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Section 3: Nation Building in the Middle East: Three Case Studies

Setting the Scene: As we learned in the last section, Arab nations took to gaining independance and reforming their own cultures. In this section, we look at the paths the Middle East's three most populous nations took in their quest for modernization.

A. Turkey Moves Toward Democracy: Ataturk began his campaigne to modernize Turkey in the 1920s. When the Soviets tried to seize control of Turkey during the Cold War, America offered aid in fighting off the invasion. Successful, Turkey joined NATO and has remained an ally.

I. Government and Economy: Turkey underwent a period of turmoil before the establishment of a multi-party democracy. During the 1990s, religious reformers began to gather political power. After modernizing their agricultural and industrial methods, Turkey desired membership with the European Union. Yet the EU only agreed to strengthen ties, not grant membership. The number of jobs available in urban centers would not suffice the growing population, leading to areas of poverty and unrest, labeled as "shantytowns".

II. Tragic Earthquakes: Long accustomed to tremors, Turkey knows how to build strutures that can withstand earthquakes. The population boom has lead to a drop in these standards, though. Such hastily built structures collapsed in the 1999 quakes, killing or injuring tens of thousands. Turkey was already under alot of stress, and their response to the catastrophe was slow.

III. Conflicts: The repression of the Kurds led to an uprising, despite the eventual relaxation of Turkish regualtions against them. The Turks had banned the Kurdish from using their language in any form, basically telling them to forget their culture. When Turkey invaded the predominantly Greek island of Cyprus in the 1970s, conflict rose to such a point that UN peacekeepers remain there today. Even within the nation itself conflict rose, now between the secular politicians with their military backing and the Islamist reformists.

B. Egypt, A Leader in the Arab World: Egypt can thank it's location for a good portion of it's fortune. Placed right between Africa and the Middle East, between the Meditteranean and Red seas, and between Isreal and the Suez Canal, it lies in a center of sorts. It's rich agricultural region lies along Eqypt's coastal region, home to 99% of it's population.

I. Nasser: Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser could be thought of as one of the most powerful figures in the Arab world's fight for independance. Comparable to Ataturk in his rise to power, Nasser replaced a leader who had allowed foreign occupation and proceeded to end British and French control. He claimed the Suez Canal as Egypt's property. Bordering Isreal, Nasser lead two wars against the Zionists, and though defeated he was still respected and admired by fellow Arabs.

II. Economic Development: Nasser took on socialism, distributing land and nationalising banks and business, though the results were limited. With the help of the Soviet Union, Nasser constructed the Aswan High Dam on the northern part of the Nile, naming the lake that formed after himself. But the side effects were numerous, including increased salt concentration in the river leading to the destruction of fish hatcheries and erosion of the delta, as well as the relocation of ancient temples as Lake Nasser rose.

III. Sadat: Nasser's successor, president Anwar Sadat, took a different direction with the country. He leaned away from the Soviet Union toward the U.S. in foreign affairs, and made peace with Isreal as well, a first for Arab leaders. Even with the aid of the U.S., life didn't show much improvement for the average Egyptian.

IV. Continuing Issues: Sadat's actions angered other Arab states. Eventually Muslim extremists assasinated the president. Hosni Mubarak, the next leader, reestablished bonds with Arab neighbors yet still reafirmed peace with Isreal. Despite his efforts in peace, Egypt was troubled economically. The expansions he performed couldn't match the population growth. "The thousands of families living in the City of the Dead, a Cairo cemetery, symbolized the miseries of urbanization" (594). The Islamic reformers who were still looking to gain power provided these struggling families with the things the government could not, such as schools. At the same time, extremists acted out terrorist attacks. Retaliation by the government only added to the popularity of these dissenters.

C. Iran's Ongoing Revolution: Iran is the most diverse Arab nation in terms of ethnicity, with 50% of the population being Persian-speaking Iranians and the other half made up of other groups, mostly Shiite Muslims as far a religion goes.

I. Nationalism and Oil: Iranian nationialists opposed the dictator Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi and the foreign powers who wanted control of their oil, like Britain. A movement to nationalize the oil industry, lead by Muhammad Mosaddiq and involving nationalists, the shah, Britain, and the U.S. led to turmoil. The U.S., who desired a non-communist ally against the Soviet Union, helped the Shah oust Mosaddiq and provided the shah with the artiliary to remain in power.

II. Reform From Above: In an effort to modernize the nation, the shah put the money from oil toward the building of roads and industries. He redistributed land and gave rights to women, as well as seperating church and state in the areas of law and education. This lead to conflict between the military and those prospering at the time, who supported the shah's "reform from above" and the opposition, consisting of landowners, merchants, students, and religious leaders. The shah resulted to torture, execution, and exilation in order to supress this opposition.

III. Islamic Revolution: The shah's reform made him many enemies. These foes gathered behind the Ayatollah (Shiite legal expert) Ruhollah Khomeini, and exile of Iran. Khomeini claimed the shah had violated Islamic Law, and proclaimed Iran as an "Islamic republic based on the Quran and Sharia" after the fleeing of the shah. Under this newfounded theocracy, Khomeini made steps toward reverting the modernization that had taken place. He took the newly-granted rights back from women, baned western music, books, and movies; as replaced secular courts with religious ones. The dicussion allowed in the beginning was soon terminated, and Khomeini adopted the shah's method of dealing with opposition.

IV. Foreign Policy: It was under Khomeini that the hostage situation of the American Embassy in Tehran took place. This was a result of the U.S.'s allowance of the shah into their country for medical treatment. Iran tried to spread the revolt, and while their was a strengthening of sorts of in the Islamic revival, uprisings like that in Iran failed to occur in other nations. This turmoil was viewed as an opportunity by Iraq to invade Iran, leading to an eight year war that strengthened the support of the Iranian government but took its toll on those fighting and the nation's economy.

V. Moderate Voices: With the end of the Iran-Iraq War and the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, the new more moderate government began the task of providing the much needed education, jobs, and consumer goods. With the '97 election of a moderate candidate, moderates attempted to ease some restrictions. Conservative clerics blocked these attempts, and the country split in two. Protests rose, yet relations with the west became increasingly better.

VI. Impact: The reforms were marked with good and bad results. The bad seem more appearant though, including poverty, corruption, and unemployment. But most importantly the overlying issue of the struggle between moderates and radicals in the process of modernization.


Section 2: Forces Shaping the Modern Middle East

Setting the Scene: Wanting to put the Age of Imperialism behind them, the Arab nations sought to reform and improve their own policies. The leaders failed in doing so, resulting in Islamic reformers to take over the fight by the 1970s.

A. Diversity and Nationalism:

I. Religious and Cultural Diversity:

  • Judaism, Christianity, and Islam emerged from the middle east
  • Today, majority are Muslim
  • 30+ languages (Including: Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Hebrew, Kurdish, and Armenian).
  • All countries are very diverse, home to minority groups, sometimes as many as a dozen
  • Example: the Kurds, who are being repressed in their strive to acquire autonomy.
  • Although they share the same faith, the cultural differences of the national groups such as the Arabs, Iranians, and Turks creates create conflict.

II. Winning Independence:

  • Iraq became independant from Britain in 1932
  • The British and French gave up control of Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan after WWII
  • Pan-Arabian failed in forming due to differences in goals between Arab nations, but the idea of unity survived in the Arab League.
  • The Arab League promotess solidarity and economic growth

III. Colonial Legacy:

  • Independant Arab nations still economically indepent upon West
  • Westerners owned industries, banks, technology, market
  • The borders set by Imperialist Britain and France were disputed

IV. Conflict Over Palestine:

  • 1917 Balfour Declaration- Britain promises to support a Jewish national home in Palestine
  • Tesions deepened due to this declaration
  • 1800s- Jewish migration to Palestine begins; increases after WWII
  • Support leaned toward the Jews in the US after the Holocaust
  • Britain turned control of Palestine over to the United Nations
  • 1947- The UN proposes splitting palesting into a Jewish state and an Arab state; Jews accepted it, Arabs reject it because they felt it was giving Arab land up to European Jews.

V. The Birth of Isreal:

  • 1948- Britain redrew from Palestine, Jews declare independant state of Isreal.
  • US. and Soviet Union both recognize Isreal
  • Arab states launch military attacks
  • Isreal has better armed and more organized troops, won even more territory in the end
  • Many Arab-Isreali wars follow
  • Isreal develops greatly in economy, architecture, agriculture, and industry
  • Kibbutzim- collective farms, produce crops for export

VI. Refugee Issue:

  • Arab-Isreali War of 1948- Uprooted 700,000 Arabs from Palestine
  • UN set up "temporary" shelters for the refugees
  • Now permanent homes, poverty-stricken

B. Political and Economic Patterns:

I. Governments:

  • Most develope authoritarian governments
  • Egypt and Iraq- Military leaders overthrow Western influenced monarchs
  • Jordan and Saudi Arabia- monarchs remain and adapt to modern world
  • Iraq and Syria- sigle party wins power
  • Saddam Hussein- brutally suppresses opposition but wins popularity by improving life for many economically and socially
  • Isreal and Turkey- form mutliparty democracies, minorities repressed and discriminated against

II. Impact of Oil:

  • command of vital oil resources leads to presence of US et. al. politically and militarily
  • Saudi Arabia and Kuwait- Oil-rich, built roads, hospitals, and schools, less populated= "haves"
  • Turkey and Egypt- have less oil, poorer, less developed, more populated= "have-nots"
  • Resentment

III. Water Resources:

  • Experts predict water will replace oil as the influential resource
  • Limited rainfall in most regions
  • Growing population and higher living standards increase need
  • 80% of water used goes toward farming
  • oil-rich countries build desalinization plants= convert salt water into fresh water
  • Nations build their own dams for water supplies and hyudroelectric power
  • late 1980s- Turkey builds 22 dams, including grand Ataturk Dam, uses water from Tigris and Euphrates to irigate land
  • Nations sharing rivers all have claim to the resource, must seek ways to share