Arab Nationalism(s): Rise and Decline of an Ideology

in Oriente Moderno
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When speaking about Arab nationalism, at least three phenomena, only partially distinct from one another, must be identified: Arabism, Pan-Arabism and Nationalisms on a local basis.

The first is Arabism (ʿurūbah, being Arab) in the sense of belonging to the same world, in a single context from Morocco to Iraq, that emerged in Egypt and Near East in the last decades of the xix century. From this cultural awareness of an Arab identity, the Pan-Arabism (qawmiyyah ʿarabiyyah) developed in the interwars period, but especially after the Second World War. Finally, with the acquired national Arab independences, Nationalism emerged on a local basis, and took the name of waṭaniyyah.

The debate has never closed and all the major questions are still open: if an Arab nation (and therefore an Arab nationalism) has ever existed; if we can talk about a Pan-Arab nationalism once local based nationalisms emerged; which are the ideological principles of Arab Nationalism that are not uncritically assimilated from outside; finally, how and why the nationalistic ideologies have suffered an heavy crisis in front of the impressive rise of contemporary radical Islamism after the Seventies.

Finally, if the figure of the global jihadist, not tied to this or that national cause but fighting anywhere you have to fight a ǧihād in the way of God, is the antithesis of the militant of nationalistic movements, for his absolute disregard for any cause that can be defined national. The goal is the creation of an Islamic State, no matter how utopian this project is, not based on the concept of nation but on that of ummah. It’s the phase of the “après panarabisme”: the myth of cohesion from the Gulf to the Atlantic no longer enchants Arab people and Arab States, and the era of Nasser and the Ba‘athist dream has finally ended.

Arab Nationalism(s): Rise and Decline of an Ideology

in Oriente Moderno



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The League of Arab States set up in 1945institutionalized the distinction between the Arab and non-Arab worlds inside Islam; the first states to become members were Egypt Syria Iraq Lebanon and Saudi Arabia; today the member states number twenty-two. However it does not provide instruments for the resolution (pacific or forced) of internal disputes; it does provide for member states to practice brotherhood and cooperation.


Almost at the same time in July 1952the coup d’état of the “Free Officers” overthrew King Fārūq and prepared the way for the presidency of Ǧamal ʿAbd al-Nāṣir in 1954. In a short time he thanks also to his undisputed personal charisma denounced the Pact of Baghdad and after the Bandung Conference with the birth of the non-aligned movement and the Suez crisis became the acknowledged and acclaimed leader of Arab nationalism. Nasser became the champion of a nationalistic project aimed at creating a unified non-aligned Arab state based on a political model defined as Arab socialism. It was a third way which found enthusiastic supporters in many Arab states and/or opposition movements. For a synthesis of the Nasserian period cfr. Campanini M. Storia dell’Egitto contemporaneo. Dalla rinascita ottocentesca a Mubarak. Roma Edizioni Lavoro 2005 p. 121-208.


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