Palestinian Studies

2023 Workshop

Fadi Kafeety

Ph.D. candidate, University of Houston

Revolutionary Horizons: The Movement of Arab Nationalists and the Marxist Turn in the Arabian Peninsula and Palestine

I asked: “Why do you want to work here [Dhufar] … when Palestine is in need of you …?”

He responded: “My work here has a greater impact … the battle in Palestine or the Gulf pours into one stream against colonialism and imperialism.”

— Said Ahmad al-Jinahi, Kuntu fi Dhufar

The radical transformations that occurred within the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN) during the revolutionary decade of the 1960s resulted in one of the most significant ideological shifts in contemporary Arab history. From Palestine to Yemen, radical circles and clandestine movements transformed this transnational organization from within as they fought to free the region from the yoke of foreign domination and the forces of local reaction. From as early as 1960, figures within MAN including Nayef Hawatmeh, Muhsin Ibrahim, and Abdel Fattah Ismail criticized the limits to the existing structures of pan-Arab nationalism as they began challenging the movement’s leadership over their reluctance to support revolutionary armed struggle in the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the absence of class analysis within the movement’s political program.

This paper examines the social, historical, and political conditions that shaped the dissolution of the MAN and the subsequent rise of revolutionary Marxist organizations from Palestine to Yemen, arguing that these processes constituted a radical reconfiguration, rather than a suspension, of transnational bonds of solidarity tying the Arabian Gulf and Peninsula to the liberation of Palestine. These bonds were now conceptualized anew. Rather than being viewed as struggles primarily connected through common national belonging, the Palestinian and Gulf struggles were now situated as part of an anti-colonial and anti-capitalist struggle in the Global South.

How did this new conceptualization emerge? Utilizing primary sources published by these movements along with Arabic memoirs, this paper will answer this question by revisiting significant 1960s ideological milestones. It will specifically focus on the clash between the conservative leadership of the MAN and its radical cadres who questioned the efficacy of the anti-colonial nationalist regimes in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria. Whereas most accounts of Arab intellectual history focus on the Arab defeat of 1967 (Naksa) as the key ideological turning point of the decade (Kassab, 2010), it will be argued here that the catastrophic defeat of Arab armies in that year expedited, rather than initiated, a trend that had started much earlier (Takriti, 2016). This intellectual current culminated in the formation and rise of radical liberation struggles out of local MAN branches in the Arabian Peninsula and the Palestinian refugee camps throughout the revolutionary decade of the 1960s. The development of this intellectual current initiated a process that brought about a host of regional ideological and military struggles that pitted offshoots of the MAN against reactionary Arab regimes, Britain, Iran, and Israel. As this paper will show, throughout these ideological clashes, the MAN’s successor organizations shifted away from nationalist towards Marxist politics as they fought to internationalize their struggles against colonialism and imperialism.

Fadi Kafeety is the assistant director of the Arab-American Educational Foundation Center for Arab Studies at the University of Houston. He is also a Ph.D. candidate in History at the same university, where he studies anti-colonial revolutions in the Arabian Peninsula under the supervision of Abdel Razzaq Takriti.