Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.
Middle Eastern politics has changed dramatically throughout history due to external influences pulling the region in new directions and creating internal turmoil. As the world changed around the Middle East, the turmoil increased to explosive degrees.
Since the end of the First World War, five major components have made up the spine and the heart of Middle Eastern politics. They include religion, European imperialism, oil, the desire for Islamic purity, and the nature and power of the jihad.
End of Ottoman Empire
The decade following World War I was tumultuous as politics in the Middle East faced new challenges. Within the religious sphere, the question of a Jewish homeland increased with the number of displaced Jews throughout Europe. The desire for a homeland had been around for generations, but the Great War emphasized how large the need really was.
The 1920s saw the end of the Ottoman Empire as the European nations broke the once mighty empire into smaller areas controlled by various Western countries. Albania, Palestine, and Egypt were just a few of the Middle Eastern regions that had to adjust to being ruled by new cultures. It was during this time that the need for oil began to increase as automobiles became more common and the machinery designed for the war found other uses. The jihad side of politics was relatively quiet during this time as the Middle East was still reeling from the First World War. The desire for Islamic purity was always present, but it was weak during this period of recovery.
The 1930s brought the Jewish question further into the Middle Eastern political sphere as many Jews were finding themselves persecuted and run out of lands they had called home for generations. During this time, European imperialism increased as the Middle East became a pawn in the power plays of Europe, especially with Russia and Germany.
The need for oil increased during this decade, slowly making it a more important political tool, especially as the world geared up for another world war. The jihad political power remained relatively quiet during this time, though tremors began to be felt under the European powers. Islamic purity was still present but remained weak. Its presence in the political arena was sporadic.
The Jewish Question
The 1940s saw a violent shock wave that changed the Middle East almost as much as World War I had. World War II made the Jewish question the main political topic for all of the Middle East and Europe. The attempted extermination of the Jewish race pushed the European countries into segregating a section of the Middle East for displaced Jews. Actual European imperialism began to disappear in the traditional sense and found itself more prominent in the Jewish question and establishment of Israel.
The need for oil increased further with airplane usage during the war and the increase of machinery. It remained a powerful force for the Europeans to call the shots but was secondary to the Jewish question at this time. Political jihad could be found in segregated sections as many nations used the war as an opportunity to fight for independence and against communism, Nazis, and fascism. Islamic purity still remained a minority during the World War II era but it saw a steady incline from the influence of Western civilization that remained once the war ended.
The 1950s saw the tensions between the Arab worlds and the state of Israel increase dramatically with the Jewish question becoming a Palestinian question. Those that once called the land of Israel home demanded their rights back to live without UN influence and without Jewish control. The politics of the Middle East quickly began to surround this topic as Western influence fluctuated.
During this decade, many Middle Eastern nations found independence from European imperialism while finding that true European independence was not possible as the need and demand for oil increased. Many nations found themselves at the mercy of European powers after the war. It was also during this time that political jihad began to smolder against Israel. Islamic purity saw its first rise as part of the political stage as the influence of Jewish and Western Christianity increased with the establishment of Israel.
New European Imperialism
The 1960s turned Middle Eastern politics once again into a new entity. The Palestinian Liberation Organization arrived on the world stage, fueling the Jewish hate fire further. Middle Eastern politics permanently cloaked itself in the Jewish/Arab issue that began to be seen as the Palestinian/Arab dilemma.
European imperialism took on a new form through the United Nations and became more subtle compared to the late 1800s and early 1900s version of it. Oil began to rise in political power as the nations of the Middle East began to see how powerful those who held the oil could be. Jihad increased mainly against Israel, where negative political thoughts were focused on. The once minority Islamic purity voices found themselves being heard as the Jewish/Arab conflict increased. The Arab states were finding a common ground to stand on, though once it entered the political arena, it became just as contentious of a political topic as anything else.
The 1970s saw an explosion of resentment toward Western culture due to their involvement in the Jewish/Palestinian question. It became a convoluted political fight between Islamic, Jewish, and Western Christian ideals. European imperialism found new power in playing the various Middle Eastern nations against each other, including funding Islamic wars. It was also during this decade that oil became the power behind the Middle East as the creation of OPEC took control of the oil away from the Western world and placed it back into the hands of those that owned the land the oil was drilled from.
The dynamics of Middle Eastern politics set the stage for political jihad toward other countries other than Israel. Jihad began to be used against Western nations, especially the United States and other Middle Eastern nations as politics went beyond the religious brotherhood that once was stronger than the power of oil. Islamic purity voices exploded in the 1970s and found more political power than they ever had. The web of political topics was growing and becoming more intricate allowing the purity question to take firm root.
The 1980s saw an increase in Middle Eastern internal Islamic strife as well as tension with Israel and Western cultures. This was fueled with the decline of the Cold War and the European imperialism that was evident with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the increase in the United States and British influences in the area.
Oil became the driving force of Middle Eastern politics with the entire world and drove the politics of many other nations at the same time. Jihad increased against Western cultures as the United States helped fund the jihad against Russia and became involved in the Iran/Iraq war where two Islamic nations found themselves in their own unique jihad. Western civilizations were in direct conflict with many fundamental Islamic nations and beliefs. The more Western influences were seen, the louder the Islamic purity voices could be heard on the political stage and could be found driving the various other political components.
The 1990s saw a rise in religious terrorism that no other decade had seen before. Terrorism became common as suicide bombers proclaimed political agendas. European imperialism began to diminish even more, though it stayed in the background trying to influence individual Middle Eastern nations instead of the entire region as a whole. The world began to recognize that the Middle East was not one entity but many entities with their own individual political agendas, making European or Western imperialism in the traditional sense impossible.
The power of oil became the lead political power move with terrorism or jihad falling in second and third place. Oil was how the Middle East found its wealth and the muscle to beat the Western world in any challenge it put down. Islamic purists now possessed a political and religious bullhorn that could not be separated from any other political issue that drove the Middle East. Islamic purity became the driving force for terrorism and political intrigue.
The new millennium saw religion fall to the wayside as the foundation of terrorism and jihad political moved, though it continued be used as a cloak for political moves. European and Western influence never lost its hold in the Middle East, though their ability to influence politics was greatly reduced as the power of oil gave each Middle Eastern nation the ability to stand on its own against other nations and the world. Islamic purity became a constant presence that was heard in every sphere of Middle Eastern politics
Politics in the Middle East was never simple or straightforward as the intricate political components of religion, European imperialism, oil, Islamic purity, and political jihad moved back and forth in a dance that lasted decades and involved many dance partners.
Gelvin, James L. The Modern Middle East: A History. New York: Oxford, 2011.
Smith, Charles D. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010.
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