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Religion, Nation, and State in the Middle East: An Overview

Itamar Rabinovich, “Religion, Nation, and State in the Middle East: An Overview.” In: Anita Shapira, Yedidia Z. Stern and Alexander Yakobson (editors), The Nation State and Religion: The Resurgence of Faith, Vol. II (Sussex Academic Press, 2013), pp. 74-84.

In 1961, the Harvard political scientist Nadav Safran published an influential book titled Egypt in Search of Political Community.[1] The book described and analyzed the conflict over Egypt’s identity between contending schools, primarily a liberal-secular territorial concept of the Egyptian state and Arab and Islamist ones. Safran’s terminology and analysis provide an excellent point of departure for an essay seeking to offer an overview of the relationship between nation, religion, and state in the Middle East.

But before proceeding, two notes of caution are in order. The Middle East, a large and diverse region, does not render itself easily to broad generalizations. There have also been considerable changes over time in the interplay between religion, state, nation, and ethnicity in the region and in most if its states.[2] Yet, having said that, it is possible to identify a cycle that was completed in the region over a century: religion was the single most important defining element prior to World War I and through numerous twists and turns, and in a variety of modes, has been regaining its influence.

The Ottoman Empire had been in decline since the late eighteenth century, but until its defeat in World War I and subsequent dismemberment it had at least nominal sovereignty over most of the Middle East. It was an Islamic dynastic state. Most of its population viewed itself as subjects of the Sultan whom they also regarded as Caliph, the head of the Islamic umma. The sultan’s non-Muslim subjects enjoyed considerable autonomy within their millets. The other large Middle Eastern state was Iran, the shi’ite state, the heir to both the Persian Empire and to several Islamic dynasties.

Beginning in the late eighteenth century, and at accelerated pace during the nineteenth century, modern Western political concepts were imported to the Middle East. One of them was the idea and ideology of nationalism. The new concept made inroads among Turks, Arabs, and other ethnic groups, but nationalism as an ideology and organizing principle of political life became fully influential only in the aftermath of the Ottoman Empire’s demise.

The Empire’s former core was transformed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk into a secular, territorial Turkish state. The Turkish republic’s founding father invested a massive effort at eradicating the new state’s and nation’s ties to Islam. He was not fully successful, but the force of his personality and the attachment of his successors to his legacy preserved the Turkish state’s secular character for several decades.

In neighboring Iran, another former general, Reza Shah, after seizing power, tried to reform his country along similar lines. Conditions in Iran, a Shi’ite and a far more diverse country, were different and the country’s modernization unfolded more slowly and with lesser success.

The Arab part of the Middle East proceeded along several tracks: North Africa remained under French (and in Libya, Italian) rule. At the region’s other end, the house of Saud, in league with the Wahabi movement, brought most of the Arabian Peninsula under the rule of the Saudi state. Yemen, under a Zaydi (Shi’ite) Imam, remained a tribal state practically closed off to the outside world. The eastern coastline of the Arabian Peninsula, divided into small emirates and sheikhdoms remained under British rule or influence.

In the core area of the Arab world, Egypt stood out in its proximity to the European model of the nation state. It was an Arabic speaking country with a large Muslim majority, but it clearly had a distinct identity. Its distinctiveness rested on a long, mostly glorious, history of Egyptian statehood, within more or less the same boundaries, with powerful elements of continuity. Egypt had been practically free from Ottoman rule (though not from European influence and control) for more than a century and the sense and ideology of territorial Egyptian nationalism date back to the late nineteenth century.

During the 1920s and 1930s the two major themes in Egyptian politics were the struggle for complete independence from British control and the conflict over Egypt’s identity. For some time, a liberal secular school had the ascendancy and championed the vision of a distinct Egyptian identity, resting on the country’s continuous history and major contribution to civilization, looking westward to the Mediterranean and Europe. But by the end of the 1930s, the end of the “Liberal Age” in Albert Hourani’s terminology,[3] it became clear that the liberal secular school had been defeated by a rival school that viewed Egypt as an Arab-Islamic entity.

In the heart of the Arab world known as the Fertile Crescent (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Mandatory Palestine, and Transjordan) the processes of state formation and state building were much more complex. Several political and ideological forces were operating at cross purposes. In this region, the ideology of Arab nationalism was born prior to World War I and flourished in its aftermath. According to this doctrine, all Arabs were members of the same nation and should be living in one state. The states created by the peace settlement by the early 1920s were thus illegitimate both as obstacles to Arab unity and as products of British and French colonial policy. However, with the passage of time, political establishments and vested interests were created that sought to maintain the existing boundaries.

The doctrine and pan-Arab nationalism found itself at odds not only with the new states but also with competing ideologies and demographic realities. One competing ideology was Islam. For many of Arabism’s supporters, it was considered as distinct from, but commensurate with, Islam, though strict Muslim thinkers objected to any other allegiance. This tension was amplified by the secular streak that had been part of Arab nationalist ideology since its inception. The chief proponents of Arabism’s secular version were Christian Arabs, who played an important role in Arab nationalism’s birth and subsequent development. For most Arab Muslims, Arab nationalism was a natural heir to the Muslim Ottoman Empire; for Christian Arab intellectuals, Arab nationalism, couched in secular terms, was to enable them to participate as equals in a new political community. As Arab nationalism was in practice taken over by Sunni Muslims, the initial rudimentary contribution of Syrian and Lebanese Christian intellectuals was replaced by an elaborate doctrine of secular Arab nationalism. The most notable contribution in this context was made in the 1940s by the co-founder of the Ba’ath Party, Michel Aflaq, who argued that Islam was an important phase in the history of the Arabs, but just a phase.[4]

But Christian Arabs were not the only component of the Fertile Crescent’s population that felt challenged by the Sunni takeover of Arab nationalism. The idea and the movement acquired in fact a Sunni tincture so that Shi’ites and other heterodox Muslims like Alawites, Druzes and Isma’ilies, felt uncomfortable with Arab nationalism’s actual political manifestations, and as citizens of states dominated by it. This was true in Iraq, where Britain vested power with a 20% minority of Sunni Arabs, and in Syria where Sunni Arabs constituted a 60% majority, but a group of minorities – Christians, Kurds, Alawites, Druzes and Isma’ilies – had a problematic relationship with the Sunni Arab nationalist political establishment. For Shi’ites and other heterodox Muslims, Arab nationalism was dominated by the Sunnis and they could not view themselves as equal partners in a state dominated by Arab nationalist ideology and establishment.

The relationship between ethnic groups defined by religious or sectarian affiliations that inhabit the same political space does not fall neatly into the category of “religion and state.” In the absence of a proper English term, Middle Eastern scholarship has borrowed from the French the term “confessionalism.” The term denotes political organization and conduct predicated on religious or sectarian affiliation. The equivalent Arabic term is ta’ifiyya. That term acquired a pejorative connotation. Such was the power of Arab nationalist ideology that all speakers of Arabic were considered as Arabs and presumably equals, and any attempt to point to differences based on religious or sectarian fault lines, let alone to organized political action along such lines, was denounced as political heresy.

The one notable exception to this was Lebanon, whose political system was built by the French along confessional lines. The Lebanese state was constructed by the French as a consociational democracy, and political power was divided between the major religious groups according to their numerical strength. Hegemony in Lebanon was given to the Christian communities and specifically, to the Maronites. In 1943, the Sunni leadership finally agreed to accept this arrangement and a “National Pact” signed between the Maronites and the Sunnis laid the basis for Lebanese independence and for almost thirty years of a functioning parliamentary democracy.

The discomfort felt by members of ethnic and religious groups in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (where Greek Orthodox Christians resented Maronite hegemony) provided the demographic base for the rise and spread of radical, transformational, political movements: communists in Iraq, Ba’athists across the region, and Syrian Social Nationalists in Syria and Lebanon. The SSNP (or PPS in the French acronym) was the bitter rival of the Ba’ath. While the latter attracted minoritarians by offering a secular version of Arab nationalism, the PPS elaborated and advocated a doctrine of secular, territorial Syrian nationalism. According to this doctrine, greater Syria was a natural entity that has existed throughout history and has been the home of the Syrian nation. Syria’s partition was an illegitimate act of European colonialism and the states and entities thus created – Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Transjordan – were illegitimate entities destined to be incorporated into a future Syrian state.

These tensions did not manifest themselves fully in the inter-War period. Like other important issues, they were overshadowed by the period’s dominant theme – colonial rule and the struggle for independence. It was only in the late 1940s and the 1950s, the decade of decolonization, when most Arab states became fully independent, that domestic conflicts over the nature of the political community that should inhabit them, unfolded fully. The cardinal trend during this new phase was the product of two interrelated developments: the first was the Egyptian revolution of 1952 and Gamal Abdul Nasser’s emergence as a messianic leader in Egypt and across the Arab World; the second, Nasser’s successful quest to turn Egypt into the leader of the Arab world and to impose his vision of revolutionary pan-Arab nationalism across the region. This trend culminated in 1958 when Syria gave up its independent existence and entered into a union with Egypt (the United Arab Republic) and the Hashemite regime in Iraq was overthrown by a military coup.

In its early days, Nasser and his associates (the Free Officers Movement) had a relationship with the radical Muslim Brotherhood (founded in 1928), but as time went on the partnership frayed and the partners became bitter enemies. Nasser drew close to and became an ally and eventually a client of the Soviet Union and his domestic policies adopted an ideology of Arab Socialism. Nasserism was not anti-Islamic or particularly secular, but it clearly put the emphasis on Nationalism rather than on religion.

Nasserism declined during the 1960s with the coup de grace the military defeat against Israel in 1967. Nasser himself died in 1970 and his death accel-erated Arabism’s decline. In 1978, in a classic essay, Fouad Ajami announced the “End of Pan-Arabism.”[5]

A direct line can be drawn from Arabism’s decline to what Bernard Lewis, in another famous essay, termed “the Return of Islam.”[6] As Lewis observed, Islam did not in fact “return” because it had never left. It has always been there and when it became clear that Arabism and other ideologies could not provide the answer to the Arab world’s predicament, first and foremost the dual challenge of modernity and the West, the Islamist option and Islamist movements came to the fore.

Their first success in actually capturing power was in Iran in 1979. The Iranian Revolution had since tried to export itself to other parts of the region, but its success was limited by its Shi’ite identity, Arab-Iranian tensions, and as time went by, its own excesses.[7]

The limits of the Iranian Revolution notwithstanding, the last thirty years have seen a completion of the cycle mentioned above and a resurgence of Islam’s (and other religions’) political power and influence and a transformation of the relationship between religion, state, and political community that had prevailed in the Middle East a few decades ago.

Iran itself is the first state in the Middle East to have become a theocracy, in that supreme authority in the state is held by the supreme leader, and the Shi’ite clerical establishment wields considerable power. But the Islamic Republic has not turned Iran into a purely Islamic state. Iran’s population includes several large ethnic minorities, though the Iranian state, under an Islamic patina, remains also a repository of Iranian nationalism and an heir of a great imperial tradition. Under the rule of the Islamic regime a large and vibrant civil society continues to live its life. The Islamic republic’s quest to export its revolution and message and to reshape the politics of the Middle East provides a useful lens into the relationship between religion and state among both its allies and adversaries.

The one success Iran had in exporting its revolution has been in Lebanon, where, in concert with Syria, it has built Hezbollah, literally “The Party of God,” into the single most powerful force in the Lebanese arena. In fact, Hezbollah often seems to be more powerful than the Lebanese state. Hezbollah is a complex entity – a Lebanese political party, an Islamic Shi’ite movement, a powerful paramilitary force, and ultimately, an arm of the Iranian regime.[8] On one level, Hezbollah plays in the familiar Lebanese arena of confessional politics and seeks a larger share of the Lebanese political pie for the Shi’ite community. In this context it represents a legitimate grievance by challenging the under representation of the Shi’ite community. But Hezbollah also challenges the whole system by threatening to take it over either in the short term by force or in the long term through demography. A thin line separates confessionalism from religious politics. The Maronite Church has for a long time been a major actor in Lebanese and Maronite politics alongside secular politicians. In its days of humility, the Shi’ite community had been led by secular politicians. Its path toward current prominence began with the leadership of Imam Musa Sadr, “the Vanished Imam.”[9] The current crisis in Syria and Iran’s confrontation with a large part of the international community may have an adverse effect on Hezbollah’s standing in Lebanon, but if these do not, Lebanon may well continue its drift from a confessional state to being dominated by a religious Shi’ite movement.

In Syria, Iran’s closest ally in the Middle East, it has also become impossible to separate confessionalism from religion. In the early years of Syrian independence a controversy erupted over Islam’s formal position in the Syrian state between leaders of the Christian community (roughly 10% of the population) and a variety of Sunni leaders. The latter wanted the Syrian constitution to state simply, as do most constitutions in the Arab world, that Islam was the state’s religion. The Christian spokesmen objected fiercely, arguing that this would turn them into second class citizens. A compromise was finally reached according to which the president of the state would be Muslim and Islamic law would serve as the main source of legislation. This formula was repeated in subsequent versions of the constitution and was retained by the Ba’ath regime when it came to power in 1963.

The over-representation of members of heterodox Shi’ite groups (Alawites, Druzes and Isma’ilies) in both the Syrian officers’ corps and the Ba’ath Party resulted in an over-representation in the leadership in a Ba’athi military regime. Confessionalism became a governing issue in Syrian politics. In time, the Alawites pushed out the Druzes and Isma’ilies and established their own hegemony. This was resented by the Sunni majority that felt disenfranchised and dispossessed. To boot, many among the Sunni ‘Ulama (men of religion) and their followers did not consider the Alawites as proper Muslims and objected to being ruled by what they regarded as a non-Islamic government.

The issue was exacerbated after November 1970 when Hafez al-Assad took control of the regime and became Syria’s president. The Syrian opposition now argued that since the Alawites were not proper Muslims, Assad’s presidency was non-constitutional and thus illegal (and, of course, illegitimate).

This issue was woven into the alliance between Syria and Iran that was established in 1979. The two regimes were bound together by a variety of strategic and political interests. One of them had to do with religion. The Ayatollah Khomeini recognized the Alawites in Lebanon as part of the Shi’ite community. He thus established that Alawites were proper Muslims and, by implication, that Hafez al-Assad was a legitimate president.

The exercise failed to impress the jihadi wing of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Like the Egyptian jihadis, and at about the same time, they came to the conclusion that the mainstream of the Muslim Brotherhood and the official religious establishment became too quiescent, that their opposition to a heretical regime was stale. Instead, they decided to resort to violence and terrorism. After a thorough preparation, they launched an armed rebellion in 1979 that was only quashed in 1982. The Islamic rebellion against Assad’s regime is mostly remembered through the massacre that was perpetrated in al-Hama in 1982, but the extent and tenacity of the rebellion in other cities, Aleppo in particular, was most impressive.

The brutal suppression exacerbated the Sunni majority’s animosity toward the regime, but during the next three decades the regime did not encounter serious opposition. It was able to break the backbone of the opposition and to deter both active opponents and their more passive supporters. By building partnerships and alliances with members of the old urban elite of Damascus and Aleppo and through its exploits in foreign policy, the regime seemed to acquire a degree of legitimacy. It was able to cross the problematic succession from father to son in 2000, as well as Bashar al-Assad’s unimpressive first years in office. The outbreak of the opposition to the regime in March 2011 and its persistence and expansion came, therefore, as a surprise.

The opposition to the regime is conducted under the banners of “Democracy and Justice,” and is in that regard a by-product and a part of the “Arab Awakening.” But it did not take long for the conflict between the regime and its opponents to become a sectarian conflict. Some of the regime’s domestic foes and external critics (such as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi through al-Jazeerah) launched their denunciation campaign of the regime as a regime of infidels early on. As the demonstrations against the regime persisted, and the security forces kept killing demonstrators, the conflict came to be and to be seen as a struggle between a mostly Sunni population and an Alawite dominated regime. In mixed cities like Homs, a sectarian conflict erupted between Sunni and Alawites. The Muslim Brotherhood is one component of the organized political opposition. Much is not known about the opposition, and about the Muslim Brotherhood’s relative weight within it. But some of the trepidation apparent inside and outside Syria with regard to the ongoing rebellion derives from the fear that as in Egypt and Tunisia the most likely alternative to the current regime would be Islamist.

Iraq prior to 2003 seemed like a mirror image of Syria. Under the banner of a rival branch of the Ba’ath Party, a Sunni Arab minority of some 20% dominated a majority of 60% Shi’ite Arabs and 20% Sunni Kurds. Iraq’s political history was rife with sectarian and ethnic conflicts, but Sadam Hussein’s totalitarian regime kept a tight lid over the country’s political system. The lid was cracked during the first Gulf War in 1991 and removed by the American invasion in 2003.

The 2003 war created a new political order in Iraq. The Kurdish north is fully autonomous and in the rest of the country power has shifted from Sunni to Shi’ite hands. This transfer of power could be described as a matter of confessionalism rather than as religious politics with two caveats. The Shi’ite community’s empowerment has put a new team of Shi’ite politicians at the top echelon of the Iraqi state but has also given direct and indirect influence to the community’s religious leadership. Iraq is far from being stable and in the conflict over its future foreign powers play an important role. Two of Iraq’s neighbors, Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, are investing massive efforts in shaping the Iraqi state according to their respective agendas.

The Saudi-Iranian duel in Iraq is part of a larger conflict over the shape of the Middle East. It is a conflict between a Shi’ite and a Sunni state (with a significant Shi’ite minority), a radical revisionist regime and a conservative one, and an Islamic republic dominated by Shi’ite clerics and a monarchy still based on a partnership between a (huge) royal house and the Wahabi movement. In both cases, appearances can be misleading. In Iran, under the supreme leader and the Shi’ite clerical establishment, other forces are holding considerable power within the regime, while the large, vibrant, civil society pursues its life within codes and restrictions imposed by the state.

Saudi Arabia remains in many respects an extremely conservative Islamic state, but large parts of the governing structure, the society and the economic system have been modernized under the impact of the huge oil revenues. It is a complex entity rich in contradictions and it has taken the dexterity of able kings and princes to preserve a viable balance. One way of mollifying the religious establishment, unhappy with creeping domestic modernization and secularization, has been the promotion of the most conservative Muslim groups in the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world, such as Pakistan. The result is a bifurcated foreign policy. Saudi Arabia is on several levels a pro-Western country, supporting and shoring up pro-Western conservative (or moderate) regimes, but the same Saudi Arabia, either directly through organs of the state or indirectly through apparently private foundations, preaches radical Islam in madrasas in Pakistan and extends support to the Egyptian Salafis.

Contemporary Egypt remains a crucial arena of conflict between Islamist and secular forces over the identity of the most important Arab state. During several decades, the Muslim Brotherhood and its jihadi offshoot, constituted the most significant opposition to Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. The movement which toppled Mubarak’s regime in early 2011 was started and initially led by secular, reformist, pro-democracy activists, but when parliamentary elections were held, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis won a large majority. The victory was preceded by the electoral victory of the Islamist Nahda in Tunisia.

Several important questions regarding future trends in Egypt have yet to be answered. Will the army’s leadership allow the Islamists to wield real power? Will a new constitution be drafted and what role would it assign to Islamic Law? Will the new order in Egypt assign proper space and status to the Christian Coptic population? The answers to these questions will resonate throughout the region and will have a crucial impact on the future course of the Arab Spring.

In and outside Egypt the question has been raised whether the “Turkish model” could and would be adopted in Egypt as a way out of the current confusion. The term “Turkish model” refers to the apparent success of the current AKP government in Turkey in reconciling its Islamic orientation with a functioning parliamentary democracy (dotted with authoritarian elements), economic success and a strong regional and international position.

Egypt’s prospects of achieving a comparable success are limited, but Erdogan’s success in Turkey is indisputable. Ataturk’s policy of secularization had never transformed the whole of Turkish society and strong Islamist elements had persisted through the twentieth century. After his death, his legacy has been kept by the army, the judiciary and parts of the urban elite but they had to wage a continuous struggle against a variety of Islamist opponents, backed by widespread popular currents who sought to restore the Islamic character of Turkish society and politics.

In 1996, Necmettin Erbakan, head of the Reform Party, took advantage of the excesses and divisiveness of the secular politicians and parties and formed an Islamic government. His attempt to implement his ideology led the army to push him out in 1997. Subsequently, the Constitutional Court excluded him and his party from political life. But a few years later, in 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan obtained a plurality in parliamentary elections and formed a government. He learned the lessons of Erbakan’s failure and moved slowly and gradually. A cunning politician, he implemented his ideology quietly and incrementally, and managed to disempower and emasculate his opponents, first and foremost the military. In subsequent elections, he turned his plurality into a large majority and he is now the unquestioned master of Turkish politics. Turkey remains a Turkish national state with a much more salient reliance on its Ottoman past, and its domestic politics and foreign policy are shaped by an Islamic orientation. It is moot to ask what direction the Turkish state would have followed had the European Union been willing to accept it into its ranks.

Israelis tend to see themselves (and to be seen by their neighbors) as being part of Middle Eastern geography but not its political culture. Yet, in fact Israel too is affected by a complex of relationships between state and religion and major difficulties in defining the nature of a political community that inhabits the Jewish State. And in Israel too religion has come to play a much more prominent role in politics than it had in its first decades.

Zionism was born as a secular movement seeking to shape the Jewish People into a modern nation and settle it in a national state in its ancestral homeland. This was accomplished in the face of opposition by Judaism’s ultra-Orthodox wing and with marginal participation by a religious-Zionist current. During Israel’s first three decades it was mostly the religious Zionist parties that played an important role in government coalitions. The ultra-Orthodox took part in Ben Gurion’s first government and then shunned participation until Menachem Begin’s electoral victory in 1977. The young state’s founding father, David Ben Gurion, decided not to grapple with the complex relationship between religion and state and decided not to draft a constitution. Israel was seen, and saw itself, as “a” (or “the”) Jewish State, but the term Jewish referred in this context to Jewish “peoplehood” rather than religion. In reality, this distinction is complex and often difficult to comprehend, since Jewish ethnicity is predicated in part on religion.

During the early years of Israeli statehood a set of agreements and arrangements was arrived at, that governed the relationships between (Jewish) religion and state. This has been termed as “the status quo.” But over the years, the role of religion in Israel’s public and political life was amplified by two principal developments. One has been the rapid demographic growth of the ultra-Orthodox community and the related growth in the power of the political parties that represent it. The second has been the rise of a messianic movement among the national religious youth in the aftermath of the 1967 War, which led to the formation of Gush Emunim (“The Block of the Faithful”), which played a major role in the settlement project in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. For the leaders and supporters of this movement, this was seen as a historic moment: it was their turn to take the lead in implementing the second phase of the Zionist revolution and incorporate the other parts of the historic homeland – Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip – into the State of Israel. The bulk of the settlers view themselves as the vanguard of the current phase of the Zionist revolution, but their radical fringe views the Land of Israel as paramount to the State of Israel. The conflict between secular and Orthodox, and the debate over the future of the West Bank, are two of the most important issues on Israel’s political agenda.

But the debate over the nature of the Israeli state is not limited to its Jewish citizens. Almost 20% of Israel’s population is Arab. Historically they had been referred to as “Israeli Arabs,” but they have been undergoing a process of Palestinization, and more recently have been referring to themselves as Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. The political and intellectual leadership of Israel’s Arab minority rejects the current definition and self-view of the Israeli state and would like to replace it with what is commonly known as a “state of all its citizens.” These trends are matched by a powerful current in the Israeli political system that has turned hostility to the aspirations of the Arab minority and to the radicalism of its leadership into its own battle cry. Successive Israeli governments had failed to grapple with the roots of this issue and have preferred to deal with its manifestations. The need to define the relationship between majority and minority in Israel is a challenge that still confronts the State of Israel.[10]

Israel’s Palestinian protagonists do not have a state of their own but they do have a political system and they do control part of the West Bank and the whole of the Gaza Strip. Palestinian nationalism has from the outset been a classical national movement formed by the conflict with its Zionist and Israeli adversary. But from an early stage Islam has been an important component of Palestinian nationalism, despite the role played in it by members of the Christian minority. The movement’s first leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was the Mufti of Jerusalem and he relied on Islam in order to mobilize his own community and external supporters. More recently, Yasser Arafat, in many respects his successor and a member of his family, had been affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood before founding and building his own movement, the Fatah, and becoming the leader of Palestinian nationalism. More recently, the secular Fatah has been challenged by Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006 and eventually took over the Gaza Strip, where it established its own Islamist government.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict began as a national conflict, a conflict between two national movements contending over the rights to and control of the same territory. Due to the religious component in both national movements, there has always been a religious dimension to the conflict. More recently, as Islam began to play a more important role in Palestinian nationalism and religion, as Iran and Turkey, two Muslim non-Arab countries had come to play a role in the conflict with Israel, and as religion has come to play a more prominent role in Israeli politics, the Arab–Israeli conflict has become more of an Arab-Jewish conflict and, in many respects, a Muslim-Jewish conflict as well.



[1] Nadav Safran, Egypt in Search of Political Community: An Analysis of the Intellectual and Political Evolution of Egypt, 18041952 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961).

[2] Ethnicity, Pluralism and the State in the Middle East, eds. Milton J. Esman and Itamar Rabinovich (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988).

[3] Albert H. Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962).

[4] Arab Nationalism: An Anthology, ed. Sylvia G. Haim (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962).

[5] Fouad Ajami, “The End of Pan-Arabism,” Foreign Affairs 57/2 (1978/79): 355–373.

[6] Bernard Lewis, “The Return of Islam,” Commentary 61 (January 1976): 39–49.

[7] Shaul  Bakhash,  The  Reign  of  the  Ayatollahs:  Iran  and  the  Islamic  Revolution (New York: Basic Books, 1984).

[8] Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009).

[9] Fouad Ajami, The Vanished Imam: Musa al Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986).

[10] Yitzhak Reiter, National Minority, Regional Majority: Palestinian Arabs versus Jews in Israel (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2009); Elie Rekhess, The Arab Minority in Israel: An Analysis of the ‘Future Vision’ Documents (American Jewish Committee, Dorothy and Julius Koppelman Institute on American Jewish-Israeli Relations, April 2008).