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Lecture | research seminar

Neo Pan-Arabism and the Quest for Legitimacy of the Maghrebi Leadership

Friday 31 March 2023
Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 3
2311 BZ Leiden
Verbarium (1.04, first floor)


All are welcome, however please register in advance at l-peg@hum.leidenuniv.nl to receive a copy of the paper and lunch.


In 2022, Algeria hosted the 31st Arab League summit, which also coincided with its 60th independence anniversary. The summit took place after a decade of Algerian isolationism. It also followed Algeria’s Hirak episode, when the leadership showed signs of abiding by the protesters’ demands and accepting the establishment of a liberal democracy. For Algeria, organizing the summit in such an important moment showed that the Algerian leadership links its domestic affairs to broader Arab causes, and believes that pan-Arabism continues to provide them with legitimacy, internally and regionally. During the same summit, Libyan and Tunisian leaders gave impassioned speeches about the need for Arab unity and criticized local and foreign impediments to Arab integration, even though their countries forged deep security, economic, and political ties with Western governments in recent years. The summit showed that there is a continuity between foreign activism, at least through pan-Arab rhetoric, and internal legitimation.

In his Dialogues in Arab Politics (CUP, 1998), Michael Barnett defined pan-Arabism as a legitimation tool for Arab regimes. But he was referring to a different type of pan-Arabism; what we are witnessing is the birth of a neo-Pan-Arabism. What are the features of this thinking? How is it different from traditional pan-Arabism? Why is it so powerful in places like Tunisia and Algeria, geographically distanced from the Middle East? To answer these questions, I will analyze the speeches and statements of Algerian, Tunisian, and Libyan leaders in the period between 2019 and 2022, as well as their UN votes, with regards to Arab causes and relationships with the West, and compare Algerian, Tunisian, and Libyan opinion polls about these issues. I will also look at financial assistance and grants circulating between the three countries during the same period.

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