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

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The Middle East from 1945 to the Present Day

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 1945, the Middle Eastern States had two main objectives: Arab unity, with the creation of the Arab League apparently constituting the first step, and independence.  

France was the first power to give in to calls for independence, withdrawing its army from Lebanon and Syria at the end of 1946.

Meanwhile, Great Britain signed a treaty with Transjordan, which became the Kingdom of Jordan in 1947. Sudan, Egypt and Iraq were finally given independence in 1956 and 1958. For the rest of the region, independence came much later: 1961 for Kuwait, 1967 for Aden and Southern Yemen, and 1971 for the Gulf Emirates.

In 1947, the history of the Middle East was troubled by the collapse of the situation in Palestine. Shocked by the Holocaust, the United States for the first time became involved in the region by giving its support to Zionist demands. Incapable of finding a solution for the territory, the British submitted the matter to the UN which adopted a plan for partition between Jews and Arabs in February 1947.

On 14 May 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed and immediately rejected by Arabs in the region. This marked the beginning of the long Arab-Israeli conflict.

After the Arabs’ first defeat, the armed forces grew in importance in Egypt and Syria, now leaders of Arab nationalism. During the Suez Canal crisis in 1956, Nasser became the undisputed Arab leader. He agreed to union with Syria in 1958, but the failure of the nascent United Arab Republic, three years later, showed that Arab nationalism was already in decline. This led to a new era of strong national personalities and the emergence of an “Arab Cold War” during the 1960s.

The humiliating defeat by Israel in 1967 put an end to the myth of Arab unity. Syria and Egypt’s attempt to take their revenge in 1973 was a failure and the 1970s were marked by the outbreak of war in Lebanon and the Camp David Accords which opened up a new period of relations between Egypt and Israel.

Having lost credibility just when the Palestine Question was becoming increasingly disastrous, Arabism was replaced by Islamism, which strengthened its hold despite attempts to repress the movement. The growing influence of Saudi Arabia, thanks to its petrol revenues, and the fundamentalist revolution in Iran in 1979 reinforced this evolution. Throughout the 1980s, a terrible conflict opposed Iran and Iraq, now the last bastion of Arabism, while divisions among Arab countries were set aside during the Gulf Wars in 1991 and 2003.

Meanwhile the Palestinians, completely isolated in their struggle against Israel, entered into an almost permanent state of insurrection in 1987, known as the “Intifada”, or the “War of Stones”, as they fought for the right to their own State. The situation remained very precarious, particularly in Lebanon and Iraq, while finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestine question, though difficult, may at some future date provide the key to stability in the Middle East.