Nationalism and the Middle East

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Nationalismand the Middle East

Nationalismand the Middle East

Nationalismrefers to mutual demographic or geographic feelings that encouragethe humans to look for the autonomy of their ethnicity and culture,which brings the group together. Nationalism in the Middle East ismainly expressed in the form of political ideologies and religionfaith. On many occasions, nationalism emerges from particulargroupings that share a common affinity such as birth in a givenregion, having the same faith or even claiming a connection to agiven ancestor. Nationalism in the Middle East began as opposition tothe Ottoman Empire. The modern day Turkey, Iran, and Egypt sharescommon ideology that originated from the ambition to defeat theOttoman Sultanate that had dominated the region for many years(Meti̇n, 2006). The World War I provided a suitable chance for thedeclaration of nationalism in the Middle East that was based onreligious, linguistic, civic, and geographic heterogeneity.

Beforethe establishment of the British Protectorate in Egypt, the regionhad been under the Ottoman Sultanate for four consecutive centuries.Egypt had allied with the British so that they could be protectedfrom the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, the British promised to giveindependence to the Egyptians once the Ottoman Empire collapsed.Unfortunately, the Western powers subdivided the territory tothemselves. The outcome was that Egypt helped to attack a colonialpower that they shared religion, cultural and some language just tobe taken over by Britain. Despite Egypt being determined to establisha government based on western principles of democracy, the leaderswere committed to rule the country without external influence(Gelvin, 2016). Another reason that made the Egyptians unite againstthe western power was the massive difference between the wealthy andthe paupers. Several Egyptian locals lived in extreme poverty whilethe British colonists controlled most of the wealth. Egyptiansexpressed their anger towards Britain for failing to grant itindependence through mass demonstrations that resulted in politicalturmoil between 1919 and 1922.

Itis noteworthy that Egyptians felt motivated to revolt against theBritish because the colonists had weakened tremendously during theWorld War I. The economy in Europe was recovering gradually. Britainhad used massive capital in the war, so it could not afford extensiveresources to crush the protests in Egypt. Secondly, Egyptians hadcharismatic leaders who had grassroots support. The individuals wereable to convince the public to demand their right to independence.Furthermore, the citizens were united against the colonists becausethe British mistreated the Egyptians. For example, the Britishimmigrants held most of the senior administration positions (Fahmy,2010).

Turkeywas also under the Ottoman Empire for many decades. During World WarI, the Turks allied with the British to oust the Sultanate on thepromise that they would be granted independence upon the defeat ofthe colonist. Unfortunately, the Western allies subdivided theterritory among them. After the British had breached the promise togrant the nation independence after the Ottoman Sultanate collapsed,Mustafa Kemal Ataturk led a revolt that was inspired by Turkishnationalism, which had previously overthrown the Ottoman Empire(Meti̇n, 2006). Turkey acquired independence in 1922. The primaryaccomplishments of the nationalism movement included theestablishment of new law codes that replaced the Islamic regulations,which had governed the state for many centuries. Western principlesinfluenced the new policies. Second, the nation adopted the calendarof the West in place of the Muslim version. Third, the Turks couldclad in the Western attire. Fourth, the state established publicschools that used the Latin alphabet instead of the Arabic script.Finally, the leaders initiated industrialization of the countrythrough the construction of railways, roads, and manufacturingindustries. The majority of the citizens accepted the new set of lawswillingly therefore, enhanced the unity of the nation (Gelvin,2016).

Thesuccess of Turkey’s independence reinforced the determination ofIranian nationalists to demand independence. Khan, a militaryofficer, overthrew the leader of Iran, Shah, in 1925 (Zia-Ebrahimi,2016). He established a new reign after declaring himself the Shah.Just like other states in the Middle East, which had gainedindependence recently, Khan’s primary ambition was to acquire innerfreedom and modernize the nation using the western principles. Theleader focused on strengthening the army, development ofinfrastructure and construction of state schools (Zia-Ebrahimi,2016). Furthermore, new law codes substituted the Islamic regulationswhile the western alphabet was used instead of the Arabic script.Women were also free to participate in public affairs. The wealthyIranians living in the urban areas supported Khan’s administration,except, the Islamic religious leaders (Fahmy, 2010).

Nationalismin the Middle East, specifically, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt, had begunbefore the World War I. The primary source of unity in the region isthe fact that the nations faced similar problems, and they had commonrivals such as the Western allies and Ottoman Sultanate (Gelvin,2016). As a result, the leaders sought to push for unified goals thatwould, in turn, help them to defeat their assailants (Fahmy, 2010).The nationalists advocated for the governments to take control ofsignificant parts of the economy so that the nations could decreasetheir reliance on the western allies. The colonists exploited thenatural resources in the Middle East, thereby, leaving the localspoor (Meti̇n, 2006).

Nonetheless,nationalism movement in Egypt differs from that in Iran becausejournalists spearheaded it. On the contrary, army officers controlledIran nationalism. Similarly, military personnel drove Turkeynationalism. In Egypt, the majority of the people supported thenationalist movement. The main supporters included the middle class,as the majority of the wealthy Egyptians were pro-British. In Iran,the wealthy were major supporters of nationalism except the Islamicleaders (Fahmy, 2010).


Fahmy,Z. (2010). Media-Capitalism: Colloquial Mass Culture and Nationalismin Egypt, 1908–18. InternationalJournal of Middle East Studies,42(1),83-103. Retrieved from

Gelvin,J. L. (2016). Themodern Middle East: A history.New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Meti̇n,Y. (2006). The Encounter of Kurdish Women with Nationalism in Turkey.MiddleEastern Studies,42(5),777-802. Retrieved from

Zia-Ebrahimi,R. (2016). Conclusion: The failure of dislocative nationalism. In TheEmergence of Iranian Nationalism: Race and the Politics ofDislocation(pp. 215-222). Columbia University Press. Retrieved from

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