Arab Nationalist Movement

The Arab Nationalist Movement (Arabic: حركة القوميين العرب‎) (Harakat al-Qawmiyyin al-Arab), also known as the Movement of Arab Nationalists and the Harakiyyin, was a pan-Arab nationalist organization influential in much of the Arab world, most famously so within the Palestinian movement.


Origins & Ideology

The Arab Nationalist Movement had its origins in a student group led by George Habash at the American University of Beirut which emerged in the late 1940s. In the mid-1950s Habash and his followers joined a larger student group led by Constantin Zureiq. The group's ideology owed much to Zureiq's thinking: it was revolutionary and pan-Arabist. It placed emphasis on the formation of a nationally conscious intellectual elite which would play a vanguard role in a revolution of Arab consciousness, leading to Arab unity and social progress. Ideologically, it was committed to socialism and secularism, but initially not Marxism. Its Arab nationalist approach meant an uncompromising hostility to Western imperialism in general, and Israel in particular, as the movement took a lead in the formation of anti-Zionist doctrine.

The group formed branches in various Arab states, and adopted the name Arab Nationalist Movement in 1958. Some political divergence arose within the movement. Many, especially in Syria and Iraq, became close to local Nasserist movements, and indeed turned into the main pillar of Nasserism in some parts of the Levant. However, another faction moved towards Marxism, including Habash and Nayef Hawatmeh, which brought them into conflict with Nasser and increasingly led them to place a heavier emphasis on socialism than pan-Arab nationalism. Also, the differing systems of government in the Arab countries forced the ANM branch organizations to adapt to local conditions, and it became increasingly difficult to find common ground.

Decline and Disintegration

These tensions caused the movement's decline during the late 1960s, and it had ceased to exist as a regional political force by 1970. This development was partially propelled by the defeat of Egypt in the 1967 Six Day War, which had led to the discreditation of Nasserism, and forced the ANM to play down its uniting, pan-Arab creed. The final blow to the ANM had come in 1967-69, as the Levantine branches fractured into competing Marxist parties, precipitated by conflicts within the Palestinian movement. The tendency around Habash tried to regroup the movement by forming the Arab Socialist Action Party as a new Pan-Arab political structure.

Even if nothing remains of the ANM itself today, its disintegration spawned a great number of parties and movements on the left flank of Arab politics. Some of these, for example those in the Palestinian movement and in South Yemen, were to become very influential in their respective countries.


In 1962 the Syrian branch, until then a small group of intellectuals almost all of whom were Palestinian, reacted to the break-up of the United Arab Republic by establishing a mass-movement calling for immediate re-unification with Egypt. Membership quickly surged to several thousand, and the leadership participated in the first Ba'thist-led government established after the coup of 8 March 1963, though on a non-party basis. The Ba'th and its allied officers almost immediately after the March coup began purging Nasserists from power, with dismissals, transfers and arrests during the Spring of 1963; the ANM was viewed as one of the most serious threats, because of its numerical force and ideological appeal to the Ba'thist constituency. The Ba'th-ANM tensions culminated in a Nasserist coup attempt led by Jasim Alwan that was struck down in July, 1963, after which Nasserism and the ANM in particular was a spent force in Syria.

The ANM entered the Arab Socialist Union, but both the Hawatmeh and Habash loyalists later reconstituted themselves as independent parties, and the ASU itself splintered repeatedly during the Syrian 1960s and early 1970s.


Similar events led to the growth of the ANM in Iraq. In the aftermath of the overthrow of Abdul Karim Qassim in 1963, the Iraqi branch of the Ba'ath Party had established a government which collapsed in disorder and was replaced in November that year by a more broadly-based pan-Arab government under Abd al-Salam Arif. The ANM again played a major role in Iraqi politics, close to the Nasserist elements in Arif's government. After the Nasserists lost influence and withdrew from the government in July 1964, the ANM continued to collaborate with them and in September that year attempted a coup. In 1964, the ANM merged into the Iraqi Arab Socialist Union.


In Egypt the ANM branch merged into Nasser's Egyptian branch of the Arab Socialist Union, but were later depoliticized after an internal purge.



The Marxist elements in the ANM reconstituted its Palestinian branch in the mid-1960s as the National Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In December 1967 NFLP unified with two other Palestinian factions, Heroes of Return (abtal al-awda) and Ahmed Jibril's Palestine Liberation Front (PLF). Together they formed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), under Habash's leadership.


In early 1968, a leftist, supposedly Maoist, faction headed by Hawatmeh broke away from PFLP to form the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP, initially PDFLP). At this point, both the PFLP and the P/DFLP had embraced Marxism-Leninism, a break with the ANM heritage that would be replicated in other branches, and tear what remained of the movement apart.

The PFLP and DFLP subsequently both spawned a number of breakaway factions, such as the PFLP-GC, the PLF and the FIDA. Many of these groups were active as a leftist hardline opposition within the PLO, and most participated in the Rejectionist Front of 1974.

Current situation

Even though the PFLP and DFLP remain very active in Palestinian politics and both have played a military role in the Al-Aqsa Intifada, their political support is rather reduced, especially within the occupied territories. Partly, this is related to the decline of the Arab left in general, a trend related to changes in Arab political culture but also to the fall of the Soviet Union. But in addition to that, the specific circumstances of the occupied territories have led to dual pressure from the radical Islamist opposition of Hamas, on the one hand, and the patronage resources available to Fatah through its control of the Palestinian National Authority on the other.


In Lebanon the Hawatmeh wing (which had in majority in the Lebanon branch) reconstituted itself as the Organization of Lebanese Socialists in 1968, and in later merged with Socialist Lebanon to form the Communist Action Organization, which was active during the Lebanese Civil War and in the Hizbullah-led resistance to Israel's occupation of the Lebanese south (1982-2000). The Habash loyalists formed the Arab Socialist Action Party - Lebanon.


In 1964 the ANM branch in Oman participated in the formation of the National Liberation Front of Dhofar (NLFD). The ANM as a whole supported the Dhofar struggle. NLFD later transformed into the Peoples Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab Gulf (PFLOAG), later the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO). This group led an insurgency in Dhofar for several years in the 1960s and early 1970s, driving government forces from large swaths of territory. It was eventually defeated in the early 1970s by the new Sultan of Oman, Qaboos, backed by British and Iranian forces. After resistance inside Oman was broken in 1975, the group remained as a minor military and political force based in the sympathetic neighboring state of South Yemen, which had backed the Dhofar rebellion, until the 1980s.


The Bahraini ANM cadres initially joined the PFLOAG. In 1974 the Bahraini sector of PFLOAG was converted into the Popular Front for the Liberation of Bahrain. Today the Popular Front has given birth to Wa'ad, a prominent secular opposition party in country.


In South Yemen the local ANM branch was instrumental in forming the National Liberation Front which would later become the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), the leading political party in the Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen. In North Yemen, the members of ANM broke away from the mother organization in June 1968, forming the Revolutionary Democratic Party of Yemen (which would eventually merge into the YSP).

After the reuniting of the two Yemens in 1990, the YSP became the major opposition party in the Republic of Yemen.


In Kuwait the ANM branch was reconstituted as the Progressive Democrats, a political party still in existence.

Saudi Arabia

The Saudi branch gave birth to the Arab Socialist Action Party, a Marxist-Nationalist faction aligned with the PFLP.


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