Arab World View: Battle of Ideas

How will the tide of ideas turn in the Arab world after the fall of Saddam Hussein? It is assumed Iraq will become a beacon of democracy in the region and set an example for all. But what if the opposite happens and the region turns more radical? Wars and their aftermath generate a basic re-evaluation of values and principles. The United States is now in conflict with most of the tendencies in the Middle East, from the secular Ba’athists to the fundamentalists and nationalists. Battlefield victory does not guarantee triumph in the battle of ideas. After Iraq, it could go either way.

The World Today
5 minute READ

Nadim Shehadi

Former Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme

Just as Bismarck was the model for Europe after the fall of Paris in 1870, the Arab elite emerged from the First World War and the end of the Ottoman empire emulating their western conquerors. A snapshot of politicians in Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem or Baghdad in the 1930s would reveal a nationalist elite fighting for self-determination and democracy with western values.

They sent their children to be educated in France or Britain, dressed like Edwardian gentlemen in their Sunday best with fezzes and trilbies, and produced post-colonial regimes led by notables with secular and liberal aspirations.

The shock of the loss of Palestine in 1948 totally discredited that model and a snapshot in the 1950s would show pan-Arab nationalist dictators in military uniforms that had overthrown what were seen as the corrupt failed lackeys of imperialism. The US supported this new model while Britain was trying to cling to the liberal notables.

Subscribe to read all issues

Articles from the current issue are free to read by all, the archive is exclusive to magazine subscribers and our members. Subscribe or become a member to view articles from the archive.