The Middle East can be defined as a region that includes part of the Asian continent and Northern African region. Arabs are the main inhabitants of this region. However, there are ethnic groups in the Middle East. The main religion in the Middle East is Islam. Nonetheless, other religions such as Judaism and Christianity can be found in this region. This region boasts of a great history.
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It is regarded as the birthplace of world religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Middle East is also associated with ancient civilizations. The discovery of crude oil in the region during the 20th century has changed the fortunes of the region. The Middle East is a region where the political, cultural, religious, and economic aspects have been integrated presenting a complex situation.
This region is considered as strategic to the world’s economic, political and social integration (Cleveland & Bunton, 2009). This paper examines the nationalism and Islam in the Middle East region. The paper also looks at the various aspects in the region including violence, social and political factions, and the future of democracy in the region.
The Middle East is characterized by a complex situation in which religion is at the center stage. However, it is important to look at the Middle East from a historical perspective in order to understand the present situation. Essentially, the Middle East was under the Ottoman Empire. However, during the 18th century, the influence of the Ottoman Empire started wane. During the Firs World War, the Ottoman supported the Germans.
The British and French army persuaded the Arab to rebel against the Ottomans leading to a collapse of the empire by the end of the First World War. The Ottoman Empire remained in Turkey after losing its control in other parts of the Middle East.
In early 1920s, the last Ottoman elements were eliminated from Turkey as the country undertook a journey towards modernization (Fromkin, 2001). Modernization is an element that was also undertaken in other Middle East countries such as Iran during the first half of the 20th century.
Arab nationalism and Islam
During the First World War, the Arab nations were promised independence by the colonists. Indeed, France and Britain promised the Arabs of their independence once the war was over. However, the colonists continued to control Arab countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.
This did not go down well with the Arabs, and they called for unity in liberating their respective countries. In 1932, Saudi Arabia was formed. The country was very poor until the discovery of oil in the 1930s (Cleveland & Bunton, 2009).
Other regions in the Middle East such as the Palestine are controlled by foreigners. Palestine is considered to have been the original home of the Jews. However, during the early 20th century, this place had very few Jews. However, in 1917, the British came up with the Balfour Declaration that supported the concept of the Jewish homeland. They promised protection of both the Jews and other people living in Palestine. This region was predominantly occupied by the Palestine.
However, following the persecution of the Jews by the Nazi regime, the Jews started to arrive. This brought about tensions the Jews and Arabs. The British tried to regulate the Jewish inflow by limiting the arrivals to only 75,000 each year.
The issue of the Jewish resettlement in the Middle East has been viewed as central to the nationalism in the region. Most of the states in the region were opposed to the creation of Israel in the Middle East (Shepherd, 2000). This was illustrated by the 1967 seven day war in which Arab countries planned a siege on Israel that failed terribly.
Understanding the concept of nationalism in the Middle East cannot be complete without integrating religion. During the mid 20th century, there were several military coups that brought youthful nationalists to power in many countries within the Middle East. The Arab nationalists came with sweeping changes, and they were said to be authoritarian.
In this case, there were fights between the nationalists and the Islamic political forces. For instance, in 1954, the Egyptian authorities wanted to silence the Islamic opponents. Muslim Activists were imprisoned, executed and forced into exile. In their defense, the Islamists portrayed the Egyptian regime as determined to destroy Islam (Cleveland & Bunton, 2009).
In the earlier part of the 20th century, Arab nationalism was set to fight imperialism. The aim was to ensure that the Middle East gains independence from the colonists. The Arab nationalism was also intended to establish the Arab identity. The argument was that the Ottoman empire had failed to defend Islam and offer protection to the Arabs.
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Thus, the Arab intellectuals were determined to establish a great foundation for the Arab nationalist philosophy. Islam was regarded as a uniting factor in the search for the Arab identity. Nevertheless, the second half of the 20th century was characterized by divisions among the Arab nationalist movement. The 1967 defeat by Israel did not help the situation as Arab nationalist scholars disintegrated (Oren, 2002).
There was a change of heart, and the anti-imperialist tendencies by the Arab states were replaced by relationships with the western powers. The Arab-Israel conflict was turned into negotiations for peaceful settlements (Cleveland & Bunton, 2009).
The role of violence in the Middle East
Nationalism in the Middle East has been associated with conflicts and violence. It has to be observed that apart from nationalism, the other causes of conflicts in a region include religion and resources. Nonetheless, nationalism is critical in these conflicts. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the prominent conflicts in the Middle East.
This conflict can be attributed to the national self-determination of the two nations (Cramer, 2004). The epitome of this conflict was the 1967 war in which Israel won (Oren, 2002). The Gulf War of 1991 was another violent conflict that was witnessed in the Middle East. This was depicted the nationalist spirits of the warring parties: the US and Iraq.
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was driven by the notion that Kuwait was a former province of Iraq. The US intervened under the pretext of preventing “another Munich”. However, the truth of the matter is that the US was only trying to protect its oil source given that this region is rich in crude oil.
Religious interests have also played a significant role in the conflict within the Middle East. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict can also be attributed to religion (Cramer, 2004).
This region is known to be important to Islam and Judaism, and this has brought about tension and conflicts regarding the one to control the territory. In addition, scarce resources have led to violent conflicts in the Middle East. In this case, the West Bank has a great supply of clean water. This has resulted in an unending conflict in the region fighting over the control of such resources (Cleveland & Bunton, 2009).
The Middle East response to the dominant role of the West in the 20th century
The relationship between the Middle East and the West started back in the 19th century. The Middle East was colonized between the 19th and part of the 20th century. During the second half of the 20th century, the Middle East gained independence from the colonists.
However, this period ushered in the era of the Cold War whereby the Soviet Union and the West competed for attention from the Middle East. This competing rivalry ended in the last decade of the 20th century following the collapse of the Soviet Union (Lewis, 2002).
After the downfall of the Soviet Union, many countries in the Middle East established strong ties with the West. It can be noted that countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan cemented their relationships with the West. It has to be noted that Egypt and Saudi Arabia are some of the Key states in the Middle East. There has been skepticism on the growing relationship between the West and Middle East (Lewis, 2002).
Notably, those opposed to the relationship argue that relations with the West is a threat to the welfare of the local people. The West is seen to have failed the Arabs in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Many countries in the Middle East such as Iran and Syria have argued that the West favors Israel in negotiating a cease fire with the Palestinians (Telhami, 2004).
In addition, there has been growing resentment among residents of those countries with strong relations with the West. This has seen the growth of fundamentalism in the Middle East whereby several groups have turned radical in opposing the West (Lewis, 2002).
Social and Political factions in the Middle East
The Middle East has had considerable growth in the social and political aspects. Political parties in the Middle East are categorized as Secular and Islamist. This is common in countries such as Egypt and Morocco. On the other hand, in countries such as Jordan and Yemen, political parties are formed in line with tribal aspects.
The secular parties are characterized by the socialist and nationalist ideas, whereas the Islamist parties are known to pose a strong opposition to the sitting governments. In Turkey, the Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party (JPD), is the main party that formed the government in early 2000s.
However, in most cases, the Islamist parties have not found it easy to be integrated into the political realm of the Middle Eastern states. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood Party has been languishing in opposition and was not allowed to participate in elections at some time during the reign of Mubarak. However, at the moment, the party has formed the government following the ouster of Mubarak.
Apart from the political parties, the Middle East is associated with terrorist organizations such as the Hamas, Hizbollah, and Alqaeda among others. These organizations use the religious ideology to advance their quest in opposing the West. In some instances, these militant groups are referred to as the Jihadists movements (Kepel, 2008).
It can be noted that the Middle East presents a complex situation that integrates the political, social, and economic aspects. The region is rich in crude oil, which has boosted its bargaining power on the world stage. The political developments in the area have been characterized by violence.
However, there are signs that democratic tenets are slowly gaining acceptance in the region. Using Turkey as an example, it is expected that the whole region will embrace democracy. Nonetheless, the democracy of the Middle East cannot be equal to that of the West given the different cultural, social, and religious aspects of the Middle Eastern society.
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Cramer, R.B. (2004). How Israel Lost: The Four Questions. New York: Simon & Schuster
Fromkin, D. (2001). A peace to end all peace: The fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern Middle East. New York: Holt.
Kepel, G. (2008). Jihad: The trail of political Islam. London: I. B. Tauris.
Lewis, B. (2002). What went wrong?: Western impact and Middle Eastern response. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Oren, M. B. (2002). Six days of war: June 1967 and the making of the modern Middle East. New York: Oxford University Press.
Shepherd, N. (2000). Ploughing sand: British rule in Palestine, 1917-1948. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press.
Telhami, S. (2004). The stakes: America in the Middle East; the consequences of power and the choice for peace. Boulder, Colo.; Oxford: Westview.