History of the Contemporary Middle East

History of the Contemporary Middle East

Historyof the Contemporary Middle East

1.What were the attempts of Turkey and Egypt to modernize before 1914?

Egyptstarted to modernize way before the First World War in 1914. Majordevelopments started in early 17thcentury where representatives of Mohammed Ali in Cairo had began theconfiscation of all private owned lands. By 1808 all the lands hadbeen put under the control of Mohamed Ali Pasha with just a littlecompensation being given to the former individual owners (Tignor,1966).

Duringthe second Arabian campaign, Ali turned his attention towardsstrengthening the economy of Egypt besides his control over it.Monopolies for major products were introduced and the number offactories was increased (Tignor, 1966).

OttomanEmpire or Turkish Empire started to decline and modernize between theperiods of 1828 to 1908. The empire faced numerous challenges whiledefending itself from external rule. The empire saw the importance ofinvolving allies in tackling conflicts and included Britain, Russia,France and Netherlands (Hanioğlu, 2010). Nationalism destabilizedthe territories of the empire. Tanzimat reforms had been put in placebut were not enough to catch up with western modernization. A newdevelopment was achieved with collaboration with the Europeans.Various developments were realized including health care, education,infrastructure and industry especially oil industry (Hanioğlu,2010). However, the fall of the Ottoman Empire was also realized inthe same period.

2.How did the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration affectthe Middle East in the Post-Ottoman post-WWI era?

Theagreement had various stipulations as outlined in Ovendale, (2004).

Francewould be granted direct or indirect administration of an area thatwas referred as Blue Area which covered Syria and Lebanese coastalareas and Celicia.

Britainwould take over under similar conditions of the Red Area whichincluded southern and central Mesopotamia extending north to Baghdadas well as Acre and Haifa in Palestine.

Athird section known as the Brown Area which covered the remainingarea of the Holy land comprising Jerusalem would be underinternational authority to be decided later.

Thearea that was between the Red and Blue areas would be placed underindependent Arab authority but would be split into two small areasincluding the Northern A and Southern B (Ross, 2005). The Britishwould have rights to chose advisers to the Arab ruler and havepreference over contracts and loans to the Northern A. The French onthe other hand would enjoy the same privileges over Southern B.

TheBalfour Declaration came into place on November 2nd1917 just before the end of the second world war. It was basically aletter from the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, Arthur JamesBalfour addressed to Walter Rothschild, second Baron Rothschild whowas a leader of the British Jewish community to be sent to theZionist Federation of Ireland and Great Britain (Ross, 2005).

Thedeclaration laid the basis for the rivalry between Jews andPalestinians which started way back in post World War I. it gave theZionist movement international recognition and also promised themland in the Palestine soil (Ovendale, 2004). Before the declaration,Jews in Palestine made just ten percent of the population. Itpropagated massive migration of Jews from other parts of the worldand finally led to the creation of Israel state. This led to removaland exile of the Palestinians from their home land. In addition, itprovided a legal ground to Zionism which did not gain overwhelmingacceptance till then, even among the Jews all over the world. It ledto the introduction of a Jewish nation of Israel thirty years afterthe declaration (Ovendale, 2004). The state of Israel used force andhostility to evict a huge population of Arabs from Palestinians. Thisfueled the long going conflict between Israelites and Palestinians inMiddle East.

3.How did Iran attempt to modernize before 1941?

TheQajar Dynasty was overthrown in 1921 through the support of Reza ShahPahlavi who was an official in Iran’s sole military force. Reza hadestablished himself in four years time as the most influential personin the country through suppression of rebels and bringing order. RezaShah Pahlavi was officially named the new Shah after deposing AhmadShah of the Qajar dynasty.

Rezahad ambitious strategies for modernizing of Iran. The plans includedestablishing large scale factories, building a railway systemtraversing the country, implementing main infrastructure projects,establishing a public education system, improving health care andreforming the judicial system. Reza Shah believed that a strongnational government managed by scholars could execute hismodernization plans.

Toachieve his plans, Reza sent hundreds of Iranian citizens among themhis own son to Europe to study. In 16 years since 1925 to 1945 Shah’sseveral development projects changed Iran into an urbanized,industrialized country. The number of industrial plants in thecountry increased 17 times not mentioning oil installations while thenumber of miles of modern roads rose from 2,000 miles up to 14,000miles (Atabaki &amp Zurcher, 2004). There was also a rapid progressin the public education sector. The University of Tehran was alsoestablished during Reza’s reign leading to major improvement inpublic education in the country. The health care system alsoimproved significantly.

Thereemerged new social classes with an industrial working class and aprofessional middle class. His reign formed the foundation of themodern Iranian state. The Women’s Awakening during 1936-1941period, sought to eliminate the chador from the Iranian workingcommunity (Banani, 1961). People supporting the movement argued thatthe veil was preventing the ability of women to work well andexercise hence contributes to the development of the nation. Althoughthe move received religious opposition, Reza Shah supported theAwakening. The Awakening is closely associated to the second Congressof Eastern Women in Tehran in 1932 and the Marriage Law 1931 (Atabaki&amp Zurcher, 2004).

Onreligious tolerance, Reza Shah showed great support when he paidtribute to the Jews by participating in prayers in the synagogue whenhe visited the Jewish group of Isfahan, a show that boosted selfesteem of Jews in Iran and made Reza one of the most celebratedIranian leader after Cyrus the Great. As part of modernization, Shahbanned photography of Iran that appeared remote like photos of camelsand also banned clerical attire and chadors in support of westerndress. 4.In what ways did the Middle East radicalize between 1945 and 1975,and why were the Arabian Peninsula states able to buck this trend?

Theperiod between 1945 and 1975 is significant in history of the MiddleEast and in understanding the issues facing Arab World in general. In1n 1946 after Jordan gained independence, three years later ArabNations invaded Israel prompting a major conflict in the region.After Israel achieved its independence from the British in 1948,becoming the new State of Israel, it attacked Egypt later in 1956.This is after Egypt closed the Suez Canal as well as the Strait ofTiran to the Israelites. Israel invaded Egypt taking over Sinai andGaza peninsula with the help of Britain and France (Von der Mehden,1993). Kuwait and Syria later gained independence in 1961. By thistime, the Middle East had already been tensed from conflicts amongstthemselves. The UN resolution 242 of 1967 sought to have Israelreturn the seized territory to Egypt and at the same time pushing forrecognition of Israel by Arab nation, a confirmation of theprinciples of free movement which could lead to peace and stabilityin the region (Beinin, 2003). Several Middle Eastern States alsoearned their freedom from their colonizers in the following years(Von der Mehden, 1993). There was growing enmity between Middle Eastand Israel and other countries. Between 1973-1974 Arab States placedan oil embargo on nations which were in favor or appeared to colludewith Israel in their policies. Although the embargos was not longlived, it led to devastating effects on the economies of thecountries on which it was imposed on. Throughout the period, theMiddle East remained united against Israel and its allies leading tounending conflict especially between Palestine and Israel (Beinin,2003). 5.Why did Iraq and Syria turn to authoritarian rule between WWII andthe seventies?

In1936, Syria and France negotiated a treaty regarding independence.Although French deemed Syrian freedom as important, it continued itsmilitary and economic dominance. The former prime minister under KingFaisal short regime Hashim al-Atassi became the first president torule under the new law. However, the agreement between Syria andFrance did not come into force as French Legislature failed to ratifyit. When France fell in 1940 as a result of World War II, Syria cameunder the control of Vichy France. Syria was able to reclaim itsindependence again in 1941 but it was recognized as an independentstate in 1944. The slow withdrawal of France led to protest in 1945but they later left after much pressure. Between 1946 through late1960’s Syria had a difficult time. In a span of 10 years(1946-1956) the country had twenty different cabinets under fourdifferent constitutions (Ross, 2001). The involvement of Syria in theArab Israel War also fueled its leaders to exercise authoritarianrule. The outcome of the war formed the basis for the 1949 Syriancoup d’etat by Colonell Husni al Za’im.this was also followed byanother coup and a third coup that saw an Adib SHishakli, an armyofficer take power in 1949. Such coups made authorities maintain highauthority and control to suppress rebels in future (El Badawi &ampMakdisi, 2007). Regardless, there was discontent with the leadershipleading to another coup.

Iranwas also faced with similar history after WWII. There were severalfactors that prompted leadership to become authoritarian includinginternal threats for power struggle. The 1953 coup which overthrewthe Prime Minister Mohammad Mossaddegh was orchestrated by theBritish and the United States. This external threat was triggered byMossaddegh’s attempt to audit the books belong to Anglo-Iranian OilCompany which later changed to BP and alter the company’s access tooil reserves in Iran (Ross, 2001).


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Tignor,R. L. (1966). Modernizationand British colonial rule in Egypt, 1882-1914(p. 320). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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