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View series: The Middle East since the beginning of the 20th century

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The Arab Cold War

This map is part of a series of 18 animated maps showing the history of The Middle East since the beginning of the 20th century.

In the 1950s, Arab nationalism and Nasser’s promotion of the Non-Alignment Doctrine ensured that the region was not included in Western countries’ anti-Soviet strategy. Iraq alone participated in the short-lived Baghdad Pact, an alliance set up by Great Britain in 1955.

During the 1960s, the Middle East had created its own Cold War: on the one hand, a bloc of conservative monarchies close to the West and, on the other, a nationalist and progressive camp made up of Egypt, Iraq and Syria.

Disputes over leadership divided the progressive camp, as could be seen when Egypt opposed Iraq’s moves to annex Kuwait after it became independent in 1961.

In 1962, the Arab Cold War led to problems in Yemen, where a military coup d'état threatened the monarchy. Civil war broke out between the monarchists, supported by an Anglo-Saudi alliance, and the republican military, backed by Egypt. The Saudis and Egyptians kept these hostilities alive until 1967 and the Six-Day War. When these two countries resumed normal relations, the Arab Cold War came to an end, but local conflicts between progressives and conservatives continued: in Oman during the years following independence in 1971, for example, and in Lebanon during the civil war.

These dissensions continued to erupt, particularly in Yemen. A Marxist regime was established in South Yemen soon after independence in 1967 and inevitably came into conflict with North Yemen where the government remained under Saudi control. In 1990, the unification of the two Yemens put an end to the war, but did not guarantee continued stability for the country.