What percentage of Indians look Middle Eastern?

middle East

André Bank

Dr. André Bank is a political scientist and has worked as a research assistant at the GIGA Institute for Middle East Studies in Hamburg since 2010. His main research interests include authoritarianism and political transformation, war and peace processes, and the change in regional order in the Middle East.
Contact: [email protected]

The regional political system of the Middle East has undergone several fundamental transformations since 1945. Four phases can be distinguished from the end of the Second World War to the Arab Spring. Today the regional order is characterized by a complex multipolarity.

Motorized Israeli units during the Six Day War (Third Middle East War) 1967: To this day, the outcome of this military conflict influences the geopolitical balance of power in the region. (& copy ullstein picture - AP)

The Arab Cold War 1945 to 1967

After the end of the Second World War in 1945, international politics changed. Instead of multipolarity, i.e. the competition between a large number of great powers, there was bipolarity between the two new superpowers, the USA and the Soviet Union. The former great powers Great Britain and France lost influence. This also meant the end of the "British" and "French moments" in Middle Eastern regional politics, with a slight delay.

During this transition period, the Israeli-Arab war of 1948/49, which began as a reaction to the establishment of the state of Israel in May 1948, changed the regional system in the Middle East. The Arab defeat in the First Middle East War strengthened the new Jewish state and at the same time meant a "catastrophe" (Arabic: nakba) for the Palestinian people. The Palestinians had hoped for a state of their own and now had to endure occupation and displacement.

As a result of the war, Transjordan, which had become independent in 1946, expanded to include the West Bank and East Jerusalem, supported by the still British-controlled Jordanian army, the so-called Arab Legion, and thus became the new Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, almost twice as large in terms of population. The defeat of the Egyptian army in 1948 weakened the already ailing Egyptian monarchy and paved the way for the "Free Officers" to take power in 1952.

Gamal Abdel Nasser, who became the new President of Egypt in 1954, gave Middle Eastern regional policy new impetus: anti-colonialism and pan-Arabism, i.e. the political unity of the Arab nation under Nasser's Egyptian leadership, moved into the center of his foreign policy. The political success in the Suez Crisis in 1956 (Second Middle East War), when it prevailed politically against Great Britain, France and Israel with the nationalization of the Suez Canal, made Egypt the leading Arab power in the Middle East. The Egyptian radio station "Voice of the Arabs" (Arabic: Saut al-Arab), the central mouthpiece of the government in Cairo, succeeded in mobilizing the Arab populations of the entire Middle East. Even more so than the military hard power made that possible soft power ideological conviction Egypt in this phase the rise to regional power.

However, the conservative governments in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq did not want to submit to Egypt's claim to leadership. The regional power constellation of the "Arab Cold War" emerged.

In its two-camp formation, this resembled the constellation of the East-West confrontation outwardly. But the Arab version of the 1950s and 1960s was less about the systemic competition between capitalism and communism and more about the questions of what exactly the "Arab interests" consisted of and who should represent them in the region.

In the conservatively ruled states, massive domestic political controversies arose around these questions, because the urban, educated classes and large parts of the politicized armies had great sympathy for pan-Arab ideas and the leading figure Nasser. In Iraq, this contributed to the violent end of the monarchy and the proclamation of the republic in July 1958. In Jordan in 1957 and in Lebanon in 1958, similar attempts at overthrowing were prevented only by the military support of the USA. Washington's Middle East policy at this time was guided by the Eisenhower Doctrine, enacted in January 1957, which guaranteed all forms of assistance to all governments "threatened" by the Soviet Union (Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan 1956/57 and Lebanon until 1958) the use of nuclear weapons.

Despite the numerous conflicts in the Middle East, only the situation in Yemen escalated in the 1950s and 1960s. There, from 1962 to 1967, Egyptian and Saudi Arabian troops faced each other as external allies of local actors in an internal Arab war. In the Six Day War of June 1967 (Third Middle East War), however, the pan-Arabism influenced by Nasser then reached its climax and turning point: From the mid-1960s, Egypt and the one that had ruled Syria since 1963 had become one another Ba’th-Party (Arabic: rebirth, revival), which represented a form of Arab nationalism that was more radical than Nasser, delivered an ideological "competition" in threats against Israel. Israel responded to these threats with a surprise attack: within a very short time it captured the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria.

From the Six Day War to the end of the Cold War in 1989/90

The 1967 Six Day War was a debacle for the Arab governments, as they again had to surrender to Israel militarily. However, what weighed even more heavily than in 1948 in the consciousness of many Arabs was that the nationalist hopes had failed and that Israel was able to conquer large Arab territories that it has occupied to the present day with the exception of Sinai, the Gaza Strip and parts of the Golan. In terms of regional politics, the war of 1967 meant the rise of Israel to the position of the superior military power in the Middle East - a status that has existed to the present day with massive military and economic support from the USA and later also from the EU.

Pan-Arabism under Nasser suffered a significant loss of reputation as a result of the defeat in 1967, and King Hussein of Jordan and the Ba’th government in Syria also came under domestic political pressure. In its place, the Palestine Liberation Movement (PLO), founded in 1964 and led by Yasser Arafat from 1969, developed into the most influential representative of Palestinian nationalism. She called for a fight against Israel and also turned against the conservative government in Jordan, which she blamed for the loss of East Jerusalem and the West Bank to Israel.

In Jordan, the conflict escalated into a civil war in "Black September" 1970 after PLO fighters occupied parts of the country and challenged the monarchy politically and militarily. King Hussein was ultimately able to prevail because the new Syrian Ba’th government under President Hafiz al-Assad (since September 1970) did not intervene on the part of the PLO and Nasser's mediation of the conflict failed. He died surprisingly at the end of September 1970. In the same year, Mohammed Anwar al-Sadat followed him into the Egyptian presidency, who ruled until 1981.

In October 1973, Israel was attacked again by Egypt and Syria. The time of this attack gave the fourth Middle East War in Israel the name Yom Kippur War (Yom Kippur = Day of Atonement, highest Jewish holiday), while on the Arab side it is known as the Ramadan War (Ramadan = Islamic month of fasting). Although this war did not lead to the regaining of all occupied territories militarily, it did bring the new President al-Assad in Syria and al-Sadat in Egypt as well as the Egyptian Air Force General and later President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak (r. 1981-2011) a gain in regional political legitimacy.

Almost at the same time, the regional heavyweight began to shift from Egypt to the east: the oil price revolution of 1973/74 increased world market prices tenfold and within a very short time poured immense income into the state coffers of the oil-producing countries, especially in the Persian Gulf. As a result, Saudi Arabia, the region's most oil-rich country, rose to become the Middle East's new economic powerhouse in the 1970s. But the countries without oil deposits also benefited from the oil revenues. They sent workers to the Gulf and received financial support from there. This regional distribution system of oil money - called "petrolism" - stabilized the authoritarian ruling governments in the Middle East at the beginning of the 1970s and brought about a cross-border mobilization of Arab societies that did not take place until the Arab Spring.

The fundamental change in position of Egypt under Sadat still unfolded regional political pull: After gaining prestige in 1973, Egypt moved closer to the USA under Jimmy Carter (r. 1977-1981) and signed a bilateral peace treaty with Israel under Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978/79 in Camp David. The peace treaty secured Egypt the return of Sinai. But the recognition of Israel and the lack of consultation with its Arab neighbors isolated the country in the Middle Eastern regional system and led to the temporary exclusion of Egypt from the Arab League, the regional organization of the Arab states founded in 1945.

On June 6, 1982, Israel intervened in Lebanon (Fifth Middle East War) with the aim of smashing the PLO residing there and weakening Syrian influence in Lebanon. This intervention and the Sabra and Shatila massacres radicalized the Lebanese civil war, which had been going on since 1975. In Sabra and Shatila, two Beirut districts mainly inhabited by Palestinians, the Christian Phalange militia killed an estimated 800 to 3,300 people, mostly civilians, in front of the Israeli military from September 16 to 18, 1982. The Lebanese Hezbollah (Arabic; German: Party of God), which was founded in 1982 as a Shiite-Islamist underground movement, put up bitter military resistance against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, the so-called security zone, into which the Israeli army was following until the Israeli troop withdrawal in May 2000 had withdrawn after the 1985 invasion of Lebanon.

Another event that permanently shook the regional political balance of power in the Middle East was the Iranian revolution of 1978/79. The end of the pro-Western rule of the Pahlavi Shah raised fears in many Arab governments of a revolutionary, this time Islamist, dynamic in the region. Therefore, with the exception of Syria, all Arab governments supported Iraq's attack on Iran in September 1980. This attack ushered in the eight-year First Gulf War, which cost hundreds of thousands of lives by 1988 and caused massive upheavals on both sides. As a security alliance against revolutionary Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini, but also against the expansionist efforts of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, the Arab Gulf monarchies founded the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981 under the leadership of Saudi Arabia (Gulf Cooperation Council= GCC).

At the end of the 1980s, the regional system in the Middle East was highly fragmented: Israel was clearly the strongest military power, but despite the peace treaty with Egypt, it remained regionally politically isolated; Israeli relations also remained distant with Jordan and the later military cooperation partner Turkey. Under the new President Husni Mubarak, who succeeded Sadat, who was killed by radical Islamists in 1981, Egypt was only slowly able to regain acceptance in the Middle East. The oil power Saudi Arabia remained primarily conservative in maintaining the political status quo. Finally, the Islamic Republic of Iran survived its post-revolutionary struggle for survival only significantly weakened.