Issawi, Charles
April 1965
Foreign Affairs;Apr1965, Vol. 43 Issue 3, p501
This article discusses the traditional society of Arab countries and the revulsion of the Arabs against Western political and economic values and ideologies. Arab society in the eighteenth century had very few virtues. Its economy was not only stagnant but actually retrogressing. Its politics were characterized by venality, rapacity, insecurity and oppression. Its intellectual and artistic life was barren. Worst of all, it lived in a self- satisfied lethargy, completely isolated from the outside world. But it had one redeeming feature, the obverse of some of its defects: it was a stable, integrated society. Arab society was not completely static. Economic and social changes occurred in Syria and Iraq in the eighteenth century. The Egyptian scholar, Shayyal, already quoted, states that: Towards the close of the eighteenth century we detect the first signs of a spontaneous cultural revival. It was an internal movement which emerged from within Egypt away from any outside influence whether from the East or from the West. The shift in Arab ideologies becomes quite intelligible. For a long time, until the 1920s or 1930s, the dominant ideas were those of moderate nationalism, constitutionalism and political and economic liberalism. The reasons for this are obvious. First, these were the dominant ideologies of the leading powers--Great Britain, France and the U.S.--and to them was given full credit for the prosperity of these countries and their victory in the First World War. Second, Arab cultural contacts were almost entirely restricted to these three countries. Third, liberalism and constitutionalism suited the Arab upper and middle classes,since they controlled parliaments, parties and the press.


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