Reviving Pan-Arabism: Balancing Unity And National Constraints

Pan-Arabism or Arab nationalism, an idea so defended by historical leaders such as Jamel Abdennasser and Hafez Al-Assad, was nevertheless doomed to failure through divergence and sabotage. Syria, one of the symbols of this ideology, is coming back to the fore and with its return, the hope of seeing the Arab countries united again and forming a force on an international scale is reborn.
The last Summit of the Arab League confirms this orientation towards a modernist Arabism which knows how to protect its identity but which opens up to new horizons, other than the hegemony long exercised by the West, and in particular the United States. Except that we are still far from this dream, and the road remains long and perilous.

Indeed, the return of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria to the Arab League recently dominated the agenda of the Jeddah summit. Moreover, twelve years after being expelled for his repression of the Syrian uprising, President Al-Assad was warmly welcomed by the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman.

After years of isolation, Al-Assad pleaded for “a new phase” in Arab cooperation before his peers gathered in the city of Jeddah. Among the guests, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who accused some countries in the region of “turning a blind eye” to the Russian invasion.

Bashar al-Assad participated Friday, May 19 in his first Arab League summit in more than a decade, signing his return to the Arab diplomatic scene from which he had been excluded at the start of the war in Syria. He also had many bilateral discussions including the one with President Kais Saied.

The Head of State said he was happy with this historic meeting which reflects the friendly relations between the two countries “contrary to what some had claimed as friends of Syria when they participated in the suffering of the Syrian people for years”.

He welcomed the participation of Syria in this session after its exclusion in 2011, and expressed the hope that the country regains its influence and preserves its unity far from any foreign interference.

“Syria and Tunisia are both facing the obscurantist current, because these two countries share a value, that of thought, conscience and belonging (…) The Arab people in general have not changed , but Tunisia is particularly important because it has been used, or shown, as a platform for the conspiracy, not only against Syria, but against Arab thought and Arab belonging” assured, in this sense the Syrian president.

Tunisia, a Centerpiece?

The Syrian President is telling the truth. Tunisia, the origin of the Arab Spring, is at the center of diplomatic attention. Without economic power or geopolitical influence, its diplomatic weight remains inseparable from the regional chessboard, especially if we recall the migration file.

But what role can Tunisia play in what is called modernist pan-Arabism? Tunisia maintains excellent relations with all Arab countries. Its policy of non-alignment distinguishes it from other nations and propels it to the forefront of the Arab scene. Moreover, the President of the Republic confirmed this during this summit.

“We refuse to be once again victims of a new world regime that we are not helping to put in place,” said the President of the Republic, Kais Saied.

Speaking at the Arab summit held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Saied added that “the world is now in the process of rebuilding itself, but this should in no way come at the expense of the Arab world and the capabilities of its peoples.

The Head of State, on this occasion, pleaded for a world regime based on social justice, equity, stability and social peace, calling for efforts to eradicate poverty.

“Major challenges are facing the countries of the region today, including, first and foremost, the preservation of states and institutions”, he said, warning against “attempts to fragment the region and conspire against his interests.

“Tunisia, he continued, is attached to its principles, in particular the independence of national decision-making and non-interference in the affairs of others, in accordance with its constitution. The Tunisian people are also attached to their freedom and dignity,” he added.

Likewise, because of its geographical location, Tunisia can play an important role in this quest for pan-Arabism, particularly with regard to the crises and tensions that are shaking the Arab Maghreb.

An illusion ?

Pan-Arabism, this political and cultural movement that promotes unity and solidarity among Arab peoples, does it find a place today in this changing world?

The ideology of pan-Arabism emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, at a time when the Arab peoples were under the yoke of the Ottoman Empire. Arab nationalists began to advocate Arab independence and unity, basing their claim on common historical, cultural, linguistic and religious ties.

Nowadays, several elements have contributed to the decline of the influence of pan-Arabism. National identities have been strengthened in many Arab countries, with an increased focus on national interests and priorities rather than a common Arab identity. Political, religious and ethnic divisions have also played a role in weakening Arab unity.

In any case, it is more realistic to expect selective and pragmatic forms of regional cooperation between Arab countries rather than a return to pan-Arabism in its traditional form.

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