Issue No. V
June 6, 2011
By Hassan Al-Haifi
This observer recalls on the few days preceding the Six Day War of June 1967 between Israel and the Egyptian, Syrian and the Arab Legion of Jordan, as a high school student in New York City, in a honors history class, we were discussing the current Middle East Crisis that has arisen then. The crisis as Israel and her friends in the Western press were claiming very loudly then was caused by Egypt calling for the withdrawal of the UN Disengagement Forces stationed between the Israeli and Egyptian forces along the Eastern border of the Sinai Peninsula with Israel. Moreover, Egypt has “closed the lifeline” of Israeli shipping at the Strait of Tiran. Of course, Israeli trade through the strait did not even account for 5% of Israeli shipping or international commerce. It is not at all mentioned at the time that the beginning of this “tense” situation actually started in the frontline with Syria, Israeli attacks across Syria have become so common that Syria had sent an SOS to other Arab states to relieve her from these continuous Israeli intrusions and attacks into Syrian territory, which are all documented by the UN Disengagement Forces in the Syrian – Israeli border.
At that time, the political situation of President Gamal Abdul Nasser was beset with many challenges: a third of the Egyptian Armed Forces (the best elements) were bogged down in a military stalemate in Yemen fighting alongside the newly established Yemen Arab Republic, created by the September 26, 1962 Revolution in Yemen, which toppled the Imamate of the Hamid Al-Din Family. The Royalist forces aiding the escaped Imam, supported by Saudi Arabia then, put up a stiff fight against the Egyptian and Republican forces, and this caused a severe strain on an already overburdened quasi socialist economic experiment launched by the Nasser Revolution in Egypt. Syria’s call for help appeared to be a channel of political relief sought by Nasser to bail him out of the embarrassment of the Yemen Expedition and the economic woes at home. By then Egypt has turned into a complex totalitarian military regime, with most of the show run by the Free Officers who led the Egyptian Revolution of 1954, with Nasser dictating the directions of the post King Farouk Egypt and enjoying uncontested political control. Nationalization of private capital and industrial enterprises, as well as most of the agricultural land in Egypt, the war in Yemen and disagreeable relations with many Arab states (on the traditional conservative sphere, like the monarchical states of the region) and the United States, because of recurrent air attacks on Saudi border towns with Yemen, were straining on the Egyptian leader.
The reversion to Arab nationalist causes, was what Nasser had been able to master well and he saw his relief coming by waging a campaign of support for Syria against Israeli attacks. He announced the withdrawal of UN forces and the closing of the Strait of Tiran, in the hope that the international community would get Israel to cease its attacks on Syria and Jordan (to a lesser extent), and Nasser could claim a great victory for the Arab nation. Israel’s calculations saw it differently. The crisis brought on a golden opportunity to expand on the Zionist agenda, make up for the loss of Sinai after the 1956 Tri-partite invasion of Egypt (by the United Kingdom, France and Israel), when Israeli forces were forced to cede the territory they and their allies captured from Egypt by the United States.
By the time of the 1967 crisis, Israel’s armed forces had grown to at least twice the size of the combined forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, that the latter three states could muster up to face to the highly trained and better equipped Israeli forces. For all the bellicose propaganda, which the Egyptian propaganda machine could produce then to arouse the support of the masses for Nasser’s patriotism to Arab nationalist causes, there was never any intention of the Egyptian President and the quickly and haphazardly established unified Arab military command of the three “frontal states” facing Israel to actually begin a military showdown, which any astute military observer would see as being a fiasco for the Arab armies. Of all the three forces combined erratically under a “united command”, perhaps the only force that was of credible standards was the Jordanian forces. Though small in number, they were disciplined and highly trained, compared to the more larger numbers of their fellow Arab forces from Egypt and Syria, who were poor in morale and organizational fitness, as is typical of poor totalitarian authoritarian states. I recall telling my class that the Arab forces did not have any chance of standing up to the Israelis and even showed the statistics of the elements and conditions of both sides and thus predicted that the Arab forces would suffer a humiliating defeat in a matter of days. When the Six Day War ended all my classmates and the teacher applauded my nearly accurate prediction of the outcome. My imprecise outcomes was on the extent of the extension of Israeli territorial control and the hope that the Jordanians could hold off the capture of Jerusalem, as they did in 1948. The Jordanians, even by the admission of Moshe Dayan, then Israeli Minister of Defense, put up a valiant fight, including hand to hand building to building fighting. But with the quick defeat of the Egyptian and Syrian forces, Israel eventually overpowered the brave Arab Legion and was able to occupy the entire West Bank. Egyptian and Syrian ground troops – already a mismatch to the agile and sophisticatedly equipped and trained Israelis – were trampled after the loss of all aerial combat support, when the more superior Israeli air force put most of the anti aircraft defenses and fighter and bomber airplanes of the combating Arab states out of commission in the first few hours of the war. That is what the “naksa” (or humiliating defeat) was all about.
The Naksa was indeed the beginning of the period of what may be called the Arab Demoralization Period, when most of the Arab masses began to realize that all the political nationalistic rhetoric of their leaders for the previous two decades (1950s and 1960s) were no more than empty propaganda that eventually set Arab political and social thinking back half a century. The 1973 War with Israel, did achieve some hope in the ability of the Arabs to confront the “elite Israeli undefeatable forces”, but this hope was never enough to relieve the psychological and spirited demoralization of the Naksa by any means. What made matters worse is that most of the prevailing Arab regimes refused to sense the deep feeling of let down felt by the Arab masses in their Arab leaders. The Arab regimes continued to operate with the same autocratic establishments that brought on the Naksa in the first place. These regimes refused to open up to greater public participation in political and strategic decisions and continued to look down upon their peoples as “subjects” of these regimes. Mismanagement of public affairs coupled with a horrendous corrupt network of small and narrow vested interests, eventually turned all resources (natural and material) of most of the Arab states as if they were the sole property of the tight network of corrupt senior officials and their peons at the lower echelons of the government bureaucracy. In the end, most of the “progressive” Arab governments became either repressive military or totalitarian regimes that had drafted their own versions of the social contract, that had no room for the general Arab public masses as the other party to this contract. Most government services were allowed to plummet to substandard levels and educational and cultural development was purely confined to projects that served to illuminate the governing regimes and to open up avenues for gross misallocation of borrowed or excessively levied internal revenues that went mostly to the pockets of incompetent and inept corrupt officials. The traditional Arab states also suffered from many of the social ills of their progressive counterparts, and even those enjoying vast oil wealth suffered from poor management and abuse of such wealth to furthering the wealth of the ruling families and the elements of the machines that help to keep them in power (military, security and propaganda). All the Arab states suffered from lack of popular involvement and participation in decision making at all levels and thus the overwhelming majority of Arabs were aloof of the governments that supposedly managed their public affairs and resources.
With some of the increased communications that the world was enjoying as the internet and satellite TV reached wider scopes of Arab audiences, most of the more educated and socially and culturally fine tuned elements of Arab youth began to see the causes of most of the pitiful states of the Arab World lying in the oppressive regimes that ruled most of the Arab states. Furthermore, refined Arab media channels like Al-Jazeera helped to enhance political awareness among more educated Arab youth and even suggest that the status quo was simply unbearable, counterproductive and unforgivable by all means. That is why with the first flare of popular mass discontent ignited in Tunisia and more importantly also achieving success in Egypt, the rest of the Arabs would not allow themselves to be left out of the bandwagon. Even the generally wealthy traditional states are either going to have to undertake serious reforms for greater participation by the general citizenry or else face massive protests that could seriously undermine their ability to maintain their tight rule of their peoples. Most educated Arabs have no second thoughts as to the only way to overcome the demoralization of the Naksa and to stand up to Israeli uncontested domination in the state of affairs in the region is through a wide ranging Arab political awakening that would eventually lead to restoration of self confidence and self esteem that would eventually restore the Arab World as an effective role player in laying out the foundations for world peace and more useful and effective international cooperation that works for the benefit of all mankind. The end of the Naksa can really be seen in the not too distant horizons as the current Arab political and social reawakening begins to see more entrenchment throughout the Arab World.