Sample History Research Paper on Imperialism in The Middle East Before and Now

Imperialism in The Middle East Before and Now


Imperialism is one of the commonly used terms around the world with some people arguing that it resembles Darwinism. Although many people use the term ‘imperialism,’ they can hardly define or say what it means (Wolfe, 1997). Imperialism refers to when a particular nation extends its power and influence through the acquisition of an inhabited territory. Additionally, it includes efforts aimed at exploiting inhabited territories, an action that is closely related to colonialism, which was common in the eighteenth century through to the twentieth century (Wesseling, 2001). The influence of nationalism and Industrial Revolution on the global society was not as great as that of imperialism, which gained traction towards the end of the nineteenth century.

It should be noted that imperialism did not begin in the nineteenth century but the sixteenth century thus shifting focus to the fact that there are two types of imperialism. One is old imperialism that was dominant between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. During the era of old imperialism, European nations gradually expanded and sought trade routes in various parts of the world including the Far East, Southeast Asia, as well as North and South America. The other type of imperialism is the new one that began in the 1870s and saw European countries and the United States expand their empires to Africa and the Middle East. It is argued that era of new imperialism gained impetus from economic, political, military, religious, and humanitarian factors (“The Age of Imperialism,” n.d.). For several years now, the Middle East has been at the center of the imperialism debate and an area of focus for the numerous strategic objectives and ambitions for external powers including the ottomans, United States, and European countries. One of the major reasons for the incessant imperialist practices in the Middle East is that it is the source of one of the world’s most vital resources, oil. The oil factor has seen the Middle East serve as an arena for superpower competition both in the 20th and 21st centuries (Riemer, 2006). Of course, the penetration into the region as well as the interferences by the mentioned external powers has left indelible marks in the region ranging such endless ethnic and civil wars (Morris, 1993).

Imperialistic Powers from the Ottomans, Europeans, and Americans

One of the imperialistic forces or powers in the Middle East in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the Ottomans whose empire is regarded as one of the largest in history. It is also considered of the largest imperial projects in history given that it ruled vast territories in the Middle East including countries such as current Bulgaria, Greece, Egypt, Lebanon, Hungary, Israel, Jordan, Palestinian territories, Romania, Macedonia, Syria, the north coast of Africa, and parts of Arabia (Renda, 2005). The imperialism by the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East was witnessed throughout the sixteenth century when it contributed to expansion into North Africa as well as numerous battles such as that with the Safavid Empire to the East. The Ottoman Empire’s interests in the Middle East were cemented by its victories over Belgrade in 1521, Hungary in 1526, and Vienna in 1529. Although rivalry with Europe was not one of the reasons behind the Ottomans’ imperialism in the Middle East, religion was a major factor. The Ottomans’ main desire or interest was to extent Islamic religion and rule to other parts of the world. In fact, the Ottomans viewed themselves first as Muslims and not as members of an ethnic or racial group. They were involved in numerous wars including the Ghaza, which refers to the war against infidels. They firmly believed that the war against the infidels was to be fought until they submitted. Research shows that the ghaza was the cornerstone of the Ottoman Empire and influenced its successful imperialism in the Middle East, parts of Europe, and parts of North Africa. The Ottomans’ expansion efforts in the Middle East were helped by the fact that they had considerable knowledge on the use of firearms as well as war tactics. Additionally, they had a fairly-advanced administrative and military system that played crucial roles throughout their expansion. However, the entry of the Ottoman Empire into World War I and joined the Central Powers marked the end of the empire. Although the Ottomans had remarkable success at the beginning of the war, they were later defeated by the Allied Powers who later captured and controlled some of its territories, including the Balkans Syria, Thrace, Iraq, and Palestine. Britain, one of the powers during the war captured Palestine and Iraq whereas France captured Syria and Lebanon. Italy, on the other, took control of Libya, which was found in Northern Africa (“Ottoman Empire,” n.d.).

The European imperialism was not witnessed until the 1800s when in their attempts to find direct trade routes to Asia, they established their colonies in various parts of the world, including the America’s, East Indies, and South Africa, and established their territories in African and Chinese coasts. In fact, by 1800, Great Britain had become the leading European colonial power given its industrialization and strong economy. Although European countries’ quest for imperialism was disrupted in the first half of the nineteenth century, states such as Great Britain and France witnessed an economic revival in the mid-nineteenth century and this renewed their confidence to embark on their path of aggressive expansion and extending their territories to other countries (“The Age of Imperialism,” n.d.). The late 1800s through the early 1900s became known as the era of new imperialism that saw Western European countries expanded their territories to the Middle East. One of the reasons for the Middle East’s important to the European imperialists was its strategic location. Put simply, the Middle East served as the crossroads for three continents, including Europe, Asia, and Africa. The European imperialists also found Middle East to be of importance as the region had vital waterways, including canals and the Dardanelles, as well as the region’s valuable oil resources (Hinnebusch, 2012).  Keen to satisfy their selfish economic, military, and political interests, the European imperialists divided the Middle East based on power and influence. Great Britain, for instance, took control of the Suez Canal that saw her take an active role in Egypt (“The Age of Imperialism,” n.d.). Great Britain was also forced to acquire the island of Cyprus that was considered militarily valuable paving the way for Britain’s access to oil resources and securing military needs. Moreover, Great Britain took control of nations such as Iraq, Iran, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain. The British then proceeded to build the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea to facilitate expansion and penetration into the region (“The Age of Imperialism,” n.d.).

The United States, a close ally to European nations, has also been involved in Middle East for several years now with its role in region growing significantly since end of the Cold War. During the Cold War, the Middle East became a target for states such as the United States primarily because of its vast energy resources and supplies. The U.S.’ expansion into the Middle East came in the 1990s when asserted its security presence in the region with the argument that it was helping to contain both the clerical regime in Iran as well as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. At the same time, the U.S. focused on bringing about between Israel and its Arab neighbors that were frequently at war. The 9/11 attacks on the U.S. saw its involvement in the Middle East grow significantly (Byman & Moller, 2016). It was after these attacks that the U.S. in collaboration with European countries deepened its collaboration cooperation and interaction with countries in the region such as Egypt and Jordan. It also wanted to establish ties with neglected countries in the region such as Yemen and Libya. The United States imperialism agenda in the Middle East saw it invade Iraq in 2003, a move that triggered insurgency forcing the presence of the U.S. in the country until the end of 2011. The United States  still has territories in the Middle East with experts arguing that this is aimed at realizing its imperialism agenda of ensuring the free flow of oil, fighting terrorism, preventing nuclear proliferation, promoting democratization, and maintaining the security of Israel (Byman & Moller, 2016).

Imperialism Now Through the Military Complex

Today, there is competition between superpowers such as the United States and Russia that has played into regional controversies and conflicts as individual states or countries in the Middle East have become clients of either. A consequence of countries in the Middle East allying themselves with the United States or Russia is the significant growth in the arms trade in the region. With increased modern weapons in the Middle East, most of which are acquired from external powers such as the U.S., there have been extended power projection capabilities of various adversaries. This has resulted in endless internal conflicts that are dangerous as they create instability in the region. The wars endless or conflicts in the Middle East have resulted in military buildup, which in turn, has highlighted how important instituting arms control regimes in the region is (Thomas, 2017). Today, in the Middle East, the settling of disputes between warring countries is through military force rather than negotiation. It is argued that the continued militarization and arms traffic in the Middle East is more concerned with the protection of recession-hit arms industries in countries such as the United States and European countries than it is concerned with regional threats posed by various nations in the Middle East (Morris, 1993).

In recent times, the militarization agenda in the Middle East has taken a positive direction with several Gulf states ordering high-tech armaments and military systems worth USD 40 billion since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. Moreover, Gulf states plan to spend USD 10 billion every year with the notion that this would achieve a balance of power in the region. For instance, Saudi Arabia, in trying to strengthen its military power, recently purchased 72 new F-15 fighter aircraft from the U.S. and further bought Tornado jets under the Al-Yammamah program from Great Britain. Another country in the Middle East, Kuwait, recently ordered several M1A2 Abrams battle tanks from the U.S. With these militarization efforts, the Middle East remains the hottest and most durable consumer of the tools of destruction whereas countries such as the U.S., Great Britain, and China benefit significantly from the sale of the weapons as well as the instability caused by the weapons of destruction (Morris, 1993).

Moreover, European nations felt that having colonies was essential to their objectives of national security and military power. Up to today, the argument has been that having a strong navy is important for a country with the ambition and desire to become a great power. As a result, European nations have continuously seized islands and harbors in various parts of the Middle East to satisfy these needs. Britain, for instance, occupied Egypt with hidden military interests and resorted to controlling the Suez Canal that it considered a lifeline to India, which was the jewel of the British empire.

Looking Back on The Benefits and Negatives of Imperialism in The Middle East

Both the old and the new imperialism have had benefits as well as negatives in the Middle East. Regarding benefits, through imperialism, Western nations have established a global economy that has paved the way for the transfer of goods, technology, money, and other resources (“The Age of Imperialism,” n.d.). To some extent, this has facilitated the industrialization and economic growth of the Middle East. However, the negatives of imperialism in the Middle East tend to be more than its benefits. Under the foreign rule and control of the Middle East, native cultures, as well as existing industries, have been destroyed. The destruction of local industries in the Middle East can be attributed to the increased importation of goods brought about by imperialism. In other words, the United States and European countries have primarily used Middle East countries as sources of raw materials and markets for their manufactured goods thereby holding back the development of industries in the region. The confrontation between cultures has also accompanied imperialism in the Middle East. The fact that Europeans have taken control of the Middle East has seen them force the Middle East nations to accept or embrace Western cultures, something that has faced strong opposition from many Middle East countries. Moreover, imperialism has created several political problems in the Middle East as is currently being witnessed in countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Iran (“The Age of Imperialism,” n.d.).


Imperialism has existed for several years now with the United States and European countries relying on it to satisfy their interests. For several years now, the Middle East has been at the center of the imperialism debate and has been an area of focus for external powers such as the Ottomans, the United States, and European countries. Although the Ottomans control and power over the region is long gone, the United States and European nations have significant control over the Middle East. New and current imperialism in the Middle East is through the military complex. The imperialist agenda in the mentioned region has been beneficial to some extent although the negatives outweigh the benefits. The greatest benefit of imperialism in the Middle East is that it has paved the way for the transfer of goods, technology, money, and other resources. However, it has destroyed local industries, the confrontation between cultures, and has created numerous political problems in the region.


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