The Decline of the Arab Nationalist Discourse in ‎the Political Actions of the Nasserist and ‎Ba'athist Governments in Syria

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Associate Professor, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of ‎Tehran, Tehran, Iran. ‎

2 PhD in Political Science, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of ‎Tehran,‎‏ ‏Iran. ‎



The Nasserists and Ba’athists, who influenced political strategies of Egypt and Syria during the second half of the twentieth century, engaged in Arab nationalist discourse. Because of the inconsistencies and paradoxes which appeared between the recurring political struggles and a score of the old dogmas of Pan-Arabism, Arab nationalism lost its validity and favorable place in Arab political discourse in the 1970s. Under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egyptian Nasserists who determinedly participated in Arab nationalist discourse were willing to accept the failure of Arab nationalism after the traumatic shock of the defeat in the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War in June 1967. They announced the irrelevancy of Arab nationalism and focused attention on the “Egypt First” slogan to show their preference for Egyptian nationalism at the expense of Arab nationalism. On the contrary, Syria under the leadership of Hafez al-Assad as a neo-Ba’athist military man stood by the ideas of Arab nationalism but frequently ignored its dogmas whenever the changes in the political situations in Syria or the Arab world required a change of attitude towards Arab nationalism. It means that Syrian national interest was given a higher priority than the collective interest of the Arab community ('ummat). Syria symbolically used Arab unification propositions to explain political behavior, views, and policies. Thus, Syrian leaders ironically held on to the rhetoric of Arab nationalism to safeguard Syria’s national interest and garner support for their political agenda among the Arab people. Assad’s intention was to reach the top leadership position in the Arab world by gaining public support and more power and influence among the Arab political elites.
A key purpose of this study was to address the following research questions: 1. Why did the Nasserist and Ba'athist governments in Egypt and Syria thought and acted differently about Arab nationalism? 2. What factors (e.g., the internal contradiction of the discourse, the negligence of those involved in the discourse, the dishonesty of Arab political leaders in believing in the Arab unification, and external pressures) worked against the discourse of Arab nationalism? In the research hypothesis, it is claimed that the lack of effort of the agents of Arab nationalist discourse, as well as the dishonesty of the Arab leaders in genuinely believing in Arab unity led to the decline of this discourse in the Arab world. There is the gap between the explanatory system of the discourse of Arab nationalism to represent political events and the essence of these events. Building on the theoretical framework of psychoanalytic and Hegelian approach of Jaques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek, the authors use the method of qualitative event data analysis to assess the relationship between the most significant historical events and the discourse of Arab nationalism by the advocates of Nasserism and Ba'athist with the aim of explaining how their different opinions and preferences led to different political behaviors of Egypt and Syria.
Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser stubbornly adhered to Arab nationalism and the slogan of unification of all Arab people. Anwar Sadat as his successor publicly presented a different view on Arab nationalism and pursued a different foreign policy after the 1973 October War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. Despite the prior agreements with Syria to recapture all Arab territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war, Egyptian military forces were withdrawn from the battle zones after regaining parts of Sinai Peninsula. Sadat’s breach of promise to Assad was followed by his secret negotiations with the U.S. and Israel, and the Camp David peace Accords which culminated in the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state. Syrian military was left alone in the war and forced to accept a cease fire. The government of Egypt’s adherence to the principles of Arab nationalism was abandoned when confronted with the outcome of the Arab-Israeli wars in 1967 and 1973, but the Ba'athist government of Syria with its weaker attitude towards this issue continued its pursuit of the Arab unity, albeit selectively and irresolutely.


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