Jul 9, 2013

Libya, Syria and Egypt

After the last post, I received a request to review the flags of Libya and Syria. Suddenly, I gained a very nice topic, as the forks of the themes are surprisingly numerous. I chose one.

I'll start from the Gadhafi-era Libyan flag:

This flag was adopted when Gadhafi was putting the ideas of its "Green Book" in practice. The green color is associated with Islam since the Fatimid Caliphate, that used a green banner similar to the image above. A flag in full green express, then, the total devotion to Islam and the principles of "Green Book".

The flag is evidently simple, striking and easy to be manufactured, but I can't decide if the simplification is exaggerative or not. Some people liked it, others not. Just for curiosity, plain green flags are used in other parts of the world, like Beni, in Bolivia, and Candelaria, in El Salvador, but we can guess they are not related to Islamism.

After Gadhafi's deposition, a new flag was adopted; more precisely, the design is identical to the flag Libya used during its brief monarchy (1951-1969):

The black field and crescent and moon are derived of the Cyrenaica dynasty of the Senussi, that ruled the unified Libya. Red is for the blood shed on independence process, while green is related to the birth of a new country. Notice that the green in this flag has a different symbolism of the one in Gadhafi-era flag.

Now, starting with Syria (but without forgetting Libya), its current national flag:

This flag was originally adopted in 1958, when Syria and Egypt joined the United Arab Republic. The two stars represent, consequently, the two countries that formed the union. A third star was briefly adopted when Iraq tried to join them, but removed when the attempt failed (because Iraqi Ba'athist government was overthrown). The three stars also represented the three pillars of Ba'athism: unity, freedom and socialism. After that, Libya united Syria and Egypt on the then-named Federation of Arab Republics. The stars were then replaced by the hawk of Qureish (the tribe where Muhammad was born). A very similar flag is still used by Egypt, with the exception that the hawk of Quraish was substituted by the eagle of Saladin.

Syria on Federation of Arab Republics - with hawk of Qureish:

Egypt - with eagle of Saladin:

When the two stars were re-adopted by Syria, the symbolism was changed, although still representing the pan-Arabism: it's now a symbol of Arab unity.

Now, a little about the flag currently used by Syrian rebels:

This flag was the same Syria used after its independence. Here you find another connection to Libya, as Libyan rebels used to use the flags of a previous government (now reinstalled as national flag). The three stars represent the French districts of Aleppo, Damascus and Deir ez-Zor, that formed the unified Syria. The symbolism was soon changed, with the three districts being represented by only one star, with the two remaining representing the joining Sanjak of Latakia and Jebel Druze.

Concluding the text, I hope you noticed how much the flag histories of these three countries are connected. Also, I'd like to point that the examples I cited represent an important characteristic of Arab vexillology: the symbolism related to pan-Arabism. In a wider range, even the use of the pan-Arab colors is a result of this tendency, but no countries have showed this so prominently like Syria and Egypt, with the possible exception  of Iraq. If I can guess, I bet it's related to the influence of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism on the policy of those countries. But it's only a supposition, I may be wrong.

Your comments, suggestions and requests are welcome!


  1. Thanks so much for the informed review, really well researched and written

    1. You're welcome. And thanks for the compliments.


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