan Arabism and Arab nationalism?

    Pan-Arabism and Arab nationalism are the same. 

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