The 8th Chapter of “History of West Asia and North Africa in the Twentieth Century” Lecture Series | The Failure of Nasserism and the Emergence of the Palestinian Revolution: 1961-1970

On the afternoon of May 25th, 2021, Prof. Eugene Rogan, Member of the Academic Committee of Institute for International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU), and Professor of Middle East History at the University of Oxford, gave an online lecture on the theme of “The Failure of Nasserism and the Emergence of the Palestinian Revolution: 1961-1970” to the audience, including students from IIAS and other leading academic institutions home and abroad. This lecture is the eighth chapter and the last one in a series of lectures on “History of West Asia and North Africa in the Twentieth Century” and was hosted by Wang Tingyi, Assistant Professor at IIAS.

Prof. Rogan explained that the Middle East in 1970s was full of ideologies. Under the background of the end of colonial rule and the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the new Islamic thoughts of Arab nationalism (Nasserism), Third Worldism, Non-Aligned Movement and Muslim Brotherhood rose one after another, which made the whole region passionate to revolution. This lecture focused on four topics, including the failure of Arab nationalism, the rise of the Palestinian independence movement, the complete end of British and French colonial rule in the the region, and the transformation of Arab countries from revolutionary to authoritarian.

In 1961, due to Syria’s unilateral withdrawal, the United Arab Republic (UAR) composed disintegrated, which dealt a great blow to Arab nationalism advocated by Nasser. Nasser believed that the failure of the UAR was due to the failure of Syria and Egypt to reach the stage of social change required for the union, thus starting socialist reform in Egypt, namely Arab socialism. This further aggravated the conflict between the pro-socialist Arab countries headed by Egypt and the pro-Western Arab countries headed by Saudi Arabia, and caused both sides to be involved in the civil war in Yemen in 1962.

In 1967, the war between Israel and Arab countries resurfaced, and the Third Middle East War (“Six-Day War”) broke out. Due to the lack of preparation and lax morale of Arab countries before the war, it ended in a great victory for Israel. Arab countries suffered heavy losses and lost large areas of territory in the war, which was regarded as a humiliation to the entire Arab world. This war had a great impact on the political situation in the Arab world. The Arab government lost its credibility, and many countries such as Iraq, Libya and Sudan witnessed military coups after the war.

On the other hand, the fiasco of the “Six-Day War” stimulated the rise of the Palestinian liberation movement. In the 15 years after the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948, the Palestine Liberation Movement did not have an organization recognized by the international community. In May 1964, under Nasser’s initiative, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established. Although the organization had many branches and scattered forces in the early days, it marked the beginning of the Palestinian independence movement in an organized manner.

In 1962, after eight years of bloody battles, Algeria finally broke away from French rule and gained independence. In 1967, Britain also withdrew its troops from Aden, which is the last British colony in the Middle East, marking the end of nearly a century of British and French colonial rule in the Middle East. The success of Algeria’s independence movement inspired the Palestinians, and its spirit of national sacrifice and freedom encouraged the development of the Palestinian independence movement.

In 1970, Nasser died of a heart attack. Prof. Rogan pointed out that Nasser’s era showed a beautiful vision for the Arab people. He hoped to achieve Arab national unity, defeat Israel, break away from British and French colonial rule and accomplish real independence and prosperity. His death marked the end of an era. Nasser’s successors Sadat and Mubarak, as well as the rulers of neighboring Arab countries, then implemented authoritarian regimes and were toppled by the “Arab Spring” revolution sweeping the Middle East in 2011.

As the conclusion of this lecture series, Prof. Rogan once again emphasized the importance of history study. He stressed that only by understanding history can we better understand the present. During the Q&A session, Prof. Rogan had heated discussions with the audience and gave insightful answers to a number of questions raised by the audience, including the reasons for the existence of power politics in the Middle East, Britain’s position in the modern Middle East and Arab-Israeli interpretation of the “Six-Day War”.

So far, all eight chapters of “History of West Asia and North Africa in the Twentieth Century” have finished. The host, Wang Tingyi from IIAS, expressed his gratitude to Prof. Rogan and then, audiences took a group photo with Prof. Rogan. This lectures series is rich in information, clear in organization and profound in discussion, and has won unanimous recognition from hundreds of participants at home and abroad.

Professor Eugene Rogan
BA Columbia, MA PhD Harvard, MA Oxford
Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History
Director, St Antony’s College Middle East Centre

Eugene Rogan is Director of the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. He has a B.A. in economics from Columbia, and an M.A. and PhD in Middle Eastern history from Harvard. He taught at Boston College and Sarah Lawrence College before taking up his post in Oxford in 1991, where he teaches the modern history of the Middle East to both undergraduates and graduates as well as providing DPhil supervision. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2017.

He is author of The Arabs: A History (Penguin, 2009, 3rd edition 2018), which has been translated in 18 languages and was named one of the best books of 2009 by The Economist, The Financial Times, and The Atlantic Monthly. His earlier works include Frontiers of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire (Cambridge University Press, 1999), for which he received the Albert Hourani Book Award of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and the Fuad Köprülü Prize of the Turkish Studies Association; The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (Cambridge University Press, 2001, second edition 2007, with Avi Shlaim), which has been published in Arabic, French, Turkish and Italian editions; and Outside In: On the Margins of the Modern Middle East (I.B. Tauris, 2002).

His new book, The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, 1914-1920, was published in February 2015.

Text by: Wang Zijing
Typesetting by: Wang Zijing
Reviewed by: Wang Tingyi & Zhang Yuan