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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: March 2016

III - National independence, guerrilla war and social revolution, 1952–1976



It is difficult to do justice to the energies, the forms of solidarity, and the idealism of the period from the 1950s to the 1970s because contentious mobilization seemed either to dead-end in conservative monarchy, as on the Arabian peninsula, or give rise to corrupt and authoritarian rule, as in much of the rest of the region. It is easy to forget, in the wake of failure and repression, that the mobilizing projects of this period were, for so many, instruments of national liberation and socio-economic uplift. We might do well to remember the judgment of Jacques Berque, who believed that this period involved ‘the most violent, and yet deliberate, effort ever made by man to break the chains of weakness, poverty and colour’ (Berque 1972: 26). The importance of ideas that were untarnished by history, and that appeared new and powerful, and were thus able to exact normative commitment, is one of the important casualties of hindsight, because it is hard to see how ideas that go on to be discredited could once have commanded intense commitment. The passage of time can fool us as to the importance of initial normative commitments in another way. Where vested interests and group loyalties grow up around meaningful, activist ideas over time, the actual role that ideal interests play starts to diminish, making the latter easier to discredit as having all along been mere instruments in the hands of those who sought power. But this is to put the cart before the horse, and to forget the role played by normative commitments and ideas especially in the early stages of a mobilizing project. The protagonists at the time, just as in previous periods, did not have the gift of hindsight. They read their situation in terms of the present and the past as it was known to them. They responded to the deepening political crisis that reigned in the 1940s and 1950s. Many searched for solutions that could avoid the mistakes of the generation of 1919, those who failed to lead the nation to true independence: Sa'd Zaghlul and Nahhas Pasha in Egypt, Nuri Al-Said in Iraq, Shukri Al-Quwwatli in Syria, Ferhat Abbas in Algeria, and Hajj Amin Al-Husseini in Palestine. The older political generation of 1919 was now confronted with the generation of 1948.