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How Britain Created the Modern Middle East

Updated on April 6, 2014

Had there not been WW1 in the Middle East (due to the Turkish troops siding with Germany) it is feasible that the countries of Syria, Iraq, Israel might not exist as they are today. I know, it is odd to say it, but you can thank the British for Modern Middle East.

The British reigned in the this part of the world during WW1 and mainly fought against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire who sided with Germany. Much of the area was under the Ottoman Empire control up until they surrendered in 1918 to the British. With the surrender of the Turk Empire, Turkey lost its vast empire that the British decided to carve up. However, they needed a reliable Arab to be the leader and this they found in a soon to be king, Faisal I, son of a sharif of Mecca who had ruled over it for centuries.

Faisal became close friends with T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) while in Eqypt and because of Lawrence's position, Faisal had his own aspiring to be the new leader of the Arab people, with the military equipment from the British. Faisal, with his two brothers, united and commanded an Arab force of nearly 30,000 men who wee allied with the British still fighting Turkey across Palestine, Syria. By the end of the war, they had seized Damascus and Medina. While small when compared to the 3.5 million allied troops in the Middle East, the Arab force was well armed.

In March, 1920, the British awarded Faisal. He was the first king of Syria. That lasted a month until the British had decided to give Syria to France, as they carved up the Turkish Empire. In Turkey itself, the Greek Army had invaded at Izmir with the economic support of France and England to seize most of Turkey up to Ankara. Greece claimed it was still part of Greece.

Faisal was furious with the decision and led his army against the French in Syria. The Arabs were no match for the French and the revolt died. Defeated, Faisal's dreams of a new Arab kingdom seemed to have evaporated. Months passed and then in March 1921, the British awarded Faisal with a newly created state, Iraq. He had never been to Iraq and he first arrived at Basra in June. The population of this new state included just about everyone- Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, and Arabs. Of course, Iraq was important to the British for one real reason-oil discovered underground.

In the next 12 years, King Faisal I, created the new real Iraq. He modernized its economy and gave Iraq its national identity. Although he was Sunni, he felt no animosity toward any group and actually promoted and encouraged Shiites to create industry, he added Shiite holidays to the calandar, allowed Shiites to join the government. In 1919, he approved of the British plan to create the future home of Israel in Palestine. He thought the idea of creating a home for the Jewish people and excellent idea and no different than similar Arab desires. He thought that the Jewish home would not become a new country, just a territory, under his kingship. He hoped he would preside over Jordan, Syria, Iraq. as well. Eventually, Faisal wanted independence from the British.

That came in October, 1932, when Iraq formally became a new country. Egypt was the first Arab country to be free of British dominance in 1922. Faisal was elated and went to Switzerland to vacation. It was there he died of an heart attack at age 50. To this day, some feel he was poisoned. Starting in 1933, in conjunction with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, Faisal's son gradually assumed power and was "courted" by the Germans. This became the unstable period in Iraq that culminated with Saddam Hussein in 1980s.

Syria and Jordan became a nation in 1946, Israel in 1948. What is amazing is that all of the Middle East was a British territory and like the old Soviet Union in 1991, parts broke off and became nations.


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