The Gulf War:
Overreaction & Excessiveness
By Hassan A El-Najjar
Amazone Press, 2001
The Root of Subsequent US Invasion of the Middle East
America was dragged into conflict
with the Arab and Muslim worlds
TWO CONFLICTING PERSPECTIVES
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, nationalism won a long
battle with multi-national states in Eastern Europe and the previous
Soviet Union. However, it lost the battle with sovereign states in the
Arab Middle East. Throughout the 20th century,
multi-national and multi-ethnic states tried to integrate their
diverse citizenry through an umbrella of rights and responsibilities
that citizenship accords to people. The formula worked as long as the
state was successful in enabling people to satisfy their economic
needs. Nevertheless, national and ethnic conflicts erupted as a result
of competition for scarce resources, particularly when the economy was
suffering major problems. The collapse of the multi-national Yugoslav,
Czechoslovak, and Soviet states in the late 1980s lends support for
Despite this economic explanation,
there is a tendency to explain the collapse of these multi-national
states in relation to the inherent characteristics of nationalism. For
example, in the case of Yugoslavia, it has been argued that the state
failed to denationalize its citizens because of the strength of their
nationalistic affiliations. By 1989, very few people identified
themselves as Yugoslavs. The vast majority emphasized their national
origin or ethnic affiliation, such as Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian
An explanation of this disenchantment with the state was the
perception by members of minor nationalities that they were exploited
by the dominant nation. Croats, for example, believed that the
dominating Serbs were draining the financial resources of Croatia.
This happened as a result of the tendency of nationalities to dominate
Thus, in Yugoslavia, people from
several nations were united in a multi-national state and were given
its citizenship. However, majority of them did not want to relinquish
their national origin or identify with the Yugoslav state. In the
Middle East, the case is completely reversed. The Arab nation is
divided into several sovereign states. Arab nationalists call for the
unification of these states into one nation-state. However, the
wealthy oil-exporting states, which benefit from the status quo reject
unification. Moreover, they have been successful in creating material
and psychological barriers between their citizens and other
Accordingly, I argue that privileges
of citizenship may be stronger than nationalistic affiliation. The
1990 Iraqi-Kuwaiti crisis, which developed into the 1991 Gulf War
lends support to this argument. Positions of Iraq and Kuwait
represented two different perspectives of Arab nationalism. Each one
of them represented the ideology of a different group of Arab states.
While Iraq represented unionists, Kuwait represented sovereigntists.
In order to understand the ideological conflict between unionists and
sovereigntists, and consequently the relationship between nationalism
and citizenship, several questions need to be answered. First, who are
the unionists and the sovereigntists? Second, What was the role of the
European imperialists in starting and perpetuating that conflict?
Third, how did the oil wealth increase the gap between the wealthy and
the poor Arabs? Fourth, how did the development of the two Arab
Cooperation Councils reflect the Arab split? Finally, how is Arab
nationalism understood differently by each group?
Throughout the 20th
century, Arabs move rapidly back and forth between brotherhood and
betrayal, as well as between unity and conflict.
During the 1980s, Kuwaitis assisted Iraq in its war against Iran.
However, as soon as the war was over, they demanded Iraq to pay back
its war debt. Moreover, they started to overproduce oil contributing
to the decline in oil prices, which hurt the Iraqi plans for post-war
reconstruction. On the surface, it may appear amazing that Kuwaitis
shifted from a position of support to a position of indifference or
even adversity. Anyway, the Kuwaiti behavior resulted in that Iraqis
felt so cornered that they invaded the small brotherly country that
supported them. However, a deeper historical analysis is more suitable
for understanding the Iraqi-Kuwaiti crisis and the war that followed.
In its origin, the conflict between
Iraq and Kuwait represented the conflict between national liberation
movements and European imperialist powers and their local clientele
Starting from the 1950s, the struggle became more between Arab
unionists and Arab sovereigntists
than between Arabs and Europeans, as it was earlier. The ruling elite
groups led the sovereigntist camp, which is mainly composed of a
minority of Arabs, particularly citizens of oil-exporting states.
Maintaining the status quo has allowed them to enjoy privileges of
citizenship and excluded others from having a direct access to the
important slots in the labor market.
Unionists, on the other hand, appealed to the rising middle
class and the majority poor in non-oil-exporting states, promising
that unification of the Arab homeland would increase their
opportunities for a better life. Had the Arab states been unified and
democratic, the two rival ideologies could have coexisted. They could
have alternated control over government, like what happens in
representative democracies in the world. Instead, conflict resolution
has often been conducted by the use of force, in the region. In the
case of Kuwait, the British have intervened to maintain the status quo
every time Iraq attempted to change it (Chapter I). Their intervention
demonstrated that the conflict, in its essence, is between the
European imperialist powers and the unionist Arab national liberation
movement. Border disputes in Arabia provide an example of how the
European imperialist presence intensified the inter-Arab conflict.
Border disputes in Arabia may be mainly attributed to the 19th
century Saudi expansion and the Ottoman reactions it triggered.
However, these disputes were intensified later by the competing
Western interests. In spite of the British-Saudi alliance at the
beginning of the 20th century, a confrontation erupted between Britain
and Saudi Arabia in the 1950s. This developed when Saudis tried to
extend their southeastern frontiers to reach Al-Buraimi Oasis, which
was also claimed by Abu Dhabi (now in the United Arab Emirates) and
Oman. The British were involved because they were still the colonial
administrators of the Arabian Gulf chiefdoms. The Saudi border claims
go back to 1933 when the Standard Oil Company of California obtained
an oil concession that covered the Saudi Arabian southeastern
frontiers. Although the claims were renewed in 1949, Saudi forces were
not sent to the Buraimi Oasis until 1952. The British reacted by
besieging them for seven months until the Saudi government agreed to
submit the border dispute to arbitration. In return, Britain agreed to
allow a 15-man Saudi police force to stay in the Oasis until the
dispute is settled. The arbitration failed and in 1955, 82
Saudi-supported tribesmen were killed in a clash with the British
troops in the area.
Tensions increased between Britain
and Saudi Arabia throughout 1955 and 1956. This happened when Egypt
was attacked by Britain, France, and Israel on October 31, 1956, which
resulted in the Anglo-French occupation of the Suez Canal and the
Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory of Gaza Strip and the
Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. In support for Egypt, Saudi Arabia broke its
diplomatic relations with Britain and did not restore them until
January 1961. During that period, Saudi Arabia joined other Arab
nationalist governments in opposing the British colonial presence in
the region. It joined Egypt and Yemen in supporting Imam Ghalib Bin
Ali in his challenge to the Sultan of the British protectorate of
Oman, Sa'id Bin Taimur. It also financed the purchase of weapons by
Yemen from the Soviet Union and China in an effort to liberate South
Yemen from the British occupation.
The British objection to Saudi claims of the Oasis was based on
the 1913 Anglo-Turkish Convention. That agreement specified the
southeastern borders of Nejd (now part of Saudi Arabia) as a straight
line that began at Zakhuniyah on the Gulf and continued vertically
through the inland of the Arabian Desert. Thus, the Saudi Arabian
frontiers would stop short of even reaching the Qatari Peninsula.
Saudi Arabia argued that the Buraimi Oasis was part of the first Saudi
state throughout the 19th century. The collection of zakat, the
Islamic tax, from Arab tribes of the area was cited as an evidence of
the Saudi rule there.
A stronger argument than the zakat evidence could have been the
invalidity of the 1913 Anglo-Turkish Convention as a basis for drawing
borders in eastern Arabia. That convention was never ratified because
of the break out of World War I. This fact also represents the main
support for the Iraqi claims of Kuwait, which was administratively
part of the Iraqi governorate of Basra until the collapse of the
Ottoman Empire in World War I. Actually, most Arab states may claim
their neighboring Arab states or part of them on the same basis. Syria
and Lebanon separated from each other when they were given
independence by France at the end of World War II, as two sovereign
states. However, each one of them may claim parts of the other on
basis of their administrative status during the Ottoman era. The same
principle applies to the relationship between Palestine and Jordan as
well as to Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab states in the Gulf.
From an Arab nationalist viewpoint,
all Arabs constitute one nation. Therefore, they have the right to
live, work, and travel anywhere in their homeland without
restrictions. This means that the present conditions of separated and
independent Arab states
are unacceptable, particularly because these conditions were imposed
on Arabs by the European imperialist powers at the turn of the
century. From this perspective, the Arabian Gulf oil wealth is
perceived as the property of the Arab Nation as a whole, not just the
Gulf Cooperation Council states. More specifically, the British
control of Kuwait has always been perceived by Arab nationalists as
depriving the Arab Nation of its oil wealth.
They also argue that if people are given the opportunity to express
their opinions, they choose unification. Support for this argument
comes from unification attempts throughout the second half of the
twentieth century. However, only two of these attempts materialized:
the unification of Egypt and Syria between 1958 and 1961 and the
unification of the two Yemeni states in 1990. But there were several
attempts that did not succeed. There was a unification attempt between
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen prior to the Egyptian-Syrian
unification of 1958. There was another unification attempt between
Iraq and Jordan directly after the Egyptian-Syrian unification of
1958. After the Syrian secession in 1961, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria
entered a long process of negotiations to unify the three states.
In 1971, the union of Arab Republics was declared between Egypt,
Libya, Sudan, and Syria. There were also some attempts to unify Libya
and Tunisia, in the mid-1970s. Morocco achieved a successful
unification with the Western Sahara in 1976 despite some local
opposition. Finally, following the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988,
the Arab Cooperation Council was established between Egypt, Iraq,
Jordan, and Yemen. These continuous attempts to unify the Arab states
show that unification has a strong appeal among Arabs. However, the
high failure rate of these attempts shows that sovereigntists still
represent an influential group that opposes unification of these
Although the two groups exist in
every Arab state, majority of these states are controlled by one group
or the other for decades. In the 1990s, the core of sovereigntism has
lied in the six states that form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
These are, in an alphabetical order, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman,
Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In these states,
both rulers and citizens cherish sovereignty and independence to the
extent that the word "state" has become part of the official
name of the country, such as in the cases of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar,
and the UAE.
While the rest of Arab states are
unionist, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen have been more active
in pursuing unification. Some states changed their position from a
decade to another. For example, Nasserite Egypt played a leading role
in unification throughout the 1950s and the 1960s. However, Egypt
became less active after Nasser. Saudi Arabia was unionist in the
1950s but it has led the sovereigntist GCC camp since 1981. In the
1950s, King Saud entered into unionist agreements with Egypt and
Yemen. Before that, his father, King Abdul Aziz founded Saudi Arabia
by unifying the autonomous regions of the Arabian Peninsula, between
1901 and 1932.
A few studies were conducted to
measure attitudes of Arabs toward the notions of nation and state.
These studies were conducted among university students from various
Arab states. Results from the American University in Beirut and
Northeastern University in the U.S. demonstrated a strong affiliation
to Arab nationalism among these students. Results from Kuwait
University showed preference for religion over the national origin.
Students from the GCC states were more likely to feel strongly against
the notion of the unification of Arab states (Table 1). However,
because citizens of the Gulf states represent only about 5% of the
Arab nation, their attitudes may not be as visible in more
Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim conducted a comprehensive study on attitudes
towards Arab Unity in 1977, 1978, and 1979. The study involved 5,557
people from ten Arab states (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan, Jordan,
Lebanon, Kuwait, Qatar, Yemen, and Palestine). The majority demanded a
higher level of cooperation between Arab states that may transcend the
Arab League arrangements. They demanded that Arab states be unified
either in the form of a union or a federation. Peasants, workers, and
students were more enthusiastic about Arab unity than were the
Thus, Arabs are split between unity
and sovereignty. While Kuwait belongs to the sovereigntist block, Iraq
is a leading unionist state. They found themselves on a collision
course since the beginning of the 20th century. While rulers of Kuwait
found their salvation in being independent in a state under the
British protection, Iraqis did not stop their attempts to restore
Britain has always been in the way obstructing that dream, sometimes
alone and recently supported by other regional and Western powers.
Britain not only separated Kuwait from Iraq but also invaded
and controlled Iraq for decades. The British troops started the
invasion at the beginning of World War I, in 1914, and completed it by
the end of the war, in 1918. The Shaikh of Kuwait, Mubarak Al-Sabah,
assisted the British military efforts during the war. He attacked the
Iraqi positions at Safwan, Um Qasr, Bubayan Island, and Basrah.
The British then controlled the country and its government. When King
Faisal Bin Al-Hussain was deposed and expelled from Syria by the
French in 1920, the British brought him to Iraq. They arranged for him
to become the first king of the country in 1921. They did that in
reward for the Hashemite support for Britain against the Ottoman
government in World War I. In 1932, Iraq was allowed to join the
League of Nations as a sovereign state. King Faisal died in 1933 and
was succeeded by his son, Ghazi. The young king was an Arab
nationalist who understood the British imperialist hegemony in the
Middle East. He led a continuous media campaign against Shaikh Ahmed
Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, ruler of Kuwait, and called for the unification of
Iraq and Kuwait. In 1939, King Ghazi signed an Arab nationalist
agreement with King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud. When Ghazi died in an
automobile accident, in the same year, Iraqis demonstrated against the
British accusing them of responsibility for the incident. Ghazi's son,
Faisal II, became a titular king, as he was three-years old. The
regent of the throne, Abdul-Ilah, submitted to the British will. He
allowed the pro-British, Noori Al-Sa'id, to form the new Iraqi
government. Arab nationalists became very angry and pressured Al-Sa'id
to resign. In 1940, Rashid Ali Al-Kilani, an Arab nationalist,
replaced him and refused to support the British war effort. In
response, the British reinvaded Iraq ending the Arab nationalist
revolt in May 1941 and bringing back their man, Noori Al-Sa'id, to
form a Pro-British government.
However, the British influence in Iraq came to an end on July 14,
1958, when Abdul-Karim Qassem led a military coup that ended the
monarchy in the country.
The revolutionary government sought
an independent path. Within a year, in 1959, Iraq withdrew from the
sterling bloc and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), which was a
Pro-British regional alliance that included Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and
Pakistan. In 1961, Qassem marched to restore Kuwait following the
British withdrawal but his attempt was aborted by Britain and some
members of the Arab League. On February 8, 1963, Qassem was overthrown
and killed in another military coup that was led by Ahmed Hassan El-Bakr
and Saddam Hussain. While El-Bakr became the Prime Minister, Abdul-Salam
Aref became the President of Iraq. In 1966, Abdul-Salam Aref was
killed in a helicopter crash and was succeeded by his brother Abdul-Rahman,
who stayed in power until July 17, 1968. Aref was overthrown, El-Bakr
became the President and Saddam Hussain became the Vice President. In
1979, El-Bakr resigned allowing Saddam to become the fifth president
The Iraqi republican governments were
consistent in their Arab nationalist policies. During the 1960s, they
were active in pursuing unification with Egypt and Syria. In June 1,
1972, the Iraqi government nationalized the Iraq Oil Company, a step
that was echoed in other oil-exporting Arab states. The company was
known as the Turkish Petroleum Company in 1925 when it was given a
25-year concession in Iraq. In 1952, a new agreement was reached,
which increased oil production and gave Iraq half of the profits. This
was influenced by the Musaddaq's nationalization of oil in Iran in
1951. Following the 1958 revolution, the Iraqi government entered
negotiations with the oil companies, in the country in an attempt to
increase its revenues. The oil companies were reluctant to do so,
which resulted in a stalemate. At that point, the Iraqi government
took back, by decree, 99.5 percent of the territories, which were
given in concessions to oil companies. Thus, Iraq was labeled by the
lobby of oil companies as following anti-Western policies,
particularly if compared with other oil-exporting Arab states.
In the region as a whole, Western oil
companies continued to receive enormous amounts of profits that
reached about 1115 percent of its costs, in the 1970s. Three major
factors had contributed to that oil bonanza. First, Western oil
concessions included the largest oil fields in the world, namely
Burgan in Kuwait, Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, and Kirkuk in Iraq. Second,
costs of production in the Middle East were minimal in comparison to
these in other parts of the world. More than 90 percent of the Arab
oil flows by its own pressure without pumping. This allows the average
Arab oil well to produce about 5,000 barrels of oil per day in
comparison to 12 barrels in the U.S., 80 barrels in Russia, and 300
barrels in Venezuela. Third, the agreements of oil concessions allowed
Western oil companies to receive profits almost three times higher
than those received by the producing Arab states. While annual profits
of these companies reached about $91.8 billion in the 1970s, Arab
revenues were only $35.8 billion.
Deepens the Gap
At the beginning of the twentieth century, rival Arab leaders
aligned themselves either with the Ottomans or with the British.
However, the international competition over oil concessions
intensified inter-Arab rivalry and conflict over resources. Between
World War II and 1973, oil revenues increased in a slow but a steady
scale that allowed oil-exporting Arab states to become much better off
than their less fortunate brethren. The October 1973 War and the Arab
oil embargo that followed led to a large increase in oil prices. That
contributed to deepening the gap between the two groups of Arab
states, even further.
The Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OPEC) was established in Baghdad by Iraq, Iran,
Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venzuela, in 1960. Until 1973, oil prices
were as low as $2 per barrel. As a result of the 1973/1974 oil
embargo, oil prices began to increase rapidly, reaching about $12.60
per barrel in 1974, $29.63 in 1979, and $33.94 in 1980.
Accordingly, oil revenues of the major oil-exporting Arab states
increased from about $4.5 billion in 1970 to about $12.5 billion in
1973. In 1974, revenues jumped to about $51.5 billion and kept
increasing until 1980 when they reached about $205.4 billion. A
decline in oil prices followed causing revenues also to decline
reaching about $186.7 billion in 1981 and $135 billion in 1982, then
kept declining until 1988 when revenues reached about $60 billion. An
increase has been happening in most years since 1989 reaching about
$95 billion in 1996 (Table I.1).
Between 1974 and 1996 (excluding 1984
and 1986), oil revenues of these Arab states reached about $1.956
trillion. As a result, the oil wealth split Arab states into two
groups. The first group became wealthier while having a smaller
population. The second group became in debt to major international
creditors although it had majority of the Arab population. The gap
between the two groups has continued to increase ever since,
particularly because of the lack of integration between them. While
the wealthy states had a surplus capital throughout the 1970s and most
of the 1980s, the rest of the Arab states had a foreign debt of $61.6
billion in 1980 and about $120 billion in 1995 (Table IV.2).
Instead of helping out by investing
in the region, the wealthy states invested in developed societies,
mainly in Western Europe, North America, and Japan. Actually, half of
the Arab financial surpluses were invested in the United States and
the United Kingdom. By 1980, the Arab investments in the United States
had reached about $100 billion from Saudi Arabia, $55 billion from
Kuwait, and $40 billion from the United Arab Emirates. Investment of
surplus Arab oil revenues in the West continued throughout the 1980s
and the 1990s reaching about $800 billion by 1998.
The interests that the wealthy Arab
states received from their foreign investments reached about $27.1
billion, in 1980. Had there been a will to help the other poor Arab
states, they could have paid their debts just out of the interests on
their investments. Instead, foreign debts increased in the poor states
to the extent that servicing the debts became a heavy and unbearable
burden. In 1979, Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt used 25.6 percent, 21
percent, and 15.8 percent of their exports, respectively, just to
service their foreign debts.
Interest rates on these debts were so
high that Egypt actually used about 36% of the loans it borrowed for
that purpose. For example, the World Bank gave Egypt $1.4 billion of
loans in ten years. Only $400 million of them were used and the rest
were paid as interests on these loans. One loan was $3.5 million and
its interests reached $12 million. Another loan was $4.5 million and
its paid interests reached $12 million. In 1976, a $4.5 million World
Bank loan, used in building a sewage system, was paid back with $11
million in interests. Another $3.5 million loan was used in an
agricultural project and was paid back with $12 million of interests.
In 1970, the Egyptian debts were $600
million. In 1980, just in one decade, these debts reached $16 billion.
The annual interests on the debt reached more than $1 billion.
Actually, two-thirds of the payments were interests and the rest was a
payment of the principal. In other words, all the Egyptian oil exports
were used to pay the interests and all the cotton exports were used to
pay the principal debt.
By 1995, the foreign debts on poor Arab states almost doubled reaching
about $34.6 billion on Egypt, $22 on Morocco, $17 billion on Sudan,
$22.2 billion on Syria, and $8.9 billion on Yemen (Table IV.2).
Developmental assistance from the
Arab members of OPEC (OAPEC) to Third World countries reached about
$5.6 billion in 1975, $5.1 billion in 1976, $5.9 billion in 1977, $7.8
billion in 1978, $7.6 billion in 1979, $8.9 billion in 1980, $8.4
billion in 1981, $5.8 billion in 1982, and $5.1 billion in 1983.
However, their assistance to other Arab states was hardly felt by the
average Arab citizen. The huge oil wealth that was generated following
the 1973 October War was not used to benefit the Arab Nation as a
whole. Actually, it has alienated the majority of Arabs from their
In addition to the meager assistance
from the wealthy to the poor states, there have also been various
forms of discrimination against non-citizen Arabs in the wealthy
states. Oil revenues have created a continuous need for imported
labor. In 1975, immigrants represented 86 percent of the labor force
in the U.A.E., 74 percent in Qatar, 70 percent in Kuwait, 42 percent
in Libya, 35 percent in Saudi Arabia, and 23 percent in Bahrain.
In the 1980s, the percentage of immigrants decreased in some Gulf
states. However, they continued to constitute the majority of the
labor force in the United Arab Emirates (75.4 percent), in 1984, and
in Kuwait (59.8 percent), in 1985. In Bahrain, they constituted 34.8
percent of the labor force, in 1984.
In spite of the fact that the vast
majority of immigrants stay, the Arab Gulf states have not seriously
addressed the issue of naturalizing them. Officially, most Arab
states, including the Gulf states, have provisions in their
naturalization laws that allow immigrants to acquire citizenship. In
practice, most Arab governments ignore these provisions. For example,
Arab immigrants may qualify for citizenship if they stay 4 years in
Jordan, 5 years in Lebanon and Syria, 10 years in Egypt, Iraq, and the
United Arab Emirates, and 15 years in Bahrain and Kuwait. Similar to
naturalization laws is the Agreement on Economic Unity, which was
drafted by the League of Arab States' Economic Council in 1957. It
endorsed the principle of freedom of movement among member states.
However, few states have actually ratified it.
Had Arabs been allowed to move freely
between their states, the need for citizenship or permanent-resident
status would have been reduced. As a result of these restrictions on
travel and work of Arabs in their homeland, the highly skilled among
them have left the Middle East to the more developed regions of the
world. In 1975, there were about 24,000 Arab medical doctors, 17,000
engineers, 7,000 scientists, and even about 200 nuclear physicists in
the Western industrial societies.
The same trend has continued throughout the 1980s and the 1990s. Thus,
while wealthy Arab states discouraged inter-Arab immigration of
skilled labor, Western societies encouraged such immigrants through
offering them permanent residence and citizenship. In fact, depriving
immigrants of citizenship and permanent-residence rights contributed
to widening the gap between the two groups of Arab states.
The Gulf Cooperation
Acknowledging the existence of this gap, the six wealthy Arabian Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, felt the need to group together. They wanted to form an entity that would differentiate them from the rest of the Arab states. The first attempt for such grouping was a Kuwaiti initiative in 1976. However, the first summit conference for these states was convened in May 1981 and resulted in the establishment of the "Cooperation Council of the Arab Gulf States." For brevity purposes, the group is more commonly known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Riyadh was chosen as the headquarters of the Council indicating Saudi Arabia's most powerful position in the group. The former Kuwaiti Ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Yakub Bishara, was appointed as the Council's Secretary-General. His appointment indicated recognition of the Kuwaiti efforts in establishing the Council.
Conference discussed two initiatives about its entity. The first was
presented by Oman and emphasized the uniqueness of the Council states.
The Omani initiative called the GCC states to look to the West for
security and protection from regional and international dangers. In
particular, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian
revolution in 1979 were cited as reasons that supported the Omani
argument. The Kuwaiti initiative emphasized that the Gulf
security should not be separated from the Arab national security.
Therefore, the Council states should continue their non-aligned
position towards the two world superpowers (the U.S. and the Soviet
Union). Thus, the Kuwaiti initiative rejected the
political underpinnings of the Omani initiative. Instead,
Kuwaitis called for cooperation in the economic, financial, trade, and
social fields. The Council adopted the Kuwaiti initiative and called
for keeping the Gulf area free from international conflicts. The
Council also appealed to the international powers to keep their fleets
away from the Gulf. Moreover, the council reaffirmed its Arab identity
by expressing its support for the Lebanese, Palestinians, and Syrians
in their struggle to free their territories from the Israeli military
Thus, in spite of the Kuwaiti
enthusiasm in creating the "Gulf" entity, Kuwaitis still
wanted to maintain some ties with other Arabs. In particular, they
wanted to convey special messages to Egyptians and Palestinians. They
could not afford forgetting the Egyptian interventions in Arabia in
the 19th and 20th centuries, which strengthened Kuwaitis vis-ŗ-vis
their more powerful neighbors to the north (Iraqis) and south
(Saudis). Kuwaitis also wanted to convey a message to Palestinians who
constituted the largest immigrant community in the country. They
wanted to assure them that Kuwait would continue its support for the
Palestinian cause. Nevertheless, that gesture did very little to cool
off the disappointment of other Arabs many of whom were hoping to
develop the Arab League to reach a higher level of Arab unity. For
these Arabs, the GCC was perceived as a backward step towards more
disunity, separation, and dismemberment of the Arab nation. Therefore,
other Arab states started thinking about grouping together in what
became known as the Arab Cooperation Council.
When the GCC was founded in 1981, it was perceived as the
exclusive club of the wealthy Gulf Arabs. In particular, Iraq and
Yemen were most unhappy about it. As a Gulf state and oil exporter,
Iraq qualified to be a member of the GCC. Yemen expected to be invited
to the club membership as an Arabian Peninsula state. Both Iraq and
Yemen felt betrayed and looked for other Arab states, which might be
willing to form a rival Arab alliance. Egypt and Jordan were ideal for
Iraq because of their support during its war with Iran. Moreover,
Jordanians, Egyptians, and Yemenis began to look for Iraq as a new
market for their surplus labor, particularly due to the expected
postwar reconstruction. More important for Arab migrant workers was
the fact that Iraqi immigration laws and practices allowed Arab
nationals to live permanently and even acquire citizenship, which is
almost impossible to attain in the GCC states. Thus, on February 23,
1989, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Yemen founded the Arab Cooperation
During the following year and a half,
Iraq felt more betrayed by the Arab Gulf states. With a population of
17 million people, Iraq had a war debt of about $75 billion. About $35
billion of that debt was owed to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In
particular, Kuwait expressed its unwillingness to forgive the Iraqi
war debts. Iraqis believed that they were defending all other Gulf
states, not just Iraq. Therefore, forgiving the debt was the least
they expected from their Arab brethren in the Gulf. In addition to
that, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates started to overproduce oil
in violation to OPECís quotas, which contributed to a sharp decline
in oil prices. In 1986, Kuwait was reluctant to accept OPEC's 1.25
million barrels per day (bpd) quota of oil production. In 1989, it
rejected an OPEC's level of about 1.1 million bpd. In early 1990,
Kuwait challenged OPEC by producing about 2 million bpd. That Kuwaiti
behavior contributed to the sharp decline of oil prices, which denied
Iraq the money it needed for postwar reconstruction.
Thus, by 1990, Iraq felt that the GCC
states, particularly Kuwait, were conspiring with the West to bring
Iraq down. The Iraqi fears increased when the United States started to
exert pressures on Iraq. The Bush administration cracked down on the
BNL bank, which was functioning as a liaison between Iraq and American
financial institutions. American banks even suggested the
establishment of an international consortium to manage Iraq's finances
on behalf of the creditors.
This suggestion sounded like the late 19th century developments that
led to the Anglo-French financial management of the Egyptian treasury,
which finally led to the British occupation of Egypt in 1882. Arabs
have become very sensitive to such ideas ever since and may perceive
them as indications of an imminent foreign assault on their
sovereignty. Such ideas might have contributed to the Iraqi fears that
the United States was preparing to bring Iraq down, in collaboration
with Kuwait. The events that followed were so fast that the ACC lived
only for about one and a half years. It did not survive the 1990
crisis as Egypt sided with Kuwait against Iraq. The GCC, however,
continued as the exclusive club of the pro-Western wealthy Arabs. In
spite of that, Arab nationalism did not disappear completely as a
unifying force. Only the future will tell how it is going to survive
the Gulf War.
In their arguments, Arab unionists have cited Arab nationalism
as a means for the unification of the Arab homeland. Like other
nationalists, they have mentioned language and history as the two main
requirements of nationalism. The European nationalist experience is
often cited by Arab nationalists as the example to be followed.
The formation of distinct European
nation-states was justified by a common language, history, and habits
of everyday life. The objective was to represent and protect
ethnically homogeneous groups. In the 20th century, states have
expanded to include various ethnic, racial, regional, and religious
groups. In other words, they have become multi-national states. In the
new world, states have accommodated immigrant groups of different
national origins. In China and India, the state has represented
interests of several nations. This was also the case in the previous
Soviet Union and the Eastern European states before their collapse in
late 1980s. These multi-national states have worked hard for the
integration of their diverse social groups and nationalities. This has
been facilitated by industrialization and modern public institutions
such as education and mass communication. States also have worked
diligently to allow minority and disadvantaged groups more
participation in politics and more access to resources.
The efforts to integrate various social groups into the larger
society have been successful in all continents. However, the collapse
of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European states in late 1980s
provided evidence against the "integration of nationalities"
thesis. Republics broke away from the Soviet and the Yugoslav Unions
on basis of nationality. Even in 1999, more republics were trying to
break away from the Russian Federation, particularly Chechnya and
other small Muslim republics. Although the collapse of these unions
may be attributed to economic factors, its nationalistic expression
may be considered as an indicator to the strength of nationalism for
decades to come. Surprisingly, nationalist ties are so strong that
nation-states have replaced Eastern European multi-national states in
a very short time. But how did this happen so quickly?
Nationalism may be reached when
ethnic consciousness increases to the level of an active political
identity. National ties become stronger when a population realizes
that its common interests or its integrity are under threat.
Nationalism may also be perceived as an individual choice. Individuals
act on their best interests when they identify with their ethnic
groups. Such groups provide their members with security, more
comfortable environment, and access to positions under their control.
People are attached to their nations
by linguistic, racial, religious, community, and kinship ties. Such
attachment may not require living in the same nation-state. This means
that nationhood may precede statehood. Therefore, international norms
accept the right of every nation for national self-determination.
Nationalism still offers variety of
services to ambitious leaders and elite groups. It has been used to
prepare and mobilize people for war, such as in the cases of Nazi
Germany and Stalinist Russia.
In the United States, it has been used to mobilize people to support
the government's hard-to-still projects. Examples of these were the
1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, the 1991 Gulf War, Japan-bashing in
The German nationalist experience in the 19th century showed that
language and history played a major role in the formation of that
nation. Prussia started to expand the education of teachers and the
development of a nationalist curriculum at the end of the war with
Napoleon. This resulted in mobilizing the German people during the
war. Several German politicians admitted that their country won the
1866 war against Austria and the 1872 war against France because of
adopting a nationalistic educational policy.
In spite of the success of
nationalism as a tool to mobilize people for war, national liberation,
and nation building, there are indications that nationalism has its
own disadvantages, too. Developed economies favor international
settings as they are globally oriented. This leads to the weakening of
nation-states, which will, gradually, have less access to financial
resources and less control over the mobile world labor market.
The European Union is an example of how nation-states evolve into
multi-national economic regions. This may be an indication that there
will be a small number of these developed multi-national economic
regions in the future. However, the less developed societies in
Africa, Asia, and Latin America may continue as nation-states until
their economies are developed enough to transcend their national
Thus, it may be argued that nationalism will continue at least in
developing societies. It follows that the quest for Arab nationalism
will continue for a long time to come.
Arab nationalists argue that Arabs who live between the
Atlantic Ocean and the Arabian Gulf constitute one nation and are
entitled to having one nation-state. They perceive Arab nationalism as
a means to unify the separated Arab states, liberate the occupied Arab
territories, and defend the homeland against foreign invaders. This is
consistent with the literature about nationalism in general. With
their less developed economies, Arabs still need to struggle for
achieving the stage of a nation-state. Arabs also are attached to
one-another by linguistic, racial, religious, and historical ties.
However, Arab nationalism has faced serious problems reflected in the
split of the Arab states into the two main groups of unionists and
The conflict between the two groups can be more understood by
analyzing their positions towards the notions of Arab nationalism and
its practical application, Arab unity. For sovereigntists, who benefit
from the status quo, Arab unity means solidarity with and support for
other fellow Arabs. However, it does not reach the level of merger or
unification with other Arab states. The position of the United Arab
Emirates (UAE) is the closest to the ideal type of this group. The
generous contributions of the President, Shaikh Zayid, his government,
and the people cannot be denied. The UAEís financial and moral
support for the poor Arab states has been evident before and after the
Gulf war. However, immigration laws are still the same. Fellow Arabs
cannot obtain citizenship or even permanent-residence status. Simply,
the idea of naturalizing immigrants to become citizens is not there.
Thus, Arab unity for the UAE is a kind of assistance to the
governments of poor Arab states, but it is not extended to fellow Arab
individuals living in the country as immigrants for decades.
For unionists, Arab unity means unifying Arabs in one country
that replaces the present separate sovereign states. This means one
Arab citizenship, sharing of oil wealth, and equal treatment of
citizens and immigrants. Apparently, the two groups of Arab states
disagree on the meaning of Arab unity. Unionists consider Arabs as one
nation living in one homeland that was dismembered by European
imperialists at the end of WWI. Therefore, unification of this
homeland represents a national liberation as well as a necessity for a
balanced social and economic development. Sovereigntists agree that
they belong to the same Arab nation but they argue that they have
lived in sovereign states throughout the twentieth century. They
acknowledge their Arab identity in their constitutions, which state
that they are part of the Arab Nation. However, they cherish the
independence of their states and they do not seek unification.
The unionist argument draws
mainly on language and history. Arabs lived in the Middle East for
thousands of years but Arabic speakers have become the majority in the
region since the eighth century. This has happened as a result of the
spread of Islam and the adoption of Arabic as a medium of
communication. People were more ready to Arabize in the Middle East
than in farther territories in Asia and Africa. For example, in Asia
Turks, Persians, central Asians, Pakistanis, Afghanis, Malayans, and
Indonesians accepted the Islamic faith but did not adopt Arabic. The
same applied to sub-Saharan, West African, and East African Muslims.
In the case of Andalusia, or Arabian Spain, the indigenous population
neither accepted Arabic nor Islam. Therefore, Arabic and Islam
disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula by the end of the 15th century,
after about eight hundred years of continuous presence there.
Before the seventh century, most of
the indigenous Arabs, Al-Arab Al-Ariba, lived in the Arabian
Peninsula. To the north of Arabia, the Ghassan Arabs lived in
Palestine and Jordan and the Monther Arabs lived in Iraq. When other
Middle Easterners and north Africans accepted Arabic as their own
medium of communication, they became Arabized, Musta'irib. The Arab
and Arabized groups intermarried and interacted for more than 1400
years. This has led to the creation of the present Arab Nation.
Although the vast majority of Arabs are also Muslims, Islam is not a
requirement of Arabism. Actually, Christian Arabs have played a
pioneering role in the revival of Arab nationalism throughout the
twentieth century. For example, the two major Arab nationalist
political organizations, the Arab Nationalist Movement and the Arab
Ba'ath Party, were founded by two Christians: the Palestinian George
Habash and the Syrian Michelle Aflaq, respectively.
In addition to the same language,
Arabs also share the same history. They enjoyed living together during
the Umayyad (661-750 A.D.) and Abbasid (750-1258 A.D.) Arab empires.
However, Arabs suffered from the successive invasions of European
crusaders who were defeated by Salahuddin in 1187. The Mongols
devastated Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid empire, in 1258 but
were stopped by the Egyptian Mamluks in Ain Jalut, Palestine, in 1260.
The Ottoman Turks defeated the Mamluks and ended their rule in 1517.
Arabs were unified again under the Ottoman rule until the 1880s. Then,
Arab provinces started to fall, one after the other, under the
occupation of European imperialist powers. During the last two decades
of the 19th century, Britain occupied Egypt, the Sudan, and the
Arabian Gulf chiefdoms. While Spain occupied parts of Morocco, France
occupied Algeria, the rest of Morocco, and Tunisia. Then in 1911,
Italy occupied Libya. By the end of World War I, Britain occupied
Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine, and France occupied Lebanon and Syria.
This common history of glory and
suffering also has reinforced the feelings of Arabs that they have
constituted one nation. As Sati' Al-Husri
argued for more than half a century, sharing a common history and a
common language is what makes Arabs one nation. Al-Husri's study of
the European nationalist movements influenced his thinking. In
particular, he observed that the 19th century separated German or
Italian states could not be unified if people there did not share a
common language and a common history. He then concluded that because
Arabs had the same characteristics, they constituted one nation. As a
result, they would ultimately aspire for unifying their separate
states into one homeland.
The 14th century Arab sociologist,
Ibn Khaldun, pointed to the importance of nationalism for
civilization. He argued that rulers need support from their closest
relatives or ruling elite (Assabiya) who are also supported by a
larger Assabiya (a population group). Thus, for a rule to be
established some sort of homogeneity among the population should exist
together with loyalty to the ruling elite. This loyalty to the group
is necessary to resolve the conflict between the human need for
construction and civilization (Omran) and the tendency of some people
to lean towards destruction and aggression. In family as well as in
community contexts, individuals find it necessary to interact and
cooperate in order to live in a civilized lifestyle. At the same time,
people have a need for security within the community and for defense
against outside aggression.
The two types of needs create a feeling of interdependence,
solidarity, and loyalty to the tribe, community, or nation. Although
Ibn Khaldun did not use the word nationalism to express this social
phenomenon, his analysis is still valid even in the 21st
century. He considered national solidarity or group loyalty as a
necessary means for historical conflict resolution in society and
consequently for civilization.
Actually, what Ibn Khaldun strongly
argued for is still there. Throughout the 20th century, Arabs have
felt the need for interdependence, solidarity, and loyalty to the
nation as a whole in order to gain independence from the European
imperialist rule. Now, the need is overwhelming for a balanced social
and economic development, Omran, in the Arab region. The oil-exporting
Arab states are wealthy but have small populations, which makes them
in continuous need for labor. The rest of the Arab states have a
surplus of labor but in need for the capital necessary for their
economic development. If the Arab states were unified, the two groups
would integrate each other. For Arab nationalists, then, unification
is a necessity because it is a requirement for a balanced social and
economic development (Omran).
Thus, Arab nationalists look at history as a source of support
for unity. For them, Arab nationalism has become synonymous to the
unification of the Arab homeland that extends from Morocco on the
Atlantic Ocean to Kuwait on the Arabian Gulf. For sovereigntists, on
the other hand, a century of sovereignty under the Western protection
has been sufficient for the continuation of the status quo.
Sovereignty has become synonymous to freedom, independence, and
wealth. Clearly, the 1990 Iraqi-Kuwaiti crisis and the 1991 Gulf War
that followed represented a dimension of that conflicting perception
of Arab nationalism and Arab unity. The end outcome was a victory for
sovereigntists and their political discourse over unionists and their
version of Arab nationalism. In order for unionists to resume their
struggle, they need to come up with new methods, new strategies, and
even new vocabulary. The 20th century concepts (Appendix
IV.A) may not be suitable to appeal to people in the 21st
century. Among the most important developments that happened during
the 1990s was the emergence of Islamists as the main challenge to the
status quo. This fact necessitates reviewing the relationship between
Arab nationalists and Islamists.
Nationalism and Islam
It is hard to perceive Arab nationalism as separate from its
Islamic heritage. However, some developments at the turn and the end
of the 20th century showed the two as if they were in conflict. As a
reaction to the Turkish nationalist movement, Arab intellectuals
started to form Arab nationalist organizations that aimed at the
independence of the Arab homeland (Appendix IV.B). Their major fear
was falling under the rule of the victorious European powers. Their
fear became reality when the European powers succeeded in dividing the
Arab homeland into several separated states. Arab nationalists then
realized that the struggle for true Arab independence cannot be
separated from the struggle for unification.
Islam has been a major force in the
Arab national liberation movement. In the Maghreb (Algeria,
Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia), Berbers are so proud of their
Islamic heritage that they are eager to learn and speak Arabic. They
feel and express solidarity with other Arabs. More important is that
they also call for unification. In Algeria, Ibn Badis and other
members of the Council of Islamic Scholars revived the nationalist
movement by reviving Islamic teachings and Arab culture at the same
time. Struggle against the French occupation was not separated from
Arabization. Even during the Algerian Civil War in the 1990s, Berbers
did not call for separation. Like the majority of Arabs in the
country, they have struggled for democracy and Arabization. In
Tunisia, Al Tha'alibi and his associates issued the Arabic newspaper,
"Al-Tunisi," before World War I. They wanted to educate
younger generations of their Arab heritage, which enabled them to
resist the French cultural assault. In 1920, they established the
Tunisian Free Constitutional Party, which led the struggle untill
independence and beyond. Al-Tha'alibi was an excellent example of
combining Islamism with Arab nationalism. He linked the Tunisian
resistance movement with its counterparts in Egypt, Algeria, and
The Muslim Brotherhood group has been
the most prominent Islamic organization in the area since its
establishment by Hassan El-Banna, in 1928. However, by practice, it
may be considered as a major Arab nationalist organization. It spread
quickly in Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, and Syria. Its first conference in
the Palestinian city of Yaffa, in the same year, reflected the group's
interest in the Arab unity. El-Banna emphasized that "Arabs are
the guards of Islam ...; therefore, it's the duty of every Muslim to
revive and support Arab unity." Thus, the Brotherhood's interest
in Palestine is based on the fact that it is an Arab land that hosts
Islam's third holiest shrines, Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The group aimed at teaching the masses and reviving Islamic
solidarity. Thus, it differentiated itself from the religious
establishment of preachers who catered for governments rather than
people. El-Banna attacked the Egyptian nationalism, which was promoted
by Salama Musa. Instead, he proposed the Islamic brotherhood and Arab
nationalism. In 1934, he wrote that Arab nationalism is the expression
of aspirations of Arabs from the (Atlantic) Ocean to the (Arabian)
Gulf. He also supported the Arab League when it was established in
1946. In several occasions throughout his life, he emphasized that
Islam prospers if Arabs prosper and it loses if they are humiliated.
This means that if Arab nationalism aims at achieving Arab prosperity,
it is the duty of Muslims to support it. However, many Islamic writers
criticized Arab nationalism as it separated Muslim Arabs from other
Muslims. Among these were Abu Al-Ala Al-Mawdudi, Seyid Qutb, Abu Al-Hassan
Al-Nadawi, and Sa'id Hawa.
Because of the conflict between the
Nasser government and the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and the
1960s, the distance increased between Arab nationalists and Islamists.
However, a 1980 study showed that the vast majority of people did not
see a contradiction between Arab nationalism and Islam. The study was
conducted by Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim from the Center for Arab Unity
Studies. Respondents were from several Arab states (Egypt, Jordan,
Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Sudan, and Tunisia). About 88 percent
agreed that a relationship existed between Arab nationalism and Islam.
About 91.6 percent agreed that Arabs as a whole constitute one entity,
and about 77.9 percent agreed that Arabs constitute one nation.
In a comprehensive study conducted by Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim on Arab
unity, about 60 percent of respondents believed that Islam is a
central pillar of Arab nationalism. About one-third of them saw Arab
unity happening along Islamic lines.
Thus, the majority of Arabs did not see a genuine contradiction
between Arab nationalism and Islam. However, whenever the
contradiction between unionists and sovereigntists intensified, like
in the 1960s after the Syrian secession and during the Yemeni War,
Arab nationalists were falsely accused of opposing Islam. One support
for that accusation was the adoption of an Arab form of socialism.
to Arab Socialism
At the turn of the 20th century, Arab nationalism was a
reaction to Turkish nationalism. The three monarchs of Arabia, Sherif
Hussain Bin Ali, Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, and Mubarak Al-Sabah, allied
themselves with Britain in World War I in order to gain independence
from the Ottoman rule. When the British and the French double-crossed
the Arabs by occupying the Arab homeland after the war, Arab
nationalism became more oriented towards liberation from the European
occupation. Military confrontations against occupiers occurred in
1924-1925 in Syria, 1936 in Palestine, 1941 in Iraq, 1956 in Egypt and
the Palestinian territory of Gaza Strip, and throughout the 1950s in
the Maghreb states of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. In Libya,
resistance against the Italian occupation continued from 1911 until
1931. Civilian disobedience and protests never stopped. As a result of
that continuous struggle, most Arab states gained their political
independence between 1945 and 1971.
During the 1950s and the 1960s, several unification attempts
failed. Arab nationalist leaders realized that political independence
of sovereign states constituted a major obstacle to unification. The
elite groups in each state have formed a ruling class that has a
vested interest in keeping states sovereign and independent from
one-another. Therefore, the Arab nationalist movement began to drift
towards class struggle. The class-neutral Arab national liberation
movement transformed itself into a socialist movement, as early as the
1950s. The founder of the Ba'ath Party, Michelle Aflaq, used the
socialist rhetoric in his early speeches.
The party was even officially called the Socialist Arab Ba'ath Party.
The Movement of Arab Nationalists, which was founded by George Habash
transformed itself into the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine (PFLP). The Egyptian ruling party, which was known as the
Nationalist Union became the Arab Socialist Union. In Tunisia, the
ruling party became the Constitutional Socialist Party. The
transformation to Arab socialism was also evident in the policies of
the revolutionary governments of Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Sudan,
Syria, and Yemen, where most Arabs lived. The Egyptian experience is
particularly educational as Egypt led the Arab nationalist movement in
the 1950s and the 1960s.
When Jamal Abdul-Nasser successfully led the young Free
Officers' coup on July 23, 1952, he appointed General Muhammed Najib
as a facade President. In 1954, he removed him from office and became
the second president of Egypt. In his speeches after that as a
president, he started to refer to Egyptians as a people (Sha'ab) and
to Arabs together as a nation (Ummah). To him, Arab nationalism was a
nationality, a revolutionary experience, a liberation movement, and a
means for unification.
Transformation towards socialism
started at mid-1960s when ownership of agricultural land became
limited. Lands of big landowners were confiscated then were
distributed among peasants. Arab socialism was different from Soviet
socialism in that the private ownership of lands and businesses
continued but with limitation on expansion. However, the public sector
grew to the extent that the government became the main employer. Arab
nationalism was still necessary as a means for liberation and
unification. Therefore, Nasser found himself sometimes at odds with
the Soviet socialist ideology. In July 1964, he invited the Soviet
leader Nikita Khrushchev to visit Egypt to participate in the
celebration of changing the Nile course near Aswan. It was in
recognition of the Soviet assistance in building the High Dam. Present
also were the Iraqi President Abdul-Salam Aref, and the Algerian
President Ahmed Bin-Bella. When Aref spoke about Arab nationalism as
the basis of unity among Arabs, the Soviet leader objected. He pointed
that there were more common grounds between Arab and Soviet workers
than between Arab workers and Arab capitalists. His objective was to
de-emphasize nationalism and emphasize class as a basis for struggle.
Nasser responded reminding the Soviet leader that the Soviet Union
also used nationalism as a tool to mobilize people during World War
II. He argued that the Soviet leadership resurrected Russian
nationalism by making and distributing medals of Peter-the-Great and
other early Russian nationalists. Nasser's point was that Arabs had
the right to use nationalism as a means in their struggle to establish
their own nation-state, which has not been achieved yet.
As soon as Nasser took power, he
found himself in confrontation with the various existing political
powers. His version of socialism was opposed by Muslim Brothers and
communists alike. But it was denying them any opportunity to share
power with him that contributed to the confrontation with them. For
him, liberation and unification necessitated concentration of power in
his hand, through the one-party system. Thus, he was in confrontation
with them throughout the 1950s and the 1960s. In fact, there were many
missed opportunities for strengthening his revolution, as a result. As
a national liberation leader, he could have found common grounds with
these two ideologies, which transcend nationalism. However, like the
vast majority of Third World leaders at that time, he was not ready to
share power with them. The one-party system that he followed excluded
other political powers from the political process. Members of these
prohibited groups and political parties were imprisoned mainly because
they had a different vision of how problems can be solved.
Persecution of members of these groups even extended to the
Egyptian-administered Palestinian territory of Gaza Strip. These
should not have been punished for exercising their natural right to
organize in order to resist Israel. However, when Nasser took power in
1952, some active members from the Muslim Brotherhood (Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimun)
and the Palestine Liberation League ("Ussbat Tahrir Filistin)
were in Gaza Central Prison. Among these were Salah Khalaf and
Izziddin Gharbiyeh from the Brotherhood together with Abdul-Rahman
Awadallah and others from the League. When they heard the news about
the Nasser's "revolution," they danced out of happiness
expecting that they would be out of prison soon. When this did not
happen, they started a hunger strike. Najib visited them to listen to
their grievances and promised to free them as soon as he returned to
Cairo. This never happened and they completed their sentences. When
they were finally allowed to leave Gaza Strip, most of them went to
the Gulf states to work as teachers there. Those who did not leave
were imprisoned again in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In most
cases, charges against them ranged from political meetings to writing
and distributing leaflets about the Palestinian problem. This story
points to one of the major areas that the Nasserite experience may be
criticized of. The lack of democracy in Egypt and other Arab states
deprived the Arab nation of the efforts and resources of various Arab
Most of the Arab political powers
from left to right operated as Arab nationalists did, in the sense
that their activities transcended borders of Arab states. They shared
with nationalists the common grounds of liberation of the occupied
territories, unification of Arab states, and improving life conditions
for the poor masses. Anyway, transformation to Arab socialism deepened
the gap between sovereigntists and Arab nationalists. With that
transformation, the inter-Arab conflict became part of the wider Cold
War politics between the socialist East and the capitalist West.
The 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait may be partly attributed to a
deep and historical ideological inter-Arab conflict. Kuwait
represented a group of Arab states that may be described as
sovereigntists. They are mainly the wealthy oil-exporting Gulf states.
For them, Arab unity meant providing some material and moral support
for the other poor Arab states. However, they did not feel
enthusiastic about unification with them.
Iraq represented another group of
Arab states that may be described as unionists. They called for the
unification of the Arab homeland into one nation-state that would
include all the present Arab states. They argue that Arabs constitute
one nation as they speak the same language and have experienced the
same history. They look at the status quo as a product of European
imperialism, which dismembered the Arab nation into separate states.
They also argue that unification is necessary for a balanced social
and economic development of the Arab Middle East.
The ideological conflict was reflected in the formation of the
two Arab councils that represented the two groups. Kuwait was
instrumental in the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council,
which represented the soverigntists. Iraq was instrumental in the
establishment of the Arab Cooperation Council, which represented the
When Iraq was fighting Iran in the
1980s, the Iraqis reiterated that they were defending the Arab Gulf
states, as well. Consequently, they felt that they were entitled to
financial support from them. However, when Kuwait and other Gulf
states appeared indifferent and less appreciative at the end of the
war, the Iraqis felt betrayed. In particular, Iraqis were outraged
when Kuwait demanded them to pay the war debt. Moreover, Kuwait was
unwilling to cooperate in stopping the decline in oil prices. Thus,
the 1990 invasion may be explained in relation to this ideological
conflict about the meaning of nationalism. While Kuwaitis were
thinking as a sovereign state that has its own interests, Iraqis were
thinking as Arab nationalists who could not believe that a fellow Arab
could be as ungrateful and indifferent.
The split of Arabs into unionists and
sovereigntists lends support to the argument that citizenship
privileges may supersede nationalistic affiliation. In particular, the
wealthy oil-exporting Arab states succeeded in forming an identity
that is based solely on the economic benefits of citizenship, rather
than on national origin of the population. The "Gulfer,"
Khaliji, identity has been replacing the "Arab" since the
establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The ideological conflict between
unionists and sovereigntists has increased as a result of the increase
in the oil wealth. Unionists have argued that the Arab oil wealth
should be invested in the Arab homeland. It is the wealth of the
Nation, not just the wealth of the states that produce it. This
argument is based on the fact that oil prices had increased
dramatically following the embargo, which followed the 1973 War that
was fought by the non-oil-exporting states. In spite of that,
sovereigntists were indifferent towards the economic hardship that the
poor Arab states were passing through, including the Iraqi economic
hardship at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Thus, the stage was set for
the Iraqi-Kuwaiti dispute that led to the Iraqi invasion in 1990 and
the 1991 Gulf War that followed. But the inter-Arab ideological
conflict has not developed away from the influence of the Western
interests in the region. That will be the subject of the following
Contemporary Concepts of Arab Nationalism
Contemporary Arab literature
identifies nationalism, nation, state, and patriotism as four distinct
but interrelated concepts. Nationalism (Qawmiya) results from the
interaction among people who are settled in the same territory and
speak the same language. The interaction among them creates a web of
bonds stemming from cooperation, intermarriage, and common interests.
Nationalism also refers to the pride of one's nation and its
characteristics, such as its origin, language, and its achievements.
The earliest use of the word "Qawmiya" in the Arab
literature was in the 7th century, by Yahya Bin Mus'ida. In 1880s,
Salim Al- Bustani defined nationalism as the solidarity resulting from
the interaction among people who have the same religion, language, and
territory. Al-Zahrawi added history, traditions, and common interests.
The concept of "nation" (Umma)
refers to people who have at least one common characteristic, such as
religion, place, or time. According to Al-Mas'udi, living in the same
territory is what makes people a nation.
The term "nation" also refers to a group of people who may
have the same beliefs, language, or traditions. Al-Kawakibi and
Al-Afghani emphasized the importance of the same language as a major
requirement of a nation.
Thus, while a nation refers to people, nationalism refers to their
feeling of oneness as a nation. Arab nationalists use the term
"nation" (Ummah) to refer to all Arabs. Sovereigntists may
use it to refer to the people living in each state.
The "state" (Dawla) refers
to the collective will of the nation. It is directly related to
governance or how the nation is governed.
Related to the state is the concept of patriotism (Wataniya), which
refers to loyalty of people to their national territory. There is an
emphasis here on the borders and regional integrity of the nation.
The homeland (Watan) refers to the territory that people identify with
as their home.
Arabs live within the borders of their separated states. However, they
are deprived of the interaction with the rest of Arabs in other Arab
states. This is imposed on them by the political borders. Therefore,
the struggle for the unification of the Arab homeland is an attempt to
bring life to normal. Proponents of Arab unity argue that the only way
for Arab self-fulfillment is through unification, which will allow
Arabs to interact as one nation. However, the 1990 crisis and the 1991
Gulf War demonstrated that loyalty to sovereign states had defeated
loyalty to Arab nationalism, i.e. Wataniya defeated Qawmiya.
the Ottoman Rule
The following five Arab nationalist societies were among the
most famous organizations that were founded at the turn of the
century. First, the Arab-Ottoman Brotherhood (Al-Ikha') Society was
established in Istanbul in 1908. It called for equality between
Ottoman nations. It lasted only for eight months as a result of the
Turkish indifference. Second, Al-Qahtaniya Society was established in
1909. It called for decentralization and creation of an Arab kingdom
within the Ottoman Empire. Third, the Ottoman Administrative
Decentralization (Al-Lamarkaziya) Party was established in Cairo in
1912. The party arranged for and coordinated the first Arab
conference, which was held in Paris in 1913. The conference called for
the recognition of Arabs as a nation within the Ottoman political
alliance. Fourth, the Arab Youth (Al-Fatat) Society was established in
Paris in 1911, then moved its headquarters to Beirut in 1913, then to
Damascus in 1914. The members were civilian Muslim Arabs who called
for the independence of the Arab homeland from the Turkish control.
Fifth, the Covenant (Al-'Ahd) Society was established by Aziz Al-Mesri
and a group of Arab officers in the Ottoman army, in 1914. The
Covenant and the Youth joined forces in Damascus, in 1915, in
preparation for the Arab revolution. However, the two societies were
devastated when their Arab nationalist leadership was executed in
Beirut and Damascus by the Ottoman governor, Jamal Pasha, in 1915 and
OF ARAB STUDENTS TO THE NATION AND THE STATE*
SUMMARY OF SEVEN STUDIES)
Melikian American U.
Melikian American U. 114
& Diab of
themselves as Arabs,
origion, political party
64% rejected Arab homeland
22% identified as Arabs
identified as Gulfers
51% did not know that
there were borders between
100 religion, political
national origion, family
595 53% Arab
24% Citizenship, first
In each study, students represented several Arab states
Palestinian students ranked national (ethnic) origin
first, political party second, and
Palestinians, Bahrainis, and Yemenis emphasized
national origin first.
71% were female students, mainly from Gulf states.
ARAB FOREIGN DEBTS (US$BILLIONS) AND POPULATION (MILLIONS)
* Al-Jassem (1981:32-36).
** EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit,
On Line, 1996).
@ Inside the Palestinian territories
by the Palestinian Authority.
@@ Debts on non-oil exporting states
to about $120 billion.
. Botev (1994); Sekulic and Massey (1994).
Tudjman (1981: 153-232).
. See Chapter III, particularly The Economist (1990: 21-23,
30-32); Al-Ibrahim (1975: 122); Alessa (1981: 16-18, 44-55);
Brand (1988); Russel (1989); Shah and Al-Qudsi (1989); Farah
et. al., (1980).
 Mackey (1992: 14).
. Ismael (1993: 1-14).
The term "sovereigntists" here refers to the Arabs who
prefer to keep their states independent and enjoying sovereignty. In
contrast, "unionists" call for the unification of Arab
states in one nation-state. The term "sovereigntists,"
though not commonly used, expresses the unique national Arab
experience. It is more accurate than the term
"autonomists" which may refer to self-rule within a larger
state. It is also different from the terms "separatists"
or "secessionists" which refer to those who try to break
away from an existing state.
Kelly (1964: 260-280).
There are twenty-two Arab states that form the Arab League. The
twelve Asian Arab states include, in an alphabetical order, Bahrain,
Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia,
Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The ten African Arab states
include, in an alphabetical order, Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti,
Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, and Tunisia.
Lienhardt (1993: 46).
Actually, in the Iraqi flag, the three stars refer to that attempt
of unifying Egypt, Iraq, and Syria. In the Syrian flag, the two
stars refer to the unification of Egypt and Syria between 1958 and
The irony is that while these six Gulf states attempt to achieve
some degree of unity among themselves, they continue as a group to
move away from the rest of other Arab states.
 The total number of people living in the six Gulf states is about 26.51 million. However, except in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, majority of people are non-citizen immigrants who may not share citizens the same sentiments towards unification. While the total Gulf population represents about 11 percent of people living in the Arab Middle East, citizens of these states may be estimated about 5 percent (See El-Azhary, 1984: 9).
. See Chapter I, particularly Dickson (1956: 136-140); Al-Rashid
(1960: 121-127); Joudah (1964:
52-61); Assiri (1990: 54-55).
The term "imperialism" refers to the third stage of the
development of capitalism, after mercantalism and colonialism (Wallerstein,
. See Chapter I, particularly Al-Mardini (1980: 127-138).
. Cleveland (1971).
. Jassem (1972: 9-16, 37-38).
. Ailabooni (1981: 54-60).
. The Economist, October 24, 1998: 41-42).
. Huwaidi (1981: 706-708).
. Al-Dujayli (1986: 126).
 Al-Iktissad Al-Arabi (No. 71, June-July 1982: 15-25).
 Sabagh (1988).
 Russell (1980).
Al-Iktissad Al-Arabi (No. 71, June-July 1982: 15-25).
The appointment of Bishara also represented a gesture to other Arabs
that the Council was committed to the Palestinian cause. Bishara was
known for his efforts to mediate between the United States and the
Palestine Liberation Organization. In particular he arranged a
meeting between the American Ambassador to the UN, Andrew Young, and
the Palestinian representative to the UN, Zuhdi El-Turazi. The
meeting was criticized by supporters of Israel in Congress and led
to the resignation of Ambassador Young.
 Al-Iktissad Al-Arabi (No. 61, July 198: 23-27).
. Timmerman (1991: 374).
. Sekulic and Massey (1994).
. Comaroff (1995: 5).
. Hardin (1995).
. Stern (1995: 99-120).
. Hardin (1995: 39-40).
. Tiryakian (1995).
. Posen (1995: 149, 161-162).
. Comaroff (1995: 254-255).
However, the Arab-Islamic culture has left an everlasting impact on
Spanish and the Spanish culture. See Bourke (1896).
. Sati' Al-Husri is one of the pioneers of Arab nationalist thinking. He occupied several administrative jobs in many parts of the Ottoman Empire during late 19th century and early 20th century. Following World War I, the Ottoman Empire was dismembered. Arabs were forced to live under occupation in separated states that were established by the European imperialist powers. Al-Husri observed that as one nation, Arabs not only can liberate themselves from the European imperialists but also can be reunited in a larger homeland. He worked as an educator in some Arab states, particularly in Iraq and Syria. Following the German example, he emphasized education as a unifying factor. He argued that Arab unity would be facilitated by increasing people's awareness of their history, language, and the importance of the unification of their homeland as the ultimate goal of their life (Cleveland, 1971).
. Cleveland, 1971.
. Al-Jabiri, 1982: 245-295.
 Al-Sulh (1981: 218-222).
 Al-Bishri (1981: 289-297).
 Al-Bishri (1981: 289-297).
 Amara (1981: 169-175).
 Al-Bishri (1981: 298-299).
 Farah (1988).
 Gareeb (1981: 54).
 Nasr (1981: 248-255).
 Huwaidi, 1981: 267-68).
. Khalaf-Allah, 1981: 17-29.
 Al-Duri (1981: 31-40).
 Khalaf Allah (1981: 17-29).
 Al-Duri (1981: 31-40).
 Al-Khouli (1981: 51).
 Khalaf-Allah (1981: 17-29).
 Khalaf Allah (1981: 17-29).
 Al-Duri (1981: 31-40).
 Amara (1981: 160-162).
Table of Contents, Gulf War: Overreaction & Excessiveness, By Hassan A El-Najjar