Arab nationalism

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Arab nationalism is a nationalist ideology stating that the people of the entire Arab world are bound together by common cultural heritage. It is different from Pan-Arabism, whose adherents believe in Arab nationalism, but go further to advocate an Arab nation-state. It is also distinct from Palestinian nationalism, which began as an Arab nationalist movement but today focuses almost exclusively on competing Palestinian and Israeli land claims.

Arab nationalism was a major political force in the Middle East in the middle twentieth century, and to some extent still matters today. However, it has greatly lost ground to Islamism since the mid-1970s. Ruhollah Khomeini was a major opponent of Arab nationalism, due to the way it pitted the Arab world against majority-Persian Iran. While Khomeini succeeded to a great extent in advancing Islam at the expense of nationalism, the Sunni-Shi'a unity that he professed to believe in has yet to materialize.

Probably most important figure in the Arab nationalist movement was Gamal Abdel Nasser who sought to minimize Western presence in the Arab world and nationalized the Suez Canal. Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein also expressed Arab nationalist views. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was originally an Arab nationalist, but shifted towards a more exclusively Palestinian nationalism as Palestinian Arabs began to define their nationality in terms of their conflict with Israel, rather than in terms of their relationships with other Arabs.

Arab nationalism's great weakness was that it became associated almost entirely with Gamal Abdel Nasser. When Nasser's mystique collapsed in 1967 after the debacle of the Six-Day War with Israel, Arab nationalism never recovered its popular appeal and fell easily to the Islamist movement.


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