The Impact of Oil on the Islamic Middle Eastby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
Describe social, political, and economic changes that have occurred in the Middle East during the last 200 years. Specifically discuss how the discovery of oil has affected those three aspects of Middle Eastern culture.
The Middle East has long existed at the crossroads of cultures. It lies on the junction of three continents and from its heartlands have emerged innumerable empires and three major religions. Unlike many other cultures, the Middle East has left numerous documents chronicling its ancient history. This gives students and historians the opportunity to develop an understanding of how the political, and economic, and social aspects of this area have developed over the millennia. Many nations, leaders, and events have affected the Middle East throughout history; recently, the discovery of large oil reserves has most profoundly impacted the culture and people of Middle Eastern countries.
The first documented civilizations emerged in the Middle East. Although much of the area is dry and extremely hot, some of the countries have moderate temperatures and sufficient water sources to support a permanent civilization. This area is referred to as the Fertile Crescent and contains parts of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. Archeological digs have unearthed evidence of agricultural development and “settled communities.” 1 In his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond proposes that the first permanent civilizations sprung up around river beds in moderate climates because the water allowed the people to plant crops and raise animals. Furthermore, the moderate climate ensured that the people could survive rather comfortably but was not so warm that it created an environment where food grew without cultivation and the people needed no shelter from inclement weather.2 Permanent civilizations allowed for more developed governments and these first civilizations had “complex, hierarchical political organizations”3 including a legal system and a form of writing. Many of these political systems had religious connections. For instance, in the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers they had kings who also served as priests. And in Egypt they worshipped their kings as gods. When Alexander the Great attempted to conquer the known world his credits included much of the modern day Middle East. Even after he died and his empire began to crumble those parts of the Middle East that he had united continued to act as a culturally and commercially developed area. During this time Greek language, religion, and art played a large role in the culture of the Middle East.4
Judaism had always played a part in the lives of Middle Eastern citizens since the events related in the Old Testament of the Bible occurred in this area. Christianity also emerged in the Middle East in the first century AD and by 600 AD a great deal of the region had converted. Finally, Islam began with the prophet Muhammad in modern day Saudi Arabia. During the 7th Century Arab converts spread their new religion throughout almost all of the Middle East, and today almost ninety percent of the area’s population ascribes to this belief. The Muslim world did not remain politically secure after the deaths of the four leaders who succeeded Mohammad. However, the area shared a religion, culture, and commerce, which continued to unite them. In the 11th Century Christianity again entered the Middle East, this time in the form of the Crusades. Although Muslim leaders eventually drove the Christians out of their countries, the trading economy left by the Crusaders remained. By the mid-1700s the Middle East had developed a solid trading relationship with Europe to include grains, wool, cotton, silk, and tobacco. It faired less well in its interaction with Western currency; Middle Eastern leaders borrowed money and eventually ended up in bankruptcy. British troops invaded Egypt under the guise of suppressing a rebellion but in actuality they established their own government over Egypt. Around this time, and perhaps in response to controlling Western powers, a strong sense of nationalism arose in the Middle East. Following World War I a number of European nations had control over parts of the Middle East. This eventually evolved into control by the League of Nations. Under this establishment, the Middle Eastern countries had varying degrees of independence, but they still wanted to govern themselves. It was not until the 1930s and 1940s that most of these countries officially gained their independence.5
Beginning in the early 20th Century education and communications became more widespread in the Middle East. With this newfound access to knowledge and freedom came new political ideas. People turned their energy towards removing the foreign powers from their soil, but when the Western leaders left and the countries began to establish their own governments they ran into problems. They first tried to establish a socialist government and found an ally in the USSR. This failed and when the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the Middle East lost its primary ally. Even before that, Muslims in the Middle East began calling for a renewal of an Islamic form of government. They resented the interference by the West and their nominally democratic rulers. Western medicine and technology increased the standard of living for many people, but it also created an even larger social gap and acted merely as a temporary solution because the government had not established a means to fight the ensuing inflation.
The discovery of petroleum in the Middle East greatly boosted its economy. Currently this region contains about 65% of the world’s oil and it has made the countries surrounding the Persian Gulf quite wealthy.6 Since the world depends on petroleum as a primary source of fuel, this discovery has obviously created many trading opportunities for the Middle East. Consequently, it has also opened up Middle Eastern countries to varying degrees of Western influence.7 In the beginning the countries were more receptive of this influence and it began to affect culture and society, particularly the Muslim society’s view towards women. However, in recent years this has change when fundamentalist Islam has begun to reappear.8 The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) controls the export of oil from eleven countries. During the time when the amount of petroleum available for export exceeded the amount needed by other countries, this helped keep the price of oil from dropping too much. More recently, OPEC used its power on a different field to block the export of oil to countries whose political views to not align with its own.9
Obviously many factors have affected the political, religious, and social aspects of Middle Eastern culture. Throughout its history the Middle East has received influence from many foreign governments; most recently the discovery of oil has opened countries up to the West. But each time it eventually responds by trying to close its doors and build itself up from within. Like all earthly establishments, these countries will eventually pass away. For Matthew 6:19-21 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (NKJV)
1. What country believed its kings were gods?
2. Jared Diamond proposed that the Fertile Crescent supported the first settled
a. The moderate climate and access to water supported permanent settlements.
b. Mountains kept the people from moving.
c. Food grew naturally and so the people did not even have to plant.
d. They were trapped by hostile neighbors.
3. After modern European invasions, most of the Middle Eastern countries did
not regain their independence until
4. Most recently, what has opened the Middle East up to the West?
1 “The Middle East.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2004.
http://encarta.msn.com. 30 April 2004.
2 Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: Q. Q. Norton & Company, Inc., 1997
3 “The Middle East.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2004. http://encarta.msn.com. 30 April 2004.
4 “The Middle East.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2004. http://encarta.msn.com. 30 April 2004.
5 “The Middle East.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2004. http://encarta.msn.com. 30 April 2004.
6 “The Middle East.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2004. http://encarta.msn.com. 30 April 2004.
7 “Petroleum.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2004. http://encarta.msn.com. 30 April 2004.
8 “The Middle East.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2004. http://encarta.msn.com. 30 April 2004.
9 “Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2004. http://encarta.msn.com. 30 April 2004.
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