Turkey’s research vessel, Oruc Reis, rear, anchored off the coast of Antalya on the Mediterranean, Turkey, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. (AP Photo)
For more than 100 years, the Arab political culture has been shaped by a “holy trinity” of pan Arabism, the conspiracy theory and the Palestinian issue.
Almost every issue, big or small, that confronted the Arab world is viewed from this perspective. This makes it useful to reflect on the origins of these three questions.
Pan Arabism existed as a reaction to a combination of factors. What triggered it was an attempt to create Turkish nationalism throughout the Ottoman empire at the expense of the various nationalities that made up the empire.
It began in 1908, when a group of Ottoman army officers rebelled against the tyrannical Sultan, Abdulhamid II. They called themselves the Committee of Union and Progress, C.U.P.
They borrowed the slogans of the French revolution of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and announced their intention to apply them in order to revive and reform the decaying empire on the bases of democracy and freedom.
No one cheered the new regime more than the Arab population of the empire. The Arabs saw the rebellion as a way to reform and establish freedom and unity throughout the empire, following the dictatorial regime of Sultan Abdulhamid.
But the cheering was short lived. The new regime in Istanbul soon began an effort to “#Turkey” the empire. The empire was made up of a mix of ethnic groups. These included Turks, Armenians, Arabs, Jews, Greeks and others.
The C.U.P traced the origins of the country to Turanian nationalism, which they embraced as the new identity of the Ottoman empire.
The Arab population, feeling a threat to their own identity within the empire, began to identify themselves as “Arabs” rather than “Turks.”
Moreover, the same period witnessed the rise of the conspiracy theory.
A group of Arab army offices in the Ottoman army soon discovered documents linking the new regime of the C.U.P with the Zionist movement.
The meetings in preparation of the revolt of 1908 had been held at the lodges of the Free masons in the Ottoman city of Salonika, now part of Greece, but was then populated and administered almost exclusively by Jews.
Thus the linkage between the C.U.P, the Freemasons and the Zionist movement was established, and the conspiracy theory was born.
The Arab population of the empire, feeling itself at the receiving end of a grand conspiracy, hatched by the Zionists, Freemasons and the C.U.P, began to emphasize the need for unity.
Still, the conspiracy theory was reinforced by the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which promised #Palestine to the Zionists. This sealed the linkage between the Palestinian issue and the need for Arab unity.
But such unity was never realized. From the beginning, it suffered from fragmentation brought about by feuds and competitions that remain with us to this day. The absence of unity among the Arabs was apparent mostly within Palestine itself.
Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist leader to whom the Balfour declaration was issued, visited Palestine in 1919 on a fact finding mission. In February 1920, he reported his findings to the British Foreign Secretary, Earl Curzon, in a confidential and lengthy report.
On the Arab situation in Palestine he said:
“…In Palestine there are some clubs and circles consisting mainly of young men in which nationalist ideas are preached and fostered. This nationalism is not free from religious element…There is no political organization and no political leadership.
The Arab families and tribes are much too divided among themselves , and the jealousies among them are much too pronounced. They are not welded together, and do not form, at least at present, anything like a homogeneous body.”
Weizmann then makes an interesting observation on the Arab attitude toward the Zionist movement. He said that hostility against #Zionism is due to three main reasons, economic, intervention of European powers and “to ignorance of Zionists aims and methods.
The Arabs were repeatedly told that the Jews were coming in masses into the country in order to despoil them of their land and property. Naturally they became enemies of the Jews.”