NOTE: This was my Graduate Degree Thesis – Its 80 pages
In 2014, the “Islamic State” (ISIS) crossed state borders between Iraq and Syria, claiming the end of state sovereignty in the Middle East. “ISIS” goal is to establish a single caliphate under one national flag, and a ruling Sunni Muslim government with little regard to other religions. This article contradicts “ISIS” perspective by examines several historic examples, in particular, the United Arab Republic (UAR), towards unity while maintaining and respecting state sovereignty. The successes and failures of the UAR provides a case study to the successful economic, social and political cooperation the region requires and forms a modern perspective on how a united Middle East could look like today. Other than the UAR, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a successful example of unity in the Middle East. While respecting sovereignty Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE was able to establish unity in the region twice. Both in the establishment of the Trucial States that later became the UAE in 1971, in addition to the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981. The article concludes as to whether a united Middle East that calls for political, economic, and social cooperation while maintaining state sovereignty is possible.
The Middle East today…………………………………… 3
HISTORY OF THE MIDDLE EAST…………………………… 7
The Sykes-Picot Agreement……………………………. 7
Middle East: Post Sykes-Picot……………………….. 10
Physical Barriers…………………………………………. 13
THE UNITED ARAB REPUBLIC…………………………….. 16
The United Arab Republic……………………………. 22
Failure of the United Arab Republic………………. 25
Economy of the United Arab Republic…………… 44
THE END OF THE UNITED ARAB REPUBLIC………… 57
A MORE SUCCESSFUL UNION……………………………… 59
In the 1950’s a charismatic man emerged from the Egyptian civilization, declaring his nations independence from British imperialism. A few years later, that very man became the president of Egypt and the President of the United Arab Republic. His name is Jamal Abdul-Nasser, and he called for an Arab unity that would strengthen the political, economic, and social bonds of the Middle East. Two thousand four hundred kilometers east of Cairo, two parents heard his voice. The parents gave birth to two sons, and owing to Jamal Abdul-Nasser’s dream of Arab unity, they called one of them Jamal and the other Nasser. That Nasser is the author of this book. Sixty years later, I bring back the legacy of the man whose dream influenced millions of Arabs worldwide.
Jamal Abdul-Nasser was the president of Egypt from 1956 to 1970. During and before his presidency he called for a Middle East that would be united in economic trade, social capital, and political motives. This movement of nationalistic Arab unity is known as Pan-Arabism. In 1958 Abdul-Nasser achieved the development of the first united state, which merged Egypt and Syria into a United Arab Republic (UAR). This newly developed state was the talk of the decade, and its success or failure will determine the ideological future of Arab unity and Pan-Arabism in the Middle East.
Seventy years later the Middle East is still partially divided and in conflict with one another. There is conflict in Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and all the way to Morocco. Almost every modern state in the Middle East has either gone through, or is going through a form of inter-state conflict or civil conflict. There are various reasons that contribute to the issue of why conflict always arises in the Middle East. Is there ever a hope of a Middle East that is united economically, politically, and socially? Is the only method of achieving unity through the “Islamic States” vision of one single regional state? Or can there be various sovereign states as there are today uniting under one common goal and perspective just as the United Arab Republic in 1958?
Before however, one must understand what the Middle East is, its history, states, demography, topography, culture, religion, nationalism, and territorial sovereignty.
Religion: The majority of Middle Eastern states are Muslim, and the culture of all these states revolves around the religion itself. Everything from entering the bathroom to prayer at a mosque, all has a notion of religion in it. Sadly, the division amongst Muslims grew and tension between those groups grew along with them. When it comes to sects it has become an increasingly problematic issue in the past decade. Two major sects in Islam are Sunni and Shiite. Sunni are a majority in most Gulf States except Bahrain, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Understanding the difference and the history behind the two sects is crucially important. There wasn’t a major conflict between the two sects for hundreds of years, only until the Iraq-Iran war where Saddam was seen targeting Shiites. In its simplest and basic of forms, Shiite’s are somewhat like Roman Catholics Christians and Sunni are like Protestant Christians. The Shiite have a very strong clerical presence through the Imam in the community. The Imam has the ability to interpret religion and give “Fatwas” verdicts about certain issues. There is a hierarchy of Imams in Shiites that lead to the twelve holy Imams, Ali the companion and cousin of the Prophet Mohammed being the first. Ali himself was not Shiite, but his followers formed it after Ali’s death after the first fitna (Civil war) between Caliphates. Sunni’s on the other hand do not focus on Imams or clerics in any way, but rather maintain the connection with Allah through a more direct line, just like Protestants. Sunni is derived from the word Sunnah, which means the way of life prescribed as normative in Islam, based on the teachings and practices of Muhammad and on exegesis of the Koran. Also called hadith. This is very important to understand, because a lot of organizations, be they state or non-state, use the notion of religion to group people together for their own goals. Take the Sunni group ISIS for example, its main, if not only form of bringing people together is through the use of religion, an Islamic State that can fend off the dominating Shiite presence in Iraq and Syria as well as western powers. Using religion through political means, as we know throughout history, can be extremely problematic and dangerous. Religion is a diving force for many individuals, especially Muslims since it revolves around every day life. So organizations using religion as their basis of recruitment or justification in the Middle East is very common.
Resource: Another important driver in the Middle East is oil. Oil reserves in the Middle East make up of almost 49% of world oil reserves. Keeping that in mind, oil has also always played a crucial part of foreign intervention in the region. Not only do fossil fuels play a crucial part in foreign intervention in the Middle East, but also in establishing petro-state regional bubbles. Countries where oil is most dominant, especially in the Arabian Gulf, have established their own petro-state communities that are usually bubbled away from the rest of the region. Take Saudi Arabia for example; Saudi Arabia is one of the richest Middle Eastern countries in the world. According to the CIA, Saudi Arabia possesses 16% of the world’s proven petroleum reserves, and ranks as the largest and most influential exporter of petroleum globally and in OPEC. (CIA Database 2015) Whereas its neighbor, Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world where poverty has risen further from 42% of the population in 2009, to 54.5% in 2012. Yemen has one of the highest population growth rates in the world and is one of the most food insecure countries globally. Approximately 45% of the population is food insecure and Yemen’s scarce water resources are far below the regional average. I will discuss the issue economic cooperation and the importance of these petro-states to interact with non petro-states in the Middle East.
Culture: As I mentioned above, religion is extremely entwined with Middle Eastern culture. However, its not only religion but the tribal system of Arab culture is also very important. Middle Eastern culture depends a lot on family, heritage and the tribe of an individual. Placing a leader, or supporting a leader who is from an opposing tribe, might cause numerous tension and conflict.
Authoritarian rule: Most Middle Eastern states are somewhat authoritarian governments. They have historically been this way and have either benefited or oppressed their population this way. It is important to remember this because a large majority of the population has only known this form of government. If one were to force a democracy, just as was the case in Egypt, it is likely that it may fail, however, unpredictability is always a prominent equation in international relations. People need to be taught and educated about the notion of democracy, in regards to giving the government time to change, choosing who you think is best for the country and not just because of tribal influences. Most Middle Eastern countries are or have been going through years of conflict including independence, colonization, civil war, revolution or democratization.
Today, ISIS is destroying the state borders between Iraq and Syria, claiming the “End of Sykes-Picot”. In their perspective, it’s the almost 100 year policy that caused the Middle East to be in the state it is in today. Until this very day, the Middle East is the center point of foreign powers and foreign interest. Independence and absolute sovereignty is still absent in some Middle Eastern states. ISIS believes that the Middle East borders should be reverted back to before the Sykes-Picot, where Israel never existed, Al-Sham (Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon) were but an area of a greater state. However, to understand the Sykes-Picot agreement one must go back into the 1900’s and look into the history of the Middle East.
Direct colonial rule in the Middle East was short compared to other western colonies; however, their impact on political systems in the region was devastating. The Sykes-Picot agreement in May 1916 divided the Middle East into separate, recognized states. The secret deal between the French and British already put in hand their own intentions towards the Middle East. It was not in favor of the British or French state to give Arabs their own independent state. The entire framework of the Sykes-Picot agreement was the entire partition of the Fertile Crescent into several states. According to the US report on the Jordan Syrian boundaries there were three main objectives from the Sykes-picot agreement: “(1) France assumed control of northern Syria which became Lebanon and Syria including “Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo, but also Mosul in Northern Iraq. (2) Britain assumed the Baghdad Vilayet. (3) Syria to the east of Homs, Hamah and Damascus became an “independent Arab State or Confederation” but directly under French influence. ( United States Department of State 1969)
One of the major problems regarding the Sykes-Picot was that Arabs were not part of the agreement, as it was primarily between Russia, France, and England. As a matter of fact, the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916 conflicted with the British promise of Arab independence, also known as the McMahon – Sharif Husayn Correspondence letters. The US Department of State published a report in 1969 called the “International Boundary Study, Jordan – Syria Boundary”. ( United States Department of State 1969) The report states that the British promised Arabs in 1915 to be given Arab independence in all the lands demanded by Sharif of Husayn of Mecca. However, conditions and modifications do apply. As stated in the report “Great Britain is prepared to recognize and support the Arabs in all regions within the limits demanded by the Sharif of Mecca with modification” ( United States Department of State 1969)
The first condition was that the Arabs were to revolt against the Ottoman Empire, which they did between 1916 – 1918. This revolt brought the idea of ethnic nationalism between Arabs, and a united Arab concept rather than a united Muslim one. The second condition was the exclusion of various states and geographical locations in the Middle East. According to the report this exclusions included the following “The exclusion of “the two districts of Mersin and Alexandretta and portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo.” West of Damascus, Hams, Hama, and Aleppo today are the states of Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, and Turkey. The third and final condition was “that of certain regions lying within those frontiers in which Great Britain was not free to act “without detriment to the interest of her ally France.” The interests of France in the region were primarily in regards to French influence in Beirut and its coasts in addition to parts of Northern Africa. However, during the time of the British and Arab agreement, the French and British also set up their own secret agreement, which I mentioned above as the Sykes-Picot agreement.
In addition to the Sykes-Picot agreement and the McMahon – Sharif Husayn Correspondence letters, a third contradicting promise was made, known as the Balfour declaration in 1917. The Balfour declaration assured British government support to the Jews in the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The Balfour declaration states the following
“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
(United Nations Information System 1917)
Arab hopes of independence felt betrayed and deceived by the British and French. Little regard was made to the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence by the west. Sharif Hussein and three of his sons, Princes Abdullah, Faisal, and Ali went out to talk to British and French diplomats. However, they were disappointed as they returned from the British and French at international conferences empty handed. The French and British did not honor their promises, and no Arab independence was given. Instead another few decades of colonization took place in the Middle East, until post World War 2 when independence started to rise. However, for the time being, the British appointed Sharif Hussein and his sons as puppet heads of the newly established nation states of Iraq, Syria, and Transjordan. The western powers did not only succeed in redrawing boundaries in the Middle East, but also in appointing rulers and monarchs of these new states who acted out as local agents for Britain and France. The majority of the Arab population are Muslims, and has lived under Ottoman rule from 1299 AD to 1923 AD. Regions and borders of the Ottoman caliphate were encompassed provinces where most ethnicities and religions co-existed together peacefully.
The Middle East post 1918 became the region of mandates, colonies, and protectorates. While Arabs, Kurds, and Armenians tried to get their independent state, Britain and France split the Middle East into an unrecognizable region from its previous predecessor, the Ottomans. Straight lines were drawn through the Middle East with no regards whatsoever to demographics, ethnicity, or religion in the region. According to Beverley Milton-Edwards book “Contemporary Politics in the Middle East”, civil servants sitting behind desks in Britain and France drew all the lines in the Middle East.(P.30) (Milton-Edwards 2011) Mandates have no real governing power and thus even if they were given to Arab leaders and formed Arab states, they had no real power. As a matter of fact, it was quite the opposite of power, being a state mandate is a humiliating and offensive acknowledgment of a people. According to article 22 in The Covenant of the League of Nations mandates are areas of which the local population is “not fit” to govern their own state.
“To those colonies and territories which as a consequence of the late war have ceased to be under the sovereignty of the States which formerly governed them and which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world, there should be applied the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilization and that securities for the performance of this trust should be embodied in this Covenant.”
(League of Nations 1924)
These “new states” and mandates were created throughout the Middle East with such an ill sought of foundation. It is partly because of this rocky foundation that terrorist organizations such as ISIS are hoping to destroy all physical boundaries in the Middle East. According to Beverley Milton-Edwards
“By 1922 the new Middle East was emerging. New states subsequently created, for example, by the British and the French, in Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. States were created regardless of the multitudinous ethnic make-up of the territories.”
The structure of Lebanon is just an example of the effects of physical boundaries placed in the Sykes-Picot agreement. Lebanon, like Iraq, is a hotpot of different religions and ethnicities under one government or state. The strongest and most dominant political voice in the Lebanon today is the Shi’a military group Hezbollah. Hezbollah is partially an outcome of almost a 25-year civil war conflict that took place from 1975 to 1990. Milton Edwards states “In Lebanon alone six distinct communities – Maronite Christians, Druze, Sunni Muslims, Shi’a Muslim, Armenians, and Greek-Orthodox Christians – were now under on territorial entity which France governed as a mandate territory.” (Milton-Edwards 2011)
I discussed issues such as the division of many ethnic and religious communities due to physical boundaries drawn. There are a lot of terrorist organizations today such as ISIS stating that the division amongst Muslims and the conflict in the Middle East is because of the manifestation of these physical boundaries. In June 29, 2014 ISIS published a video called “The End of Sykes-Picot”. The video shows an ISIS militant breaking down the fence or the borders that once divided Iraq and Syria. He then states that all this land is one land and yet it had been divided by Western powers. (AlHayat 2014) There is no denying that the Sykes-Picot agreement did cause a form of division in the Middle East. A book called “The Management of Savagery” which was written by Abu Bakr Naji and translated by William McCants was published online in 2004. Abu Bakr Naji is a strategist working under AlQaeda. The book Management of Savagery discusses the importance and need to create a religious state that is governed by Sharia Law throughout the Middle East. However the means of achieving such goal is as the title suggests through management of savaging. The author states that carrying out a campaign of constant violent attacks in Muslim states will gradually deplete their resource and their will to hold off these terrorist organization. Only then will states be in the form of anarchy in which Al Qaeda will be able to take advantage of the situation and gain popular support. The author believes that after the fall of the caliphate, that state of anarchy, in which Islam would have controlled, was taken over by western states.
“When the caliphal state fell, some of this savagery appeared in some of the regions. However, the situation stabilized soon after that on account of (the order) the Sikes Picot treaty established. Thereupon, the division of the caliphal state and the withdrawal of the colonial states was such that the caliphal state was divided into (large) states and small states, ruled by military governments or civil governments supported by military forces. The ability of these governments to continue administering these states was consonant with the strength of their connection with these military forces and the ability of these forces to protect the form of the state, whether through the power which these forces derived from their police or army, or through the external power which supported them.”
Naji, amongst others, see that it is because of the Sykes-Picot that unity was never achieved in the Middle East. That because the Ottoman caliphate was divided into provisional states that were governed by western puppets, the Middle East was never able to reunite after the fall of the Ottomans.
When talking about physical barriers it usually implies a wall, fence, trench, or buildings that mark the territory of one state from the other. Territories are areas of control that are under the rule of a specific government or power. The word territory most commonly derives from the Latin word “territorium” meaning “The land around a town”. (Dictionary.com 2015) However William Connolly suggests a rather interesting etymology of the word territory. Connolly states the following:
“Terra means land, earth, nourishment, sustenance; it conveys the sense of a sustaining medium, solid fading off into indefiniteness. But the form of the word, the [Oxford English Dictionary] says, suggests that it derives from terrere, meaning to frighten, to terrorize. And territorium is a “place from which people are warned.” Perhaps these two contending derivations continue to occupy territory today. To occupy a territory is to receive sustenance and to exercise violence. Territory is land occupied by violence”
This concept suggests that territories are ever changing depending on conflicts and violence. Israel for example states that its territory goes back up to two thousand years ago. ISIS, as another example, states that all the land in the Middle East should be a under a single territory, and not compiled of various states as it is today. Whereas on the other hand, I believe there can still be a united Middle East in respects to the sovereign territories of other states. Territories are areas that mark between what’s inside a state’s sovereignty and what’s beyond. Some territories are significant and have a formal acknowledgement while others do not. The general concept of territory is that it is an international system that promotes peace and prevents anarchy in the world. According to common understandings of what territories are, they are used in international relations to set the limit of the sovereignty a state has. By stating clear territorial boundaries you prevent misunderstandings and escalated disputes. However, this is only true if everyone agrees that the land from point A to point B is yours. As we know in history, some might refuse your claim and state that point A to point D is actually historically, culturally, or economically theirs. To be sovereign in a territory is to have absolute authority within a territorial space and to suffer no interference by parties outside of that space. (Delaney 2005) Therefore, invasion or trespassing into a sovereign territory triggers the right of defense by the sovereign state. A territory nonetheless claims respect that you are entering a different area in which is not the same as that you came from. This can be explained by either changes in culture, religion, policies, or even if it’s a sign that says, “Authorized personnel” that itself is a territory that demands certain respect of obedience.
Some territories are acknowledged and respected by most, others however still either remain in violent conflict or none violent conflict. Examples of violent conflicts regarding territory in the Middle East are between Morocco and Western Sahara, Palestine-Israel, and Pakistan-India. Whereas non violent conflict regarding territories include UAE-Iran, Egypt-Sudan, and Saudi Arabia-Yemen. In the Middle East, territorial borders have been a major cause of many conflicts. One of the reasons being is that unlike Europe that fought for decades to establish each states territories, the Middle Eastern territories were mostly given from colonizing powers. In most cases, colonizing powers split the Middle Eastern lands in the Sykes-Picot Agreement without any regards to geography, demographics, or respect to communities.
The Unites Arab Republic was an experiment by the President of Egypt; Jamal Abdul-Nasser. Arab independence and nationalism had been spreading throughout the Middle East. Abdul-Nasser saw Arab nationalism as an opportunity to strengthen the Arab world through a unified agenda, such as Arab nationalism or pan Arabism.
In 1952 Jamal Abdul-Nasser initiated a coup d’etat led by the Free Officers Movement in Egypt, which disposed of the British-backed monarchy. Jamal Abdul-Nasser then became the President of the new Arab republic of Egypt. During the time of Abdul-Nasser, pan-Arabism throughout the Middle East became extremely popular. According to university professor Fouad Ajami, Pan-Arabism has six main attributes that combined to make it an evocative ideology appealing to the masses. (Ajami 1978)
The first component that gives Pan-Arabism the attribute to cross borders is universalism. Universalism in the Middle East was one of the leading attributes to transnational Pan-Arabism. Universalism means a theory, ideology, or doctrine of some sort that has universal application and is not limited to only one group of people. Universalism in the Middle East is highly characterized by the universal religion of Islam that has ethnicities from Arabs, Persian, Anglo Saxon, Chinese, and Malaysian decent. In addition, the language of Arabic was spread throughout the Middle East, which made the transfer of ideas between states rapid and effective.
This leads us to our second attributed that Ajami stated, and that’s the Arab intellectual. According to Ajami, the spread of Arab nationalism was mostly done through pamphlets and books. Most of the writers of those books were exiled by their state; this gave them a stronger voice. Some of the prominent intellectuals included Neguib Azoury, Shakib Arslan, and Michel Aflaq. As a matter of fact, Google developed interesting software called Google Ngram. Google Ngram cross-references a keyword you use into a database of millions of books from the 1800’s to 2008. The word “Arab Unity” was referenced into the data-base and results show that during the reign of Jamal Abdul-Nasser and Pan-Arabism, books regarding Arab Unity have increased by almost eight times within 20 years.
Intellectual awareness throughout the Arab world regarding pan-Arabism spread like wildfire. However, the spread of Pan-Arabism and Arab unity was not strictly in books alone. Several poetry and songs about pan-Arabism were streaming into the mass media such as the famous “Watani Habibi” and “Alhilm AlArabi”. The word “Watani Habibi” translates to “My Beloved Homeland” and “Alhilm AlArabi” translates to “The Arab Dream” in Arabic. The song “Watani Habibi” was produced in the 60’s and is sung by six prominent Arab singers from throughout the Arab world in a ten-minute music video. (Gamal 2009) The six singers represent the concept of unity and commonality between all our tongues.
Forty years later, the song Alhilm AlArabi was produced in 1998. It is an eighteen-minute song that includes singers from all across the Arab world to sing of a single Arab unity. The song talks about unity, between all Arab states and the need to stand together against the darkness, even though it hasn’t been achieved for more than three decades. Translated in English, the song begins with a promise that the dream they desired (Arab Unity) today, will not be pending for generations to come. For it will be accomplished today, and if not, it’s their generation to be held accountable. If you notice the music video of this Arab dream and unity, all the pictures and videos are of Palestine. The issue of Palestine was seen as the sole need for this Arab revitalization and the need of Arab unity in the Middle East. The chorus of the song translates to “The darkness of the night may possibly limit our pursuit to progress. However, the power of the light will definitely propel us reach to the stars. This is our dream, the one we’ve had for far too long. The one that is able to embrace us all, embrace us all.” (Nazereth TMC 1998) The desire of unity and the fulfillment of an Arab dream has been shifting from generation to generation, however, no generation was able to fulfill it.
The third attribute to Arab nationalism is anti-colonialism, and its impact on the Arab population. For years Arabs have been colonized by the French and the British, and have been betrayed numerous times by these two colonial powers. The betrayal of the Sykes-Picot and the Balfour declarations forged a strong unity between these Arab populations on their image towards the west. The idea of rising against western powers and colonialism gave the Arabs a united “enemy” and the rise of nationalism against western influence.
The fourth attribute is the historic and prominent presence of the elite, trans-state mobile Arabs. These are wealthy and respected Arabs who moved across the deserts without state boundaries stopping them. They saw Arabs as a single state entity, and thus, their investments, voice, and ideologies were easily spread throughout Arabia. According to Ajami, these elite Arabs “believed implicitly in the existence of an Arab nation: in schools, in barracks, in the Ottoman parliament, in exile in Cairo, and in the Sharifian forces they had come to know each other and acquired the ease of discourse which possession of a common language and a common education gives.” (Ajami 1978)
The fifth attribute to transnational pan-Arabism is the issue of Palestine’s occupation and the establishment of Israel in 1948. The occupation of Palestine was seen as an injury to Arab pride and dignity. The inability to protect one’s kin is of much shame in Arab culture, and the loss of Palestine exhibited that exactly. The issue of Palestine and Israel is not solely religious but also a cultural issue. I mentioned how above in the music video of the “Arab Dream” song all the pictures and videos were that of Palestine. Even that in “Watani Habebi” the general genre of the region was the liberation of Palestine and the need for Arab unity. In Jamal Abdul-Nasser’s speech to the Egyptian National Assembly Members in May 29, 1967 Jamal stated the following:
“Now, 11 years after 1956, we are restoring things to what they were in 1956. This is from the material aspect. In my opinion this material aspect is only a small part, whereas the spiritual aspect is the great side of the issue. The spiritual aspect involves the renaissance of the Arab nation, the revival of the Palestine question, and the restoration of confidence to every Arab and to every Palestinian.”
(U.S. Naval Academy 1967)
The Issue of Palestine is the issue of Arab Unity. There is no Arab unity without Palestine, and in most cases the issue of Palestine is the physical representation of division. Abdul-Nasser continues by stating the following:
“The issue now at hand is not the Gulf of Aqabah, the Straits of Tiran, or the withdrawal of the UNEF, but the rights of the Palestine people. It is the aggression which took place in Palestine in 1948 with the collaboration of Britain and the United States. It is the expulsion of the Arabs from Palestine, the usurpation of their rights, and the plunder of their property… We demand the full rights of the Palestinian people. We say this out of our belief that Arab rights cannot be squandered because the Arabs throughout the Arab world are demanding these Arab rights.”
(U.S. Naval Academy 1967)
The establishment of Israel is thought to demonstrate the decline of the Arab and Islamic civilization. It’s a branding to their core, that their division, backwardness and lack of knowledge are the cause to their downfall. For many years, the existence of Israel was a key driver to Arab movements. It was seen as the mark of shame and despair, and if erased, Arabs will regain their glory and unity. Ajami talks about the issue of Palestine nicely in his article when he states “The creation of Israel was a deeply wounding and traumatizing experience, a symbol of Arab weakness and backwardness, a reminder that whatever the Arabs were in the past, whatever their old glories and achievements, they were now in decline, at the mercy of others, no longer sovereign in their own region.” (Ajami 1978) The issue of Palestine tore the region apart, and it was Jamal Abdul-Nasser and his leadership that showed Arabs to the gravity of the situation. He advocated the danger of the threat and instability in Palestine/Israel while most Arab leaders were busy with the development of their new Sheikhdoms. However, Abdul-Nasser believed that Arabs, or even Muslims, will not be able to obtain their freedoms and progression in this the future, so long as they are divided. Abdul-Nasser knew of the commonalities that all Arabs have, and that all shared a common struggle against colonial powers and that the liberation of Palestine should be an Arab and Islamic duty not a Palestinian one. Abdul-Nasser was able to forge a regional unity by exposing the threat of a common enemy for all Muslims and Arabs; Israel. Montserrat Guibernau is a professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London. She wrote an article that supported and criticized Anthony D. Smith’s work on nations and national identity. Guibernau stated that national identities could be formed if a common enemy presents itself as a threat to a group of people. Guibernau states,
“The psychological dimension of national identity arises from the consciousness of forming a group based on the ‘felt’ closeness uniting those who belong to the nation. Such closeness can remain latent for years and suddenly come to the surface whenever the nation is confronted with an external or internal enemy – real, potential or constructed – threatening its people, its prosperity, its traditions and culture, its territory, its international standing or its sovereignty.”
Jamal Abdul-Nasser was able to achieve just that with the issue of Palestine. He was able to unite all Arabs, and the spread of pan-Arabism by acknowledging the physiological common grounds all Arabs share, and showing the threat of Israel it had on our culture, religion, territory, and security.
The sixth attribute that made Jamal Abdul-Nasser’s pan Arabism movement cross boundaries throughout the Arab world was because of Jamal Abdul-Nasser’s character. He was a very charismatic, visionary, and loved leader. He was able to persuade millions of people in such a short time frame to a complete regional transformation. People and states alike started to realize the importance of Arabism and unity in the 20th century. Jamal Abdul-Nasser gave them an image of how the Middle East could be if all Arab states united together against western colonialism. The nationalization of the Suez Canal was but a symbol of the charismatic Arab leader standing against western powers, especially Israel.
Most Arabs supported Jamal, because he gave them hope and turned parts of their dreams into reality with the formation of the UAR. Arabs looked to Jamal Abdul-Nasser as the solution of all their division and downfall. According to AlJazeera in an article published in 2008 named “Arab Unity: Nasser’s Revolution” The author states that it is because of Abdul-Nasser’s charisma that his idea spread across the Middle East. The article states that “Abdul-Nasser’s charisma and influence were so great that he inspired Arabs elsewhere to dream of a unified Arab nation. His defiant attitude towards Egypt’s former colonial masters made him even more popular.” (AlJazeera 2008)
During the following years that Jamal Abdul-Nasser became president, he started a movement of nationalizing the state. Abdul-Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, and because of such, nationalism and the concept of Arab Unity started to become a popular force against western colonialism and powers. The Arab state system promotes the existence of a single Arab nation behind the façade of multiple sovereign states. According to the book Palestinian Identity by the author Rashid Khalidi “the power of the ideology of pan-Arabism, which in some measure obscured the identities of the separate Arab nation-states it subsumed.” (Khalidi 1997, P.181) Pan Arabism and the concept of Arab union was more than just an ideology, it was the reinforcment of a national identity during the time Palesitians were being killed, states were becoming independent, and the world was dividing into communist and capitalists regimes. Arab unity was the call for a push towards economic, social, and political cooperation between them, while still respecting state sovereignty. This idea, and concept only became realistic during the time of Jamal Abdul-Nasser. According to Khalidi;
“Within the Arab world, Arabism was the hegemonic ideology of the first half of the twentieth century, reaching its apogee in terms of political power in the 1950s and 1960s with the rise of Egyptian President Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasir, who seemed to many to incarnate the Arab resurgence. The ideology which ‘Abd al-Nasir mastered and helped mightily to further had resonance throughout an Arab world profoundly frustrated for generations by its inability to shake off foreign rule or to achieve true independence and real economic development.”
(Khalidi 1997, P182)
Jamal Abdul-Nasser was able to shift that idealistic dream into a modern reality by establishing the United Arab Republic in 1958. The United Arab Republic was a political union with Egypt and Syria. As I mentioned above, a political union between states in the Middle East is vital for sustained peace and regional cooperation. The UAR is an example of the political union I speak of. However, the UAR only lasted three years due to various reasons I will state later. Nonetheless, for once in a very long time in the Middle East, two states, Egypt and Syria, were able to unite under a single flag while keeping their sovereign statehood. This is very crucial to understand when comparing to the concept of unity that ISIS claims today. Jamal Abdul-Nasser taught his vision of Pan-Arabism to his people then implemented it when the people were open to accept it. This is very different from what ISIS is doing, as ISIS is implementing its vision of an “Islamic State” and then teaching their ideology in the process. The very small step can mean the difference between terrorist and a liberator. The UAR’s main objective was not an Islamic Caliphate, or a regional single power run by Islamic laws. It was more realistic and modern that what ISIS is claiming today. The main objectives of the UAR was a unity between each Arab state that will enable them to work together and get along with one another without going through the chaotic bloodshed we see today. According to Khalidi, the main objective of the UAR is as follows
“Its basic premise was that the Arabs were a single people with a single language, history, and culture, divided not by centuries of separate development of widely separated countries, but by the recent machinations of imperialism, and that all they had in common was more powerful than whatever separated them.”
(Khalidi 1997, P.181)
One of the leading policies of the UAR is Arab policy. Arab policy is the initiative to unite all Arab states and establish an entity that will challenge modern western powers. According to President Jamal Abdul-Nasser “He who casts a glance at Arab history cannon but fully admit the importance of Arab Nationalism and complete Arab unity for the whole Arab people. The Arabs were always one solid bloc until separated by foreign domination into sects and parties.” (Information Administration of the UAR 1965)
Arab policy was not just an internal or Middle Eastern prospect that Jamal used to gather the masses. Abdul-Nasser played a major role in the formation of the Arab League we see today, which I shall go into detail later on. Abdul-Nasser’s policies highly criticized any western power that sought to seek interest in the Middle East. He constantly stated that Arab lands are Arab lands and should be kept and governed by Arabs. In September 27, 1960, Abdul-Nasser delivered a speech at the United Nations 15th General Assembly meeting to Arab Nationalism. In his speech he stated, “We proclaim that we believe in one Arab Nation. The Arab Nation always had the unity of language, that is the unity of conception. The Arab Nation always had the unity of history; that is the unity of self-determination.” (Information Administration of the UAR 1965)
The UAR was a shot lived experiment of what a political union in the Middle East could look like. It set the foundations for the recognition of two sovereign states united under a single agenda. ISIS today hopes to unite the most of the Sunni population in the Middle East under a single banner, however as I argued above, that would not work for many reasons. The establishment of a unity with the recognition of various states is a more realistic scenario that will eventually open up social, economic, and physical boundaries between states. Although the UAR was a failed experiment, it did teach the world some valuable lessons.
The concept of the UAR: Pan Arabism and Jamal Abdul-Nasser’s movement of unity has spread throughout the Middle East. The Arab population wanted unity, and so pressure was placed upon Arab governments to unite. In the years leading to 1958 the idea of unity and pan-Arabism had been extremely popular in two main states, Syria and Egypt. In a Syrian national conference held in 1956 the Syrian political parties at that time unanimously adopted a resolution calling for unity with Egypt. According to Dr. Fayez A. Sayegh in his book Arab Unity that was published in 1958, “Expanding the bilateral agreement with Egypt, by concluding an agreement between the two parties covering economic, political, and cultural affairs, so that these agreements may serve as nucleus for all-embracing Arab unity.” (As cited by Palmer 1966) Although the idea and the movement of unity were dominant in urban masses, both countries did not have the legitimate framework to sustain one another. Both states seem to have rushed the concept of unity due to various factors that provoked them, especially in Syria where political parties were taken by surprise on the decision for political unity with Egypt. There were three main conditions that Jamal Abdul-Nasser imposed on Syria in order to plan a political union between the two states. The first condition was a plebiscite where direct involvement of the Syrian government would agree to the unity by electoral vote; second, the dissolution of political parties in Syria, which were mostly in conflict with one another as Syria was, at that time, a military run state. The army had the most power, and army officers ran the country through those political parties. The last condition set by Abdul-Nasser was the withdrawal of the army from politics, due to their strong political affiliation and interest in the state of Syria. According to the prominent Syrian philosopher and the founder of the Arab Socialist Resurrection party, Al Ba’th “The party in Syria (The Ba’th) was taken by surprise during the unity negotiations when ‘Abd Al-Nasir imposed the conditions that parties in Syria must be dissolved, and that studies of the form of the union would be delayed until after it was announced…but we could not let these conditions… stand against the will of the people….” (Aflaq 1963) The majority of people wanted this unity with Egypt, or specifically Jamal Abdul-Nasser to happen. His idea, charisma, and ability to carve out a vision of unity in the Middle East pushed through state borders and civil society.
The conditions of the UAR: Syrian politicians were in a sense forced to accept the agreement and conditions to let themselves out of power, which Abdul-Nasser requested due to various reasons. First, according to Palmer, both the army and political elites in Syria were facing considerable pressure from communist regimes. Syria is neighboring the newly established state of Israel that was backed by the United States heavily. The USSR felt the considerable need to get a hold of the region by having a communist proxy in the Levant. Secondly, the army and the Syrian political elites were also facing considerable pressure from Syrian right wing groups. Third was due to the distribution of power within Syria, especially in the army. This diffusion of power led to a deadlock that rendered any positive civil reformation or political reformation in the country extremely difficult. The Syrian army at this stage was represented by 22 Syrian officers, most of which are in conflict with one another, which I shall explain more later on. The fourth factor that pushed the Syrian army and politicians to agree to Abdul-Nasser’s conditions in order to discuss unity between Egypt and Syria was that the masses have manifested considerable support for the union, especially for Abdul-Nasser. When the people have moved to the streets in masses to support the union, it made it extremely difficult to object to unity between the two states. According to Jamal Abdul-Nasser speech on February 20, 1961 that during the time of the union, in 1958 Syria was experiencing the first of three successive years of severe drought in the region. This not only crippled economic surplus in Syria during the union, but also made the Syrian economy extremely dependent on Egyptian agriculture, which as I will discuss later, led to the disapproval of the masses. The fifth factor was that many of the actors, even the army officers, were emotionally involved in this movement that Abdul-Nasser advocated. Most actors related to his visions, ambitions, and identified the goals of the unity. The sixth factor is that the Syrians felt very optimistic of this unity, and that they would end up benefiting from the negotiations as much as Egypt, if not more.
According to Muhammed Hasanayn Haykal, the editor of Al-Ahram and a close confidant to president Jamal Abdul-Nasser, the officers signed the conditions that Gamal offered in 1958 with “fear, perplexity, doubt, hope, and ambition” (Haykal 1963) According to Haykal, all the officers flew to Cairo, except one, on January 14, 1958. They met with Jamal Abdul-Nasser and informed him of the various troubling issues currently arising in Syria, including the communist infiltration, the mutual distrust within the army, and the smuggling of arms across the Syrian border from the Baghdad Pact. Abdul-Nasser described this meeting in one of his speeches later on, in September 28, 1961. Abdul-Nasser Said the following his speech:
“You all know how the Union was started in 1958. The Syrian army was then divided into clans and parties. To those who then spoke about the union, I said the first condition of the union would be keeping the army out of politics. I said preliminary steps were necessary, as union entailed great difficulties and problems. To this they answered: “Where are the objectives you continuously called for, do you now repudiate them?” I said: “I do not repudiate these objectives, but I would like to feel secure about the future.” They said: “What about Syria, will you leave it torn by hatred till it be lost?” I answered: “To me, Syria is my homeland, my motherland, and a part of the Arab world in which I believe.”
According to Haykal, Abdul-Nasser rejected the internal difficulties of the army as being a sound basis for unification between the two states. Instead, he called for the Syrian government officials to talk to him and not the Army, as the army does not represent the people. (Haykal 1963) Note that Abdul-Nasser believed that their own voices and not that of a military should govern the people. He respected each sovereign state and their government when dealing with them, even in times of dire need. Things could have been easily done over with and signed, however, Abdul-Nasser wanted to secure this hope and vision and he was, in my opinion, very careful in portraying his actions, as his name was the symbol of Arab unity. Today however, is the complete opposite in what we see with ISIS. Claiming themselves as a symbol, yet disrupting every core value of that symbol is hypocritical of their stated goals and the Islamic religion. ISIS has a mere 30,000 “Muslims” compared to the 1.57 billion Muslims worldwide. (Cockburn 2014) ISIS’s symbol of Islam only represents 0.00191% of all the Muslims worldwide. After governmental officials met with Abdul-Nasser they agreed to abide to the three conditions I mentioned above, a plebiscite, dissolution of parties, and withdrawal of army from politics. They all agreed due to the extensive pressures I mentioned above. The Syrian political party the Ba’th had great optimism in this unity due to the perception that the unity would eliminate the rule of a single individual, as has been the custom in the Middle East for centuries.
“As for the basic differences which existed between the two regions-differences concerning freedom and democracy-the party (Ba’th) hoped, with superficial optimism, that unity would result in a decrease of individual rule, and that the interaction between the people of the two united regions…would result in evolution-rapid evolution-toward democracy and away from the rule of a single individual.”
However, although support for the merger and unity were coming from the Ba’ath, army officers, and the uncontrollable urban masses. It was mostly through these three sources that the unity’s foundation was being held at. According to Haykal, Jamal Abdul-Nasser was forced to tighten his authority as early as October 1958, and that by the end of the year most Syrian members of government contemplated on resigning from their positions. (Haykal 1963) Abdul-Nasser’s major investment of this merger between Syria and Egypt and his extreme caution in uniting the two states may have contributed to the failure of the very thing he hoped would succeed. I will explain how Abdul-Nasser’s caution contributed to the failure of the UAR later on.
Dissatisfaction in the UAR: Jamal Abdul-Nasser’s firm grip is but one of the various reasons that soon after the unity was established, it started to break down. Disaffection with the unity grew from within the Syrian elites shortly after 1959 when the unity went public. There were several factors that led to the dissatisfaction of the Syrians elites to the unity.
First and foremost, the Syrian army and the Ba’th were already dissatisfied with the conditions that Abdul-Nasser placed on them. However, they felt pressured by the masses in this matter that they saw the unity as a more appealing choice that social discontent. The reality that the Ba’th would be dissolved and the army removed from politics finally struck the hearts of those in charge and grew their discontent to the new state and unity. The army and Syrian politicians knew that they would no longer be able to do business as usual and everyday life in Syria would change drastically.
The second factor that led to the dissatisfaction of Syrian elites regarding the implementation of the unity is that the Syrians felt they are being degraded into secondary positions. This issue relates to both central and regional governmental institutes. According to Haykal, many Syrians got placed into “less important” ministries. As an example, Salah Bitar, the Syrian foreign minister at the time of the merger, who played a crucial roll in making the unity happen, did not receive the foreign affairs portfolio in the central cabinet as he expected. Hayal gives further examples by stating that early after the merger, Bitar and Aflaq approached Abdul-Nasser complaining that Syrians were not receiving fair treatment and suggested to form a presidential council composed of three members from each region. (Haykal 1963) Furthermore, Haykal states that Egyptians have filled thirty-three of the top four hundred positions in Syria right after the merger. In addition, seven of the top thirteen officials in the Syrian ministry of Industry were Egyptians and four out of the six officials in the Syrian General Petroleum Authority were Egyptians. (Haykal 1963) Note that this attitude in using your own political party, or even ethnicity in this sense, to control a government is a recipe for disaster. Abdul-Nasser placed a lot of Egyptians into high ministerial positions, which caused discontent amongst the Syrian population. In his perspective, Egyptians were more experienced when it came to running government, unlike Syria’s military ruled state. This action can be reflected well today when the Muslim Brotherhood came into power in Egypt and took over a large number of seats in the cabinet and ministries. According to the BBC:
“Islamists controlled 70% of the seats in the lower house. There was a similar outcome from elections for the upper house, the Shura Council. This allowed the Ikhwan and their allies to control the selection of candidates for the 100-member constituent assembly tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution, prompting criticism from liberals, secularists, Coptic Christians, young people and women, who complained that the panel did not reflect the diversity of Egyptian society.”
The Muslim Brotherhood only lasted a year, and amongst many reasons, this issue played a major role in their failure. We see this concept of placing ones own political party in government throughout fallen states in the Middle East. As an example, other than the Muslim Brotherhood, the Maliki government of Iraq replaced many Sunni Iraqi officials from government with Shia Iraqi officials. (Frontline 2014) It was because of this kind of action that a large number of Sunni’s rose up to overthrow the Shia regime, calling themselves the Islamic State. It is an important lesson to learn that when initiating unity in the Middle East, even if one party democratically won, the winning party must diversify the states cabinet and governmental institutions to account for all the parties, ethnicities, religion, and sects in that country. This too works for authoritarian or single party states by accepting the unifying partner/s and giving them a voice in your own government. History teaches us that not doing so will most likely lead to a tyrant leader and thus resulting to either oppression or revolution.
The third issue that caused the dissatisfaction of the Syrians, and thus leading to the failure of the UAR was that in most cases, Syrian elites were being bypassed in the decision making process of the new state. Many Syrians felt that all the centralization of the government and decision process was mainly in Egypt and not Syria. Centralization in the UAR was very excessive and highly controlled by Jamal Abdul-Nasser. According to Khalil Kallas, author of the book Suriya al-Muhattima lil-isti mar wal-Diktaruriyya (Syria, Crusher of Imperialism and Dictatorship)
“Towards the end of 1959, Doctor Aziz Sidqi, the central Minister of Industry, announced a five year plan for the Syrian region. In spite of the fact that a Syrian ministry has been created for this purpose in July 1959, Syrian notables and experts were not consulted before the issuance of the plan.”
It is important to note that in the era where unity in the Middle East is in arms reach, the issue of centralization must be thought of very carefully. In unity, there shouldn’t be centralization, because that only feels like a form of occupation from the centralized state towards the other “lesser” states.
The fourth issue of discontent, especially among the army, was the transfer of Syrian officers and politicians to Cairo. Many politicians and politically inclined officers saw the transfer to Egypt as a form of exile from Syria. According to Palmer, “Both officers and civilians bitterly complained that once in Cairo they were given only nominal tasks to perform, tasks that bore little if any relationship to policy making.” (Palmer 1966) Furthermore, this issue was not just regarding those who were transferred from Syria to Egypt, but also those who were transferred from within Syria. According to Palmer, extensive transfers from within Syria who opposed Jamal Abdul-Nasser one way or another would be placed in areas in which they could do the least amount of harm or change. This is a very critical issue to be aware of when it comes to unity in the Middle East. Dealing with opposing individuals or movements has always been one of the major setbacks to cooperation in the Middle East. It has become such a common practice in the Middle East that once a political party, or a person has come into power he or she will shut of all opposing voices. This action breeds grounds to hatred against the ruling party, fear of opinions and expression, and most of all a society that doesn’t trust itself. In regards to the mass transfer of Syrians and Egyptians, there may be a very critical yet understood idea behind the policy in of Jamal Abdul-Nasser. Damascus is only sixty kilometers from the Israeli border, and the Syrian army was already divided and in constant conflict as I mentioned above. Therefore, one may perceive that it was crucial and necessary that Abdul-Nasser reinforce the Syrian army with Egyptian officers, in order to defend this new state. However, according to Haykal, a rumor went out in Syria that Syria was now under military rule by the Egyptians. This rumor, or observation also reflects on the third issue I mentioned above, which was Syrian elites not being informed in the decision making process. Had they been involved, maybe they would have been aware of Abdul-Nasser’s motive behind his policy and felt less victimized by Abdul-Nasser’s actions.
All these issues of dissatisfaction amongst the Syrian population are reflected by the number of Syrians who resigned during the first year of the merger. This led Abdul-Nasser to tighten his control on the Union to prevent it from failing. This is the absolute turning point of the UAR. It is understandable that Abdul-Nasser feared for the failure of the Union and felt it was necessary to strengthen his control in order to lead the new state in a united prosperity. However according to Aflaq, the point at which Abdul-Nasser tightened his grip in the state, was the point at which the Syrian elites felt alienated and led to complaints in substantial numbers. History teaches us a very valuable lesson that we must learn to acknowledge in the Middle East today. In most cases, when an opposing party disagrees with you, reacting forcefully is the absolute last thing you’d ever want to do. Governments who react forcefully give justification to the opposing party for their cause. Take Syria, Libya, and Egypt as an example. During the Arab Spring, in most cases they were just protests by a small portion of the population. However, when Mubarak in Egypt, Ghadaffi in Libya, and Assad in Syria retaliated with force, they ended up fighting a Hydra. The more force they exerted, the stronger the opposing faction grew, and the more justified their actions became. This tension between state heads and the population can lead to a stalemate where both parties loose considerably and miserably, as seen in Syria today. The Free Syrian Army and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are fighting the Syrian government and themselves. For three years now Syria is in a stalemate where civilians are the ones paying the price.
Utilizing support for the UAR: As I mentioned previously, the masses in both Syria and Egypt were highly supportive of the merger. However, one of the reasons as to why the United Arab Republic failed is that according to Jamal Abdul-Nasser himself, he was not able to utilize the masses and mobilize this support effectively. In October 16, 1961 during Abdul-Nasser’s speech, he stated the following:
“We committed a grave mistake, no less than the dangerous illusion wherein we lost ourselves. This mistake was the insufficiency of the popular organization… We did not exert sufficient effort to awaken the people to their rights and the latent energies protecting these rights.”
(Nasser October 1961)
According to Palmer, there were two main reasons as to why the merger was not successful when it came to utilizing the masses. First, popular support for the merger between Syria and Egypt was fragmented, both physically and ideologically. Physical in matters of cities and locations, and ideologically regarding what they expected would merge. Some people thought of economic merger, others of military merger against Israel, others just saw a merger in a sense that one can travel between the two states without the need for a passport. The second issue was that the initial support of the merger to the union was superficial and in words and poetry only, rather than movement and action. The importance of will power and real emotional motive is very important when it comes to unity, however so is action. Willpower and true desire is utilizing both your will and your power to adapt that will. During the UAR, there was will, especially by the masses that influenced the elites in a substantial way, however there was no willpower. It is extraordinary how factual George Santayana’s words are in his book “In the Life of Reason”. Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Santayana 2006) Today, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a Middle Eastern alliance between Arab Gulf states. The countries included in this six-member council are Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Established in 1981, the GCC aims to boost economic cooperation between members and, through collective security, to guard against any threat from neighboring states and until recently, from Islamic extremism. However, the GCC is facing various issues, one of which is in regards to actual willpower in the unity of the Middle East. Not only is there a lack of willpower in the GCC today for them to act upon anything, but also the foundation in which the GCC was created upon has become an arena of deception, mistrust, division, and selfishness. Just as the National Union later turned out to be, the GCC today has almost the same issues but on a much larger scale. According to Ali Alyami, the Executive Director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, there were two main reasons as to why the GCC is failing. In one of his online articles he states the following:
“The consecutive failures that have besieged the 35 GCC summits are due to the deeply rooted mistrust and devotion to self-interest and self-preservation among the feuding autocratic Gulf ruling dynasties. Based on these intrinsic dynamics, the GCC has been destined to fail since its inception. This inevitability is due to two major factors: one, the founding of the GCC was not based on the will of the mostly disenfranchised populations of the Gulf Arab states and two, the ruling dynasties of the smaller Gulf states don’t trust the Saudi oligarchs.”
The main similarities of the GCC today and the UAR National Union are mistrust, division, and the fight for power between each other, in addition to the lack of willpower and motivation within the groups.
As I mentioned above, Jamal Abdul-Nasser banned all political parties as one of his conditions when accepting the merger. Abdul-Nasser hoped that by abolishing these political parties, he would have them all be reinstated in the National Union. However according to Haykal, these political parties never “really” broke out. They did dissolve themselves physically, but stayed united spiritually. Haykal states “The Ba’th kept acting like a party after parties were supposed to be banned, and its members resented any attempts to restrict it.” (Haykal 1963) However, Abdul-Nasser’s grip on who is given control or power in the new government had resulted in a National Union that is much like an underground fighting pit. Most elites and politicians were fighting for control and power in this new state amongst themselves. Abdul-Nasser later on realized this mistake; however he was to late. According to his speech in October 16, 1961;
“As a popular organization we formed the National Union to act as a frame encircling the conflict between classes. Our mistake was that we allowed reactionary forces to join the National Union. As a result, these reactionary elements, which infiltrated into the National Union managed to paralyze its revolutionary effectiveness and turn it into an organizational front, not motivated by the real demands of the people. This mistake is shown by the fact that some who are leading the reactionary secessionist movement in Syria were themselves leading the National Union organizations.”
(Nasser October 1961)
The irony here is that when Jamal Abdul-Nasser tried to unify two states by forming a National Union, he actually ended up doing the complete opposite. People will always strive for power, and during that strive conflict will always occur. That is why it is an important lesson to learn that if a united Middle East was ever to be established, a well thought out National Union organization should balance powers rather than control them. Both states ended up unsatisfied with the union and how it was implemented. On the Syrian side, dissatisfaction was based on all the things I mentioned above including the lack of participation, mistrust, as well as Egyptian control of employment and ministerial positions. On the Egyptian side however, it was a little bit different. According to Palmer, Egyptians, unlike Syrians, lacked the motivation to participate in the union. This was due to various reasons, which I outline below.
Lack of Struggle: First, the Egyptians felt the merger came too easy. Had there been a struggle or a necessary fight to form the union, people might have had a sense of deep-rooted solidarity and a higher willingness to sacrifice in order to preserve the union. However, the union came into being far too quick without real study and challenge. The Syrians went up to Abdul-Nasser in 1958, the union was formed in 1959. There was no major struggle, and the idea of unity was still fresh and was somewhat just a short trend. Unity was just the talk of the decade, something people would talk about in songs, movies, speeches, gatherings etc… Like most trends, they tend to die out, especially if no successful, well-thought out action took place in order to support that trend. Take the European Union as an example when it comes to the importance of struggle and its contribution to strengthening unity. Shuangge Wen talked about European unity briefly in his book “Shareholders Primacy and Corporate Governance: Legal aspects, practices and future directions”. Wen states the following:
“Historical attempts at European unity can be traced back as far as 1464, when the Czech King George of Podebrady proposed to the French King Louis XI that a league of Christians nations should be formed. Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, this suggestion was mostly inspired by the desire of peace and security in central Europe.”
It took Europe from 1464 up to November 1, 1993 for the European Union to be established. That is exactly five hundred and fifty one years for sovereign European states to unite politically and economically under one entity. The European unity concept had several challenges and setbacks that prevented a union for centuries, especially that they have various languages, religions, and traditions. Whereas the concept of Arab unity that is compromised of individual sovereign states uniting, only came into being after World War I during the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence letters I mentioned above. Note, the Middle East although it was mostly under caliphates and empires, rarely ever had sovereign states not linked to a centralized government. The concept of sovereignty in the Middle East came into being later on during the 18th Century. Jamal Abdul-Nasser hoped to unite two sovereign states in a year or two. As such, you can see why support for the unification fell short very quickly after its formation. This mistake in hatching an ideological concept into reality is still noticeable in our modern Middle East today. When governments in Egypt or in Iraq are forced by external powers to become democratic, they tend to cripple and fail miserably. Not only do they fail, but become breeding grounds for extremism, terrorism, chaos, anarchy, and uncontrollable violence. I explained such examples above regarding the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power and taking control a large portion of the Shura seats, in addition to the Iraqi government of Maliki firing or assassinating his ministerial opponents. In Egypt, according to The Guardian Abdel Fatah Al Sisi won 96.1% of votes in the Egyptian presidential elections of 2012. (The Guardian 2014) In Iraq, the country is now in chaos with ISIS controlling a large portion of the war torn land and threating the ruling government. Throughout the Middle East we see constant western push for democracy, yet the world fails to understand that democracy is for the people, by the people, to the people, and most of all, from the people. It shouldn’t be enforced or brought from any external force; it has to be through the people and their understanding, values, ideas that adhere to democracy. When societies don’t understand democracy, unity, freedom as well as they should, it is very rare that they would every truly achieve it. Likewise, there should be a struggle for unity; it doesn’t come easy. It is the struggle that gives unity meaning, especially when states work together against a common struggle. The struggle I am mentioning here does not necessarily mean physical struggle such as war, crisis, or other disasters. I am referring to a psychological and intellectual struggle, such as that which you would see in a governmental parliament or a debate where a governmental actor must protect and defend their views and opinions. This struggle will give meaning and strength to those involved. Meaning that if a modern Arab unity was proposed today, the proposers must be ready to debate their own views and have them criticized fairly and justly. There must be public participation or civic engagement between the proposing party, the other parties, and the society. During Jamal Abdul-Nasser’s UAR, most of the aspects and perspectives of the unity came from the government through his numerous radio speeches and public policies. There wasn’t much public participation between the people and any law, policy, or agenda of the UAR. Had there been a form of public participation or civil engagement, Abdel-Nasser may have known before hand the issues that the population was discontent about. A dialogue may have provided Abdel-Nasser and the Egyptian population on how the union could look like and other important aspects that should be taken into consideration about a union.
Lack of unity: The second issue as to why the Egyptians did not feel a strong attachment to the union was due to the lack of sufficient philosophical, economic and social bases on which the union could be founded. This is similar to the issue I raised above as to no struggle, with the difference that what the Egyptians were doing was unprecedented. So there was no guideline or structure to unite sovereign Middle Eastern Arab states that speak the same language and share the same religion under one person, Jamal Abdul-Nasser. The Egyptians saw the trend and motivation for unity and the establishment of the UAR as merely stimulating desire for unity, rather than a sufficient sustainer of it. According to Haykal;
“There were not, in fact, sufficient, necessary and effective ties between the Syrian and Egyptian Arab people to establish immediate unity…. except one thing-Jamal ‘Abd Al-Nasser… One person is not enough to make unity.” (Haykal 1963)
This is an interesting question that has been brought up several times in news stations later in 2014 regarding the future of ISIS. If Abu Bakr Baghdadi died, would ISIS be over? (AlJazeera 2014) This is the same question that was brought up when facing against Al-Qaida in Afghanistan. The UAR’s unity was primarily based on Abdul-Nasser’s charisma, character, and symbol in leading the Arab world to unity. On the other hand, we learn that Al-Qaida, even after the death of Osama bin Laden is still a functioning terrorist organization. If unity was ever to be achieved in the Middle East, one man/woman should not be the symbol or charisma behind the unity. One must surrender their legacy and pride by giving the strength and the source of unity to the people and the governmental institutions rather than behind a single leader. The world today is not Napoleonic where people are gathered together behind one man, but rather its civil societies, governments, and co-operations working together simultaneously.
Lack of action: The third issue as to why there was no strong motivational action towards the unity was due to the fact that both Syria and Egypt felt the other was not prepared. The Syrians felt that the Egyptians were backwards and immature for unity, just as the Egyptians felt the Syrians were backwards and immature for unity. However, Jamal Abdul-Nasser charisma blinded them from the reality of what these two states really were; unprepared and immature. Aflaq explains it well in his book by stating the following:
“The level of consciousness among the majority of the people and popular movements in the two countries lacked maturity and order. Many people entered these unities movement for parochial reasons, without willingness to bear the full burden and responsibility. This attitude encourages deviation. This weakness in the level of consciousness was especially evident in the Egyptian region.”
Both states were not ready for unity, and both states viewed each other as immature and backwards. The only connection these two states really had in common was language, religion, threat of Israel, and Jamal Abdul-Nasser. There was no common grounds, real motive, or material interest in uniting these two sovereign states, but Jamal Abdul-Nasser.
I mentioned above social and political factors that contributed to the failure of the UAR. However, other than political and social issues, economic ones also played a major role in the failure of the union. In regards to economic integration of the UAR, there are five things that must be taking into consideration. First, the environmental circumstances over which the UAR had no control over. This would include global markets, foreign markets, foreign currencies, political conflict, or environmental disasters. Second, the operational factors which inhibited economic development. This includes policies, funding, national projects, and laws. Third, are the internal security policies regarding the union’s economy. This includes factors such as trade embargo’s and political interest in certain economic transactions. Fourth, is the friction between the Egyptians and Syrians in the first place especially regarding their labor, unemployment, and job positions that I mentioned above. The fifth consideration regards the prevalence of rumors and other dysfunctional factors that led to a crippling economy and a failed unity between the two states. However, before I state about the failure of economic circumstances of the UAR there was a very interesting success that caught my attention.
Utilizing economies: One of the various things Abdul-Nasser succeed in however was when it came to utilizing Egypt’s powerful agricultural economy that Syria heavily depended on for it supply. According to the UAR yearbook of 1960, Abdul-Nasser placed large emphasis on agricultural and infrastructure development. (Information Administration of the United Arab Republic 1960) Both the World Bank report of 1955 and the FAO report of 1957 emphasized Egypt’s need to develop its agricultural economy and its physical infrastructure. (Interntional Bank for Reconstruction and Development 1955) (FAO Mediterranean Development Project 1959) Both of these issues were met and being heavily developed by Abdul-Nasser during the United Arab Republic. It is important to note that states should always utilize what they are best suited for. No state shares the exact same resources or topography of another state. Egypt in this example excels in agricultural economy due to its historic ability in doing so and the cultivating usage of the Nile River. Egypt was well able to boost its economy and that of Syria’s due to policies placed during the UAR. According to the Country Studies initiative that was launched by the US Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress in 1998, Syria’s economy during the UAR period was a fundamental transformation to Syria’s future economic prosperity.
“Syria’s predominantly rural population, working under land tenure and sharecropping arrangements, derived few benefits from the agriculturally induced economic growth of the 1950s. However, Syria’s union with Egypt (1958-61) and the rise of the Baath Party as the major political force in the country in the 1960s, transformed Syria’s economic orientation and development strategy.”
(US Library of Congress 1998)
However, utilizing the economy was not enough to hold a union amongst Egypt and Syria. As I mentioned above, there were a number of economic circumstances that led to the failure of the UAR.
Environmental circumstances: For unity to be effective it must be brought up in an environment that can sustain it. The UAR for example was forced into a circumstance that it had no power to control. One of which would include the very hostile regional environment that the UAR was born into. During the 60’s both the USSR and the US looked towards the Middle East for their opportunity to gain control of fossil fuels. Both states fought economically for the influence of Egypt, and if Egypt leaned towards one side, it would displease the other. In addition to the regional threat that Israel poses to sustainability and peace in the Middle East. Almost every Middle Eastern state at that time opposed the existence of Israel, and fought against its occupation in Palestine. In addition to Israel, the formation of the union brought the concept of Arab unity and Arab nationalism closer to Turkey. As I mentioned above regarding the history of the Ottomans and the Arab revolt in 1918, there was still a sense of caution when it came to Turkish relationship with Arabs. It is important to understand that when it comes to unity, although a common enemy may bring states and people together, the state must have an effective infrastructure. Infrastructure in this case can mean both physical and psychological. Physical in the sense of having roads, economy, systems, communication, and utilities in order to bring communities together and fight of a common enemy. Psychological infrastructure in this case refers to the fundamental framework that all the society and the government know what the objective is, the threat of the enemy, and the ideals and values the state believes in. This can derive from governmental transparency and communication between the government and societies. The more functioning the psychological infrastructure in society is, the less prone the state is to revolts, coups, betrayals, or civil wars.
Infrastructure of the UAR: In regards to the UAR neither the psychological nor the physical infrastructure were effective enough to carry the unified state. If you look at a map of the Middle East, what lays directly in-between Syria and Egypt? Israel. There was physical infrastructure that connected Egypt and Syria through Jordan, however Jordan was a fairly new state at that time. As a matter of fact, if you’ve ever been to Jordan, other than the main cities, its mostly desert. The capital of Amman was only established in 1921, and remained a small city until 1949 and 1963 only due to the large influx of Palestinian refugees. (Amman 2015) In regards to physical infrastructure between the UAR, it was very poor and was a major deterrent to economic development.
In regards to psychological factors, although social charisma for unity was present in the masses, as I explained above, the elites and army weren’t as charismatic towards the UAR. According to Palmer “The oppositions of Syria’s Arab neighbors, each of whom had felt Abdul-Nasser’s wrath, was of more insidious nature. Unable to attack the new unit openly, Syria’s neighbors aided and abetted the UAR’s internal enemies.” (Palmer 1966) There are various reasons as to why other Arab states felt the UAR was a threat to their sovereignty. In most cases, it was usually the state heads and the monarchy in Jordan that opposed the UAR and not the people itself. Take Iraq for example, in 1958 the fourteenth July coup overthrew the monarchy in Iraq, and killed King Faisal II. It is believed that the coup was inspired from Abdul-Nasser’s Pan Arabism and Arab unity. According to BBC “The insurrection was probably inspired by a similar uprising staged in Egypt by Colonel Jamal Abdul-Nasser six years ago… Baghdad Radio announced the Army has liberated the Iraqi people from domination by a corrupt group put in power by “imperialism”. From now on Iraq would be a republic that would “maintain ties with other Arab countries.” (BBC 1958) This coup and the overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy made state powers in Lebanon and Jordan very anxious about the concept of Pan-Arabism and Arab Unity. What made the whole situation worst for other Arab states was the declaration of the United Arab Republic in 1958. According to BBC:
“In February this year Jamal Abdul Nasser formed a political union between Egypt and Syria known as the United Arab Republic (UAR). Radio stations in the UAR are naturally delighted by news of the Iraq coup. But leaders of Jordan and Lebanon fear it might inspire Arab nationalist rebellions in their own states and have appealed to Britain and the United States to send troops to their countries… There are fears the Iraq coup will have a domino effect and that the pro-Western oil regimes of Kuwait, Bahrain and the Trucial States may fall to Arab nationalists.”
External threat: Because of the establishment of the UAR, some Arab states felt the need to contain and push back any threat. Which is why predominantly Lebanon and Jordan communicated with Syrian elites by feeding on their dissatisfaction towards the union and pushing them to prevent the union from growing. Almost all Syrian elites had ties with one or more Arab states. Sabri Asali, a pre-union prime minster and central vice president at the start of the merger, was accused by the Egyptian government of constantly slipping across the Lebanese border and talking to his friends against the union. According to Haykal, adding to Asali’s evidence against him, the Egyptians cited Asali’s confession of accepting 10,000 Iraqi Dinars in 1954 by other Arab states. (Haykal 1963) Another case reported was regarding Abd al-Hamid al-Sarraj the Minister of Interior in the Syrian executive council and later the Central Minister of the Interior. Sarraj recived a check from King Sa’ud totaling one million pound sterling, with which he was asked to disrupt the Syrian plebiscite that was issued to ratify the UAR merger. However, Sarraj rejected the offer and sent the check to Jamal Abdul-Nasser. (Palmer 1966) It is very common and should be taken into consideration that if an action towards unity was to take place in the Middle East, there will almost always be oppositions, or individuals that benefit from division more than unity.
Uncontrollable economic circumstances: The other environmental issue was the uncontrollable economic circumstances of the UAR. I briefly mentioned above that there was a severe drought in Syria that during the year of the merger that caused losses and reduced national income by one third. (Nasser October 1961) Grains surplus in Syria totaled between 600,000 to 800,000 tons in the previous year before the drought, and after the drought there was no surplus. This environmental drought crippled Syria’s ability to provide for its population the needed agricultural demand. There were also similar reductions in other revenues. According to Kallas, oil transport revenues that had totaled from £90 million from the start of 1956, fell to £25 million in January of 1958. (Kallas 1962) The main reason was largely due to the oil stoppages resulting from the Suez crisis in 1956. The Suez crisis was a reaction to Jamal Abdul-Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal. The argument as to whether nationalizing the Suez Canal was right or not is a largely debatable one. On one hand it gave Egypt a very strong voice and a symbol of Abdul-Nasser’s fist against the west. The reaction in Cairo was far beyond expected as thousands cheered for Abdul-Nasser and his nationalization policy. (National Archives 1956) On the other hand it caused the Suez Canal crisis and crippled most of Middle Eastern states, giving more Arab monarchies the motive to take out Jamal Abdul-Nasser.
Another similar economic issue was Syrian foreign exchange reserves. According to Palmer, “Syrian foreign reserves were largely depleted due to the fact that Syrian merchants had more than doubled their imports as a result of their expectations that restrictions would be imposed following the merger.” (Palmer 1966) Such similar expectations also led to the mass transfer of Syrian currency abroad. Palmer explains that in 1961 it is estimated that £500 million to £600 million left the country before and during the merger. Most Syrians elites were not able to forecast a prosperous economic unification between Egypt and Syria. The economic fear of the merger led to many Syrians hedging their investments and capital by either transferring them out, or investing abroad. It is important to realize that it’s not always governments and the masses that have control of a state. The psychological impact of economic sustainability can play a major role. The psychological perception that future economic progress and development is negative may hinder any form of Middle Eastern unity. Governments, private companies, and public figures must persuade and ensure economic prosperity before and during any form of economic unity.
Administration & Policy making: Another important economic factor that led to the fall of the UAR was its administrative, coordinative, and economic policies. Jamal Abdul-Nasser understood that the administrative breakdown of the union was one of the major components that led to the economic and political merger of the UAR. In Abdul-Nasser’s speech that was presented in October 16th, Abdul-Nasser states the following.
“We have been unable to develop the government machinery to the standard of revolutionary action. Until now we were fighting our most bitter battle against imperialism and reaction according to old statues and regulations that have became outmoded. In certain cases, the government machinery was incapable of conveying to the people the new feeling that served their interests. The people’s interest were rather subservient to the government machinery with all its defects…”
(Nasser October 1961)
The government was not able to adequately provide for the people due to the heavy centralization of the government. Matters that were to be solved were constantly held back in Cairo for approval due to centralization. Abdul-Nasser wanted unity more than anything else, he advocated for it for years. However, it is because he invested heavily in it and wanted it to work he was very cautious about any policy or action that would take place. There are various reasons as to why the government was very centralized in Egypt at first then Syria too during the UAR. Firstly, Egypt has just had a coup against its imperial power Britain. For years Egypt was somewhat a colony of British imperialism and presence in the Middle East. Egypt was an informal protectorate of the British from 1882, and became a formal protectorate of Britain in 1914 until 1922. From 1922 until the coup that Jamal Abdul-Nasser led in 1956, Egypt was under a British puppet of the ruling monarchy, King Faruq. So Abdul-Nasser carried the burden of liberating more than 70 years of foreign rule in Egypt. In addition to that, Abdul-Nasser had to face the major threat of Israel and other Arab states against him. According to authors Luther Gulick and James Pallock in their article about governmental reorganization of the UAR, only those close to Abdul-Nasser were given authority to make change. The top administrators of the UAR were limited to those Abdul-Nasser surrounded himself. This left the responsibility of a whole state in the hands of very few people. Because they were few in number, they were also limited in expertise, meaning that at a given point the Minister of Industry, for example, would be given work regarding school education. This made the outcome of the administration unreliable and very weak in its productivity due to both the lack of expertise and the lack of numbers. In addition, because experts were not given tasks within their own specialization, it blurred the lines of jurisdiction that they had in their field of expertise. (Gulick and Pollock 1962)
Intra-regional trade: The reason I bring this aspect of the UAR is to emphasize the importance of interstate development between states in the region. Egypt invested heavily in Syria and adopted economic policies that brought Syria’s economy into a competitive and modern standard. The concept of interstate development and economic interdependence is extremely important for further economic prosperity and sustainability in the Middle East. Take Yemen as an example of the importance of economic interdependence. In Yemen the economic situation has been on a downward spiral ever since the republic of Yemen became a state in 1990. According to the World Bank;
“Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world. Poverty, already increasing prior to the latest political crisis, has risen further from 42% of the population in 2009, to 54.5% in 2012. Yemen has one of the highest population growth rates in the world and is one of the most food insecure countries globally. Approximately 45% of the population is food insecure and Yemen’s scarce water resources are far below the regional average.”
(The World Bank 2015)
Yemen is neighbors with Saudi Arabia, one of the richest Middle Eastern countries in the world. According to the CIA, Saudi Arabia possesses 16% of the world proven petroleum reserves, and ranks as the largest and most influential exporter of petroleum globally and in OPEC. (CIA Database 2015) Economic cooperation and interdependence between the Middle East is extremely low. The prominent economist, Sandor Richter from the Vienna Institute for Economic Studies explained economic interdependence between Middle Eastern states in one of his articles. Richter states “Intra-MENA trade is a small fraction (5.9% in exports, 5.1% in imports) of the MENA countries’ total trade. Exports to the EU are ten times, imports from the EU eight times more relevant than intra-MENA trade flows.” (Richter 2012) Promoting economic interdependence in the region is crucial for economic prosperity, independency, and security. If hypothetically, Middle Eastern countries started a development initiative in Yemen that shifted thousands out of people out of poverty and developed infrastructure and utilities, the crisis Yemen faces today in 2015 may have never even occurred. As an example, as of 2008 Egypt’s import was $52,751 million USD, of which only $1,473.4 million USD (2.8%) were imports from Middle Eastern countries. In addition, exports in Egypt were $25,966.8 million USD, of which only $3,263.2 million USD (12.6%) were exported to Middle Eastern countries. (Richter 2012) The lack of trade within the Middle East is extremely low compared to that of Europe or Asia. While most of Middle Eastern Gulf States are petro-states, there is a regional need of diversification in the Economy. Whereas Egypt for example can provide agriculture, Saudi Arabia focuses on manufacturing, UAE on tourism and so on and so forth. The need for a diverse regional economy is crucial to promote interdependence and trade from within the Middle East.
Jamal Abdul-Nasser saw economic cooperation between Syria and Egypt as crucial for the strengthening of the union. However, due to his cautious personality and his heavily centralized government, Abdul-Nasser made the mistake of closing down Syria’s borders with Iraq and Jordan. (Palmer 1966) Traditional trade patterns and cooperation between Syria, Jordan and Iraq were greatly disrupted. According to Palmer, much of Syrian-Iraqi trade continued through illegal channels and black markets, however such restrictions resulted in the loss of potential governmental revenues and the added burden to the urban population.
The economy was not running as effectively as hoped. Discontent amongst the elites, external power threats, and need to push for economic development resulted in Abdul-Nasser’s governance imposing severe political restrictions. According to one of Palmer’s interviews in Damascus 1963, Internal security provisions were implemented in the UAR and far exceeded those that were in Syria before the merger. Later on during the UAR it almost became impossible for Syrians to even leave the country except illegally. Abdul-Nasser placed heavy political restrictions, especially since many Syrians were “dealing” with other states that saw the UAR as a threat. Ironically enough, this unity of the UAR may have brought Arab states farther apart than together. Egypt didn’t trust Syria and vice versa, Lebanon and Jordan showed aggression towards their historically close allies, the Syrians and Egyptians. Iraq’s government fell and the fear of such revolts against governments throughout the Middle East rose.
Rumors in the UAR: The fifth issue that led to the crippling of the UAR economy is one that is also highly related to its politics and social structure, and that’s the rumors. According to Palmer Egyptians filled approximately 10-15% of all executive governmental positions in Syria. This created an animosity and a solidarity movement amongst the Syrians for the protection of their own state. (Palmer 1966) The Egyptian migration to Syria led to the belief that they would take over Syria gradually due to their sheer population and expertise in industry. In addition, rumors of Egyptians taking over Syria increased immensely when Abdul-Nasser sent Egyptians troops to Syria in order to defend it from any imminent attack from Israel. Rumors grew into mainstream news agencies almost instantly. As an example, Radio Free Egypt (French) reportedly broadcasted that Jamal Abdul-Nasser is planning to relocate millions of Egyptians to Syria and thus undermine the Syrian population. (Haykal 1963) Given all the economic situations of the UAR at the time, and the great tension and discontent by the Syrian elites, this news was greatly unwelcomed by the Syrians.
All these problems and issues of economic, political, and social mistrust that grew throughout the UAR took place gradually. It started mostly with the discontent of the Syrian elites who had constant pressures to agree to the merger without them being truly willing to do so. This was followed by external threats of the union, especially due to the coup that took place in Iraq. While the masses were somewhat still charismatic about the unity and the Pan-Arab movement, gradually economic circumstances along with social distrust put the strong hearted to the test. During all these challenges, Jamal Abdul-Nasser was cautious about loosing this new movement, especially since his goal was for all Arabs to unite. However, his cautiousness manifested itself gradually and caused Jamal Abdul-Nasser to impose economic and security restrictions. According to Haykal:
Things move slowly and gradually in a way that would not cause alarm or undue concern… (the opposition) kept picking away slowly from inside, picking up allies as time went by… (the) opponents couldn’t resist unity openly, so they resorted to physiological sabotage… resistance to the union was caused by a number of small problems.”
The final act that toppled the whole union took place in July 1961 when Abdul-Nasser issued the “Socialist Decree”. The Decree turned the United Arab Republic into an official socialist regime, which meant government ownership of property. (Hanna and Gardner 1969) Egypt and Syria were merged together, and Egypt is running the whole show. What happens when you nationalize and seek governmental ownership? Most of southern Egypt and partly northern Egypt was nationalized. Which meant that Syria will be next, and fear amongst Syrian elites grew more than ever. Regional councils were abolished and according to Abdul-Nasser’s speech in August 16, 1961, extensive military transfer took place between Egypt and Syria. “Today we strengthen and consolidate the Union through a unified government applying all measures stabilizing this union as desired by the Arab people” (Abdel-Nasser 1961) On the 26th of September, 1961 Jamal Abdul-Nasser accepted the resignation of Abd al-Hamid al-Sarraj, who was the vice president of the Republic of the Interior. Sarraj was in charge of the security apparatus in Syria. Sarraj’s resignations indicated to the masses that he was dissatisfied with his position, and amongst many others, he wasn’t the only one dissatisfied. Two days after his resignation, a coup occurred in Syria to overthrow the UAR government. According to Abdul-Nasser “Small groups of army troops moved from the Katana camp, laid hands on the broadcasting station in Damascus, surrounded Army headquarters there, and broadcasted a number of consecutive statements.” (Abdel-Nasser 1961) Among many of the statements that were broadcasted, number nine, established the terms under which the union could be reestablished if Abdul-Nasser agreed to them, he refused.
“What happened today should not be subject to bargaining or compromise. This is my firm belief and this is what I consider my duty at this moment. I entirely reject bargaining and half measurers. When struggling involves bargaining, it loses its sacred significance. We cannot bargain our Arabism or nationalism. Should we thus bargain we would then be singing the document of slavery of this Republic?”
Troops were dispatched and then recalled, the union was over. Before everyone knew it, as of September 28 1961, the United Arab Republic ceased to exist. Jamal Abdul-Nasser remained president of Egypt until he passed away from a heart attack in 1970 and was replaced by Anwar AlSadat. The failure of the UAR was due to a variety of factors. Syrian leaders argued with the Egyptians and amongst themselves. There was no solid understanding and cooperation with each other that is why Abdul-Nasser supplied the demand of cooperation and unity in the Middle East. In addition, the administrative burden of the union was far exceeding its capabilities in regards to administration, psychological and physical infrastructure. Popular support for the Union could not be translated into tangible action and effective support.
Although I mentioned the UAR as an example of unity in the Middle East, it is not the only one. The United Arab Emirates is another minor example of how a United Arab region may turn out to be in the future. The United Arab Emirates was once known as the Trucial States and was made up of seven prominent states. The seven states are now the thriving cities that make up the United Arab Emirates, and they are Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras Alkhaima, Um AlQaiwain, and Fujairah. These seven sheikhdoms were independent states run by independent royal families. All these seven states were brought together in 1971 by the founding father of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan AlNahyan.
Now here is the interesting comparison I came up in regards to the UAR and Sheikh Zayed’s United Arab Emirates. I believe that the United Arab Emirates was derived from the concept of the United Arab Republic, on a micro scale. Although there are no solid sources documenting this correlation, the unity that Sheikh Zayed advocated for in the UAE is very similar to that of Jamal Abdul-Nasser’s. Sheikh Zayed respected each Emirate’s sovereignty and right to rule, as he brought all the seven emirates under a single political, economic, and social unity. It may have been that Zayed knew about the United Arab Republic and its failures, and so he focused on implementing a united state while avoiding the mistakes that the UAR made. When it comes the UAR’s notion of interfering highly in Syria, Zayed came up with a solution in the UAE by establishing a national federation that would prevent single Emirates from intervening into the jurisdiction of another emirate. As an example, Article 3 of the UAE’s constitution that was drafted by Sheikh Zayed states “A member Emirate shall exercise sovereignty over its own territories and territorial waters in all matters which are not within the jurisdiction of the UAE under the Constitution.” (United Arab Emirates Federal National Council 2011) In addition to realizing the mistakes and the failures of the UAR, I believe that Sheikh Zayed developed the concept of the United Arab Republic further. Another example is regarding the issue of public participation between government and the public. The UAR, as I mentioned above, weren’t as transparent as they should’ve been during the time of the UAR. This lead to the rapid growth of rumors and misperceptions about governmental polices that Abdul-Nasser was making. Sheikh Zayed knew that communication was an important factor, and that in order to prevent rumors, transparency is vital. It is from the establishment of the UAE until this very day the royal family would hold daily “Majlis” (gathering) in which the population would be given the opportunity and chance to talk to the ruling families addressing challenges or opinions. (Crown Prince Court 2015) This cultural trait of “Majlis” is still very prominent and an important aspect of political and social life in the UAE.
In addition to solving a variety of the problems that the UAR faced, Sheikh Zayed also spoke in almost the same language that Jamal Abdul-Nasser did. The sixth article of the UAE’s constitution states “The UAE is a part of the greater Arab nation to which the UAE is linked by the ties of religion, language, history and common destiny. The people of the UAE are one people, and a part of the Arab nation.” (United Arab Emirates Federal National Council 2011) Where as the United Arab Republic constitution, article one states, “The United Arab State is a democratic, independent, sovereign Republic, and its people are part of the Arab Nation.” (Arab Information Center in the US 1958) The usage in language and words are very similar when it comes to speaking about an Arab state that is part of a larger Arab community.
Sheikh Zayed took the notion of the Arab unity a further step, for it was him who helped establish the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981, in Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Zayed hoped to carry the idea of a united Arab community into a practical economic, political, and social institute. Just like Abdul-Nasser, Sheikh Zayed founded an Arab unity, however, unlike Abdul-Nasser’s three-year unity, Sheikh Zayed unity has now lasted forty-four years.
The United Arab Republic is but an example of how a united Middle East can be achieved. I share a strong passion towards history, and because of such I understand that in most cases history is written by the victors. However, it is crucial to understand the perspectives and the stories of the defeated in order to learn from them. Jamal Abdul-Nasser documented everything about the United Arab Republic in the yearbooks that I cited. Even after the UAR failed, the books were published in the mid 60’s, and I believe Abdul-Nasser ordered that for a very important reason. He knew the UAR failed and he acknowledged his mistakes and reasons of the UAR’s failures in several speeches. More importantly, he knew the importance of leaving this legacy for future generations. He knew that, maybe, someday an Arab student will look through his speeches and the published yearbooks of the UAR in the hopes to find an answer and solution to the divided and chaotic state the Middle East is in today. Although my arguments and ideas are still not enough to establish the idea of implementing a union in the Middle East today, I do end this book with important notable lessons and opinions that may be built upon in future studies.
First, Jamal Abdul-Nasser called for a state union between two Arab dominant Middle Eastern states. Abdul-Nasser knew the implications and sovereignty that each state has and acknowledged their right to self govern. During the time of the United Arab Republic, not once have I found through my research that Syria’s name or its flag ever changed. Nor was Syria’s currency converted to the Egyptian pound or the Syrian history shifted to an Egyptian one. Abdul-Nasser respected the history, culture, economy, and the sovereign land of Syria. On that basis he called for a unity, in which Syria even took the first step and action towards. So when I stated above the rumors and perceptions by the army officers and prominent Syrian elites felt that Egypt was taking over Syria, they were actually just rumors. These rumors were merely misperception that the populace had towards Abdul-Nasser’s governance, which lacked public participation. However there is always some truth in rumors and Egypt’s policies damaged Syria’s economy indirectly. However, After the failure of the UAR Abdul-Nasser acknowledged his mistakes and the mistakes of the UAR and worked on being as transparent as possible with every detail of his government and that of the UAR. This is why Abdul-Nasser ordered the publishing of the UAR yearbooks and other open data for the population.
Secondly, I would like to clarify and make clear that when it comes to comparing the UAR and ISIS, you are comparing two very different things. The UAR was a state with a population of up to thirty million. (Information Administration of the UAR 1963) ISIS on the other hand may have a population of around ten million or so. It’s not certain how many still live under ISIS control today to the large number of deaths, refugees, and internally displaced people. However, ISIS supports are estimated to be around 30,000 to 50,000 people. (Huffingtonpost 2014) In addition, as I mentioned above, the order of which the UAR and ISIS promoted their ideology was different. Abdul-Nasser promoted his Pan-Arab movement then established the UAR, whereas ISIS established the “Islamic State” then promoted the Caliphate movement. The main perspective I wanted to get into regarding the correlation between UAR and ISIS is that the UAR respected the sovereignty of each state while establishing a union, whereas ISIS doesn’t respect state sovereignty and hopes to see a regional domination rather than a political union.
To conclude, I believe that unity in our modern day setting is absolutely possible. Yes we have a large split in our social structure regarding Sunni-Shia division and the economic gap between classes. However, this division wasn’t absent sixty years ago and our past generation still managed uniting. It’s interesting to note that in many cases today the issue of Palestine is no longer seen as a religious or a cultural issue. The idea of Pan-Arabism had diminished greatly, and the concept that all Arab and Muslims states are responsible for all the war crimes happening in Syria, Iraq, and Palestine are almost non-existent. Today only Iran is stepping up against Israel, and every Arab state is now a close ally to Israel, especially Egypt. Pan-Arabism and the concept of Palestine may no longer be something that can bind us together. However just as the United Arab Emirates was formed, I believe a regional structural federation that would unite several states economically, physically, politically, and socially is still something that can be achieved. Is it unity against extremism or unity against globalization? Or even unity against monarchies? The future is uncertain, however, I know that without political cooperation, economic interdependence, and social understanding between one another, the Middle East will remain a cooking pot for foreign powers, terrorism, and constant conflict. In my future research I hope to study what exactly will be the concept that may unite the Middle East today, until then, the Middle East must realize the importance of unity and cooperation. Jamal Abdul-Nasser and Sheikh Zayed left us a legacy for the framework of unity, it is up to our generation to understand it and utilize it today.
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