Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
December 10, 2001
Western interests long involved with Arabs
There is serious talk among decision makers, following the apparent military success in Afghanistan, to extend the "war on terrorism" to Yemen, Iraq and Somalia.
When kids squabble the first justification is "he started it." When nations attack each other, how far back in history does one go to find the root of conflict?
With the current conflict in the Middle East and Afghanistan one would have to go back a few centuries to understand the rivalry between an emerging West and a disintegrating Muslim hegemony in the region.
The current crisis did not begin on Sept. 11 with the destruction of the Trade Centre, or if you wish, 11 years ago when Iraqi troops entered Kuwait.
Until the Middle Ages, the Middle East was at least as economically developed as Europe. It can be argued that European civilization and development was as much influenced by Mecca as it was by Hellenic, Roman and Judaic sources.
Then, starting with the great Italian traders in Venice and Genoa in the 14th century, Europe advanced, while the Muslim world declined.
The once vast Arab Empire that flourished from the seventh to the 13th century crumbled under the attacks of the Christian crusades, and the Mongol and Ottoman Turk incursions. By the 19th century, European economic influence had translated into political domination.
Following the collapse of 400 years of Ottoman rule after the First World War, European powers arbitrarily established new borders that left the Muslim world even more bitterly and artificially divided.
In response to German efforts to secure a foothold in the region by befriending what was left of the Ottomans, the British intervened in 1899 by offering status to the Sabah family in what is now Kuwait, but at that time still part of Iraq, in exchange for the right to "protect" them.
The 1907 Triple Entrente Treaty between Russia, France and England, ensured that Germany was permanently shut out. The subsequent secret Sykes Picot treaty of 1916 reinforced that relationship.
In a divide and conquer move, Britain became the dominant power in the region, securing truces with local sheiks from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf, to ensure a safe route to colonized India.
After the First World War, there was a brief hope of Arab independence based on promises made by Britain and France to Sharif Husayn of Mecca and his sons Faisal and Abdullah. This hope vanished when in 1920 the League of Nations gave France and Britain virtual control of the oil rich region.
Frustrated, the Arabs revolted and declared Faisal king of Syria and Abdullah king of Iraq. These struggles for independence were put down with much bloodshed by the French and British armies.
In 1921, at the Cairo Conference, Winston Churchill created Transjordan, making Abdullah king there and moving Faisal from Syria to Iraq.
To make things "official" Sir Peter Zachariah Cox, Britain's high commissioner in Baghdad, took out a red pencil in 1922 and delineated the boundaries of Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Although Iraq was granted independence in 1932, Britain retained military rights and 75 per cent ownership of the oil fields. The Americans became a factor in the region in the 1930s when Standard Oil and Texaco won exploration rights from the Saudis.
In 1953 the CIA overthrew Mossadeq of Iran and replaced him with the Shah, more willing to comply with U.S. interests. Western dominance, through despots from the Emir in Kuwait to the Saudi monarchs, is at the root of continued legitimate grievances, without even mentioning the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
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