1967 and the rise of extremism

Analysts say the defeat ended Arab nationalism and encouraged Islamist ideologies.

Arab Unity Episode 6 1967

Israeli armor advances against Egyptian troops at the start of the Six-Day War June 5, 1967 near Rafah, Gaza Strip [GALLO/GETTY]
More than 40 years after Israel defeated the combined armies of Jordan, Syria and Egypt in the 1967 war, some Middle East analysts argue that the conflict has helped to fuel the rise of Islamist ideologies.
Prior to the war, Arab nations such as Egypt, Iraq and Yemen overthrew monarchies and established military-backed socialist governments.
Arab nationalism and unity were touted as the ideological instruments to liberate occupied Palestinian lands and guide Arabs towards modernity.
But the speed of Israel’s victory shocked the Arab world and shattered the idea of Arab military might, as well as the region’s military governments.

Huda Awad, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign affairs, told Al Jazeera: “

What happened in 1967 shook the military prestige in the Arab world.”

“The cradle of authoritarianism was rocked and that repealed its legitimacy.”

Nationalism defeated

Amr Al Shobaky, an Egyptian political analyst and columnist believes that such a “devastating defeat” effectively ended the dream of Arab nationalism.

“It wasn’t just Egypt as a country that lost the war, but the political ideas upon which the country was based”

Amr Al Shobaky, Political analyst and columnist

“Before the 1967 war,” he said, “we were looking at an entire political model, an entire ideology based on socialism. It wasn’t just Egypt as a country that lost the war, but the political ideas upon which the country was based.”

The defeat caused a transformation in the Arab body-politic and the public quickly began contemplating alternatives to nationalism.

In the post-1967 political atmosphere, three theories emerged to explain the root causes for the defeat.

The first, also known as the Marxist approach, faulted Nasser for not being sufficiently socialist. The second theory cited the lack of libertarianism in the region as the reason for the defeat.

“The third explanation,” says Shobaky, “was the Islamic one, which stated that the defeat came as a result of the Arabs’ deviation from the religious path of Islam.”

Rallying call

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was the largest organisation seeking to create an Islamic theocracy.

The 1967 war convinced al-Zawahiri that
the secular political system was bankrupt

Members were routinely arrested and jailed but they maintained an uneasy relationship with the Nasserite government.

In 1966, however, Sayyid Qutb, the spiritual founder of the Brotherhood was executed.

Ayman al-Zawahri, then a 15-year-old junior member of the Brotherhood and aspiring medical student, would later recount in his book Knights under the Prophet’s Banner that the execution inspired him to form an underground network which sought to replace President Gamal Abdel Nasser with an Islamist caliphate.

But it would be the 1967 defeat that would serve as a rallying call for al-Zawahri and provide him new recruitment avenues.

Birthplace of Al-Qaeda

The execution of Qutb and the 1967 defeat became fixations for al-Zawahri and reinforced his view that the secular political system was bankrupt.

“Every single one of the Islamic jihadists I interviewed said 1967 marked a watershed [moment] for them”

Fawaz Gerges, author

Many other Islamists felt the same way.

In interviews, diaries and trial testimony they would recount how defeat at the hands of the Israelis injured their pride, culture and identity and left them feeling betrayed.

Fawaz Gerges, an expert on Islamic jihadist organisations and author of The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global, says the 1967 defeat and its aftershocks “can be considered the most pivotal event which helps us understand why Islamic militancy has become a potent force in the region”.

“Every single one of the Islamic Jihadists I interviewed said 1967 marked a watershed [moment] for them – a brutal awakening that Arab socialist leaders had deceived them,  Gerges told Al Jazeera.

The 1967 defeat, Gerges argues, gave way to a profound change in the Middle East as Islamism began to emerge as the dominating ideology.

Nationalists to Islamists

As increasing numbers of disillusioned nationalists abandoned socialism in favour of Islamism, the power of religious groups began to grow.

Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri issued a fatwa urging
the overthrow of US allies [EPA]

By 1978, al-Zawahri had become a leader of a core faction within Islamic Jihad calling for the violent overthrow of the Egyptian government and liberation of Palestine.

In 1981, members of Islamic Jihad assassinated Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president, who had signed a peace treaty with Israel two years earlier.

The ensuing state crackdown on the group forced many – including al-Zawahri, who was not implicated in the assassination – to flee to Central Asia where they waged “holy war” against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

When the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan in the early 1990s, a new Islamist infrastructure – al-Qaeda – began to fill the political vacuum.

In 1998, al-Zawahri and Osama Bin Laden consolidated their influence in Afghanistan and beyond and issued a fatwa titled “World Islamic Front against Jews and Crusaders” which called for the overthrow of governments considered friendly to the US.

The fatwa also called for worldwide attacks against US interests and liberation of occupied Arab land.

Forty years later



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Some Arab analysts believe the social, political, and economic challenges which emerged immediately following the 1967 war have prevailed and still haunt the Middle East today.

Despite the victory of radical Islam over nationalism, the end of the tunnel is no closer today than it was 40 years ago, they say.

Diaa Rashwan, Middle East expert at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, says the Arabs have not yet made substantial gains following the 1967 war or been able to overcome its disruptive aftershocks.

“Syrian and Palestinian lands occupied by Israel after the war are still under occupation today. Only Sinai has been returned, and at a very high price.

“The Palestinian refugees expelled from the lands occupied in the 1967 war are still displaced. Until their status is permanently resolved, along with the return of the lands taken, the effects of the war will linger.”

Source: Al Jazeera