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European Colonialism in the Middle East


World history is versatile in events that outlined the contemporary shaping of the world. The political map went through many changes during the twentieth century. Just after World War II, the total collapse of major empires presupposed the struggle for the liberation of many countries being previously colonized. England was one of the most significant players in terms of colonization. In this respect, the Middle East was one of the most significant regions of English impact in the world. This concentration of countries was attractive too much for the empire, and in many aspects, the modern state of things in most of the countries in the Middle East owes its existence to the fact that England and Europe on the whole still have impacts on this area of the world. Thereupon, the research touches upon the question of whether the experience of European colonialism is generally negative for the Middle East or not. The factors which were advantageous for the area and their effects of being at the core of the discussion. Furthermore, the reliability of the topic is analyzed in the paper with different points of view, so that to come up with the theme of the research objectively.

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Historical Background

The history of the Middle East in terms of colonization is worth talking about since the time of the Dutch Campaign and the aftermath struggle of England and France for new areas of influence. Germany, Portugal, and Germany were also playing a great role in the division of the Middle East. All in all, since the early seventeenth century the situation in the Middle East began changing due to the huge deposits of precious goods, such as spices, gold, and other strategically important goods[1]. In this case, the world did not even know that the effects of such division of the territory would fall into perpetual conflicts. The development of relationships in this part of the world could not go apart from European participation. It is so even after the time of decolonization when the destruction of colonies made the liberation process possible for such countries as Israel, Iraq, Palestine Autonomy, Egypt, and Sudan, etc. The numerous consequences of political and social changes are thought to begin in the first part of the twentieth century, but, in fact, this process can be traced back to the times of the Ottoman Empire and even earlier when the Islamic expansion began in the seventh century. [2] The religious factor is also included in the intentions of Oriental nations toward the political equality with the rest of the civilized world. Furthermore, the territory was tentatively divided into two parts which covered two continents of Asia and Africa. These two parts were the Arab West (Maghreb) and the Arab East (Machrek). [3] In this respect the Middle Eastern world was greatly influenced by three imperial powers, namely: Ottoman Empire, the Qajar state, and the countries of Europe which shared the territory due to the historical changes and agreements. The uniqueness of the area under analysis is in the eagerness of peoples living in different territories who are learned to achieve freedom by means of their strong persuasion that Islam should be free from any kind of invasion. This idea is underlined with the nineteenth century, in particular. In this period France conquered Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco; England strengthened its position in Palestine, Pakistan, Sudan, and Egypt. [4] The thing is that the colonialists succeeded in their fleet characteristics because the ships of Europeans were faster and more maneuverable. Moreover, the arm forces were also higher in technological appliances and in the training which English and French troops had.

From the time of the early decades of the twentieth century, the idea of the desired liberty became being dominant in the Middle East. Some of the countries gained their political freedom. It was outlined owing to the effects of World War I and the global changes which emerged in the world. The impact of imperialism became less significant and felt for the countries having been colonized previously. Jordan was one of the first Middle Eastern countries which declared independence. [5] This wave of changes was not surprising for the Middle East and colonial power over this region. The only suggestion in this respect considers whether the impact of European colonialism was negative or not? The further discussion touches upon the supposed positive and negative approaches toward the colonial regimes in the Middle East and how it was reflected afterward.

Positive Evaluation of European colonialism

First of all, the historical development cannot be ignored, and the prevalence of one nation over the other is based on the current elaboration of civilization in its conquering ability to expand. This approach does not presuppose the supremacy of one nationality over another, of course. The point is that the tripartite influence on the Middle East was associated with three main political directions in form of the power. Thus, there were the following preferable political trends of the time, namely: absolutism, elite reformism, and parliamentarians. [6] The Middle Eastern countries were supposed then to vary between the most appropriate of them. This flow of Western civilization was supported by the diversity of philosophical as well as political thoughts. People of Asia began sharing the experience, the countries established relations all around Europe and Asia. The virtues of “British-style liberty” and parliamentary implementation in the state organization proved the efficiency for such countries as Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, etc., notwithstanding, the great desire of Europeans to place Christianity instead of Islam was perceived at dagger point. [7]

In the case of Israel colonial power of Great Britain was effective in forceful control of the Palestine conflict situations. Any riot or terror was predicted and stopped in time in the majority of cases. Moreover, the piece in the Middle East was not a great problem in the domain of world policy and state of affairs. There were no refugees coming from Palestine too, for example, Jordan or Iran. [8] The peace in the Middle East was not concerned with contemporary interest sharing of rather more developed countries in the world. One more touch is considered with benefits which Middle Eastern countries achieved due to the European implementation of scientific and technological progress. The rise of scientific thought began developing due to colonial countries. Moreover, the inhabitants of different countries from the Middle East, mainly the richest ones, were allowed to get an education in one of the European academies or universities. This intention of many Arabs in previous times determined their dominant positions within the contemporary European population. Thereupon, the Arabic countries were provided with a wider scope of opportunities. Then the urbanization process appeared which was pointed out with great deposits of treasures of the soil.

There were also positive social impacts of European colonialism. Lockman (2004) provides an idea that the gender issue, which was not significant for Muslims and, unfortunately, stays so, was in focus for European visitors; it was outrageous when they saw the unfair position of an Arabic woman within men. [10] Thus, the movement of Arabic women for their rights merely appeared after the colonialism, and today step-by-step women begin leading in social relations of Middle Eastern countries.

Negative Impacts of European Colonialism

One of the most apparent negative impacts of European colonialism is concerned with the delay of internal relationships within Middle Eastern countries. It contemplates the idea, that social and political success in development could be achieved earlier than in the twentieth century. Moreover, the religious approach was always violated or demonstratively discussed with points on making Christianity more used within masses. Muslims were extremely excited in order not to lose their originality and the traditions of Islam prescribed earlier by their predecessors. Religion is a sacral aspect of the Middle East apart from the rest of the world. Here the imperialist encroachments and national character of Christian subjects provoked the hatred of Islamic people and their struggle against colonial countries.

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Another problem that can be reckoned negatively is that colonial countries, Britain and France, were apathetic as to the demographic structure of ethnicities living in the Middle East. In this respect after World War II and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, they tried to find an agreement as of the territorial division of this large are forgetting, frankly speaking, about any supposed emergence of conflicts between various peoples and their separation from the historical and ethnical motherland. This was a great mistake. Actually today the world feels it in terms of perpetual and never-ending conflicts in the Middle East. It became being associated as the major flashpoint in the world. The consequences of the colonial regimes fell into the disrespect of the European standards for peace provision. It is because of the indifferent attitude of Europeans toward the religious and economic prospects being vital in this area. One more prospect to be discussed touches upon the problem in the Middle East which was the effect of decolonization. The constant character of different wars between Iran and Iraq, Israel and Levant, Israel and Palestine Autonomy, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt after World War II, in fact, was due to the European irrational approach in the colonial policy. On the other hand, such problem rose because of the religious background and peculiar to Arabic countries desire to fight for their territories.

When looking at colonialism as a stimulus for the formation of other countries which became dominant in the world policy of today, the example of the United States of America comes to the central position for making an influence on the Middle East. Almost all countries are directly influenced due to the USA. From this point of view, European colonialism was a negative factor. Great Britain then becomes a successor in affecting the region with a negative approach. On the other side, it is colonialism invoked the flow of capitalism and democracy within the European countries. In fact, at the end of the twentieth century and in present days the American government is still trying to inculcate democracy by means of weapons. This negative factor is still the main stimulus for the Arabic countries not to respect the colonialism in the previous times.


The history of the world countries’ development is in many cases determined by the structural and organizational peculiarities of the Middle Eastern countries. The influence of European colonialism can be analyzed both positively and negatively. For the modern picture of relationships elaboration in the area, the impacts of Western countries are necessary for such countries as Egypt, Israel, Iraq, etc. for the purpose of economic and political stabilization and growth. However, the increase of present day’s concernment of Europe and the US, particularly, contemplates the idea of more benefits and gains due to the rich deposits of extractable resources, such as oil, gold, tin, and others. From this standpoint, the Middle East became the most militarized region of the world. [16] In most cases the world community is apt to think that there are more negative factors in colonialism. On the other hand, Middle Eastern countries would not have opportunities to get involved in the political issues dominating the world as well as they would not be successful in procedures of independence adoption and afterward actions in the world arena. Aligned relations with the West let these countries have strategic partners.

The rationale for the Bibliography

The bibliography was chosen including the latest approaches toward the problem of the colonial background of the Middle East so that to make out the main reasons and effects of such policy today. Sources were taken out of the proper books and journal articles so that to depict the value of the research and make the comprehension of the material possible for everyone sharing the idea of relationships between East and West worlds.


Allain, Jean 2004. International law in the Middle East: closer to power than justice. Contoocook, NH: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Best, Antony, and Hanhimaki Jussi 2008. International history of the twentieth century and beyond. Ed. 2. London: Routledge.

Choueiri, Youssef M. 2005. A companion to the history of the Middle East. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

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Cohen, Michael J. 2004. Strategy and Politics in the Middle East 1954-1960: Defending the Northern Tier. London: Routledge.

Esposito, John L. 1995 The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, Oxford, Vol. 4, 241-244.

Gubser, Peter 1993. Jordan and Hussein. Middle East Policy, Vol. 2, 111.

Kamrava, Mehran 2005. The modern Middle East: a political history since the First World War. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Leonard, Thomas M. 2006 Encyclopedia of the developing world, Vol. 1. London: Taylor & Francis.

Lockman, Zachary 2004. Contending visions of the Middle East: the history and politics of Orientalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Loomba, Ania 2005. Colonialism/postcolonialism. Ed. 2. London: Routledge.

Neff, Donald 1995. The Palestinians and Zionism: 1897-1948. Middle East Policy, Vol. 4, 156.

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Page, Melvin Eugene, and Sonnenburg, Penny M. 2003. Colonialism: an international, social, cultural, and political encyclopedia, Vol. 1. Oxford: ABC-CLIO.

Rear, Michael 2008. Intervention, ethnic conflict and state-building in Iraq: a paradigm for the post-colonial state. London: Routledge.

Stempel, John D. 2005. Comparing Empires: European Colonialism from Portuguese Expansion to the Spanish-American War. The Historian, Vol. 67, 568-573.

Zangeneh, Hamid 1998. The Post-Revolutionary Iranian Economy: a Policy Appraisal. Middle East Policy, Vol. 6, 113.

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