Is There An Arab World? Arabism From The Ottoman Empire To The Sykes-Picot Agreement
24 April 2016
By Khaled Almaeena
Is there an Arab world? That was the question posed by an American college
professor as we sat across a table in an Egyptian seaside resort.
My mind traversed the history books I have read, the events I have witnessed
and the predicament we are going through across the Middle East.
From the Ottoman Empire to the Sykes-Picot agreement 100 years ago to the wave
of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 60, the desire for a pan-Arab world
existed in the ethos of the Arab people.
However, between desire and fulfillment there existed a great gap. Some
flickers of hope were lit when the Arab League was founded in 1945.
However, no collective action could be undertaken as huge events and political
upheavals took place right from the start. The creation of Israel by a
unilateral decision, displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees, coups
d'etat and bloody revolutions in the newly formed Arab states whose border
demarcations were mostly deformed — all were the ingredients that led to the
present day regional predicament.
The lack of continued uncertainty, dabbling in ideologies, lack of
statesmanship and relegation of people's interest created chaos. To add fuel
to the fire, adventurism by certain Arab leaders, the Iraq-Iran war, the
invasion of Kuwait, and the tyranny of the powerful all added to the woes of
the Arabs who basically like any other people wanted a life of dignity,
progress and peace.
However, that was not meant to be.
No civil institutions were set up by dictators, in whispered tones across many
Arab lands people talked about ''Zawaar Al-Lail'' or the ''night visitors''
alluding to the dreaded ''mabahith'' or secret police. Thousands disappeared
in Syria, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere.
To compound the miseries of the Arab world, intra-Arab relations were mostly
based on personal relations between Arab leaders. Woe betide the nationals of
their countries if the leaders fell out. The whole population would be
castigated and the propaganda machines of the respective countries would blare
A subservient media would exchange abuses.
The fragmentation process continued with the barbaric attack on Iraq in 2003,
its deliberate disintegration, the Libyan attack, the Syrian conflict and the
mismanagement of the Arab Spring.
So the question arises: Is there still an Arab world?
We cannot afford but to remain optimistic. The GCC countries are an example of
continued cooperation and unity while maintaining their national identities.
This has brought a sense of order to the Gulf region. Other Arab states in the
Maghreb and the Levant can do well by following this example.
And that is what the Arab people want — a house in order.
— The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena