Generations of Arabs have grown up believing that deeply entrenched ties relating to the reasons for life and the unity of goals — toward liberation and progress to restore national identity — would bring them closer to each other, regardless of the geographical scope and differences of climates and prevailing conditions.
With the beginning of the 20th century, these ties have started to crystallize in the form of a political-ideological principle confirming “Arabism” as a universal identity for Arabs, who have lived for centuries under foreign domination, most notably the Ottoman Empire’s hegemony over the majority of their lands.
The Ottoman Empire was first founded under the banner of the caliphate, but continued with Turkish reign with the rule of sultans. Even after the abolishment of the "sultanate," Turks continue to control Arab lands, which fell under the rule of "governors," and later on under the rule of military rulers, following the outbreak of World War I.
The caliphate started off as an Arab legacy but degenerated into disputed monarchies and provinces ruled by non-Arab governors, before "sultans" took over, replacing caliphs as Turks spread their hegemony. Perhaps because of this the correlation between Islam (the religion of the majority) and Arabism (the nation's identity) remained ambiguous.
In light of the constant struggle against the forces of colonialism and the increasing calls for liberation, independence and resistance to oppression, which lasted for centuries, the national identity has outstripped the religious one. This is especially true as the actual symbols of power have remained non-Arab. Arabism has become the unifying tie between "citizens" of different religions and sects.
At the time, it became clear that there was no difference between the "Islamic" colonization, represented by the "Ottoman Empire," and the "Christian" colonization, represented by the European occupation of most Arab countries.
Indeed, the oppression was the same, and so were the attempts to obliterate the unifying identity, which targeted all "nationals" in various countries. The colonizing forces had also redefined the states, as the conquerors — i.e., Britain and France — had divided the lands between the two of them even before World War I had come to an end.
Indeed, the Sykes-Picot Agreement was developed in 1916 and the Balfour Declaration in 1917. The latter was a promise made by the United Kingdom's foreign secretary to award Palestine to the Jews so that they could establish their own state: Israel.
There was no doubt that the Western colonizers had tried to take advantage of the nationalist movement, which was carried out under the banner of Arabism in its inception, and employ its hostility against the Turkish occupation in a way that would serve their domination project over the entire Arab region. However, this has not stopped the movement from fighting against Western colonialism in Syria and Iraq, and in Palestine first and foremost.
Arabs had to fight for themselves wars of liberation, to free their lands from the Western colonialism that replaced the Turkish hegemony. The paradox was that given the new spheres of influence in the region, Arabs had to fight against two colonizers at one time, and face the backwardness of their society and the lack of political life in it after ages of Ottoman occupation. The new colonizing forces took over before Arabs had the chance to catch their breath or to unify their ranks and efforts in order to emphasize their belonging to one nation and accomplish independence at the same time.
The religious banner of the Ottomans and then the (Muslim) Turks failed to save Arabs — with their overwhelming Muslim majority, regardless of their different sects — from the ongoing struggle for independence. Arabism was the strong tie that unified them to achieve the goal of liberation and restore their national identity, despite the Western colonialism that divided their land into geographic "hotbeds" without any basis in history.
Islam was not the main basis for the rise of these "states" under colonialism, nor was it among the reasons behind their survival after "independence" — especially since they have emerged as "secular states," where most of their constitutions stipulate that Islam is a primary source of legislation — so as to shun the religious identity, and confirm that the state is for all citizens regardless of the different religions.
Nevertheless, the states that were established on a "religious" basis — such as Saudi Arabia, which was founded on the Hanbali school of jurisprudence in its Wahabbi Salafist version — have sidelined and even obliterated other Sunni schools, let alone the other sects, such as the Shafai'i, the Maliki, and the Hanafi schools, and later the Shiites, Zaidis, Ismailis, Druze and Alawites, among many other Muslim schools.
Political Islam saw "Arabism" as its sworn enemy. It viciously fought Arabism during its inception. Political Islam fought Arabism instead of rising against Western colonialism — whether the British domination in Egypt and Libya, or the French colonization in Lebanon and Syria. This is not to mention the Maghreb region, including Tunisia, Morocco and then Algeria, which sacrificed millions of martyrs in order to restore their national identity, of which Islam was one of its most important pillars.
Moreover, although these countries have not emerged as a religious state following independence, they proceeded to emphasize their Arabism in the stances they took, most notably in their participation in the wars against Israel and their support for the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberating their land.
Today, once again, political Islam has risen to power by riding on the wave of Arab uprisings. Burdened with the specter of oppression from the past, political Islam came to power, having in mind that Arabism, including nationalism at its core, is seen as a reflection of apostasy. Thus, political Islam has not been reluctant to join hands with the US administration, with a public endorsement from Israel. Political Islam failed to find any reason to be hostile against Israel.
The most remarkable thing is that the Muslim Brotherhood, after coming to power out of nowhere, has adopted the same policy as the Salafists. They have asked for US sponsorship and aid and have been hypocritical when it comes to their true stance toward Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, who are — theoretically — their ideological opponents, as well as the Qatari Wahhabis. They took advantage of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi and the international organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, for camouflage and political reasons.
Thus, all factions of political Islam have come together to fight against Arabism and accuse believers of apostasy, paving the way for a "state of citizens, not nationals." Moreover, the most dangerous thing is that they have denied the fact that Arab lands are "occupied," whether by the Zionist entity or by US hegemony, even without the actual presence of armies of occupation. The leaders who raise the banner of Islam seek to evade their national duties, which is to fight the enemies of the nation, which aspire for unity and progress.
What's even more dangerous is that with their slogans and practices today, Islamists threaten the unity of the Arab nation and its aspiration for independence, sovereignty and dignity. ... Instead, they are wasting the struggle of generations of mujahedeen, who fought until their last breath for freedom and dignity. They continued to believe in the right of their nation for independence and a better future.
History is the truest witness to the nation's identity and it shows that many thinkers and activists, as well as the martyrs — who made the glory of Arabism by their long struggle against colonialism in its political rather than its religious aspect — belonged to the different stripes of the nation, whether Sunni, Shiite, Druze, Alawite, Ismaili and Zaidi, even if many of their leaders were Christians.
The nation, with all its sons, belongs to all. It not exclusive to one party or one group.
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