Looking today upon the wide crescent of the Arab world, whatever its disabilities, it does not stagnate. Squabbling, bickering, half-cocked, it remains, but it bursts with life. The great world listens to each successive assertion of the undying, united, un-extinguishable Arab will.
We are well now into the second Arab awakening. Remember, until the 1950′s, the French still ruled Algeria, the British Army still occupied the Suez Canal zone, and an Englishman commanded the Jordanian army. As recently as 1958 the American Sixth Fleet could with impunity land a force of marines upon the beaches of Beirut, which is impossible to imagine now. The transition from lassitude to commotion has been startingly abrupt; from helpless dependency to a power in the world. An irritation to some, a threat to others, but to be ignored by no one.
Although religion is always present, the present causes of effervescence are less direct. One, paradoxically, is imperialism itself. The French and British empires introduced the Arabs to those very techniques, material and intellectual, by which they eventually won their independence. They taught the Arabs the modern meaning of nationalism, they gave them the beginnings of industrial economies, they made a fresh start with education, medicine, irrigation and communications. The first sparks of this awakening was the spark of revolt against foreign rulers: the Turks, and then against western Europeans and Zionists.
A fundamental social shift gave a new intellectual cohesion to the Arabs. For the first time leadership passed from the desert to the town, from aristocrats of Bedouin background to middle-class city people. A new intelligentsia, educated largely at Western universities, came into being; the bourgeoisie, represented mainly by army officers and lawyers, assumed the responsibilities of power. The desire for change and opportunity, common to all these people, became the driving policy of most Arab states and gave them a new sense of common purpose.
Oil also gave the Arabs a new confidence. They discovered, through no merit of their own, a new importance in themselves. They were not born to be poor after all, but to be immensely rich. They did not inhabit a backwater, but rode the mainstream of world affairs. The possession of oil gave the Arabs a tremendously powerful instrument of persuasion- or blackmail.
Two more developments gave a new vitality to the Arabs. The first was the emergence, in the 1950′s, of a remarkable young leader, the first Arab statesman of world importance since Saladin resisted the Crusades: Gamal Abdel Nasser, who made Egypt the epicenter of Arab progress and gave to all the Arab peoples, not prosperity, not even serenity, but a new pride. The second was the existence of Israel, an alien body planted on the shores of the Arab world by the intervention of the West, which acted as a catalyst to the energies of the Arabs, spurring them on to a common cause and intermittently reviving their sense of camaraderie.
All these factors combined to bring the Arabs nearer to political unity than they had been since the heyday of their empi
The dream of unity is vivid and inescapable: it enters every Arab declaration and is a sine qua non of political respectability. And from time to time, unity really seemed to be at hand. In 1958 Egypt and Syria actually did pool their sovereignty, though the partnership did not last long; Jordan and Iraq once united briefly in the Arab Federation, with the king of Iraq as its head…..( to be continued)