The New Arab Cold War And The Struggle For Syria

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Curtis R. Ryan Ph.D., Professor (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site:

Abstract: In his classic study, The Arab Cold War, Malcolm Kerr charted the machinations of inter-Arab politics during an era dominated by Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser. In another renowned work, The Struggle for Syria, Patrick Seale documented the links between Syria’s tumultuous domestic politics and the broader contest for supremacy in the region, stemming from factors ranging from inter-Arab conflicts to the global cold war. Today, amid the chaos in Syria and the transformations in the region, these texts, both originally published in 1965, seem all too contemporary. Once again, regional politics shows many signs of an Arab cold war and, once again, that broader conflict is manifesting itself in a struggle for Syria. In the Arab cold war of the 1950s and 1960s, inter- Arab relations were characterized by power struggles between “revolutionary” republics, led by pan-Arab nationalist military officers, and more conservative or even reactionary monarchies. The republics saw themselves as the future of Arab politics, with the aim of changing not only the type of regime in Arab states, but also the map of the region through repeated unification efforts. This pan-Arab project led to extensive intervention in the affairs of various states, by both sides, as the republics and monarchies waged proxy wars in civil conflicts in Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere. Many of the same elements - power struggles, ideological and identity conflicts, and proxy wars - are present today. The main difference is that the 2012 version of the Arab cold war does not array revolutionary republics on one side. Over time, the radical republics of the 1950s and 1960s became deep-seated authoritarian states, neither revolutionary nor particularly republican. Many of them have now experienced actual national revolutions, as opposed to the military coups of past decades that tended to be cast as “revolutions.” On the other hand, the greatest similarity to the earlier cold war is the mobilization of conservative monarchies attempting to block another wave of change across the Arab regional system.

Additional Information

Ryan, C. (2012). The New Arab Cold War and the Struggle for Syria, Middle East Report 262 (Spring 2012). Publisher version of record available at:
Language: English
Date: 2012
RECAPP 2020, Syria, Arab Cold War, monarchy, proxy wars, republic, Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan

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