Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Guest Post by Matt Mitrovich: Arab Union

The Arab Union celebrated its 97th anniversary this month, its birthday being the day the Arab Revolt (1916-1918) began against the Ottoman Empire. Initiated by the Sherif Hussein bin Ali, patriarch of the Hashemite family and Sharif and Emir of Mecca, to stop an increasingly nationalistic Ottoman Empire and secure an independent Arab state. To do this Hussein secured an alliance with the United Kingdom who promised to recognize the Arab independence in an area running from the 37th parallel near the Taurus Mountains on the southern border of Turkey, to be bounded in the east by Persia and the Persian Gulf, in the west by the Mediterranean Sea and in the south by the Arabian Sea.

Buoyed by defections of Arab units to the rebel’s cause, armies led by Hussein's sons, the Emirs Ali and Faisal, drove the Ottomans north ending the Revolt with the capture of Damascus. The city became the coordinating center of the Arab nationalist movement, as it was seen as the birthplace of the ideology and soon the official capital of the Arab Union in 1919 with the first elections for the National Congress.

The existence of the Arab Union was in doubt in its first years. Despite the promises the British made to Hussein, the UK had also promised to divide the former territories of the Ottoman Empire with France in the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement. Fear of fighting the well-organized and battle-hardened Arab armies, along with lobbying from Arab Revolt veteran T.E. Lawrence and pressure from the United States to prevent the spread of European Imperialism, the British government eventually chose to honor their promises to Hussein. France was mollified thanks to a generous trade agreement that would prevent the British from squeezing them out of the Middle East entirely.

With its independence secured from foreign threats, the nascent Union now had to deal with domestic issues that threatened to tear it apart. At this stage Arab nationalism was not yet a mass movement, even in Syria where it was strongest. Many Arabs gave their primary loyalty to their religion or sect, their tribe, or their own particular governments. In fact many of the tribes that had fought for the Hashemites in the Arab Revolt had done so because of British gold instead and not ideological reasons.

There was also the competing ideology of Pan-Islamism which found a patron in the powerful and fundamentalist Saud family who controlled the Sultanate of Nejd. Furthermore, the Arab Union had inherited a large number of minorities, such as the Copts, Berbers, Turks, Jews, Iranians, Maronites and others who feared they would be discriminated against in a new Union ruled predominantly by Arab Muslims.

The Hashemites worked to provide a more liberal, secular, and pro-British alternative that most Arabs and the other religious and ethnic groups could accept. In 1920, the National Congress approved a new constitution that created a constitutional monarchy under the Hashemites with Hussein becoming the first King. Encouraged by his sons, Hussein in 1924 established the Sharifian Caliphate and abdicated all of his secular titles (including King of all Arabs) to his eldest son Ali. Ali would reign until 1935 when he was succeeded by 'Abd al-Ilah. He reigned until 1980 when he was succeeded by his son Ali II, who is the current monarch of the Union. Relations between the Crown and the Caliph have usually been cordial, but separate, allowing non-Muslims to feel they had a voice whenever they felt pressure from the Islamic majority.

Although Ali was King, his more active, younger brothers came to be the power behind the throne and helped build the strong federation the Arab Union would become. Faisal bin Hussein sought to create an Arab government based on justice and equality for all Arabs regardless of religion. Faisal fostered unity between Sunni and Shiite to promote pan-Arabism. As leader of the Arab Independence party (a leftist party with socialist principles and strongly opposed Western political involvement in the Arab world), Faisal tried to diversify the government by including different ethnic and religious groups in political offices. Though Faisal was a descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, Arab nationalism and independence, not religion, was his main motivation. He even managed to have Congress approve the controversial Faisal–Weizmann Agreement that allowed Jewish immigration in Palestine. Jewish settlement in the region remained a trickle until Nazi persecution of European Jews escalated.

Faisal’s brother Abdullah, however, was more of an autocrat and headed the monarchist faction, known as Sharifian party. It was named after the old supporters of Sharif Hussein and was made up of larger number of Revolt veterans who distrusted the young, idealists who had come to power in Damascus. The Sharifian party also had the support of some of the richest and most powerful men in Arabia who opposed the reforms of the Arab Independents that sought to abolish what they called “feudalism”. The Sharifian party eventually took control of the National Congress in the next election. Abdullah, however, was still more moderate then the Pan-Islamist alternative parties in the Congress and worked with his brother Faisal to help push through various comprises that kept the Union together.

The Arab Union slowly expanded over the 1920s. In 1922, to avoid a potentially bloody revolt in Egypt, the British let the country join the Union, as long as the Suez Canal remained under British control. In 1925, the Arab Union and its ally Al Rashid united the Arabian Peninsula after the Sultanate of Nejd was defeated and annexed, driving the Saud family into exile. This was a major blow to Pan-Islamism, but it couldn’t have been accomplished without arms from Europe which worried many Arab nationalists. Throughout the rest of the 1920s and 30s the Arab Union sought to secure its economic independence from Europe by investing profit made from oil exports into local industry. Funds were also used to develop desert motor routes and pipelines as new oil fields were discovered.

Although the Union managed to weather the Great Depression better than most parts of the world, it did not escape the political changes the economic crisis caused. A new political party arose known as the Renaissance Party, which combined fascism with an extreme version of Arab nationalism. The Renaissance Party opposed the liberal Arab Independence Party and considered the Sharifian party traitors. They gained strong support in Palestine by demanding the end of all Jewish settlement there and in many rural, tribal areas that wish to maintain their traditions. Some Renaissance leaders even demanded “racial purity” and were strong supporters of the Nazis in Germany. Many Renaissance supporters were involved in violent acts not just against Jews, but other non-Arabs and non-Muslims throughout the Union, threatening the unity the Hashemites had created.  The coming of World War II, however, would forever change the Union.

The Arab Union tried to remain neutral when World War II started; however with the British controlled Suez Canal deep in their territory, it was only a matter of time before they would be drawn into the war. On September 9, 1940 Italy launched an offensive into Egypt with the goal of securing the Suez Canal. The Italians expected only light resistance from the Arabs and even assumed the Renaissance party would stage a coup and bring the Union into the Axis powers. The Arab forces, however, blunted the Italian advance and by February 1941 were in central Libya. The hopes of a Renaissance revolt were dashed and except for some pro-Axis rioting in Baghdad, the population of the Union rallied against the invaders. What support the Renaissance party had dried up as their leaders were discredited for their past connections with Italy and Germany.

Despite German reinforcement under Erwin Rommel, Arab and British forces were able to secure all of North Africa from Morocco to Libya by 1943. The Arabs were supportive of the British “soft underbelly” strategy and participated in the invasion of Italy and the offensive into the Balkans after Turkey joined the allies. Despite the influx of British and American troops, movement into Europe was slow and there was fear that the Soviets would drive straight toward the English Channel.
This nightmare scenario was prevented by the use of the first atomic bomb (called the “Fist of Allah”) in Italy in 1944. It destroyed the Gothic Line and ended the stalemate there and led to large revolts across Europe against Nazi occupation in fear it would be used on their cities. The bomb had been developed by Jewish German scientists who had fled Germany and had urged the Hashemite family to put their support behind a secret project to build the first bomb. Thanks to the use of the weapon, the Arabs defeated Germany and saved western and southern Europe from being overwhelmed by the advancing Soviets, although they were forced to accept Soviet occupation of North Germany.

The end of World War II fundamentally changed the Arab Union. The creation of the atomic bomb began an arms race after the United States (1947) and the Soviet Union (1949) tested their atomic weapons. Meanwhile the start of the Cold War brought the Union into the larger world and caused friction between them and their allies. The Arab Union refused to turn over the territories they occupied in North Africa over to Britain or France and allowed the areas to declare independence and be accepted their membership in the Union. This influx of new people and cultures, including a large minority of French in Algeria, forced the Union to secularize itself more for the sake of domestic peace.

Meanwhile, a wedge was driven between the Union and the United States over the handling of the Cantonese War. The final break came about after Arab Independence candidate Gamal Abdel Nasser was elected president in 1954. On the domestic front Nasser enacted many far-reaching secular reforms driving the Sharifian party toward the right and pushing the Hashemite family out of politics. On the foreign front he successfully forced Britain to cede the Suez Canal, Kuwait, Aden and other British territories in the Middle East to the Arab Union. With relations with the West at an all time low, Nasser broke the Union’s alliance with the United States and formed Concert of Allied Democracies  with Yugoslavia, Indonesia, Ghana and India to act as a third choice between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The 1970s marked significant economic reforms in the Arab Union which finally ended the feudalism like conditions that plagued the Union since its inception and broke the power of the tribes. The “Arab Miracle” as it has been called helped turn the Arab Union into the world’s second largest economy. Despite its successes, the Arab Union has experience considerable unrest caused from a variety of sources. On one side there is the growing feminist movement which seeks to ensure a greater role for women in the Union. The infamous headscarf burnings of the 1960s gained worldwide fame and inspired women across the Union to demand more freedoms. Furthermore, the Union disastrous intervention in the Somali Civil War in the 1990s not only cost the Union a large amount of lives, but also hurt the Union’s reputation among black Africans who feel underrepresented in the Union. This anti-Union sentiment is chiefly felt in places like southern Sudan which has a large and powerful secessionist movement which always manages to elect a handful of representatives to the National Congress.

With the collapse of Soviet Union in 1985, the Union’s greatest foreign threat is the United States of America. Competition with two superpowers, one atheist and the other Islamic, fundamentally changed the United States which became more Christian and conservative in response to foreign influences. The election of Pat Robertson of the Christian Reform party in 1988 began the process of turning the United States into a one-party state that promoted deregulation of industry and extreme social conservatism.

The United States has also been accused of supporting various neo-Crusader organizations. These anti-Muslims terrorist groups seek to stop the spread of Islam and are prevalent in the Americas and Europe. The most well-known group, the Knights Templar, has claimed responsibility for the deadly Beirut bombings of 2002 that cost the lives of 21 people. Although the United States has denied any involvement, it has strained relationships between the two superpowers and undermined several attempts to negotiate various nuclear disarmament treaties.

Despite some setbacks, the Arab Union today acts as a beacon of tolerance and democracy across the world. Its history is evidence that Western Imperialism and Soviet Communism is not the answer to world peace and unity. Its political, military and cultural ties have helped bring together the diverse nations of Europe, Asia and Africa and it is only a matter of time before the Americas are also free of the cultural tyranny that dominates them now.


In OTL, the Ottomans kept most of their Arab units away from the revolt, thus the Arabs were highly dependent on British help to defeat the Turks. Following the Arab Revolt, the Middle East was partitioned between Britain and France. Hashemite attempts to unite the Arabs failed and the family fell into obscurity. Although Arab states eventually did gain independence, they have experienced significant periods of civil unrest, religious strife and foreign invasion. Although the Arab Spring has caused some to hope for a better future, many fear the dangers of fundamentalist rule over the new democracies.

 Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a blogger for Amazing Stories. His new story "The Enchanted Bean" can be found in Once Upon a Clockwork Tale from Echelon Press. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. Great world building. I really enjoyed the concept of an Arab superpower. Nights Templar as terrorists? Fascinating.


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