The 21st century’s Middle East is planet Earth’s 50-yard-line for political intrigue, military intervention, and resource exploitation, but has it always been this way? Since antiquity, two types of states have typically occupied the area we know as the Middle East: major empires occupying the land for wealth and resources and small, weaker nations that were often hostile to each other. Today, we’ll take a deeper look at the history of internal and external Middle Eastern affairs, and see if we can figure out which direction the region is headed in the coming future. The nations of the Arab world have a long and detailed history, so forgive me if my version is seriously abridged.
With the Middle East, there is much to discuss, so let’s start at the beginning. The Middle East of antiquity was, as I mentioned before, a series of hostile states that often came to be dominated by larger empires like Macedonia, Ptolemaic Egypt, the Roman Republic/Empire, and most notably the Ottoman Empire whose seat of power in the Middle East spanned over 600 years. That is to say that before Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, any unity that occurred within the Middle East was the result of external forces. Prior to the rise of Islam, the peoples of the Middle East worshiped many gods. Muhammad preached that one of these many gods, Allah, was the one true god (Allah is also the same god worshiped in Christianity and Judaism). Islam began to spread quickly throughout Anatolia and the Middle East. Finally, the people of the Middle East had their first opportunity to unite through internal forces. And they did, under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, whose seat of government was based in modern day Turkey. The Ottoman Empire was a massive political and military superpower that threatened the nations of Europe for centuries until the nation collapsed in 1922. After that, the Middle East was divided up among European powers that destabilized the region, which caused a significant rise in terrorist activities.
Featuring wars between Israel and other states, Iraq and Iran, Afghanistan and Russia, among other conflicts, the Muslim world has had its share of internal problems in the 20th and 21st centuries. But, despite their problems, the nations of the Arab world have a few major beliefs to unify them. The first is Islam. It’s a no brainer. The population of Middle Eastern states is predominately Muslim. The people share a strong faith in Islam, a religion that has been under some scrutiny in recent years, and it only serves to bring the people of Dar-al-Islam closer together. The second is a strong disdain for the interventionism of western powers. Following the US backed coup in Syria and the US/UK-backed coup Iran in the mid-20th century, the Suez Crisis, and the War on Terror, among other incidents, the governments and people of the Middle East share a strong disdain for NATO powers, especially the United States. The third and final affinity shared by Middle Eastern nations is the support for Palestine over Israel. The governments of the Middle East view Israel’s statehood as illegal, and have provided aid to the PLO on numerous occasions. With a common religion and political mindset, the Middle East was in a strong position to unify into a new united country not unlike the Ottoman Empire, banding together to prevent Western interventionism.
So what is blocking the formation of this new Ottoman Empire? The United States, among other things. Make no mistake; America’s goal in the Middle East isn’t oil, WMDs, or democracy. It’s destabilization. If the nations of the Middle East were to unite under a single flag, that nation, that new Ottoman Empire, would have the world’s largest population, economy, and military. America, for its own sake, can’t let that happen. So, the US continues to support Israel, knowing the country’s presence in the Middle East is a destabilizing factor, especially among the nations bordering it. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have severely destabilized the eastern Muslim world, as have the NATO sanctions placed on Iran. Furthermore, the US continues constant, illegal (by international standards) drone strikes which undermine the sovereignty of nations like Pakistan and Yemen.
The Muslim world has also been doing a decent job of destabilizing itself recently. The Arab Spring has incited mass rioting, protest, and political turmoil among people of the Dar-al-Islam. Libyan rebels recently ended the rule of Gaddafi in a civil war, and rebels in Syria are attempting to do the same to al-Assad. The government of Egypt had been deposed twice by the people at the end of 2013. Al Qaeda has gained serious power in Iraq, even taking the former battleground of Fallujah from the government. The Yemeni people have catalyzed a change of state. The people of Tunisia ousted their president. Bahraini government has endured protests and riots for political freedom and human rights since 2011. Similar incidents have occurred in Algeria, Jordan, Oman, Sudan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Iran, and others. Many of these conflicts are still ongoing or unresolved.
So, what’s next for the Middle East and the Muslim world? The US has basically achieved its mission of destabilization for the time being, but once the turmoil settles down, which could be years and years from now, the Arab peoples may very well be in a place to unify. Currently, the only nation stable enough to unify the Muslim world and spark change is Turkey, the seat of the former Ottoman Empire. However, Turkey has been placing most of its focus on European relations, even going so far as applying for membership to the EU. This could either or serve to provide the Muslim world with the sort of diplomatic relations with the West it desperately needs, or it could lead to Turkey allying with Western powers and possibly joining NATO, abandoning its brothers in the Arab world. Only time will tell where Turkey is going to place its allegiance. Once the political turmoil settles down, the Arab world may very well be poised for an even bigger change than it is experiencing now. Will the Muslim world unite, forming a superpower the likes of which planet Earth has never seen, or will it crumble back into the same cycle of political violence and internal turmoil that has plagued it for over a century? Feel free to leave your opinions in the comments section and let me know where you think our world is headed!