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Pan Arabism

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Pan Arabism

Pan Arabism is a secular Arab nationalist ideology, founded by Michel Aflaq, but championed most successfully by former Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser.  Frustrated Arab nationalist ambitions and socialist and fascist ideologies gave rise to several movements and political parties. The Ba'ath party was founded in Syria in 1928 by Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din Bitar with a pan-Arab nationalist program and elements of both Marxism and fascism.  Aflaq and Bitar were influenced by Arab nationalist trends that had begun in time of the Turks, inspired in part by the Islamic and Arab reform ideologies of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-1897), his student Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), and Abduh's student, Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935). These thinkers called for a renewal of Islam, with limited borrowing of concepts from the West. Abduh in particular was active in promoting Arab autonomy within Ottoman Turkey, and had placed great hopes in the Young Turks. Rida grew increasingly anti-Western with time, and was a great influence on Hassan El-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood. While Aflaq was a Greek Orthodox Christian, Ba'ath ideology adopted an affinity for Islam, and Pan-Arabists saw one of their goals as asserting the primacy of the Arabs in the Muslim world.

As World War II drew to a close, Arab national ambitions and the desire to prevent creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine led to the creation of the Arab League and soon after, to the rise of Arab national sentiment. Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of Egypt,  took advantage of the anti-imperialist feeling to become the leader of a Pan-Arab ideology, which tried to unite Arabs beyond the confines of the nation states, and to encourage a program of modernization and secularization. This program met opposition from Muslim traditionalists. Pan-Arabism declined after Nasser instigated the Six-Day War with Israel, which resulted in a disastrous Arab defeat. Other contenders eventually took Nasser's place as leaders of Pan-Arabism, notably Saddam Hussein of Iraq. However, the rise of Islamist fundamentalism or Islamism, offered an ideology that largely displaced pan-Arabism. Pan-Arabism was also challenged by nationalist particularism, especially in Egypt itself, where people have a profound sense of their identity as Egyptians, as distinct from "Arabs."

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:   Ba'ath Aflaq, Michel History of Islam and the Arabs

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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Pan Arabism