How Significant Was the Presence of Foreign Powers as an Influence on the Nature and Growth of Arab Nationalism in the Years 1900-2001?

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How significant was the presence of foreign powers as an influence on the nature and growth of Arab nationalism in the years 1900-2001?

During the years 1900-2001 a number of significant interventions occurred which affected the growth and nature of Arab nationalism. Several key pressures considerably influenced a change in the nature of nationalism; including, economic levers, agreements and military presenses in the Middle East. Arab nationalism arose out of the fear of the possibility and later the certainty of European or American dominance. The emerging ideology believed all Arabs to be united by both a shared language and history. Foreign intervention in the Middle East long predated the First World War, dating back to during the 19th century. However, the time in which it had most effect on Arab nationalism in the area stretched from 1914 onwards. During this period many Arabs were resentful of being dominated by outside powers. Therefore, the link between foreign intervention between 1900 and 2001 and the consequent changes to Arab nationalism were very strong.

In the years before 1900, nationalism had always been an underlying movement in the Middle East. Martin Kramer demonstrates this view of Arab nationalism; ‘Awake, O Arabs, and arise’. By selecting this phrase from an Arab poem Kramer shows that the Arab desire for an uprising is trying to be stirred. However, he goes on to voice the opinion of, ‘...many Arabs have suspended their belief in the Arab nation, and now openly doubt whether there is a collective Arab mission’. This has led to a triumph of the nation states, whereby Arabs prefer to be seen as Syrian, Egyptian etc. This was the result of the retreat of Arab nationalism. In the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire tried to combat the growth of European power and influence. Borrowing money to develop their infrastructure, and modernise industry. However, modernisation saw them fall even more under the control of the Europeans, who provided loans for the process. Academics like Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Qasim Amin encouraged the reinterpretation of Islamic principles in response to the modern world as a way to break free from the foreign power’s colonialism, especially Europe’s. Nationalist movements, like the Young Turks of Anatolia, also arose. Secular nationalism was especially strong among non-Muslim communities, which could not fully participate in Islamic nationalist movements. Arab nationalism within individual states was beginning to challenge the authority of the Ottoman Empire. Greece won independence from the Ottomans in 1832, and other Balkan nations began to follow suit. The British decided to enter the region following a public speech by Asquith, he declared, “It is the Ottoman government, and not we, who have rung the death knell of Ottoman dominion not only in Europe but in Asia”. The following month an ‘attack’ was launched against the Ottomans. This was the beginning of British intervention in the Middle East.

After WW1 Europe still regarded the Arabs as a ‘subject’ race that were ruled by the British. It was also felt that the Arabs should be grateful that they’d been liberated from the Ottoman rule. The sole key figure to believe that Arab self-determination was underestimated was Woodrow Wilson of America. When Britain was to move into Egypt and discover the wealth of the cotton industry, however, the Egyptian Arabs were still in famine, poverty and were denied the right to take any part in Egyptian legislature. As a result nationalism fermented even further.

Agreements including the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, Sykes-Picot and the San Remo resolution provoked and increased Arab distrust of the Europeans. This view is supported by William L. Cleveland in his book detailing the Middle East . He believed the Hussein-McMahon correspondence showed Hussein as initially having limited or no Arab nationalist qualities. “He was not an Arab nationalist and did not think in...
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