Pardon this use of a quote from Mark Twain but it fits the situation in the Arab world perfectly. Just a few years ago as the ISIS hordes seem to be following the footsteps of Genghis Khan and over running the entire Fertile Crescent, journalists and various middle east “experts” were claiming the end of the states of Iraq and Syria with Lebanon and Jordan to follow. A widly circulated photo of an ISIS bulldozer driver destroying the vestiges of a border marker between Iraq and Syria seemed to be the portent of the future. A new Syria and Iraq divided into ethnic entities or controlled by the “new” Islamic Caliphate was the forecasted future. Gleefully many saw the final demise of the Sykes -Picot treaty and those hated colonialist drawn borders ….. even though over the years it was evident that the various Arab regimes did not want to give up an inch of their domains, no matter who drew their borders. The dozens of unity attempts among various Arab states always collapsed within months. Of course there are still some slender reeds of Arabism,…The issue of Palestine, a common language, a common heritage, etc
Unfortunately for the illusion of Arabism, none of the above have proven strong enough to create reality out of a dream. As I have written elsewhere in this blog, Palestine is a revered Arab issue but Palestinians as people are not fully accepted anywhere in the Arab world. In most Arab counties they are viewed as a fifth column and unwelcome guests. The idea of a common language was never really true and is becoming less so. Modern Standard Arabic was supposed to become the lingua franca of the Arab world but its use has actually declined, among even the educated classes. As an example, when I was a student in Beirut I visited Tunisia and made friends with a number of young fellows convincing them I was Lebanese….this despite my crappy Beiruti street Arabic.
The nuances of Classical Arabic of the Quran, modern standard Arabic, and colloquial Arabic have created difficulties for Arab students learning their own langauge. The common heritage is debatable but history is always subject to revisionism.
In fact the idea of Arab unity has become so thin that one optimist recently wrote that the Egyptian soccer player, Mohamed Salah, had revived Arabism because of his Arab world celebrity status. Unfortunately, the ousting of all the Arab teams in the world cup, four in one day, was a crushing blow to the hope that soccer would be the unifying factor.
Palestinian writer Said Aburish was probably correct in saying that that Arab nationalism died with Abdul Nasser, and that today there is no ideology to contest the chimera of an Islamic Caliphate. As a recent article in Foreign Affairs suggests, democracy as a form of government is a declining concept all over the world. It has never had a chance to take hold in the Arab world.