THE BREAK UP OF THE MIDDLE EAST IN THE 20TH CENTURY
The structure of the security system in the Middle East has thoroughly developed throughout history, but all the main issue which we can witness today come from a structural breakdown of this system.
The first period of the breakdown of the Middle Eastern system began in 1798, when Napoleon invaded Egypt to conduct a mission for the French Executive Director. His goal was to conquer Egypt and exert influence on behalf of the French government in order to refrain English expansionism towards India. When Napoleon entered Egypt, he introduced various ‘modern elements’ to the Arab pollution, such as the printing press – useful for mass-literacy and mass-knowledge of the Quran – and modern techniques of warfare, such as guns on boats and ships. Napoleon aimed at dissociating Egyptians from the Ottoman Empire, introducing the concept of ‘nation’, which had been unknown to the Arabs until that very moment.
Before this point in time, Arab nationalism had never been an issue because of the ruling of the Ottoman Empire and the individual consideration of one strong Empire. In the Arab language, there was no word for ‘nation’, so the French translated ‘nation’ into the word ‘umma’, an overall Egyptian people. In the meantime, the British allied with the Ottoman Empire in order to counterbalance the French invasion in the Middle East. Later on, the Ottoman Empire weakened and it began losing control of other territories, for example during the Balkan Wars Austria became Austria-Hungary and various lands were lost and divided. In 1914, the First World War burst out, leading to the huge collapse of the Ottoman Empire into smaller and individual territories.
The second phase would occur between 1918 and 1947, when in 1918 World War One would end and the Allied powers would begin to discuss the terms of peace of the post- war order. One of these peace agreement would bring about the Sykes-Picot Agreement, one of the main decisive documents in the Middle East between France and Great Britain. The two powers, under the rule of the League of Nation, an organisation which was supposed to dictate the post- war order, would have the responsibility to hold ‘mandates’ in most of the territories in the Middle East such as Syria and Jordan. These mandates were not a synonym for colonies rather a way to exert influence on some areas of the Middle East to help populations to develop and mimic the growing Western world. Syria and Lebanon and Jordan were assigned to France whereas the United Kingdom had the possibility to expand around Iraq and exert influence on Palestine. The Sykes-Picot agreement would be a major source of anger for the Arabs, especially for Muslim- Arabs who would see it as a way for Europe to control the Middle East. During this era, the Palestinian conflict, still going on in today’s world, laid its basis. In fact, a part of the Palestinian territory had been promised to the Zionist movement, but there were already Arabs inhabiting those lands and with no intention of giving it away.
In 1922, Turkey became a nation with no European involvement in the process. General Mustafa Kemal had been charged by the Turkish ruler to carry out the disarmament process which was one of the war reparations due to Ottoman collaboration with Germany in World War One. Nevertheless General Kemal disobeyed and brought his troops up to the border with the Soviet Unions, expelling both the French and the Italians. Mustafa Kemal was then named ‘Ataturk’, known as father of the Turks, with a cult of personality that would be carried out throughout history from then on. The Cold War would actually begin In the Middle East before starting on the western front. When Reza Khan, leader of Iran, began to modernise his country, Great Britain decided to invade. During the war, Iran had a key role because it was the only territory through which the United States could deliver ships to the Soviets. By 1946, after the Battle of Stalingrad, the Soviet Union asked the United States to withdraw from Iran, but the Americans would settle to prevent Soviet expansionism. Already in 1947, the Soviet Union and America would experiment tensions which would then lead to the outbreak of a series of wars. In this era, three states were able to curve their territory without French and the British involvement and these were Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The development of oil had also been of the major interests of the superpowers in the Middle Eastern area, mainly for energy and security.
In theory we can consider the break up of the lands of the Middle East to have started even before the 20th century. Nevertheless here we have considered the main events since the beginning of the 1900s which have caused splits and tensions in the area and which would eventually lead to the outbreak of the Cold War and the evolvement of terrorism as we know it today.