On this day: The United Arab Republic

February 22 1958: an Arab super-state?

By Jennifer Lipman, February 22, 2011

The pan-Arab dream, which saw old rivals Egypt and Syria join forces, only lasted three years. It collapsed in 1961 when Syria abandoned it, although Egypt retained the title for another decade.

The United Arab Republic (UAR) partnership came about for many reasons, not least to limit the influence of communist-leaning politicians in Syria.

With support from North Yemen and elsewhere, for a time it appeared the union could be the start of a new Middle East.

But the union also caused concerns, in the West and Israel unsurprisingly, but also in other Arab states like Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. After the Hashemite monarchy was overthrown by military officers it seemed Iraq could also join, but the UAR never grew to the size its founders wished.

During the years of the republic, citizens were “Arabs” rather than Syrians or Egyptians. But with its capital in Cairo and Nasser - a hero across the Arab world in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis of 1956 - as president , the UAR was from the outset dominated by Egypt.

Senior political roles were never given to Syrians, while opposition to the union grew in the country. Economic difficulties further damaged the union, but ultimately it was the Syrian officers’ coup of September 1961 that triggered its collapse.

What the JC said: Undoubtedly, the most dangerous man in the Middle East today from both the Western and Israeli points of view (and are not their interests virtually identical?) is still Colonel Nasser. But he is not another Salafin and it remains doubtful whether he will have the ability to unite the Middle East under his leadership. If he did, the danger to Israel would clearly increase, though in any event, as Mr Ben Gurion has said, his country must remain ever watchful against potential danger.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 9:02am, February 22 2011