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Thursday, April 21, 2011

The first real casualty of the Arab uprisings: Pan-Arabism

Pan-Arabism, the idea that all Arab countries would eventually combine or at least confederate, seems to be on its last legs.

Pan-Arabism had its heyday in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Egypt and Syria created the United Arab Republic.

It has been in decline ever since.

But wishful thinking about the power of a united Arab front continued, mostly in the form of the Arab League, which would meet regularly and where every such meeting would result in de rigueur condemnations of Israel and little else.

Now that Egypt's leadership role in the Arab world has faded as it struggles to discover its own identity, and in the wake of the other Arab uprisings, even the Arab League is falling apart.

A major Arab League summit that was to take place next month in Baghdad has been postponed, and no new date has been set although they are talking about September.

The reason for the postponement is that the Arab League members are squabbling with each other. Iraq is against Saudi Arabian and UAE supporting Bahrain's government in the current Shi'ite uprising there, and Iraq is siding with Iran.

The upheavals in the Arab world are taking the focus off of "Palestine" as each government must actually think about survival. The always-ready excuse of blaming everything on Israel has outlived its usefulness for Arab despots.

While pan-Arabism has been mostly a joke for decades, its most likely successor is not funny at all: pan-Islamism, a construct that Iran hopes to control. Iran also intends to ultimately make Arab identity meaningless, subsumed under the banner of Islam.

While it is too early to know how successful Iran will be - centuries of enmity between Arab and Persian cannot be erased so quickly, and neither can the Shiite/Sunni rift be patched up anytime soon - it is clear that the Islamic Republic is the early winner as the world witnesses the death of pan-Arabism.