Liberation from Colonial Rule: Arab World-Egypt | History UPSC Notes

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Liberation from Colonial Rule: Arab World-Egypt

The Middle East, Independence and Decolonization

• In the years right after the end of World War II, official European empires in the Middle East started to fall apart.

• France left Syria and Lebanon in 1946, after getting into many bad fights with the local people. When the British left Palestine in 1948, they left behind the new country of Israel, which was made from a big part of Palestine. Most of the rest of Palestine was used to make the country of Jordan. The British left Egypt and Iraq after they signed a number of treaties and agreements. One of these agreements gave Sudan its freedom.

Even though the official empires of European countries seemed to fall apart in the 1950s, the former colonial powers, including the U.S., kept a presence in the area. Britain and the U.S. both wanted to be in charge of how much oil was made.With the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, these kinds of goals had to be pursued in the context of a bigger set of geopolitical tensions. In fact, the process of getting freedom in the Middle East has been very hard.

• Albert Hourani, a historian, said, “It would be better… to see the history of this period as a complex interaction: of the will of ancient and stable societies to reconstitute themselves, keeping what they had of their own while making the necessary changes to survive in a modern world increasingly organised on other principles, and where the centres of world power have been and still are outside the Middle East.”

• To understand how freedom and decolonization happened in the Middle East, you have to go back to the 1800s. In different parts of the region, the British, the French, and the Ottomans had different levels of control. Strong nationalist feelings were against this foreign control everywhere in the area.

• During the second half of the 1800s, groups like the National Party in Egypt, the Young Ottomans and then the Young Turks in the Ottoman Empire, hidden Arab societies in Beirut and Damascus, and the Young Tunisians spread the idea of autonomy.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, these groups started to put on nationalist protests. Some of these directly attacked the rule of the British, the French, and even the Ottoman Turks. The ideological head of these groups told these direct challenges to imperial presence what to do. Arab nationalism became popular among thinkers in Greater Syria. Turkish nationalism also grew, with its own ideas about how national communities should be made. In Iran, different kinds of nationalism had different ideas about what the country’s future would be like.

• Throughout the area, the relationship between the colony and the metropole (the power that did the colonising) had a big impact on the intellectual, ideological, and physical growth of both. For example, the Algerians became more resistant to the French the more they tried to get things from them. Over time, this resistance turned into a sense of nationalism that was completely at odds with the political reality of being colonised, which is to say, only living for the betterment of the coloniser. Feelings of political, economic, geographical, and religious identification all came together to make a strong force. This force, on the one hand, made strong ties between people and, on the other hand, made people in the Middle East feel very different from Europeans.

• During World War I, people tried to get freedom or at least the right to decide for themselves for the first time. In 1916, if Hussein ibn Ali, the emir of Mecca and sharif of the Hashemite family, helped the British fight the Ottomans, they offered him independence. In the same year, Britain also signed a secret agreement with France called the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This agreement called for an independent Arab State or a union of states, but it was purposely vague about how much power each of these countries would have in this “independent” state. According to the agreement, the Middle East would be split between the allies after the war. France and Britain were “prepared to recognise and protect an independent Arab state or a confederation of states… under the suzerainty of an Arab chief.” This so-called separate state was to be made up of parts of Turkey, Syria, Transjordan, Palestine, and Iraq.

At the end of the war, Britain and France divided the Middle East into new territories called mandates. The idea was that these mandates would be helped along the way to freedom by Britain and France.In fact, they used their power to further their own goals, which made Arabs angry. During most of the 1800s, the patriot groups listed above and others like them organised and sometimes fought against imperial rule. They did this not just against the British and French, but also against the Ottoman Turks.

• Nationalism started among the educated leaders in Arab countries, but it spread to more and more people as the promised self-determination didn’t happen and occupation and colonial control kept going.

• In the late 1800s, nationalist groups started to grow in Turkey and Iran, and by the 1910s, modern states were starting to form. During the 20th century, these different places went through different kinds of independence, and the new states and societies that formed were also different.

The Development of Arab Nationalist

• Arab nationalism is still a strong force in the world today. Arab is a word with a complicated history. Today, it generally means a person whose first language is Arabic. Arab nationalism is also hard to explain. It can be used as a synonym for Pan-Arabism or more specifically to talk about freedom movements in Arabic-speaking countries.

• In the 1850s and 1860s, Arabs became more aware of their own culture. This was shown by the renewed study of the ‘Abbasid time (roughly 750–1258), and stories of the ‘Abbasids’ grandeur, wealth, and intellectual pursuits helped Arabs feel proud and united.

• At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, a new educated class grew up in Baghdad, Cairo, and Damascus. These people began to support the idea of Arab “nations.” This growing group of smart people pushed for not only a sense of national unity but also a way to organise society and plans for independent growth.

Arabs had to break away from the historical control of the Ottoman Empire and keep European nation-states at bay. World War I made the Ottomans less powerful, but it also gave the British and French more control over the Arab world’s economic development, even if only for a short time.

• In 1913, the Arab National Congress asked for the Arab areas of the weak and disorganised Ottoman Empire to have their own governments. Arabs also wanted the British and French to give them more freedom. The British and French had a lot of power and influence, but the Arabs didn’t like it one bit.

• With the start of World War I in 1914, Arab demands started to hurt Britain’s position in the area, especially since the Germans used the war to spread anti-British feelings. The Germans talked to Hussein, who was the Sherif of Mecca and had a lot of power over the Muslim people in the area. Hussein kept helping the Germans right up until June 1915. Ibn Saud was another important contact for the Germans. He was very powerful on the Arabian Peninsula and had a lot of power in the area east of the Persian Gulf, which was all controlled by the British.In the last part of 1915, Hussein got back in touch with the British and asked for their help in talks to get the Arabs out from under Ottoman rule.

Even though the British were willing to help and back a “Arab Confederation,” they signed the Sykes-Picot agreement with the French in 1916. The Arabs were not allowed to know what was in the agreement. Bolshevik Russia still told the world about these specifics. As the news spread, Arab nationalist groups became worried because sovereignty seemed to be slipping away instead of getting closer.In 1917, something happened that has changed the politics of the Middle East in a way that will last for a long time. The Balfour Declaration, which was made in November of that year, is something that the Middle East and the rest of the world still have to deal with today.Balfour also said that this home would be set up on the condition that nothing would be done to hurt the civil and religious rights of the other people living in Palestine. The fact that Palestine is still occupied and the state of Israel is still fighting over its lines shows that the original goal of making Palestine a Jewish homeland was not successful.

The Arab Revolt against the Ottomans began in 1916 and ended in 1918, when Palestine and Syria were no longer controlled by the Ottomans. But the British took over in place of the old empire. This was an unintended result of asking the British for help to get rid of the Ottomans.Arabs thought that the British would give them their freedom when World War I was over. Instead, the French and British made plans in 1919 to split the Middle East between themselves. The British got control of Mesopotamia, which is now Iraq, Palestine, and the area that is now Jordan. The French were given control of Syria and Lebanon. Only the far-off desert areas were not controlled by the British or the French. As was said above, these new areas were properly called mandates and were registered as such with the League of Nations, which had just been formed.

Between the 1920s and the 1960s, Arab nationalism grew into a force that the British and French found harder and harder to fight. The League of Arab States, made up of Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Transjordan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, was the best example of this maturing. It showed Arab unity and cooperation in making a future for people in the Middle East.

The Emergence of Modern Nation-States

• The next part will look at decolonization and modernization in the Middle East country by country. Because the Middle East is made up of so many different countries, each country will only get a brief look.

The finding of oil in the 1920s and 1930s was a big deal for all the countries in the area. Oil production had a huge effect on the economies of the Middle East, but by the 1950s, it was also having an effect on the economy of the whole world. This made it inevitable that the way politics worked in the area would change.


• Bahrain is on the Persian Gulf and is made up of 33 islands. In the past, it has had trade relationships with many other people and countries. The Persians, the Omanis, the Portuguese, and the British have all lived there at different times. From 1861 to 1971, Bahrain was a British territory. The royal family of Bahrain, the Al Khalifas, came to the area in the middle of the 18th century and had to deal with different occupants. In 1971, one of the Al Khalifas, Isa ibn Salman Al Khalifa, took Bahrain back from the British and gave it to its own people. Pressure from the local people was not always what led to the end of British rule. People’s ideas about Britain’s changing place in the world were a big reason why it moved away from the Gulf. When Britain pulled its troops out of the Gulf in 1968, Emir al Khalifa declared independence in 1971.

Bahrain and Britain made a treaty of peace, ending Britain’s role as a protectorate.

• Bahrain joined both the UN and the Arab League in the end. Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy, and the emir hands over power to his eldest son.

• After oil was found in 1932, Bahrain was one of the first Gulf states to make money from it.

• Today, its people enjoy these benefits in the form of good schooling and health care, but unemployment is still a problem. There are also worries about the tensions between Bahrain’s rulers and the poor Shi’ites in the country. Bahrain gets along well with its Gulf neighbours, other Arab countries, and a number of Western countries, including Britain and the US. This small kingdom has a bright economic future because its economy is well diverse.


• Both France and Britain were interested in making decisions about Egypt’s future. This was called caise de la dette, which means “dual control.”

• Their business and then political goals brought them together at the turn of the 19th century and kept them together until 1882.

• Uribi Pasha Al-Misri, a nationalist general in the Egyptian army, didn’t like the fact that Turkish ad Circassion officers were there. He led a revolt against them in 1881, and his phrase, “Misr li’l Misriyn” (Egypt for Egyptians), made him a national hero.

The leader of Egypt was worried about how famous ‘Urabi was getting, so he asked the British and French for help stopping it.Britain and France were eager to help, so they set up a military show at Alexandria. After that, there were riots in the city, so the British bombed it. Urabi led the Egyptian army against the foreigners, but he was beaten, which made it possible for Britain to take control of Egypt. Egypt was given to Britain as a protectorate in 1914. It became an independent state in 1936, but it was still ruled by a monarchy until 1953.

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Arab nationalism and anti-imperialism, which could be violent at times, were strong in Egypt as long as Britain ruled directly or indirectly from Cairo.During the first few decades of the 20th century, Egyptian nationalism was clear. In November 1914, Britain went to war with the Ottoman Empire. A month later, it said that Egypt was under its protection. At this time, nationalism was a reaction to local problems. Egypt had to deal with the costs of World War I, which hurt the people.

• The declaration of martial law during the British occupation hurt the nationalist ideas of the thinkers.

• In 1917, Ahmad Fu’ad took over as ruler. In the days after the end of the Great War, three Egyptian politicians led by Sa’d Zaghll wanted Egypt to be independent. They chose to send a group of people (called a “Wafd” in Arabic) to England to make their case.The British government did two things that helped the nationalism movement grow faster. First, it turned down the group, and then it put Zaghll in jail. Egypt erupted in protest. Representatives in Britain talked with the nationalists and tried to get them to stop fighting. Zaghloul was freed, and the Wafd took over Egyptian politics. It put pressure on the British to talk about Egypt’s “independence,” which ended Egypt’s position as a protectorate. However, the British government kept control over defence, foreign affairs, imperial communications, and the Sudan.In 1922, Fu’ad became the king of Egypt, which was a constitutional monarchy at the time. The Wafd, which was led by Zaghll and was the most popular nationalist party, kept calling for true national freedom. In the 1930s, King Farouk, who took over from Fu’ad, was very popular, but the Wafd quickly lost its position as the symbol of Egyptian nationalism when its leaders decided to help the British win the war.

• At the end of World War II, Egypt’s government was in a total mess. The Wafd almost went away, and the torch of nationalism was taken up by the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical group that a lot of people liked.

• During the 1940s, Cairo was the site of sometimes violent protests. Egypt’s nationalism hit new heights during the same decade that Israel was founded and Egypt played a key role in making the Arab League. From then on, political turmoil was the norm until 1952, when waves of nationalism changed Egypt’s future.

• On January 26, 1952, anti-British protests broke out. These were important to the Egyptian nationalism movement, and they caused a lot of damage to hotels, a travel agency, and the airline offices in Cairo, which were symbols of the British presence there. In what is now called the “Black Saturday” riots, 17 Britons were also killed.

• On July 23, 1952, a coup d’état got rid of King Farouk, who was seen as a puppet of the British by most people at the time. The coup was almost bloodless, and Farouk left the country. It was planned by a group of military officers called the Free Officers’ Executive Committee.

• Gamal Abdul Nasser, who was the head of the Free Officers’ Executive Committee, took over as the new leader of Egypt. Egypt became a republic about a year after that. Nasser quickly made changes to the way people lived and how land was used. Eventually, he came up with a set of changes that became known as Arab Socialism. Even when Nasser was in charge, Egypt still had ties with the British and the Americans, even if they were not always good.Egypt became a leader among Arab countries, and Nasser became a star in Arab countries. Nasser wanted the rest of the world to recognise the humanity of Arabs and their right to work together to build their own futures. But Egypt ran into several problems on its way to becoming independent. The West wasn’t ready to lend money without putting unreasonable conditions on it, so Nasser called these loans “imperialism without soldiers.”

• By 1961, though, Nasser’s relationships with Britain and the U.S. were better, and both countries had full formal ties with Egypt.

The unsolved problem of the Occupied Territories of Palestine, also known as the state of Israel, was a big threat to Egypt’s future peace. The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group inside Egypt, was another group that fought against Nasser’s government. Nasser and his replacement, Anwar Sadat, tried to modernise Egypt. Islamic conservatives did not like this, and many of them were put in jail. Sadat had to pay with his life when Islamist extremists killed him in 1981.

• In the last years of the 20th century, Egypt had to deal with a number of problems, especially economic ones. Even though oil and cotton were still the country’s main exports, most Egyptians did not gain from them. This was because Egypt had the fastest-growing population in the Arab world. This made some parts of the people more unhappy, and they turned more and more to fundamentalist Islamist groups.

The country’s leader, Hosni Mubarak, tried to improve Egypt’s reputation in the Arab world. In recent years, many Arabs thought Egypt was too close to the U.S. and Israel, but Mubarak tried to change that while keeping good ties with Western powers and Israel.

Egypt, World War II, and the results of it

Even though Egypt helped Britain during World War II (1939–1945) because of a deal signed in 1936, few Egyptians supported Britain and many expected it to lose.In 1940, the British put pressure on the king to get rid of his prime minister, Al Mhir, and replace him with a government that would work better with them. When German troops threatened to invade Egypt in early 1942, the 4 February Incident, a second British intervention, forced King Farouk to make al-Nais his prime minister. The general election in March 1942 showed that the Wafd had a lot of power, so it worked with Britain.Still, Britain’s move to get involved in February was a disaster. It showed that Farouk didn’t like the British or al-Nais, and it hurt the Wafd’s claim to be the leader of Egyptian nationalism. Internal fighting and accusations of graft also hurt the Wafd. Al-Nais was fired by the king in October 1944. The British were happy with his replacement, Amad Mhir, but he was killed in February 1945, when Egypt declared war on Germany and Japan. Al-Nuqrsh, another Saadist, took over after him.

Egypt was in a very dangerous state at the end of World War II. The Wafd didn’t agree, so its political opponents took up the nationalists’ call for a change to the treaty of 1936, especially for all British troops to leave Egypt and for Britain to stop running the Sudan.Radicals were taking over the government. The Muslim Brotherhood was started in 1928 as a popular Islamic reformist movement. It grew from there into a large-scale militant group. Demonstrations in Cairo got more and more rowdy and happened more often. Because of the pressure, no Egyptian government was able to solve its two biggest problems with the outside world: the need to change the treaty with Britain and the desire to help the Arabs in Palestine.Al-Nuqrsh and, after February 1946, his replacement idq tried to negotiate with Britain, but they failed because Britain wouldn’t say for sure that the Sudan would never be free. In July 1947, Egypt took the issue to the United Nations (UN), but it didn’t help its case.Before the time between the wars, neither the Egyptian people nor the politicians were very interested in Arab affairs in general. Egyptian nationalism grew out of local conditions and was a reaction to them. After World War II, Egypt became more committed to the Arab cause in Palestine, but its unexpected and crushing defeat in the first Arab-Israeli war (1948–49), which had been started with Syria, Iraq, and Jordan in response to the creation of the State of Israel, changed that.

The Muslim Brotherhood did more dangerous things. Al-Nuqrishi tried to stop the group when he was prime minister again, but he was killed in December 1948. Hassan al-Banna, who was in charge of the Brotherhood, was killed two months later.

In January 1950, the Wafd won the general election, and al-Nais again put together a government. Since he couldn’t come to an understanding with Britain, he got rid of both the 1936 treaty and the 1899 Condominium understanding in October 1951.After protests against the British, guerrilla fighting was used against the British garrison in the canal zone. As a result of British retaliation in Ismailia, Cairo was set on fire on January 26, 1952. Al-Nas was fired, and in the next six months, there were four new prime ministers.

The Nasser Regime & Suez Crisis

• Egypt was ready for a change around the middle of the 20th century. Both right-wing and left-wing political groups pushed for extreme changes. The monarchy was overthrown in a coup on July 23, 1952, by a group of military rebels called the Free Officers. This group was led by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser. In a broad sense, the history of modern Egypt is the story of this coup, which stopped a revolution but then turned into a revolution from above.

• For more than 50 years, rule by Free Officers brought just enough progress at home and improved reputation abroad to make Egypt an island of stability in a troubled Middle East.The 1952 coup was driven by a strong but hazy sense of Egyptian nationalism, not by a clear set of ideas. It led to the creation of a government that was at first reformist but became less vague as a result of a power struggle at home and the need to make peace with the British, who still had a base on the Suez Canal.

Nasser was challenged at home by Maj. Gen. Muhammad Naguib from February to April 1954. Naguib was an older officer who was the leader of the Free Officers and had been president of Egypt since June 1953, when it became a republic. In January of that year, there were no longer any political groups. Nasser used the police and the backing of the working class, which was organised by some trade unions, to add to his power in the military. Naguib got support from the small middle class, the groups that used to be in power, and the Muslim Brotherhood. In the end, Nasser took over as minister and Naguib was put under house arrest. Nasser’s victory meant that the government would have to depend on its military, security apparatus, and carefully controlled manipulation of the civilian population.

• In the West, Nasser’s early moderation about Egypt’s biggest foreign policy problems—the Sudan, the British presence, and Israel—has been forgotten. A deal signed in February 1953 gave the Sudan a short time of self-government. In January 1956, the Sudan became an independent republic. Long talks led to the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement in 1954, which said that British troops would leave the canal zone in stages. Some Egyptians didn’t like the treaty because they were worried that outside events could make it possible for the British to move back into the canal ports.

In October 1954, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood tried to kill Nasser. This was used as an excuse to get rid of the group. Several of its members were killed, and hundreds were jailed in horrible places. In the years to come, these jailings would have bad results as a new generation of Brotherhood activists became more hardened and came to different conclusions about how the Egyptian government works. One of them, Sayyid Qub, a secularist writer and scholar who joined the Brotherhood late, used his time in prison to write a plan for modern Islamic holy war. This plan was later adopted by a large number of Egypt’s Muslim militants. Looking back, it’s clear that Nasser was a reluctant leader of the Arab struggle against Israel. His main goal was to improve things at home. But a dangerous pattern of violent exchanges led to a new round of fighting between Egypt and Israel. Small groups of Palestinian bandits called “fedayeen” were sneaking into Israel from areas like Gaza that were controlled by Egypt. Early in 1955, the Israeli government started a policy of retaliation on a big scale. One of these strikes—an attack on Gaza in February 1955 that killed 38 Egyptians—showed how weak the Free Officer government’s military was. The regime had tried to buy weapons from the West, but they were not able to do so.In September 1955, Nasser told the world that Egypt and Czechoslovakia (representing the Soviet Union) had made a deal to share arms. Nasser’s refusal to join the Baghdad Pact (the Middle East Treaty Organisation, later called the Central Treaty Organisation), which was formed earlier that year by Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States to stop Soviet expansion in the Middle East, paved the way for better relations between the Soviet Union and Egypt. With the arms deal in 1955, the Soviet Union became a strong force in the area.When the United States and Britain didn’t give Egypt the money they had promised for building the Aswan High Dam, Nasser’s original support for the West started to fall apart. Nasser took over the Suez Canal Company with defiance in July 1956 so that he could use the money from it to pay for the dam. Britain and France, who owned a lot of shares in the company, were upset by Nasser’s actions. France was also upset that Egypt helped Algerians rebel against French rule, so they came up with a complicated plan to take control of the canal back. In October, Israel fought Egypt with the help of France and Britain. This was because Egyptian-backed guerrillas were still attacking Israel. Then, the two European powers sent their own troops into the canal zone and said they were enforcing a UN peace decision. The so-called Suez Crisis ended quickly, though, when the United States and the Soviet Union put pressure on the countries that had invaded. Nasser was still in charge of the canal, even though his army had been defeated. The next year, Egypt agreed to have a UN Emergency Force (UNEF) stationed in the Sinai Peninsula to keep Egyptian and Israeli troops from fighting each other.Nasser was chosen president in June 1956, when he was the only candidate. Over the next ten years, he took a more radical stance. He made the National Union as a way to get the people to work together. He also started a bold programme to change the country from the top down, which he called a “revolution from above.” He also tried to make Egypt the leader of the Arab world.Early in 1958, Egypt and Syria joined together to make the United Arab Republic (U.A.R.). However, many Syrians didn’t like how Egypt was in charge, so the union broke up in September 1961. Egypt kept the name United Arab Republic until 1971. Nasser said that the breakaway was caused by conservatives in Syria, and as a direct answer, he moved his revolution in Egypt further to the left. In the spring after that, a National Charter said that Egypt’s government was based on scientific socialism. The National Union was replaced by the Arab Socialist Union (ASU), a new mass organisation. Most big production companies, banks, transport services, and insurance companies were taken over by the government or shut down. In 1950, industry made up 10% of the total output of the country. By 1970, that number had doubled. But Egypt’s farmland wasn’t as good as its industry, and the country’s fast population growth made up for the lack of progress in agriculture. Nasser passed a policy in 1952 that said each person could only own 200 feddans (208 acres or 84 hectares) of land. This was a big step towards agricultural change.During this time, the possible armed threat from Israel was always taken into account by the U.A.R. government. It tried to improve ties with the Soviet bloc and get Arab countries to work together, but most of the time it failed. Nasser hid the fact that Egypt was actually more moderate on the issue of Israel by talking tough and threatening Israel. He did this to keep his standing in the Arab world.Nasser’s Pan-Arab policy took a hit when the union with Syria did not work out. Nasser helped the republicans win Yemen’s civil war from 1962 to 1967 so that they could get back in charge. Because of this, the U.A.R. got into a fight with Saudi Arabia, which backed the Yemeni royalists, and the U.S., which backed Saudi Arabia. Up until that point, Nasser had been able to get a lot of help from both the US and the USSR. Congress did not like Nasser’s policies, so in 1966, the U.S. stopped giving him money.This series of about-faces was a big part of why Nasser gave up his strategy of “militant inaction” towards Israel. The UNEF was stationed on the Egyptian side of the border with Israel for 10 years. This helped keep the border with Israel relatively calm. Nasser had urged restraint at the Arab summits of 1964 and 1965, but he couldn’t stop what happened in 1966. From bases in Jordan, Lebanon, and especially Syria, Palestinian attacks on Israel were happening more often and with more force. The radical Syrian government said it would help the Palestinian terrorist raids. On November 13, 1966, 18 people were killed and 54 were hurt when Israel attacked Jordan. Nasser was publicly teased for hiding behind the UNEF, so he knew he had to do something. The Egyptian president asked the UNEF to leave the line with Sinai. But that meant, according to U Thant, that the UN troops stationed at Sharm al-Shaykh at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba had to leave. Egyptian troops then blocked Israeli ships from going through the gulf.

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• Israel had made it clear that closing off the Gulf of Oman would lead to war. On June 5, 1967, Israel attacked Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in what it called a military strike. This started a short war that became known as the Six-Day (or June) War. Israel won quickly and easily against Egypt and its friends.

In the first few hours of the war, all of Egypt’s airfields were hit, and most of Egypt’s planes were destroyed while they were still on the ground.

Egypt’s troops were defeated and forced to flee in the Sinai Peninsula. About 10,000 Egyptians died, and on June 8, the Israelis reached the Suez Canal.

• During the war, Israel seized the whole Sinai Peninsula, as well as other Arab countries’ land, and the Suez Canal was closed. Instead, the waterway became a fortified ditch between the two warring sides.

• Egypt was devastated by the loss, which hurt even more because the government media had given a falsely positive picture of Egyptian activities in the first days of the war. Nasser was embarrassed, so he quit, but there was a lot of public support for him to stay in office, which was only partly manipulated by the government.

No matter what, the time of Nasser was over. Egypt quickly got more weapons, and soon after, the Israeli army (especially its air force) and Egypt were in a low-level war along the canal that became known as the “War of Attrition.” Nasser, on the other hand, started a move to the right, both at home and abroad, that his replacement, Anwar Sadat, would speed up sharply.


• This Middle Eastern country, which is now called the Islamic Republic of Iran, has gone through a lot of political and philosophical changes since the beginning of the 20th century.

• From 1796 to 1925, Iran was ruled by the Qajar family. In 1925, Reza Khan became Reza Shah of the Pahlavi dynasty, and his children had the right to take over the throne.During the nineteenth century, European presence and power grew. By the end of the century, there was a lot of dislike from the public and religious leaders because the shahs lived in luxury and spent a lot of money to keep the Europeans happy. Merchants and the Shi’ite clerics (lma) worked together during the uprising against the shah.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the owners joined them as well. At the same time, a movement based on ideas learned from the West and calling for democratic reforms began. During World War I, the Russians left northern Iran, leaving the British as the only European force there. In 1921, Britain left the war because of pressure from other countries. Reza Khan, an Iranian army general, led a coup and took control of all the armed forces in the same year. Reza Khan was the war minister for the last Qjr ruler. He built a strong army and brought political order to a country where the government was in chaos. In 1925, he got rid of the ruler, and with the blessing of the ‘lama, he became the shah.

• Reza Shah’s central government started to show that it was in charge of all parts of people’s lives. The country’s name was changed from Persia to Iran in 1935.

• In the 1960s and 1970s, the Shah of Iran worked hard to modernise and westernise Iran. He did this by using the money from oil for this reason. The Shah started the “White Revolution,” which gave women the right to vote and made some small changes to the way land was used.

• But the wealth from Iran’s huge oil and gas reserves was not shared evenly, which led to a lot of conflict and discontent within the country. Islamic leaders, especially Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, were among the most vocal critics.The Shah became more harsh on his own people and on those who didn’t agree with him. He did this to keep the peace with the West and to keep control of his own country. At the same time, he told his critics at home that his government would follow Islamic principles, help the Palestinians, and stop sending oil to Israel and South Africa.

He didn’t keep his promises, and this and many other things made it impossible for him to stop a revolution. In January 1979, the Shah had to leave Iran because his own army wouldn’t keep firing on the people. Ayatollah Khomeini flew in from Paris a few weeks later and started an Islamic revolution, which led to the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

• The Republic is a theocratic state with a president chosen by the people and an Islamic Consultative Assembly with only one chamber.

After Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein sent his troops to attack Iran, Iran and Iraq fought a bloody war from 1980 to 1988. Iran has a lot of economic problems, even though its nationalised oilfields produce a lot of oil. This is because Iran has not broadened its economy or tried to attract foreign investment.Iran is still on its own among the Middle Eastern countries because it doesn’t get along with most of its Arab neighbours and hasn’t kept good relations with Western countries.


• As we’ve already said, Iraq became a legal British mandate in 1919. But the British presence in the area was already a source of anger before the official assignment of mandate status, and the mandate system only made things worse.

When Iraqis rose up against the British in the 1920s, the system was changed. In its place, the British set up a temporary government that they controlled.Arabs grew more and more against being colonised. In June 1930, an Anglo-Iraqi treaty gave Iraq its independence, but it also said that Iraq would have “full and frank consultations with Great Britain on all matters of foreign policy.”

• This way, Britain kept power over Iraq’s future relationships with its neighbours, including Iran, which was the most important to Britain.

• Also, pro-British people ran Iraq well into the 1950s, when the Hashemite monarchy was in charge. In 1958, a military coup d’état got rid of the Hashemites. After that, Iraq joined forces with Egypt.

As decolonization became more violent, Iraq was in a lot of trouble until 1963, when a new socialist government made up of nationalist army leaders and Ba’ath Party members took over.After 1968, the Ba’ath Party was the only government in Iraq. Saddam Hussein, who had been a powerful figure in the background, became president of Iraq in 1979. He stayed in power until 2003, when he was overthrown by a combination of US and UK forces.

Even though this oil-rich country’s products could have made it a modern state, the people of Iraq did not get to enjoy the benefits of its oil wealth. This led to infrastructure problems, Kurdish and Shi’ite uprisings, economic bans from the UN, and wars with Iran, Kuwait, and the US.Because of these problems, Iraq’s national resources were used up, the country went bankrupt, and the standard of living dropped by a lot.In March 2003, the U.S. attacked Iraq. As of 2006, the U.S. is still in control of Iraq, and no end to the occupation is in sight, even though there has been a violent and long-lasting movement to get the U.S. out of the country.


• Like most Arab countries, Jordan wants to keep its ancient past alive while also making progress in the modern world.Jordan, which used to be called Transjordan, is surrounded by many other Arab countries, some of which are more powerful, as well as Israel. Because of this, Jordan has had to carefully balance its interests and relationships with other countries.

The area that is now Jordan used to be part of Syria and was controlled by the Ottomans. After World War I, the Ottoman Empire fell apart, and in 1922, the League of Nations divided what is now Syria into modern-day Syria, which became a French mission, and Palestine and Transjordan, which became British mandates.

Transjordan got its own government in two steps. First, in December 1922, the British recognised the country’s constitutional independence under Emir Abdullah, the son of Sherif Hussein. They kept the country’s position as a British mandate. Transjordan didn’t get full freedom until March 1946. At that time, Emir Abdullah was made king, and the country became a constitutional monarchy. In 1949, the name of the country was changed to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Abdullah hoped that one day, this new country would also include Palestine.

• Other Arab countries, especially Egypt, didn’t like the idea of adding Palestine. In 1951, a Palestinian youth who didn’t agree with Abdullah’s plans to expand was able to kill him in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque. The throne went to his son, but he lost it quickly because he had problems with his mind.

• In 1952, Prince Hussein, who had been trained in Britain, became the leader. He was only 17 at the time. King Hussein is probably Jordan’s most well-known leader because he worked hard to keep the balance of power in the Middle East safe.The United States helped him with his plans. Under the Eisenhower Doctrine, the US wanted to replace Britain as the main Western power in the area.

King Hussein also had good relationships with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, two other Arab countries. As a small country with few resources, Jordan has had to deal with chronic debt, poverty, unemployment, and water shortages.

• After Israel took over the West Bank in 1967, Jordan lost almost half of its arable land, which made things even worse economically.

• Arab refugees from Palestine make up about a third of Jordan’s population and have been given citizenship, but they are still mostly not integrated and unhappy. King Abdullah II has been in charge of the country since 1999.

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• Like many other places in the Gulf, Kuwait was a British protectorate at first, from 1899 to 1961.Kuwait is another small country on the Persian Gulf that makes most of its money from oil production. Like Jordan, it has to keep its relationships with neighbouring states in check. The first emir of independent Kuwait was Sheikh Abdullah al-Saleh al-Sabah. The relationship with Britain ended in 1961 at Kuwait’s request, even though the British continued to have a strong influence for another 10 years.Members of the Bni Utb clan came to the area from the middle of the Arabian peninsula in the middle of the eighteenth century. They started the country of Kuwait.

The military leaders of Iraq threatened Kuwait’s freedom almost right away. Iraq tried to expand its territory in 1961, but it was stopped by the British military and then by an Arab League force from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the United Arab Republic, which pushed Iraq’s army back to its borders. In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait again, which led to the costly Persian Gulf War, which the United States led to free Kuwait. Kuwait spent more than $160 billion to rebuild its infrastructure after the war.

• Kuwait is an oil-rich country with a constitutional monarchy. In reality, the parliament is mostly an advisory body, and the emirs, who are from the Al-Sabh family, have all the power.Kuwait, like most Gulf states, has a multicultural culture because it has a lot of foreign workers. In fact, there are more foreign workers in Kuwait than there are native Kuwaitis. The people of Kuwait have a very high standard of living because their government spends a lot of the money it makes from oil on public services, healthcare, education, and city services.

• Kuwait is a member of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), a loose group of six countries that works to keep the region stable and promote economic growth.There are both Western and Arab countries that support Kuwait.


• Lebanon is probably the most diverse country in the Middle East. As a territory that was given to France, it had a hard time getting along with its European ruler.At the beginning of World War II, Lebanon asked France to stop ruling over it. In 1943, Christian and Muslim political groups put their differences aside and signed the National Pact. This was a clear sign that Lebanon wanted to be able to rule itself.

Then, Lebanese conservatives wrote a constitution that acknowledged and supported Lebanon’s many different religions.

• It said that a Maronite would be president, a Sunni Muslim would be prime minister, a Shi’ite Muslim would be parliament’s speaker of the house, a Druze would be the head of the armed forces, and Christians and Muslims would have equal numbers of seats in parliament, six to five.In a strong show of independence, the new constitution got rid of all laws and rules that could put Lebanon’s independence at risk. The French did not like what was happening, so they arrested the president and put the constitution on hold. But it was already too late. Lebanon got help from the United States, Britain, and other Arab countries. This left the French with no choice but to recognise Lebanon’s authority, which they did in December 1943.

• In the decades that followed, Lebanon’s stability made it possible for economic growth and social change to happen. But in 1975, this first phase, which had so much promise, came to an end.

• Lebanon was hurt by a civil war, the occupation of Syria, and bloodshed and attacks that didn’t stop until 1991.The country’s infrastructure is in bad shape, Christians and Muslims don’t get along well, and the country’s debt has grown out of hand. Syria has since pulled out of Lebanon, though.


• Out of all the countries in the Middle East, Oman is the only one to have been independent before the 20th century.Around the middle of the seventeenth century, Omani groups drove the Portuguese out of the area. Because it was in a good place, Oman became a good trade partner for many European countries. Even before oil was found, this trade brought in a lot of money for Oman.

But it’s important to remember that the British did have a lot of power in the area during the 19th and 20th centuries. In disputes over land ownership, the British sided with the Omani rulers. For example, British troops helped Oman regain control over the Braim area, which was also claimed by Saudi Arabia. This led to a “give and take” relationship between the two countries.Oman has been ruled by a sultan for hundreds of years. He is also the head of state, the prime minister, and the minister of foreign affairs, finance, and defence. The majlis al-shra is a group of people who help him make all of his choices and policies.Oman has only just started to move towards development. In fact, the sultan’s unwillingness to modernise and open up the country had been so firm in the past that it led to a rebellion by the Jibali hill tribes in 1964.

• The government is in charge of everything in the country, including the economy, public utilities, schooling, trade, commerce, and employment.

Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al b Said, on the other hand, has put in place new modernising policies and promised that this strategically located nation-state will have an open and bright future.


Qatar is a small country that is run by a member of the ath-Thn family. It is also home to the famous TV station Al-Jazeera.

This small country’s past is similar to that of other places that were ruled by the British. From the middle of the 1800s until the 1900s, Qatar was a British protectorate.

• Qatar became its own country in 1971. In 1968, Britain said that it wanted to leave the Gulf area.

• The ath-Thn family talked with the sheikhs of neighbouring areas, which were soon to become the United Arab Emirates. In 1971, Qatar joined the Arab League and the United Nations.Oil and natural gas are very important to Qatar’s income. It has been more open-minded than many of its Arab neighbours, and even though it is mostly Arab, it has close ties with the U.S. Qatar plays a small but important part in the discussions of the GCC countries.

Saudi Arabia

• Saudi Arabia may be the most important country in the Middle East. It fought for and won its independence from the Ottomans in 1902 and from Hussein, the Sherif of Mecca, in 1924, when Ibn Saud and his Wahhbi tribesmen warriors invaded the Hejz and took over Mecca. Before 1924, the British had tried to make peace between Ibn Saud and Hussein, but they were not successful.In 1933, the Ibn Saud family became the undisputed rulers of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The country is still a hereditary monarchy, and the Ibn Saud family is still in charge.

During his reign from 1982 to 2005, King Fahd bin Abd al-Az al-Saud made Saudi Arabia the most powerful economy in the Middle East. After Fahd died in 2005, Abdallah, his half-brother, became king.

• Western powers have had varying degrees of influence and presence in Saudi Arabia, but the country was mostly an independent, powerful, and sovereign kingdom for most of the 20th century.

• Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserves in the world, is the leader of OPEC, and is in charge of Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam.


• As we’ve already said, Syria used to be a part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1920, Feisal, who was the leader of the Arab troops and the third son of the Sherif of Mecca, set up the Arab Kingdom of Syria as a separate country.Feisal, on the other hand, was only in charge of Syria for a few months before French troops attacked and took over the country. In 1922 France took charge of Syria. From 1925 to 1927, there were a number of uprisings in France.

• Syria claimed its independence in 1941 and was recognised as an independent republic in 1944, but it didn’t really become independent until 1946, when France pulled its troops out of the country.

The new country’s law said that the president had to be a Muslim, and the country switched to a republican form of government.Since 1963, Syria has been run by military governments from the Ba’ath Party. These governments have been suspicious of countries in the West, which has caused some conflicts.

Syria is a country with many different kinds of people. There are Muslims, Christians, Druze, Alawites, and a small number of Jews.

Syria’s economy is based on textiles and arts. The infrastructure of this new country in an old land needs to be improved right away if the economy is to grow and give Syria’s many people stable jobs.


In the War of Independence, which took place between 1918 and 1922, Turkey drove the Greeks out of the area that had been part of the Ottoman Empire. This led to the creation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923.

• The conditions after the war made it possible to talk again about territorial rights. A three-way deal between Britain, France, and Italy would have made Turkey an area of rule for France and Italy. But the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 got rid of it because Mustafa Kemal fought against it so hard, and his only goal was for Turkey to be completely independent. In October 1923, Turkey became a republic, and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was its first president. The next year, the Ottoman caliphate was ended, and all of the family members were kicked out of the country. In 1924, a republican constitution was made, and Islam was kept as the state religion. But in 1928, the clause about the state faith was taken out. This made Turkey a secular republic.Mustafa Kemal Atatürk led Turkey through a big programme of development that was based on secular and progressive ideas.

Turkey is a republican parliamentary democracy, and its constitution is based on six basic ideas: republicanism, Turkish nationalism, populism, atheism, statism (close state control of the economy), and revolutionism.

The rise of the Turkish economy has been choppy because of political scandals, internal fighting, and wars with other countries. On the other hand, the long-term outlook for Turkey’s economy may be pretty good.

Turkey is currently trying to make alliances and trade deals with European countries. It wants to join the European Union (EU) because it already does a lot of business with EU countries. However, Islamist opposition at home and questions about Turkey’s human rights record from outside have slowed down EU membership talks.

The United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the more unusual countries in the Persian Gulf. It was ruled by the British from 1853 until 1971, when it claimed its independence.

During the time when the area was under British rule, it was called the Trucial States. The Trucial States were mostly sheikhdoms, which means that each one was run by a family whose head was the emir (ruler). The trucial state system itself was a change to a previous scheme.

• In 1820, Britain pushed the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm al-Quwain, and Fujairah to sign agreements to protect its ships in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean.

But even after the pact was signed, different uprisings continued to worry the British. After Britain and the emirates reached a peace treaty in 1853, the trucial state system was set up. This was a way for Britain to have a say in the foreign affairs of the emirates. This arrangement lasted until 1971, when Sheikh Zaid bin Al Nahyan and Sheikh Rashid bin Maktoum formed the current independent federation. This federation has a central government, but each emirate also has some of its own powers. The Supreme Council of Rulers, which is the highest group in the country, chooses the president. Since Sheikh Zaid died in November 2004, the president is now Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

The positions in the government are filled by people from different emirates. The minister for the economy is a woman named Sheikha Lubna al Qasimi.

The UAE is a modern Islamic country that is moving forward. It has a high standard of living, modern infrastructure and housing, a diversified economy, an emphasis on education, good healthcare, public utilities, and good relationships with both Western countries and the UAE’s Arab neighbours.

• The UAE is probably the most multicultural country in the Middle East, which is why it is called “the crossroads of continents.”


• Different people and countries in the Middle East went through different ways of getting rid of colonial rule and becoming independent. Even though all of these people and countries share Islam, there are also many cultural differences between them.

• Each of these countries takes a different road to growth, development, modernization, and social change.

• The problem of Occupied Palestine is still controversial and hasn’t been solved, which has made it impossible for the area to have lasting peace.

The politics of Arab identity bring Arab countries together, but this link can be a bit vague at times. Iran and Turkey, on the other hand, have identities that are very different from those of Arab countries.

• In terms of how the Middle East interacts with the rest of the world, the countries and people there see themselves as parts of a bigger whole, but they also want to stay independent and grow at their own pace and in their own way.