The Arabs: A History
Arabic countries have long suffered from disappointments: since the fall of Ottoman rule in the region, there has been a lot of talk about how imperial rule breeds suffering. In those days, a spectacular course of friendship was charted with the fellow French Empire to rule but I believe this would never have been the right choice for the British Empire (or in the Middle East, the Roman Empire). Our history suggests that we prefer to be rare, we like to dominate independently and we like to be hostile towards all competition, no matter how small; the British and Roman Empires have been good Imperial forces in the world, so snobbery is a natural characteristic to our brand of Imperialism.
Disappointments for the Arabs began when in the early 16th Century, the Ottomans conquered the region at large: this book, to an extent, focuses on the modern consequences of tyrannical Ottoman rule in the Gulf and the following few centuries are given a brief introduction and nothing else, so that as readers, we can focus on the brutal stories from an Imperial rule more. The tyranny was so profound, the only way the Ottomans could rule was through taking away of rights, rather than exercising law to settle local disputes, like in the Roman Empire. People lived in fear of their government, who would as the story goes sometimes threatened royal subjects with brutish behaviour, as one ruler after another exhibited their mannerism of governance, never doing too much.
Soliman the Magnificent, was one such ruler who was selfishly magical in portions of the Arab world, as an Ottoman ruler but most of his days were coloured with hostility coming from the Portuguese and French Empires. In the book, you also meet the heroic Ahmad al-Jazzer, the former governor of Damascus (then inclusive of Israel and Palestine), a defender of Beirut, and a soother to Mount Lebanon. Meanwhile, local rulers such as Daher al-Umar and the Mamlukes of Cairo grew into singular (and thoughtless) rulers, who captivated the Arab world. Decades of corrupted rulers, who used national wealth to feed their greed, many of which so badly lost their trading posts in Israel they permanently retreated, saw the Middle East shape up to be a region greatly distrustful of the United States of America. After emerging through bloody and very tough battles (Algeria), learning to put their faith in local Islamists (such as, the Muslim Brotherhood) instead of isolated nationalism in governance, for it in the past breeded repression, the Arab world emerged stronger in places and freer in others.
Arabs soon began to learn of the ways of their European rulers, their connections to technology, and how they materialised trading posts with Europe for the Arab world. Railways and telegraphy enshrined Ottoman rule in the early 1900s in the Gulf, further strengthened by the arrival of the British after the Ottomans lost to them in the First World War. There was great hope and exuberant democracy put on display by the former President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson and Arab nationalists, and mysterious words were spoken by British politicians but then it all came to a bitter end in the fifties/sixties as the Arab world lay in the dust with their dreams. Pan Arab-nationalism was replaced by local nationalism in countries such as Egypt and in 1948 Arab rule was defeated in Palestine in the absence of realization of that colonial dream. The Arab world was treated as a profitable source of national wealth for the British and it still holds true today. It is a lucrative source of trading power and the modern Arab world is incomplete without talks of foreign (policy) involvement, without talks of intervention in conflict zones. The book helps you realise that in the Middle East responsible power and politics, demonstrating leadership is a necessity, both for the Arabs and for Arabic countries.