The Arab World during the Interwar period and during World War 2

“In all the neighboring Arab lands tied to Egyptians by language and religion, young Egyptians saw a similar picture. In Iraq, they saw revolution and repression and the same kind of pseudo-independence under British occupation as in Egypt, with oil rather than the Suez Canal as the motive. In Trans-Jordan, there was a puppet emir with a British-controlled army. In the Sudan, the British ruled under a so-called condominium from which Egypt, the other power on paper, had been squeezed out in practice. In North Africa, the French were in control, and Algeria, in particular, was subjected to French colonization, economic domination and virtual annexation to France. Above all, there was Palestine. There the Egyptians saw an Arab majority being held down by force by the British in order to protect the influx of Zionist immigrants aiming to build their own state and in order to provide Britain with a military base. The Palestine Arabs had been engaged in a large-scale popular rebellion for self-government and independence since 1936. If there was anything outside their own country which had an effect on the mind of idealistic young Egyptians comparable with the impact of the Spanish civil war on the youth of Britain and France, it was the Palestine Arab revolt. They saw there a small people with few resources fighting on for three years against powerful British forces. Among those who volunteered to help the Palestine guerrillas the Muslim Brothers in Egypt were in the forefront.

The only Middle East states which had remained free-and hoped to stay neutral- were Kemalist Turkey which had earlier defied and fought the Western allies; Reza Shah’s Iran, performing a balancing act between Britain and Russia which was to fail when these two Powers unexpectedly became allies; Saudi Arabia, still independent because the extent of its oil treasure was not yet fully known and because its oil partner was America which had not yet developed imperial habits in the Middle East; and the Yemen, because it was remote, backward and commercially unattractive. In the wider Muslim world, the 150 million Muslims of India, Indonesia and Malaya were part of the British and Dutch empires, the millions of Muslims in Africa were ruled from London and Paris. In Central Asia, ancient Islamic states had been crushed by the Russians, by Tsars and Bolsheviks alike, and were now being Communized by force. Nowhere in 1938 or 1939 did the world prospect look bright, but the priorities of injustice and woe were different depending on whether they were seen from London, Paris or Cairo, from the Cambridge of John Cornford or the Mankabad camp-fire of Gamal Abdul Nasser.”

(Source: Nasser- A Political Biography, Pg.47-48)

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