The Arab World in Historical Perspective

From Wikimedia Commons Ideas and ideologies carry large weight, especially if one takes the Arab world in political context. As citizens of the twenty first century, we often overlook the cause of the Arab region’s political distress and tension that seems to be so ubiquitous. Common people today still assume that the Arab world has always been in jeopardy, unable to be reformed and a decadent culture. The recent events in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt point to that conviction. However, if you go beyond these superficial occurrences and delve deeper into the underlying factors for the Arab world’s challenges, you will certainly find how there are many experiments seeking to capture the expression of the Arabs to form their own identities in the modern world.

For a long time during the early years of the Cold War following the end of the mandate system, most Arab nation were just beginning to taste independence, but unfortunately it wasn’t the kind of liberation so desperately fought for and desired. Pro-western monarchies were constructed, and the modern state of Israel was formed. The Arabs felt a serious betrayal by their British and French occupiers. For nearly thirty years, a new secular and revolutionary ideology, labeled Baathism, emerged under western-educated intellectuals including Michel Aflaq and Salah ad-Din al-Bitar. Its aspirations reflect a need to unify the Arab peoples into one union. Countries like Iraq and Syria adopted the ideology, but only the latter survives. Others partly assessed it within domestic issues.

With the defeat of the Arab nations in the Six Day War against the Israel, the pan-Arab nationalistic experiment was discarded. So, what happened next? The Arabs instituted a new experiment that ran contrary to the ideals of Arab culture and language. This not only applied to the regions of the Arab world but also in the greater scope of the Muslim word. This is often called the era of pan-Islamism or simply Islamism. Islamism arose out of the larger Islamic revival after the dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate. 9/11 falls under the activities of one brand of this ideology. Other Islamist versions such as Muslim Brotherhood are largely peaceful. The Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan is an Islamist political party. Also, there is a word of caution—Islamism is not a violent ideology but is fundamentalist—it simply seeks to apply the Shariah and Sunnah in the constitution, which is a necessary step toward carving an Islamic state.

The Iranian Revolution in 1979 was the great success of Islamism, insofar as history has told us. Ayatollah Khomeini is credited with decrying the Shah who was secular and pro-Western, which he sought to expel from Iran’s governance. The Iranian Revolution was spectacular in that it occurred in a non-Arab country and was based on Shi’ite elements rather than Sunni Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood electoral victory in the 2012 Egyptian presidential election was barely realized. Al-Qaeda still operates as militant organizations throughout Syria and Iraq.

Interestingly, this is where the contemporary Arab world is in the scope of things. As of now, we must be careful to analyze the implications of the domestic responses to global challenges. Yet, one thing is certain: we cannot ignore these issues because they will accurately portend what may pave for the future.