Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reinventing Arab Nationalism

From the pan-Arabism during the Nasserite regime, the current uprisings indicate a new movement based on democracy and human rights
By Faisal Al Qasim

An Arab-Israeli woman rests during a march for the right of return for refugees who fled their homes during the 1948 war that followed the creation of Israel. Obama's Middle East envoy will arrive in the region this week to try coax Israel and the Palestinians back to negotiations.
When one tries to compare Arab nationalist feelings which were prevalent during the 1960s and even 1970s with Arab feelings now, one would no doubt be extremely shocked. Almost throughout the second part of the 20th century, Arabs felt very nationalistic, especially during the Nasserite era. Nationalist feelings soared, as most Arab countries then were trying to build new states in the wake of independence. Add to that, of course, the fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict was then at its peak.
But no sooner were the Arabs routed by the Israelis in the Six-Day war in 1967, than Arab nationalism began to lose steam ever so swiftly. Most Arabs felt they were cheated by the then nationalistic media, especially the so-called Voice of the Arabs radio, which was run by the Nasserite regime in Cairo. It is no wonder then that political pan-Arabism, in turn, began to fade away.
Hence the emergence of political Islam, which was pushed ahead then by the Iranian Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini. It seemed at the time that Arabs began to exchange their nationalistic feelings for a new Islamist fervour, which dominated the latter years ever strongly. It is no wonder that Islamic movements such as Hezbollah of Lebanon and some Sunni-Islamist groups enjoyed great popularity towards the end of the 20th century. The Iran-backed Lebanese movement, together with other Islamist movements, made many Arabs regain some of their lost national pride, which was dealt a lethal blow by the US-backed Israelis.
But it seems that Arab political and popular trends are destined to be short-lived. Just as millions of Arabs felt disillusioned with the nationalist movement when it turned out to be no more than empty slogans, they seem now to be almost completely at loggerheads with the hot-headed Islamist movement. It is quite striking that the new Arab revolutions or intifadas for that matter, are neither nationalistically nor Islamically motivated. We haven't seen any ideological slogans raised throughout the Arab uprisings, which signifies that the Arab people are fed up with rotten ideologies such as the nationalistic one.
One can even safely say that the recent revolutions themselves have been staged to revolt against those regimes which utilised and manipulated Arab nationalism for non-nationalist objectives. Most Arabs have come to the conclusion now that patriotism has been used to prop up dictatorships and despotism. It is no wonder that pan-Arabism has now become synonymous with tyranny, one-man and one-party rule.
It is true that the Nasser regime, for instance, played on Arab nationalist feelings, and made millions of Arabs proud of their Arabism at one point. But at the same time, the same regime is reported to be the godfather of the monstrous Mukhabarat (intelligence agency) rule, which handed over the reins of power to the corrupt security apparatus, which almost muzzled everything, and threw thousands of people into prisons for decades just for airing their opinions peacefully.
All Arab regimes that were based on the Nasserite example have treated their people in a way no less worse than how Israel treats Palestinians.
In fact, Israel seems sometimes much more lenient and tolerant than the so-called pan-Arabist regimes. It has been reported during the recent uprisings that the security forces in a certain Arab republic fired on water tanks placed on roofs to empty them so that the people taking part in demonstrations die of thirst. They even prevented cars carrying bread and medicine from entering certain areas as a punishment for those rising against the regime. Some might argue that Israeli aircraft have bombed civilian Palestinian and Lebanese areas, which is true. But Arab fighter planes have also bombarded civilian areas just because people clamoured for their basic rights.
No difference
The ongoing Arab intifadas have shown that there is no difference whatsoever between the so-called Israeli enemy and the allegedly nationalist Arab regimes. The situation has become so bad that many Arab people feel very frustrated to the extent that they can no longer differentiate between the local enemy and the external one, as both have become similar in their savagery. Some Arab regimes even outdo Israel in brutality.
There is no doubt now that Israel feels very happy, as many Arabs no longer regard it as worse than their so-called nationalist tyrants. In other words, the term Arab nationalism itself has become a dirty word for millions of Arabs. It is now sort of another synonym for barbarism, oppression, authoritarianism, and corruption.
Thousands of crimes have been committed against Arab citizens in the name of pan-Arabism and nationalism during the past six decades. But that does, in no way, mean that the Arab people are not patriotic or nationalistic any more. They toil now to build a new and fresh kind of nationalism based mainly on democracy, human rights and real citizenship, not on deception and hollow slogans.
-This commentary was published in The Gulf News on 05/10/2011       
-Dr Faisal Al Qasim is a Syrian journalist based in Doha

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