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Why Didn't the Arab World Unite?

posted on: Sep 15, 2020

Why Didn't the Arab World Unite?
“Sovereignty is not given, it is taken.” Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

By: Ahmed Abu Sultan/ Arab America Contributing Writer. 

Ever since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Arab world has been plunged into a state of constant conflict and division. There were many reasons that contributed to these results such as foreign intervention and internal conflict. The efforts made by both the British and the French to keep the remnants of the Ottoman Empire under their influence. That caused much effort to resist foreign influence resulted in a series of independence revolutions. Independence resulted in leaders who sought to unite the Arab world, but were always faced with the same question each time, who will lead us?

The Collapse of the Ottomans

Why Didn't the Arab World Unite?
They steal your bread, then give you a crumb of it… Then they demand you to thank them for their generosity… O their audacity!” Ghassan Kanafani

Ever since the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire dominated politics for as long as over half a millennium. However, the aftermath of the Great War and The Treaty of Mudros put an end to the Ottoman Caliphate. Since then, the Arab world has been struggling with a series of dividing events dispersing Arabs to twenty-two countries. There were many contributing factors to the massive division of states which include both external interference and internal instability.

The Ottoman Empire had been the leading Islamic state in geopolitical, cultural, and ideological terms. Their military success against the great powers of their time practically eliminated any form of resistance for Arabs in the empire. They successfully ended the remnants of the Roman Empire after the conquest of Constantinople, later renamed Istanbul. However, their conservative methodologies of government and a series of Osmanoğlu family assassinations resulted in decay until the 20th century. This resulted in an opening for foreign intervention. After all, the British intelligence agent, Thomas Edward Lawrence, was the one responsible for the rise of Arab revolts all across the Ottoman domain, thus weakening it further.

Sykes-Picot Agreement

Why Didn't the Arab World Unite?
“The great revolution in the history of man, past, present, and future is the revolution of those determined to be free.” – John F. Kennedy

During the Great War, the British and French worked together to define their mutually agreed spheres of influence and control in an eventual partition of the Ottoman Empire. The primary negotiations leading to the agreement occurred between 23 November 1915 and 3 January 1916, on which date the British and French diplomats, Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, initialed an agreed memorandum. The agreement effectively divided the Ottoman provinces outside the Arabian Peninsula into areas of British and French control and influence. The agreement was allocated to Britain’s control of what is today southern PalestineJordan, and southern Iraq. France was to control of southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

The results of this agreement caused massive division within the Arab communities all across the world. After all, the Arab agreement was for them to be independent of foreign influence. However, they found themselves under new management. Unfortunately for the colonial powers, Pan Arabism was on the rise in the newly construed colonies. Many forms of resistance were established to fight British and French interference. However, they did not succeed until the aftermath of World War two when both the British and the French became greatly in dept and had to recall their forces to Europe.

Pan-Arabism

Why Didn't the Arab World Unite?
“He who cannot support himself, cannot take his own decision.” Gamal Abdel Nasser

Not long after the end of the Second World War, Arab nationalism saw the opportunity to expel foreign influence from their homeland. Jordan was the first to gain independence in 1946 forming the Hashemites Dynasty. Egypt was the first to declare a republic in 1953, where Iraq followed five years later in 1958. As a result, Arab nationalism saw a tremendous rise in other states which saw Algeria gain independence in 1962. Other states gained independence by forming treaties such as the United Arab Emirates in 1971. Nevertheless, the 20th century saw the formation of 22 Arab countries. Although the treaties of Sykes-Picot are no longer valid, the effect caused by it remains.

After some of the major Arab countries declared independence, they became a target for either the Eastern or Western Bloc. This caused some turmoil in some countries such as Syria but the statement remained clear. Please leave our homeland. This did not deter foreign states from attempting to intervene in regional politics. Nevertheless, there were attempts from many Arab leaders to create a unified Arab state.

Who Will Lead Us?

At this point, many Arab leaders agreed to the formation of a unified Arab state. Much like the German story of unification, the leaders were not capable of choosing a leader for the new state. The public backing has always been there but there was no common cause that could set aside their differences and unite them under one ruler. However, that did not stop them from trying. There were three notable attempts at creating a unified state.

Notable Attempts

The first was the United Arab Republic formed in 1958 by Gamal Abdel Nasser between Egypt and Syria. However, the union did not last due to conflict of interest.  The second was the Arab Federation which consisted of the unification of the thrones of Iraq and Jordan. Once again, unity did not last due to conflict. Lastly, after a successful coup in 1971, Muammar al-Gaddafi became the leader of Libya and led the political campaign to the creation of the Federation of Arab Republics. Unsurprisingly, they could not agree on a leader for the new state.

This series of failed attempts saw a decrease in Arab enthusiasm for any more attempts at unification causing a period of hibernation all across the Arab world. It was not until recently that the incompetence of the new leaders has been noticed and caused the deposition of that old generation. For now, there seems to be no near sight for a modern-day Salah ad-Din. Nonetheless, after a century of conflict, we now know that the answer for Arab Unification is to know, who will lead us?

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