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Arab Cold War

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Arab Cold War
Part of the Cold War
Date23 July 195211 February 1979[a]
(26 years, 6 months, 2 weeks and 5 days)

Federation of Arab Republics
Arab Islamic Republic

United Arab States (1958–1961)

 Arab Federation (1958)

Supported by:
Supported by:
Commanders and leaders

The Arab Cold War (Arabic: الحرب العربية الباردة al-ḥarb al-`arabiyyah al-bāridah) was a political rivalry in the Arab world from the early 1950s to the late 1970s and a part of the wider Cold War. It is generally accepted that the beginning of the Arab Cold War is marked by the Egyptian revolution of 1952, which led to Gamal Abdel Nasser becoming president of Egypt in 1956. Thereafter, newly formed Arab republics, inspired by revolutionary secular nationalism and Nasser's Egypt, engaged in political rivalries with conservative traditionalist Arab monarchies, influenced by Saudi Arabia. The Iranian Revolution of 1979, and the ascension of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as leader of Iran, is widely seen as the end of this period of internal conflicts and rivalry. A new era of Arab-Iranian tensions followed, overshadowing the bitterness of intra-Arab strife.

Nasser espoused secular pan-Arab nationalism and socialism as a response to the perceived complicity of the Arab monarchies in Western interference in the Arab world. He also opposed the monarchies' support of rentierism and Islamism. Later Nasser embraced the Palestinian cause, albeit within the framework of pan-Arabism.[7] After Egypt's political victory in the 1956 Suez Crisis, known in the Arab world as the Tripartite Aggression, Nasser and his associated ideology quickly gained support in other Arab countries, from Iraq in the east to French-occupied Algeria in the west. In several Arab countries, such as Iraq, North Yemen and Libya, conservative regimes were overthrown and replaced by revolutionary republican governments. Meanwhile, Arab countries under Western occupation, such as Algeria and South Yemen, experienced nationalist uprisings aimed at national liberation. At the same time, Syria, which was already strongly Arab nationalist, formed a short-lived federal union with Egypt called the United Arab Republic. Several other attempts were made to unite the Arab states in various configurations, but all attempts were unsuccessful.

Following their independence in the early 1970s the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco, as well as the Gulf states, formed an alliance to directly or indirectly counter Egyptian influence.[8] Saudi Arabia and Jordan, previously rivals over the competing claims of their respective dynasties, worked closely together to support the royalist faction in the North Yemen Civil War. The conflict became a proxy war between Egypt and Saudi Arabia following the establishment of the Nasserist Yemen Arab Republic in 1962.

The term "Arab Cold War" was first used by Malcolm H. Kerr, an American political scientist and Middle East scholar, in his 1965 book of the same name and subsequent editions.[9] Despite its name, the Arab Cold War was not a conflict between capitalist and communist economic systems. In fact, all Arab governments, with the exception of the Marxist government of South Yemen, explicitly rejected communism and banned the activities of communist activists within their territories. Moreover, the Arab states did not seek membership of either NATO or the Warsaw Pact, as the vast majority of them belonged to the Non-Aligned Movement.

The Arab Cold War was linked to the global confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, as the United States supported the conservative monarchies led by Saudi Arabia, while the Soviet Union supported the Egyptian-led republics that adhered to Arab socialism. This was despite the republics' suppression of internal Arab communist movements. The Arab revolutionary nationalist republican movement supported anti-American, anti-Western, anti-imperialist, and anti-colonial revolutionary movements outside the Arab world, such as the Cuban Revolution. In contrast, the Arab monarchist movement supported conservative governments in predominantly Muslim countries such as Pakistan.

The Arab Cold War is thought to have ended in the late 1970s as a result of several factors. The success of the State of Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 undermined the strategic strength of both Egypt and Nasser. The resolution of the North Yemen Civil War, although brokered by Nasser and King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, was a victory for the Egyptian-backed Yemeni Republicans. The intense Egyptian-Saudi rivalry faded dramatically as attention focused on Egypt's efforts to liberate its own territory under Israeli occupation.

After Nasser's death in 1970, Anwar Sadat became president and departed significantly from Nasser's revolutionary platform, both domestically and in regional and international affairs. In particular, Sadat sought to establish a close strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia under King Faisal, which was crucial to Egypt's success in the first part of the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Building on these early successes, Sadat completely distanced himself from Nasserism by ending Egypt's strategic alliance with the Soviet Union and aligning himself instead with the United States. In 1978, he negotiated a peace treaty with the state of Israel that required the removal of all Israeli military personnel and settlers from Egyptian land. Sadat's peace treaty not only alienated Nasserists and other secular Arab nationalists, but also enraged Islamists, who denounced him as an apostate[citation needed]. This eventually led to his assassination by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad in 1981. Egypt was suspended from the Arab League, leading to its virtual isolation in the region. Meanwhile, Islamism grew in popularity, culminating in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. This established Shi'a Iran as a regional power committed to overthrowing the predominantly Sunni governments of Arab states, both republican and monarchical. After the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in the early 1980s, Egypt, still suspended from the Arab League, joined Saudi Arabia in supporting Sunni-led Iraq against Shi'ite Iran. At the same time, the Sunni-Shi'a conflict in other parts of the region, such as Lebanon, became a new proxy conflict between the regional powers of the two Muslim sects.



In 1956, only Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Sudan were republics. All of these Arab states subscribed to some degree to Arab nationalist ideology. Jordan and Iraq were both ruled by Hashemite monarchies. Morocco, Libya, Saudi Arabia and North Yemen had independent dynasties. Algeria, South Yemen, Oman and the Trucial States were either under French colonial rule or British occupation. In 1960, Iraq, Tunisia, Algeria and North Yemen had republican governments or Arab nationalist insurgencies. Meanwhile, Lebanon was experiencing a near-civil war between US-allied government factions and Soviet- and Egyptian-allied Arab nationalist factions.[citation needed]

The dates of the conflicts in this period vary from source to source. Jordanian sources date the beginning of the Arab Cold War to April 1957,[10] while Palestinian sources identify the period from 1962 to 1967 as the most significant for them within a wider Arab context.[11]



The Free Officers Movement overthrew King Farouk during the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. Led by Mohamed Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Free Officers implemented a program to transform Egypt by reducing feudalism, ending British influence and abolishing the monarchy and aristocracy. In 1953 they established Egypt as a republic.[12]

Gamal Abdel Nasser

On 26 July 1956, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal after Britain and the United States withdrew their offer to finance the construction of the Aswan Dam in response to Egypt's new relationship with the Soviet Union. Britain and France then made a pact with Israel to invade Egypt together, but were forced to back down in what became known as the Suez Crisis. Nasser emerged from the crisis with great prestige as the "unchallenged leader of Arab nationalism".[13]

Nasser used various political tools to increase his visibility in the Arab world. These included radio programs such as Voice of the Arabs and the use of politically active Egyptian professionals, often teachers.

Egyptian teachers seconded to Arab states by destination, (1953–1962)[14]
1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961
Saudi Arabia 206 293 401 500 454 551 727 866 1027
Jordan - 8 20 31 56 - - - -
Lebanon 25 25 39 36 75 111 251 131 104
Kuwait 114 180 262 326 395 435 490 480 411
Bahrain 15 15 18 25 25 25 26 28 36
Morocco - - - 20 75 81 175 210 334
Sudan - - - - 580 632 673 658 653
Qatar - 1 3 5 8 14 17 18 24
Libya 55 114 180 219 217 232 228 391 231
Yemen - 12 11 8 17 17 17 14 0
Iraq 76 112 121 136 63 449 - - -
Palestine 13 32 34 37 46 120 166 175 165
Somalia - - 25 23 57 69 90 109 213

In July 1958, the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq was overthrown with the monarchy removed and replaced by an Arab nationalist republic. As a result, the king, crown prince, prime minister and most of the royal family was killed by the nationalist revolutionaries. At the time, the forces supportive to Nasser and nationalism seemed to be gaining strength, while the older Arab monarchies seemed to be in danger.[13] In 1969, the Kingdom of Libya under King Idris was overthrown by the Free Officers Movement of Libya, a group of rebel military officers led by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. In Saudi Arabia, some Saudi princes (led by Prince Talal bin Abdul Aziz) supported Nasser's cause of Arab socialism because of his popularity.[13] In 1962 a Saudi air force pilot defected to Cairo.[13] In 1965 and 1966 there were signs of unrest and subversion, particularly in Saudi Arabia's oil-producing region.[13] In 1969, the Saudi government uncovered a Nasserist plot involving 28 army officers, 34 air force officers, nine other military personnel and 27 civilians.[15][13]

In the early 1960s, Nasser sent an expeditionary army to Yemen to support the anti-monarchist forces in the North Yemen Civil War. The Yemeni royalists were supported by the monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. In December 1962, the Egyptian air force attacked Saudi border towns such as Najran.[13]

By the end of the 1960s, Nasser's prestige had declined due to the political failure of the union between Egypt and Syria, military setbacks in Yemen, where the civil war reached a stalemate despite his commitment of thousands of troops to overthrow the monarchists, and especially against Israel, where Egypt lost the Sinai Peninsula and suffered the loss of 10,000 to 15,000 troops in the Six-Day War. In late 1967, Egyptian President Nasser and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal signed a treaty. According to the treaty, Nasser would withdraw the 20,000 Egyptian troops from Yemen, Faisal would stop sending arms to the Yemeni royalists, and three neutral Arab states would send observers.[16]

Islamic revival


Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had a smaller population than Egypt, it had oil wealth and prestige due to the cities of Mecca and Medina, Islam's two holiest cities. In 1962, Saudi Arabia sponsored an international Islamic conference in Mecca to use Islam as a counterweight to Nasser's Arab socialism. This led to the creation of the Muslim World League, dedicated to spreading Islam and promoting Islamic solidarity. The League was effective in promoting conservative Wahhabi Islam and combating radical foreign ideologies, such as Arab socialism, in the Muslim world.[17]

Petroleum products revenue in billions of dollars per annum for five major Arab petroleum exporting countries. Saudi Arabian production
Years were chosen to show payment for before (1973) and after (1974) the October 1973 War, after the Iranian Revolution (1978-1979), and during the market turnaround in 1986.[18] Iran and Iraq are excluded because their revenue fluctuated due to the revolution and the war between them.[19]

The Islamic revival strengthened throughout the Arab world, especially after the Six-day War. After Nasser's death in 1970, his successor Anwar Sadat shifted the focus to religion and economic liberalization, away from Arab nationalism and socialism. Egypt's military slogan "Land, Sea and Air" was replaced by the Islamic battle cry of Allahu Akbar in the perceived "shattering" defeat in the Yom Kippur War.[20][21] Although the October 1973 war was launched by Egypt and Syria to recover land captured by Israel in 1967, according to French political scientist Gilles Kepel, the "real victors" of the war were the Arab "oil-exporting countries". Their embargo on Israel's Western allies helped the US to pressure Israel to limit its counter-offensive.[22] The political success of the embargo enhanced the prestige of those who imposed it. In addition, the reduction in global oil supply caused the price of oil to rise from US$3 to almost $12 a barrel,[23] increasing the revenues of oil exporters. This gave the Arab oil-exporting states a dominant position within the Muslim world,[22] with Saudi Arabia by far the largest exporter (see bar chart above).[22]

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, which was supported by Saudi Arabia and had been suppressed by the Egyptian government, was allowed to publish a monthly magazine and its political prisoners were gradually released.[24] Islamists gained control of the universities,[25] forcing left-wing and pan-Arab (anti-Sadat) student organizations underground.[26] By the end of the 1970s, Sadat described himself as 'The Believer President'. He banned most alcohol sales and ordered Egyptian state television to interrupt programs in order to broadcast the salat (Islamic call to prayer) five times a day and to increase religious programming.[27]

Conflicts of the Arab Cold War


See also



  1. ^ Some sources variously date the end of the period to c.1990, particularly Yemeni unification, the end of the Lebanese Civil War, the Gulf War or the end of the Western Sahara War. Some sources say present.


  1. ^ a b "The Dhofar Rebellion". countrystudies.us. Archived from the original on 9 April 2016. Retrieved 5 May 2016.
  2. ^ Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli (11 February 2009). "The Iranian Roots of Hizbullah". MEMRI. Archived from the original on 11 February 2009.
  3. ^ Jonathan Chin, Lo Tien-pin and (29 January 2019). "Air force highlights secret North Yemen operations". www.taipeitimes.com. Taipei Times. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  4. ^ Hoagl, Jim (May 28, 1979). "Taiwanese Hired By North Yemen To Fly U.S. Jets". The Washington Post. The Washington Post. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  5. ^ "Northrop F-5E/F in Service with Taiwan". www.joebaugher.com. joebaugher.com. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  6. ^ "DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM A CHRONOLOGY AND TROOP LIST FOR THE 1990–1991 PERSIAN GULF CRISIS" (PDF). apps.dtic.mil. Archived (PDF) from the original on 12 April 2019. Retrieved 2018-12-18.
  7. ^ Sharnoff, Michael (2021-06-01). "Nasser and the Palestinians". Middle East Quarterly.
  8. ^ Gold, Dore (2003). Hatred's Kingdom. Washington, DC: Regnery. p. 75. Even before he became king, Faisal turned to Islam as a counterweight to Nasser's Arab socialism. The struggle between the two leaders became an Arab cold war, pitting the new Arab republics against the older Arab kingdoms.
  9. ^ Writings by Malcolm H. Kerr
    • The Arab Cold War, 1958–1964: A Study of Ideology in Politics. London: Chattam House Series, Oxford University Press, 1965.
    • The Arab Cold War, 1958–1967: A Study of Ideology in Politics, 1967
    • The Arab Cold War: Gamal 'Abd al-Nasir and His Rivals, 1958–1970, 3rd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1971.
  10. ^ Water Resources in Jordan: Evolving Policies for Development, the Environment, and Conflict Resolution, p.250
  11. ^ Bahgat Korany, The Arab States in the Regional and International System: II. Rise of New Governing Elite and the Militarization of the Political System (Evolution) at Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs
  12. ^ Aburish, Said K. (2004), Nasser, the Last Arab, New York City: St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0-312-28683-5, p.35–39
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Gold, Dore (2003). Hatred's Kingdom. Washington, DC: Regnery. p. 75.
  14. ^ Tsourapas, Gerasimos (2016-07-02). "Nasser's Educators and Agitators across al-Watan al-'Arabi: Tracing the Foreign Policy Importance of Egyptian Regional Migration, 1952–1967" (PDF). British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. 43 (3): 324–341. doi:10.1080/13530194.2015.1102708. ISSN 1353-0194. S2CID 159943632. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-07-20. Retrieved 2019-07-05.
  15. ^ Internal Security in Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, Public Record Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, FC08/1483, 1970
  16. ^ "Beginning to Face Defeat". Time. 1967-09-08. ISSN 0040-781X. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved August 26, 2008.
  17. ^ Gold, Dore (2003). Hatred's Kingdom. Washington, DC: Regnery. pp. 75–76.
  18. ^ source: Ian Skeet, OPEC: Twenty-Five Years of Prices and Politics (Cambridge: University Press, 1988)
  19. ^ Kepel, Jihad, 2002: p.75
  20. ^ Murphy, Caryle, Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East: the Egyptian Experience, (Simon and Schuster, 2002, p.31)
  21. ^ Wright, Robin (2001) [1985]. Sacred Rage: The Wrath of Militant Islam. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 64–67. ISBN 0-7432-3342-5.
  22. ^ a b c Kepel, Gilles (2003). Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. New York: I.B. Tauris. p. 69. ISBN 9781845112578. The war of October 1973 was started by Egypt with the aim of avenging the humiliation of 1967 and restoring the lost legitimacy of the two states' ... [Egypt and Syria] emerged with a symbolic victory ... [but] the real victors in this war were the oil-exporting countries, above all Saudi Arabia. In addition to the embargo's political success, it reduced the world oil supply and sent the price per barrel soaring. In the aftermath of the war, the oil states abruptly found themselves with revenues gigantic enough to assure them a clear position of dominance within the Muslim world.
  23. ^ "The price of oil – in context". CBC News. Archived from the original on June 9, 2007. Retrieved May 29, 2007.
  24. ^ Kepel, Gilles. Muslim Extremism in Egypt; the Prophet and Pharoh, Gilles Kepel, p.103–04
  25. ^ particularly al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya
  26. ^ Kepel, Gilles. Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharoh, Gilles Kepel, 1985, p.129
  27. ^ Murphy, Caryle, Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East: The Egyptian Experience, Simon and Schuster, 2002, p.36