Asher Susser


Brown Bag Summary

March 5, 2008

The Middle East: Is Secular Nationalism in Decline?

Prof. Asher Susser
Senior Fellow on the Myra and Robert Kraft Chair in Arab Politics

An Egyptian political scientist observed recently that throughout the Arab countries a common denominator prevails: overwhelming anxiety over the future of the Arab world, a fear that the Arab order might collapse into comprehensive chaos and the fragmentation of the Arab world into rival sectarian entities. His voice in this regard was not alone. The Arab state order is probably more resilient than these anxious remarks seem to suggest, but they certainly reflect a pervasive sense of uncertainty that is a consequence of a series a major regional changes in the last quarter of a century or so: 1) The decline of pan-Arabism and the retreat of secular nationalism; 2) Primordialization of Arab politics; and 3) The ascendance of non-Arab regional powers, especially Iran (but also Turkey and Israel).

The retreat of secular Arab nationalism and of secularism as a whole represents an accelerated reversal of the secularization process that introduced Nationalism into the Middle East in the first place. The Islamic revolution in Iran, the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, and the re-election of the AKP in Turkey, on the one hand, and the reassertion of religious-communal, tribal and clan identities, on the other, are all part of a broader historical regional trend of secularism in retreat, rather than isolated coincidental developments.