Imperialism in the Middle East Term Paper

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The Egyptian King Faud (1922-36) repeatedly disbanded popularly elected Wafd governments, despite huge majorities, due to their distinctly nationalist platform. The fickleness of the British position is exemplified by their later coercion of King Farouk (1936-52) to appoint an enfeebled Wafd government due to their need for a neutral Egypt during the Second World War. This intense irony does not detract from the fact that the monarchs in Egypt and Iraq were very powerful political actors but were 'so closely associated with the structures of colonialization that they did not outlast them' (Owen 1992, 19). The British imperialists exploited the constitutional power of the King to dismiss any elected government of nationalists 'that threatened to tear up or amend the arrangements…defining Britain's rights' (Owen 1992, 19). Hence, once again, diminishing the authority of the regime they installed and creating a lack of respect for lawfully elected governments.

Pan-Arabism Causes Conflict in the Middle East

Since its formation in the wake of World War I, the contemporary Middle Eastern system based on territorial states has been under sustained assault. In past years, the foremost challenge to this system came from the doctrine of pan- Arabism (or qawmiya), which sought to "eliminate the traces of Western imperialism" and unify the "Arab nation," and the associated ideology of Greater Syria (or Suriya al-Kubra), which stresses the territorial and historical indivisibility of most of the Fertile Crescent. Today, the leading challenge comes from Islamist notions of a single Muslim community (the umma). Intellectuals and politicians, denouncing the current system as an artificial creation of Western imperialism at variance with yearnings for regional unity, have repeatedly urged its destruction. National leaders -- from Gamal Abdel Nasser to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to Saddam Husayn [Hussein] -- have justified their interference in the affairs of other states by claiming to pursue that unity. Yet the system of territorial states has proven extremely resilient.

One lasting and significant effect of Western imperialism in Egypt and Iraq is the ideological legacy left behind and the 'determinant role' (Halliday 2005, 83) played by nationalism. Substantiation of this can be seen in the proto-nationalist revolts of 1919 and 1920 in Egypt and Iraq respectively. Opposition parties were united in the demands for total independence and, as 'ideologies arise in conditions of crisis' (Salem 1994, 4), nationalism provided an opportunity to 'adopt many of the patriotic, secular and progressive outlooks of the West, recast them in nativist form, and then use them as a weapon against the domination of the West' (Salem 1994, 71). When faced with the social ordeal of colonial rule, the populations of these territories search for new identities that can link the past to the future and demonstrate an awareness to create a strong state. However, therein lies the problem; the self-proclaimed Arab nationalist parties, such as Iraq's Ba'ath Party, took control of a state whose very legitimacy they challenged, hence undermining the legitimacy of their claim to govern. Despite this, nationalism was the prevailing ideological response to imperialism and remained so. For example, Nasser's longevity rests on the fact that he was everything the Arab world aspired to; "assertive, independent, and engaged in the construction of a new society freed of the imperial past' (Cleveland 2004, 301). Therefore, British presence in Iraq and Egypt 'gave birth to the familiar dialect by which imperial rule cannot help but generate the nationalist forces that will eventually drive it out' (Owen 1992, 20).

The predominant role of the military in overthrowing government and the use of violent revolt to express discontent with a regime originated in the imperial era but has persisted well into the 21st century. Initially, the 'weak consolidation of the state was shown by the spate of inconclusive military interventions in politics' (Bromley 1994, 137) but gradually, regimes would only be seen as legitimate for as long as they could stave off a military coup d'etat. The success of a takeover was not relevant as its very existence had achieved its aim of creating instability, thus, the army became the 'arbiter' (Cleveland 2004, 211) of politics in Iraq and Egypt and army officers 'significant political players' (Tripp 2002, 78). The prevalence of army-based revolts can be attributed, in part, to the creation of the landowner class and the subsequent repressive character of the states -- the response by a middle-class military is therefore a logical progression (Bromley 1994, 161). The use of public disorder was equally significant as it was related closely to the nationalist opposition and therefore a 'key element in the vernacular language of the argument against British domination' (Tripp 1998, 112). However, the series of military regimes in Iraq left the country in a position of such political uncertainty that any reforms promised were rarely implemented.

An Example of Decolonization:

The Suez Crisis and Rapid Decolonization in Africa

The Suez Crisis started on 26 July 1956 in reaction to the United States' decision to withdraw its offer of a grant to assist the building of Egypt's Aswan High Dam. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, which instigated a plan by the British and French to invade Egypt. Britain and France collaborated in mid-October 1956 to enjoin a joint interposition in Egypt, aware that the Israeli's had plans to invade Egypt as well. Aware of the upcoming Israeli plan to invade the Sinai, French officials suggested that a Franco-British force could enter Egypt ostensibly to separate the combatants, while actually assuming command of the whole Suez waterway (Carlton 1989).

What ensued following the Suez Crisis is an example of what imperialism meant for the colonizers, and the colonized, while demonstrating the conflict arising from the ultimate lack of power on both sides to effectively manage their interests. The nationalistic movement of Egypt which fueled the Suez Crisis is a consequence of the inability of Western Imperialism to firmly take root, hence resulting in decolonization.

The Suez conflict, which erupted over the decision by Nasser to nationalize the Suez Canal Company in July 1956, was a major escalation of anticolonialist and, by association, anti-Zionist sentiment in the Arab world. The Suez Canal was built in the 1860s and by the late 1880s came under British and other foreign control (via a number of shareholders), maintained by British occupation of Egypt. The British saw the canal as an essential element in their control of the main sea route to India. In the 4-year period leading up to the nationalization of the Suez Canal, Nasser embarked on a programme of pan-Arab cohesion and made military pacts with Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Nasser's goal was the restoration of the Arab nation under Egyptian leadership and an end to foreign influence in the area. The nationalization of Suez was the first time that a Third World country had successfully regained one of its major foreign-owned assets (Carlton 1989) (McIntyre 1998).

Many historians hold that British withdrawal from much of Africa was by no means a well-managed adjustment to the inevitable but assumed, in the aftermath of Suez, an appearance of near panic. "The wind of change" (as Macmillan described it) was, according to this view, more like a hurricane, resulting in the British being evicted from the whole of Africa within a decade of Suez rather than over a protracted period that was otherwise the likely prognosis.

Nationalist movements were strengthened and encouraged with Nasser proving that Britain could no longer stand up to determined nationalists. Nasser was presented as David who had slain Goliath and became a figurehead for the anti-colonialism movement. The other imperial powers felt this effect too, especially France with her problems in Algeria intensifying and eventually leading to the collapse of the Fourth Republic. The Suez Crisis also brought the two superpowers into Africa with the United States establishing the Bureau of African Affairs in 1957, and a young John F. Kennedy made a speech to the Senate challenging outdated assumptions in foreign policy and arguing that the growing African nationalist movements needed support from the United States. Neff argues that, 'Suez was a hinge point in history. It spelled the end of Western colonization and the entry of America as the major Western power in the Middle East' (Carlton 1989, 99).

The first concern to take under consideration is the part that nationalism in the colonies played in bringing forth the end of the British Empire. Advocates of the nationalist reasoning state that in order for decolonization to happen there must be nationalist and anti-colonial forces within a colony. The circumstances within which these movements would be allowed to grow were made possible by the imperial powers after the conclusion of the Second World War. They tried to build up the productivity of their colonies, and this resulted in the colonized people challenging imperial rule. Springhall argues that, 'rapid urbanization plus social and political mobilization were…[continue]

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