Most readers probably know that many of the Arab states use as their flag a medley of black, red and white, sometimes also incorporating green. Following on my explanation of the predominance of white in the flags of the Persian Gulf, this post covers the history of those flag, also known as the “Pan-Arab” colors.
The story begins with the British-backed Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire of the 1910s. The father of these flags was adopted as the flag of Sheikh Hussein of Mecca, leader of the Arab Revolt during World War I. When the British rewarded him by making his sons the rulers of Jordan, Syria and Iraq, these colors were adopted in a very similar form in all countries.
The flag’s original theme was of Arab unity, but it became associated with the Hashemite kings and few accepted it as the colors of the Arab world. For decades it remained the flag of just Jordan, Syria and Iraq.
When the King of Egypt was overthrown and the “Arab” Republic of Egypt was established, the military coup again introduced the “liberation” flag, removing the color green, strongly associated with Islam, to promote the secular theme that was then politically trendy in the Islamic world. This flag then became the basis of the flag for the United Arab Republic, a short-lived union between Syria and Egypt (also joined by Yemen) that used the liberation flag with green stars. That flag remains the flag of Syria to this day. The liberation flag with one green star also became the flag of the new Arab republican government in North Yemen.
For reasons that I don’t fully understand, the Emir of Kuwait also adopted these colors as the new flag of Kuwait at about this time, the first gulf state to do so, but it was the first to vertically flip the colors,
From there, the popularity of the flag’s colors spread. For 1958, Jordan and Iraq united as the “Arab Federation” and both used the flag of Jordan. Following the overthrow of King Faisal in 1958, a new flag was used, but when the first republican government was overthrown, the flag was replaced with Egypt-style Pan Arab Colors that incorporated three stars. Republican Sudan and the newly united UAE also took the colors, but both keeping green as a major color.
Egypt adopted the final form of its current flag in 1984, after numerous changes on the same theme. Yemen took the Arab liberation flag as its national flag when it became united in 1990. And on 13 January 1991, Saddam Hussein changed the Iraqi flag to place the Takbir, the words Allaahu Akbar (God is Great) between the stars, apparently in Saddam’s own handwriting. The motive was both an attempt to garner wartime support from previously outlawed religious Iraqi leaders, to stop the disrespect of the Iraqi flag in Kuwait, and to garner support from the Islamic world in the period immediately preceding. After the 2003 war, a new flag that departed from the Arab colors was rejected after controversy that the flag resembled that of Israel. Later, the script was replaced with a local typeface, and later still, the stars were removed.