Contemporary Middle East


The Middle East has been a centre for religious wars. The presence of three major religions makes it volatile especially when it is apparent that Muslims form the greatest percentage. The rising European powers led to seizure and control of certain regions by the colonialists (Gelvin, 2008). The essay elaborates the various issues concerning the contemporary Middle East.

Challenges Faced By Empires in Introducing European Culture

Cultural stereotyping proved to be the greatest challenge that empires had to deal with in order to have the European culture accepted. Most natives stuck to their way of life. The Muslims could not easily be converted to Christians.

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The urge to have them converted in order to enjoy technological, social and political revolution could not be accepted. The introduction of schools and western clothes was viewed as a snare to lure them into Christianity (MaCannon, 2008).

Racism played a crucial role in slowing down the spread of Western culture. The presence of the whites created revolts that were perpetrated on grounds of prejudice Most of the natives therefore stuck to their culture including wearing the veil and speaking the native Arabic.

The rise of Islam revivalism movements is a clear attestation that not all was fine. Major movements were formed to counter the effects of the fast spreading western culture.

Most people were opposed to the introduction of Western ideals. Rebellion and social unrest characterized most empires during this period. The adoption of useful technological improvements could not be realized. The economic disruptions created financial disruptions into the existing trade systems (Khater, 2011).

Crime was also rampant making it difficult to incorporate new technologies. The formation of political alliances and constitution was viewed by many as a way of weakening the empires. The weakening of the empires led to emergence of political movements which were opposed to Western interference

Response to European Incursion

Political changes have been there since time in memorial. Empires have been in existence for ages. For instance the Islam Empire stretched from India to Spain. The Ottoman Empire, an extension of the Islamic empire saw the Turks enjoy extensive dominance (Khater, 2011).

The Islamic empires were centers of military supremacy. Economic and social institutions were strong and unshakeable. The need to expand their knowledge base was effected through extensive inquiries.

The beginning of the 18th century saw colonial masters invade the Islamic territory. The response to colonialism took different forms. The Ottoman Empire for instance tried to modernize its army (MaCannon, 2008). The introduction of paper money and the restructuring of financial systems were adopted. Modernized educational facilities in form of schools and universities were introduced.

Non-Muslims became happier since their rights increased. The seizing of some provinces by the colonial powers and nationalist movements was witnessed. The emergence of educated nationalists contributed to the creation of a secular republic after World War I. Nationalism was also witnessed in the Islamic empires of the Middle East.

The abolition of Islamic laws and the introduction of the Latin script were championed by Kemal Ataturk (Gelvin, 2008). The introduction of modern schools, western dressing, modern schools and universities was initiated. The creation of a new secular civil and criminal code and the banning of the veil were also witnessed. Islamic revivalism was a major response to European incursion.

The formation of the Wahabbi movement in Saudi Arabia and many others was based on the premise that European modernization was affecting the growth of Islamic society Corruption of Islamic virtues was also cited as the reason for the revivalist movements. Some Islamic revivalist movements were formed to support the European ideology while some opposed it.

Great Power Competition over Persia

The presence of Russia in Asia proved the greatest threat to Britain’s invasion. Napoleon desired to put up a French empire in Egypt and India. Britain too was interested in establishing a protectorate in India and Tibet (Khater, 2011).

The governments of Russia and Britain were in constant consultations that were aimed at establishing a treaty regarding the control of Asia. Efforts by Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour led to the signing of the Anglo-Russian Convention in 1907.

Britain and Russia were close war allies. The signing of the Anglo-Russian Convention could be viewed as a balanced and fair means of checking Russia’s domination over Asia. The Convention was however not amusing to Britain which felt that their political interest was unaccounted for.

Strategic areas of India and Tibet could not be under the British rule as a result of the Convention. The Convention was agreed upon when Russia’s dominance in Asia was uncontrollable (Gelvin, 2008).

Britain was interested in protecting India against other European powers. It was also expected that the Convention would improve the security situation in most parts of Asia due to the scramble for colonies. Russians were however spread across the vast Asia and Britain’s desire could not be achieved.

In this regard, the Convention that would ensure Britain was secure only served to threaten its security position. Britain was unable to secure their vested interests in Asia primarily because the signing of the Anglo-Russian Convention was inconsiderate (MaCannon, 2008).

The Convention was not cognizant of the fact that the relations between the two signing nations would cause political tensions thereafter. It was unfair to make Britain the weaker party of the convention and the Convention did not work for the good of both countries.

Problems of the Ottoman Empire

The effects of colonization were different in parts of Asia that were not directly colonized by the Europeans. The Middle East and parts of China were characterized by political decline and reactions towards colonial powers (Gelvin, 2008). These states feared the threat posed by Western Imperialism the overlapping world economy.

Austrian Habsburgs and Russia presented major problems to the Ottoman Empire. Break away Muslim kingdoms from North Africa made the empire weak (Gelvin, 2008). The independence of imperial governors and local notables in the Arab countries of Middle East politically destabilized the empire. Rising social and economic disruption was also rampant.

Uncontrollable rates of inflation were experienced. The market was also flooded with goods from Europe making the local industries paralyzed. The handicraft industries that had been existence for a long time faced a threat from the European imports. The reaction towards these economic revelations was increased social tensions, crime and rebellion (MaCannon, 2008).

The elite were divided on basis of whether to incorporate Christians in their major institutions. These divisions served to expose the Muslims to more risks. Ottoman weaknesses were the genesis of their collapse and exposure to European interference. The greatest concern that sparked resistance within the empire was the introduction of a poll tax in 1905 that never considered the wealth status of individuals.

The formation of the Committee of Union Progress in 1906 was initiated by the Young Turks. The Ottoman Freedom Society was also formed in the same year Mehmet Talat (Khater, 2011). The abolition of the poll tax was announced after demonstrations lasted for 25 days in March 1906.

The Second Young Turk Congress saw the resolution to engage in violent revolts passed. Rebellion was to be carried out through non-payment of taxes, armed resistance and peaceful taxes. Young Turks were responsible for the spearheading of reforms that saw the Sultan replaced by the Murat and finally Mehmet. Constitutional Democracy, elimination of corruption was achieved in non-violent means.

The Copying of Western Culture

The people of the Middle East enjoy a long history of civilization that dates back to 10,000 BC. The early technologies of agriculture are reported to have originated from the region. The Tigris and Euphrates River provided water for irrigation in those times (Khater, 2011). Other economic activities included copper smelting and hunting. It enjoys the presence of three religions namely Islam, Judaism and Christianity. It has also been a centre for major conflicts such as the Persian-Greek War and the Iran-Iraq war.

The incursion of the European powers into the Middle East was received with mixed reactions. The Turks for instance welcomed the European culture into their systems by introducing new schools and universities, mode of dressing and the change of the Arabic law into a Latin one (Gelvin, 2008).

The Middle East in which 92% are Muslims was also faced with both negative and positive Islam Revivalism. Others supported the inculcation of the European culture while others were opposed it on grounds of causing Islam stagnation. Mohammed Ali represented one of the many people who supported movements that worked in favor of the colonialists.

Nevertheless the copying of European culture has seen many countries within the Middle East adopt sophisticated war weapons such as the nuclear bombs. The urge to attain military supremacy has been a source of unending wars within the Middle East (MaCannon, 2008).

The introduction of European languages such as English has seen these countries diversify their language base initially dominated by Arabic. The discovery of oil in the Middle East has helped in the diversification of economic activities. This discovery has also ensured that the Middle East remains to be crucial player in the world‘s oil market.

Origins of Arab-Israeli Conflict

A number of countries have been in war with their neighbors at periods of time. The Arab-Israel dispute is one of the longest conflicts ever recorded in the human history. It refers to the political turmoil between the Arab peoples and Jewish community in the Middle East that has been in existence for over 100 years now (Sutton & Vertigans, 2005).

The history of this dispute can be traced and the clear positions taken by both Arabs and the Jewish community identified. Despite the fact that many nations have experienced tensions, the Arab-Israeli dispute remains to be one of the most complex tasks to be dealt with.

Researchers into the perennial conflict in the Middle East suggest that the dispute has its origin in the massive return of the Jews to Palestine (Cleveland, 2004). This was facilitated by the creation of the Zionist movement by the Jewish community after the end of the Ottoman rule in the later years of the 19th century.

The tension that ensued between the Israeli people and the Arab world centered mainly on territorial conflicts and this enhanced the hostilities.

Jews from Europe had started buying pieces of land from the long-reigning Ottoman sultan that were mainly swampy and others were in the desert. During that period, the Jews started owning land collectively which led to the establishment of Tel Aviv city, the only one occupied entirely by Jewish people.

Until the end of the first decade of the 20th century, Ottoman had ruled the entire Middle East for about 500 years (Sutton & Vertigans, 2005). The Jews and Arabs were hopeful that by helping other countries in First World War would in turn facilitate their liberty from the oppressive Ottoman’s rule.

Towards the end of World War I in 1917, the British government indicated its support for the creation of a Jewish nation in Palestine though with caution not to cause any conflict (Telhami, 2004). This step triggered dispute in the Arab world as the Jewish community moved into the area in large numbers.

The proportion of the Jews in the land increased over the years and by 1931, Palestinian population was 17% Jews. The Arabs regarded this as a threat to their identity/culture as well as what they called their homeland resulting in the outbreak of conflict in the region shortly after the end of WWI in 1918.

The tensions continued through 1945 when the United Nations was established and recommendations for a separate state put forward. By then, the number of Jews in the region had increased tremendously following the actions of the Nazi regime in Germany.

Both sides of the divide have distinctive reasons for the positions they hold as far as the tension is concerned (Cleveland, 2004). The Israelites believe that the land was given to them by God as presented in the Torah.

This has over time been made more complex by religious (Christian and Muslim) perspectives. Muslims, on the other hand, make reference to the Quran when claiming the same land. The Arabs argue that the land was to be inherited by all the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. In general, the strong convictions held by both Jews and Arabs are reinforced by sacred considerations.

Origins and Main Motives for US Involvement in the Middle East

The origins and motives for US involvement in the issues of the Middle East can be critically analyzed. Although the intervention of the US in the conflict-laden Middle East may be justified, it is evident that they had ulterior motives in their well calculated moves.

As has been mentioned above, the British government was the only western power involved in the region as early as 1914. They were much interested in checking the supply of oil from the Arab world (Oren, 2008).

During this time, America was less concerned as they focused on their southern counterparts, the Caribbean and East Asia to the west. It was the defeat of the Ottoman rule in the region that marked the beginning of US involvement especially during President Truman’s regime in 1945.

First, American soldiers had strategically settled in Iran during WWII to protect oil as well as ease supply of military to the Soviet Union (MaCannon , 2008). Even after the end of the war, America continued to inhabit Iran on the one hand and demanding that Soviet Union leave the region on the other.

In 1953, Eisenhower, Truman’s successor, introduced tough policies for the Middle East. Mohammed who was the leader of parliament in Iran was overthrown by US military due to his opposition of western influence.

This indicates that America had a lot of personal interest (controlling supply of oil) in the region in the name of promoting democracy. Eisenhower’s administration was much interested in the Middle East that it opposed the attack on Egypt by Britain, France and Israel.

When John Kennedy came to power in 1961, he revised the Middle East policies which were hostile to the Arab nations but he strengthened ties with Israel (Sutton & Vertigans, 2005). Successive administrations in the US were directly involved in the affairs of the Middle East with the sole interest of controlling the oil-producing regions.

From the above discussion, US involvement in the Middle East had two primary objectives. First, the need to control oil reserves for economic exploitation by American corporations dealing with energy, arms producing industries, constructors, and huge returns of dollars to American treasury.

Second, gaining control of this rich region ensures geo-political dominance of the US since access to oil energy and power (superiority) are positively correlated (Masatoshi, 2006). Third, to check on the growth of terrorist organizations which are highly associated with the Arab world (Oren, 2008).

Despite the fact that America’s intervention in the Middle East may have helped regulate oil prices in the world and hence avoid recession, their motives of engagement are questionable. They have ended up supporting oppressive regimes at the detriment of democratic ideals which they purport to promote.

This is one of the specific mistakes made by successive administrations in the US. However, the recent uprisings in the Arab world could be a strong indicator that the people cannot withstand the oppression any longer. Hence, America would want to dissociate with such leaders with the goal of retaining control in this regions.

Turkey: a model for developing nations?

Many developing countries are still grappling with the dilemma of independence and influence from foreign developed countries. The experiences that Turkey as a nation has underwent are manifestations of what typical developing countries are capable of achieving.

Turkey has emerged as a model for developing countries and plays a great role in dealing with contemporary issues such as secularization, westernization, and modernization.

Western countries have regarded the events of 9/11 as marking the revival of Islam as well as the resurgence of fundamentalism and terrorist attacks. While most countries in the Middle East have characterized by influence of Islam in the regional politics, Turkey has influenced the least and hence not associated with Islamism (Formisano, 2005).

Due to its strategic location, it has been regarded as link between western countries and the Middle East, Asia and Europe, Europe and Middle East and most often between civilizations in the West and those in the Islamic world. Most researchers have verified these claims as being logical and factual. Turkey is historically known to be the first country outside Europe to transfer power from an Islamic empire to that of a completely secular nation-state (Formisano, 2005).

Among the Muslim countries, it is the first to attain candidature for European Union (EU) membership in the modern world. Critics have however questioned the role of Turkey as a link upon gaining membership to the EU which has its own history, culture and identity.

The efforts by Turkey to separate religion and state have helped it in its quest for modernization. The approaches adopted by Turkey have had both successes and failures as far as dealing with issues of westernization, modernization, and secularization are concerned (Formisano, 2005).

It has made attempts to embrace economic and political values of the West and participate in the global platform of trade. From the above discussion, Turkey is a model since it has significant influence on the determination of the contemporary world especially the developing countries.

Arab Nationalism versus Islamism

The world is generally divided into distinct geographical locations. Similarly, these regions are occupied by people with unique cultural identities and beliefs. However, one culture can significantly influence another albeit sometimes with great resistance. Political forces and movements also play a great role in shaping people’s identities. There are significant differences between Arab nationalism and Islamism.

Arab nationalism refers to the nationalist ideology advocated by the Arab world which centers on language, culture, literature, among other peculiar Arab civilizations (MaCannon, 2008). This force calls for the revival and political unity in the entire Arab region and is influenced partly by western values.

Its origin can be traced to the beginning of the 20th century when Ottoman Empire was defeated. Although this ideology declined in popularity, it regained prominence after the WWII. The most outstanding premise of this ideology is that all peoples living in countries located in the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Arabian Sea, form one nation characterized by the same language, religious convictions, historical and cultural heritage (Masatoshi, 2006).

The Arab nationalism also aims to reduce if not eliminate the influence of western culture in the perceived Arab territory and hence asserting autonomy in all engagements. This force poses a threat to the leaders of some Arab countries who are known to rely on western support (MaCannon, 2008).

Islamism, on the other hand, refers to an ideology which argues that Islam is a religion as well as a political system; a set of socio-economic, and cultural systems. It calls on all Muslims to embrace the original teachings which are traced to the 7th century BC. It also advocates for a united political arrangement in the Arab world and is opposed to secularization.

All activities in the Arab world, including Arab nationalism, have been inspired either directly or indirectly by Islam ideological and social values (Masatoshi, 2006). Despite the fact that both Arab nationalism and Islamism call for political unity in the Arab world, Islamism seems to be a stronger force due to its duality.

Impact of Islam Resurgence on World History Since 1945

Islam has presented one of the most difficult challenges to the western world through what has come to be known as Muslim resurgence. The emergence of the resurgence has been traced to the short period after Prophet Muhammad’s departure (Sutton & Vertigans, 2005).

It is characterized by strong opposing to anyone or any ideologies that are perceived to contradict the teachings of Islam. The Muslim world has seen numerous ups and downs through the past 1,400 years. The impact on world history since 1945 has been notable especially in the 1970s and the first decade of the 21st century.

The causes of Islam resurgence are quite clear. Islam has identified itself as both a religion and a blueprint upon which all political and social values should be firmly founded (Masatoshi, 2006).

Those individuals who have acted in contravention of these provisions have been countered by uprisings and condemnation. The resurgence has continued to shape the nature of many Arab and other non-Islamic countries even in the face of defeat in 1967.

In the 1970s, there was a cut in the supply of oil causing the prices to sky-rocket and hence eluding some sense of power in the world (Masatoshi, 2006). This forced many governments which ignored Islam to bow down to the pressure and encouraged religious teachings among the populace. The Iranian revolution of 1979 was also a major cause of the resurgence.

The resurgence became a threat to the west since the proceeds obtained from the expensive oil were used to fund the movements during the 1970s (Sutton & Vertigans, 2005).

Another difficulty that made it difficult for the western countries to cope with the resurgence is the teaching of Islam values that were the exact opposite of was advocated by the west.

There is a strong relationship between this movement and the increase in terrorist activities across the globe. Due to the teachings offered in educational institutions funded by Saudi Arabia, there have emerged religious extremists who are known to attack civilians and waging war on military targets (MaCannon, 2008).

Many of the terrorist activities are based on the interpretation of Islam by these extremists. Islam and terrorism have mistakenly become synonyms.


Cleveland, W. H. (2004). A History Perspective of the Modern Middle East (3rd ed). Boulder, CO: Westview Plc.

Formisano, R. P. (2005). “The Concept of Political Culture in Turkey.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 46: 31-37

Gelvin, J. L. (2008). The Modern Middle East: A History (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Khater, A. F. (ed.) (2011). Sources in the History of the Modern Middle East. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning

MaCannon, J. (2008). World History: The Middle East. Barrons Educational Publishers

Masatoshi, K. (2006). Popular uprisings and democracy in the Islamic world. Taylor & Francis

Oren, M. B. (2008). America involvement in the Middle East from 1776 to the present. W. W. Norton & Co.

Sutton, P. W. & Vertigans, S. (2005). Understanding Islamic resurgence: a sociological approach. McGraw-Hill Plc.

Telhami, S. (2004). America in the Middle East: power and peace (2nd ed). Westview Plc.


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