Last updated on: 5/16/2008 | Author:

What Is Arab Nationalism?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)


This site was archived on Aug. 3, 2021. The two-state solution is no longer the most popular solution among the jurisdictions involved. A reconsideration of the topic is possible in the future.

Rashid Khalidi, PhD, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, in a Dec. 1991 article titled “Arab Nationalism: Historical Problems in the Literature” published in The American Historical Review, wrote:

“Arab Nationalism, like most other Middle Eastern nationalisms, was a child of the intellectual atmosphere of the nineteenth century and one of many responses to the process of incorporation of the world into a single system with Europe at its center which that century witnessed. Like these other ideologies, Arab nationalism in its fully developed form represented an expression of identity and of group solidarity within the projected new format of the nation-state by an amalgam of old elites and new social forces at once desirous of seeing their society resist control by outside forces and deeply influenced by the example and the challenge of the West.

Arab nationalism represented both a revival of old traditions and loyalties and a creation of new myths based on them, an invention of tradition… Thus, as Arab nationalism took hold, what had been described for thirteen centuries as the glories of Islamic civilization came to be called the glories of Arab civilization; the language and literature of the Arabs, always revered and cherished, took on a new and heightened importance; and a sense of pride in Arabism that had always existed but had long been dormant was consciously revived and actively fostered.

By some time early in the twentieth century, at the end of this process of synthesis, the idea was widespread throughout the ‘Arab world’ (itself a concept born of the rise of Arab nationalism) that anyone who spoke Arabic, looked back on the history of the Arabs with pride, and considered himself or herself to be an Arab was one, and that this sense of shared identity should in some measure find political expression. Soon, with the power of the state propagating it through the educational system, the media, and other avenues of access to cultural and political discourse in a number of newly independent Arab countries, the Arab idea was strongly entrenched.”

Dec. 1991

Bernard Lewis, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, in the 1993 book The Arabs in History, wrote:

“It [Arab Nationalism] was of mixed origin. To the growing Arab resentment of Turkish [Ottoman] domination and the urgent mistrust of the encroaching and alien West [Britain and France] were added the European idea of nationality and a revival of the Arabic language and culture. Nationalism was strongest among the Christians, least affected by the Muslim idea of unity, most by economic change and Western cultural influence. The Christian could not subscribe to the pan-Islamic idea which was the modern political expression of the old community of Islam. He sought instead to give a new expression, in national rather than religious terms, to the solidarity of the East against the invading West. For Muslims the two forms of expression [national & religious] were never really distinguished. The basic sentiment of identity was religious and social, the complete society of Islam expressed sometimes in national terms, sometimes in religious terms as synonymous and interchangeable sets of words denoting the same basic reality.”


Albert Hourani, the late Oxford Historian, in his 1991 book A History of the Arab Peoples, described the origin and development of Arab Nationalism:

Arab Nationalism Post WWI
“By 1918…the Ottoman Empire had lost its Arab provinces and was confined to Anatolia and a small part of Europe… The political structure within which most Arabs had lived for four centuries had disintegrated… These changes had a deep effect on the way in which politically conscious Arabs thought of themselves and tried to define their political identity. It posed questions about the way in which they should live together in political community… Wartime events had aroused a desire among some strata of some Arab peoples for a change in their political status… Hopes, grievances and the search for an identity all came up against the power and policies of England and France in the years after the war.”

Arab Nationalism Post WWII
“The idea of Arab unity: that the newly independent Arab states [post WWII] had enough in common, in shared culture and historical experience as well as shared interests, to make it possible for them to come into close union with each other, and such a union would not only give them greater collective power but would bring about that moral unity between people and government which would make government legitimate and stable.”


Ira M. Lapidus, PhD, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, Berkeley, in a 1988 essay titled “The Arab Middle East: Arabism, Military States, and Islam,” wrote:

“Arab nationalism was born before World War I in the literary revival of the Arabic language, the revival of Arab identification with the glories of the Islamic past, and the anti-Turkish political ambitions of Arab intellectuals. Arab nationalism in the prewar era shifted from an implied Islamic to a nationalist vocabulary in the course of the struggle to win autonomy within the Ottoman empire, and then in the effort to create an independent Arab state. Arabism rather than Islam became the dominant discourse, displacing the traditional vocabulary of political affiliation and political action.

In the colonial period Arab nationalism became the shared ideology of both the political elites and the intelligentsia opposition. The coalescence of ideologies was based on the shared desire for independence, the need to integrate non-Muslim minorities into the political system, and the awareness of the need for a modern national form of political identity corresponding to the actual state structures. After World War II, Arab identity became the basis of political goals such as anti-imperialism, struggle against Israel, and the formation of political regimes. From the 1950s to the 1970s the two crucial themes in Arab nationalist thinking were the struggle for unity and socioeconomic development. At this stage some form of socialism generally became a part of Arab nationalist ideologies.”