Like a great dynasty that falls to ruin and is eventually
remembered more for its faults than its feats, Arab nationalism is
remembered mostly for its humiliating rout in the 1967 Six Day War,
for inter-Arab divisions, and for words and actions distinguished
by their meagerness. But people tend to forget the majesty that
Arab nationalism once was. In this elegantly narrated and richly
documented book, Adeed Dawisha brings this majesty to life through
a sweeping historical account of its dramatic rise and fall.
Dawisha argues that Arab nationalism--which, he says, was
inspired by nineteenth-century German Romantic nationalism--really
took root after World War I and not in the nineteenth century, as
many believe, and that it blossomed only in the 1950s and 1960s
under the charismatic leadership of Egypt's Gamal 'Abd al-Nasir. He
traces the ideology's passage from the collapse of the Ottoman
Empire through its triumphant ascendancy in the late 1950s with the
unity of Egypt and Syria and with the nationalist revolution of
Iraq, to the mortal blow it received in the 1967 Arab defeat by
Israel, and its eventual eclipse. Dawisha criticizes the common
failure to distinguish between the broader, cultural phenomenon of
"Arabism" and the political, secular desire for a united Arab state
that defined Arab nationalism. In recent decades competitive
ideologies--not least, Islamic militancy--have inexorably
supplanted the latter, he contends.
Dawisha, who grew up in Iraq during the heyday of Arab
nationalism, infuses his work with rare personal insight and
extraordinary historical breadth. In addition to Western sources,
he draws on an unprecedented wealth of Arab political memoirs and
studies to tell the fascinating story of one of the most colorful
and significant periods of the contemporary Arab world. In doing
so, he also gives us the means to more fully understand trends in
the region today.
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