The states that emerged in the Middle East in the wake of World War I were



State-Building by Decree


The states that emerged in the Middle East in the wake of World War I were

created in two ways. In the Levant and Mesopotamia, the site of present-day

Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq, France and Britain constructed states. Guided by their own interests and preconceptions, the great powers partitioned what had once been the Ottoman Empire and created states where states had never before existed. The wishes of the inhabitants of those territories counted for little when it came to deciding their political future.

In contrast, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt emerged as independent

states as a result of anti-imperialist struggle (Turkey), coup d'etat (Iran), revolution (Egypt), and conquest (Saudi Arabia). In each of these cases, the national myth recounting the deeds of a heroic leader or founding generation created a firmer foundation for nation-building than that enjoyed by the states created in the Levant and Mesopotamia.

To understand the origins of the states that emerged in the Levant and

Mesopotamia, it is necessary to return to World War I. World War I drew the final curtain on the century of relative peace that had begun in Europe in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. In addition to marking the end of the nineteenth-century European order, World War I marks a turning point in the relations between Europe and the Middle East.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, European powers acting in

concert had taken responsibility for resolving the various crises brought on by the

Eastern Question. True, European nations nibbled at the edges of the Ottoman

Empire. The French picked away at North Africa, the British were ensconced in

Egypt, and the Italians invaded the territory that is contemporary Libya in 1911.

Nevertheless, the concert of Europe provided a protective umbrella sheltering the

Ottoman Empire from total dismantlement.

There is no telling what the future of the Ottoman Empire might have been

had the concert of Europe remained in place. However, the unification of Germany

in 1871 disrupted the European balance of power and crippled the ability of

Vignette :

Sweaters, Sleeves, and the Crimean War During the period between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the rise of

Germany, the concert of European powers went to war only once to resolve a crisis

originating in the Middle East: the Crimean War (1853-1856). The origins of the

war were so murky that after its conclusion the government of one of the principal

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