The Formation of Arab Nations
Much of the modern political Arab world was born at the end of World War I, as outside powers divided up their shares of territories that were loyal to their regimes. For example, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon came to exist along side the precarious state of Palestine. By World War II, these states had begun to want independence, and the following decades would witness revolution, regime change, violence, and, ultimately, a break from the grips of the Ottoman Empire and European powers (Provence). Today, the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings, ongoing now for several years, are in part as a result of mid-20th-century political rule and administration by outside powers.
In the early 20th century, the Arab world was composed primarily of nomadic pastoralists in the inland desert regions and urban dwellers along coastal regions occupying key trade outposts (Anderson). While populations shared commonalities, such as language and religion, they had little else in common. This distinction would come to represent a divisive issue after the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel. Prior to this, however, Ottoman officials and European powers, mainly the United Kingdom and France, sought political influence in the region (Provence).
Following the World War I, countries that had expended enormous amounts of blood and treasure felt they had real incentive to involve themselves in peripheral regions and ensure that their political views were supported. For example, young Arab states tended to support Communist parties in their governments. The Ba’ath Party, an Arab party that exists to this day, is one example of this. Early Arab states also embraced Ottoman Empire political traditions, and this was occasionally seen as being in opposition to Western political traditions (Long).
European powers had deep involvement in inventing Arab political boundaries. They saw to it that Arab states were drawn to meet their political and colonial demands. Iraq and Jordan, for example, were British political projects born out of their involvement in early century conflicts. At the end of World War I, Brittan and France wanted to ensure they had influence in that area in order to control trade and make economic gain (Long 8-9). With little or no regard for nomadic groups, tribal rivalries, or already established trade routes and urban hubs, the British in particular established national boundaries that continue to cause tension in the Arab world.
In 1921, two cousins from nomadic tribes, in what is now called Saudi Arabia, were chosen by the British to serve as the first rulers of the new Jordanian and Iraqi nations. As “foreigners” from tribes well south of that area, cousins Abdullah (in Jordan) and Faisal (in Iraq) had trouble establishing legitimacy early on among their new subjects (Long). British advisors urged the new Kings to form national armies, and hoped that the promise of military service for pay would encourage...