Morning Brief

The rise and fall of ideologies in the Middle East and the influence on international politics

Political theories have continuously shaped all levels of human society and the world's most volatile region has been no exception
Published by
Central Office
on May 11, 2022
on May 11, 2022
Image Source:
The Times of Israel
Image Description:
Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of Egypt, addresses a huge crowd gathered in Republic Square, Cairo, February 22, 1958, after he was elected the first president of the United Arab Republic

Ideologies are a set of ideas, values, ​​and beliefs, which provide a concrete path towards establishing a new political, economic, and social order, with the aim of improving the society (MacQueen, 2018, p. 99). Becoming widespread beginning with the 19th century, rises and falls of different ideologies around the world considerably impacted the societies in which they took place, with the Middle East being no exception of social and economic engineering empowered by ideological beliefs, be they secular or religious in nature.

Ideologies rise in connection with the social (injustice, abuses, discrimination, attack on local traditions), economic (economic hardship and exploitation), and political (lack of political representation or rights) background the society is found (MacQueen, 2018, p. 99). Pan-Arabism or Pan-Arab Nationalism raised in conjunction with colonialism and particularly in opposition to colonial rule over the region (Akbarzadeh, Baxter, pp. 83-84). The sense of economic exploitation, social injustice, and local economic underdevelopment, mostly in establishing local industries, became the rallying cries behind the Arab nationalism and towards the establishment of a unitary political Arab society based on shared features, the Arab language being the central element (MacQueen, 2018, p. 201-103) (Gelvin, 2020, pp. 98-99). Arab nationalism peaked after the end of the Second World War when the social and economic injustices of the colonial legacies asked for an Arab nationalist response with a secular modernizing program and socialist principles (Akbarzadeh, Baxter, p. 84). While the secular nature of Arab-nationalism was borrowed from the colonial European secular-nationalism, socialism was absorbed from the Soviet Union and translated into indigenous policies of eradicating the differences between the poor and rich in the Arab world (Akbarzadeh, Baxter, p. 84).

Ideologies fall in connection with their failure to provide ideological unity and to respond to popular grievances. This was the case of Arab nationalism at the end of the 1960s following the rift between Nasserist Egypt and Baathist Syria (two champions of Arab nationalism), the military campaigns (in the Yemeni civil war and against Israel) that put tremendous strain on national economies, and the loss of Arab territories following the 1967 war with Israel that came with a sense of both humiliation and insecurity among the Arab people who lost faith in the secular-nationalist idea of Pan-Arabism and tried to find an answer in a more religious approach (Akbarzadeh, Baxter, p. 86) (MacQueen, 2018, pp. 108-109). The rise of Arab Islamism as opposed to Arab nationalism was motivated by the economic and political failure of the ideology of Arab nationalism, with the religiously inspired movements coming to oppose not the colonial powers for economic exploitation, social grievances, and economic hardship, but the secular-nationalist regimes for local corruption, the failure to modernize, the refusal to share power, and the incapacity to absorb the educated new-middle class into the system of governance (Akbarzadeh, Baxter, p. 87-89). This empowered the religious-based ideology and increased the ranks of Islamist movements that claimed that Islam is the only solution (as opposed to capitalism, communism, and nationalism) to inequality, corruption, and nepotism (Akbarzadeh, Baxter, pp. 88-89).

The political switch from secularism (Arab nationalism) to a more religious approach (Arab Islamism), not only among political movements but as the ideology to govern for many regimes in the Middle East came with an impact on international politics, as religion shapes popular views and the way people first think and then act (MacQueen, 2018, p. 128) (Fox, 2001, pp. 59-60). Although the religious beliefs of the ruling regime are always translated first into domestic policies, the impact of religion on foreign policies is also considerable (Fox, 2001, pp. 62-63). After all, Iran sought to export its revolutionary ideology abroad, while Saudi Arabia was expected to export Wahhabism outside its borders (MacQueen, 2018, p. 128) (MacQueen, 2018, p. 130). The Arab-Israeli conflict is more about religion in nature (with religious claims on the same territory) rather than strategic, making any peace on the two-state solution opposed by the religious nationalists on both sides (Fox, 2001, pp 62-63). On the other hand, the religious-inspired ruling establishment tends to translate the expectations of their constituencies into practice. If religion has an impact on the population by increasing their religious beliefs, this in turn will be translated to a more religious-minded ruling class that will put into practice those popular demands at home and act in foreign matters accordingly (Fox, 2001, p. 63).



Akbarzadeh, S. (2018). Middle East Politics and International Relations(1 eds). Routledge.

Fox, J. (2001). Religion as an Overlooked Element of International Relations. International Studies Review3(3), 53–73. (Links to an external site.)

Gelvin, L. James, The Modern Middle East, Oxford University Press, Fifth Edition, 2020.

MacQueen, B. (2018). An introduction to Middle East Politics (2 eds). SAGE Publishing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Short description


© Copyright 2021 |