The importance of the role of Abd al-Rahman Azzam Pasha, the first Secretary-General of the Arab League from 1945 to 1952, has long been recognized in studies of Arab nationalism in Egypt. Nevertheless, the nature of the Arab nationalism embraced by Azzam and other Egyptians between the two world wars remains unclear, the subject of scholarly debates that have persisted for half a century. This work addresses some of the most persisting questions about the development of this nationalism through a richly textured study of Azzam's early years, including his student activism in Egypt, London, and Istanbul before World War I, his participation in the Libyan resistance to Italian imperialism during and after the war, and his emergence as a pioneer advocate of Arab nationalism within Egypt in the interwar period. Coury believes that Egyptian Arab nationalism drew upon long-lived elements of Egyptian culture, including a sense of kinship based on the Arabic language. However, he rejects the idea, so prominent in Western scholarship, that this nationalism represented the reassertion of a temporarily repressed Arab/Islamic identity that renounced Western liberalism and rationalism.
According to Coury, Egyptian Arab nationalism was developed by thinkers and activists of varied political and intellectual orientations who, for the most part, reflected the needs, interests, and perspectives of middle and upper class strata confronting a new conjuncture of social, economic, and political factors. These Egyptian Arab nationalists were becoming increasingly aware of Egyptian opportunities and responsibilities within the Arab world, and they sought to devise a strategy for political and socio-economic development that would nevertheless contain revolutionary impulses.