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Thus, Watenpaugh's study brings to the fore Syria's urban middle class, whose voice and presence have so far been missing from that country's historical narrative. Second, Watenpaugh reconstructs important debates within Syrian society about liberal and Western values, as well as identifies some of the main protagonists in these debates. Perhaps, it was natural for scholars to concentrate on the views espoused by these subsequently dominant political forces, and be inclined to see the course of Syrian history as almost inevitably leading to the seizure of power by advocates of these more radical visions of Syria's future.

Thus, Watenpaugh's book makes an important contribution to our understanding of Syrian history by giving appropriate expression to these--until now largely ignored--voices advocating liberalism and Westernization. Reading Being Modern in the Middle East prompts questions about other social groups in the vicinity of Aleppo during the period under discussion, like members of several minority communities and the Sunni rural population of the outlying region.

Decolonization Resource Collection: North Africa and the Middle East | National History Center

These populations and social forces are absent from almost all studies of Syrian history prior to the mids, even though they were destined to occupy the center of Syrian politics in subsequent decades. It would be quite instructive, of course, to seek evidence in the earlier period that this significant historical development was in the offing.

These two figures were sons of grain merchants who had strong connections with the Hawran province.


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All this raises the issue of the links and relationships between the Syrian center and periphery, which were always much deeper and more complex than previously thought. Thus, the Syrian center should not be viewed only from the angle of the notable families that dominated it, nor should the center and the periphery be conceptualized as mutually exclusive spheres. Watenpaugh discusses the events of the stormy s in another interesting chapter, "Middle-Class Fascism and the Transformation of Civil Violence.

Watenpaugh quite appropriately revisits old questions, investigating the degree to which Fascism and Nazism found adherents in Syrian society, as well as exploring the political and social significance of the turn to violence and radicalism. Syrian intellectual life during this period requires fresh, more thorough historical investigation. Watenpaugh's study represents a first important step in that direction.

I began this review by noting that the second half of the twentieth century was marked by the decline of Aleppo, and indeed the whole northern region of Syria. In addition, previously significant social and political groupings were marginalized or even disappeared from view. The interesting question is: What does today's Aleppo with its millions of residents have in common with the small-town one hundred thousand residents Aleppo of the early twentieth century that is the focus of Watenpaugh's Being Modern in the Middle East?

In this regard, we must note again the large-scale migration to Syria's cities and its political center that occurred in the second half of the twentieth century. Against this background, we can better understand Syria's more recent historical development, in other words, the collapse of the old social order, appearance of military regimes, and establishment of the Asad dynasty that survives to this day.

However, large numbers of the Sunnis living in the slums of Aleppo adopted the views of radical Islam. Indeed, Aleppo became a focus of Islamist rebellion, against which the regime took repressive measures in However, those Islamist sentiments still survive, hidden beneath the surface.

We were given a reminder of the surviving vigor and importance of the question of liberal thought in Syria, as well as the rise and fall of the Syrian middle class during Bashar al-Asad's first years in power. At that time, the young ruler lent his support to the so-called Damascus spring, a very brief period of political openness during which cultural and political forums and salons were allowed to operate.


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  • Ultimately, Salam was forced to leave Syria and become a political refugee, just like his famous relative, who was pursued by the Ottoman authorities of his day. Watenpaugh's book makes an important addition to our knowledge of Aleppo's history, joining Abraham Marcus's study The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Aleppo in the Eighteenth Century , in illuminating several issues critical to Middle East history. In effect, Watenpaugh's fascinating book can be viewed as a kind of introduction to the trajectory of Middle East during the past century, oscillating between extremes, from Western liberalism to extreme nationalism to Islamic radicalism, as well as alternating between conservative and progressive impulses.

    Watenpaugh examines these matters in a specifically Syrian context, but it has value beyond the parochial. It also relates the story of the rise and fall of a middle class whose presence could have heralded the emergence of civil society. Britain's heavy-handed intervention in Iranian affairs and its control over Iranian oil resources increasingly rankled educated elites, and contributed, by the late s, to a degree of pro-German sentiment in the country.

    Though Iran's Pahlavi monarch, Reza Shah, declared Iran to be neutral when World War II broke out, British suspicions regarding his wartime sympathies prompted the shah in to abdicate in favor of his son, Mohammed Reza, as a way of safeguarding the monarchy. Years later, the Islamic Revolution of — unseated Mohammed Reza Shah and brought to power the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose anti-Western message was a response to Iran's modern history of Western imperialism.

    In Egypt, British colonialism after had not only provoked but had indirectly aided the development of local nationalism. It helped in the long run that Lord Cromer, architect of British policy in the to period, had believed in the value of the press as a safety valve for local grievances, because under British colonialism, Egypt's Arabic periodical press flourished and brought Egyptian nationalism into greater focus.

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    By the end of World War I, nationalism was arguably a stronger and more coherent force in Egypt than in any other Arabic-speaking country. In Egyptian nationalists demanded the right to Egyptian self-determination reflecting an ideal that U. When Britain tried to prevent Egyptian nationalist leaders from airing their views at the Paris Peace Conference, a popular nationalist revolt broke out. Yielding partly to these pressures, Britain went on to declare unilateral independence for Egypt three years later in This independence was "unilateral" because it was one-sided in Britain's favor, and enabled Britain to retain significant influence in and power over the country—for example, it allowed Britain to control Egypt's foreign policy and to keep British troops on Egyptian soil.

    After Egypt gained a parliament, while its dynastic ruler, a descendant of the Ottoman governor Muhammad Ali, was declared king. In the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty gave Egypt a greater degree of autonomy—for example, by providing for a phased abolition of the capitulatory privileges that foreigners had enjoyed in Egypt. Arguably, the informality of the British influence in Egypt made British colonialism especially tenacious there, with the result that Egypt gained independence only incrementally.

    The most controversial history of post-World War I British imperialism in the region pertains to Palestine. Unlike the other Middle East mandates, the League of Nations -approved agreement for Palestine did not cite self-determination as a long-term goal for the territory's indigenous inhabitants, who were overwhelmingly Muslim and Christian Arabs.

    On the contrary, the mandate for Palestine laid out a framework for Zionist administration and settlement, according to which Britain would facilitate Jewish immigration. Opposition to the Zionist agenda grew slowly among members of Palestine's non-Jewish majority i.

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    In the next decade, Britain responded to the increasingly tense situation on the ground by issuing white papers , or policy statements, that affirmed the need to address the concerns of both Palestine's Arab and Jewish inhabitants and that suggested possible limits on Zionist immigration. By two trends were evident: first, that Arab resistance to Zionist immigration had reached the boiling point , and second, that Hitler's virulent anti-Semitism was proving the desperate need for a Jewish haven.

    The Holocaust-in-progress steeled the resolve of Zionists in Palestine, who had long supported a program to create not only a Jewish homeland as the Balfour Declaration had intimated in , but also a full-fledged Jewish state. British troops managed to stave off an Axis invasion of Egypt in , and Britain and the other Allied powers went on to win the war. As historians later acknowledged, however, Britain's victory in war also entailed a defeat, in a sense, for its empire. To explain the rapid contraction of the British Empire in the middle of the twentieth century in the aftermath of World War II, historians often note that postwar Britain lacked the economic strength and willpower to maintain its far-flung colonies, particularly in the face of mounting anticolonial nationalism.

    Book Colonialism And Revolution In The Middle East 1992

    While several key events stand out in the global history of decolonization, India's independence in represented the critical watershed. The Middle East followed quickly behind South Asia , with Palestine's decolonization occurring in Having come under increased attacks from armed Zionist groups whose members regarded Britain's presence as an obstacle to Jewish statehood, and realizing the intractability of the situation that the mandate had created for local Arabs, British authorities hoisted down the Union Jack on May 14, , and beat a hasty retreat. A few hours later the Jewish community proclaimed the independence of the new state of Israel.

    By the time the fighting stopped and the dust settled, an estimated , Arabs, or 60 percent of Palestine's Arab population, had fled from their homes and were barred by Israelis from returning. British decolonization in Palestine thereby gave rise to both the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian refugee problem. The most symbolically important event in Britain's Middle East decolonization was the Suez Crisis, which occurred in Egypt in , four years after a leftist revolution that had overturned Egypt's parliamentary monarchy and only a few months after the negotiated withdrawal of Britain's last troops from the Suez Canal Zone.

    Determined to secure revenues to fund the extension of the Aswan Dam, Egypt's president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, declared the nationalization—that is, the Egyptian government seizure—of the Suez Canal, which a British-French consortium had long owned and operated for the sake of the tolls that ships paid to go through it.

    However, the United States and the Soviet Union interceded to call off the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion out of a concern that the conflict could escalate in the Cold War milieu. The last enclaves of British colonial influence in the Middle East were in the Gulf region. As oil revenues began to transform this poor region into the Middle East's wealthiest corner, Britain began to withdraw.

    Kuwait, for example, gained independence in , while Bahrain, Qatar, and the Trucial States later called the United Arab Emirates gained independence in This survey of British imperialism in the Middle East has emphasized political and diplomatic history and the decisions of government policymakers. Yet it is important to note that Britons in the Middle East not only included government officials but also missionaries, travelers, soldiers, merchants, archaeologists, and many others—that is, a diverse group of historical actors who exerted cultural, political, and economic influences in their own right.

    Furthermore, as historians increasingly acknowledge, cultural and social influence was reciprocal. British government representatives in the age of empire may have had the power to dictate or otherwise transform Middle Eastern political destinies, but colonial encounters with the Middle East and other parts of the empire had a substantial impact on British society, culture, and national identity as well. Colonialism, in other words, was a two-way street.

    Bidwell, Robin, ed. Cleveland, William L. A History of the Modern Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview, Codell, Julie F.

    Brookfield, VT: Ashgate, Crinson, Mark. Empire Building: Orientalism and Victorian Architecture. New York : Routledge, Daly, M. The Cambridge History of Egypt , Vol. Cambridge, U. Darling, Linda T.


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