“Pan-Arabism” is a movement the objective of which is the unification of Arab peoples and nations. This is a modern cultural trend with political finalities, arising as an answer to colonialism and the West’s involvement in the Arab world.
Ever since the Ottoman Turks came to power during the 14th Century, the desire for unification re-establishing Arab political power has always been present among Arab populations. After World War II the movement found its first official expression in the Arab League and in a number of unsuccessful attempts at political unification, such as the Arab Federation between Iraq and Jordan, the United Arab Republic, the Arab Union and the Arab Union of the Magreb.
At the beginning of the Sixties the main instrument of pan-Arabism was the Ba’ath Party, active in most of the states in the region, hence in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, the Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. Similar ideas, tinged with socialism, were expressed simultaneously by Egyptian President Gamal Abdal Nasser. The pan-Arab cause suffered a serious setback after the Arab defeat in the 1967 war with Israel and after Nasser’s death in 1970. At the beginning of the Seventies a plan for unifying Egypt and Libya also fell through. However, during and after the 1973 war with Israel, the Arab states showed renewed cohesion in the use of oil as an economic and political weapon in international relations; cohesion that collapsed after the signing of the Camp David agreements between Egypt and Israel and the Iran-Iraq war.
Pan-Arab rhetoric was resumed by the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the 1990 Gulf War, in a vain attempt to bring Arab countries to side with him. While political pan-Arabism has been defeated by the resistance of nationalisms and the split between Shiites and Sunnis, cultural pan-Arabism today has experienced a revival. Globalisation and the conflict with the West have brought to screens the images of a more or less united Islamic world. The creation of satellite TV channels in the Arab language (such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya), in addition to spreading a shared idiom, also represent the mark of a super-national Arab umma (“community”), culturally if not politically united.