on the World Today
THE prevailing Arab propaganda for “positive neutralism,” underscored by Egypt’s recognition of Red China, marks the evolution into policy of a long-smoldering Arab attitude. In seizing upon the opportunities offered him at Bandung in the spring of 1955 to lead the Arab world into the neutralist camp of India and Indonesia, Egypt’s Premier Gamal Abdel Nasser set in motion a whole new pattern of action for Arab nationalism. Recent Arab diplomacy can only be understood in the light of the principles of militant self-determination and peaceful revolution enunciated there.
There is abundant evidence that these principles have taken the place in many Arab minds of earlier tentative attachments to United Nations ideals. The particular welcome accorded Asian leaders in Cairo and Damascus is only one of many signs of this new sense of Asian solidarity. The April anniversary of the Bandung conference was celebrated in the Egyptian press as a historic event.
For Egypt it was, in fact, the beginning of an era of expanded trade and new relationships in the Far East. In terms of trade alone Egypt has sold $45 million worth of cotton to the People’s Republic of China within the last year.
A cardinal principle of the neutralists is freedom from involvement in the East-West cold war. Here Bandung simply reinforced previous Egyptian refusals of association with NATO or the Baghdad Pact. Nasser’s alternative has been to draw together under a unified command the armies of all of the Arab states except Iraq — thus realizing another long-cherished Arab aspiration. In retrospect it is clear that the Czech arms deal was important for Egypt because it made possible Egypt’s claim to leadership of a coordinated Arab defense system. It was this, rather than any intention of starting a second round with Israel, which made the matter of arms so critical to the Revolutionary Council.
None of this political and strategical reorientation is as significant, however, as the social and economic revolution which is for the first time beginning to give content to nationalism within the Middle East countries. This internal revolution has now reached a point of visible achievement and measurement. Its outward signs range from whole new provinces under coöperative cultivation in Egypt and Iraq to the great new dams and floodcontrolling barrages just completed in Iraq.
Programs for bringing drinkable water to Egyptian and Iraqi villages are well under way. Middle East capitals all present a spectacle of renovation, intensive building, and improved services. Factories and schools have multiplied. Traffic is jammed. Neon lighting and the dubious blessings of television herald further “advances.” On another plane, Cairo, Baghdad, and Beirut all feature wellpatronized local modern art shows.
The drive for education
The actual figures for budget allocations verify the observable trend toward welfare states in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Economists at the regional office of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Beirut have completed a study of the budgets of these Arab countries and of Israel. In summary the survey shows that 56 per cent of the budgets of the five Arab countries goes for economic and social services. (The figure for Israel is 61 per cent.)
In the five Arab states, expenditures on education have more than tripled since 1945. The present total of $147 million allocated to education does not include sums spent for school buildings. If these are included, total expenditures on education have risen by 500 per cent in the last decade.
In this drive for education Egypt has taken the lead. A compulsory education law requires six primary and three secondary years. In Cairo and Aswan the law is already in effect. In other districts it is being enforced as buildings and teachers become available. In the last three years 900 new schools have been opened. The most hopeful aspect of the Egyptian effort is the present emphasis on trade and agricultural schooling and the effort to give status to practical training.
The recitation of the Koran is still an important feature of Egyptian education. Its requirement in foreign mission schools may now drive them out of Egypt. But it is no longer the whole of education for Egyptian youth.
In Iraq a similar trend toward reform is evident. There 65 per cent of the budget goes to economic and social services. By law 70 per cent of all oil royalties, amounting now to $200 million a year, is reserved for capital improvements. The most spectacular of these to date are the two flood-controlling barrages at Samarra on the Tigris and Ramadi on the Euphrates, completed this year. The value of these barrages was demonstrated within a week after their completion last spring when floods, which threatened to engulf Baghdad and the central basin north of it between the two rivers, were diverted into storage sites by the newcontrol system.
Of even more significance, perhaps, for the political economy of Iraq was the opening in April of two important highway bridges in the Middle Euphrates tribal area. Their completion heralded Development. Week, celebrated by suitable rural scenes of tribal dancing and an unaccustomed welcome for the delegation of central government officials led by Prime Minister Nuri es Said.
A central problem for Iraq has been how to make its long-range planning, based essentially on such unspectacular projects as dams and land reclamation, acceptable to a peasantry looking expectantly for immediate benefits from the country’s great oil wealth. New schools and clinics in the rural areas have provided token satisfaction. But they have not raised the people’s standard of living.
Housing and rural extension schools are now to receive high priorities in the next stage of the Development Board’s efforts, along with large expenditures on roads in rural areas. With better communications, a first step at least will have been taken toward improving marketing facilities for the agricultural hinterland.
The more far-sighted of Iraq’s leaders realize, however, that no lasting social change will be achieved until some moves are made toward taxation of land, particularly idle land. This reform, which has been advocated for years by enlightened opposition leaders, has just reached the stage of cabinet study. Meanwhile, to counter growing unrest among the educated civil servant class, government salaries have recently been doubled.
The dependence on oil
The lag in Iraq is in the social field. No expense is being spared to create a sound economic structure in the country and to diversify its economy and expand it to a point where it will not always depend on income from oil. The problem is to create quickly a class of technically trained administrators and engineers to operate the new machinery, to man the rural coöps that newly fertile lands will require, to teach the skills that industry demands, and to maintain the channels and canals on which the revival of the Garden of Eden depends.
Iraq’s present political isolation among its Arab neighbors, due to its membership in the much-disputed Baghdad Pact, is another source of internal political strain. Geography and geology, rather than nationalism, dictated the government’s decision to join with Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, and Britain in the defense pact. The rich Iraqi oil fields at Kirkuk are less than 200 miles from the Soviet border.
Iraq’s whole independent existence as a modern state depends on income from these fields. Its interests therefore are parallel to those of its neighbors in building up a buffer against Soviet ambitions in the Persian Gulf area. But in accepting the principle of collective security in company with non-Arab powers, Iraqi policy cuts across the neutralist line which Egypt is promoting so successfully in the rest of the Arab world.
Many local and dynastic rivalries enter into the present differences between Iraq and the members of the all-Arab defense system, particularly Saudi Arabia. There is a question whether, even if Iraq should reverse its stand and leave the Baghdad Pact, real harmony between them would result. Iraq’s great wealth and lack of population pressures free it from some of the tensions which plague overcrowded Egypt. Its concern over the dangers of Communist penetration is genuine, and its people have perhaps the most awareness among Arab peoples of their stake in the capitalist world. Of all the Arabs, they have in fact the most to lose.
In Egypt the neutralist position, which denies the validity of ties with East or West, fits the temperament of the leaders of the Revolutionary Council. Colonel Nasser himself is a born rebel, now the prisoner as well as the leader of a great revolt against “imperialism.” His sense of mission stems from the fact that he leads the first genuine Egyptian government in 2000 years. He seems haunted by history and by grievances against Egypt’s most recent occupying power, Britain. The great question in the Middle East today is whether his militant crusade against the vestiges of imperialism will outweigh the second, social revolution he has undertaken within his country.
Egypt’s new government
Some of the signs are encouraging. The form if not the substance of constitutional government is being reestablished in Egypt following the June elections. Parliamentary elections of carefully screened candidates will take place in the fall.
The military junta is to go out of business in a general reshuffle of officers from civil appointments to military stations, and a transfer of others from the front to civilian ministries. Some of the junta members will be sent abroad as ambassadors. One test of the new government wall be the extent to which Egypt’s more enlightened civilian leaders are brought back into appropriate ministries after the popular confirmation of Nasser as president.
On the military front with Israel it is plain that Nasser wants above all things to avoid all-out war. The arms he has acquired from the Soviet satellites have served their purpose already. They have freed him from dependence on the West, won him the respect of all Arabs and the fear of the Israelis. He does not need to use them; and it has been obvious for the last year that he hopes to avoid war. Thus it was Egypt which pushed the Arab states into considering a joint development and division of Jordan River waters.
Again in the negotiations conducted so skillfully by Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold this last spring, Nasser went as far as any Arab leader could in agreeing to border pacification measures. He has shown none of the fear that Israeli leaders profess, that UN truce supervisors patrolling demilitarized zones might infringe his “sovereignty.”
An Arab Palestine?
Yet in the continuing Palestine stalemate Nasser has emerged as the hero of the Palestinian Arabs. This is true both in Gaza and in Jordan, where over half the population are former Palestinians. A Palestinian army is in process of formation in Gaza under Egyptian leadership. The youths who make up so large a proportion of the idle refugee population there now have a chance to join up and receive training, even if it is not intended that they shall have a chance to fight.
The increasing strength of the Palestinian element in Jordan, illustrated with striking effect in the dramatic dismissal of the Arab Legion’s commander, Glubb Pasha, last March, makes the survival of the country problematical. So long as it remains an entity and willing to rent bases to Britain it can be kept alive with British subsidies. Its original and continuing purpose was strategic. But if present moves toward a reestablishment of an Arab Palestine along the Jordan gain strength, it can be expected that much of the desert territory east of the river will be taken by previous claimants — Saudi Arabia in the south, and Syria and Iraq in the east.
In this connection it should be remembered that the original Partition Resolution of 1947 provided for an Arab Palestine with economic union with Israel. Present trends in the area, including the progressive weakening of the power of young King Hussein in Jordan, seem for the first time since 1947 to be setting the stage for some such realignment of borders. In any such possible changes it is now certain that Cairo would have much to say. Here it is relevant to remember also that among the many political refugees biding their time in exile in Egypt are several key figures from the Trans-Jordan of King Abdullah’s day. It is important to recall too that Abdullah’s annexation of the remnants of Arab Palestine after the fighting in 1949 was never accepted by his Arab neighbors.