This chapter introduces the historical events surrounding the rise of Islam, the main pillars of the faith, and the reasons behind the schism between Sunnis and Shia. It follows the Arab armies as they moved beyond the Arabian Peninsula and established empires led by caliphs in Damascus (Umayyad) and Baghdad (Abbasid). During the reign of the Abbasids, religious scholars codified Islamic law (sharia) by using reasoned interpretations of the messages contained within the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet. The Abbasid Empire collapsed with the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in 1258. The topics of this chapter are referenced throughout the book as later empires ruled over the Muslim world and as Arabs looked back on these days as a golden age defining the beginnings of their national identities.
This chapter begins with the founding stories of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires and ends in the 18th century with the fragmentation of the former and the destruction of the latter. The chapter analyzes the systems of governance established in each empire because the institutions built within them proved influential well into the 19th and 20th centuries. The Ottoman sultans presented themselves as protectors of Sunni Islam and succeeded in ruling over a diverse population by training slaves for political and military positions in the halls of imperial governance and contracting with intermediaries to govern the provinces. The Safavid shahs established Shii Islam as the state religion and centralized an Iran that had been politically fragmented for centuries. Both empires faced increasing economic and military pressure from the British, French, Russians and Austrians.
This chapter examines the reform programs initiated in the 19th century by leaders in the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and the newly established Qajar Empire. Western-style military, educational, legal, and administrative reforms were introduced with the hope that centralized governance could be achieved which would be able to prevent European incursions. The Ottoman Empire and Egypt went into debt paying for these reforms, Egypt was colonized by Britain, and the Qajars struggled to centralize, but the reforms within these territories had lasting effects on governance and society. Newly trained provincial and imperial leaders gained power, and populations were brought into direct contact with their governments through taxation and conscription. The relationship between monarch and subject began to transform into a relationship between state and citizen, mediated by constitutions and the standardization and codification of law.
This chapter examines how populations reacted to the reforms discussed in Chapter 2. The reforms were top-down measures introduced by shahs, sultans and their representatives but the opportunities they created for individuals to enter new schools, professions, and military roles catalyzed widespread socio-economic changes unanticipated by the reforms' authors. Rebels opposed European colonial incursions and state attempts to centralize control. New landowners built powerful client networks, consolidating economic and political power. Workers went on strike in industries that had not existed in the Middle East before the middle of the 19th century. Egyptians, Arabs, Armenians, Kurds, and the peoples of the Balkans organized national movements to gain new political rights from the Ottoman Empire and the European colonizers.
This chapter details the formation of Iranian and Turkish national identities and the revolutionary movements that instituted constitutions and parliaments in Qajar and Ottoman governments on the eve of World War I. Newly trained soldiers, students, and professionals in the Ottoman Empire pushed the old elites from power. In Qajar Iran, the ulama and bazaaris rebelled alongside the new social cadres to weaken the power of the shah. The war ended with the collapse of the empires, and new Iranian, Turkish and Egyptian states emerged. Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and Transjordan became mandates under French and British rule. The British and French created these new states with little input from the people living within them, while also promising that the Zionist movement of Europe could establish a national homeland in Palestine.
This chapter examines the difficulties the Iranians, Turks, British, French, and the newly designated Syrians, Lebanese, Transjordanians, Saudi Arabians, and Iraqis faced in establishing new states. Rebellions in Turkey and Iran led to the formation of independent and authoritarian governments under Reza Shah and Mustafa Kemal. In the Arab mandates, the British and French repressed rebellions and set up local governments led by the old notables who had performed the same function for the Ottoman Empire before the war. The notables' authority was challenged by the new social cadres protesting government collusion with the colonizers and the hegemony of local elites. This chapter illustrates how difficult it was to establish new states in the Middle East because the borders were artificial and few new citizens were being served by their governments.
This chapter analyzes how the Great Depression, in concert with the expanded school systems, industrial bases, and militaries, politicized many in the growing urban populations. Starting with Egypt, the chapter examines the country's dysfunctional electoral process and its uneven economic development. Students, workers, professionals, and military and paramilitary units took to the streets demanding that government become more participatory. World War II ended with the independence of the Arab mandates. None of the protesters' demands were addressed, however, despite the withdrawal of British and French forces. The conflict between the Palestinians and Jews in Palestine culminated in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 and the establishment of the state of Israel, with Israel claiming most of Palestine, and Egypt and Jordan controlling the remainder.
This chapter examines the ideologies of the most influential political parties that emerged in this period and describes the military coups that overturned governance throughout the region. Rebellions broke out after WWII as students, professionals, workers, paramilitary and military units demanded more populist and socialist policies. In the Arab countries, the Bath and Communist parties pushed for more equitable economic structures and independence from imperialist control. Military officers in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq staged military coups to introduce reforms, and the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia were forced to adjust their economic policies to address citizen demands. In Turkey, years of vibrant electoral competition were followed by short periods of military rule. The Iranian shah became increasingly authoritarian after the US CIA helped him subdue a rising nationalist movement.
The chapter examines the wars that emerged within the context of the Cold War and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Starting with the Baghdad Pact, the states of the Middle East chose sides in the Cold War, with Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and initially Iraq joining the United States' side and the others trying to remain neutral but finding themselves drawn to the Soviet side. Arabs and Israelis fought each other in the Suez Crisis of 1956, the 1967 War, and the 1973 War. Egypt made peace with Israel; the Palestinians formed their own fedayeen units to fight Israel. The Israelis and the Palestinians—as well as the surrounding Arab states, the US, and the Soviet Union—all participated in the Lebanese Civil War between 1975 and 1990 in which the country's sectarian groups were pitted against each other.
This chapter examines how the leaders in the Middle East managed to hold power for extended periods. They succeeded because they controlled their country's military forces but they also had to address the needs of their populace. States expanded the social safety nets to bring schooling, health care, and jobs to most of the population. Constitutions, parliaments, political parties, and elections mobilized populations for state projects but personality cults, security organizations, and control over all aid and state funds ensured presidential and monarchical hegemony for decades. The only state leader to fall was the Iranian shah because he faced massive nationwide protest against his rule. All the tools he and his colleagues used to maintain their authority failed, and the shah's government was replaced by a new Islamic Republic.
This chapter examines economic and political challenges of recent years. The 1970s witnessed a privatization process of nationalized industries in Egypt and Turkey, and the other countries followed suit. The breakdown of the states' social welfare nets helped catalyze rebellions against the states, first from left-leaning students and workers and then from religiously-oriented Sunni university and professional groups. Most participants wanted to reform society so that people could live pious lives. A small number were militant Islamists who wanted to forcibly inaugurate Islamic elements. Shia and Kurds in Iraq organized to fight for national rights, and the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11. Palestinians and Israelis unsuccessfully worked toward peace.
The 21st century witnessed massive demonstrations to overthrow longtime government leaders, reflecting the collective mobilization that had taken place for years within new political parties, labor unions, and social media. However, societies also became fragmented, making sectarian division, civil war, and conflict ever-present. Syria has become the epicenter because the protests over authoritarian state policies that began in 2011 evolved within only a couple of months into a countrywide civil war. Its effects have spread throughout the region and into Europe. Groups such as ISIS in Syria and Iraq are fighting to overthrow the foundations of their governing bodies. Because of the civil war in Syria, the failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and dire economic conditions across the region, millions of refugees struggle to gain access to basic foodstuffs, jobs, health care, housing, and education. The direction from here is uncertain.