Term Paper: Impact of Imperialism on the Middle East

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Imperialism in the Middle East

The Impact of Imperialism in the Middle East

Imperialism and Decolonization:

A Case Study of Egypt and Iraq

In this paper, a discussion will be offered on the consequences of Western imperialism, notably British, that not only impacted on the immediate aftermath of their comportment in previously colonized areas, but also contributed in forming their prospective social, economic and political future, through examining imperialism in Egypt and Iraq. The powerlessness of the Egyptian and Iraqi authorities can be linked to the socio-economic modifications the British enforced and their disinclination to assume a choice to the Western construct of power.

It can be said that historically speaking, the Middle East has not been considered to be charitable to the power of western influences. Up until the fall of the Ottoman Empire it was a social centerpiece as well as a key trading post. The downfall of the Ottoman Empire led in colonization by the British and French. The imperial forces that occupied the Middle East have not had a good outcome on the region, despite the age of colonialism now being consigned to history. The imposition of western style 'Nation- States' has frequently broken up ethnic territories. The example of the Kurdish population in Iraq is a case in point. The formation of Nation States has led to often artificial state-centric politics where previously the nation executed a more important role. Indeed Bromley suggest that it is the state which is the barrier to democracy in the Middle East and not Islam as is popularly concluded (Deegan 1993). The acculturation of tribes such as the Sunnis and The Shiite does not fit with the concept of nation sates. The existence of Israel in 1948 has left Palestinian refugees scattered all over the Middle East, especially in Jordan and the Lebanon. The Nation State in the Middle East is one historical example of unsuccessful western influence; it is this failure which helps to form the negative opinions of western policy-making phenomena, indeed Anwar Sadat writes:

"The problem therefore is not one of a Muslim East, it is that of an east deceived, an East colonized by a West that has sucked its blood. That East wishes to avenge itself, but not in the western manner of hostility and usurpation. All it wishes is to live freely and independently, that each nation shall make its own destiny, exploit the riches of her soil for the benefit of her own children, and respect the independence of other nations be they eastern or western." (Karpat 1982, 23)

An assessment of state formation 'must attend to the precise matrix from which [it] was launched' (Bromley 1994, 45) (yet it is evident that the British failed to appreciate this. The Western, Weberian, conception of a state, in which the territoriality and legitimacy of the system are paramount (Anderson 1987, 2) was fundamentally incompatible to the nature of Middle Eastern societies, which had previously comprised of a tributary empire, nomads and a tribal state (Bromley 1994, 34). Although both the administrative and coercive capabilities of the bureaucracy and the military were fulfilled, their interpretation within the states was not aligned to a traditional Western model. For example, the role of the military in overthrowing successive governments is a feature that appears repeatedly in both Egypt and Iraq. The 'compulsory model' (Zubaida 1993, 121) of the nation-state assumes that the cultures of Egypt and Iraq are essentially the same as those in Western Europe, which hinders the possibilities of their own political evolution.

The aftermath of the First World War was a pivotal moment for much of the Middle East due to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Iraq emerged as a result of the peace settlement and was arbitrarily formed of three former Ottoman provinces; Mosul, Basra and Baghdad. Although Egypt had been occupied, supposedly temporarily, by the British since 1882, it became the 'cornerstone of British colonial supremacy' (Ayubi 1995, 88). In order to 'secure its essential strategic needs without incurring the expenses of directly governing the territories' (Cleveland 2004, 193), Britain installed a pliable monarch in both states.

The behavior of the British in these states did not adhere to the traditional imperialist standard but was, in effect, an 'empire by treaty' (Cleveland 2004, 193). Unlike in African or Asian colonies, neither Egypt or Iraq experienced direct British colonial rule but were instead granted a limited form of independence that allowed them the freedom to manage domestic issues but had, as a caveat, the continued presence of the British military and the implementation of foreign and defense policy amenable to their imperial masters (Cleveland 2004, 193). The intrinsic conflict that rendered this process problematic can be summarized by Cromer, who states that the colonizers were;

'striving to attain two ideals, which are apt to be mutually destructive -- the ideal of good government, which connotes the continuance of his [English] supremacy, and the ideal of self-government, which connotes the whole or partial abdication of his supreme position.' (Wilson 1931, 72)

While purporting to be installing a system politically superior to its predecessor, the British fail to cultivate any notion of political freedom, rights of the individual or mass representation that are traditionally linked with Western liberal democracy (Haj 1997, 81). Therefore, once true independence is obtained, the peoples of Egypt and Iraq are left with an inadequate understanding of a democratic political system, which could account for the primacy of the military within government and the erratic allegiance to democracy.

The lasting impact of the physical, and artificial, formation of Iraq is the key differentiating factor in relation to Egypt. The 'sheer arbitrariness' (Bromley 1994, 135) of the geographical delineation has affected the governance and existence of Iraq as a state. Formed due to a desire to protect Britain's strategic interests within one sphere of influence, the population consisted of one-fifth Sunni Arabs, one half Shi'ite Arabs and one-seventh Kurdish tribes. Therefore;

'In Iraq there is still…no Iraqi people, but unimaginable masses of human beings, devoid of any patriotic ideal, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected to no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatsoever.'

(Faisal 1933, Quoted in Yapp 1991, 70)

In addition to the inevitable conflict between the social groups, Iraq was also subject to great friction between the urban and rural communities, described as 'two almost separate worlds' (Batutu 1993, 503). Instead of seeking to resolve this great divide, the British solidified it by implementing a dual justice system that excluded tribal communities from national law, who were instead subject to the Tribal Criminal and Civil Disputes Regulation. This is a concrete example of the British governing principles of classification and differentiation (Haj 1997, 81), perhaps a more sophisticated notion of 'divide and rule'. By reinforcing old divisions, the imperialists were able to manage smaller groups more effectively and, due to the lack of consensus, prevent the formation of an agreed national identity that would threaten their manipulation of the state. These social tensions have endured and much of the social instability can attributed to them.

The nature and creation of class within Egypt and Iraq relate to another key factor of British imperialism. The process of state building was hastened via the creation of a new class of large landowners and the existing elites, previously loyal to the Ottoman Empire and therefore distrusted by the populations. The main focus of Egyptian politics was found in the capital city where the main political actors were drawn from a mere 53,000 individuals identified as 'professionals'. Similarly, the first Iraqi elections results conferred power to tribal shaykhs, aghast and old notables (Haj 1997, 82), almost exclusively Sunni Arabs, which set a precedent for all preceding elections, where members of the assembly were chosen bi-il-tazkiya (unopposed). This contributes to the volatility of the regime due to the minority position, in sectarian terms, of those in power (Tripp 2002, 31).

In addition to the "old" aristocracy of officials, the ex-Sharifian officers and the Muslim Merchants, this new landed class had come to form the socio-political backbone of monarchical Iraq. And, as in Egypt, the new bourgeoisie was openly collaborationist with the colonial power, leaving the task of national struggle to the intelligentsia and the urban masses, and eventually to the army officers' (Ayubi 1995, 95).

The fact that the first governments of both Iraq and Egypt displayed a continuity of Ottoman personnel and an inclusion of the new landed class reinforced the lack of legitimacy given to the system as a whole and prepared the climate for repeated military takeovers.

The illegitimacy of the client governments of Iraq and Egypt was reinforced by the choice of a monarchical system preferred by the British. The kings appointed in both states were, previously, respected figures in the Arab world and possessed natural authority, in addition to being predictably amenable to British demands. 'Within the restricted field imposed by British control, the constitution… [END OF PREVIEW]

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