This collection rethinks old paradigms and widely accepted assumptions about the Arab response to fascism and Nazism, bringing to light Arab support for the Allied forces during World War II and its effect on the fate of the Middle East.
The first book to present an analysis of Arab response to fascism and Nazism from the perspectives of both individual countries and the Arab world at large, this collection problematizes and ultimately deconstructs the established narratives that assume most Arabs supported fascism and Nazism leading up to and during World War II. Using new source materials taken largely from Arab memoirs, archives, and print media, the articles reexamine Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, and Iraqi responses in the 1930s and throughout the war.
While acknowledging the individuals, forces, and organizations that did support and collaborate with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, Arab Responses to Fascism and Nazism focuses on the many other Arab voices that identified with Britain and France and with the Allied cause during the war. The authors argue that many groups within Arab societies—elites and non-elites, governing forces, and civilians—rejected Nazism and fascism as totalitarian, racist, and, most important, as new, more oppressive forms of European imperialism. The essays in this volume argue that, in contrast to prevailing beliefs that Arabs were de facto supporters of Italy and Germany—since “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”—mainstream Arab forces and currents opposed the Axis powers and supported the Allies during the war. They played a significant role in the battles for control over the Middle East.
- Introduction: The Analysis of Arab Responses to Fascism and Nazism in Middle Eastern Studies
- Part I: Syria and Lebanon
- 1. A Challenge to the Local Order: Reactions to Nazism in the Syrian and Lebanese Press
- 2. Against the Tide: The Secret Alliance between the Syrian National Bloc Leaders and Great Britain, 1941–1942
- 3. Memoirs Do Not Deceive: Syrians Confront Fascism and Nazism--as Reflected in the Memoirs of Syrian Political Leaders and Intellectuals
- 1. A Challenge to the Local Order: Reactions to Nazism in the Syrian and Lebanese Press
- Part II: Palestine
- 4. More than the Mufti: Other Arab-Palestinian Voices on Nazi Germany, 1933–1945, and Their Postwar Narrations
- 5. The Spanish Civil War as Reflected in Contemporary Palestinian Press
- 4. More than the Mufti: Other Arab-Palestinian Voices on Nazi Germany, 1933–1945, and Their Postwar Narrations
- Part III: Iraq
- 6. Iraqi Shadows, Iraqi Lights: Anti-Fascist and Anti-Nazi Voices in Monarchic Iraq, 1932–1941
- 6. Iraqi Shadows, Iraqi Lights: Anti-Fascist and Anti-Nazi Voices in Monarchic Iraq, 1932–1941
- Part IV: Egypt
- 7. The View from the Embassy: British Assessments of Egyptian Attitudes during World War II
- 8. The Rise of Homemade Egyptian Communism: A Response to the Challenge Posed by Fascism and Nazism?
- 9. "The Crime of Nazism against Humanity": Ahmad Hasan al-Zayyat and the Outbreak of the World War II
- 10. The War and the Holocaust in the Egyptian Public Discourse, 1945–1947Esther Webman
- 7. The View from the Embassy: British Assessments of Egyptian Attitudes during World War II
- Part V: Other Arab Voices
- 11. The Tiger and the Lion: Fascism and Ethiopia in Arab Eyes
- 11. The Tiger and the Lion: Fascism and Ethiopia in Arab Eyes
- Selected Bibliography
- About the Contributors
Introduction The Analysis of Arab Responses to Fascism and Nazism in Middle Eastern Studies
Arab responses to Fascism and Nazism during the interwar era and World War II have preoccupied scholars of the Middle East since the early 1950s. A basic assumption that underpinned ongoing scholarly curiosity was that Arab contacts and experiences with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany definitively influenced individuals and groups in the Arab Middle East from 1933 to 1945. These totalitarian influences were understood to have penetrated Arab politics, society, and culture, leaving behind an indelible authoritarian legacy. At the core of this assumption stands the claim that radical political forces and organizations that emerged in the 1930s and 1940s under heavy Nazi and Fascist inspiration refashioned the Arab Middle Eastern world in the 1950s and 1960s. Thus, throughout the years, scholars who adopted this master narrative have endeavored to recover the motivations of Arab actors' attitudes toward Fascism and Nazism during the 1930s and the war. They attempted to answer the following questions: How were these two authoritarian powers received by Arab individuals, organizations, movements, and governments? What ideological and practical positions did Arab forces adopt vis-à-vis the Axis during the war, particularly when the Axis was on the verge of occupying the Middle East and ending French and British colonial rule? What were their motivations for adopting these positions? How did their experiences with Germany and Italy contribute to their rise to power in the 1950s and 1960s?
Since George Kirk's classic work, The Middle East in the War (1952), these questions (and variations thereof) have remained on the agenda of Middle Eastern studies. Three central historical contexts that developed in the Arab Middle East after World War II have fueled the longevity of this academic curiosity. The first context is the Arab decolonization struggles that culminated in the 1950s and 1960s and then evolved into a general anti-Western and anti-American antagonism. The military republican regimes that led fierce national liberation projects invented collective memories after achieving independence. These official formulations of national memory projected a retrospective understanding of their own roots and political and ideological positions and activities dating back to the 1930s and early 1940s.
In their narration of memory, the new revolutionary leaders and spokespersons depicted the wartime era as the founding cornerstone of their worldview that triggered later subversive revolutionary activity. They claimed that through their collaboration with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, "their heroic deeds" during the war aimed to rescue their countries from France and Britain. Through these historical narratives, they legitimized their coups d'état against the ancient regimes. In this retrospective self-narrative, revolutionary leaders contrasted themselves to the old national elites in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, whom they portrayed as corrupt opportunists and collaborators with French or British colonialism. These old elites demonstrated their utter incompetence in the decolonization struggles, unlike the young revolutionaries who represented an authentic young and dynamic national force whose unabated struggle and commitment to independence ultimately prevailed. Even during the war, when their societies were severely repressed by massive foreign military presence, censorship, and martial law, the revolutionary leaders persevered in their anticolonial resistance. Hence, they were the credible representatives of the national struggle for liberation.
Usually, these young military men did not claim to have been ardent Nazis or Fascists; rather, they explained their pro-Axis sympathy and activity through the strategy of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Because they perceived these totalitarian regimes as partners in their liberation and international powers that would help them end French and British colonialism in the Middle East, they supported or collaborated (or both) with Mussolini and Hitler. In the 1950s and 1960s, these new Arab leaders crafted their revolutionary narrative of decolonization and disseminated it in their memoir literature and in official government texts. Their memoir literature, an integral part of the official revolutionary ideology and propaganda, evinced an unmistakable impression of significant Arab support for Fascism and Nazism during the interwar period and World War II. As will be shown, this narrative also seeped into academic research in Middle Eastern studies.
A salient example is the scholarly treatment of Anwar al.Sadat's memoir, Asrar al-Thawra al-Misriyya (1957) as a historical document that proves Egypt's concrete support for Rommel and Hitler and fierce anti-British sentiment during the war. Because Jamal 'Abd al-Nasir, the Egyptian president at the time, wrote an enthusiastic introduction that defined the memoir as an "authoritative source" for understanding the history of "our blessed revolution," it became a historical identity marker of the July 1952 revolution.
Many scholars accepted Sadat's translated memoirs, Revolt on the Nile (1957), as a historical record of "history as it actually was" and employed it as an authentic representation of the roots of the revolutions that swept the Arab world in the postwar era. Like the memoirs' authors, they located these roots in the Fascist and Nazi-inspired organizations and underground cells that operated in the Middle East in the 1930s and 1940s. They found that these organizations adopted Fascist-inspired practices, patterns of organization, modes of operation, and worldviews. The insights from these revolutionary narratives and memoirs undoubtedly pervade studies that deal with the new regimes' genesis and the course of their assumption of power.
The protracted conflict between Arabs and Jews constitutes the second context that has influenced the historiography of Arab responses to Fascism and Nazism. This context's relevance--at times more implicit than explicit--stems from the relations between Zionists and Arabs before the Israeli state's establishment in 1948. The development of Arab-Israeli hostilities, and particularly the 1967 war, gave new life to the impact of this context. In the "war of narratives," which has transpired on both an official and an unofficial level, all parties have exchanged accusations that equate the other's worldview and behavior with Nazism.
The grand mufti of Jerusalem al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni and his active involvement in the Jewish genocide have figured prominently in Israeli efforts to prove the tangible collaboration between the "Arab world" and Nazis. Here, it is imperative to distinguish between "official" and academic efforts. Although scholars are certainly more cautious in depicting the Husayni and Arab-Nazi collaboration, sometimes their work mirrors the generalization that indicts Arabs at large as active supporters or sympathizers with Nazism. The Arab-Israeli conflict's escalation and its redefinition as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict reinforced this mutual demonization. On the Israeli-Jewish side, it has triggered an emphasis on Holocaust denial and extensive, sometimes disproportionate, study of the intimate Nazi-mufti collaboration that is embodied by Husayni's unabashed enthusiasm for Nazi anti-Semitism and his historical role in the atrocities.
For the Arab-Palestinian part, many Arab spokespersons have accused Israel of adopting Nazi-style racism against Palestinians and Arabs. These charges have inspired scholars and historians to prove Israel's Nazi-like racism, resulting in a substantial literature on the subject. Also, just as the evolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict led to further developments on the Jewish-Israeli side, it also produced new allegations on the Palestinian-Arab side. It has given rise to the claim that Israel cynically manipulates the Holocaust as a self-defensive mechanism in order to justify atrocities against Palestinians.
The impact of this politicization on studies concerning Arab responses to Fascism and Nazism can be elusive and difficult to detect, but nonetheless is present in the literature to varying degrees. That is not to say that the authors of studies examined in this historiographical survey explored Arab responses to Nazism and Fascism with impure motives. Rather, in many different senses, it is difficult to escape the conflict's shadow that looms in the background. The present author is no exception to the influence of this context.
The third context concerns the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Following this event, a new academic and pseudoacademic literature has emerged with the explicit goal of tracing the historical roots of global Islamic jihadism to Arab-Muslim collaboration with Nazis during the 1930s and World War II. Here, students of this topic posit a new historical argument according to which contemporary Islamist Jew hatred and anti-Semitism first formed against the backdrop of interactions between Muslim-Arab organizations, movements, and individuals and Nazi Germany. According to proponents of this view, radical Nazi anti-Semitism was transmitted to the Arab world through these radical Islamist organizations and individuals. Therefore, a historical understanding of current violent Islamic jihadism's essence and its anti-Semitism necessarily involves the reconstruction of Muslim-Arab collaboration with Nazism, which in their view produced shared militant anti-Semitic ideology and practices. Thus, the presence of new violent Islamic radicalism has once again redirected scholarly attention to Arab responses to totalitarian ideologies and policies.
In some senses, it is understandable and almost unavoidable that these three contexts have perpetuated scholarly interest in this topic. However, it is imperative to be attentive to the distinct pitfalls in studying this topic through the retrospective and anachronistic prism of these postwar contexts. The residual Arab decolonizing struggles, the Arab-Israeli and later Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the attacks of September 11, 2001, are historical developments that emerged in the postwar era and were not necessarily related to Arab responses to Fascism and Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s. Historians and other observers, captive to later narratives and memories, are not always cautious enough to neutralize and isolate the contexts' impact in order to reach and explain the historical reality of Arab responses.
This chapter seeks to critically survey the historiographical literature concerning Arab responses and attitudes to Fascism and Nazism produced by scholars of Middle Eastern studies. It endeavors to demonstrate that until fairly recently, the subject of reception has been dominated almost exclusively by a specific narration that focused on aspects of pro-Fascist, pro-Nazi, pro-Axis Arab attitudes, policies, and collaborations. After expounding this narrative from its inception, through its crystallization, and to its institutionalization, this review hopes to display the new approaches and directions of research that seek to revise and supplement scholarly understanding of Arab encounters with Fascism and Nazism.
The Formation and Conventionalization of a Narrative: Hirszowicz's Legacy
The first wave of systematic research on this topic emerged in the 1950s and early 1960s. The opening of some Western archives, the extensive usage of German archives captured by the Allies, and the selective inclusion of Arabic memoirs enabled historians to conduct research based on primary sources for the first time. Lukasz Hirszowicz's pioneering work, The Third Reich and the Arab East, which extensively incorporated German archival material, broke the ground in this respect. The importance of his work lies not only in the comprehensive scope of his study and innovative usage of German sources, but also in its establishment of an enduring conceptual framework. The main contours of his framework were reproduced by subsequent scholars and formed a master narrative of the topic.
Hirszowicz systematically recorded Nazi Germany's activities in the Middle East in the 1930s and during the war. In addition to his commendable reconstruction of Germany's and Italy's conflicting intentions, ambitions, and interventionist strategies in the "Arab East," Hirszowicz also studied Arab reactions to these policies, despite his rather limited usage of Arabic. He described the Arab world's response in general and treated each Arab country individually, placing emphasis on Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine. His work concentrated on the responses of those Arab governments, forces, organizations, and individual politicians and army officers that sympathized or collaborated with the Third Reich.
Hirszowicz's discussion of pro-Ally forces and individuals is marginal at best. In his depiction, the Arab actors who counted were the pro-Nazi, pro-Fascist, or semi-Fascist organizations and movements. This included the following: in Palestine, Amin al-Husayni and his cohorts in the Palestinian national movement; in Iraq, the Futuwwa; in Syria and Lebanon, Antun Sa\`ada's Syrian Social Nationalist Party; and in Egypt, "the Fascist organization" Young Egypt (Misr al-Fatah, known as "the so-called Green Shirts of Ahmed Husein"), and to some extent, the Muslim Brothers. He generalized that "the appearance of these groups reflected a wider phenomenon, namely the growing disillusionment with the policies of the Western powers and the ideals of parliamentary democracy they professed." He also presented the worldview and activities of Shakib Arslan, senior army officers and radical politicians in Iraq led by Rashid 'Ali al-Kaylani, Egyptian politicians such as 'Ali Mahir, 'Abd al-Rahman 'Azzam, 'Aziz 'Ali al-Misri, and "the conspiratorial group of nationalist army officers," namely, pro-Axis junior officers such as Anwar al-Sadat.
Hirszowicz described these actors as sympathizers or imitators of totalitarian ideas and practices and later as collaborators with the Axis. Yet he recognized that they were motivated by a multitude of factors. He ascribed to them the view that Fascist authoritarian forms of government and political culture were alternatives to decaying liberal democracy, but admitted that the determinant impetus of those "Arab nationalist" forces was their ardent resistance to British and French rule. Their belief that Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy would support the aspirations of Arab nationalism and help them throw off the yoke of colonial rule motivated their conduct. Hirszowicz also observed that Nazi racist anti-Semitism and persecution and extermination of Jews in Germany encouraged many pro-Palestinian Arab nationalists to express sympathy or support for Hitler and Nazi Germany.
In Hirszowicz's narration, Arab backing for the Axis significantly increased in the early years of the war, when "owing to the Axis victories, British and French prestige continued to decline among the Arabs." In this context, he devoted sizable sections of his book to the pro-Nazi and anti.British Kaylani coup d'état in Iraq, which he perceived as an embodiment of the general Arab desire to liberate the Arab world through cooperation with the Axis forces. Consequently, Amin al.Husayni's participation in this coup d'état and eventually his collaboration with Italian and German war efforts were also interpreted as an expression of broad Arab alignment with Nazi Germany. Although Hirszowicz was not the first to expose the intimate mufti-Nazi collaboration, he was the first to firmly root it within the general Arab political milieu.
Having established the framework for widespread Arab will to align with Nazism and Fascism, Hirszowicz attributed a number of incidents to this greater objective. He was the first academic to brandish documentation of King Faruq's attempt to establish contact with Nazi Germany through his brother-in-law, Yusif Dhu al-Faqqar Pasha, the Egyptian ambassador in Tehran. In this vein, he also portrayed 'Aziz 'Ali al-Misri's "abortive flight" to Iraq as evidence of a broad expression of the Egyptian army's motivations and sentiments, particularly among the subversive young officers. In a more salient example, he found that at the end of January and beginning of February 1942, in addition to the severe domestic governmental crisis, "German victories in Cyrenaica and the British and American defeats in the Far East exerted a tremendous influence on popular opinion in [Egyptian] towns. In demonstrations, calls of admiration for Rommel were sounded." Therefore, he averred that Rommel's invasion of Egypt in the spring and summer of 1942 and the Afrika Korps' conquest of al-\`Alamayn were welcomed by substantial Egyptian actors and popular opinion.
To be fair, Hirszowicz skillfully exposed the plentiful constraints that hindered the Third Reich's aspirations in the Arab Middle East and precluded efficacious Arab-Axis collaboration. He detailed "Kaylani's defeat" and the Allies' triumph in conquering Lebanon and Syria and noted the fact that Ahmad Mahir, the leader of the Sa\`adist majority party of the Egyptian Parliament, was pro-British and even called for Egypt to declare war on Germany and Italy. Moreover, he chronicled the German and Italian failures to mobilize the "pro-British Wafd," whose "well-known enmity to the Axis" was pivotal to the British cause, particularly in the critical moments of the summer and fall of 1942. Hirszowicz also discussed Rommel's defeat in late-autumn 1942, "the Axis rout in Egypt," and the final expulsion of the Axis forces from Tunisia and North Africa in May 1943. Although he accepted some of Sadat's "stories," he disqualified his tale about "German-Egyptian connections," which supposedly resumed in the summer of 1942. Using German material, he proved "the breaking off of contacts" between Germans and Egyptians and aptly demonstrated that the Wafd government was determined to sever any remnants of former ties.
Hirszowicz regarded Nazi racism as the principal reason for the failure of German-Arab cooperation. He observed German leaders' and officials' "contemptuous attitude to the Arabs, aversion to their character and political behaviour, disbelief in their state-forming capacity and their loyalty as allies." In his final analysis, he posited that the "extremist Arab nationalist politicians'" fundamental assumption that the war presented a great opportunity to bring about their liberation and independence "was an illusory occasion which no responsible politician should have relied upon." In a candid value judgment, he wrote, "Their ties with the Axis brought the Arabs nothing positive. They, in fact, can consider themselves lucky in not experiencing the lot of the European countries in one form or another under German or Italian domination during World War II." Thus, in this pioneering study, Hirszowicz concluded that the Arab-German nexus was essentially stillborn due to Nazi Germany's misunderstandings and miscalculations, Fascist Italy's manifest incompetence, the Allies' military superiority, and no less the misconduct of the Arab nationalists and their false illusions.
In his narrative, Hirszowicz neglected to consider the possibility that the Allies' Middle Eastern victories were even tangentially related to the anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi sentiments that were prevalent in Arab publics. Parties, governments, and broader sectors of civil society in official and nonofficial levels espoused anti-Fascism and anti-Nazism. During the war, many of these actors identified with and supported the Allies. For these Arab forces, "the enemy of my enemy" was simply not an option because they clearly understood that Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy represented a new European ultraimperialism that was more oppressive and vicious than the old forms embodied by Britain and France. These forces and voices cultivated a sympathetic and supportive environment that was conducive to Allied victories in the Middle East. Hirszowicz's otherwise impressive work does not award any space to the abundant rejections of Nazism and Fascism. Although The Third Reich and the Arab East lacks a critical dimension of the story, its narrativistic legacy has been enduring.
Eliezer Be'eri's book Army Officers in Arab Politics and Society is a salient example of subsequent scholarship that uncritically reasserted Hirszowicz's narrative and its contours. Whereas Hirszowicz dealt with sundry aspects of the Arab-Axis connection, Be'eri exclusively focused on the relationship between Arab army officers and Fascism and Nazism. The importance of his work stems from the fact that he was the first to conduct a comprehensive study of the genesis of the army officers who assumed power in the late 1940s to 1960s in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. These radical officers usurped power through military coups d'état in the 1950s and 1960s and dismantled the old monarchist and republican parliamentary regimes, implanting a new authoritarian political culture. Be'eri pinpointed their beginnings in the subversive political movements in the 1930s and during the war and argued that the formation process arose under the distinct inspiration of Fascism and Nazism. He invoked the Egyptian and Iraqi cases in order not only to construct the connection between the officers' origins and the Fascist nature of their new regimes, but also to emphasize what he viewed as a widespread Arab phenomenon, albeit with local particularism.
Be'eri assumed that the confluence of Iraqi Arab nationalism and Nazism was a central factor in Rashid 'Ali al.Kaylani's military uprising, which produced a formative model and legacy for regimes that later emerged in Iraq and in other Arab countries. Therefore, his discussion of Iraq centered on Rashid 'Ali al-Kaylani and other senior pro-Nazi officers and politicians such as Salah al-Din Sabbagh, Naji Shawkat, and Yunis Sab\`awi (the translator of Mein Kampf), who fomented an anti-British military coup d'état in the spring of 1941. He found that the combination of these officers' and politicians' aspiration to rescue Iraq from British colonial rule through alignment with Nazi Germany led to the connection between Kaylani's entourage and Amin al-Husayni. Furthermore, the "Iraqi insurrectionists of 1958 and 1963 . . . stressed that their movement was the successor to the uprising of 1941 and its pinnacle of triumph."
As for the Egyptian case, Be'eri meticulously analyzed the worldviews and activities of the young officers who were impressed by German power. Given Jamal 'Abd al-Nasir and Anwar al-Sadat's membership in Misr al-Fatah (Young Egypt) and the Muslim Brothers, respectively, he identified an ideological affinity between the officers and totalitarianism. In his characterization, Young Egypt "promoted secular Egyptian chauvinism under the direct influence and imitation of Italian Fascism and German Nazis," and the Muslim Brothers "fostered a mystic Islamic zealotry together with an extremist nationalism, hatred of the imperialist nations--primarily England--and a hostility to every progressive western cultural influence." Nevertheless, he contended that the young officers expressed sympathy and admiration for Nazi Germany largely because of German military successes in the beginning of the war and because of their hope to liberate Egypt.
Like Hirszowicz, Be'eri pointed out that the ultranationalist anti-British senior officer 'Aziz 'Ali al-Misri became these junior officers' role model when he attempted to defect from Egypt in the spring of 1941 and reach Rommel's army (in contrast to Hirszowicz's claim, which stated that he tried to reach Iraq). Therefore, the junior officers established "an underground organization of officers" within the Egyptian army. They aimed to foment a pro-German coup d'état in order to "take over the country and join the Germans in the fight against the common enemy." They viewed Rommel as a liberating force and were determined to help him conquer Egypt and oust the British.
In detailing the formation of this "pro-German underground," Be'eri mainly relied on Sadat's memoirs, which led him to conclude, "There is no doubt at all that an underground organization of officers did exist." Perhaps also owing to his acceptance of Sadat's narration, he also determined that the junior officers operated in a context of widespread pro-Nazi sentiment. He wrote that when Rommel reached al-\`Alamayn, the "Nazi supporters in Egypt prepared for his coming. Swastikas were to be seen in many places." Given this environment, the reader can more reasonably accept the claim that the pro-Nazi officers' activities reflected a widespread phenomenon.
Yet Be'eri vitiated the strength of his assertion when he recognized that these attempts embarrassingly failed. Misri's and Sadat's attempts to contact Rommel were fruitless and ended with their own arrests and imprisonments. Be'eri himself candidly observed that in "the memories of Anwar Sadat . . . truth and fantasy intermingle[d]," but nonetheless he employed them as a record of hard facts in the absence of other evidence.
He wrote, "The unavailing endeavors of a number of officers testify to their passionate support of Hitler and their confidence in his victory. In the history of the war, these adventures were only marginal events. But their importance in the antecedents of Nasser's Egypt is great." Thus, it appears as though even Be'eri understood that in Egypt, the idea of a pro-Axis coup d'état remained the aspiration of only a handful of army officers.
Be'eri was convinced that the war constituted the ideological and operational milieu from which the Free Officers movement emanated. For him, Nasir's book The Philosophy of the Revolution carried the same importance for Egypt as Mein Kampf for Germany: it started as a neglected text, but eventually served as the platform of a radical revolutionary regime. In his analysis, the Egyptian and Iraqi revolutionary regimes of the 1950s and 1960s continuously received ideological and political capital from the Arab-Nazi collaboration during World War II. The seminal failure of this collaboration did not preclude this episode from serving as the basis for revolutionary leaders' claims to legitimacy. Nor did it factor into Be'eri's assessment. For him, Arab leaders' anti-British sentiment and their desire to exterminate Israel further reinforced their affinity and sympathy for Nazism. He regarded the asylum granted by Nasir's regime to Nazi war criminals, propagandists, and scientists as a direct continuation of Nasir's and other officers' admiration for Hitler and Nazi Germany, which "continued into the 1960's."
Be'eri was not interested in what prevented fruitful Arab-Axis cooperation. Consequently, his arduous search for origins and continuity came at the expense of his utter neglect of Arab anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist voices and activities. Like Hirszowicz, he did not consider the possibility that these forces could have played at least some role in the manifest failures of Kaylani, Misri, Sadat, and others. Whereas Hirszowicz at least peripherally acknowledged them, they are nonexistent in Army Officers in Arab Politics and Society.
In the 1960s, historians such as Haim, Lewis, Tillmann, Abdel-Malek, and Kedourie expanded upon similar themes raised by Hirszowicz and Be'eri. Although most of them did not employ Hirszowicz's and Be'eri's works directly (some were published before their translations), they produced and reproduced evidence and conclusions that fall within the confines of Hirszowicz's and Be'eri's narrativistic framework. Some highlighted Arab nationalism's (in its Pan-Arab stage) essential ideological affinity to Fascist and Nazi totalitarianism, and others explained Arab nationalists' support for Germany and Italy as a means to expel Britain and France. Some explored the Arab-Palestinian rebellion of 1936–1939, the escalation in the Arab-Jewish conflict, and later the establishment of the state of Israel, which was seen to have invigorated Arab support for Fascism and Nazism after the Axis defeat. These historians also devoted attention to Kaylani's, Husayni's, and Arslan's pivotal roles in forming the Arab-Nazi nexus and regarded their positions as an embodiment of wider Arab public opinion.
Although Robert Melka's dissertation received less attention than these prominent historians' works, it is the most comprehensive English-language study of this wave of scholarship. It aptly encapsulated the general thrust of the historians' studies and the manner in which they depicted the Arab-Axis relationship. He demonstrated that the Allied victory dashed the hopes of the Arab nationalists who sought to exploit Germany's and Italy's Middle Eastern ambitions in their quest to "achieve independence and unity." He also perceptively observed that "many Arabs, nevertheless, did look to Germany to help them against the Zionist Jews, the British, and the French. No contradictions in German policy could alter the fact that Adolf Hitler, the leading actor on the stage of international politics in the 1930's, was also the only world figure to denounce British policy in Palestine."
Melka's description of the impediments to Nazi-Arab collaboration was perhaps more nuanced than that of his predecessors and contemporaries. He found that although many saw the benefits of cooperating with the Axis, there were others who recognized "the true face of Axis imperialism . . . [and] a more accommodating British attitude towards Arab nationalism, which caused Arabs to turn an increasingly deaf ear to the appeals of Rashid Ali and the Mufti." He also acknowledged that Italy's propaganda efforts to "win Arab confidence" failed due to Arab "distrust" and that many regarded Axis imperialism as more threatening and daunting than that of Britain and France. In line with Hirszowicz, Melka similarly concluded, "The Arabs may have come to some realization of the deeper cleavage between their culture and the Nazi ideology."44 In other words, they understood that Nazi theory of the Aryan superiority was predicated on the Semites' inferiority.
Although some of the studies produced in the 1960s conveyed awareness of the Fascist-Nazi-Arab alliance's categorical failure, Melka and these other historians assumed that it resulted from the Axis's incompetence and particularly the Allies' military triumph and ability to co-opt some of the Arab leaders and governments. Consequently, Melka and these historians entirely neglected anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi sentiment in the Arab public spheres. Hence, they did not even consider the direct or indirect impact of Arab anti-Fascist attitudes on the Allied victory.
The Institutionalization of the Narrative: Further Developments from the 1970s Onward
Since the 1970s, Middle Eastern studies has continued to reinforce and at times rejuvenate the established narrative. Scholars who dealt with the general history of the Arab Middle East or with specific countries in the interwar era and the 1940s were captivated by the influences of Fascism and Nazism on Arab societies, cultures, and polities. Other scholars who treated this period as a formative era for the evolution of the Arab Middle East in the second half of the twentieth century were seemingly compelled to address the Arab connection to Fascism and Nazism. These scholars' unprecedented access to British, French, American, Italian, German, and Israeli archives and the growing usage of Arabic printed sources allowed them to expand the breadth of the discussion. Developments in source availability evidently contributed to the production of more narrow focuses on individual countries.
As for Iraq, scholars underscore the rivalry between the pro-British Hashemite camp and a variety of radical and pro-Nazi forces that challenged the political establishment. They focus on the ideological lure of Nazism for this network of individuals and groups. From a political and strategic perspective, scholars reinforce the notion that Nazi Germany appeared to be the only power capable of challenging British colonial hegemony in Iraq and in the Arab Middle East. Rashid 'Ali al-Kaylani's pro-Nazi coup d'état, in April-May 1941, is presented as evidence of strong support for Nazi Germany among the Iraqi-Arab military elite, especially younger officers who sought to liberate their country from the yoke of British colonialism. In a similar vein, Sami Shawqat's fascination with the winning combination of patriotism, militarism, and physical education in Nazi schools has received thorough treatment, particularly due to his role in Iraqi education and politics. The activities of the paramilitary youth organization al-Futuwwa are considered a manifestation of Nazi youth-indoctrination practices, and speeches supporting Nazism delivered in the Baghdad's Pan-Arab al-Muthanna Club are perceived as reflecting popular support for Nazi Germany among the Iraqi effendiyya.
In the cases of Syria and Lebanon, studies that analyze the processes of political radicalization in the 1930s often highlight pro-Fascist and pro-Nazi tendencies among various newly created nationalist organizations. These tendencies are thought to have manifested themselves particularly in the mushrooming of new radical youth organizations such as the League of National Action, the Lion Cubs of Arabism, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party led by Antun Sa\`ada, the Arab Club, the Steel Shirts, the early Ba\`ath movement, and various radical Islamic organizations. Scholars hold that in Lebanon, the White Shirts, the Najjada, and the PhalangesKata'ib led by Pierre Gemayel were inspired by Nazi or Fascist ideology and forms of organization.
Concerning Palestine, studies elaborate upon the established narrative that focuses on the pro-Nazi ideas and activities of the exiled mufti al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni. After his participation in Kaylani's abortive 1941 coup d'état in Iraq, Husayni fled to Nazi Germany and actively assisted the German war effort. Although he was the leader of the Palestinian national movement, the conventional narrative identifies him as the representative of Arab opinion at large. In the literature, the mufti's activities are portrayed as a reflection of official and unofficial Arab politics even in the postwar years.
Studies that deal with the broader Arab region follow the same historiographic line. They tend to emphasize the great allure that Nazism held for various official and nonofficial Arab groups, organizations, parties, and young military officers. They explain their motives and describe their ideology and patterns of behavior as imitations of Fascist and Nazi ideas and actions. For example, Martin Kramer's pioneering work, Islam Assembled, examined Arabs' and Muslims' efforts to convene Islamic congresses from the late nineteenth century until the middle of the 1920s. In his final chapter, "Congresses of Collaboration: Islam and the Axis, 1938–1945," Kramer discussed the designs and motivations of "leading Muslim activists to side with the Axis powers, and attempts to organize wider Muslim opinion in support of Axis war aims." As many before him, his major protagonist is Amin al-Husayni, who in his view reflected a substantial current of "Muslim cosmopolitans and the congresses they had championed." For him, aside from the mufti, the activities of Shakib Arslan, Rashid 'Ali al-Kaylani, and Shaykh Muhammad Mustafa al-Maraghi reinforced the Islamic and Arab will to sympathize and collaborate with the Axis.
Egypt figured prominently in this later stage of the historiography. Owing to this country's prominence in the region in the 1930s and intense involvement in the war, scholars have focused on Egypt as a key to understanding Arab responses in this period. More generally, Middle Eastern studies has always treated Egyptian history as the critical front due to its pivotal political, social, and cultural leadership role in the Arab Middle East and its centrality in major historical shifts. Therefore, it is reasonable that the historiography of Arab responses allots weightier emphasis to Egyptian experiences, thereby warranting additional attention in this survey.
Many studies on the history of modern Egypt describe the socioeconomic, political, and cultural processes of the 1930s. They highlight the decline of liberalism (the "crisis of liberalism"), the "failure of the democratic liberal experiment," the ideological and political nationalist radicalization, the emergence of traditionalist forms of Islam, and the intellectual shift to Islamic subjects. Scholars aver that the cumulative result of these trends produced a growing fascination with Fascist-inspired authoritarianism.
Other studies, focusing on extraparliamentary movements and organizations, underline the process of political radicalization propelled by the Young Egypt's Green Shirts (Misr al-Fatah), the Wafd Blue Shirts, the Muslim Brothers, Pan-Arab organizations, and radical student bodies.55 Studies that relate directly to World War II tend to concentrate on political leaders, events, and processes. In investigating the war, discernible historiographic focus centers on the conflict between King Faruq, the British, and the Wafd. These studies of political history award attention to the following: the pro-Axis inclinations of the 'Ali Mahir government (1939–1940); palace sympathy for the Axis powers; the famous ultimatum issued by British ambassador Miles Lampson (Lord Killearn) on February 4, 1942, that resulted in Britain's imposition of a Wafdist government on the king; and the pro-Nazi activities of Egyptian army officers (such as the young Anwar al-Sadat) inspired by 'Aziz 'Ali al-Misri.
P. J. Vatikiotis's works indelibly reshaped the historiographical narrative at hand due to his authoritative status in the history of modern Egypt. In his work The Modern History of Egypt, which became the seminal reference book for scholars and students, he opened his chapter "The Failure of Liberalism and the Reaction against Europe, 1930–1950" as follows:
When there arose in Europe powers which advocated ideologies and implemented policies directed against the constitutional democracies, the effect of their confrontation echoed beyond the continent. The temporarily successful challenge Fascism and Nazism presented to the Western European democracies undermined constitutional government as a model for emulation by non-European societies. When this confrontation led to a Second World War, Europe's direct influence upon Egypt eventually came to an end. The echo in Egypt was quite resounding. It was reflected in the rapid appearance of new social and political groups which, despite their different leadership, shared a belief in violence--the use of force for the attainment of political ends.
In his later work Nasser and His Generation, Vatikiotis reconstructed the intellectual and political origins of Jamal 'Abd al-Nasir and his generation, reproducing the similar motifs and themes. Nasir's early ideological and political formation was precipitated by the spirit of the time in which "the great democracies were being seriously challenged by Fascism and Nazism in Europe, and their prestige was at a low ebb." In Fascist or semi-Fascist organizations, such as Young Egypt and the Muslim Brothers, Nasir and his cohorts found a natural platform from which to express and practice their radicalized worldviews. These organizations (Nasir himself was a member of Young Egypt, and Sadat was a member of the Muslim Brothers) were the hotbed for their future revolutionary political agendas. Thus, in describing Nasir's political roots, Vatikiotis institutionalized the trope that Nasir and his generation's modus operandi is incomprehensible without the recognition of Fascist and Nazi heavy inspiration (similar to the formation of the Ba\`ath in Syria and Iraq). Moreover, for him this influence is the key to understanding the republican authoritarian regime that the revolutionaries established in the 1950s and 1960s, their worldview, their policies, and their modes of operation. In this fashion, Vatikiotis asserts that the Free Officers, particularly Nasir in his Philosophy of Revolution, did not set forth a clear-cut philosophy. "Their political ideas were blurred by religious faith and the confused admixture of Islamic-Fascist notions." One should add that other important introductory books on the history of modern Egypt, such as Sayyid-Marsot's popular A Short History of Modern Egypt, reiterated the fact that many Egyptians "believed that the presence of the Germans might be used as a lever with which to drive out the British from Egypt once and for all." Rommel's campaign and his military successes engendered "the people's adulation of him."
Arabic-language studies produced by Egyptians have added a unique dimension to Egyptian historiography on the subject. Leading historians 'Abd al-\`Azim Ramadan, Muhammad Anis, 'Asim al-Dasuqi, and Wajih 'Atiq, who all focused on foreign and domestic political history, have provided new perspectives by framing the issue differently from conventional Western historiography. They underscore the Wafd's pro-Allied and anti-Fascist stance and the immense Egyptian contribution to the Allies' war effort, but also expose additional evidence for Egyptian-Axis collaboration.
Ramadan explains the Wafd's liberal positions within the context of "the struggle between democracy and autocracy [Fascism] in Egypt," equating political and ideological rivalries in Egypt with "the great global struggle between democracy and fascism." He explains that King Faruq and his political allies "identified and sympathized with the Axis and waited for the opportunity to attack the democratic camp." The palace assumed that winning this struggle would enable it to achieve "absolute rule" in Egypt.
Ramadan presents King Faruq, the palace, and its political allies led by 'Ali Mahir as "Fascist autocratic forces." He also defines the extraparliamentary movements and organizations such as the Muslim Brothers and Young Egypt as "Fascist organizations," which together with the palace constituted the "Fascist autocratic threat" during the years 1937–1945. It appears that in order to defend and rehabilitate the Wafd--apparently a major objective--Ramadan inappropriately associates monarchal autocratic proclivities with Fascism. Because he projects the worldwide struggle between Fascism and democracy on the Egyptian political scene, he crudely defines the entire anti-Wafd camp as "Fascist," without any theoretical or documentary justification.
Ramadan defines the Wafd as "the democratic force," which was representative of the majority of the Egyptian people and their legitimate national and civil aspirations. This understanding of the Wafd's character challenges the commonly held anti-Wafdist revolutionary interpretation that originated in the Free Officers' self-narratives. He views the Wafd as an essentially anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist power that courageously stood against the "Fascist wave," which threatened to engulf Egypt. For him, the Wafd was the guardian of the 1923 Constitution and of a genuine and open parliamentary democracy. He highlights the Wafd's struggle against the pro-Axis palace and its supporters who tried to violate the constitution and dissolve the parliamentary system. Thus, despite the Wafd's historical anti-British struggle for independence, during the war it sided with the British in order to save Egypt from Fascist rule.
Ramadan examines the concrete historical dilemma that confronted Egyptians during the early years of the war. He sympathetically explains the Wafd's policy in the moment of crisis on February 4, 1942, when the king--faced with the famous British ultimatum--unwillingly appointed Mustafa al-Nahhas as the prime minister of a pure Wafdist government. Later, the Free Officers interpreted this incident as the legitimizing cornerstone of their July 1952 Revolution. The officers claimed that at this moment of national crisis, given the Wafd's crude collaboration with the colonial power, the party was devoid of legitimacy and the right to lead the national movement. Earlier Egyptian historiography also viciously attacked the Wafd for this shameful collaboration. Concomitantly, Western historiography identified this pivotal moment as the catalyst of the Wafd's demise.
Yet in his industrious examination and convincing analysis, Ramadan justifies the Wafd's actions through his rigorous contextualization of its critical decision and policy. The Wafd neutralized the domestic pro-Axis "Fascist" forces allied with the palace and restored the democratic constitutional process through elections in March 1942. The Wafd sided with the British because the triumph of Fascism would imply the end of the Wafd, the end of the constitution, and the destruction of the democratic camp in Egypt. "Therefore, the Wafd's interest in fascism's defeat was a matter of life and death."
Ramadan claims that after the February 4 incident, and despite the harsh criticism leveled against the Wafd by the palace and the rest of the parliamentary parties, "all this didn't in any way affect the masses that received the Wafd's return to power and the end of the crisis with enormous enthusiasm and open arms." For him, even after this incident, the Wafd remained popular in the Egyptian public and was therefore able to play a role in holding off the Nazi German onslaught in North Africa en route to Egypt. Thus, according to Ramadan, in the context of early-February 1942, the Wafd's position toward Nazi Germany was appropriate for Egypt's national interests.
Muhammad Anis also dedicated a study to the momentous episode of early February 1942, in which he defends the Wafd's policy. Although for a while Anis was the leading co-opted historian for the Nasserite regime, his conclusions contradict those of young Sadat. For Anis, during the years 1937–1942, the Wafd struggled against the palace's attempts to undermine the parliamentary government and to constitute an autocratic form of government that would lend expression to the king's pro-Fascist proclivities. Anis is fully aware of what he regards as the Wafd's "opportunism," but holds that "it represented the majority of the Egyptian people." Thus, in his view, by the end of 1941, British authorities reached the conclusion that in order to defend Egypt, Britain had "a strong need" to install a Wafd government, which would represent the will of the majority.
'Asim al-Dasuqi's impressive work on Egypt in Second World War is not far from Ramadan's and Anis's interpretations. He has analyzed the variety of Egyptian political forces' and parties' attitudes to the war, the Allies, and the Axis. He provides in-depth analysis of the positions of the palace; the parliamentary parties, particularly the Wafd; the Liberal Constitutionalists; the Sa`adists, the two-house parliament; and the various governments, namely, those of 'Ali Mahir, Hasan Sabri, Husayn Sirri, and Mustafa al-Nahhas. He does not hide the fact that the palace and some of the king's allies supported Germany and the Axis. However, Dasuqi details the worldviews and behavior of the Sa\`adist Party that publicly supported Egypt's declaration of war against the Axis. Dasuqi also focuses on the Wafd's pro-British stance, tending to defend the Wafd's views and strategies in the war, including their position in early-February 1942. He highlights the Wafd's support for the constitution, democracy, and parliamentary government as well as its essentially anti-Axis stance and details the activities of other organizations and individuals who supported the British war effort.
Dasuqi's study reveals the hitherto neglected practical support that Egypt supplied to the British and Allied war efforts. His work uncovers the critical logistical, economic, and intelligence aid that Egyptians provided to the Allies. He demonstrates that even if Egypt officially remained neutral, its practical support was of utmost importance to the Allies' victory in the battle for North Africa in 1942–1943. "During the Second World War Egypt became the strategic basis, the main center for military actions, and the major arena for political maneuvers associated with the war and its results." Therefore, Dasuqi concludes, perhaps with a degree of exaggeration, that without Egypt's support, the defeat of the Axis would have been inconceivable.
Although these important interpretations that bring Egypt's role in fighting the Axis into sharp focus are invaluable contributions, they too neglect the role played by the public sphere and print media and miss the broad landscape of anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi public voices and opinions. They fail to understand that a vibrant democratic public discourse lent expression and legitimacy to the Wafd and the Sa\`adists' anti-Axis policies. Whether due to the lack of a better alternative or a genuine anti-Fascist democratic worldview, this public was instrumental in bolstering the Wafd, the Sa\`adist, and other pro-British forces in Egyptian politics in the critical moments of the early years of the war.
In the early 1990s, Wajih 'Atiq returned to the traditional narrative, emphasizing wartime Egyptian collaboration with the Axis. In two books that study King Faruq's connections with Nazi Germany and a few Egyptian officers' attempt to collaborate with the Axis during the war, 'Atiq has reproduced the skeleton of the well-established narrative initiated by Hirszowicz and developed by Be'eri. The basic premise of 'Atiq's two studies is that "the general Egyptian feelings during the Second World War were imbued with a clear cut animosity towards Britain and its rule in Egypt."
In obvious contrast to Ramadan and Dasuqi, 'Atiq employs "the enemy of my enemy" syndrome to explain Egyptian sympathy and collaboration with Nazi Germany. He asserts that the Wafd and the older national forces' inability to achieve full Egyptian independence motivated the young king and an entire generation of militant young officers to try to succeed where the Wafd failed. Using German archival material and Arabic Egyptian memoirs, 'Atiq reconstructs Faruq's efforts to contact the Germans during the war and supply Nazi Germany with intelligence relevant to its ambitions in the Middle East. Elaborating on Hirszowicz's findings, he details the king's attempt to initiate negotiations with Nazi Germany through his brother-in-law Dhu al-Faqqar, the Egyptian ambassador in Tehran in 1941–1942. 'Atiq admits that these efforts did not come to fruition and that later contacts between Faruq and Nazi Germany also amounted to nothing.
'Atiq's second book describes the activities "of that handful of officers" who tried to defect from Egypt in order to join Rommel and the Axis campaign in North Africa. Like those before him, he reexamines 'Aziz 'Ali al-Misri's abortive attempt to defect in the spring of 1941. He presents a network of connections between Misri and Nazi officials and military officers, thereby determining that Misri "was the arch enemy of the English" and "a close friend of the Germans."
More important, 'Atiq finds that Misri's worldview and subversive activities were venerated by young Egyptian officers, who held him as a "pioneering model" for their operations during the war. Beyond the support of these army officers, 'Atiq believes that Misri and 'Abd al-Mun\`im 'Abd al-Ra'uf (the pilot who attempted to fly him from Egypt) "were supported by some leaders of Young Egypt and the Nationalist Party." He claims that after Misri was captured and tried in a public court, his popularity rose within Egyptian popular opinion.
Later in his book, 'Atiq describes copycat incidents in which two junior air force officers, Ahmad Sa\`udi and Muhammad Radwan, sought to defect to Rommel's line in the summer of 1942. While Sa\`udi's plane was mysteriously brought down, Radwan reached the Afrika Korps units in Libya and was taken to Berlin for further investigation.82 However, 'Atiq admits that "from an intelligencemilitary point of view," Radwan "did not bring anything productive to the Germans." Thus, although he provides new evidence of collaboration, in the final analysis, 'Atiq's narration is also a story of a series of failed episodes. Like in previous works that display this narrative, Sadat's memoir commands presence in 'Atiq's reproduction of earlier portrayals and leads him to conclude that the palace's and the army officers' strategic thinking were representative of the Egyptian people's pro-Axis sentiment. 'Atiq ignores the solid findings and thoughtful conclusions of 'Anis, Ramadan, and Dasuqi. In 'Atiq's sometimes dramatic and sensational portrayal, one gets the impression that nearly all Egyptians were "collaborators," "sympathizers," or "identifiers" with Nazi Germany.
During the 1980s, Francis Nicosia and Stephen Wild contributed to the historiographical debate through their work in new German archival material and Arab print media, which produced more nuanced interpretations. Yet, in many respects, they too articulate familiar themes of the now institutionalized narrative. Both of these scholars explore Nazi Germany's interests and policies in the Middle East. Nicosia emphasizes the "ideological and strategic incompatibility" between Arab nationalism and National Socialist Germany. "Hitler was not willing to commit Germany to Arab independence," due to his racist weltanschauung, his commitment to maintain the status quo of the post–World War I Middle East (i.e., not to harm Britain's interests in the region), and later his desire to secure Italian interests in the Mediterranean and Middle East. In Nicosia's analysis, it was thus Germany's lack of interest in Arab nationalist ambitions that was responsible for "wasted opportunities" and the fact that "Germany failed to utilize Arab hostility toward Britain and France."
Wild concentrates on the modes through which the Arab Middle East received National Socialism's ideas and practices. Building on previous themes, he shows that authoritarian ideas and patterns of organization embedded in National Socialism were assimilated by several organizations and parties: the early Ba\`ath (particularly Sami al-Jundi), the Syrian Social Nationalist Party led by Sa\`ada in Syria, the Kata'ib in Lebanon, Young Egypt in Egypt, and the Futuwwa in Iraq. Wild finds that for many of these organizations, National Socialism in Germany provided "a model for the swift development of a society towards an economically developed, politically united and militarily strong state under a charismatic leader." Moreover, the National Socialist leaders were "a natural ally of the Arab countries which were trying to liberate themselves from colonial structures imposed on them by England and France." Finally, the anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish ideology and policy of Nazi Germany were additional sources of attraction for Arab nationalists who struggled against increasing Jewish colonization of Palestine.
Like others, Wild identifies the obstacles and constraints to Arab-German relations--most important, the Germans' inconsistent and hesitant support for the Arab right to self-determination. The Nazi theory of race further impeded the development of a genuine alliance. Thus, accepting Nicosia's terminology, Wild concludes, "Before and during World War II, Arab nationalism and National-Socialist Germany were an example of 'ideological and strategic incompatibility.'" Consequently, "there was never a National-Socialist movement of any significance in the Arab world."
Despite Nicosia's and Wild's substantial contributions, they too fail to reconstruct the diversity of Arab public spheres. In tracing reception, Wild examines various Arabic translations of Mein Kampf (most of which were partial and flawed), assuming that the need for translations presupposed Arab interest and reception of its ideas. However, he does not consider that many translations of popular European anti-Hitler texts simultaneously appeared in all major Arab capitals. Hermann Rauschning's Hitler Speaks: A Series of Political Conversations with Adolf Hitler on His Real Aims is an important example. Wild does not take into account the possibility that many Arabs explicitly rejected ideas, practices, and institutions central to German National Socialism. Almost condescendingly (though unconsciously), these two scholars discuss National Socialism's incompatibility with Arab nationalism, as if Arabs themselves, particularly Egyptians, were not the first to articulate the gulf between the two nationalisms in real time. Indeed, various Arab intellectuals and publicists identified the intractable problems and discordant worldviews and tried to disassociate themselves from Fascism and Nazism.
Bernard Lewis's studies on Arab responses to Nazism and Fascism are particularly acclaimed, as his unique sensibilities regarding the complex historical relations provide new depth. In his book Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice he uncovers new German, British, and American archival source material and skillfully synthesizes its contents with Arabic sources. A main chapter in the book, "The Nazis and the Palestine Question," addresses the complicated network of ties between a few Arab political leaders and intellectuals and Nazi Germany. Lewis maintains, "The close and at times active relationship that developed between Nazi Germany and sections of the Arab leadership, in the years from 1933–1945, was due not to a German attempt to win over the Arabs, but rather to a series of Arab approaches to the Germans." Unsurprisingly, the hero of these Arab approaches was the mufti of Jerusalem, al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni, whom Lewis defines as the "principal architect of the wartime alliance between German Nazism, Italian fascism, and Arab nationalism."
Lewis's renewed emphasis on the mufti is justified in light of fresh evidence concerning his collaboration with National Socialism, including its program of the Jewish genocide. However, he also equates the mufti's activities with the prevailing Arab attitude. The crux of the chapter focuses on the mufti's incessant efforts to mobilize Nazi Germany for the Arab-Palestinian struggle against the British, the Zionists, and Jews in general. Lewis underscores the imbalance in the relationship between the Nazis and the mufti. Al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni did everything in order to get closer to the Third Reich, but the "Axis powers were unwilling to commit themselves publicly, or for that matter, even privately, to full support for the mufti's pan-Arab and pan-Islamic projects, or even to grant him the full personal recognition which he sought as the Führer of the whole Arab nation."
Lewis, loyal to the well-established narrative, presents the ideology and activities of a variety of radical and paramilitary organizations as manifestations of Arab-Nazi collaboration. Beyond the enemy-of-the-enemy syndrome, Lewis holds that organizations such as Young Egypt, "obviously Nazi in form," borrowed "its racism and anti-Semitism" and its "viciously anti-Jewish propaganda" directly from "Nazi philosophy." Moreover, during the war, the mufti was not alone: "While the mufti and his associates were at work in Germany, there were many in the Arab lands of the Middle East and North Africa who were at least in sympathy with the same cause, and sometimes active on its behalf."
In order to prove the strong pro-Nazi tendencies, Lewis examines Kaylani's pro-Axis activity and the sympathy demonstrated by the young founders of the Ba\`ath toward the coup d'état in Iraq. He heavily quotes from Syrian Sami al-Jundi, who professed his total identification with and deep admiration for Nazism, its power, its theory of race, and its anti-Semitism. In Egypt, again, it was Faruq and his entourage, the 'Ali Mahir government, 'Aziz 'Ali al-Misri, and other army officers associated with Young Egypt. All of them strove to promote a German victory in the war and anticipated a British defeat. Lewis assumes that these diverse Arab pro-Nazi radical forces authentically represented mainstream political and ideological currents in the Arab world.
Typical of contributors to the institutionalized narrative, Lewis adopts the Sadat memoirs, with all of its shortcomings. For him, these memoirs serve as a documentary record of the overwhelming pro-German "mood of the young officers in Egypt" in the early years of the war. Beyond viewing the Nazis as the enemy of their enemy, Sadat and the officers conveyed their ideological affinity to Nazi Germany as a military superpower and to its authoritarian political culture. Like Be'eri, Lewis accepts the purported continuum between Sadat's politically driven memoir about his pro-Axis activity during the war and his later sympathy for Hitler and Nazism in the 1950s.
Lewis's usage of Revolt on the Nile is consonant with those before him who treated it as an empirical mirror of "history as it actually was." He utterly ignores Allen Wingate's cautionary note in the preface. The publisher's decisive warning that fell on deaf ears is worth quoting at length. Wingate correctly observed that Sadat's memoirs is
a document which is inevitably biased, because it is the work of a man who took a leading part in the Egyptian Revolution under President Nasser, was twice imprisoned for his subversive activities against the British, was, until last year, a Minister in Nasser's Cabinet, and remains today Nasser's confidant and the editor of the leading Egyptian daily newspaper, Al Goumhourya. For this reason, whatever he has to say is obviously something which the British public should be enabled to read, however violently they may disagree not only with his views but with his account of historical events.
Wingate clearly understood that this text, published in the mid-1950s, was a biased interpretation of events that transpired during the war that served the contemporary political exigencies. Thus, unfortunately, otherwise serious scholars and eminent historians accepted Sadat's assertions, which Wingate thought would be "violently" objectionable for the English-speaking public.
Later, Lewis penned an epilogue for Uriel Dann's important collection, The Great Powers in the Middle East, 1919– 1939, in which he slightly modified his approach. Still, he reiterated that it was the Arabs who were "wooing" the Nazis and not vice versa. He also emphasized, "What emerged with surprising clarity was that, at least for the period up to the outbreak of the war in 1939, the nature and magnitude of that threat [Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy] had been greatly exaggerated." Mussolini "could hardly be regarded as a serious contender, while Hitler, for both political and ideological motives, refrained from giving to Arab nationalism the encouragement which was often attributed to him, both by Arabs and others."
Lewis differentiated between political and strategic cooperation and German and Italian influence on Arab ideology and political culture, although he viewed them both as integral dimensions of the Arab-Axis connection. From a strategic point of view, "the greatest service the Middle East rendered to the West was the provision of base and support facilities for the war against the Axis." As for ideology, Lewis determined that the Axis's pervasive impact on the political culture of Arab states stemmed from their strain of totalitarian nationalism that was more conducive to conditions in the Middle East. In his view, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy's
new pattern of thought and of social and political organization had a double appeal--first because it was opposed to the dominant West . . . and second because the ideologies and ideas that were being offered corresponded in many ways much more closely to both the realities and traditions of the region. In countries of uncertain territorial definition and of changing national identity, ethnic nationalism of the Middle European kind was more readily understandable than patriotism of the West European kind, defined by country and political allegiance; radical and authoritarian ideologies had greater appeal than the liberal and libertarian ideas of the West. Similarly, communal and collective identities and rights made better sense than the more individualistic formulation of the West, which at this particular point seems irrelevant and inappropriate.
Thus, whereas Lewis's new approach was more nuanced than his initial treatment of the subject, he nevertheless remained well within the contours of the institutionalized narrative. Given his exclusive focus on pro-Nazi and pro-Axis individuals and forces, he too failed to explain who or what stood behind "the greatest service the Middle East rendered to the West" and "the provision of base and support facilities for support against the Axis." Consequently, the reader is left to ponder what seems to be a contradiction: on the one hand, Arab intellectuals, political leaders, and movements were avidly pro.Axis, while, on the other, the Arab Middle East's operational support was a central factor in the Allies' triumph. Lewis and other contributors simply do not pose the logical question: is it possible that anti-Nazi and anti-Axis governments and civil publics that supported the Allied war effort--for a plethora of reasons--played at least some role in the fate of the war in the Middle East?
In this middle stage of the historiographical debate, most scholars reproduced and reinforced the contours of the established narrative of Arab responses to Fascism and Nazism. Despite their industrious efforts to provide a fresh and thorough understanding of the twentieth-century Arab Middle East and despite their new evidence and nuanced interpretations, ultimately their work served to further institutionalize the narrative.
The Impact of September 11, 2001
The tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, sparked a new wave of interest in Arab and Muslim responses to Fascism and Nazism. The desire to comprehend the essence and historical roots of the new phenomenon of the violent global jihadist movement motivated scholars and other observers to return to the 1930s and World War II for answers. This new academic and pseudoacademic literature has produced a central thesis that characterizes global jihadism as a type of "Islamofascism," born from the Nazi-Arab collaboration in the years 1933–1945. In many cases, proponents of this view equate the Jew hatred and anti-Semitism present in the worldviews of jihadists with the murderous Nazi racism and anti-Semitism of the 1930s and 1940s. In order to establish this historical and ideological continuum, scholars have reasserted and radicalized the now institutionalized narrative. In fact, many of these studies do the narrative a serious injustice by severely distorting its facts and conclusions.
Matthias Küntzel's well-received and highly acclaimed Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islam, Nazism, and the Roots of 911 aptly reflects the nature of the literature that was produced in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Selectively relying on academic contributions to the established narrative, Küntzel locates contemporary radical Islamism in the historical context of Arabs' and Muslims' interactions with Nazism and Hitler. Predictably, his catalysts are the mufti and the Palestinian national movement, Hasan al-Banna, and the Muslim Brothers of Egypt, all of whose intimate ties with Nazi Germany and its radical and violent anti-Semitism constitute the historical source of today's Islamic jihadism, and thereby the roots of September 11, 2001. Küntzel explains, "My book demonstrates that al-Qa'ida and the other Islamist groups are guided by an antisemitic ideology that was transferred to the Islamic world in the Nazi period. It shows that the Nazis' paranoid worldview and the 'fictional reality' that drove their actions rule the minds of the Islamist terrorists and determine their policies today."
What were the channels of this transmission? For Küntzel, the answer is to be found in the historic alliance between Banna and the Muslim Brothers and the mufti and the Palestinian national movement. The "Muslim Brothers were inspired . . . by European fascism of 1930s" and in a more concrete way by Nazism.107 The movement was an early manifestation of the radical jihadist Islam imbued by the reverberations of European Nazism and Fascism. Küntzel identifies the proof in their ideology; patterns of organization and operation; veneration and total submission to a strong authoritarian leader; glorification of the cult of martyrdom, "the Art of Death"; and, more important, essential hatred for Jews and Judaism.
According to Küntzel, in the late 1930s, the Muslim Brothers' determined struggle on behalf of the Palestinians brought them closer to the mufti and the Palestinian national movement. Through guilt by association, Küntzel indicts Banna for his connections to the mufti, the infamous collaborator with Nazis. For him, Banna's bond with the mufti, which was based on the Muslim Brothers' support for the Palestinian cause, automatically associated him with Nazi crimes. In many instances, the Brothers' avid support for the Palestinian revolt against Zionism translated into attacks against Egyptian Jews, resembling an "anti-Jewish jihad."109 Hence, Küntzel contends that the Brothers' anti-Semitism was appropriated directly from Nazi anti-Semitism and its persecution of Jews in Europe. However, this topic was thoroughly studied by the best scholars in the field years before Küntzel and September 11, 2001, and no one found that the Muslim Brothers' anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish attitudes were appropriated from Nazism.
Küntzel claims that during the war, the Muslim Brothers were involved in pro-Axis subversive activities in Egypt. They distributed Mein Kampf and "collaborated with the Third Reich's Egyptian agents and at the start of 1941. . . . The Brotherhood's paramilitary wing offered the Nazis their support with not just a few of these activists being recruited by the German secret services." In other words, the Muslim Brothers actively aided the Nazi agents in their effort to undermine British rule and pave the way for the Nazi conquest of Egypt. His evidence for this claim is problematic, to say the least.
Furthermore, Küntzel vitiates his own argument by raising the common theme of the enemy-of-my-enemy syndrome. Again, qualified scholars who investigated the Muslim Brothers' positions during the war never found any solid basis for such an assertion. The reader senses that perhaps the author himself is not fully committed to his accusation that the Muslim Brothers possessed an affinity for and collaboration with Nazism, when pondering Küntzel's disclaimer: "However, it would be wrong to characterize the Muslim Brothers as ardent followers of the Nazis. The Brotherhood rejected the Nazis' race policies and German supremacist nationalism, since both were at odds with their concept of the umma as the universal Islamic brotherhood. Moreover, al-Banna was far too religious a man to accept a non-Muslim leader such as Hitler as his model." This disclaimer illuminates the holes in Küntzel's findings and thesis and leaves the reader perplexed. It seems that in order to prove that the Muslim Brothers were the main channel of transmission of Nazi ideology to the Arab-Islamic world, the precursors of current global jihadism, and thereby constituted the roots of 911, Küntzel should have provided ample evidence that is more convincing. In the absence of concrete historical evidence, his attempt to define global jihadism's roots in the Muslim Brothers' purported collaboration with Nazis via the mufti seems to be at best a stretch, and at worst a forced, ideologically driven association.
Toward Revising the Established Narrative
Many of the studies covered throughout this survey have contributed invaluably to our understanding of Arab encounters with Nazism and Fascism. Their centrality to scholarly understanding of this era is not in question. They thoroughly recover the Arab modes of sympathy, identification, and collaboration with Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and the Axis. Their emphasis on the mufti's collaboration with the Nazis is undeniably justified in light of his active support for the Axis war efforts and his participation in the Nazi program for Jewish genocide. Nevertheless, it is clear that the established narrative's presentation of the subject is one-dimensional and reductionist and lacks historical proportion. Even if the narrative underscores the utter failure of the Arab-Nazi nexus, its exclusive focus on pro-Nazi and pro-Axis forces, movements, and organizations is only part of the story.
None of these studies relates to the broader intellectual and political landscape constituted by Arab public spheres. The studies evade an inherent defect that the narrative contains: If so many Arab forces were pro-Axis and pro-Nazi, then why did the Nazi-Arab project collapse, and how did the Allies secure such a resounding triumph in the Middle East as early as November 1942? Is it possible that the Axis defeat and the "incompatibility" between Nazi Germany and Arab nationalism also derived from widespread Arab anti-Nazism and anti-Axis positions?
A new picture began to take form when a few revisionist historians freed themselves from the paradigm of sympathy and collaboration and reframed the question. They asked, were there Arab individuals and forces that rejected Nazism and Fascism? Without underestimating those pro-Axis and pro-Nazi forces that operated in the Middle East in 1933–1945, the new narration showed that there was a multitude of other Arab voices. Only by recovering and analyzing these alternate voices and attitudes can one accurately portray this period and produce a deeper understanding of Arab responses to Fascism and Nazism.
Ami Ayalon's pioneering article "Egyptian Intellectuals versus Fascism and Nazism in the 1930s" was the first attempt to investigate Egyptian encounters with Fascism and Nazism from this new angle. Interestingly enough, his article appeared in Dann's edited volume for which Lewis wrote the epilogue. The few Egyptian intellectuals and activists that Ayalon sampled were sufficient to seriously problematize the institutionalized narrative and begin to erode the conventional perception of a monolithic Arab reaction. Most of the Egyptians examined in his brief article unquestioningly supported liberal democracy and Britain. Analyzing "widespread disapproval of the totalitarian call among broad circles of the Egyptian intellectual elite" in the 1930s, Ayalon asserts that "as the war broke out, a wave of strong denunciations of Germany and Italy swept through the pages of numerous Egyptian publications. Admittedly, they were printed under the open eye of the British and under strict censorship regulations. But their harsh language no doubt reflected real hostility toward Hitler and Mussolini." He concludes, "Parliamentary democracy, despite the discredit it had recently incurred, continued to enjoy much of its former support among the Egyptian intellectual elite. The voices of democracy's champions were louder than those of its critics who were fascinated by the Fürher and the Duce. . . . Most of them . . . remained dedicated to the democratic idea, with its implied liberties and rights, and were prepared to defend it at all times against the perils of totalitarianism."
In the same edited volume, I analyze the anti-Western weltanschauung of the Muslim Brothers. Based on their writings, I demonstrate that the Muslim Brothers viewed Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as chauvinist-aligned powers, genuine representatives of European, nationalistic, racist, and imperialist attacks on Islam and the East. The Muslim Brothers therefore concluded that they should be rejected as models for emulation. In the late 1990s, in a much lengthier and comprehensive work on Egyptian encounters with Fascism and Nazism during the interwar era, I molded the new approach by deconstructing many of the old contours. I showed that mainstream Egyptian politicians, intellectuals, and publics criticized Fascism and Mussolini, particularly in the context of the Ethiopian war in the middle of the 1930s, while other voices expressed opposition to the racist theories of Nazi Germany. I found that those attitudes that were identified due to their enthusiasm for Nazism were overwhelmingly eclipsed by anti-Nazi voices and positions.
This revisionist tendency gained momentum in the first decade of the 2000s. Contributors to the newest wave of scholarly discourse pose the following questions: What role did these newly discovered alternate voices play in thwarting the widespread introduction and impact of Fascist and Nazi ideas and practices? To what extent, if at all, did Arab intellectual and political support for democracy and the Allies factor into the defeat of Italy and Germany in the Middle Eastern arena?
Recent studies reflect two important developments in scholarship on the topic. The first underscores the shortcomings and disservices to our understanding created by the careless application of the labels "Fascist" and "Nazi" in the documentation of Fascism's and Nazism's influence on Arab individuals and organizations (particularly in greater Syria). The second embodies a more substantial current that entrenches the problematization of the established narrative. Using a much richer scope of Arabic sources and considering the subject from a more internally positioned Arab location, these new studies reconstruct robust local public discourses and demonstrate that the global importance of Nazi Germany triggered lively public debates on crucial issues such as democracy versus dictatorship, liberalism versus authoritarianism, and pluralism versus totalitarianism. Their discussions of racism gave rise to controversial debates about the very concept of the nation, the status of ethnic and religious minorities among an Arab-Islamic majority, as well as the relationship between the individual and his assumed primordial community. By carefully analyzing public discourses, these studies reconstruct mainstream voices that supported liberal democracy and rejected Fascist and Nazi totalitarianism and imperialism.
Studies by Peter Wien and Orit Bashkin have challenged the established narrative by demonstrating that the scholarly focus on pro-Nazi and pro-Fascist forces obscures many liberal and democratic spokespersons that were present in Iraqi public spheres and the print media. For Syria and Lebanon, recent studies by Götz Nordbruch, Manfred Sing, and Eyal Zisser underscore the uninterrupted power of liberal and democratic forces both on the political level and within civil society. Support for the French model of parliamentary government and a commitment to a representative, constitutional system are shown to have persisted in both Lebanon and Syria throughout the interwar years. René Wildangel and Mustafa Kabha have thoroughly perused the Palestinian press, demonstrating the widespread anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi sentiments among Palestinians. In a full book, James Jankowski and I have emphasized the role of public spheres and print media in constituting anti-Nazi and anti-Fascist positions and support for liberal democracy in Egypt. By analyzing tens of newspapers, magazines, and periodicals, we give voice to mainstream intellectual and political forces' commitment to liberalism, the 1923 Constitution, and parliamentary democracy in Egypt. These protagonists provided the vast support for the hegemonic parliamentary forces: the Wafd, the Sa\`adi, and the Liberal Constitutionalist Parties, as well as other liberal democratic politicians who supported Britain and the Allies during the war.
The endeavor to problematize and revise this institutionalized narrative is in the making. The described body of new scholarship suggests that this effort is already in a rudimentary stage. To be sure, elements from the established narrative still endure. Jeffrey Herf's recent work on Nazi propaganda in the Middle East adds a new and distinctive dimension to our understanding of German attitudes and policies toward the Arab world. He thoroughly investigates the project of Nazi propaganda for the Arab world, showing how the Palestinian issue was a dominant theme of Nazi propaganda. By highlighting British support for Zionism and consequent disavowal of the Palestinian cause, the Nazi messages were framed specifically in order to appeal to Arab anticolonial and anti-Zionist sentiments and, according to Herf, penetrated Arab opinion and promoted collaboration.
However, it is clear that the emerging narrative brings at least four new interrelated observations to the fore of the debate on Arab encounters with Fascism and Nazism. The first is that accurate comprehension of Arab responses requires in-depth research on public spheres and public opinions. The second observation is that the preliminary studies covered in this survey as well as those in the present volume have already revealed the discernible presence of anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi voices and forces. The third observation is that upon reconstructing these antitotalitarian forces, appropriate historic proportion is given to the constellation of pro-Fascist and pro-Nazi organizations and their activities. By highlighting the anti-Fascist attitudes, the new narrative introduces proper balance to the subject of Arab responses. Finally, the emerging narrative seriously problematizes the axiomatic "enemy of my enemy is my friend." Further academic investigation is imperative to determine the extent to which the scholarship that constitutes the emerging narrative can translate into a full.fledged revisionist narrative. It is my hope that the new evidence and proposed methods of investigation suggested in this collection will advance the project of revision so critical to Middle Eastern studies today.
““Gershoni has written an important work, showing that history and human motivations are never simple, and that much of what we think we know about the past is probably wrong."”
“A compelling new collection edited by Israel Gershoni . . . Its comprehensive overview of the topic, engaging prose, and historiographical rigor combine to produce a cumulative work highly recommended for specialists and general readers alike.”
American Historical Review
“[A] major contribution to the growing literature on this subject . . . Gershoni may be seeking to establish a revised narrative on this subject but there is a refreshing range of opinions in his volume.”
Middle Eastern Studies
“This is a terrific book—cutting-edge scholarship on a very important topic by a diverse group of respected scholars. . . . This is a collection that should be in every major library collection. . . . It will certainly be cited regularly in future works on the subject—and, not least, it is written in a style that will be very accessible to a very broad audience.”
Joel Gordon, Professor of History and Director of Middle East Studies, University of Arkansas