Pan-Arabism is a cultural nationalism which seeks to establish a single Arab state by unifying the countries in the Arab world. It is different from Arab nationalism, which is the belief that the people of the entire Arab world are bound together by common cultural heritage. Pan-Arabism also believes in Arab nationalism, but goes further to advocate an Arab nation-state.
Common characteristics of Pan-Arabism are:
- Opposition to Western imperialism and Western involvement in the Arab world
- Pan-Arabism has sometimes embraced socialist economics, as in the case of Gamal Abdel Nasser. Ba'athist regimes are commonly left-wing economically while pursuing a strong nationalist (and often Pan-Arabist) agenda.
Modern pan-Arabism dates back at least to the First World War, when the British encouraged rebellion by Arab tribes against the Ottoman Empire. Various Arab nationalists, including Sherif Hussein of Mecca, patriarch of the Hashemite Dynasty, and Ibn Saud, future founder of Saudi Arabia, attempted to take up the mantle of Arab leadership and create a single Arab state across the Middle East. After the war, Allied designs in the region, codified by the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Treaty of Sevres, and fighting amongst Arab leaders, caused its collapse.
Later, Nasser was a prominent proponent of Pan-Arabism. Under Nasser's aegis, Egypt and Syria merged into the United Arab Republic, which lasted from 1958 to 1961. Pan-Arabism declined in popularity after the defeat of the Arab states in the Six-Day War. Nasser's death in 1970 dealt the movement another blow.
Muammar Gaddafi attempted to revive the concept in 1971, proposing a Federation of Arab Republics to include Libya, Egypt, Syria and the Sudan. Though approved by referendum, none of these countries formally attempted to join together, and the movement died in 1977.
More recently, Saddam Hussein adopted pan-Arab rhetoric during his efforts to invade Iran and Kuwait in the '80s and '90s. Ironically, Hussein succeeded instead at uniting most Arab countries (including his fellow Ba'athists in Syria) against him during the Gulf War.
Pan-Arabism has sometimes been associated with racism due to the persecution of non-Arab minorities in the Middle East (including Kurds, Jews, and Persians), and Berbers, the original inhabitants of North Africa.