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Arab Nationalism is Spreading On Two Year Anniversary of the Arab Spring

The integration of the Arab world has been a challenge since the formation of post-colonial Arab states in the last century. Whilst Arab nationalism has died out with the end of wars with the Jewish state of Israel, the Arab Spring has revived this sentiment with pro-democracy movements replicating from the Atlantic to the desert of Syria.

January 14 marks the two-year anniversary of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, the birthplace of the movement. Quite unexpected, the Arab Spring toppled one dictator after the other in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. It introduced major constitutional reforms in Morocco and Algeria. The movement also ignited deep divides within these countries, including a civil war that is still ongoing in Syria.

Undemocratic Arab governments, in the past, have managed to establish some economic ties with other Arab countries through the Arab League. Although it is fairly true that most are not fully economically integrated, with exception of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, ex-colonial powers like France and the United Kingdom remain the major economic partners of, respectively, North Africa and the Middle East.

The question of whether the Arab Spring has reunited the Arab world and particularly the southern Mediterranean region has many sides to it. It is hard to take on. While the Arab Spring has blessed some countries with new regime changes and debatable democracies, monarchies of the Arab world are still reluctant to admit the change. They are averse to the slightest critiques and have already engaged in drastic oppressive measures to block out the spread of the protestation movements in their respective territories. In fact, popular sentiment in Arab Spring countries (exclusively republics) has turned against the Gulf. The two blocs share an old rivalry: Pan-Arabism (secular, but anti-neocolonialist ideology) vs. Pan-Islamism (the forcible implementation of Islam as sole reference).

The answer is: Despite public and media support between Arab Spring countries and other Arab countries, diplomatic and trade relations have not changed over the past two years. Free movement in the Arab world is not nearly like the Schengen Area in Europe, not even one bit. Most Arab citizens are required to have visas to move anywhere from North Africa to the Middle East. Free labor and capital is still restricted. Work visas are nearly impossible to obtain for major financial hubs (Lebanon and the Gulf), and in most cases, visas won’t be granted at all unless the traveler proves that he or she has no intentions whatsoever to stay in the country of destination. The Arab Spring has also drawn mixed reactions from different Arab states as to the fate of the Syrian political turmoil. Unlike past cases of civil wars and unrests in the region, the most powerful bloc in the Arab world, the Gulf, has no genuine interests to resolve the issue. Other states grew indifferent as few share formal economic trades with Syria. This is yet another mark of the disintegration of the Arab world.

Concerning the future identity of the Arab world, as long as there won’t be new wars with Israel or any Western power, the religious and mostly ethnic diversity of the Arab world is and will remain a major disintegrating factor between present governments in the region.

Nevertheless, the Arab Spring has some positive aspects for youth in the Arab world. Despite their large number everywhere, Arab youth still do not have any grip on power yet, not even made possible by the latest democratic elections. There are, now, different joint movements between youth from North Africa and the Middle East to unite efforts to break the ice between these two worlds. The ice is prejudice and a cultural divide between the two blocs. Examples are numerous, but perhaps the most prominent collaboration between Arabs is the new social media campaign The Uprisings of Women in the Arab World. The Facebook page has gathered more than 80,000 "likes," including many Westerners who support the movement as well. The page features pictures, articles, caricatures from many Arab countries, if not all. Texts are provided in every language and dialect spoken in the region and transcend religious affiliations too. Two other bloggers, Samia Errazouki, a Moroccan-American, and Mona Kareem, a Kuwaiti-born leader of Bedoon rights – a pro-citizenship movement for the stateless people of Kuwait – have started an intercultural blog as well. The aim of the blog is to break stereotypes between the Gulf and North Africa. The blog features insights from different influential activists and intelligentsia from both regions. It is one of the first collaborative works throughout the region.

So, despite disintegration, Arab youth no longer hold on to faded (or even racist) ideologies such as Arab nationalism. The latter has proven to be completely useless. Arab youth are starting to take actions though social networks and collaborative intellectual ventures. The time will come when civil society and activists throughout the region will unite ties across countries; the reintegration process has already been launched. 

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