Map of the Middle east (green).
|Languages||Arabic, Aramaic, Armenian,Azerbaijani, Balochi, French,Greek, Hebrew, Kurdish,Persian, Turkish|
|Time Zones||UTC +3:30 (Iran) to UTC +2:00 (Egypt)|
|Largest Cities||In rank order: Cairo, Tehran,Istanbul, Baghdad, Riyadh,Jeddah, Ankara|
The Middle East[note 1] is a region that roughly encompasses a majority of Western Asia(excluding the Caucasus) and Egypt. The term is used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East. The corresponding adjective is Middle-Eastern and the derived noun is Middle-Easterner. The largest ethnic group in the Middle East are Arabs, withTurks, Turkomans, Persians, Kurds, Azeris, Copts, Jews, Assyrians, Maronites,Circassians, Somalis, Armenians, Druze and numerous additional minor ethnic groups forming other significant populations.
The history of the Middle East dates back to ancient times, and throughout its history, the Middle East has been a major center of world affairs. When discussing its ancient history, however, the term Near East is more commonly used. The Middle East is also the historical origin of major religions including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as the less common Baha’i faith, Mandaeism, Druze faith and others. The Middle East generally has an arid and hot climate, with several major rivers providing for irrigation to support agriculture in limited areas, especially in Mesopotamia and the rest of the Fertile Crescent. Many countries located around the Persian Gulf have large quantities of crude oil, which has resulted in much wealth particularly for nations in the Arabian peninsula. In modern times the Middle East remains a strategically, economically, politically, culturally and religiously sensitive region.[clarification needed]
- 1 Terminology
- 2 Territories and regions
- 3 History
- 4 Demographics
- 5 Economy
- 6 Gallery
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
The term “Middle East” may have originated in the 1850s in the British India Office. However, it became more widely known whenAmerican naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan used the term in 1902 to “designate the area between Arabia and India”. During this time the British and Russian Empires were vying for influence in Central Asia, a rivalry which would become known as The Great Game. Mahan realized not only the strategic importance of the region, but also of its center, the Persian Gulf. He labeled the area surrounding the Persian Gulf as the Middle East, and said that after the Suez Canal, it was the most important passage for Britain to control in order to keep the Russians from advancing towards British India. Mahan first used the term in his article “The Persian Gulf and International Relations”, published in September 1902 in the National Review, a British journal.
The Middle East, if I may adopt a term which I have not seen, will some day need its Malta, as well as its Gibraltar; it does not follow that either will be in the Persian Gulf. Naval force has the quality of mobility which carries with it the privilege of temporary absences; but it needs to find on every scene of operation established bases of refit, of supply, and in case of disaster, of security. The British Navy should have the facility to concentrate in force if occasion arise, about Aden, India, and the Persian Gulf.
Mahan’s article was reprinted in The Times and followed in October by a 20-article series entitled “The Middle Eastern Question,” written by Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol. During this series, Sir Ignatius expanded the definition of Middle East to include “those regions of Asia which extend to the borders of India or command the approaches to India.” After the series ended in 1903, The Timesremoved quotation marks from subsequent uses of the term.
Until World War II, it was customary to refer to areas centered around Turkey and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean as the “Near East“, while the “Far East” centered on China, and the Middle East then meant the area from Mesopotamia to Burma, namely the area between the Near East and the Far East. In the late 1930s, the British established the Middle East Command, which was based in Cairo, for its military forces in the region. After that time, the term “Middle East” gained broader usage in Europe and the United States, with the Middle East Institute founded in Washington, D.C. in 1946, among other usage.
Criticism and usage
The description Middle has also led to some confusion over changing definitions. Before theFirst World War, “Near East” was used in English to refer to the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire, while “Middle East” referred to Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia, Turkestan, and the Caucasus. In contrast, “Far East” referred to the countries of East Asia (e.g. China,Japan, Formosa, Korea, Hong Kong, etc.)
With the disappearance of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, “Near East” largely fell out of common use in English, while “Middle East” came to be applied to the re-emerging countries of the Islamic world. However, the usage “Near East” was retained by a variety of academic disciplines, including archaeology and ancient history, where it describes an area identical to the term Middle East, which is not used by these disciplines (see Ancient Near East).
The first official use of the term “Middle East” by the United States government was in the 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine, which pertained to the Suez Crisis. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles defined the Middle East as “the area lying between and including Libya on the west and Pakistan on the east, Syria and Iraq on the North and the Arabian peninsula to the south, plus the Sudan and Ethiopia.” In 1958, the State Department explained that the terms “Near East” and “Middle East” were interchangeable, and defined the region as including only Egypt, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar.
The Associated Press Stylebook says that Near East formerly referred to the farther west countries while Middle East referred to the eastern ones, but that now they are synonymous. It instructs:
Use Middle East unless Near East is used by a source in a story. Mideast is also acceptable, but Middle East is preferred.
At the United Nations, the numerous documents and resolutions about the Middle East are in fact concerned with the Arab–Israeli conflict, in particular the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and, therefore, with the four states of the Levant. The term Near East is occasionally heard at the UN when referring to this region.
There are terms similar to Near East and Middle East in other European languages, but since it is a relative description, the meanings depend on the country and are different from the English terms generally. In German the term Naher Osten (Near East) is still in common use (nowadays the term Mittlerer Osten is more and more common in press texts translated from English sources, albeit having a distinct meaning) and in Russian Ближний Восток or Blizhniy Vostok, Bulgarian Близкия Изток, Polish Bliski Wschód orCroatian Bliski istok (meaning Near East in all the four Slavic languages) remains as the only appropriate term for the region. However, some languages do have “Middle East” equivalents, such as the French Moyen-Orient, Swedish Mellanöstern, Spanish Oriente Medio or Medio Oriente, and the Italian Medio Oriente.[note 2]
Perhaps because of the influence of the Western press, the Arabic equivalent of Middle East (Arabic: الشرق الأوسط ash-Sharq al-Awsaṭ), has become standard usage in the mainstream Arabic press, comprehending the same meaning as the term “Middle East” in North American and Western European usage. The designation, Mashriq, also from the Arabic root for east, also denotes a variously defined region around the Levant, the eastern part of the Arabic-speaking world (as opposed to the Maghreb, the western part). The Persianequivalent for Middle East is خاورمیانه (Khāvar-e miyāneh).
Territories and regions
Traditional definition of the Middle East
The following countries are included within the Middle East, which is corresponding to Western Asia, excluding the Caucasus:
- Northern Cyprus
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
Other definitions of the Middle East
Various concepts are often being paralleled to Middle East, most notably Near East, Fertile Crescent and the Levant. Near East, Levant and Fertile Crescent are geographic concepts, which refer to large sections of the modern defined Middle East, with Near East being the closest to Middle East in its geographic meaning.
Greater Middle East is an additional Eurocentric concept, introduced in the West in the 1990s, and referring to the mostly-Islamic regions of North Africa, Western Asia and Central Asia; the use of “Greater Middle East” however was marginal and it has recently fell into disuse.
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The Middle East lies at the juncture of Eurasia and Africa and of the Mediterranean Sea and theIndian Ocean. It is the birthplace and spiritual center of religions such as Christianity, Islam,Judaism, Manichaeism, Yezidi, Druze, Yarsan and Mandeanism, and in Iran, Mithraism,Zoroastrianism, Manicheanism, and the Bahá’í Faith. Throughout its history the Middle East has been a major center of world affairs; a strategically, economically, politically, culturally, and religiously sensitive area.
The world’s earliest civilizations, Mesopotamia (Sumer, Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia) and ancient Egypt, originated in the Fertile Crescent and Nile Valley regions of the ancient Near East. These were followed by the Hittite, Greek and Urartian civilisations of Asia Minor, Elam in pre-Iranian Persia, as well as the civilizations of the Levant (such as Ebla, Ugarit, Canaan, Aramea, Phoenicia andIsrael), Persian and Median civilizations in Iran, North Africa (Carthage/Phoenicia) and the Arabian Peninsula (Magan, Sheba, Ubar). The Near East was first largely unified under the Neo Assyrian Empire, then the Achaemenid Empire followed later by the Macedonian Empire and after this to some degree by the Iranian empires (namely the Parthian and Sassanid Empires), the Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire. However, it would be the later Arab Caliphates of the Middle Ages, or Islamic Golden Age which began with the Arab conquest of the region in the 7th century AD, that would first unify the entire Middle East as a distinct region and create the dominant Islamic ethnic identity that largely (but not exclusively) persists today. TheMongols, the Turkish Seljuk and Ottoman empires, the Safavids and the British Empirewould also later dominate the region.
The modern Middle East began after World War I, when the Ottoman Empire, which was allied with the Central Powers, was defeated by the British Empire and their allies andpartitioned into a number of separate nations, initially under British and French Mandates. Other defining events in this transformation included the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the eventual departure of European powers, notably Britain and France by the end of the 1960s. They were supplanted in some part by the rising influence of the United States from the 1970s onwards.
In the 20th century, the region’s significant stocks of crude oil gave it new strategic and economic importance. Mass production of oil began around 1945, with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates having large quantities of oil. Estimated oil reserves, especially in Saudi Arabia and Iran, are some of the highest in the world, and the international oil cartel OPEC is dominated by Middle Eastern countries.
During the Cold War, the Middle East was a theater of ideological struggle between the two superpowers and their allies: NATO and theUnited States on one side, and the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact on the other, as they competed to influence regional allies. Of course, besides the political reasons there was also the “ideological conflict” between the two systems. Moreover, as Louise Fawcettargues, among many important areas of contention, or perhaps more accurately of anxiety, were, first, the desires of the superpowers to gain strategic advantage in the region, second, the fact that the region contained some two thirds of the world’s oil reserves in a context where oil was becoming increasingly vital to the economy of the Western world […] Within this contextual framework, the United States sought to divert the Arab world from Soviet influence. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the region has experienced both periods of relative peace and tolerance and periods of conflict and war.
The Middle East is today home to numerous long established ethnic groups, including;Arabs, Turks, Persians, Jews, Kurds, Somalis, Assyrians, Egyptian Copts, Armenians,Azeris, Maltese, Circassians, Greeks, Turcomans, Shabaks, Yazidis, Mandeans,Georgians, Roma, Gagauz, Mhallami and Samaritans.
According to the International Organization for Migration, there are 13 million first-generation migrants from Arab nations in the world, of which 5.8 reside in other Arab countries. Expatriates from Arab countries contribute to the circulation of financial and human capital in the region and thus significantly promote regional development. In 2009 Arab countries received a total of 35.1 billion USD in remittance in-flows and remittances sent to Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon from other Arab countries are 40 to 190 per cent higher than trade revenues between these and other Arab countries. In Somalia, the Somali Civil War has greatly increased the size of the Somali diaspora, as many of the best educated Somalis left for Europe, North America and other Middle Eastern countries.
A fair proportion of those migrating from Arab nations are from ethnic and religious minorities facing racial and or religious persecution and are not necessarily ethnic Arabs, Iranians or Turks. Large numbers of Kurds, Jews, Assyrians, Greeks andArmenians as well as many Mandeans have left nations such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey for these reasons during the last century. In Iran, many religious minorities such as Christians, Baha’is and Zoroastrians have left since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
The Middle East is very diverse when it comes to religions, many of which originated there.Islam in its many forms is by far the largest religion in the Middle East, but other faiths that originated there, such as Judaism and Christianity, are also well represented. Christians represent a proportionally, 41%, huge part of Lebanon, where the Lebanese President, Lebanese Army General and Central Bank Governor has to be Christian. There are also important minority religions like the Bahá’í Faith, Yazdânism, Zoroastrianism, Mandeanism,Druze, Yarsan, Yazidism and Shabakism, and in ancient times the region was home toMesopotamian Religion, Canaanite Religion, Manicheanism, Mithraism and variousMonotheist Gnostic sects.
The five top languages, in terms of numbers of speakers, are Arabic, Persian, Turkish,Berber, and Kurdish. Arabic and Berber represent the Afro-Asiatic language family. Persian and Kurdish belong to the Indo-European language family. And Turkish belongs to Turkiclanguage family. About 20 minority languages are also spoken in the Middle East.
Arabic (with all its dialects) is the most widely spoken and/or written language in the Middle East, being official in all North African and in most West Asian countries. It is also spoken in some adjacent areas in neighbouring Middle Eastern non-Arab countries. It is a member of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages.
Persian is the second most spoken language. While it is confined to Iran and some border areas in neighbouring countries, the country is one of the region’s largest and most populous. It belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of the family of Indo-European languages.
The third-most widely spoken language, Turkish, is largely confined to Turkey, which is also one of the region’s largest and most populous countries, but it is present in areas in neighboring countries. It is a member of the Turkic languages, which have their origins in Central Asia.
Other languages spoken in the region include Semitic languages such as Hebrew and Mesopotamian Aramaic dialects spoken mainly by Assyrians and Mandeans. Also to be found are Armenian, Azerbaijani, Somali, Berber which is spoken across North Africa,Circassian, smaller Iranian languages, Kurdish, smaller Turkic languages (such as Gagauz), Shabaki, Yazidi, Roma, Georgian, Greek, and several Modern South Arabian languages such as Geez. Maltese is also linguistically and geographically a Middle Eastern language.
English is commonly taught and used as a second language, especially among the middle and upper classes, in countries such asEgypt, Jordan, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. It is also a main language in some of the Emirates of the United Arab Emirates.
French is taught and used in many government facilities and media in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Lebanon. It is taught in some primary and secondary schools of Egypt, Israel and Syria.
Urdu and Hindi is widely spoken by migrant communities in many Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia (where 20-25% of the population is South Asian), the United Arab Emirates (where 50-55% of the population is South Asian), and Qatar, which have large numbers of Pakistani and Indian immigrants.
The largest Romanian-speaking community in the Middle East is found in Israel, where as of 1995 Romanian is spoken by 5% of the population.[note 3] Russian is also spoken by a large portion of the Israeli population, because of emigration in the late 1990s.Amharic and other Ethiopian languages are spoken by Ethiopian minority.
Middle Eastern economies range from being very poor (such as Gaza and Yemen) to extremely wealthy nations (such as Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia). Overall, as of 2007, according to the CIA World Factbook, all nations in the Middle East are maintaining a positive rate of growth.
According to the World Bank‘s World Development Indicators database published on July 1, 2009, the three largest Middle Eastern economies in 2008 were Turkey ($ 794,228,000,000), Saudi Arabia ($ 467,601,000,000) and Iran ($ 385,143,000,000) in terms ofNominal GDP. In regards to nominal GDP per capita, the highest ranking countries are Qatar ($93,204), the UAE ($55,028), Kuwait ($45,920) and Cyprus ($32,745). Turkey ($ 1,028,897,000,000), Iran ($ 839,438,000,000) and Saudi Arabia ($ 589,531,000,000) had the largest economies in terms of GDP-PPP. When it comes to per capita (PPP)-based income, the highest-ranking countries are Qatar ($86,008), Kuwait ($39,915), the UAE ($38,894), Bahrain ($34,662) and Cyprus ($29,853). The lowest-ranking country in the Middle East, in terms of per capita income (PPP), is the autonomous Palestinian Authority of Gaza and the West Bank ($1,100).
The economic structure of Middle Eastern nations are different in the sense that while some nations are heavily dependent on export of only oil and oil-related products (such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait), others have a highly diverse economic base (such as Cyprus, Israel, Turkey and Egypt). Industries of the Middle Eastern region include oil and oil-related products, agriculture, cotton, cattle, dairy, textiles, leather products, surgical instruments, defence equipment (guns, ammunition, tanks, submarines, fighter jets, UAVs, and missiles). Banking is also an important sector of the economies, especially in the case of UAE and Bahrain.
With the exception of Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Israel, tourism has been a relatively undeveloped area of the economy, in part because of the socially conservative nature of the region as well as political turmoil in certain regions of the Middle East. In recent years, however, countries such as the UAE, Bahrain, and Jordan have begun attracting greater number of tourists because of improving tourist facilities and the relaxing of tourism-related restrictive policies.
Unemployment is notably high in the Middle East and North Africa region, particularly among young people aged 15–29, a demographic representing 30% of the region’s total population. The total regional unemployment rate in 2005, according to the International Labor Organization, was 13.2%, and among youth is as high as 25%, up to 37% in Morocco and 73% in Syria.
Amman – Jordan
Baghdad – Iraq
Beirut – Lebanon
Cairo – Egypt
Damascus – Syria
Dubai – U.A.E
Istanbul – Turkey
Kuwait City – Kuwait
Manama – Bahrain
Nicosia – Cyprus
Ramallah – Palestine
Riyadh – Saudi Arabia
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Sana’a – Yemen
Tehran – Iran
Tel Aviv – Israel
Organizations, programs, and media
- Maayan Middle East poetry magazine
- Middle East Studies Association of North America
- Middle East Youth Initiative
- Strategic Foresight Group
- Jump up^ Arabic: الشرق الأوسط, Asharq Al-Awsṭ; Armenian: Միջին Արևելք, Merdzavor Arevelk’; Azerbaijani: Orta Şərq; French: Moyen-Orient;Georgian: ახლო აღმოსავლეთი, akhlo aghmosavleti; Greek: Μέση Ανατολή, Mési Anatolí; Hebrew: המזרח התיכון, Ha’Mizrah Ha’Tihon;Kurdish: Rojhilata Navîn; Persian: خاورمیانه, khevrmyenh; Somali: Bariga Dhexe; Soranî Kurdish: ڕۆژھەڵاتی ناوین, rrojhellatî nayn; Turkish:Orta Doğu; Urdu: مشرق وسطی, hashrq vsty
- Jump up^ In Italian, the expression “Vicino Oriente” (Near East) was also widely used to refer to Turkey, and Estremo Oriente (Far East or Extreme East) to refer to all of Asia east of Middle East
- Jump up^ According to the 1993 Statistical Abstract of Israel there were 250,000 Romanian speakers in Israel, at a population of 5,548,523 (census 1995).
- Adelson, Roger (1995). London and the Invention of the Middle East: Money, Power, and War, 1902-1922. Yale University Press.ISBN 0-300-06094-7.
- Anderson, R; Seibert, R; Wagner, J. (2006). Politics and Change in the Middle East (8th ed.). Prentice-Hall.
- Barzilai, Gad; Aharon, Klieman; Gil, Shidlo (1993). The Gulf Crisis and its Global Aftermath. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-080029.
- Barzilai, Gad (1996). Wars, Internal Conflicts and Political Order. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-2943-1.
- Beaumont, Peter; Blake, Gerald H; Wagstaff, J. Malcolm (1988). The Middle East: A Geographical Study. David Fulton. ISBN 0-470-21040-0.
- Goldschmidt, Arthur Jr (1999). A Concise History of the Middle East. Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-0471-7.
- Jump up^ Levinson, David (1998), Ethnic Groups Worldwide: A Ready Reference Handbook, p. 145.
- Jump up^ Beaumont, Blake & Wagstaff 1988, p. 16.
- Jump up^ Koppes, CR (1976). “Captain Mahan, General Gordon and the origin of the term “Middle East””. Middle East Studies 12: 95–98.doi:10.1080/00263207608700307.
- Jump up^ Lewis, Bernard (1965). The Middle East and the West. p. 9.
- Jump up^ Fromkin, David (1989). A Peace to end all Peace. p. 224.ISBN 0-8050-0857-8.
- Jump up^ Melman, Billie, Companion to Travel Writing, Collections Online, 6 The Middle East/Arabia, Cambridge, retrieved January 8, 2006.
- Jump up^ Palmer, Michael A. Guardians of the Persian Gulf: A History of America’s Expanding Role in the Persian Gulf, 1833–1992. New York: The Free Press, 1992. ISBN 0-02-923843-9 pp. 12–13.
- Jump up^ Laciner, Dr. Sedat. “Is There a Place Called ‘the Middle East’?“, The Journal of Turkish Weekly]”, June 2, 2006. Retrieved January 10, 2007.
- Jump up^ Adelson 1995, pp. 22–23.
- Jump up^ Adelson 1995, p. 24.
- Jump up^ Adelson 1995, p. 26.
- ^ Jump up to:a b Davison, Roderic H. (1960). “Where is the Middle East?”.Foreign Affairs 38 (4): 665–75. doi:10.2307/20029452.
- Jump up^ Held, Colbert C. (2000). Middle East Patterns: Places, Peoples, and Politics. Westview Press. p. 7. ISBN 0-8133-8221-1.
- Jump up^ Shohat, Ella. “Redrawing American Cartographies of Asia”. City University of New York. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
- Jump up^ Hanafi, Hassan. “The Middle East, in whose world?”. Nordic Society for Middle Eastern Studies. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
- Jump up^ “‘Near East’ is Mideast, Washington Explains”. The New York Times. August 14, 1958. Retrieved 2009-01-25.(subscription required)
- Jump up^ Goldstein, Norm. The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. New York: Basic Books, 2004. ISBN 0-465-00488-1 p. 156
- Jump up^ Anderson, Ewan W., William Bayne Fisher (2000). The Middle East: Geography and Geopolitics. Routledge. pp. 12–13.
- Jump up^ The World Factbook. Cia.gov. Retrieved on 2013-07-29.
- Jump up^ Goldschmidt (1999), p. 8
- Jump up^ Louise, Fawcett. International Relations of the Middle East. (Oxford University Press, New York, 2005)
- Jump up^ “IOM Intra regional labour mobility in Arab region Facts and Figures (English)” (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-31.
- Jump up^ “World Factbook – Jordan”.
- Jump up^ “World Factbook – Kuwait”.
- Jump up^ “Reports of about 300,000 Jews that left the country after WW2”. Eurojewcong.org. Retrieved 2010-07-07.
- Jump up^ “Evenimentul Zilei”. Evz.ro. Retrieved 2010-07-07.
- Jump up^ The World Bank: World Economic Indicators Database. GDP (Nominal) 2008. Data for 2008. Last revised on July 1, 2009.
- Jump up^ Data refer to 2008. World Economic Outlook Database-October 2009, International Monetary Fund. Retrieved October 1, 2009.
- Jump up^ The World Bank: World Economic Indicators Database. GDP (PPP) 2008. Data for 2008. Last revised on July 1, 2009.
- Jump up^ “Unemployment Rates Are Highest in the Middle East”. Progressive Policy Institute. August 30, 2006.
- Jump up^ Navtej Dhillon, Tarek Yousef (2007). “Inclusion: Meeting the 100 Million Youth Challenge”. Shabab Inclusion.
- Jump up^ Hilary Silver (December 12, 2007). “Social Exclusion: Comparative Analysis of Europe and Middle East Youth”.Middle East Youth Initiative Working Paper. Shabab Inclusion.
- Cressey, George B. (1960). Crossroads: Land and Life in Southwest Asia. Chicago, IL: J.B. Lippincott Co. xiv, 593 p., ill. with maps and b&w photos.
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- “Middle East – Articles by Region” – Council on Foreign Relations: “A Resource for Nonpartisan Research and Analysis”
- “Middle East – Interactive Crisis Guide” – Council on Foreign Relations: “A Resource for Nonpartisan Research and Analysis”
- Middle East Department University of Chicago Library
- Middle East Business Intelligence since 1957: “The leading information source on business in the Middle East” – MEED.com
- Middle East News from Yahoo! News
- Middle East on the Open Directory Project
- Middle East Business, Financial & Industry News — ArabianBusiness.com
- Middle Eastern-U.S. Relations from Krogh Digital Archives
- Carboun – advocacy for sustainability and environmental conservation in the Middle East
Analysis: War between Islamic movements and Arab armies could be decided this year. Otherwise, countries like Syria, Iraq and Yemen may fall into Shiitanarchy or split between Sunni and Shite areas
The Arab Spring, which began in 2011, went by like a short transition season, and the Arab revolutions turned in the course of the past two years from a popular social protest against the Arab regimes’ tyranny into a wave of internal battles and civil wars.
One can assume that the Arab street expected completely different results and pinned many hopes on the wave of protests flooding the Middle East, after Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia. I doubt whether the young people who took to the streets imagined that political Islam would “steal” the revolutions in 2012 and use them to build up strength and even rise to power in Egypt and Tunisia.
Islamists built up strength. Syrian rebels in Aleppo (Photo: Reuters)
The radical Islamist movements, led by the arms of al-Qaeda, took advantage of the crisis in the Arab world to gain momentum and undermine stability. After the disappointing results of the revolutions came the turn of reaction – an effort made by Arab armies, in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other countries, to restore the old order. The earthquake in the Arab world created rifts which widened immensely in 2013 and may lead to the dissolution of countries and change the Middle East map in the future.
Here is a summary and evaluation of what can be expected in the coming year in the countries where Arab revolutions are taking place.
The quiet popular protest in Syria disappeared in 2012, turning into a war between the rebels and the regime’s army.
In 2013, the Islamists built up strength at the expense of the Free Syrian Army. Al-Qaeda and the Salafi organizations’ takeover of the opposition turned President Bashar Assad into the least worst option in the world’s eyes and prevented external military intervention.
Ahead of the Geneva II conference, scheduled to take place in late January, all parties to the conflict are attempting to reach some last achievements. There is no doubt that Assad’s survival and success in scoring military victories with the help of Hezbollah serve as a serious blow to the Sunni axis, and especially to Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Indeed, the American threat to strike in Syria led to the chemical weapons destruction agreement, but definitely not to the actual extermination of all the biological and chemical reservoirs of the regime’s army. Assad knew very well that the Americans would not help al-Qaeda rise to power in Syria due to the biological and chemical reservoirs of the regime’s army and especially those concerning Israel.
There are zero chances of achieving peace in the upcoming Geneva conference, as there is not even a ceasefire in sight. Saudi Arabia has been trying in recent months to establish a new Sunni opposition force as an alternative to the jihadists and the Free Syrian Army. According to unverified rumors, this force will be organized in Jordan, but its chances of changing the course of the battle in Syria are questionable.
Syria is divided today into two regions: The west, which is mostly in the hands of the regime, and the north, which is controlled by Islamist rebels. Despite the achievements of the regime’s army, its progress on the ground is slow and the end of the crisis is nowhere in sight.
The past year was marked by the collapse of political Islam. In the summer, the Egyptian army staged a coup which brought the Muslim Brotherhood’s failed one year in power to an end. Although the was against a government which was allegedly elected democratically, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi prevented the Muslim Brotherhood’s gradual takeover of Egypt.
Continuing Mohamed Morsi’s rule would have cause Egypt to deteriorate economically and politically towards a dark Islamic religious state. The relations with Israel would have undoubtedly been undermined had the Muslim Brotherhood managed to rule the army with an iron hand.
General al-Sisi’s meteoric rise to power brought the old Arab Patriotism back to life and reminded the Arabs of the pan-Arab movements of the officers about 50 years ago: The Nasserism and the Ba’ath, but this time without incitement against Israel. These movements were always the most bitter rivals of the Islamic movements.
Arab war on terror? Nasrallah and Assad (Photos: EPA, AFP)
In Syria, Assad took advantage of the nationalist wave to describe his battle and the battle of the Egyptian government as “the Arab armies’ war on terror.” The Egyptian army’s propaganda is indeed increasingly reminiscent of its Syrian counterpart. As far as General al-Sisi is concerned, there is no popular opposition but “armed terror gangs” which threaten the country.
This week, Egypt completed the process of outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and it is now considered a terror organization. This change serves as a declaration of war against a movement created about 80 years ago, which is deeply rooted in society.
The year 2014, therefore, will be marked by a difficult and long battle against the Muslim Brotherhood. Declaring the movement a terror organization has managed to stress out Muslim Brotherhood movements in neighboring countries. In Jordan, the authorities rushed to declare that they have no intention of outlawing the movement and that it will remain a legal opposition as always. Hamas fears that the Gaza-ruling Palestinian organization will be added to the Egyptian terror list because of its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
There is no doubt that the President Morsi’s ousting and the Egyptian activity to block the tunnels to Gaza contributed significantly to the weakening of Hamas. This process, which is simultaneous to the rise in Mahmoud Abbas‘ status following the prisoner release, could help advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The past year was a year of turbulence in the land of cedars: A wave of terror attacks, car bombs and assassinations characterizing the battle between Hezbollah and the Sunni jihad organizations. These phenomena are clear symptoms of the Syrian crisis’ spillover into Lebanon. Although the Lebanese army failed to prevent these incidents, it managed to score several significant achievements such as destroying the Sunni Salafi infrastructure in Sidon and assuming responsibility for the barriers in the Shiite areas.
Wave of terror attacks, car bombs and assassinations. Beirut’s Dahiya Quarter (Photo: AFP)
Hezbollah’s engagement in the Syrian arena allows the Lebanese army to strengthen its hold of the country despite still being an inferior force compared to Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia has spotted the strategic void created after Shiite fighters were dispatched to the Syrian arena, and it has been trying recently to tilt the balance in favor of the Lebanese army. In recent days the Saudi kingdom has granted the Lebanese army as much as $3 billion to purchase weapons from France.
The assassination of former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohamad Chatah took the Lebanese people back to the trauma of the murder of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. At the time, Saudi Arabia and France had also led the support for the Sunni leaders against Hezbollah and Syria.
The Lebanese army’s antiaircraft fire at Syrian planes which invaded its airspace indicates a rise in the confidence of the army’s headquarters. The Saudi-French support is expected to build up the army’s strength at the expense of Hezbollah. But we must remember that although the Hezbollah organization has suffered quite a few losses, its fighters are gaining combat experience in the Syrian arena and will threaten Lebanon’s stability if and when they are required to return home.
Ahead of 2013, the wave of Arab revolutions reached Iraq, where it burst strongly following the frustration of the Sunnis in the western part of the country by the Shiite majority’s rule led by Nouri al-Maliki. The Iraqi army invested a lot of energy in dispersing protests, using the famous claim of “a war on terror gangs,” but had limited success.
The circle of protests was joined by the Sunni tribes which set up a militia against the army forces. The riots contributed to the strengthening of al-Qaeda, which has been initiating terror attacks against the army and Shiite targets almost every day.
The long border between Iraq and Syria allows Sunni jihad organizations to transfer equipment and fighters between the two countries. Iran-backed Shiite militias in the east have offered to intervene and help the army oppress the Sunni riots, but have been turned down. Despite its huge dimensions, the Iraqi army does not have enough power to impose order in the split country. The government is concerned that ongoing riots will lead to a situation similar to Syria, in which the country is divided between two areas of control, or similar to Lebanon, where the Shiite militia has gained excess power.
Iraqi army doesn’t have enough power to impose order in the split country (Photo: AFP)
Both in Iraq and in Syria, the Kurds are taking advantage of the instability in order to create an autonomic enclave in the northern part of the country. Similar to the situation in Lebanon, Iraq is on the verge of a civil war between Sunnis and Shiites.
In addition, the conflict in Iraq has an economic aspect as well. The Sunnis claim that the government is robbing them of the oil in their area, especially in the Kirkuk province, and that the Shiites are smuggling most of the oil located in southern Iraq to Iran.
Similar to Iraq, the Yemeni army which represents the Shiite government (the Zaydi faction) is busy fighting Sunni groups in the south which aspire to disconnect from the state and reestablish southern Yemen. If the army fails to oppress the rebels supported by al-Qaeda, Yemen could split into a Zaydi Sana state in the north and a Sunni Aden state in the south.
It’s possible that 2014 will be the year in which the war between the Islamic movements and Arab armies will be decided. If the balance isn’t tilted, many countries may deteriorate to anarchy or to a political split between Sunni and Shiite areas. Unfortunately, the Arab world has already given up on the dreams of the Arab Spring – social justice, democracy, minority rights and religious tolerance. The Arab revolutions have only led to fauda (anarchy) and to fitnah (conflict and factionalism between Muslims).
In countries where the revolution has been curbed – like Jordan, Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia – the populations have maintained their standard of living. The revolutions in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Iraq did not put an end to the government corruption and tyranny and highly increased poverty.
According to a famous Islamic principle, an exploiting government is better than anarchy. The Koran warns that “fitnah is worse than murder,” as it leads to mass killing. The Arab society is tired of wars and is left exhausted and bleeding. Most citizens in Arab countries are hoping for only one thing now – to see peace and quiet return to the streets and to go back to a normal life.
Dr. Yaron Friedman, Ynet’s commentator on the Arab world, is a graduate of the Sorbonne. He teaches Arabic and lectures about Islam at the Technion, at Beit Hagefen and at the Galilee Academic College. His book, “The Nusayri Alawis: An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria,” was published in 2010 by Brill-Leiden