The main reasons why Pan-Arabism was not successful, and could not be successful, were due to the factor of Islam and the nationalism or citizenry of the state, whether artificially built by western powers or not. The majority of the Arab World prior to World War I was under centralized Ottoman rule and ”the Ottomans professed Islam, as did the overwhelming majority of Arabic-speaking subjects” (Kramer, p. 174, 1993). Even though there were “minority communities of Arabic-speaking Christians” (Kramer, p. 175, 1993) within the Ottoman Empire, the majority religion within the Ottoman Empire and the so-called Arab world was Islam, which basically rejects ethnic and national divisions while promoting a collective unity under God. In the ideology of Islam, a person is not Arab or Anglo-Saxon, nor French or Syrian, they are either a Muslim, one who submits to God, or they are not. It is the same understanding that Malcolm X, the American Black Nationalist, realized upon his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964. Below is a link to the Letter from Mecca written by Malcolm X and it provides an interesting prospective of how ethnicity is viewed in traditional Islam:
The second reason for the failure of any pan-Arab unity was that as Western colonialism began its final transition toward international free market globalization after World War II, many Arab states already “possessed its own ruling elite, bureaucracy, flag, and anthem” (Kramer, p. 183, 1992). The decentralization of Arab populations through the establishment of state borders, and state government structures, was enforced by the British mediated establishment of the Arab League in 1945, which required each Arab state to sign a charter agreeing to nonintervention (Kramer, p. 183, 1993). Therefore, the Arab League basically agreed not to stand as an Arab nation, but as individual states. By World War II, the Arab states most valuable to the capitalist west were already immersed into Economic ties with the international free market, and this trend can be seen by the individual state entry dates to the IMF: Egypt 1945, Iraq 1945, Iran 1945, Lebanon 1947, Syria 1947 (IMF, 2012). As the identity of the individual state matured economically and politically, individual states “justified their choices by invoking Syrian, Jordanian, Saudi, or Iraqi national interests, not Arab national destiny” (Kramer, p. 189, 1993).
The ideology of early Arab Nationalism was utilized in two areas which had historical consequences between World War I and World War II. The ideology was useful for Ibraham Pasha in Syria in efforts attempting to unite Arab Muslims and Christians, and was a very useful ideology for Muhammad Ali in Egypt when uniting the Arab population of Egypt against British occupation (Danielson, p. 21, 2007). The social consequences were cultural consolidation, and animosity toward foreign occupation.
The ideology of Pan-Arabism was greatly expanded by Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, leader of Egypt from 1956-1970, who utilized the ideology as an “ability to influence other countries in the Middle East” (Danielson, p. 25, 2007) in order to position Egypt as an economic hegemon within the family of Arab nation-states in the Middle East. If we look closely at the trade agreements being established during Nasser’s Pan-Arab leadership, we clearly see the 1953 Agreement on Trade Flow and Transit Rules signed by Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Syria (Gendrano, p. 9, 2007). This agreement aimed “to facilitate intra trade by organizing transit trade was signed in 1953 in the framework of Arab League” (Babil & Baghasa, p. 1, 2008). Interestingly, it wasn’t until Nasser’s death that Egypt, under the leadership of Anwar Sadat, entered into debt under the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (which would later become the World Bank).
Babili, Nahmoud and Baghasa, Hajar. 2008. The Impacts of GAFTA on Syrian Trade after Its full Implementation. National Agricultural Policy Center. Accessed May 13, 2014. http://ageconsearch.umn.edu/bitstream/50041/2/40_gafta_after_implementation_mb%26hb_en.pdf
Danielson, Robert. 2007. Nasser and Pan-Arabism: Explaining Egypt’s Rise in Power. Accessed on May 13, 2014. http://www.nps.edu/Academics/Centers/CCC/research/StudentTheses/danielson07.pdf
Gendrano, Janelle. 2007. Leaugue of Arab states: Greater Arab Free Trade Agreement. Institute for Domestic and International Affairs. Accessed May 13, 2014. http://www.idia.net/Files/ConferenceCommitteeTopicFiles/149/PDFFile/U07-LAS-GreaterArabFreeTradeAgreement.pdf
International Monetary Fund. 2012. List of Members. International Monetary Fund Website. Accessed on May 13, 2014. https://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/memdir/memdate.htm
Kramer, Martin. 1993. “Arab Nationalism: Mistaken Identity.” Daedalus 122, no. 3 (Summer 1993): 171-206.