Perspectives on Lebanon, (2 October 1976) New York, NY


Born in Bristow, Oklahoma, in 1926 to Christian Lebanese parents, Clovis Maksoud (كلوفيس مقصود) moved with his family to Beirut as a teenager. Maksoud was educated at the elite International School of Choueifat and the American University of Beirut before he returned to the United States to study law at George Washington University. He later went on to complete post-graduate studies at Oxford University. During his time in England, Maksoud developed an interest in India and a reputation as a capable debater. He was appointed as the Arab League Ambassador to India in 1961 at age 29 and served as League Ambassador to both the United States and the United Nations from 1979-1990. In addition to his diplomatic work, Maksoud was also a prolific author, journalist, and editor. Known for his passionate dedication to Arab nationalism, Maksoud was a staunch advocate for Palestinian independence. Upon Maksoud’s death, former Lebanese Ambassador to the United States Masoud Maalouf remarked that “Maksoud was one of the last warriors who truly believed in Arab nationalism and believed in the fight to defend Palestine as the cause for all Arabs.”1

In promoting Arab nationalism, Maksoud believed in the political unity of Arabic-speaking people: “People who spoke a unitary language… have one heart and a common soul… constitute one nation” and strive for a unifying “state.”2 While some scholars find traces of this thinking as far back as the medieval era, contemporary Arab nationalism developed as a political ideology in the early twentieth century.3 During World War I, aspirations for an independent, united Arab nation-state helped fuel the Great Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule.4 Although the imperialist ambitions of Britain and France prevented the full realization of this vision during the interwar period, Arab nationalism emerged as a vibrant force with a revolutionary edge following the Egyptian Free Officers’ Coup in 1951. Promulgated by Egyptian Premier Gamal Abdul Nasser, Arab nationalism came to rest on four principles: (1) a belief that the Arabs were a common people sharing a common destiny, (2) a secular commitment to anti-colonialism and anti-Zionism, (3) a commitment to social and economic justice, and (4) a diplomatic nonalignment in the Cold War.5 Well-suited for the era of European decolonization, Arab nationalism made major strides until Nasser’s defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War (also called the Six Day War). Despite this setback, advocates for Arab nationalism, like Maksoud, continued to make the case that pan-Arab unity offered the best path for an equitable Middle East order.

Starting in 1975, the Lebanese Civil War also presented a major challenge to Arab nationalism. As a multi-sided conflict lasting 15 years, the war pitted numerous militias and other sub-state actors against one another and the state. The war directly challenged the tenets of Arab nationalism as combatants organized along religious, ethnic, or regional lines, privileging confessional or other identities over pan-Arab attachments. Syrian dictator Hafez al-Asad cited the division caused by the war as a reason for intervention. Claiming to promote “the Arab cause and the Arab nation” and end a conflict that “undermin[ed] the principles of Arab nationalism,” he sent troops to Lebanon following the Tel al-Zataar massacre of Palestinian refugees by a force of Lebanese Christian militias.6 Far from rallying regional sentiment for Arab nationalism, however, Syrian intervention was decried by governments across the Middle East, exposing Arab disunity.

Maksoud delivered a speech on October 2, 1976 at the 9th Annual Convention of Arab-American University Graduates (AAUG). The convention was held at the Biltmore Hotel in New York City. Maksoud’s speech directly addressed the challenge that the Lebanese Civil War posed to pan-Arab unity. Stylistically, Maksoud was known for his extensive vocabulary and for using extremely long sentences to argue his points, seemingly adopting elements of a more free-flowing Arabic syntax in his speeches.7 Both these elements of Maksoud’s rhetoric, as well as his fervent commitment to Arab nationalism, can be seen in his speech before the AAUG Convention.


  1. “Arab-American scholar Clovis Maksoud Dies aged 90,” Al Jazeera, May 16, 2016,
  2. Abu Khaldun Sati’ al-Husri, Ma Hiya al-Qawmiya? Abhath wa Dirasat ‘ala Dhaw’I al Ahdath wa al’Nadhariyat/What is Nationalism?: Enquiries and Studies in Light of Events and Theories (Beirut: Dar al-‘Ilm li al-Malayeen, 1963), 57.  Albert Hourani, for instance, sees examples of Arab nationalism in the life and work of fourteenth-century philosopher Ibn Khaldun; Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples (New York: Warner Brooks, 1991), 4.
  3. Arab nationalism as a political ideology was popularized in the West by the figure of T.E. Lawrence following the Great Arab Revolt of World War I.
  4. Salim Yaqub, Containing Arab Nationalism: The Eisenhower Doctrine and the Middle East (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 31-32.
  5. Salim Yaqub, Containing Arab Nationalism: The Eisenhower Doctrine and the Middle East (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 31-32.
  6. Adeed Dawisha, Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 271; See also A.J. Abraham, The Lebanon War (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996), 69-85.
  7. James G. Abourezk, “Clovisizing America,” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2009,