Arab Nationalism, Arab Unity and the Practice of Intra-Arab State Relations

Chapter 4 entitled Arab nationalism, Arab unity and the practice of intra-Arab state relations from Roger Owens book State, power and politics in the making of the modern Middle East provides an in-depth and comprehensive review of the notion of Arab nationalism as compared to Arabism and its evolution over the years. The author does not take a widespread stance towards the issue under consideration ensuring a critical view of Arab nationalism, Arabism, and Arab unity. Some of the core topics covered in the chapter under review include an introduction to the issue of Arab nationalism, the transformation of Arabism into Arab nationalism, the emergence of Arab states and their relations, including cooperation and competition, and a brief history of Arabism in the second half of the 20th century. Moreover, Owen focuses on discussion of some peculiarities of intra-Arab relations, the place of Palestine and Israel in the Arab world, the impact of the latter on intra-Arab relations, as well as economic integration and Arab order. The author challenges at times conventional views on the raised issues spread among scholars and claims that the notions of Arab nationalism and Arabism are extremely complex. Hence, the chapter emphasizes that there exist several types of Arab nationalistic movements. Therefore, the study of the history of the above-mentioned issues is necessary for understanding how the modern Middle East has emerged and developed.

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As Owen emphasizes, Arabism was a prevailing mood across virtually all Arab nations at the end of 19th century as they shared a language, culture, religious practices, history, and other common characteristics. However, it could hardly be deemed nationalism at the time since Arabness was merely one possible identity while people could choose any other identity available to them, for instance, based on their belonging to a particular tribe or region. Nevertheless, with the end of colonialism in the area and the emergence of newly independent countries, Arabism was gradually transforming into Arab nationalism as Arabs wanted to become independent from the Ottoman Empire and the rule of Turks, as well as other colonial powers afterward. Nonetheless, Arab nationalism took different forms across various nations depending on their history, extent of willingness to become independent, and the sense of artificialness of imposed borders once they gained independence. For instance, Egypt seemed to be quite content with being independent without losing its Arab identity and from times to times calling for the establishment of Arab unions in line with the principles stipulated by the Arab nationalism.

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Gradually, Arab nations lost the drive to create some pan-Arab unity or super state and resorted to building and maintaining close intra-state relations that benefitted significantly from the sense of commonness shared by all Arab countries with strong Arab nationalistic sentiments. This way, Arab states relations were marked by cooperation, competition, confrontation, and a mixture of all these processes at once at different times throughout the mid and late 20th century. Thus, in the 1930s and 1940s, most Arab states called for closer cooperation, which resulted in the creation of the League of Arab States that now includes more than twenty countries of the region. This organization is tasked with resolving issues emerging in the process of cooperation between different Arab states. However, the 1970s and 1980s saw the end of pan-Arabic moods and calls for closer cooperation. More and more Arab countries became independent, and their educational, cultural, and all other systems were becoming different, which resulted in the emergence of essential differences among nations irrespective of their common Arab past. Besides, different states were choosing various paths of development and integration into the world geopolitical system with some countries siding with the USA and others aligning with the Soviet Union. In any case, Arab states have always been treated as separate independent states, which is also recognized in the charter of the League of Arab States. At the same time, their relations have been extremely close irrespective of any intra-state conflicts that may have arisen. This closeness is evident from the way conflicts have been usually resolved by the heads of states meeting personally and discussing their problems. Furthermore, intra-state relations in the region have been characterized by the politics of economic integration that took four forms throughout the history. These forms include free trade phase in the 1950s, attempts to create a common Arab market in the late 1950s, investments derived from the oil boom of the 1970s into oil-poor Arab states via various banks and funds, and the creation of different sub-regional groupings since the 1980s. Economic integration of Arab states has always been considered as a vital part of intra-state relations in the region and Arab nationalistic movements.

Besides, the chapter focuses on the role of the Israeli-Palestinian issue within overall intra-Arab relations. The matter is that the conflict between Palestine and Israel gave rise to several military confrontations involving different states of the region as well as attracting world super powers. Palestinians played a key role in the promotion of Arab nationalism across the area intending to gain support in the fight against Israel. Nonetheless, Israel managed to ultimately defeat its opponents and remained a strong power in the region to be reckoned with, which is proved by the peace treaty it concluded with Egypt that had been a vocal opponent of the country during past confrontations. Owen points out that all conflicts and events within the region have a profound impact on all Arab states and the region on the whole, which Arab countries have to take into consideration while developing their internal and foreign policies. Moreover, when doing the latter, the states have to be aware of the tendency of their neighbors to interfere with their internal affairs without any obvious reason as this is common to the Arab region.

Finally, the chapter makes it evident that Arab states interact in a rather unusual way, which is based on their shared Arabness. However, it is not known for sure whether these peculiarities of their interaction may be considered as a sufficient reason to talk about the existence of an Arab order. Arab states have moved from close intra-Arab cooperation towards regional competition and cooperation with non-Arab ones. Hence, the region has adapted to the changing circumstances of the world and abandoned its pan-Arabic moods for the sake of maintaining the independence of separate states that have nonetheless remained quite close economically and culturally to other Arab states.

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