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Arab socialism (Arabic: الاشتراكية العربية, Al-Ishtirākīya Al-‘Arabīya) is a political ideology based on an amalgamation of Pan-Arabism and socialism. Arab socialism is distinct from the much broader tradition of socialist thought in the Arab world, which predates Arab socialism by as much as fifty years. The first book on socialism in Arabic, Al-Ishtirākiyya (The Socialism), was published in 1913 by the Coptic Egyptian journalist and reformer Salama Musa (1887–1958), and republished from 1962 onwards. The term "Arab socialism" was coined by Michel Aflaq, the principal founder of ba'athism and the Ba'ath Party, in order to distinguish his version of socialist ideology from the internationalist Marxist socialism in Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia, and the social democracy in Western Europe.
Arab socialism represents a political trend in the Arab world. The intellectual and political influence of Arab socialism peaked during the 1950s and 60s, when it constituted the ideological basis of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party, of the Arab Nationalist Movement and, to a lesser extent, of the Nasserist movement.
For its adherents, Arab socialism was a necessary consequence of the quest for Arab unity and freedom, as only a socialist system of property and development would overcome the social and economic legacy of imperialism and colonialism. At the same time, Arab socialism widely differs from the Eastern Europe and Eastern Asian socialist movements, which were atheist. Unlike their Chinese counterparts, the basis of Arab nationalism is not ostensibly doctrinal, but cultural and spiritual. Thus, the "anti-spiritual" socialism of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia was considered ill-adapted to the Arab World. As with socialist ideologies across the world, there has historically been a strong internationalist tendency in the Arab socialism; however, it was based primarily on anti-imperialism, and non-alignment, particularly during the Cold War.
Nasserist Arab socialism believes that socialism requires public control over the means of production but claims that public control does not necessarily require nationalization of all means of production nor the abolition of private property but that private property should always be subject to public control.
While Arab socialism in its heyday endorsed much of the economic and social programme of Eastern European-style socialism, its divergent intellectual and spiritual foundations imposed some limits on its revolutionary potential: the ownership of the means of production was to be nationalized, but only within the constraints of traditional values such as private property, and inheritance. So-called primitive social structures, such as feudalism, nomadism, tribalism, religious factionalism, and the oppression of women, were to be overcome, but not at the cost of severing the social ties that constituted the Arab identity.
Arguably, the most notable economic manifestations of Arab socialism were the land reforms in Egypt (1952), Syria (1963), and Iraq (1970), and the nationalization of major industries and the banking systems in those countries. In Egypt and Syria, many of these policies were later reversed to some degree from the 1970s onwards. They were more successful in Iraq, possibly due to the country's oil wealth, until the beginning of the Iran–Iraq War in 1980.
Socialism and socialist parties claim that they can bring the full emancipation of women. In socialist ideology and in its modernization theory there is a need to emancipate women in order to create social equality.
Arab Socialism is different from the classical Marxism and Soviet socialism, and the term 'socialism' has been used as a regime consolidation in Arab Socialism. Rather than an ideological belief, ‘socialism’ was used to describe policies conducted out of nationalist and modernizing concerns in Arab socialism. However, because of its affiliation to socialist and modernist ideologies, Arab socialism had a modernist and egalitarian perspective on gender issues, at least in rhetoric.
For instance, the Iraqi Ba’ath Party changed Iraq’s policies and rhetoric positively towards women in order to change economic, social, and political conditions in Iraq. By encouraging women to join the public sphere, especially in the educational system and labour force, the Ba’ath party made an impact on the change of relations between men and women in Iraq.
The ideology of Arab socialism can be understood from Saddam Hussein's words: The complete emancipation of women from the ties which held them back in the past, during the ages of despotism and ignorance, is a basic aim of the Party and the Revolution. Women make up one half of society. Our society will remain backward and in chains unless its women are liberated, enlightened and educated...(1981).
The following is a list of people who have been seen as adherents of Arab socialism, or have been influential within the Arab socialist school of thought, although some of them may not have used the term, or may even have opposed it.
- Hanna, Sami A; Gardner, George H (1969). Arab socialism: a documentary survey. Brill Archive. p. 418.
- Sami A. Hanna, George H. Gardner. Arab Socialism: A Documentary Survey. Leiden, Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1969. Pp. 117.
- Young K., Wolkowitz C., McCullagh R., Of Marriage and the Market, 1984, London:CSE Books
- Pratt, N., Democracy& Authoritarianism in the Arab World, 2007, Colorado:Lynne
- Al-Ali, N. S.,Iraqi Women, 2007, London:Zedbooks
- Maxime Rodinson, Marxism and the Muslim world, Zed Press, 1979, 229 pages, ISBN 978-0-905762-21-0 (transl. from the French reference book Maxime Rodinson, Marxisme et monde musulman, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, 1972, 698 pages)