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Arab Socialism


political philosophy advocating governmental and collective ownership of the means of production and distribution.

Arab socialism emerged as a result of colonialism in the Middle East coupled with the corruption and underdevelopment characteristic of Arab societies at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was not until the late 1940s that Arab thinkers began writing about the socialist option. Among the major parties and movements that emerged as a result of this effort were the Arab Renaissance Socialist party (al-Baʿth) and the movement called the Free Officers, led by President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. The aims of Arab socialism were to free the Arab world from Western colonial rule, to establish pride and social justice within Arab societies, and to unify the Arab world.

Arab socialism emerged at a time when liberation movements were sweeping developing countries, so self-determination and tight controls against multinational corporations and their exploitation of local resources became a major priority. Arab socialism rejected Marxism and class struggle as basic tenets; it promoted cooperation between classes for the welfare of the entire community, based on the principles of justice and the equal distribution of wealth, with government provisions for the poor and underprivileged.

Agrarian reform and land redistribution were important goals. The nationalization of industries provided the government with funds, but some forms of private property were retained if they were in the national interest. In Egypt, under the radical economic policies adopted by Nasser, nationalization hit French and British economic interests first. Then, in 1960, banks, newspapers, most foreign assets, industrial and mining industries, and export-import businesses were all nationalized. The land reform promulgated in 1952 had set limits on land ownership, and in 1960 these were cut in half, to 100 feddan. These same nationalization policies were also applied in Algeria, Libya, and Iraq, with tighter government control of the petroleum and gas industries. In the 1990s, several Arab regimes whose economic policies had been inspired by Arab socialism attempted to liberalize some sectors of their economies. These efforts were not always successful and faced stiff resistance from the bureaucracy.

In foreign policy, Arab socialism advocated a constant struggle against imperialism and Zionism. Support for the Palestinians' cause became a major issue, especially for Nasser. He and other Arab revolutionary leaders used the Palestinian issue to enhance their own power and legitimacy. Non-alignment and support for liberation movements were also goals of Arab socialist regimes. After the defeat of Arab armies by Israel in 1967, after Nasser's death in 1970, and after a bitter rivalry between the two sections of the Baʿth Partyone in Syria and the other in IraqArab socialism lost much of its appeal. Lack of democracy, corrupt and huge bureaucracies, and the emergence of a new class composed of bureaucrats and army officers all contributed to the end of Arab socialism.

In the Middle East, a few political parties and regimes still claim inspiration by Arab socialism. These are the Arab Socialist Union in Egypt; the Sudanese Socialist Union in Sudan; the People's General Congress of the Socialist Jamahiriya of Libya; the National Liberation Front of Algeria; the Baʿth Party in Syria; the Revolutionary Socialist Party in Somalia; the socialist parties of Yemen, including the People's Socialist Party; and the Des-tour Party of Tunisia.

see also baʿth, al-; colonialism in the middle east; free officers, egypt; imperialism in the middle east and north africa; palestine; nasser, gamal abdel; zionism.


Brynen, Rex; Korany, Bahgat; and Noble, Paul, eds. Political Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World, 2 volumes. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1995.

Goode, Stephen. Prophet and the Revolutionary: Arab Socialism in the Modern Middle East. New York: Watts, 1975.

Hopwood, Derek. Egypt: Politics and Society 19451984. Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1985.

El-Kikhia, Mansour O. Libya's Qaddafi: The Politics of Contradiction. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.

George E. Irani

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