Pan Arab Nationalism, It’s Rise And Downfall

Adam Fitzgerald
4 min readNov 5, 2018

The current predicament of countries such as Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran are beset with problems mainly by hard core Islamic extremists that plague every inch of land with murder, slavery and every form of debauchery imagined. But just a little over 30 years prior, these countries once prospered under a Western themed way of living. To have a general understanding of why these countries are now met by such an oppressive theological mindset, we must look at how the slow eradication of Pan Arab Nationalism was replaced in time by the Wahhabi ideology which have caused such strife currently in the Arab world.

The Pan Arab nationalist Movement was formed in 1951 by George Habash a Left wing secularist, whom also funded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) a secularist, Marxist organization which had ties to the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. The Nationalist Movement was revolutionary and Pan-Arabist. It placed emphasis on the formation of a nationally conscious intellectual elite which would play a vanguard role in a revolution of Arab consciousness. This movement would seek to enlighten the Arab state and give deference to Western Imperialism. The group formed branches in various Arab states, most notably, Egypt, Bahrain, Iraq and Lebanon.

Habash himself was an intriguing figure. Well educated, earning an undergraduate degree in medicine at the University of Beirut in 1951. Nicknamed by those close to him as “the doctor”. A vigorous political figure even in his early teenage years, Habash was known to be quite aggressive towards imperialism of any kind. Born to Palestinian parents, he suffered under Israeli Zionist rule and knew early on what imperislaim could do to subjugate the minority. After graduating from medical school he would work in refugee camps in Jordan, there he would witness first hand those whom suffered in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Incidentally it was the IDF who were the perpetrators of the attack by overtaking the Lebanese city of Lydda (today’s Lod, and Habash hometown) and evicting the residents. He firmly believed that the state of Israel should be ended by all possible means, including political violence.

Habash was influenced by the works of Constantine Zurayk, who was a Arab-Syrian intellectual who was the pioneer of Arab Nationalism. Zurayk would hold lectures at the Univ. of Beirut on ‘Arab nationalism and the Zionist danger’ in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was during these lectures and his experiences with the Israeli Zionist Movement and Islamic Orthodoxy, which gave him the motivation to help recruit Arabs to create a unified conglomerate which led to the foundation of the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM) in 1951 and aligned the organization with Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab nationalist ideology.

There were some political divergences which had risen out of the Pan Arab Movement. Syria and Iraq would soon become countries that identified with “Nasserism” a socialist Arab political ideology based on the national principals of Gamal Abdel Nasser who in turn was involved with the Egyptian revolution in 1952. The movement combines elements of Arab socialism, republicanism, nationalism and anti-imperialism. Syria which gained independence from French rule in 1948 saw a renaissance within its borders and embraced the ideologies promoted by Gamal Nasser. For many years Syria prospered and enjoyed a healthy sociable lifestyle, even under the temperamental rule of Hafez al-Assad who rose to power under a coup in 1963 which brought the Ba’ath Party to power from 1970–2000. Syria was at this time, a generally secular movement, believing that a Syrian can have any religion indigenous to the area: Sunni or Shia Muslim, Christian or Jewish.

During the early 1920’s Iraq had sought to implement the Pan Arabist Movement into its own borders, and by the 1930’s the concept of an Iraqi territorial identity arose amongst the intellectuals. Abd al-Karim Qasim, ruled the country as 24th Prime Minister and became influential in overthrowing the Iraqi monarchy in 1958. And in return promoted a civic nationalism in Iraq that recognized Iraq’s Arabs and Kurds as equal partners. Iraq was to become an autocracy in time under Qasim’s rule and relations with Iran had soured. His leadership was also met with conflicting idealists and thus he suffered under numerous threats of revolts.

However the Pan Arab Movement and Arab Nationalist ideology were not seen as viable assets to the Foreign powers of the United States and Great Britain. For years the Anglo-Saxon powers saw Arab Nationalism as every bit as a threat as did Communism, it also hurt their chances at having future relationships with these countries which saw Western Imperialism as a nuance. But there was also another problem. They saw the unification of the Arab people as a growing and pertinent problem which could cause an Islamic ummah or global unification of Arabs that could threaten the Anglo-Christian identity. November 21st 1952 the Colonial and Commonwealth Relations Office produced a document titled “The Problem of Nationalism” a branch of the British Foreign Office this document was to help safeguard Great Britain as a world power particularly in the economic and strategic fields against the inherent dangers of Nationalism.

As the Arab world became increasingly dismayed with the United States and Great Britain’s determination for regional imperialism.. the foreign powers decided to help overthrow the nationalist leaders of the more educated Arab nations. Thus the oil producing countries in the Arab nations would come under fire from the documents outlines which saw nationalism as a direct threat to the Anglo-Saxon powers. For decades countries outlined above would experience revolutions, coups and other forms of nefarious agendas purported by the Western Imperialists with Foreign assistance of course, the effects are still witnessed even to the current day.



Adam Fitzgerald

Geo-political scientist/researcher into the events of September 11th 2001.