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Middle East during Imperialism Term Paper


Historically the Arab Middle East was the arena of international conflicts and target territories to foreign invasions. As a result, the local population had suffered from foreign oppression for centuries. In this respect, the Ottoman and European imperialism produced probably the most significant impact on the region. Both the Ottoman Empire and later European countries focused their interests on the exploitation of the Middle East and its resources. At the same time, even though both Ottoman and European imperialism targeted at the domination in the region and taking benefits from the Middle East, the impact of the Ottoman Empire was ‘milder’ since this state was ideologically and mentally closer to the Arab Middle East, while European expansion, being not so obvious since it basically focused on the economic domain, was more hostile for the native population of the region because of numerous differences that existed between Europeans and Arabs.

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First of all, it should be said that the Ottoman empire had been one of the major powers in the region since 15th century until the beginning of the 18th century when it had started to loose its influence and was gradually driven away by European imperialism. At the same time, the Ottoman had played a historical role in the Middle East since it managed to unite the region in one state. On the other hand, it is necessary to underline that unlike Europeans, the Ottomans basically relied on the military power and aimed at the invasion of the Arab countries of the Middle East, establishing there their own rule, laws, administration, and totally integrating local states into one solid empire with common politics, legislation, economy and ideology.

In such a way, it is obvious that the Ottoman Empire aimed at the invasion of the Middle East and assimilation of the local population in order to create the empire where all peoples would feel as one community without regional distinguishes that was very important for the internal stability of the Ottoman Empire. In this respect, it is extremely important to underline that such a kind of integration or assimilation of the Arabs of the Middle East was not so harmful for the local culture as European one. The main reason is that the Ottoman Empire was ideologically closer to the Arab world, at large, and that of the Middle East, in particular. To put it more precisely, the Ottomans and the Arabs of the Middle East had the same religion since both peoples were Muslims. Secondly, along with similarities in religions views, the Ottomans and the Arabs had similar mentality and cultural traditions and beliefs were not totally different, instead it was possible to trace certain common features. For instance, both Ottoman and Arab peoples of the Middle East were accustomed to tyranny and the absolute power of the monarch was undisputable for them. This is why the head of the Ottoman Empire was as legitimate to Arabs as he was to Ottomans.

Consequently, the Ottoman Empire really united the whole Middle East region under one ruler for the first time since the reign of Abbasid caliphs of the 10th century, and they kept control of it for four centuries basically due to military and political dominance in the regions founded on cultural, religious and ideological similarities of the Ottomans and Arabs of the Middle East. Nonetheless, it does not mean that the Ottoman Imperialism was good for the region. In stark contrast, similarly to European one, the Ottomans exploited the local population and territories for their own benefits, using up economic, human and natural resources of the region.

In this respect, it is even possible to say that the Ottoman imperialism was even more severe than European one because Europeans did not really invade the region or at least did not occupy it for a long time. Instead, European expansion was rather economic than military or purely political. As a result, under European domination, Arab states of the Middle East basically sustained their independence, which though was rather formal than real. This is why such political freedom made European imperialism different from Ottoman one and made it less severe.

However, it is an obvious mistake. In fact, there are several reasons that may reveal the fact that European Imperialism produced not less negative impact on Arab states of the Middle East than the Ottoman Empire. Firstly, European states realized the strategy of economic expansion in the region that, at the first stages, was supported by military expansion and political pressure on the local states when the Ottomans were swept away from the Middle East. Secondly, the economic expansion made the local states totally dependent on European countries as a source of investments and the main market for the local products, which basically natural resources such as rude oil and natural gas. Finally, and that is probably the most important fact, European culture was totally hostile for the Arab world of the Middle East because historically Arabs, being adepts of Islam, and Christian Europeans were enemies and their religions, cultures and traditions were totally different. Moreover, Arabs of the Middle East were conscious of European crusades that made them quite anxious about European expansion. And in such a situation of ideological, cultural and historical contradictions European imperialism influenced the region dramatically to the extent that the local countries started to accept some features of the Western lifestyle and traditions. This led to certain assimilation of the Arab Middle East into European civilization but this assimilation could not be fully realized because of the contradictions between Western and Middle East civilizations mentioned above.

Thus, in conclusion, it should be said that both the Ottoman and European imperialism produced quite a negative impact on the Arab Middle East because both Ottomans and Europeans oppressed the local states but, if the Ottoman Empire oppression was basically political and economic, than European one was primarily economic but was more important it also involved cultural sphere more substantially than the Ottoman imperialism. As a result, the Ottoman Empire united the Middle East in one state and used its economic and social potential in its own interest exhausting the region and leaving no room for independence and freedom of the local states. Instead, Europeans basically refused from political oppression of the region and formally left the states of the Middle East independent and provided them certain freedom, which, though, was dramatically limited by economic dependence of the region on European capital and market and, what is more, the Middle East suffered from a profound impact of Western civilization which culture and traditions were historically unacceptable for the local population.


Burdock, F. G. The Ottoman Rule in the Middle East, New York: New Publishers, 1998.
Foreman, L. The History of the Middle East, LA: Routledge, 2001.
Patterson, J. The Middle East: the History of European expansion, New York: McGraw Hill, 1999.

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