There are three social groups which operated within the cultural phase of Arab nationalism; the intellectual group among those used newspapers to disseminate their nationalist ideas about the Arab culture resulting in giving birth to the first stage of modern Arab media. In fact, the Arabic language printed press played an important role in ushering the political and social developments of the Arab world, especially after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the shoot of Arab nationalism as well as the rise of colonialism (Koren, 2007).
The Arab printed press had a dual function during the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It did not only communicate news, but it was also a podium for critical essays on society, culture, religion and politics as it was totally oriented by the contribution of Arab writers, intellectuals, poets and thinkers. This implies that the target audience was, first and foremost, educated and politically involved elite in Arab societies. As a result, this period had a minor or no impact on the masses who only knew vernacular Arabic as opposed to classical Arabic which was used in newspapers. Thus, the masses benefited less from the ideas of Arab nationalism as they were put forth by the Arab printing press. Furthermore, the role of Arab press became more challenging with the emergence of two forms of nationalism. First, there was Pan-Arabism or Qawmiyya which was based on Arabic language and culture rather than religion or territory; the second was a localized version of nationalism known as Wataniyya which emerged with the rise of colonialism and was based on defined territories, and the specifics of local cultures and dialects. This made the Arab printed press locally-oriented and country-dependent making spreading the message about Arab nationalism a harder task (Cohen & Koren, 2003).
The qawmiyya version of Arab nationalism originated in Egypt and was led by the charismatic Egyptian president Jamal Abd Nasser, the last declining symbol of Pan-Arabism. The impressive ability of Nasser to mobilize Arab masses was received with an unparalleled suspicion from other conservative Arab rulers who deemed Nasser’s Pan-Arabism a threat to their national territorial integrity and, more importantly, to themselves as rulers. Consequently, there was a clash between qawmiyya and wataniyya, which was manifested in a tension between the Egyptian media and other Arab countries’ media. Additionally, Nasser made an effective use of the radio to address the Arab masses in wusta, a mixture of classical Arabic and popular slang. This new strategy was very appealing to his audience as it overcame the problem of illiteracy which encountered the printing press, making Pan-Arabism an easier concept to convey and grasp by the literate and illiterate alike in Arab countries (Koren, 2007). In fact, I think that Nasser could have been more successful in spreading Pan-Arabism had he made use of Television which was introduced in the Middle East only in the 1960s.
After the printed press and radio and before the rise of satellite television, the fax did also play an important role in reviving the declining Pan-Arabism, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Due to the strict censorship on Pan-Arabism by Arab governments with wataniyya agenda, hard-line Pan-Arab newspapers moved to Europe where they could reach the Arab readers through sending newspapers by fax without having to bear the censorship of Arab governments which had to face a new internationally qawmiyya-oriented media. However, it was the rise of satellite television and the internet which brought Pan-Arabism again to the forefront of public debates in the Arab World (Alterman, 1998). Clearly, the media has always played an important role in the development and spread of Arab nationalism; a role which was sometimes limited and another time successful, but it never reached the point of becoming a symbol of Arab nationalism. This paper argues that Al-Jazeera does not only play a key role in reviving and strengthening Arab nationalism but it did also become the emblem of Pan-Arabism.
Arabs differentiate between two kinds of Arabic. Classical Arabic or fusha which is close to the language of the Qur’an; and the vernacular Arabic or amiyya which is the spoken dialect that slightly differs from one county to another. The 1950s witnessed considerable changes when a Middle Arabic or wusta was used to make the media accessible for every Arab.