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6/9/15

The Middle East: A Net Assessment of the Middle East - by George Friedman

The term "Middle East" has become enormously elastic. The name originated with the British Foreign Office in the 19th century. The British divided the region into the Near East, the area closest to the United Kingdom and most of North Africa; the Far East, which was east of British India; and the Middle East, which was between British India and the Near East. It was a useful model for organizing the British Foreign Office and important for the region as well, since the British — and to a lesser extent the French — defined not only the names of the region but also the states that emerged in the Near and Far East.

Today, the term Middle East, to the extent that it means anything, refers to the Muslim-dominated countries west of Afghanistan and along the North African shore. With the exception of Turkey and Iran, the region is predominantly Arab and predominantly Muslim. Within this region, the British created political entities that were modeled on European nation-states. The British shaped the Arabian Peninsula, which had been inhabited by tribes forming complex coalitions, into Saudi Arabia, a state based on one of these tribes, the Sauds.

The British also created Iraq and crafted Egypt into a united monarchy. Quite independent of the British, Turkey and Iran shaped themselves into secular nation-states.

This defined the two fault lines of the Middle East. The first was between European secularism and Islam.

The Cold War, when the Soviets involved themselves deeply in the region, accelerated the formation of this fault line. One part of the region was secular, socialist and built around the military. Another part, particularly focused on the Arabian Peninsula, was Islamist, traditionalist and royalist.

The latter was pro-Western in general, and the former — particularly the Arab parts — was pro-Soviet. It was more complex than this, of course, but this distinction gives us a reasonable framework.

The second fault line was between the states that had been created and the underlying reality of the region.

The states in Europe generally conformed to the definition of nations in the 20th century. The states created by the Europeans in the Middle East did not. There was something at a lower level and at a higher level.

At the lower level were the tribes, clans and ethnic groups that not only made up the invented states but also were divided by the borders.

The higher level was broad religious loyalties to Islam and to the major movements of Islam, Shiism and Suniism that laid a transnational claim on loyalty. Add to this the pan-Arab movement initiated by former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who argued that the Arab states should be united into a single Arab nation.

For the complete report click here: A Net Assessment of the Middle East | Stratfor

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