Arab Nationalism

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Arab Nationalism asserts that Arabs are one nation, bound by a common language, religion and culture, and should unite. Its heyday was the 1960s when Arab nationalists overthrew the corrupt monarchies of the Middle East, but its popularity waned after their defeat in the Six Days War.

Key figures: Gamel Abdel Nasser, Yasser Ararat, Muammar Gaddafi, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein

Tenets: Republicanism, secularism, anti-imperialism, anti-Zionism, socialism and pan-Arabism

Like Islamic fundamentalists, Arab nationalists seek to reclaim the glory of ages past and defy the Western powers who stand before that dream. Unlike Islamic fundamentalists, Arab nationalists are secular. Islam may be important, but Arab identity is the ultimate guiding principle – transcending differences between Sunni, Shia and Christian. Its colours are red, black, white and green.

The Ottoman Turks ruled the Arab world until 1918. The British and French who defeated them drew up the new borders. Rather than granting a single state, they split up the Arab territories into borders that suited their interests and appointed pro-Western kings out of touch with the people they ruled. Of particular frustration was the creation of Israel – a Jewish state on Arab land.

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In 1951, Colonel Gamel Abdel Nasser and a group of like-minded young officers overthrew King Farouk of Egypt. Charismatic and driven, Nasser dreamed of uniting the Arab world into one state. Ending British and French influence and reclaiming Palestine from the Israelis required Arab unity. In 1956, Nasser nationalised the Suez Canel and defied the Anglo-French-Israeli force who tried to reclaim it, instantly becoming the hero of the Arab nationalist cause.

Nasser’s triumph inspired nationalist coups in Iraq (1963), Algeria (1963), Libya (1969) and Sudan (1969). Arab nationalists established presidential dictatorships based on socialist principles and aligned with the Soviet Union against Israel and the West. In 1958, Syria and Egypt united into a single country – the United Arab Republic – until Syria seceded in 1961.

Baathism is a form of Arab Nationalism which grew out of the Palestinian struggle and Syrian intellectual circles that favoured a strong vanguard party. Syria under Hafez Al-Assad and Iraq under Saddam Hussein were Baathist states.

Arab Nationalism failed to catch on in the oil-rich nations of the Persian Gulf. To this day, most remain in the hands of pro-Western monarchies.

The Six Days War of 1967
crushed the pan-Arab dream. Israel defeated Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan and ended hopes of a united front. Nasser died of a heart attack in 1970, and the movement split between different factions. Local rulers gave up on pan-Arabism and focused on maintaining power. In 1977, Nasser’s successor Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel. Many Arab nationalists and their successors ruled until the Arab Spring of 2011.

The Saudis had rejected the socialist and revolutionary aspects of Arab nationalism and championed Islamic fundamentalism instead. From the 1980s onwards, Jihad took over as the main ideological struggle against Israel and the West. Fatah, who rules the Palestinian West Bank, is an Arab nationalist movement, while Hamas, who rules the Gaza Strip, is fundamentalist.

Moses

Biography of Moses, Leader of the Abrahamic Religions

Moses is the prophet who wrote the Hebrew code of laws. He is Judaism’s most revered figure and is mentioned in the Quran more than any other person. According to Jews, Christians and Muslims, Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt and received the Ten Commandments from God.

  • Hebrew: Moshe
  • Arabic: Musa

According to the book of Exodus, which Moses allegedly wrote, the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt at the time of his birth. When the pharaoh ordered the death of all newborn Hebrew boys to quell their population, Moses’s mother hid him in the bullrushes of the Nile. Here the pharaoh’s daughter found him and raised him as her own. Moses grew up in the Egyptian court until discovering his true parentage. He murdered an Egyptian slave-driver and fled to Midian, where he met his wife, Zipporah. 

Instructed by a burning bush, Moses returned to Egypt. He promised the Hebrews a ‘land of milk and honey’ if they submitted to Yahweh, the God of Israel and demanded the pharaoh release his people. He refused, and ten plagues then befell his country. Forced to comply, the pharaoh freed the Hebrews but then sent his army against them, trapping them against the Red Sea. Moses parted the sea and allowed the Hebrews to cross. It then closed and drowned the pharaoh and his army.

God spoke to the Hebrews through Moses, who could see and hear him, atop Mount Sinai and dictated his laws – the Ten Commandments, an eye for an eye. Moses slaughtered the 3,000 who worshipped a golden calf instead then led the Hebrews through forty more years in the wilderness. When the Midianites tried to turn the Hebrews from their god, Moses ordered their destruction. He died on Mount Nebo by the banks of the Jordan River.

 The Quran affirms the Exodus narrative, adding the following details:

  • The pharaoh’s wife, not his daughter, raised Moses
  • Moses offered salvation to the pharaoh through worship of Allah 
  • Moses spoke to Muhammad in heaven

Was Moses real? The Torah claims Moses lived around 1100 BC, but historians have found no evidence in archaeology or contemporary Egyptian records. Most consider him a mythical figure, believing the Hebrews grew out of Canaan’s indigenous population. If a component of their people came from Egypt, their numbers were small. 

‘Moses and Monotheism’ (1939) by Sigmund Freud claims the prophet was an Egyptian nobleman who supported the heretic Akhenaten. This pharaoh had tried to replace the Egyptian pantheon with a single deity named Aten, but when he died, the priests of Egypt destroyed his cult and restored the old gods. According to Freud, Moses escaped the purge and brought his Egyptian god to Israel. There Aten became Yahweh. While mythologist Joseph Campbell embraced Freud’s theory, both theologians and Egyptologists reject it.

According to some Islamic traditions, Moses is buried in Nabi Musa in the West Bank, Palestine.

Sources: King James Bible, World History Encyclopedia

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