Academic journal article Hemispheres

The Arab World between the Dilemma of Nationalism and Sectarian Conflicts

Academic journal article Hemispheres

The Arab World between the Dilemma of Nationalism and Sectarian Conflicts

Article excerpt


In this article, the focus will be on the Arab world, as an identified entity, rather than the "Middle East" which continues to be a source of disagreement among scholars on its exact definition, components, borders and geography.* 1 Conversely, the term the "Arab world" has a specific geographical and political extent that geographically includes countries ranging from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean, i.e. Morocco to the West, the Arab Peninsula to the South, Iraq to the East and Northern Africa to the North, a range which politically encompasses all members of the League of Arab States.2 The Arab world has a special importance for the three monotheistic religions and from a geo-strategic perspective, the Arab world has been the center of attention for the various advantages it possesses: natural gas, oil, iron, phosphate and other natural resources; a strategic location (traditionally the Silk Road); being the center of main international naval routes and a huge market for consumer goods. As a result, the region has provided a major backdrop for numerous conflicts and has been an important target for irredentism and intervention, with major powers having tried to establish a foothold here since medieval times.

With the advent of the so-called Arab Spring or Arab popular uprisings in December 2010, many buried ordeals in the Arab world were uncovered. The death toll has been mounting rapidly in an unprecedented way, with the ongoing turbulence in Iraq, chaos in Syria, civil war in Somalia, disorder in Libya, turmoil in Yemen and instability in Egypt. In addition to traditional problems rooted in Arab societies, such as weak state institutions, poverty, inequality and underdevelopment, two main issues appeared as a cornerstone for instability to the whole region: nationalism (two-level nationalism: individual state nationalism and "pan"-Arab nationalism) and Islamism (hence political Islam and ethno-confessional conflicts). In fact, both issues (nationalism and Islamism) are inversely connected in a causal relationship and constitute a major source of the ongoing turbulence that may lead to a complete change in the landscape of the Arab world.

In an effort to find solutions for such challenges, it would be erroneous to address these problems without considering their roots through a historical analysis. One may argue that the roots of these problems go back in history to the Great War (WWI) and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. This article elaborates and focuses on two variables: nationalism and Islamism as two main aspects of the repercussions and impact on the region of the Great War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The first part of the article briefly addresses the conditions pertaining to and brought about as a result of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The second part is dedicated to addressing the issue of nationalism in the Arab world on two levels: macro and micro "state nationalism and Arabism or Arab nationalism" in terms of developments and challenges. The third part of this article discusses the emergence of political Islam and Islamic movements and serves as a thorough introduction to the fourth part which tackles ethno-confessional problems in the Arab world. Against this backdrop, the article tries to draw relevant conclusions and a working prognosis of the course of events in the region.

The Great War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was the longest and the last surviving Islamic empire ( 1299- 1922), spanned three continents at the end of the Mongol era and was "rooted in a universal belief: the faith of Islam."3 It ruled the Arab world for more than four centuries and had an enormous impact on people, politics, culture, life, arts and even laws. The Ottoman Empire developed and gradually lead the whole Islamic world, with the Ottoman Sultan becoming the Caliph of all Muslims who subserviently followed his orders (basically religious); prayed for him in mosques; and came to have his name printed on coins in all Muslim territories. …

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