You’d think that with all the problems facing Arabs and the impotency of Arab regimes in the face of Israeli aggression, that pan-Arab sentiment would be widespread and that all Arabs would take pride in the civilization that spread from tribes in the south-west Arabian peninsula to dominate from the Tigers and Euphrates rivers all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. But unfortunately too many Arabs adopt the tactics of divide-and-conquer on themselves to no benefit except that of their enemies.
Arabs take pride in their culture, but fail to appreciate its extent instead choosing to play a game of: Who are the true Arabs? Instead of taking pride in the Arab people from Morocco to Iraq, some Arabs would rather state that they represent the pure stock of Arabs and that all others are somehow lacking in “Arabness”. Such a worldview fails to appreciate the strength-in-numbers and undermines the potency of the Arab voice on the international stage.
This perverse ideology may be seen today in the chauvinistic Egyptian nationalism sparked by two bitter World Cup qualifying games. The first games was held in Cairo and upon arrival the Algerian national team was met with hooligans who threw rocks at players and fans and injured many. Egypt won and the feud headed to neutral territory in Sudan. Algeria won 1-0 and qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Needless to say, the soccer-fanatic Egyptians did not take the lose in stride and neither did the victorious Algerians. Fights broke out between sides in Khartoum. Although it is the Sudanese authorities who are to blame for not separating fans, Egyptians officials laid the blame on the Algerian government.
This was just Egyptian bitterness at the lose, and the same self-righteous Egyptian government that has actually withdrawn its ambassador from Algiers dismissed the injuries that occurred in Cairo.
The soccer match was intense enough and a reflection of undue nationalism on both sides, but the sight of one’s nationals being beaten up only inflamed tensions even more.
Many Egyptians have been slinging a lot of grotesque epithets at Algerians – including the absurd notion that Algeria is some puppet of Israel. Fact: Egypt has a 30-year peace agreement with Israel and supported the assault on Gaza while Algeria has never even held a meeting with Israel – and many are even calling for sanctions/boycott against Algeria. This is absurd Arab-on-Arab hatred this is a direct result of the narrow qutri nationalism that Arab states have evoked that is a rival to pan-Arab nationalism. Arab regimes prefer the former so as to not lose power in any new pan-Arab framework.
One of the most absurd claims put forward by vulgar Egyptian nationalists is that Magrebi Arabs are really not Arabs at all. This is not a new charge against Tunisians, Algerians, and Moroccans. Gulf Arabs often state that they are the pure stock of Arabs since they inhabit the birthplace of the Arabs. While it is true that the Arab gene is more pronounced amongst Gulf Arabs, Magrebi Arabs are still of majority Arab stock. And this intended insult was once applied to Egyptians as well.
During the early days of Arab nationalism, a Syrian congress stated that the nation of Egypt will be excluded from pan-Arab organizations since Egyptians are not genuine heirs of Arabs and the real Arabs are those in the Gulf and Levant.
Ironically, it was Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser who would champion pan-Arabism unlike no other, make it a mainstream ideology, and inspire Arabs in ways modern leaders can only dreams.
And now it is Egyptians who are claiming to be the ruling board of Arabs and making judgment as to who is or isn’t an Arab. They are stating that Magrebis are really all just Berbers (some are).
Some may intend this as a racist smear against Berbers, but whatever the intention it is unfounded and petty, and will only undermine the Arabs.
Disunity does not help an already troubled region.