The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism

Living Edition
| Editors: Immanuel Ness, Zak Cope

Middle East, Socialism and Anti-imperialism

  • Cenk AğcabayEmail author
  • Ulaş Taştekin
Living reference work entry
In 1902, Alfred Thayer Mahan, American Naval Officer and geopolitics expert, wrote that:

The Middle East, if I may adopt a term which I have not seen, will someday need its Malta, as well as its Gibraltar; it does not follow that either will be in the Persian Gulf. Naval force has the quality of mobility which carries with it the privilege of temporary absences; but it needs to find on every scene of operation established bases of refit, of supply, and in case of disaster, of security. The British Navy should have the facility to concentrate in force if occasion arise, about Aden, India, and the Persian Gulf. (cited in Adelson 1995, p. 22)

Thus, Mahan provided a new concept and defined a certain part of the geography which had been called as “Orient, The Near East, Turkish Asia” by the West until that day.

As the foreign news editor of The Times which was one of the loudest advocates of Britain imperialism, Sir Valentine Chirol wrote 20 articles under the main title of The Middle Eastern Question after the Eastern trip they took with Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of India, in 1903. The book composed of Chirol’s articles was published in 1903 by the name of The Middle East Question or Some Political Problems of Indian Defense. During the trip, Chirol heard several times “less of Russia and more of Germany as the Power whose growing influence threatened to displace our own,” and he considered “the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway and its planned extension to the Persian Gulf” as a “part of the Kaiser’s [Emperor Willhelm] plan to use Turkey as ‘a bridgehead to German world dominion’” (cited in Meyer and Brysac 2009, p. 37). Chirol had cited the concept of The Middle East from Mahan. Just as the states and borders to be created within the geography after some time, the concept of The Middle East was born as a requisite of geostrategic priorities determined by British imperialism during the period in which imperialist struggle for the partition get intensified and progressed to turn into the Great War.

Mandate Governments

The Middle East became a territory that hosted bloody scenes of The First Imperialist War. Britain, France, Germany and Russia had demands and plans over the Middle East conflicting with each other. Demands and plans of Tsarist Russia turned into an affair of history due to the October Revolution. Germany lost both the war and its previous zone of influence. The winners of the War, Britain and France, divided the region within the framework of their own zones of influence through the Sykes-Picot Agreement they signed in 1916. After the war, the first draft sketching out the partition of the region came to light at Versailles Peace Conference. The region had great importance to protect the road from Britain to India and direct access to oil fields. On the basis of the structure of its colonial empire, France had to get a predominant position to safeguard its influence over Mediterranean and North Africa, economic interests in the Levant, and access to oil fields.

The decree to establish mandate governments was formulated by the Supreme Council of Versailles Conference on 30 January 1919 as follows:

the Ottoman Middle East and the former German colonies, being inhabited by ‘peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world’, would be administered by ‘advanced nations’ on the principle ‘that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilization.’ (cited in Pedersen 2015, p. 29)

The territories within the scope of mandate government were classified in three, and “A” mandates included the Ottoman Middle East. After having been framed at the Paris Peace Conference and been decided to establish at the San Remo Conference at the end of First Imperialist War, mandate governments were a “fig leaf” to cover colonialist domination, as historian Leonard V. Smith cited in. The statement in the establishment text of the mandate governments was an ornate expression of the “civilizing mission” (mission civilisatrice) that colonialist powers of the Europe had developed since the invasion of America and used to legitimate their colonial expeditions. When Lord Curzon “told the House of Lords, the gift of mandates lay not with the League [of Nations], but ‘with the powers who have conquered the territories, which it then falls to them to distribute’” (Mangold 2016, p. 93), he revealed that the essence was the colonial domination provided by bayonets which was also the very thing covered by this ornate expression. Robert D. Caix, France Prime Minister Clemencau’s consultant and special envoy, framed the general project agreed by Britain and France to reshape the region as follows:

the peace of the world would be better served if there were in the Orient a number of small states, with relations under the control of France or England, that would be administered with the fullest domestic autonomy and would not have the aggressive tendencies of the big national unitary states. (cited in Bozarslan 2010, p. 53; also see de Dreuzy 2016, p. 207)

The Great Syria (which once used to include today’s Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Jordan and a part of Southern Anatolia) was divided within the frame of British-France consensus; whereas Syria and Lebanon were allocated to French mandate, Britain mandate was established in Palestine. Abdullah from Hashimi family under the total domination of Britain was appointed head of the newly founded Jordan. Establishment of an Iraq state under the British mandate was decided to contain Basra, Mosul, and Baghdad provinces of Ottomans. On November 2, 1917, in the advance of this partition, then Britain Foreign Affairs Minister Arthur Balfour promised to build a “national homeland for Jewish people” in Palestine through a document he sent to Walter Rothschild’s house at Piccadily, 148 in London. France, the USA, and Italy expressed their support a short while ago before that declaration.


The Balfour Declaration and the partition of the region by the imperialists after the war triggered a wave of anti-imperialist revolts within the region. “Muslim-Christian Association,” the first political party of Palestine, was established after the revelation of the Balfour Declaration. The first anniversary of the declaration was determined as the day of national rage, and thousands of Muslim and Christian Palestinian attended to the protests arm in arm. Inconveniences growing within Iraq against British invasion and the establishment of mandate government turned into a significant revolt in summer 1919. The revolt started with clashes as a result of some attacks to British military officers in Shiite and Kurdish regions and inspired large masses. The response of the occupying British government was fatal air strikes embodied in the document by the name of “On the Power of the Air Force and the Application of That Power to Hold and Police Mesopotamia” (Satia 2006, p. 26). The Royal Air Force carried out massive massacres. Iraqi peoples jointly resisted with participation of Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, and Christians.

In Batatu’s (1978, pp. 173–178) words, “the revolt (…), by bringing the Shiites and Sunnis closer together, strengthened national sentiment which, as it grew in intensity and wide masses became seized of it” far from deepening the cleavages between the sects, and “a great deal of fraternizing between Sunnis and Shiites took place in 1919 and 1920 at joint religious-political gatherings in Baghdad’s mosques an event without precedent in the annals of Iraq.”

The revolt in Iraq directly targeted British imperialism and spread to a large area of the country. Among the feeding supplies of the revolt, an important dimension was the political initiatives developed by the Soviets toward the Peoples of the East after the October Revolution. The most comprehensive form of this political initiative was embodied in “Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions” presented by Lenin to the Second Congress of the Communist International. The first political outcome of this initiative became the Congress of the Peoples of the East held between September 1 and 8, 1920, in Baku. The Congress aimed at developing a perspective for the joint struggle of the peoples under the yoke of imperialism.


After the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, the resistance initiated by popular forces in Anatolia against the harsh destruction and invasion of Ottoman Empire by the victorious imperialists became intensified. Mustafa Kemal, a commander of Ottoman Army, gathered resistant groups formed in various regions of Anatolia under his political and military leadership. He made an alliance with the Bolsheviks and, thanks to the support against the imperialism, accomplished successive military victories. The struggle under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal evolved in the establishment of the republic in 1923 which introduced modern Turkey.

Syria and Lebanon

France, which accrued Syria and Lebanon as a result of imperialist partition, initially divided Syria and Lebanon in pursuant to imperial divide et empera principle and established mandate governments in 1922 in Syria and in 1921 in Lebanon. After a short while, she divided Syria on the basis of ethnic and religious basis and established “ministates” under the names of Aleppo Administration, Damascus Administration, Druse Administration, and Alawite Administration all of which hinged upon French Viceroy. While French colonial administration carried out such regulations, Arab Alawites, mainly living in Mediterranean coasts of Syria, revolted. Aleppo branch of secret “national defense committees” which were established in all parts of Syria got in touch with this revolt of Alawites. The tendency to jointly resist was adopted rapidly. Armed groups in Aleppo under the leadership of İbrahim Hananu started a joint struggle together with the insurgents in the Alevi region. The principal demand of the insurgents was the abolition of partition and invasion of the country. France sent more troops to the region and initiated a campaign to disable resistant forces.

In an article dated 1932, Yusuf İbrahim Yazbek, historian and among founders of Lebanese Communist Party, indicated that he knew Hananu personally and got some significant information about the relationship between Hananu and Lenin, i.e., the Soviets, during the revolt. Lenin sent messages to Hananu promising to support Syrian Revolution against French invasion (Ismael 2005, pp. 11–12). As a result of that French campaign inflicted a heavy blow on the resistance, the relationship with the Soviets could not be promoted further. French mandate practices which were the most infuriating for Syrians were directly interrelated with her “civilizing mission.” The government’s wish was to construct new railways and highways in order to “civilize” Syria and apply compulsory labor policy to execute this will. In addition to compulsory work, new taxes were also levied on in addition to compulsory work. There was an outrage in the country arising from the numerous losses of lives as a result of the blockade that Britain and France applied to Syrian harbors during the Imperialist War. The revolt went on until the end of 1922, and, because of unchained violence of French troops, villages were destroyed, and crops were fired. When the French could not capture insurgents, who had a grasp over the geography, they tortured the local community and massacred to suppress the resistance.


Another country in which anti-imperialist resistance in the aftermath of the Imperialist War triggered a great revolt was Egypt that had been under the occupation of the British army since 1882. A committee of seven people who established a political party targeting Egypt’s independency in November 1918 wanted to participate in the Paris Conference on behalf of their country. Britain High Commission rejected this request, and the members of Egyptian committee protested this rejection and decided to launch a countrywide political campaign. Saad Zaglul, in the position of the committee leader, and two other members were punished by being exiled in Maltha.

One week after the exile of Zaglul, demonstrations that sprang in Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities extended to Delta region, and enormous strikes followed. Railways were sabotaged at important points; railway and telegraph line from Cairo to the Canal and Upper Egypt was cut off. Egypt rapidly turned into the center of rebellion. The report by British officials in Egypt stated that the revolt was supported by all groups in the country and influenced by Bolsheviks. The report also drew attention to the fact that Coptic Christians and Muslims, students from religious schools and secular ones, and women and men from upper classes participated demonstrations together (Fromkin 2013, p. 349). The revolt in Egypt was a bourgeois-democratic movement where a young Egyptian bourgeoisie, of which development channels had been clogged by Britain, was backed by all fractions of the people. The labor class that had just started to activate in social and political terms also became influential in this revolt.

The violence applied by British forces was comprehensive in the 1919 Revolution; at least 3000 Egyptian died, many villages were fired, lands were ravaged, railway stations were demolished, and railways were devastated. Upon the fact that the violence did not cause to go back and a new wave of strikes burst, the demand of Zaglul was accepted by British officials. WAFD Members joined to the Egyptian committee to participate in Paris Conference. According to the information provided by Peter Mangold, passivation campaign of British forces in Egypt (1919) was one of the cruelest operations in the colonies after the violence applied against Sepoy revolt in India (1857).

Upon the revolt, Britain accepted to launch a negotiation process over political status of Egypt. When WAFD commission indicated that they were insistent on the demand of independency, Britain pursued a different tactic. In pursuant to this tactic, Britain exiled Zaglul again in 1921 and declared dependency unilaterally and promoted Egypt Khedive to the King from the Governorship through a declaration in 1922.

Communist parties in the Middle East were established under the inspiring influence of Communist International just after the Imperialist War. Communist parties of Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Turkey took shape between 1919 and 1925 in the atmosphere generated by the October Revolution and anti-imperialist stream rising in the region. Lebanese and Syrian Communist Parties were established in December 1925 and took a set of decisions on actual political affairs in their establishment meeting: (1) to defend Syrian Revolution, (2) to strengthen the struggle against imperialism, (3) to struggle for democratic rights and national liberation, (4) to struggle for the rights of Syrian and Lebanese workers, and (5) to defend appropriation of landlords’ properties who were not for the revolution.

Communist Parties and Resistances

During the days that conference held, Syria was shaken by a recent wave of revolts against Syria French Mandate Government, and that is why the first article of the decisions on actual political affairs was “To defend Syrian Revolution” in Lebanese and Syrian Communist Parties establishment conference. The revolt sprang in Druse region that time. A Druse warrior, Sultan el-Atrash, led the rebellion. The reason of the rebellion in Druse region, which is one of the “ministates” of the French, was the fact that newly appointed French officials enforced compulsory works to the local community for the road and building construction with no wages and brought shifting toward private property policies on the land forward by eliminating deep-rooted common property tradition of Druses. Local leaders of Druse people submitted their complaints through petitions sent to Damascus in June 1925. The high commissioner invited complainants to Damascus; all of them with the exception of Sultan Atrash accepted the invitation and were arrested.

Atrash took action after learning the arrests, and a French plane was shot down by the warriors on July 18, 1925, while flying above Druse Mountain (Jabal al-Druze). Four days later, Warriors at Atrash’s command carried out an attack to the largest French military base located near Suwayda, the biggest Druse city around. Almost all of French soldiers in the base were killed. The victories of Atrash excited all Syrians for Suwayda was enveloped. Three thousand French soldiers at the command of General Roger Michaud were sent to the region in order to lift the envelopment and terminate the rebellion, but they were ambushed as soon as they burst on the scene and had to retreat by suffering heavy losses. Atrash’s such military successes brought warriors belonging to various national and religious groups from different parts of the country into the fold.

On the date of August 23, 1925, Atrash,

as the ‘Commander of the Syrian Revolutionary Armies’, issued a general call to arms. Appealing to all Syrians to ‘remember your forefathers, your history, your heroes, your martyrs, and your national honour… remember that civilized nations that are united cannot be destroyed’, al-Atrash called for the complete independence of Syria, the institution of free elections, and a popular government, the expulsion of foreign armies from Syria soil, and -an interesting touch- ‘the application of the principles of the French Revolution and the Rights of Man’. (Pedersen 2015, pp. 144–145)

People’s Party which was established under the leadership of Abdurrahman Şahbender and adopted secularism and national independency as the main principles was among prominent supporters of the revolt. The party hastened agitation and propaganda in Damascus and some other cities so as to favor the revolt. In October, the forces led by Fevzi Kavukçu, a veteran soldier, attacked the French forces in Hama and surrounded the French base there. French planes launched a bomb attack to the region. Due to the heavy shelling over the settlements in the region, there occurred a civilian massacre. As a result, new rebellious groups occurred in many regions of the country during the autumn. French forces lost the control of Ghouta, in Damascus countryside, and serious attacks were carried out against French forces in Homs.

Anti-rebellious paramilitary brigades composed of Circassians, Kurds, and Armenians by the French initiative started operations together with the colonial French army. These groups were utilized in anti-guerilla operations in rural and urban areas and submitted hundred young men that they arrested in countryside of Ghouta to the Frenches by claiming that they were rebellious. Frenches executed these men in the most centralized square of Damascus and exhibited their corpses for days in order to spread fear.

In the early morning of October 18, 1925, there were attacks by armed groups against French troops and demonstrations against the French governing by unarmed crowds at many points of Damascus. Anti-guerilla brigades took action against both armed forces and unarmed crowds in the city together with colonial French soldiers. After the intensification of the conflict, the large part of Damascus was controlled by the rebellious group. Even though French tanks entered in even the narrowest streets and bombed the city, this did not break the resistance. In the evening, rebellions were in front of the magnificent residence of High Commissioner Sarrail, but he was not there. The residence burnt up, while the weather was getting dark. French Mandate Government officials decided to a show of force as a result of their assessments. In the evening of October 18, all French troops and armored vehicles retreated from the central Damascus. The next morning, a heavy shelling by warplanes and artillery batteries simultaneously targeted Damascus. It lasted 2 days and demolished many parts of the city.

The French Mandate Government had to propel 80,000 additional colonial soldiers further from Morocco, Senegal, Algeria, and Madagascar to Syria together with heavy weapons in order to suppress the revolt. “The Great Revolt” was a bourgeois-democratic revolution movement that rose on the basis of struggle against French domination. Class composition of the crowds triggered by the revolt and demands embodied in Atrash’s declaration points out a framework fitting the political program of a bourgeois-democratic revolution. “The Great Revolt” was an offspring of the revolutionary wave that started to shake the East by 1919–1920s. That fact was also why Syrian and Lebanese Communist Parties listed “To defend Syrian Revolution” first in the political agenda of the establishment meeting. Thousands of people were destroyed in the great attack toward Damascus, and these numerous losses became influential in the slowdown of the struggle. However, the fight of Syrian people continued with ups and downs. In May 1926, French planes were above Al-Midan, an outskirt of Damascus. The region was ravaged once more as a result of heavy bombardment. According to a source referred by McHugo, a thousand people died just in this bombardment. Only 50 of them were in rebellion, and most of the dead were women and children (McHugo 2001, p. 87). French government dictated that people should not be assisted, when they wanted to shelter in inner cities after leaving the razed Al-Midan with injuries and without water and food. French Mandate Government carried out a passivation campaign in order to break the revolt by employing heavy bombardments, attacks of anti-rebellious paramilitary groups, and regular operations of colonial army. The rebellion went on until the end of 1927.

On the date of July 20, 1925, Syrian and Lebanese Communist Parties organized a demonstration in Beirut in order to protest removal of rental control policy, and numerous people marched. Rise of inflation and prices of consumption goods enhanced inconvenience in Lebanon. When protestors were in front of the government building to utter their demands, the police fired on the crowd. The people disbanded in panic, 10 died and 40 got injured, while many of them were arrested. The party issued a declaration in Arabic, French, and Armenian on July 22 condemning the bloody attack and supporting the revolt in Syria. The party also declared the intention to build coordination with international communist movement in order to defend the Great Syrian Revolution.


The first political challenge against British Mandate Government in Palestine occurred in 1920 after the conflict arising from provocations against Palestinians by Zionist settler groups having close relationships with British governing. For British troops used force against Palestinians, the conflicts grew and caused great losses for Palestinians. During the conflicts, British government developed relations with a moderate group trying to soothe Palestinians led by Amin al-Husseini, member of an influential family in Jerusalem. British officials granted some privileges and attempted control Palestinians through this group. Zionist movement took significant steps toward its specific targets in close cooperation with British government thanks to outstanding financial sources as well as well-disciplined and centralized political leadership.

Mandate government allocated 90% of state privileges in Palestine to the Jewish capital. This enabled Zionists to obtain the control of economic infrastructure (road projects, mineral deposits under the Dead Sea, electricity, ports, etc.). Zionists got the control of 872 industrial companies out of 1212 in Palestine till 1935. Industrial import belonging to Zionists was exempt from tax. By means of remarkable external support, Zionist movement could provide money in the amount of that mandate government could do for education. This considerable support enabled them to establish the first university in 1925, and Balfour participated in the opening ceremony as the guest of honor. Strong educational institutions were built in line with Zionist political targets and historical perception and played an important role in imposing Zionist ideology to next-generation settlers. Zionist Executive Board was established in 1921 and developed close relationships with mandate government as the representative of the Zionist movement. Zionist movement simultaneously carried settlers to Palestine while purchasing lands from Arabic dominant groups and driving Arab villagers out of these lands. In this frame, 425,000 decares land in 1914 escalated to 1,250,000 decares in 1930. This was one-third of agricultural lands in Palestine, and this expansion worked to the detriment of local community.

A new wave of protests started in Palestine and spread to Syria, Iraq, and Egypt after Balfour’s arrival to Palestine for the opening ceremony. Masses around the Middle East protested British imperialism, Zionism, and Balfour. Histadrut, a Jewish Labor Federation, was among the prominent actors playing a role in colonization of Palestine. By virtue of its activities in accordance with “Hebrew labor” maxim, Histadrut forbade employment of Arabic workers in the projects held by Jews. Meanwhile, Histadrut became the largest Zionist organization in Palestine and get the position of the most effective actor in the establishment of Israel. First secretary general of Histadrut, David Ben-Gurion, was going to make the speech declaring the establishment of Israel and become the first prime minister of it. Even though Histadrut has the name of labor federation, its field of activity extended from capitalist entrepreneurship, banking, insurance companies, and landowning to social insurance activities, enormous educational institutions, armed organization, and the cooperative operations. In this respect, it was much more like the “embryo of a state” rather than a labor federation. Mandate government divided unitary economic system which had been existing in Palestine through a policy enforced in 1929 in favor of Zionist movement. The practices foretelling this division started in 1928. The tension between Zionist settlers and Palestinians got intensified in Summer 1928 because of disagreements over sacred spaces in Jerusalem. The new practice was enforced during these days and enhanced rage among Palestinians more. Intensification of conflicts in 1929 caused uprising of Palestinians once more against British imperialism. The response was again a high-level violence campaign targeting Palestinians. The revolt was repressed. London Government sent a commission to Palestine to investigate the events and reasons on site. The commission arrived in Palestine in September and prepared a report after completing the investigation. In the report, it was stated that “the main source of tension within the mandate was the creation of a landless class of discontented Arabs and the widespread Arab fear that continued Jewish immigration would result in a Jewish-dominated Palestine” (Cleveland and Bunton 2008, p. 257).

Zionist Movement and the 1930s

Having shaped a strong institutional structure, Zionist movement built a powerful armed body named Haganah which would turn into the army of Israel in future. Such armed body was shaped and strengthened through silent approval of mandate government and drew attention by its aggression against Palestinians. Upon the domination of Zionists, flow of settlers toward Palestine and purchase of lands increasingly went on. Jewish population between 1931 and 1936 in Palestine escalated to 370,000 from 175,000. In the year of 1933, a demonstration with the participation of nearly 7000 people in Jaffa was attacked by British forces, and 12 Palestinians were killed, whereas more than 70 were injured. Upon the hearing of this massacre, attacks targeted British entities in many cities. British government activated its abettor, the Arab Higher Committee, to terminate the revolt. In spite of the Arab Higher Committee’s attempts to break, the movement spread to Haifa, Nablus, and Jerusalem. Serving a report to Britain, a British official stated that “there was no attack towards the Jews” during the revolt and

It would be wrong to consider migration and establishment of a Jewish nation-state as the only reason for the revolt. Afterwards, a genuine national sensation developed. Such sensation subsisted in Palestine more than any other things, and it was accompanied by a violent attitude against British government. (Sakar 1991, p. 151)

After 1935, the Arab Higher Committee made a set of interviews in order to provide a consensus with Zionist Jewish Agent officials and a proper agreement between the parties through the guidance of British officials. The negotiations did not come up with result because of strict attitudes of Zionist delegates. In May 1936, Palestinian executives faced an obligation to decide: they had been forced both by Palestinians to achieve something and by British government to make serious concessions. On May 7, the decision not to pay tax to mandate government was taken with the participation of 150 delegates. The Arab Higher Committee went on a general strike in May 1936 thanks to the pressure of people and organized countrywide demonstrations.

While the demonstrations to which upper dominant class members of Palestine also participated spread to many parts of the country, conflicts occurred between Haganah members and Arab committees. A gigantic attack was organized by British forces toward Palestinians in Jaffa on June 18. Most of the dwellings in the city were destroyed by British soldiers by the means of dynamites. Mandate government declared a state of siege on July 30 and harshly started a passivation campaign against Palestinian rioters. British forces occupying Palestine were not only supported by 20,000 additional soldiers to carry out the campaign but also benefited from another source. It was a local power which collaborate British colonialism and immensely mobilized against the local community: Zionists, which once performed many retaliation operations, would take a greater role hereafter in the environment of a condensed pressure through massive arrests, assassinations, and executions. Zionist militias which were integrated into British army and police forces launched a relentless violence campaign against the Palestinians.

1936 revolt mainly developed against British domination and Zionist project. However, after rapidly getting out of control of its initiator, the Arab Higher Committee, it gained the character of a “peasantry social revolution.” There were a significant number of participants from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq. The thing combining volunteers from various ideological and political positions was the anti-colonial struggle of Palestine. The revolt went on until 1939 and left behind approximately 5000 Palestinians dead, thousands imprisoned, and nearly 5000 houses destroyed. Some Zionist militias which were integrated in British entities during the revolt were going to take important roles in Israel army and state afterward.

After the Second Imperialist War

Palestinian revolt withered away during the days in which the world was drifted to an oncoming imperialist war. When the Second Imperialist War started, imperialist domination in the Middle East was existing in different ways. With the exception of Turkey, on which imperialists could not have a grip directly, and Saudi Arabia, a quasi-independent state even the name of which was determined in London, all countries were under the domination of Britain and France though various means of control. Second Imperialist War caused destructive results in the Middle East. Cairo was one of the main military bases of Britain during the war. Britain and France imposed a war economy on the Middle East countries for foodstuff and military articles they need to. During the war, Middle Eastern peoples’ rage against imperialism and desire to eradicate the imperialist yoke grew much stronger.

After the war and in 1945, Ernest Bevin, British Foreign Affairs Minister, determined that an unprecedented social transformation was taking place in the Middle East. According to Bevin, Britain had taken a side on the wrong hand of the history:

Britain allied with previous gangs and generals rather than peasantry. Britain must encourage social and political reforms in the region, cooperate with moderate nationalists in order to balance extremists. Britain cannot cling on to the Middle East through bayonets. (Mangold 2016, p. 193)

Actually, the evaluation of Bevin on the basis of protection of his country’s interests pointed out his uneasiness about the growing anti-imperialist political and social opposition.

The USA, which was a new hegemonic power within the imperialist camp after the war, was not delayed in gravitating to the region having rich energy resources and a geostrategic urgency. Thanks to an agreement concluded in 1944, it already established its first military base in Saudi Arabia, and American oil companies made important agreements with the country. Britain and the USA established a strong political and economic control over reactionary oil-rich monarchies in the region. Growing anti-imperialist wave of the era revealed that colonialist domination could not be maintained in previous forms anymore. Independency demands in the colonies gained momentum after India achieved its independence in 1947. The USA took action in order to build economic, political, and military mechanisms of the new colonialism in place of weakening British and French colonial empires.

During the 1950s, various movements rose against imperialist domination in the Middle East and were welcomed by large masses. The intersection point of these movements based on different social class force combinations and various ideological orientations was the demands of national independency against political domination of imperialism and termination of imperialist control over the local resources. These common targets consisted meeting point of progressive bourgeoisie-nationalist movements and revolutionary-communist movements of the region.


Communist parties in Arabic countries had responsibility to develop a political struggle framework fitting specific conditions of the countries having typical qualities of a capitalist mode of development belonging to the geographies under the colonialist domination. One of the most prominent experiences occurred in Egypt so as to reflect the hardship of this responsibility and specificities of capitalist mode of development under the colonialist domination. A group of young officers, named themselves “free officers,” seized the power under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser on July 23, 1952, and overthrew the British puppet king. This attempt had a determinant influence over the political struggles in the Middle East after the second imperialist war and made a tremendous impact in many Arabic countries. 1952 Egyptian Revolution became the first flare of oncoming anti-imperialist revolution wave in the Middle East.

Upon the decision on nationalization of the Suez Canal Company by Egyptian government in 1956, Britain, France, and Israel took action. After the invasion of Sinai by Israel, Britain and France launched a bombardment toward Cairo and military operations. As a result, they established a military superiority against Egypt. The Soviet Union took a position on the side of Egypt, and the USA did not support aggressive trio for it winced from the break of regional balances to its detriment and isolation from Arabic geography. Aggressors had to withdraw from Egypt: it had a political victory even though it degraded in military terms. This buoyed up anti-imperialist forces in the region.

Nasser, pioneer of Egyptian Revolution, had always kept the experiences of 1948 Arab-Israeli War, to which he participated as a juvenile officer, on the agenda. Arabic countries like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq declared a war against Israel which was established in 1948 thanks to strong support of imperialist countries, but they were defeated. The main reason of the defeat was economic and military deficiency arising from imperialist domination over Arabic countries and the competition between abettor political administrations. Israel went to war with a strong army trained and equipped by imperialist countries. Through the war, Israel not only expanded its borders but also drove 700,000 Palestinians out of their lands by relentlessly terrorizing and seized these areas. So, the Nakba (catastrophe) started for Palestinians.

The war also convinced Nasser that the “near enemy” – the king and the British occupier – had to take priority over the “far enemy,” Israel, since fighting the former could ultimately lead to victory over the latter.

Gamal Abdel Nasser, who took part in the war, wrote that they had trouble mostly for the deficiency of heavy weapons, ammunition, and intelligence and considered Britain, domestic monarchy, and political elites of the country as responsible. After the war, Nasser was convinced that taking action against “‘near enemy’ – the king and the British occupier – had to take priority over the ‘far enemy’ – Israel – ” (Gerges 2018, p. 171). The movement led by Nasser attracted a great attention in the whole Middle East. The US imperialism was in the effort of building a military alliance in parallel to NATO in the Middle East just before the war. The main constitutive elements of such an alliance were Turkey – which shifted toward Western axis after the war and became a NATO member, Iraq and Jordan, of which Kings were the members of British puppet Hashimi family.

On October 13, 1951, the USA, Britain, France, and Turkey invited Egypt to the studies targeting the establishment of a joint military commandership. Egypt government could not reply in the affirmative due to the intensive public pressure. The same day, Western officials also visited Syria, informed Syrian government about the project, and expressed how the threat of communism was crucial: the demand was the enfranchisement of Syrian port utilization in the case of a potential war against Soviets. After the hearing of visit and the content of the subjects, a great mobility occurred in Syria. Syrian people made demonstration with slogans against the USA and Western imperialism. Discussions on a Middle Eastern NATO and the demand of port usage rights were met by a great reaction. As a result of the visit that caused a political crisis in Syria, the prime minister had to resign. The magnitude of Syrian people’s reaction meant that they were aware of the repercussions of Western colonial domination by considering the previous experiences. The memories were fresh in the minds: Palestinians were driven out of their lands; Zionist Israel state was established through the support of Western imperialism, and abettor Arabic administrations had to declare a war and got defeated. Such heavy weights were added onto other fresh memories of deep-rooted history of colonialism.

At the end of the imperialist war, another Middle Eastern country under the influence of Britain was Iran and had great amount of oil reserves and a long border with Soviet Union. In the country, there was a strong communist party and masses had anti-imperialist sensation. Iranian prime minister Mosaddegh won the political struggle against the Shah of Iran under the influence of Western imperialism after the war. Mosaddegh had massive popular support and had the intention to carry out political and economic reforms. Nationalization of oil was the first name on the list. Upon the failure of military coup organized against Mosaddegh, Shah Reza Pahlavi escaped to Italy. Then, American and British secret services stepped in and overthrew Mosaddegh through a coup d’état. Shah turned back to the country on August 24, 1953, as a “hero” and took his place as a trustworthy abettor of the USA in the region.

National Front Tactic

The increasing interest of Soviet Unions in the 1950s toward the Middle East as well as political, economic, and military relations established with Nasser government expedited political confrontations in the region. Juvenile officers and intellectuals triggered by Egyptian Revolution overthrew British puppet king Hashimi in Iraq through 1958 Revolution. Officers led by General Qasim took a radical decision and withdrew from the Western alliance, nationalized key industrial sectors, enabled landless peasantry to access the lands through land reform, launched an extensive educational campaign, and made reforms so as to make health services accessible.

Juvenile officers seized power in Syria in 1961 under the influence of the developments in the region. Revolutionary forces caused by the revolutionary wave influencing the region developed economic and military relations with the Soviet Union. Egyptian, Iraqi, and Syrian Communist Parties were the most effective communist organization around the region. They supported the policies of these new governments within the scope of anti-imperialist “national front” tactic. Communist parties made alliances with the governments within the frame of national-democratic front policy. The main confrontation in the Middle East was composed of this frame: Egypt, Iraq, and Syria axes based on national independency, social and economic progression, and secularism on the one hand and reactionary axis in collaboration with imperialism constituted by Turkey, Iran, and Gulf monarchies led by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel on the other.

Palestine, the constantly bleeding wound of the Middle East, maintained its determinant significance during the process. Imperialism benefited from Israel as a battering ram for its attacks against progressive-democratic forces in the Middle East. As a result of imperialism-backed aggression of Israel, progressive-democratic countries in the Middle East had to constantly live in a warfare atmosphere and allocate an important part of resources to the military field. Thanks to certain reform policies in the countries from anti-imperialist axis, significant transformations occurred in agricultural, industrial, educational, and medical areas in favor of working classes. Women gained a momentum in terms of participating to social and economic life. Egypt and Syria governments supported anti-imperialist and progressive movements from Yemen to Congo and Palestine and built solidarity with revolutionary movements in those countries. Six-Day War in 1967 was an important example of that the US imperialism benefited from Israel in order to downgrade anti-imperialist front in the region. Egypt, Syria, and Jordan got defeated against Israel which was predominantly supported by European and American imperialists in military and financial terms. At the end of the war, Israel quadrupled its lands by occupying Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and Western Bank.

The 1967 War caused a remarkable loss of prestige for anti-imperialist governments, and that was just what imperialism wants. Such a defeat of these widely supported movements provides a basis for propaganda of conservative Islamic forces which opposes Israel demagogically. Palestine National Council gathered on May 29, 1964, and declared the establishment of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO); this was a new page for Palestinian struggle. The organization, which was significantly supported by Egypt and Syria, rapidly grew. PLO formed as an umbrella organization for Palestinian political groups, and the biggest group was Fatah led by Yasser Arafat. Marxist organizations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) also took part in PLO. After 1967 defeat, a new leap was observed in Palestinian organizations’ struggle. To prevent this progression, the USA and Israel employed their abettor Hussein, King of Jordan.

The strong support by Palestinian refugees in Jordan to PLO provided an important operational basis to the organization. Significant attacks toward Israel targets were organized from here. The straight abettor King Hussein gave an attack order toward PLO in September 1970. PLO had to move essential units of the organization to Lebanon because of noteworthy losses during the conflicts, and this relieved Israel in military terms. Nasser died because of a heart attack in September 1970 and was replaced by his vice, Anwar Sadat.

Not long after the move of PLO to Lebanon, the new war between Egypt and Syria and Israel started on October 6, 1973, called Yom Kippur. Israel strengthened its gains provided by previous wars through winning Yom Kippur thanks to comprehensive intelligence and military support by the USA. The most important result of the war was the departure of Egypt from the anti-imperialist axis as the most important country of the axis and approximation to US imperialism under the leadership of Anwar Sadat. The aim of these wars was to strengthen Israel’s position in the region and weaken anti-imperialist front; the tactic became successful. The most important indication of this success was the Camp David Accords signed in the USA on September 17, 1978, witnessed by President Carter. This was the first time that an Arabic country officially recognized the Israel. The most prominent country in the region yielded to imperialism for its resistance had been broken as a result of nasty blows.

The Role of Political Islam

Another movement that imperialists allied against rising anti-imperialist movements during 1950s was Political Islam which was still powerless then. Saudi Arabia gained a strategical significance thanks to rapidly increasing oil requirement in imperialist metropoles just after the Second Imperialist War. Wahhabi-Islam also provided a unique position to the country as Saudi dynasty employed this ideology to legitimize their power. Muslim Brotherhood had been established in Egypt, 1928, and was the main source of all Political Islamist movements to occur in the region afterward. The organization was supported by British imperialism and its puppet Egyptian King since its establishment in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna as a political alternative to progressive bourgeois nationalist movement that WAFD party represents. Muslim Brotherhood had close relations with Saudi Arabia. Muslim Brotherhood built organizations at not only national level but also regional level through the strong support provided. The organization attracted supporters among angry young masses in countries in the region as it developed a discourse owning the Palestinian struggle. Muslim Brotherhood militants crusaded on the side of Arabic armies in 1948 War, and the organization attracted attention through a violence campaign in Egypt after the war. The government harshly cracked down on the organization; the conflict intensified; and the organization carried out attacks against government officials, restaurants, bars, and women that they did not dress in compliance with Islamic proceedings allegedly. Al-Banna, leader of the movement, was killed by an attack supposedly performed by Egyptian secret service; some other leaders were arrested.

Muslim Brotherhood developed certain relations with juvenile officers who took power in Egypt after the 1952 revolution. The new leader of the organization, Hassan al-Hudaybi, visited Nasser with a delegation. The group delivered their demands in the meeting. As Nasser publicly expressed after the meeting, the organization desired implementation of a model based on Sharia law in state and society relations by the new revolutionary government. The government rejected this demand, while Muslim Brotherhood was developing close relations with the USA and Saudi Arabia during the era. The negotiations that new government conducted with Britain resulted in 1954, and Britain accepted to withdraw all armies from Egypt. This was an important success that the government gained. Hence, massive demonstrations and meetings were organized in various cities of the country to celebrate withdrawal of British armies. In Alexandria, a Muslim Brotherhood member performed an armed attack to Nasser while he was making a speech at the meeting. Nasser survived and launched rigid operations against the organization. Significant Muslim Brotherhood leaders were discharged from Egypt by a CIA operation and taken to Saudi Arabia.

The leaders gained important governmental positions in Saudi Arabia; some of them were assigned to management of financial institutions while some others to educational ones. A press information center was established in Riyadh to execute propaganda and organizing activities all around the Middle East. The organization of this activity was closely related to political function that Saudi Arabia attained under the guidance of the USA. Saudi dynasty would propagate and organize “Islamic unity against communism” in Muslim geographies through funds provided by ARAMCO oil company of which majority of managers were composed of Americans. US imperialism took the action to employ Political Islam as a weapon against communism, and Saudi dynasty played a significant role for it presented itself as the protector of holy cities of Islam. As for Muslim Brotherhood, it was the most proper apparatus for the task with its extensive network-type organization and grown cadres in the region. Egyptian labor movement growing in 1946 and expanding wave of strikes in addition to anti-imperialist student movement encountered Muslim Brotherhood as the most decisive force. Militants performed harsh attacks to striking workers and anti-imperialist students. The organization’s counterrevolutionary performance and ability to rapidly adapt the war against communism launched by the USA made it a suitable partner for imperialism. Alignment of Muslim peoples in the axis of “Islamic unity” ideology was an important strategic goal for the war against communism by the USA in a geography from Morocco to Indonesia. The Soviet Union should have been surrounded by a “green belt.” Activities conducted on the basis of this strategy caused important political results in the Middle East countries in subsequent years.

Anti-imperialism in Turkey and Iran


Turkey and Iran were the Middle Eastern countries in which anti-imperialist and socialist struggle gained momentum during the 1960s. Ruling classes of these countries were among the closest alliances of American imperialism in the region. However, growing dynamics provided basis for a popular socialist movement with the participation of labor class, peasantry, and intellectuals. American and European imperialists launched an intensified campaign in order to strengthen state apparatus in these countries, to link trade unions to abettor international union organizations, and to mobilize conservative political forces during the 1960s. Shah regime in Iran left training and equipment of police and army to the supervision of US counselors. Anti-imperialist and socialist opposition was tried to be oppressed through relentless terror of this apparatus.

Growing anti-imperialist and socialist movement in Turkey was enhanced by the enormous labor revolt on June 15 and 16, 1970, in important industrial cities such as İstanbul and İzmit. Against the revolt, a state of siege was declared, and a severe passivation campaign started. A progressive military intervention attempted by juvenile officers was repressed on March 12, 1971, and a fascist-military intervention was carried out under the guidance of the USA to oppress socialist and labor movement. The juvenile officers’ attempt had relations with representatives of socialist and labor movement; and their demands included exodus from NATO, cancelation of bilateral agreements with the USA, closing US military basis in the country, and nationalization of main industrial sectors and banks. Prominent goal of fascist-military intervention was to destroy leaders of rapidly growing anti-imperialist and socialist movement. Accordingly, revolutionary flag bearers of rising generation – Mahir Çayan, Deniz Gezmiş, Hüseyin İnan, Yusuf Arslan, and Ulaş Bardakçı – were murdered through counterinsurgency operations.

Socialist movement in Turkey had a strong anti-imperialist basis. As a result of anti-imperialist campaigns since 1968 and active participation of rising revolutionary generation to Palestinian struggle on the side of local organizations, imperialist forces focused on Turkey in terms of intelligence and military activities. The fascist movement of Gray Wolves, which was organized by one of the first Turkish officers who took part in NATO – Alparslan Türkeş – was among the most important apparatuses of NATO’s secret services. Its activities started with attacks to socialist student leaders and turned into all-out slaughters in the 1970s. In the second half of the 1970s, labor and socialist movement in Turkey met with larger masses, and its development could not be prevented. As a result, armed attacks of Gray Wolves and state terror simultaneously became the issue in order to oppress the movement. However, when the socialist responded to those attacks with a strong self-defense, the result was a precursor of civil war in the country. In the conflicts, 30–40 people died per day, but socialist movement proceeded through expanding its influence in prominent cities of the country. The imperialist and local ruling forces would prepare a plan to ensure a more persistent and bloodier fascist rule. A movement organized in the army’s chain of command seized the power on September 12, 1980. Five generals at the top of the army declared that the parliament was closed, the government was overthrown, and “they took over the power until the establishment of security and stability.” First practices of the fascist rule were declaration of a state of siege, prohibition of strikes, and protests in addition to all revolutionary-democratic institutions, trade unions, and associations. The event in Turkey was conveyed to President Carter by the vice president, while he was in a concert hall, and Carter’s response was “Our boys done.” The military rule was substantially backed by the USA and European countries. Eight hundred thousand people were detained in several years, and physical and psychological torture was employed as the main method during the custodies apart from executions. The main target was to oppress anti-imperialist socialist movement and cut off its ties with poor people. Fascist rule was very successful in this target; development channels of socialist movement were plugged, and ties with peasantry and working classes got weakened. Moreover, it lost its extensive influence in urban parts of the country.


In Iran, the first mass reaction against Shah rule driven by imperialism occurred in January 1963. Economic and social program presented by Shah as “reform program” and called as “White Revolution” targeted a higher level of integration with imperialist capital. The voting for “reform program” propounded by Shah enabled alignment of various popular classes, workers, poor peasantry, a part of clergy, and civil servants on the basis of common demands. There were two main ideological orientations to affect rapidly growing demonstrations. Socialists had recently started to become influential in ideological terms, and they made an impact over the masses along with religious Shia leaders through different channels. The remarkable name was Ayatollah Khomeini with his ideological domain. The movement was repressed by the violence applied by the Shah. Socialist movement had to withdraw, and Khomeini was exiled to Iraq.

One of the common traits between Iran and Turkey was the birth of capitalist industrialization centers within the frame of uneven development of capitalist relations and subsequent buildup of working classes in those centers. The rest of capitalist centers was a large rural area composed of a small group of landowners and a crowd of poor landless peasantry. A semi-proletarian unemployed population accumulated in metropoles, and this was the embodiment of continuous discontent. In parallel with constant increase in educational institutions, educated young population coming from poor families constituted the prominent elements of opposition against the Shah regime.

The main channel of the socialist movement in Iran was Soviet-sided TUDEH party. New generations who joined the movement after 1963 were much more open to new elements of international movements, and divisions occurring in international socialist movement had repercussions in Iran as well. The very same tendency was also pertinent in Turkey; Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cuban experiences constituted basis for the divisions of socialist movement in Iran and Turkey. The difference in Iran was the organization named People’s Mujahedin of Iran which was born on a Marxist basis but adopted a religious discourse. The determinant element for Iran left was the strong anti-imperialist basis of the movement. Organizations of Iranian People’s Fedaian and People’s Mujahedin of Iran emerged as strong leftist movements and took armed struggle as the basis. Shia Islamist movement was based on historical references and had a strong anti-colonial discourse. It was against “Islamist unity” approach developed by the USA and Saudi Arabia. Shiism had always been on the side of opposition during the history and “has a nature convenient to attract oppressed and humiliated communities and highlighting indispensability for believers to oppose illicit rulers, tyranny and injustice through either its message or rituals and practices” (Luizard 2016, p. 52). Thus, Shia religious movement was able to develop proper discourse and practices so as to mobilize lower oppressed classes. Anti-imperialist discourse and messages of the movement for the paupers provided a basis for coming side by side with the socialist movement with a joint struggle perspective against the Shah regime. In the second half of the 1970s, a crowded, though divided, socialist movement and a strong movement iconizing Shiism were hand in hand within the frame of “national front” perspective. CIA-backed police terror against socialist movement was of high level; nearly 200 leaders of Iran socialist movement were murdered by either torturing or assassination during the 1970s.

The Iranian revolution that exploded in February 1979 rapidly inspired large masses in the country. Albeit divided and disjointed, socialists actively took part in the revolution and organized bold actions, but it was rapidly revealed that they did not have sufficient institutional and political capacity to lead the revolution. Shiite movement developed a strict anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist discourse while lunging toward the leadership of the movement with its cohesive structure and strong mass support. Such discourses and the ability to mobilize working classes caused differentiations among the socialists in terms of the attitude toward Islamist movement. Majority of the movement defended making alliance with Islamist movement. In March 1979, The Islamic Republic was approved, and presidential election was held in January 1980. Parliament elections were organized in March and May. After the 1979 constitutional voting, nationalization of main industrial sectors, banks, and insurance companies along with foreign trade was the step which weakened socialists’ opposition and evoked desire to expand the alliance. Actions such as occupying US embassy strengthened anti-imperialist discourse of the government. On the other hand, the new government started to limit political influence of socialist movement thanks to such policies and discourses. Oppression started to increase over socialist movement opposing the government by 1979 August. Conflicts occurred in some cities and some socialist leaders were executed. Tensions between Islamist government and some socialist groups continued during the 1980. Meanwhile, Iraq government declared the cancelation of Algiers Agreement, which had been previously concluded with Iran, on September 16, 1980, and Iraq troops crossed Iran border to occupy.

Iraq and Saddam Hussein

The disagreement between Iran and Iraq dated back to history, and there are several reasons underlying this action of Iraq after the Iranian Revolution. Majority of Iraq population was Shiite and had close relations with Iran. Governing Ba’ath Party had seized the power in 1963 at the end of successive coup d’états following 1958 revolution. Saddam Hussein was the strong man of the rule, but he was able to come into office as the head of state in 1979. Perturbation arising from potential effects of Iranian Revolution over crowded Shiite population and expectation to get financial, military, and political support from imperialism and Gulf kingdoms through a war against Islamic Republic were the main factors that triggered Saddam Hussein. Close economic and military relations established between the Soviets and officers who took power in Iraq after 1958 revolution increased the concerns of the USA toward the country. It is known that the Ba’ath Party was supported by CIA in the change of power in 1963 and Saddam Hussein actively took part in assassinations against the leaders of Iraqi Communist Party then (Ahmad 2011, p. 19). The cadres of the Communist Party who actively struggled against Ba’ath coup of 1963 were murdered at the end of conflicts continuing for days. Prior goal of Ba’ath power in Iraq was to destroy cadres affiliated to the Nasserist project. Saddam Hussein was one of the crucial characters in such operations. Contact between Soviet Union and Iraq Ba’ath ruling in 1973 revived communists again, and the pressure over the movement decreased as well. In 1978, a new wave of oppression under the leadership of Saddam Hussein inflicted the communist a fatal blow; communist cadres were executed.

The war initiated by Saddam Hussein against Iran was supported by American and European imperialists and their vassals in the Gulf. In spite of early successes of Iraq, Iran rapidly recovered and vigorously counterattacked. In the forthcoming years of the war that lasted 8 years, Iran achieved superiority. By 1987, Iran Army built up and was preparing an enormous attack in Basrah. The report, “At the Gates of Basrah”, prepared by US Defense Intelligence Agency revealed detailed information about the circumstances at the front and warned that potential Iran attack might have caused the collapse of Iraq army in Spring. Upon the report, US National Security Council decided to convey intelligence by Defense Intelligence Agency to Iraq Army about the actions of Iran Army. In this frame, US experts forwarded to tell military targets of Iran. Iraq Army abundantly employed chemical weapons targeting these points (Harris and Aid 2013).

The Reagan administration handed Saddam Hussein the cutting-edge dual-use military and civilian technology, including chemicals that would be used to make the weapons against the Iranian Basij-e Mostaz’afin, the great mobilization of the oppressed whose human waves were cut down by Iraqi chemical weapons. In 1986, the UN Security Council proposed to censure Iraq for its use of chemical weapons, illegal since the 1925 Geneva Protocol; the United States was alone in its vote against the statement. Reagans National Security Council staffer Geoffrey Kemp recalled the sentiment toward Saddam, the mercenary for the United States and the Gulf Arabs, ‘We knew he was an S. Ο. B., but he was our S. Ο. B.’ (Prashad 2012, p. 84)

The Iran War of Saddam Hussein was welcomed by the imperialist world to that extent. The main aim of the imperialists was to weaken Islamic Republic that they had lost their hope to control. The target was achieved at the expense of lives more than a million and large amount of destructions. Iran was weakened, but neither the regime changed nor Iran government kneeled down. War conditions enabled suitable mechanisms for Islamic government to get a more extensive support from the society. Saddam Hussein claimed that Iran War was on behalf of all Sunni Arabs and the forces for which he fought should have paid the price. Hussein required Kuwait to erase the Iraq’s debts borrowed during the war upon the advice of the USA and to grant new loans. There was a border dispute between Iraq and Kuwait dating back to the past, and Kuwait used to drill oil from an area to which Iraq laid claim. Saddam Hussein also argued that Kuwait made overproduction of oil violating OPEC oil quotas, and this gave harm to Iraq economy by decreasing oil prices. Saddam met with the US Ambassador, April Glaspie, in the advance of occupying Kuwait and listed his complaints. The Ambassador adopted a neutral position. After Iran War, Washington intended to increase American influence over Iraq through economic and political incentives. However, 1 year before Saddam’s order to occupy Kuwait, Berlin Wall fell by declaring an end of an era in international politics and opening a new one. This provided the USA a great extent of global mobility. In this new era, the Middle East was of great importance for the USA to reshape the global scene, and Saddam Hussein serves the “reason” that the USA desperately wants on a silver platter, while he was “claiming his rights.”

Destruction of the Capacity to Resist

The occupation of Kuwait was ordered on August 2, 1990. The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq enabled Iraq to have a great influence over the Middle Eastern oil reserves, and this was considered as an unwarrantable crime which endangers US policy based on “oil safety” in the Middle East. In the post-cold war era, this invasion attempt was valuable for it would enable the USA to show its power to the region and the world, to settle its army in a crucial region in terms of geostrategy thanks to a “legitimate” reason and to have mobility so as to gain momentum in reshaping the region. Upon US attempt, United Nations Security Council took a decision advising immediate withdrawal of Iraq troops from Kuwait lands with no condition, and the decision would be applied through US military forces in actual fact. The First Gulf War started in this way and caused a great extent of destruction. The determinant power in the war coalition composed of 33 countries was the USA. The USA had the chance to exhibit its military capacity in the operation named Desert Storm, hence, the process of “destroying the capacity to resist” started in the Middle East (Amin 2016. p. 62). The real message of this easy victory of the USA was delivered by Chief Commander Bush in his State of the Union Address, January 1992:

A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one sole and preeminent superpower: The United States of America. And they regard this with no dread. For the world trusts us with power – and the world is right. They trust us to be fair and restrained; they trust us to be on the side of decency. They trust us to do what’s right. (Anderson 2015, p. 105)

The easy victory was the thing that made Bush speak in this way. The USA settled in the region with a strong “legitimacy shield.” President Bush also emphasized another important point for them in the words of that “the specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula.” The USA did not march toward Baghdad and overthrow Saddam even though it made air strikes which destroyed vital resources of Iraqis. The reason was the foundation of long-term US strategy. In the radio broadcasts of the USA from the Gulf, Shiites and Kurds were invited to revolt for a long time. However, when they rose, there was no US support. They were left to their fate, while Saddam’s chemical bombs were dropping out of the sky. The USA was not in a hurry but has the desire to link the opposition against the dictatorship to itself a little bit more as the first step of the long-term strategy. New massacres of Saddam would strengthen the “legitimacy shield” worn by the USA, and revolt dynamics emerging against the dictatorship would be much more open to US influence. Unfortunately, it worked; Colin Powell, Chief of the Staff, would explain the second step why the USA did not march toward Baghdad and overthrow Saddam: “Our practical intention was to leave Baghdad enough power to survive as a threat to an Iran that remained bitterly hostile to the US” (Meyer and Brysac 2009, p. 387).

Disintegration of the Soviet Union made a great impact over the Middle East. Countries which were previously in the Soviet axis encountered existential crisis. After the military intervention of the Soviets to Afghanistan, militants coming from the Middle Eastern countries to the Jihad conducted by the cooperation of the USA, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan returned to their countries much more self-confident thanks to the victory. Political Islam rapidly filled the gap left by anti-imperialist and socialist movements that got defeated and regressed. Discontents emerging among the peoples who lost their financial and military support after the collapse of the Soviets tended toward this channel. Political Islam became the rising political movement in many countries of the region by means of strong support provided by imperialism.

The thing determining the Middle East after the First Gulf War was political and military activities of the USA to reshape the “Greater Middle East.” Iraq was of highest importance in this respect. “Destruction of the capacity to resist” against the imperialism in the Middle East was the main element of the reshaping project. “Iraq Liberation Act” was signed on October 31, 1998, by President Bill Clinton and became the symbol of launching US aggression. In his article, “Imperial America,” in November 2000, Richard Haass, who is still the head of Council on Foreign Relations and was counselor in the US National Security Council during the George W. Bush era, defended that “United States should use the exceptional opportunity that it now enjoyed to reshape the world in order to enhance its global strategic assets” (Foster 2006, p. 146). The neocon group which would become really effective in forthcoming years had stated the following ideas in their manifest written in 1997 Spring:

America’s strategic goal used to be containment of the Soviet Union; today the task is to preserve an international security environment conducive to American interests and ideals. The military’s job during the Cold War was to deter Soviet expansionism. Today its task is to secure and expand the ‘zones of democratic peace;’ to deter the rise of a new great power competitor; defend key regions of Europe, East Asia and the Middle East; and to preserve American preeminence through the coming transformation of war made possible by new technologies. (cited in Donnelly 2004, p. 49)

9/11 was the justification that ruling neocons needed, and the war of the USA to shape the “Greater Middle East” started then. Neocons needed just a justification because the former US Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, “went public that there had been a memorandum preparing for ‘regime change’ in Iraq almost from ‘day one’ of the Bush Administration – and well before the September 11 attacks (…) which O’Neill attended and at which an invasion of Iraq was discussed” (Cook 2008, p. 30). Energy Task Force, a group managed by Vice President Dick Cheney, had started to produce documents regarding oil fields of Iraq since March 2001. One of them was entitled Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts and included the discussion on the ways to carve up Iraq’s crude reserves between Western oil companies. A senior Israeli commentator, Aluf Benn, hosted prominent military and intelligence officials of Israel on the days before the attack on Baghdad, and the issue was a possible consequence of the imminent attack (Cook 2008, p. 35):

Senior IDF [Israeli army] officers and those close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, such as National Security Advisor Ephraim Halevy, paint a rosy picture of the wonderful future Israel can expect after the war. They envision a domino effect, with the fall of Saddam Hussein followed by that of Israel’s other enemies: [Yasser] Arafat, Hassan Nasrallah [of Hezbollah], [Syria’s President] Bashar Assad, the ayatollah in Iran and maybe even Muhammar Gadhafi [of Libya]. Along with these leaders, will disappear terror and weapons of mass destruction.

The picture depicted by Halevy pointed out the main target of “destruction of the capacity to resist.” Iraq, for the imperialist ruling apparatus of the USA, was an important threshold to access the absolute domination target around the world. The security of Israel was also among the main factors determining regional policies of the USA, and the thing encoded as “the security of Israel” was to ensure continuity of Israel’s military superiority and expansion policy based on occupation.

Occupation of Afghanistan, invasion of Iraq, NATO attack targeting Libya, and all of other attacks toward Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza by imperialism and its regional partners were the parts of a single war conducted for a common aim: the desire to prevent revival of socialist and anti-imperialist forces in the region which notably regressed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Accordingly, imperialism enhanced its pressure over especially Iran and its regional allies Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Whereas the tendency to resist that emerged as a result of Syrian War prevents determinant results to be taken by imperialism, Hezbollah’s gradual advancement toward a regional power contributed the development of resistant dynamics in the geography. In this sense, Syrian resistance became the strongest obstacle against the redesign of the region by US imperialism. Geopolitical consequences and tendency to resist arising from Syrian resistance would provide significant contributions to anti-imperialism and socialism renaissance to be constructed by Middle Eastern peoples.

In Lieu of Conclusion

The region that denominated the Middle East has witnessed numerous bloody massacres. While imperialist forces have always attempted to divide the region into their proxies, local forces somehow have founded a way out to resist against such attempts. During the period after the Great War, mandate governments and local abettors in the region became the main channel of imperialists to rule the countries here. In the era after the second imperialist war, Zionist movement gained momentum and suppressed Palestinians’ struggle with help of imperialists. Moreover, political Islamist movements were supported by imperialists so as to dissolve bourgeoisie-nationalist and socialist coalescences in the second half of the twentieth century. For the resistant forces – regardless of bourgeoisie-democratic or socialist – existence of other anti-imperialist and socialist countries in the last century became a leg to stand on and became the most prominent contributor of the long-lasting resistances against imperialist aggression. On the other hand, collapse of the Soviet Bloc was followed by the enhancement of this relentless aggression so as to deliver more poverty, suffering, death, and destruction to the peoples in the region. It can be suggested that the resistant dynamics are still inherent in the region and the consolidation of these dynamics may be even the sole way to break the blockade for the peoples surrounded by the imperialist political conservatism.



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© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International PoliticsZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Ufuk UniversityAnkaraTurkey