Adeed. Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair,
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003). 340 pp, $22.95.
Dawisha's Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century does a stellar
job of synthesizing current debates in Arab nationalist scholarship. Dawisha
situates political and ethnic nationalism within a global context, one broader
than the theoretical framework typical of nation and nationalism studies
alone. Dawisha examines the birth, growth, and dissolution of the Arab nationalist
movement, pinpointing its apogee within the presidency of Egypt's Gamal
Abdel Nasser. In particular, he reopens the ‘great debate' pitting Charles
Smith against Israel Gershoni and James Jankowski, a debate centered around
Gershoni and Jankowski's Redefining the Egyptian Nation 1930 1945
and Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities. The debate's central
question: what is a nation? According to Dawisha, the essential point, frequently
missed in this debate, is that nationalist cultures whether Palestinians,
Basques or Kurds "are in fact adamantly and vociferously desirous of a
state."(6) Dawisha maintains that a nation is "a human solidarity, whose
members believe that they form a coherent cultural whole, and who manifest
a strong desire for political separateness and sovereignty." (13) This desire
for a political state is the critical component for a practical, realistic
nationalist movement, and is the focus of Dawisha's first chapter.
of the nation, associated with particular territories, may seem to be the
antithesis of world history. This view, Dawisha makes clear, is wrong. When
nation is examined through the lens of ethnic aspiration rather than the
territorial state, physical boundaries become more permeable. Nation is
a flexible concept, Dawisha tells us, which encompasses a plethora of non-state
structures. Yet, at its core, if it is to be viable in the modern world,
burns a desire for a territorial nation-state. According to Dawisha, Arab
nationalism did not exist until after the Second World War, precisely because
the scholars, political activists, and theorists traditionally depicted
as Arab nationalists (al-Afghani, al-Banna, Q'tub, etc.) built their "nationalism"
on a foundation of an amorphous umma (the world Islamic community),
not on a specific, imagined nation-state.
Nationalism traces the development of Arab nationalist sentiment
from the rumblings of minority groups under Ottoman rule, like those of
Syrian Christian Negib ‘Azoury. ‘Azoury defined a future Arab state as the
area stretching from the Tigris and Euphrates to the Sinai Peninsula, but
not into Egypt. (25) For these early nationalists, Egypt was not Arab, and
Arab was not necessarily defined by religious dimensions (particularly given
that many were Christian Arabs). Outlining the rise of Arab nationalism
in this way, Dawisha draws a distinction between his work and that of George
Antonius' 1938 book The Arab Awakening. Long considered the definitive
work on Arab nationalism, Antonius contends that Arab political ambition
was first stirred by Muhammad Ali, the Albanian governor of Egypt, in the
1800s and then later in the 1916 Arab Revolt. According to Dawisha, however,
postwar Arab nationalism did not derive from the legacy of the Mohamed Ali
or the Arab Revolt, but instead developed in the "infant state of Iraq"
and the efforts of King Faysal's Minster of Education in Syria, Sati' al-Husri
(47), as well as in the tumult of Palestine during the British Mandate (chapters
three and four).
Dawisha contends, the resurgence of Arab nationalism resulted from defeat
in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The war discredited the old Egyptian monarchy,
overthrown in the 1952 "Officers Coup" that ultimately brought Gamal Abdel
Nasser to power. Nasser's Arab nationalism owed much to late 19th century
Christian Arab nationalists such as ‘Azoury and to the anti-colonial rhetoric
of proto-nationalists like al-Afghani, al-Banna, and even critics like Sayeed
Q'tub. His charismatic leadership, his secularist politics and his opposition
to the Cold War's rigidly bipolar world order inspired many Arabs. His reputation
reached its apogee in 1958 with the unification of Syria and Egypt as the
United Arab Republic (UAR).
Nasser's Arab nationalism did not fulfill its promise. The UAR fell apart
in 1961, the victim of conflicting personalities and political agendas.
Then came the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war. As Dawisha observes, "Arab nationalism,
by the end of the century, was remembered mostly for the debacle of the
1967 war, for Arab divisions that led to weakness, for its inability to
come to the aid of its Palestinian children, [and] for its big, resonant
and meaningless words" (313).
concludes that by the end of the 20th century, very little remained of Nasser's
Arab nationalist project. Promoted as the Arab world's route to international
empowerment, promising to repair the damage incurred from colonialism and
postcolonial ‘third world' status, Arab nationalism achieved none of its
students of world history, mid-century Arab nationalism offers lessons about
the nationalism in theory and in practice. Traditionally, World and Western
Civilizations courses focused on nationalism as part of the "long 19th century,"
punctuated by Italian and German national unifications and the increasingly
dangerous conflicts among Balkan nationalisms. Encouraging students to consider
the history of Arab nationalism can deepen student understanding of nationalist
projects worldwide over the past two hundred years.
Washington State University