Overview of the Middle East: 1945-Present

Overview of the Middle East: 1945-Present
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  • 0:01 Initial Challenges
  • 2:04 Pan-Arabism vs. Islamism
  • 4:08 Oil Wealth
  • 5:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

The Middle East has undergone considerable changes since 1945. From 'mandate' territories to areas of great geopolitical interest, few aspects of modern life are untouched by the events of this region.

Initial Challenges

Given the fact that the Middle East and Europe had a relationship that featured centuries of friction, it's little surprise that once the League of Nations mandates, or de facto permissions to run otherwise independent countries as colonies, on much of the region came to an end in 1945, Middle Easterners sought to distance themselves from Europe. Fortune quickly provided an opportunity in the former British mandate of Palestine. There, for quite some time, Jews had been emigrating away from Europe, most notably Nazi Germany, in order to find a homeland. Urged on by documents, such as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which promised to support a Jewish homeland in Palestine, soon European Jews outnumbered natives to that region, whether they were Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Many tensions emerged, and adherents of all religious traditions committed actions that would, frankly, today be considered terrorism.

By 1948, Israel had declared its independence, and within the next two days, it had been recognized by both the US and the USSR. Within hours, Jordanian, Syrian, Saudi, Iraqi, and Egyptian troops invaded. Set back by the Israeli counterattack, the Arabs were embarrassed that such a small state could defeat the armies of four Arab countries. Also emerging during this time was the lack of a popular voice that many in the Arab world felt towards their government leaders. Many were kings who had been appointed by the Europeans, and the kings were friendly to the West. Even as the beaten tanks rolled out of the disputed lands, the Arabs were convinced that their kings represented selfish interests, not those of the people. Because of this friendliness to the West and the inability to defeat Israel, coupled with decadence in government, many Arab rulers were deposed.

Pan-Arabism vs. Islamism

Amidst the outgrowth of nationalism that consumed much of the earlier years of the twentieth century, much had been made about two different philosophies, and how they could relate to the Middle East. The first was Pan-Arabism, which held that Arabs should ideally live in one nation-state, stretching the span of the Middle East. After all, Europeans had nation-states, and the idea of a nation-state worked remarkably well for Turkey - why shouldn't the Arabs? Of course, such a nation-state would have been massive, stretching from Morocco to Baghdad! That did not mean that the Arabs were not willing to try, however. The best example of this was with the United Arab Republic, a union established between Syria and Egypt, both countries that had once had governments with significant ties to former European colonial powers. Suddenly, more than a third of the world's Arabs were under one government. However, it soon became clear that there were bigger differences in culture than similarities, and within 15 years, the United Arab Republic ceased to exist.

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