A Week of Flags / by George Bajalia

As one flag goes up, another goes down. 

This week, Mahmoud Abbas led the raising of the Palestinian flag at UNESCO, a ceremonial gesture, yes, but hugely important in the Palestinian people’s quest for UN recognized statehood. 


At the same time, President Barack Obama commemorated the retiring of the US Armed Forces flag in Iraq. The US, he said, has left a “sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq.” 


Naturally, the timing of these two events is pure coincidence. Nonetheless, it’s important to view them in the larger context of a shifting global perspective on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). As the “Arab Spring” brought unemployed youth and movements toward democratic self-governance, these events bring into focus the changing question of modern Arab nationhood. 

Up until the 1980s and perhaps beyond, Pan Arab nationalism was the rallying cry throughout MENA. Today, though, this has subsided to a large extent. To some, the Palestinian Question is the new focal point. To others, though, the modern “Arab” nation is a question of democratic equality and global economic partnership. 

As the US moves out of Iraq and Palestine pushes for UN recognized statehood, what will the post-revolution Arab statehood look like? If the primary avenue for nation-statehood is through multinational, bilateral organizations, and will pan-Arabism reemerge through bodies such as the Arab League? We have already seen the actions of the Arab League take a prominent international stance recently in their sanctions against Syria and this fall against Ghaddafi. Or, on the other hand, has pan-Arabism faded away and democratic sovereignty taken its place? Stay tuned for updates from Morocco as the new constitution starts to come into place…