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Middle East Nations Creation During Colonial Rule Essay


The period after the First World War was characterised by the occupation of the Middle Eastern territories by the British and French. In his work, Owen states that the foreign occupation of the lands was a result of the treaties signed after the First World War. The treaties determined the procedures according to which the Arab provinces of the former Ottoman Empire were divided into a number of “successor states, each of them under the control of one or other of the victorious powers: the new Syria and Lebanon under the French; the new Iraq, Palestine and Trans-Jordan under the British” (Owen 2004, p. 6). Thus, this historical period is discussed as the colonial rule in the Middle East that affected significantly the creation and development of the Middle Eastern nations and states. While assessing the impact of the colonial rule in the Middle East on the process of creating nations and states, it is important to mention two opposite effects. On the one hand, the colonial rule contributed to creating states and nations because of proposing the fundament for administering the newly formed political entities and because of accentuating the role of nations in the Middle East. On the one hand, the necessity to be divided according to national characteristics was challenging for the peoples of the Middle East, and moreover, the governmental patterns followed during the colonial rule were often weak to be used during the post-colonial period. Nevertheless, it is important to state that the colonial rule created new nations and states in the Middle East because it inspired the peoples to unite according to their culture, religion, and language features, and it provided the patterns to create independent political entities with their own boundaries and governments.

Focusing on the role of the colonial rule in creating the Middle Eastern states, it is important to discuss the detailed process of creating the modern state in these lands. According to Owen, in the post-war Middle East, the French and British authorities were the first who created the “essential features of a modern state, by giving it a centralized administration, a legal system, a flag and internationally recognized boundaries” (Owen 2004, p. 9). In spite of the fact that these newly created states were often discussed as “artificial”, the states were built according to the Western patterns, and all the political and governmental structures were clearly defined or shaped and established to provide the fundament for the further development of these states during the post-colonial era (Milton-Edwards 2011, p. 16; Owen 2004, p. 9). Despite much opposition among the nations, the Western framework to create the political entity contributed significantly to establishing states in the Middle East. Although new nation-states in the Middle East were often discussed as the puppets of the French and British authorities, they were properly established (Milton-Edwards 2011, p. 16). Thus, the new viable states were created according to the principles of the centralised administration; the states received fixed borders and new possibilities for the development; the legal system developed, the censuses were taken; and the principles of security were set as well as laws to protect the borders (Fieldhouse 2008b, p. 340; Milton-Edwards 2011, p. 17; Owen 2004, p. 9). The “role of the political centre” was emphasised, and “the way for the emergence of the much stronger and more powerful regimes” was set (Owen 2004, p. 10). In spite of the fact that the above-mentioned developments led to creating rather weak states, the nations received the opportunity to use the pattern of the Western properly administered political entity for creating their own states.

The colonial rule also contributed to creating nations in the Middle East because the French and British authorities focused on separating territories according to differences in nations. While discussing the new Arab states, Milton-Edwards points at the “creation of the colonially inspired nation-state” (Milton-Edwards 2011, p. 16). From this point, it is possible to refer to Fieldhouse’s words that the colonial rule in the Middle East created a specific system of states “with viable Western-type governmental institutions with the potential to develop into nations” (Fieldhouse 2008b, p. 347). Thus, it is significant to state that the colonial rule was the force that made the nations of the Middle East become aware of their own cultures, religions, and possible differences (Meouchy & Sluglett 2004, p. 54). This “rise of nationalist aspirations” led to the creation of several nations in the discussed lands (Milton-Edwards 2011, p. 20). The movement caused the development of the Islamic solidarity, and the Arabs were the first ones who focused on the advantages of creating states based on the idea of nationalism in the multiethnic Middle East (Cleveland & Bunton 2009, p. 200; Hourani 2010, p. 282). The possibility to build their own nation-states made the Arabs and other peoples of the Middle East rather strong, and they could not be so strong without the impact of the colonial rule, as a result of which new nations were determined in the context of newly built states.

In spite of the fact that the colonial rule created states and nations in the Middle East, the process was rather controversial because of many challenges faced by separate nations during the post-colonial period. In the 1920s, the effects of political changes on the nations of the Middle East were ambiguous. Fieldhouse pays attention to the fact that “while mere withdrawal of the British and French from the Ottoman provinces after 1918 would not have resulted in a political vacuum, neither would a group of well-constructed indigenous states have emerged fully-fledged” (Fieldhouse 2008b, p. 340). The reason was that the French and British mandates and protectorates were rather weak in relation to the question of the political strength (Hourani 2010, p. 282). Thus, when the rule of the British and French ceased in the Middle East, there were no effective established governments in some states. However, the way of the political formation and development was different for the newly established states and nations (Meouchy & Sluglett 2004, p. 82-84). Syria and Lebanon rather quickly adapted to the existence as separate nations. The other path was followed by those Arabs who concentrated on the idea of the national and religious solidarity (Fieldhouse 2008a, p. 245). These Arabs planned to unite because of the common language, culture, and religion. Thus, the shift from a development of the multicultural political community to the creation of a number of separate political entities that were discussed as ethnically unified was rather painful for the states of the Middle East.

New states were created and nations were identified, but the peoples of the Middle East did not see the clear way for the further development depending on the Western political patterns. Fieldhouse states that the Arabs were obviously capable of “running their own local affairs and all the basic building blocks of administrative and judicial control existed” (Fieldhouse 2008b, p. 340). However, the problem was in the fact that these administrative actions were effectively taken only “on a provincial level” (Fieldhouse 2008b, p. 340). These newly determined nations had to prove that they were capable of running and ruling themselves effectively even after the rule of the British and French authorities in the states of the Middle East. A lot of confusion was associated with adapting the Middle Eastern social, cultural, and religious realities to the Western patterns of the political development of states. The colonial rule created states and nations in the Middle East, but scholars are inclined to determine the specific features of these establishments (Milton-Edwards 2011, p. 18). It is important to note that the British and French rule “depended on the established social classes and helped to perpetuate their dominance. In effect they inherited and maintained the Ottoman system of ruling through landed and urban elites” (Fieldhouse 2008b, p. 346). As a result, the mix of systems and patterns led to preserving “social and economic hierarchies” in the Middle Eastern societies, and these relations influenced the development of nations and states during the post-colonial period (Fieldhouse 2008b, p. 346). For instance, Syria could effectively adopt the parliamentary systems left after the withdrawal of the colonial rule in order to achieve the political stability in the state (Cleveland & Bunton 2009, p. 180; Fieldhouse 2008a, p. 246). In contrast, Lebanon succeeded in adapting to the political situation in the state with the focus on increasing the role of the local leadership (Cleveland & Bunton 2009, p. 180). From this perspective, all the new nations had not necessary experiences in administering the political entities and creating the developed nation-states. However, the successes of the Middle Eastern nations were different, and the role of the colonial rule in affecting the process was significant.

Having analysed the role of the colonial rule for creating states and nations in the Middle East, it is possible to claim that the rule of the French and British provided the Middle Eastern nations with the significant support in creating nation-states. In spite of difficulties associated with separating the multiethnic populations and adopting the Western principles in establishing and ruling the political entities, the colonial rule provided the discussed nations with the important political and social fundament. It is possible to discuss the colonial rule as the support for the Middle Eastern states in order to find the effective ways of ruling the political entities, as it was stated officially by the French and British authorities after the First World War. While focusing on the issue from this point, the advantages of the colonial rule can be defined as the provisions of political patterns for the nations; provision of principles of centralising the power; provision of the standard rules and regulations; and provision of control principles. The Middle Eastern states had few chances to succeed as developing political systems after the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, it is possible to argue that the colonial rule created the states and nations of the Middle East.

References

Cleveland, W & Bunton, M 2009, A history of the modern Middle East, Westview Press, Boulder.

Fieldhouse, D 2008a, ‘Alien rule and Nationalist reactions, 1918-1958, in D Fieldhouse (ed.), Western imperialism in the Middle East, 1914-1958, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 69-337.

Fieldhouse, D 2008b, ‘Conclusions’, in D Fieldhouse (ed.), Western imperialism in the Middle East, 1914-1958, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 337-349.

Hourani, A 2010, ‘European empires and dominant elites (1860-1914)’, in A Hourani (ed.), A History of the Arab Peoples, Harvard University Press, Harvard, pp. 279-299.

Meouchy, N & Sluglett, P 2004, The British and French mandates in comparative perspectives, Brill, Leiden.

Milton-Edwards, B 2011, ‘Colonial rule’, in B Milton-Edwards (ed.), Contemporary politics in the Middle East, Polity, Cambridge, pp. 15-40.

Owen, R 2004, ‘The end of empires: the emergence of modern Middle Eastern states’, in R Owen (ed.), State, power and politics in the making of the modern Middle East, Routledge, London, pp. 5-22.

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