Israel/Middle East (News & Politics)/The Middle East


How was the modern middle east shaped politically, economically, and socially, by the great nineteenth-century transformation and World War I?

Hi Ashley,

Sorry I took so long. I'm finally able to make it to my computer.

Your question is actually a loaded question and it could take an encyclopedia to answer it. But for this venue, I'll try to be as brief and precise as possible. The usual answers you might get from "experts" on this subject - Israel and European colonialism - is only a very small component of today's society in the modern Middle East. True, there was European occupation - the French and Spanish in North Africa and the British in SW Asia for instance - along with their colonial systems of government. This caused much distrust and hatred among Arabs, and even among Berbers, but not so much among the other peoples who received a respite from Arab persecution. (Except for North Africa, the Europeans left the territories of the Turkish Ottoman Empire intact.) Also, there is today's Middle Eastern hatred of Israel. But this, essentially, is a continuation of the Arab hatred of Jews in general. For centuries, Jews were the despised race in the Middle East. Of the social levels of the various ethnic groups, the Jews were the lowest. An independent, democratic and prosperous Israel is like a slap in the face to the Arabs and the other anti-Semitic regimes in the region - and also in Europe (but that's for a different subject.)

If you really want to know how the modern Middle East was shaped, you have to go back to ancient times. Before the rise of Islam in the 7th century, the countries that stretched from what is today, Morocco to Iraq were inhabited by a variety of peoples who were not Arabs - Berbers in North Africa, Copts in Egypt, Jews in Israel, Aramaic-speaking Christians in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, Greek Christians in Turkey (what was then, the Byzantine Empire), Persians in Persia, Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, and Persia. Then came Mohammed and the rise of Islam among Arabs in Arabia. After the death of Mohammed, Arab armies invaded and occupied the surrounding territories. Those territories that were too weak came immediately under Arab rule. Those that were not, such as Persia (even though it became dominated by Islam) and the Byzantine Empire remained independent. Eventually, all countries from Morocco to Iraq became "Arab" under a single empire. This empire entered into a glory period as Arab rule was tolerant and prosperous, and, with a few exceptions, the indigenous peoples got along well with their Arab neighbors. Things began to change during the Crusades from 1099-1291. In North Africa, there were civil wars among Arab tribes (that sometimes involved the indigenous Berbers), and in the east, the Arab society was completely devastated, agriculturally and economically, by the Mongol invasion in 1258. Afterwards, Arab society fell apart and Arab leaders were replaced by despots. The indigenous peoples of these areas began to be seen with suspicion and were treated harshly. This situation has never changed and the non-Arab indigenous peoples still suffer from severe Arab persecution. Thus far, only Israel and South Sudan were able to free themselves of Arab overlordship.

The Muslim Turks were a group of tribes from central Asia that began to invade and settle in the Christian Byzantine Empire in the 11th century. Eventually, they became strong enough that by 1453, they completely conquered the Empire with the fall of its capital Constantinople and made it their own, with a Turkish identity. Soon, this new Turkish Empire conquered most of the "Arab" countries but they weren't able to Turkify the Arabs with the exception of the local bureaucracies. The Turkish Empire broke apart after WWI and Turkey became a prosperous, democratic republic of sorts. But the military had tremendous influence and twice, in 1960 and 1980, there were military coups. Today, the present government is becoming more Islamist and theocratic and also becoming close to the Islamic regime in Iran.

Persia remained Persia throughout this entire period. But even Persia had been ruled by despots for centuries. This resulted in the Islamic revolution in 1979 that overthrew the Shah. Persia has been called "Iran" since 1935 and since the revolution, the Iranian government has been Islamist and theocratic and a danger to its neighbors. Anti-Semitism has long been a problem in Iran which explains its enmity toward Israel. But there is also a bitter feud with the Arabs that goes back centuries which explains a fear by the Persian Gulf Arab states of an Iranian invasion.

Well, that's my answer to your question. Told you it was very involved. Feel free to write me again if you have more questions on this subject.  

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I am an expert in Middle Eastern history, and Israeli history in particular. My main focus is Biblical analysis, the origins of Islam, and medieval and modern historical events in Israel. Everything you see happening in the world today, has a history.


I am a free-lance writer who has previously lived in, and studied the history of, Israel.


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