Pan-Arabism before Nasser: Egyptian Power Politics and the Palestine Question

Pan-Arabism before Nasser: Egyptian Power Politics and the Palestine Question

Pan-Arabism before Nasser: Egyptian Power Politics and the Palestine Question

Pan-Arabism before Nasser: Egyptian Power Politics and the Palestine Question

Synopsis

This book aims to alter profoundly the accepted version of the history of post-World War II Egyptian foreign policy. To this end, Doran convincingly demonstrates the absence of any true pan-Arab front from the very beginning of the Arab League. Reconsidering Cairo's policy decisions during the critical years from 1944 to 1948, he proves that Egyptian national interests were always placed before the united Arab front against Israel. Even while participating in the 1948 war with Israel, Egypt regarded Zionism and the Palestine Question as less important than achieving independence from Britain and thwarting the expansionist aims of Iraq and Jordan. Ultimately, this study is a bold rethinking of twentieth-century Middle Eastern politics and history, with key implications for both the study of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and the volatile politics of the Middle East in general.

Excerpt

Egyptian foreign policy has traced a pattern that poses a riddle for historians. Consider, for instance, the first Arab-Israeli war. During the period 1947-1948, leaders in Cairo recoiled time and again when other Arab statesmen asked them to participate in military operations against the emerging state of Israel. In fact, Cairo did not decide to send troops into Palestine until 11 May 1948, just four days before the end of the British Mandate. Although Egyptian leaders initially displayed great uncertainty about joining the war, once they had mobilized their army, they proceeded to dominate the Arab coalition against the Jewish state; in addition, they appeared to exhibit a staunch commitment to the Palestinian cause. However, when their war fortunes had soured in early 1949, Egyptian statesmen abandoned the fight and, leaving their allies in the lurch, became the first Arab leaders to sign an armistice agreement with the Israelis. Egypt jumped in last, took charge, then jumped out first.

This pattern--ambivalence, leadership, abdication--is characteristic of more than just the actions of Cairo during eight or nine months in 1948. It also describes the trajectory of Egyptian policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict in general. In the period before the 1948 War, leaders in Egypt displayed ambivalence toward the Arab struggle against Zionism. But by 1955 all signs of doubt had disappeared. For the next eighteen years, Cairo guided the Arab states in such a resolute manner that many observers came to believe that Egyptian leadership of the Arab side was a natural and permanent component of the Middle Eastern scene. Then, in 1977 President Anwar Sadat challenged this belief by making a dramatic appeal for peace with Israel. Suddenly, without consulting its Arab allies, Egypt had again jumped out first.

What is puzzling about this pattern? There is certainly nothing odd about the first stage, the period of ambivalence. On the contrary, it would have been strange if leaders in Cairo had been eager to fight, both because Egypt was already locked in a conflict with Britain, and because sober statesmen are often fearful of war. Similarly, whether we are analyzing policy during the 1948 War itself or during the entire span of the Arab-Israeli conflict, there is nothing odd about the last stage, the period of abdication. In 1948, Cairo signed an armistice agreement because its losses on the battlefield had rendered the Egyptian army ineffective; in 1977, Anwar Sadat went to Jerusalem because the cost of continuing the war . . .

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