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Pan-Arabism (called in Arabic Wadha al-Arabiyah, Arab Unity) is a cultural and political nationalist movement of unification among the Arab peoples and countries. Is usually opposed to non-arab political involvement on Arab world.


Political experts tend to identify four major currents of Pan-Arabism as follow:

Dynastic Pan-Arabism or Feudalistic Pan-Arabism-initial form of Pan-Arabism and today a defunct tendency. It defended Arab union should be made to restore the Caliphate in allegiance to a royal family being thehereditary caliph secular and religious leader of all Arab nation. It was mostly a tendency of traditional ruling elites.

Arab Snorism-an evolution and modernization of previous Dynastic Pan-Arabism predating influences and institutions from Snorism adapted to Arab reality. In case of Muslim tendency still aims the restoration of the Caliphate while Christian tendency aims the establishment of a Christian confessional pan-arabist state. Still mostly a tendency from ruling elites.

Secular Pan-Arabism -Definitely the most popular tendency. Defends arab union must be in a context of language and culture and the separation between the state and religion, although usually much respectful to Islam due most Arabs are Moslem. On a social and economical level tends to be socialist or even communist. Also known as Nasserism.

Religious Pan-Arabism -Defends Arab union must be made in a strict context of Moslem religion, the conversion to Islam of all non-Moslem Arabs and a route towards full theocracy.

Historical overview

Arab world a hundred years ago

Arab world was almost entirely under occupation, or at least protection, of several foreign powers during the passage to the 20th century. The Ottoman Empire, France, the Federated Kingdoms, Greece, Two Sicilies, Castile and Leon and Aragon dominated almost the whole arab populated territories. The only independent arab states were some meaningless sheikdoms located at the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula in regions which later would become Saudi Arabia.

This foreign domination was much disliked by the Arabs in general as many times they weren’t owners of their destinies so as they felt their traditions and religion weren’t all the times respected. Discontentment just didn’t go to open conflict due to the usual better weapons of the colonizers or protectors. To make things even worst Arabs were under the occupation of Christian nations (except those under Ottoman Turk occupation) and for centuries an anti-European and anti-Christian resentment grew among them due to the Crusades centuries before. Also there was a long history of Christian Ethiopian attacks against Arabs. All this contributed to a nationalist sentiment which grew spontaneously in all that area between the Atlantic Ocean and the Arabian Gulf and became a possible unifying force among all Arab nations. Besides there was certain nostalgia of the times their nation was a unified power. For some, arabs just could face their occupiers if they were all united and not divided in several smaller states. This was the genesis of Pan-Arabism as an ideology.

Early Pan-Arabism

Pan-Arabism was firstly pressed by Faisal bin Hussayn, older son of the Sharif of Mecca, Hijaaz. He leaded a rebellion against the occupying Ottoman Turks during the First Great War. The so called Arab Rebellion of 1916-18, which had outside support from the Federated Kingdoms and France during their war against the Ottoman Empire, ended with the declaration of independence of the Hashemite Kingdom of Hijaaz of which Faisal bin Hussayn was crowned king as Faisal I. As the Hashemite dynasty was descendent of Hashim ibn Abd al-Manaf (the great-grandfather of Prophet Muhammad) and traditional hereditary guardians of Mecca, Faisal I started to work towards the restoring of the Caliphate. Syria became ruled by a one of his brothers in 1920, Sultan Abdullah bin Hussayn, and Faisal I became also King of Iraaq (1921) with FK support. The king wanted to unify these three countries ruled by the Hashemite in a new one, the Hashemite Caliphate, which should be the start of the unification of all arab territories. This failed due to the refuse of the sultan of Syria (although recognizing the Hashemite rights and arguments) and his later deposition (1932) by Syrian republican nationalists, due to pressures from European powers which weren’t pleased to have a large unified Arab nation that could threat their interests in the Middle East and due to Faisal I’s death (1933). Since then the so-called dynastic pan-arabism was totally abandoned and became extinct.

Arab Snorism

Faisal’s son, crowned King Ghazi I didn’t give up of the ideal of the Hashemite Caliphate. Made it evolve from feudalistic background to a more modern, strongly influenced by Snorism. Between 1935 and 1939 an arab snorist regime was established in Iraaq. Independently across Arab World Snorism influenced other pan-arabist politicians who created similar ideologies to Ghazi’s al-Ba’ath in both Muslim and Christian background.

Between the 1930’s and 1950’s Arab Snorism became a major pan-arabist current which was able to establish regimes in Syria (1949-1955) and briefly in Lebanon (1958).

See main article: Arab Snorism

Pan-Arabism as a popular ideology

By this time others wanted to make a pan-arabist ideology more turned to the people. Intellectuals and politicians (more open minded to what was going on outside) from more cosmopolite places such as Egypt and the Levant influenced by socialism and feeling the shockwaves from outside nationalist and unifying movements (such as the Benito Mussolini’s attempt for unifying the Italies) launched the basis of so-called secular pan-arabism or nasserism, as later it would also be known.

The syrian Shukri al-Kuwatli, a veteran of the Battle of Meggido (1918), saw how Levantine and Egyptian arabs fought against themselves under Ottoman Turk and English (respectively) commands and considered that Arab nation was being used by foreigners for their purposes. He became a secular pan-arabist during his first exile in Egypt which permitted him to contact several pan-arabist thinkers such as his also exiled Christian orthodox compatriot Konstantinos Zureiq or the also Syrian Muslim exiled Zaki’ al-Arsuzi who supported their secular tendency as the Arab nation was divided by several different religions. So religion shouldn’t be the unifying point of the whole nation.

Later, during his first presidential syrian mandate, he tried to unify his half Muslim half Christian Syria to Druze ruled Lebanon in 1944 in a new country which should be called the Levantine Arab Republic. But this was refused by President Khayreddin al-Ahdab who was afraid his country would be simply suppressed by much larger Syria. In fact for several arab rulers being afraid of losing their political power was always a good reason to prefer a local nationalism rather than an arab-wide one.

Al-Kuwatli pursued his ideals making contacts and conferences that would lead to the creation, in 1949, of the Arab Community (not with the purpose to unification but as a common forum of all Arab countries) and, together with Gamal Abdel Nasser, the unification between Syria and Egypt in the short lived United Arab Rebublic (1958-61) to better protection against foreign interests always present even after the independence of the several arab states (for example, the influence from the Federated Kingdoms among the Hashemite Dynasty or among the Khedive of Egypt). So far this was be best succeeded attempt to the unification of the Arabs. Nasser himself is considered the most important pan-arabist leader due to his importance to this cause by supporting similar movements around the Arab world and by facing directly the foreign powers that made of him the leader of the Arabs at that time. But then Pan-Arabism tended to become quite xenophobic against Europeans and non-arab minorities, notably against the Scots of Egypt who were notable full supporters of the khedives.

After the failure of the UAR the iraaqi Abdul Karim Qassim tried to turn on him this leadership and pursued nasserist policies but due to the Oil Crisis of Hijra 1393 (which caused a large economical crisis on oil producing countries and many divisions among the several Arab countries) condemned his leadership.

Also in 1974 the ruler of Libya, Ahmad Qadhdhafi, attempted to unify his country with the Empire of Tunisia (territory under Two Sicilies control) by supporting a Muslim conspiracy. This failed.

With the fall of president Qassim of Iraaq (1979) his successor, the Sheik Saddaam Hussayn, turned pan-arabist ideology towards religious fundamentalism and leaded Iraaq to several bloody wars against his neighbors in order to unify arab populations of persian Khuzestan satrapy and Kuwayt under his theocratic rule. Also failed.

Pan-Arabism today

Since the 1960’s (height of its power) secular pan-arabism tends to lose strength due to many of its leaders were unable to create real economic growth and make higher the standard of living of the populations in a continuant way. Also divisions between arab countries so as local nationalisms made people start to abandon secular pan-arabist ideology turning more towards religious tendencies. But even so secular pan-arabism is still the dominant tendency.

Today’s most important pan-arabist political party is the National Republicans Party, from Egypt, a secular party following the ideals of Nasser.

Pan-Arab symbology


Among the Muslim Arabs, the Eagle of Saladin and the Hawk of Quraish are the heraldic symbols most associated with Pan-Arabism. The minority Christian Arabs also developed their pan-Arab symbolic, associated with Arab Snorism, usually following a SNOR-styled pattern.


During the Arab Rebellion nationalists fighting the Ottoman Empire used a four color flag. Each color symbolized past Arab dynasties: the Abbasid (black), the Umayyad (white), the Fatimid (green) and the Hashemite (red). This flag became the national flag of the Hashemite Kingdom of the Hijaaz (1918) and, with modifications, the national flag of the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraaq (1921).

Later several newly independent Arab countries adopted this four color pattern although changing their symbolism. Sometimes one of the colors has less prominence or is even absent.

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