Vera Illugadóttir
Last updated: 19 February, 2013

100 years of Middle East history, part 5

This is the fifth and final part of Your Middle East’s 100 Years of Middle East History list. We now turn to events between 1990-2012.

2 August 1990: Iraq attacks its small but oil-rich neighbour Kuwait. Fearing a threat to even oil-richer Saudi Arabia, the West, lead by the United States, rushes to Kuwait’s aid. A massive international force is deployed to Saudi Arabia and on 17 January 1991, after Iraq refuses to back down from Kuwait, the international coalition starts aerial bombardments of Iraq’s military, followed by a ground assault on 24 February. Victory follows within days, but Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath party remain in power. In the aftermath of the war, minority groups of Shi’ites and Kurds in Iraq’s south and north attempt to rise up against the regime. The rebels believe they have US support, but beyond establishing no-fly zones, the international community does not intervene as the Ba’ath government brutally suppresses the uprisings. Pictured above, Kuwait’s oil fields burn after being set on fired by retreating Iraqi military.

1990: The Yemen Arab Republic, or North Yemen, and Democratic People’s Republic of Yemen, or South Yemen, unite into a single country, the Republic of Yemen. Unification of the two Yemens had been discussed during the last decades without result — what drives the decision to finally unite in 1990 is the discovery of oil in the countries’ border region. But economic troubles plague the new nation and disagreements between the two ‘halves’ erupt into a three-month civil war in the summer of 1994, as South Yemen’s Socialist Party tries to secede. The secessionists are defeated and the north’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh emerges from the war as the dominant figure in Yemeni politics. Pictured above, vice president and Southern leader Ali Salim al-Beidh, and Northern leader Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of the unified Yemen, in 1990.

December 1991: The Islamist Islamic Salvation Front wins a majority of the votes in the first round of parliamentary elections in Algeria. The Algerian military takes control of the country and cancels the second round of the elections. Faced with repression, many Islamist groups take up arms and Algeria descends into a brutal, drawn-out civil war. The fighting goes on for a decade and claims the lives of tens of thousands of people. Pictured above, a market in the Algerian city of Ghardaïa in 1990, before the breakout of civil war.

13 September 1993: In one of the most famous news photographs of recent years, PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shake hands under the watchful eye of US president Bill Clinton on the White House lawn. They have just signed the so-called Oslo Accords, or ‘Declaration of Principles’. The Accords provide for the creation of the Palestine National Authority, responsible for administration in the Palestinian territories, and withdrawal of the Israeli Defense Forces from Gaza and the West Bank. Still, many contested issues are left unmentioned. The agreement is followed by ‘Oslo II’ in 1995. The same year, Prime Minister Rabin is assassinated in Tel Aviv by the religious Zionist Yigal Amir.

20 March 2003: After a long and controversial prelude to war, the United States and Britain, supported by a coalition of various other countries, invade Iraq. The multinational force quickly defeats the Iraqi Army, and 35 years of Ba’athist rule in Iraq are brought to an end. But the war evolves into a drawn-out insurgency and civil war, and US troops do not depart the country until 2011. The conflict and related unrest has claimed over a hundred thousand lives. Pictured above, US Marines in Saddam’s palace in Baghdad.

14 February 2005: On a seaside road in Beirut, a van loaded with tons of explosives crashes into the motorcade of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. Twenty-two people die in the massive explosion, Hariri among them. Hariri was an opponent of Syria’s interference in Lebanese affairs. His assassination triggers a wave of anti-Syrian sentiment among Lebanese, culminating in the so-called ‘Cedar Revolution’, when tens of thousands of Lebanese demonstrated against the Syrian presence in the country. Coupled with increased pressure from the United Nations, Syria withdraws its military forces from Lebanon the following April, ending 29 years of occupation.

December 2010-2012: Protests break out in Tunisian cities against the government of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi. The unrest spreads through the Arab world in a wave of protests and revolutionary activity the media names the “Arab Spring”. To date, the ‘Spring‘ has lead to the overthrow of governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, civil war in Libya and Syria, and mass demonstrations in several other countries.

May 2011: Saudi computer scientist Mana al-Sharif uploads a video on YouTube of her driving a car in the city of Khobar. In the video, al-Sharif calls on other Saudi women to join her in defying the kingdom’s ban on women driving. Her ‘Women2Drive’ campaign quickly gains thousands of supporters, and more videos of Saudi women behind the steering wheel appear on YouTube. Al-Sharif is repeatedly detained by Saudi Arabia’s religious police and charged with the crime of “inciting women to drive”. 

24 June 2012: Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, is announced as the victor of Egypt’s first democratic presidential elections, with roughly 52% of the vote. In the second round of presidential elections, Morsi defeated Ahmed Shafik, once prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, who was widely seen as the Egyptian military’s ‘preferred’ candidate.

Photos: Manfred Lentz, US Government Printing Office, YouTube-snapshot / Mana al-Sharif, Lorenz Khazaleh, and Wikimedia Commons.