United Arab Republic

views updated Jun 27 2018

United Arab Republic





The United Arab Republic (UAR) was founded in 1958 as a political union between Syria and Egypt. The union reflected a sense of Arab nationalism and solidarity (Pan-Arabism). It was largely driven by a desire to overcome dividing borders viewed by many as an artificial creation of European colonial powers. However, the union eventually collapsed in 1961 due to widespread sentiments in Syria that it had become a vehicle for furthering Egyptian hegemony.


A major driving force behind the formation of the UAR was Pan-Arabism. Sentiments of collective Arab nationalism had already emerged in the Middle East in the early twentieth century. These attitudes were largely motivated by a desire to shake off the corrupt, inefficient, and alien rule of the Ottoman Empire. Shared experience coupled with a common language and culture engendered collective sentiments that spread throughout the Arab-speaking Middle East.

After conquering the Middle East during World War I (19141918), the colonial powers divided the Arabs by drawing previously nonexistent political frontiers. Among other things, segmentation enabled the victorious Europeans to reward friendly Arab leaders with a state that they could govern. Thus, local leaders, whose support for the Europeans during the war was initially driven by encompassing Arabism and the desire to rid themselves of the foreign Ottoman rule, now had an incentive to continue cooperating with the Europeans and encourage loyalties to the smaller, newly created states. In almost every Arab country, schemes for regional Arab unity were countervailed with efforts to instill a sense of patriotic solidarity and identification with the new state through the creation of a national flag, an anthem, and other local symbols. Nonetheless, modern technology, mobility, and newspapers and other printed materials enhanced the sense of collective Arabism that transcended the new political boundaries. Furthermore, the new regimes found that by appealing to sentiments of Arabism, they could increase local support and further their legitimacy.

Attempts to balance the tension-laden tendencies of Pan-Arabism and local regime interests continued to shape Arab politics and society well into the decades that followed. The foundation of the UAR and its demise were a product of such dynamics.


The principle actors behind the union were the Bathists and Nasserites in Syria and President Gamal Abdel Nasser (19181970) of Egypt. When Syria became a democracy in 1954, mass public support for a new, all-encompassing Arab state got reflected in the platforms of rival political parties. Both the Communists and the Muslim Brotherhood supported transcending frontiers, although the Communists preferred closer ties with the Soviet Union. The growing merchant class in Syria saw economic opportunities in the abolition of borders and, thus, also viewed a union favorably. These domestic dynamics led the powerful Syrian Bath Party, headed by Michel Aflaq (19101989) and Akram Hourani (19121996), to propose the idea of a united republic with Egypt. In particular, the Bathists, espousing an ideological platform that combined Arab nationalism, socialism, and secularism, found itself in domestic struggles for power against the strengthening Communists. The party hoped that the union would lead to the collapse of its competitors.

In Egypt, meanwhile, the Officers Coup in 1952 saw Colonel Nasser seize power from King Farouk (19201965) and emerge as the new Egyptian president. Nassers firm stance against the British presence in the Suez and the nationalization of foreign property had made him an admired leader throughout the Arab world. After surviving the Anglo-French and Israeli invasion of 1956, Nasser was depicted as a great, modern-day Arab hero capable of defending the interests of the Arab world against the imperialist powers. His popularity made him an agreed-upon candidate for leading the union, although Nasser himself was initially reluctant to merge the two countries. He feared problems associated with merging the two very different economic systems and with unifying the civil and military institutions. The Bathists in Syria, on the other hand, were optimistic. They believed Nasser would entrust them with the governance of Syria. Ultimately, they managed to convince him of the feasibility of the union.


In February 1958 President Nasser of Egypt and President Shukri al-Kuwatli (18911967) of Syria signed the unification treaty. Following a referendum held simultaneously in both countries, the two countries were integrated and the UAR was born with a new federal constitution, with Cairo as its capital, and with Nasser as its president. Separate Egyptian and Syrian citizenship was abolished. The UAR adopted the Egyptian flag with an addition of two stars to represent the two members of the union. The birth of the union was greeted with such enthusiasm throughout the Middle East that it was followed by a series of attempts by pan-Arabists elsewhere to overthrow regimes perceived as pro-Western. Indeed, following a coup détat in 1958, Iraq declared its intent to join the UAR. That same year, the United Arab States, a loose federation of the UAR and Yemen, was also established.

Although the union was initially received with immense enthusiasm in both of the UARs member countries, disillusionment soon took over popular attitudes in Syria. The disparity of power between Egypt and Syria made the former the undisputable hegemonic force, despite the formal federal structure of the new republic. The authority bestowed on the president made Nasser extraordinarily powerful and allowed him to impose unpopular economic and social policies in Syria. Even though the Bathist Hourani was named one of four vice presidents, he was practically powerless and resigned in protest as early as December 1959. Egypts political superiority left very little room for Syrian input in administering the affairs of the union. Leading figures from the Syrian regime, particularly the military, were transferred to Cairo. This way, Nasser could ensure they were isolated from their power bases. Officials and military personnel from Egypt were reassigned to Syria, where they in practice took control of the Syrian bureaucracy and security forces.

In addition, the Bath Party dissolved itself in compliance with the ban on all political parties other than Nassers Arab Socialist Union, a condition that Nasser presented before consenting to the merger and which the Bathists accepted under the misguided assumption that Syria would preserve a degree of autonomy in the new institutional framework. The Communists and the Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, were brutally repressed as the Egyptians increasingly asserted their authority. Similarly, the Syrian press was seized by the new regime. Furthermore, attempts to impose Egypts socialist policies in Syria left the Syrian merchant class not only without access to Egyptian markets but also facing stiff limitations on its ability to maneuver within the Syrian part of the UAR. Likewise, land reforms made large landowners unhappy. In short, Syrians of all political and social streams were left disenchanted and feeling as though they were ruled by outsiders.

A 1961 coup détat in Syria led to its withdrawal from the union and a renewed assertion of its independence. A short time later, the United Arab States was abolished following Yemenite criticism of Nassers heavily socialist policies. Witnessing the Syrian experience, the Iraqi regime too decided to stay out of the union, despite its initial vow of commitment to join. Egypt retained the name of UAR until 1971.

Following yet another coup détat in 1963 in Syria, unity talks were again undertaken, but without results. The failure of the UAR left many leaders in Syria and the rest of the Arab world determined never to allow their country to be pushed into such a subordinate position. Thus, despite continuing widespread sentiments of Arabism, the demise of the UAR brought about an end to any real chance of integrating Arab countries into a single state. And by the end of the 1980s, notions of pan-Arab unity had all but disappeared.

SEE ALSO Cold War; Communism; Coup dEtat; Gulf States; Nation-State; Stability, Political; Union of Soviet Socialist Republics


Batatu, Hanna. 1999. Syrias Peasantry, the Descendants of Its Lesser Rural Notables, and Their Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Jankowski, James P. 2002. Nassers Egypt, Arab Nationalism, and the United Arab Republic. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner.

Peretz, Don. 1994. The Middle East Today. 6th ed. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Oded Haklai

United Arab Republic (UAR)

views updated May 11 2018


Union of Syria and Egypt, 19581961.

By the late 1950s, Egypt was the most powerful Arab state. Many Arabs were enamored of President Gamal Abdel Nasser's advocacy of pan-Arab unity under Egypt's leadership. Syria, which shared Egypt's anti-Western stance, was considerably weaker, facing both external threats and an unstable internal political situation. For some Syrians, particularly members of the Baʿth party, union with Egypt offered hope for resolving a host of problems. As early as November 1957, Syria's National Assembly called for union with Egypt. Nasser agreed, but only on his terms: full union (not a federation) under his leadership. On 1 February 1958, he joined Syria's president, Shukri al-Quwatli, in announcing the formation of the United Arab Republic (UAR). A referendum on union and Nasser's presidency was approved on 21 February.

New governmental institutions were created in March 1958. Four vice presidents were appointed: two Egyptians (Abd al-Hakim Amir and Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi) and two Syrians (Akram al-Hawrani and Sabri al-Asali). Amir also was commander of the joint UAR military. A regional council of ministers was established for each province, as was a unified cabinet (whose members were appointed in October). In March 1960, a new National Assembly was created. Nasser appointed its delegatesa higher proportion of whom were Egyptianswho first met that July. He also imposed Egypt's one-party system on Syria. Only the National Union, established in Egypt in May 1957, was allowed to function.

Formation of the UAR threatened the West with the prospect of Arab unity under Nasser's leadership. That the UAR immediately tried to draw in other states furthered this perception. In March 1958, the United Arab States was forged with Yemen and would last until December 1961. More significantly, cooperation talks were held between the UAR and the government that came to power during the July 1958 revolution in Iraq. Although the two never unified, Britain and the United States were unsettled by the prospect. Formation of the UAR, the civil war in pro-Western Lebanon, and the revolution in Iraq, formerly the West's leading Arab client, prompted the dispatch of U.S. troops to Lebanon and British troops to Jordan in July 1958, to bolster anti-UAR Arab governments.

Syria soon became disappointed with the UAR. Baʿthists were angered at being barred from power in a union that some Syrians felt more closely approached Egypt's occupation of Syria. By late 1959, major Baʿthists had been dismissed from the government. The powerful Syrian bourgeoisie was alienated by Nasser's state-managed economic policies, especially limits on landholdings and the 1961 socialist decrees. In August 1961, Nasser strengthened his centralized control by abolishing the two councils of ministers and the cabinet, and adding three new vice presidents, for a total of seven (only two of whom were Syrians).

Syria's units of the UAR army in Damascus launched a secessionist coup on 28 September 1961. Following limited fighting, Nasser decided against enforcing union militarily. The breakup of the UAR was a tremendous blow to Nasser's prestige and the dream of pan-Arab unity. Egypt used the name United Arab Republic until 1971, when it became the Arab Republic of Egypt.

see also amir, abd al-hakim; baghdadi, abd al-latif al-; baʿth, al-; hawrani, akram al-; nasser, gamal abdel; national union (egypt); quwatli, shukri al-.


Jankowski, James. Nassers' Egypt, Arab Nationalism and the United Arab Republic. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001.

michael r. fischbach

United Arab Republic (UAR)

views updated May 09 2018


After the Suez Crisis and Egypt's successful defiance of the imperial West, Egypt's prestige and that of its leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, were extremely high in the Arab world. In Syria, which was weak, politically unstable, and vulnerable to outside threats from the West and particularly from the subversive actions of conservative and royalist Iraq, whose own stability was threatened by the existence of left-leaning Arab governments. The idea of a federation between the two countries appealed to many, particularly the socialist, pan-Arabist Baʿth Party, which was the country's largest party; other elements favored it as a way to prevent leftists, such as the left wing of the Baʿth, from getting into power. The Syrian National Assembly called for union with the larger, more populous and more powerful Egypt; Nasser eventually agreed, but only on strict conditions. As a result, the United Arab Republic was proclaimed on 1 February 1958 and confirmed in a referendum on 21 February. It was structured as a unified state, not a federation; its capital was Cairo; its leader was Nasser; and it had a one-party political system. The military was unified under Egyptian command, with Syrian officers in subordinate positions, and banks, major industries, and large landholdings were nationalized. In 1960 the National Assembly was dissolved and replaced with a new, appointive body.

In March 1958, Nasser also formed a union between Egypt and Yemen, called the United Arab States. The same month the UAR was formed, as a conservative counterweight, King Hussein of Jordan and his cousin King Faysal II of Iraq announced a federation of their kingdoms, the Arab Union. It failed five months later when the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown and Faysal was assassinated. After the revolution in Iraq, Nasser held discussions with the new regime about joining the UAR, but nothing came of them. The American decision to send troops to Lebanon during the 1958 civil war there was, in part, a response to these developments.

Nasser's structural changes and policy measures alienated politically important elements of the Syrian population: the landholders, the middle class, the politicians, and the officer corps. Later changes to state structures, such as abolition of local autonomy and the planned unification of currencies, furthered centralized control, and government policies were based primarily on Egyptian conditions. Dissatisfaction and resentment grew—there was a feeling that, rather than union, the UAR was more like an Egyptian occupation—and there was growing talk of secession. In September 1961 Syrian army officers staged a coup d'état in Damascus, and Nasser decided not to fight it. On 28 September Syria withdrew from the UAR. In December Nasser ended the union with Yemen, which had had no more success than the Syrian experiment. Egypt continued to use the name United Arab Republic until 1971, after Nasser's death.

SEE ALSO Hussein ibn Talal;Nasser, Gamal Abdel;Suez Crisis.

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