Vera Illugadóttir
Last updated: 19 February, 2013

100 years of Middle East history, part 1

These are the events that shaped the Middle East during the past century, between 1912-2012.

March 1912:  Following a dispute between Europe’s major powers over their military presence in Morocco, Sultan Abdelhafid signs the Treaty of Fez, giving up his sovereignty of the country. The treaty makes the majority of Morocco a French protectorate, joining France’s already established colonies in Tunisia and Algeria.  Spain receives a smaller part of the country’s north and south. Pictured above is a French army camp in Morocco in March 1912.

November 1914: Russia, Britain and France declare war on the Ottoman Empire. The crumbling empire officially enters World War I on the side of the Central Powers on November 14th. The war will bring enormous material and human losses to the Ottomans and contribute to its downfall. Pictured above, a Turkish soldier guards trenches by the Dead Sea, in 1918.

1916: French diplomat François Georges-Picot and British Mark Sykes negotiate on behalf of their governments a secret treaty that divides the possessions of the Ottoman empire into zones of British, French and Russian influence. Their plan goes back on previous British promises of an Arab homeland and makes no mention of the Zionist aspirations of land in Palestine. The agreement, intended to be secret, is made public following the Russian revolution of 1917, leading to widespread resentment among Arabs against the colonial powers. Pictured above, the map on which Sykes and Picot drew the future outlines of the Middle East.

2 November 1917: British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour writes, in a letter to British Jewish community leader Baron Rothschild, that the British government favours “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object”. Pictured above, Balfour visiting Palestine in 1925. In Tel Aviv he received a hero’s welcome from the city’s Jewish community, while Palestine’s Arabs were less enthusiastic about his visit and called a general strike.

1919: An Egyptian delegation is refused the right to state their case for independence at the Paris Peace Conference by Britain, the new rulers of Egypt after the world war. Popular resentment with British rule reaches boiling point with widespread protests and civil disobedience in the spring of 1919. The revolt is brutally suppressed by the British, leading to thousands of deaths , and nationalist leader Sa’ad Zaghloul is exiled to Malta. But Egypt’s first mass popular movement proves successful three years later when the country gains independence – although Britain still reserves control of its own strategic interests.

1923: Following the Turkish war of independence, the nationalist Grand National Assembly delivers the final blow to the Ottoman Empire in November 1922, abolishing the centuries-old Ottoman sultanate. On October 29 1923, the Republic of Turkey is officially proclaimed, with Kemal Atatürk as its first president and Ankara as its capital. Pictured, the last Ottoman sultan, Mehmed VI, leaves through the backdoor of Dolmabahçe palace in Istanbul in November 1922. After his forced abdication, he fled to Malta onboard a British warship.

1928: In the Egyptian city of Ismailiya, schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna founds a society with the aim of a return to Islam’s traditional values. He names it Al-Ikhwan al-muslimun, the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood grows and eventually becomes one of the most influential social and political movements in Egypt, as well as spreading to other countries of the Middle East. Pictured above, Hassan al-Banna holding a speech.

1931: As part of Kemal Atatürk’s sweeping reforms in the new Republic of Turkey, women are granted full political rights. Turkey is the first country in the Middle East to grant women suffrage – the first Muslim majority country to do so was Azerbaijan, in 1918.  Pictured above, Turkish women celebrate Atatürk in 1931.

1936: Arabs in the British Mandate of Palestine start a revolt, both against British colonial rule and the increasing Jewish immigration to Palestine. The revolt, which starts as strikes and civil disobedience, eventually progresses into violent action. The British army, aided by local Jewish militias, crushes the revolt in 1939, killing or imprisoning thousands of Arabs. Pictured above, a “Special Night Squad”, British-Jewish counter-insurgency unit.

Photos: Nationaal Archief, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Wikimedia Commons and US Library of Congress.