In studying the effects of colonialism on the Middle East, I learned that part of the reason why many Middle Eastern countries are so impoverished today is due to the fact that their former colonizers (namely, Britain and France) did not prioritize their economic development at all (Yom, 2017). Instead, they were primarily concerned with the security of the Arab states. The Europeans needed to insure that the states would be reliable sources of profit for them to exploit, but they felt no responsibility to care for the people within. Over time, this resulted in an extremely wealthy and select elite class who owned almost all of the rural land in the region (Yom, 2017). The Europeans also made a habit of installing foreign or minority rulers in different Middle Eastern states, in order to “create regional dependencies” to justify their intervention (Ali, 2016). They altered local politics by favoring certain families, giving them recognition and boosting their power in the process (Yom, 2017). Amid this Western imperialism arose strong senses of nationalism in many people in the Middle East. Two specific types of nationalism during this time included qawmiyya (ethnic nationalism) and wataniya (territorial nationalism) (Ali, 2016). The threat of conquest by Western nations cause some Middle Eastern people to embrace more “radical elements of their national identities” (Ali, 2016). Britain and France were able to take power over the Middle East via the 1916 Sykes-Picot treaty, which was signed during World War I. The treaty (which also included the Russian Empire) split parts of the former Ottoman Empire among British and French control. The effects of the European colonization of the Middle East can still be seen today. One of the most notable effects is that of the very strong and very well-financed militaries of some Middle Eastern countries who otherwise do not have much infrastructure, health care, clean water, etc. As previously mentioned, the Western nations prioritized security in their Middle Eastern colonies. Once these colonies gained independence, their leaders were typically strongmen favored by their former colonizers. Due to their previous experience as colonized people, these men knew only how to build militaries and social control, and knew nothing about how to build a country’s infrastructure (Yom, 2017). An example of such a country today is Syria. Syria has been in a state of civil war since 2011. Since then, jihadists and “mainstream rebels” have taken much land from the government (“Syria War”, 2018). However, on May 21st, 2018, the Syrian army took full control of Damascus for the first time in six years. They have also cleared ISIS militants from the “Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp and the al-Aswad district” (“Syria War, 2018). This shows that despite Syria’s desperate state of civil war, their military remains a strong force. This can be largely traced back to Syria’s time as a French colony.
All of my sources can be found in the “Works Cited” section of the infographic above. Additionally, I have included the link to and citation of the BBC news story which I reference below:
“Syria War: Army Takes Full Control of Damascus after Ousting IS.” BBC News, BBC, 21 May 2018, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-44198304.