The past quarter century was full of dramas for the Middle East. Many factors have led to the current situation in the region, both internal and external ones. The region survived Palestinian intifadas, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent invasion of Iraq, civil wars, terroristic attacks, the intervention of other countries, etc. The paper discusses the major turning points and their impacts on the region, starting with the 1990s and ending with the 2010s.
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Chronology of events
In the 1990s, the intifada, the collapse of the USSR, and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait became the major turning points and contributed to the redistribution of power in the Middle East. The USA remained the only superpower since the USSA was out of the game. Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia became more powerful and were able to forge alliances.
Iraq was weakened because of the US interference during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but Saddam Hussein was still in power and proved that by crushing a Shia revolt and taking revenge on those who were against his country. Although the US forces still were present in Iraq and Afghanistan, terroristic attacks continued and even became more global.
The next turning point was at the beginning of the twenty-first century when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked. The tragedy of September 11, 2001, led to the US military intervention in Afghanistan and more hostile policies against other countries. Iraq was first on the list. The US, together with Britain and several other countries, geared up for the war. Iraq was considerably weakened, which had many consequences.
As a prime example, Iran became more powerful and was a potential threat because of its “noncompliance with international inspectors of the nuclear enrichment program” (Andersen, Seibert and Wagner 117). Besides, attacks on Saudi Arabia, as well as the second Palestinian intifada with the bombing of Israel, intensified the aggression in the Middle East. After the second intifada and confrontation with Hizbollah, Israel plunged into crisis.
The next ten years brought significant changes to the USA since Barack Obama changed military policy cardinally. He promised to withdraw American forces from the urban areas of Iraq and help to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. That gave some space to Iraq.
Iran, in its turn, was significantly weakened because of widespread protests that began after the elections in 2009 and the Mr. Amadinejad’s victory in those. Besides, the UN imposed new sanctions on Iran since its nuclear program did not meet the demands again. Israel also got the great part of the international furor because of the blockade of Gaza.
There are several issues and phenomena that have had, and still have, a significant influence on the development of events in the Middle East. One of those is globalization. Although thick geographic boundary lines between countries have always been needed and became even more important in view of security needs after the end of World War II, after the USSR collapsed, and the bipolar world shifted to interdependence, those boundaries have never been so thick anymore.
People immigrate and take their values with them. And that, in its turn, can have both positive and negative effects. As an example of negative ones, Al-Qaeda has become a global terrorist organization with its representatives in sixty countries.
Arab nationalism contributed to numerous conflicts in the Middle East. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is a prime example – even Arabic countries considered it as “an illegitimate exercise of state power” (Andersen, Seibert and Wagner 120). Iraqi demonstrated their nationalism not only when invaded Kuwait but also later, when they refused to meet the UN requirements, murdered two betrayers from Saddam’s inner circle, etc. The hostile policy against the Kurds in Turkey is another manifestation of Arab nationalism.
International organizations constitute one more force that influences the development of events in the Middle East. Although such institutions are arguably as important as regional governments and alliances, they still make a huge difference. For instance, the UN performed “the roles of watchdog and enforcer” in Iraq (Andersen, Seibert and Wagner 124). Many NGOs provided aid in Palestine. And that list can be greatly extended. In future, NGOs’ influence is expected to become even more substantial.
After the 1980s, it became evident that economic programs of many Middle East countries were inefficient and only contributed to the slow economic development and bureaucracy. Even Middle Easterners themselves understood all “the sickness of their government” and realized that the opening of trade between countries would boost their economies (Andersen, Seibert and Wagner 125).
It did. However, it brought the disadvantages as well. One of the most significant was the contribution to the differentiation between winners and losers, the rich and the poor. The terroristic attack of September 11, for instance, can be considered as the terror against the rich.
That is a wide-spread opinion that Islam poses a threat to the West in particular and to the whole world in general. As an example, when Islamists gained popularity in Sudan, that country quickly received the status of “a prime safe haven and training ground of terrorists” (Andersen, Seibert and Wagner 127).
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However, political Islam started to change its tactics during the 1990s, and a great number of compromises followed. Although some people claim that those changes are caused by many failures of Islamists and signal about the end of the era of political Islam, it may simply be a lull.
Occupation of Iraq
The invasion of Iraq was one of the most significant turning points in the past quarter century. It was also a very controversial issue. Although the US asserted that it would avert future problems associated with Iraq and help to make Iraq a democratic state, the consequences were different.
First of all, that invasion contributed to the civil war in Iraq, and the Shia, the Kurds, and the Sunnis got their chances to rebel. Secondly, the jihadi made several prominent attacks on such countries as Spain, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and others. Finally, since Iraq had been a balancing power to Iran, with the weakening of this country, Iran became more powerful in the Middle East region.
Political Legitimacy in the Gulf
The issue of political participation was the most essential. The invasion of Iraq is a prime example. The countries entered the war, first of all, because the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was fraught with too much of the world’s oil in the hands of Iraqi. Even Kuwait’s share was too much for Iraqi to have. In addition, if the attempts to annex Kuwait were successful, Iraq could have moved further, to Saudi Arabia, for instance.
That would have given this country even more of the world’s reserves. In general, all monarchies experienced “political rumbling”: Saudi Arabia was partly moving to Western-style democracy, Kuwait had to focus on reconstruction, Iran faced domestic conflicts after elections in 2009, etc. (Andersen, Seibert and Wagner 127).
From Oslo to Jerusalem to Gaza
The Israel-Palestinian problem is one of the most significant in the Middle East. A lot of attempts were made to solve it, but none of them could end the conflict. Even when some progress was achieved, the situation worsened again. For example, in 1992, the sides reached the agreement in Oslo, but in 1995, Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated, and aggression was renewed. It is hard to predict how long the conflict will continue since there are many issues where neither of the sides is willing to compromise (as the status of Jerusalem).
The Middle East region has been (and still is) experiencing difficult times. It is hard to determine, which of the turning points mentioned above are the most significant ones since all of them have contributed to the current situation. However, I would say that the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (with all the subsequent events) have had the greatest impact. Both of them took a great period of time and influenced (directly or indirectly) many other countries.
Political Islam and Arab nationalism should not be underestimated as well since those have contributed to hostility and violence greatly. As for external factors, the collapse of the USSR and developments in the US policies also changed a lot – the US became more powerful, the bipolar world shifted to interdependence, the intervention of international organizations increased, etc.
Andersen, Roy R., Robert F. Seibert and Jon Wagner. Politics and Change in the Middle East. 10th ed. 2013. New York, New York: Pearson Education Limited. Print.