Opinion | Columnists

Pan-Arabism used to divide and rule

Arab Spring has revealed that the regimes of Iraq, Libya and Syria were not only separatist, tribal and sectarian at heart, but also very self-destructive

  • By Faisal Al Qasim, Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 February 22, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Gulf News archive
  • A girl shows off her fingers painted with flags of Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and Libya as she marches during a demonstration to demand the ouster of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern city of Taiz on Wednesday.

Although Arab autocrats, particularly the so-called Pan-Arabists, have over the decades mouthed fervid nationalist slogans and called for unifying the Arab world into a single entity, in actual fact, they were very separatist rulers. While they raised nationalist slogans in the media, in reality they divided their countries into tribes, clans and sects so that they could control the people using the well-known colonialist ruse: divide and rule.

We were surprised to note that after the fall of Saddam Hussain's regime, the pan-Arabist rule that Saddam used to brag about day and night in his tightly controlled media was no more than a mirage, if not a huge lie. When the president's aides were chased by American forces, all of a sudden they switched their western suits for tribal costumes.

On television, many of us saw prominent figures of the fallen regime surrounded in their villages by tribesmen. Even Saddam himself took refuge in his tribe's stronghold when he fled Baghdad. He was captured in the town of Tikrit where his clan held sway over the decades.

It is no wonder that Iraq fell apart after the American invasion of the country because it functioned along tribal and sectarian lines under the Baath regime.

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, in turn, used to sing praises of Pan-Arabism for years on end. He also used to chide Arab rulers during Arab summits for failing to build the so-called Arab homeland, which was supposed to stretch from Mauritania to Damascus or from the ocean to the Gulf.

Second-rate tribesman

And funnily enough, when Gaddafi failed in his presumed mission to unify the Arab world, he headed for Africa in the hope of unifying the continent. Nobody, in actual fact, took him seriously, either in the Arab world or in Africa, as he was known to be nothing but a second-rate tribesman who was not even interested in unifying his clan, let alone his country or the outside world.

Similarly, the Syrian revolution seems to have exposed the Pan-Arabist slogans of the Bashar Al Assad regime as the country is now on the brink of a civil war between the regime's tribe and the majority of the Syrian people.

The Syrian leadership, which has never missed an opportunity to raise nationalist banners over the decades, now finds itself in the cold in the face of a popular intifada stretching from the city of Daraa in the south to the city of Idlib in the north.

Although the regime is strong militarily, at least till now, the country could easily fall apart if the Damascus leadership doesn't stop its military cleansing of the rebellious cities, particularly the city of Homs.

The blessed Arab revolutions have revealed that the so-called Pan-Arabist regimes of Iraq, Libya and Syria are not only separatist, tribal and sectarian at heart, but also very self-destructive.

A short time before his fall when Saddam began to feel that his regime was about to crumble, he said "we will not leave power until we destroy everything". And he did. He brought his country down to its knees by his foolish and diabolical policies. He was eventually executed for his efforts.

Sadly, had Saddam left power when he was pressed by his people, the Arabs and the West, Iraq would have been in much better shape today.

In a perennial hole

If a donkey falls into a hole once, it is most likely to avoid it the next time. In other words, it learns from its experiences. But Arab autocrats tend to fall into the same hole which their predecessors fell into — again and again.

Instead of learning from Saddam's case, Gaddafi repeated the same mistake. Like Saddam, he wanted to take revenge against his people while he was in power and after his ouster.

Had Gaddafi accepted the safe passage offers granted by the National Transitional Council, he would have been alive now, and Libya would have been in a much better position.

In other words, all the destruction and internal strife that has ensued in Libya are a result of Gaddafi's tomfoolery and bull-headedness. It is the way he responded to the Libyan revolution that has led to the hardships which the Libyan people face today.

Although Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has seen how Gaddafi was killed by his own people with the help of the outside world, he seems to be following the same path. He has impoverished the country with the war he is waging against his people, and he may even cause the country to descend into sectarian chaos if he keeps killing his kith and kin.

In a word, sectarianists, tribalists and brutish leaders have never ever managed to build nations, because they are naturally deviated individuals. They have never been satisfied with corrupting and impoverishing their countries while in power, they also wanted them to suffer ever so badly after their demise, which is sadly the case now in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

 

Dr Faisal Al Qasim is a Syrian journalist based in Doha.

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