The “Middle East” is a relatively recently devised and inconsistently defined term used to refer to a region centring on the Arabian Peninsula and, depending on the context, including countries as far west as Morocco and as far east as Pakistan. When extended so far the acronym MENA (Middle East and North Africa) is increasingly common, although alternative terms such as WANA (West Asia and North Africa) are occasionally preferred as a means of circumventing the problematic tendency of defining a region by virtue of its relation to a supposed global “centre” in Europe.
In some ways, however, the Eurocentric nature of the term seems apposite given the colonial legacy in the region and the framework within which “Middle Eastern politics” are generally discussed. Nation states comprising the region were variously carved from the remains of the Ottoman Empire in the wake of its collapse following the First World War (like Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria), or were countries such as Iran or Egypt which, while nominally independent, were subject to varying degrees of Western imperialist intrigue. It was only after the Second World War that the majority of countries across West Asia and North Africa would gain full independence (usually from France or Britain), as the mandate system established by the covenant of the League of Nations began to unwind and the European powers – devastated by a second major war in 30 years – could no longer afford to maintain their colonial possessions. Other national groups, such as the Kurds, continue to fight for independence today.
The region nevertheless continued to bear the scars of Western domination beyond the Second World War. Just two years after Britain withdrew its last garrison from Egypt (despite having granted the north African state’s nominal independence 32 years earlier), it conspired together with France and Israel to launch a partial occupation in response to Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalisation of the Suez Canal. The 1956 Suez Affair, although ultimately unsuccessful, followed on from a joint US-British venture to unseat the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh three years earlier in response to his decision to nationalise the country’s oil fields. This coup d’état strengthened the autocratic rule of the Shah and the lingering resentment felt by ordinary Iranians eventually set in motion the series of events that would lead to the 1979 Islamic Revolution and in turn the country’s ostracization from the international community. The ongoing Saudi Arabia-Iran Proxy War is a direct result both of the consolidation of Iran’s Shia Nationalist Identity in the wake of the revolution and the strengthening of the country’s regional political clout by virtue of the destruction of Iraq in the 2003 Western invasion.
Perhaps the most significant legacy of imperial intervention in the region, however, is the continued repression of the Palestinian people and the denial of their right to independence by the Israeli state. The ongoing Israel-Palestine Conflict had its roots largely in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which the British government promised to facilitate the establishment of a “Jewish National Home” in Palestine – despite the fact that Britain at the time had no presence in Palestine and its population was overwhelmingly non-Jewish. Following its capture from the Ottomans by the end of the war, the League of Nations granted the area to the British under its new Mandate System and the extensive immigration of mostly European Jews with a view to the development of the land was overseen by the British administration in the inter-war years. The concomitant dispossession of the Palestinian Arab fellaheen and cultural clashes between the nascent national groups led inexorably to war following Britain’s departure, and the subsequent land-grabbing policies and ethnic segregation imposed by the Israeli state have ensured that the conflict continues to simmer and that resentment towards Israel and its Western backers remains across the region.
Although this resentment remains widespread at a popular level, states across the region have gradually been normalising ties with Israel. Egypt became the first to do so in 1980 following the Camp David Accords, with Jordan doing the same fourteen years later. This year, both the Gulf States of the UAE and Bahrain have followed suit at the behest of the USA and with the tacit approval of Saudi Arabia. The disconnect between popular sentiment and the actions of largely undemocratic, unrepresentative governments across the Middle East was one of the prime motivating factors behind the Arab Spring protests which began in late 2010. The failure of these demonstrations to establish the democratic institutions they desired is epitomised most gruesomely by the ongoing Syrian and Yemeni Civil Wars, which the aforementioned Gulf States have played a key role in fomenting.
The ability of such states to exert such a profound influence on regional politics may, however, be on the wane. Their authoritative position is derived in large part from substantial oil resources. However, in the last eight years the revenues of Arab oil producers have plummeted by two-thirds due mainly to two phenomena – the coronavirus pandemic and the general trend across the globe towards renewable forms of energy in an attempt to combat climate change. Both are likely to substantially impact the Middle East of the future, as the economic and political impact of the former is compounded by the reduced state revenues wrought by the latter. It can only be hoped that the weakening of dictatorial regimes will create an opportunity for democratic institutions to grow in their place, allowing the region to thrive as it deserves.
Crises in the Middle East
The Latest in the Middle East
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In the past, Yemen was a prosperous developing country suffused with economical and societal riches. Yemen’s roots in the development and distribution of internationally admired goods like coffee and gold date back centuries, which served as a reliable foundation for growth across much of its existence. However, over time it became apparent that Yemen’s unique capabilities would not prove to be an efficient protective mechanism against the travesties of humanity’s inner workings. Slowly, due to international involvement and rivaling political parties intervening with the nation’s societal welfare, the peace that Yemenis embraced for many years was beginning to dissolve into a thing of the past.
2015: The Ignition to Civil Turmoil
In 2004, the United States pushed the president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to concentrate on combating a terrorist group known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In response, Yemen’s military force backed by Saudi Arabia launched multiple strikes against a group known as Houthis, who Saleh alleged were creating a dynamic of separatism ,enforcing their religious beliefs on the country’s people and operating in collusion with AQAP. This created a severe rift between the most prominent religious parties in the nation, which established a hostile environment for the state of Yemen and all of its citizens. The trend towards a civil war, indicated by this long standing atmosphere of tension and conflict finally came to a precipice 11 years later. In February of 2015, the Houthi rebellion finally reached the place of power that it desired by forcing Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi (then leader of Yemen, and technically still president of the nation today) and his cabinet to flee to Saudi Arabia, leaving the Houthis essentially in control of the state and all of its facilities. Just a month later, the Saudi Arabian military set the goals of its military intervention to reverse the nation back into the authority of the Hadi government and retain governance over Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Ever since, these two factions have fought relentlessly for control over the nation, which once gave off a lustrous tint of optimism, but after seemingly endless warfare it has been reduced to a pile of debris and a living case study of how a society can collapse under the pressures of greed, religious opposition, and the corruption of foreign affairs.
The Current State of the Humanitarian Crisis
The civil war in Yemen has decreased the living conditions of its people to a terrifying level. With no resolution in sight, Yemeni people are faced with a situation where optimism for a brighter future seems more like an act of dreaming than a mental reflection of reality. In recent weeks, famine conditions caused by blockades on the borders of the nation and massive economic downfall rivaling famous events on global markets like the Great Depression have reached virality in an increased amount of regions around Yemen. It is estimated that nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five in Yemen are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition and could die if they do not receive urgent treatment. Along with mass starvation, the nationwide warfare has resulted in the displacement of approximately 4 million people, and the killing of over 100 000 people since 2015. These numbers give shocking insight into the sheer magnitude of this humanitarian crisis, and with important political figures like the U.S. President Joe Biden recently announcing reductions in international affairs including the civil war in Yemen, it is difficult to perceive a future where Yemeni citizens will be able to go back to the things they love. An individual can only enjoy the level of happiness that their society’s living conditions permits them to, and unfortunately for the Yemeni people, the likelihood of that ever getting back to a point of admiration remains shrouded in mystery.
Discussion on the Middle East
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