, pub-5063766797865882, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 Revolution and Modernization: The Political and Social Changes in the Middle East ~ Ancient Egypt Facts

April 18, 2023

Revolution and Modernization: The Political and Social Changes in the Middle East

 Political and Social Change

As the countries of the Middle East became independent, they also confronted more clearly than ever the challenges of modernization. Unlike Africa, where most states had been led to independence by younger, Western-educated leaders, most of the new Middle Eastern states had been granted independence under an older generation of traditional elites. Iraq and Jordan, for example, had become Arab kingdoms under the sons of Sharif Husayn (Husayn ibn ‘Ali) of Mecca. Saudi Arabia too was a traditional Arab kingdom ruled by the house of Ibn Saud. Syria and Lebanon were both ruled by wealthy landowning and merchant elites who had prospered under French rule. Only in Egypt did revolution precede real independence, when officers of the army deposed King Farouk and then negotiated Britain’s withdrawal.

The Egyptian revolution began as a reaction to the corruption of the monarchy. Under Nasser it also developed a political ideology designed to bind together not only Egypt but all of the Arab world. Although Nasser always made his appeal for support in Islamic terms that would appeal to his listeners, he insisted that modernization along socialist lines was the key to independence:

Revolution is the way in which the Arab nation can free itself of its shackles, and rid itself of the dark heritage which has burdened it. . . .

[It] is the only way to overcome underdevelopment which has been forced on it by suppression and exploitation . . . and to face the challenge awaiting the Arab and other underdeveloped nations: the challenge offered by the astounding scientific discoveries which help to widen the gap between the advanced and backward countries. . . . Freedom today means that of the country and of the citizen. Socialism has become both a means and an end: sufficiency and justice.

Under Nasser the Egyptian government put an end to the practice of absentee landownership, in which wealthy landowners living in the cities made enormous profits from overworked laborers and tenants who actually worked the land. As the government took control of most industry and businesses such as banks and insurance companies, it also proclaimed laws limiting the hours of work, establishing a minimum wage, and creating a whole host of social services. Education was extended even further, and the government tried to improve the status of women.

Similar plans were embraced by members of the Ba’ath Party, which first emerged in Syria. Although at first the Ba’athists had emphasized a kind of Pan- Arab nationalism, by the mid-1950s they had also adopted socialism as a basis for bringing about major reforms in Arab society. The Ba’athists appealed primarily to the new generation of Western-educated intellectuals who had begun to emerge in the Middle East under colonial rule. Ba’athism soon spread to neighboring countries, especially Iraq and Lebanon. In 1958 a Ba’athist-inspired revolution broke out in Iraq, and a Ba’athist government took over in Syria. There also emerged a new generation of leaders who similarly believed in socialism as the best model for further modernization. Socialism, however, whether exercised by the various civilian or military governments that came to power in the 1960s in several Middle Eastern and North African countries, proved to be but the first step toward dictatorship.

Meanwhile, the old ideal of Pan-Arabism also resurfaced to complicate political developments in the Middle East. Nasser in particular began to preach a new brand of Pan-Arabism combined with socialism. In 1958, partly to coordinate efforts against, Nasser convinced Syria to merge with Egypt in what became the United Arab Republic, or UAR. As new Arab leaders began to emerge in Syria and Iraq, however, so too did their own fears of Egyptian domination. In 1961, despite all the talk of Pan-Arabism, Syria broke away from the UAR once again.


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