The History of the Middle East

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What are some of the modern implications of the end of the Ottoman Empire, as the modern Middle East starts with the end of the Ottoman Empire?

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The major implication of the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire for the modern Middle East was the enormous power vacuum that resulted and was quickly filled by Europe’s other major imperial powers, France and Great Britain. The Ottoman Empire, which had been in decline for over one hundred...

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The major implication of the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire for the modern Middle East was the enormous power vacuum that resulted and was quickly filled by Europe’s other major imperial powers, France and Great Britain. The Ottoman Empire, which had been in decline for over one hundred years by the time of its final dissolution in the wake of World War I, had controlled the Middle East for centuries, and its demise allowed its age-old rivals for colonies to divide the Ottoman Empire’s territories between them. The Ottoman Empire’s war-time alliance with Germany marked its death knell, and British and French machinations, a phenomenon known as “the Eastern Question” with respect to these countries’ competition for colonies with the Ottomans, bore fruit as World War I’s eventual outcome was realized. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, named for the British and French diplomats whose secret negotiations redrew the map of the modern Middle East, formalized the division of the region between these two powers.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement involved the division of the Middle East between France and Britain. As was usually the case when European colonialists drew borders between territorial holdings, these borders ignored the myriad tribal, ethnic, and religious divisions that permeated the region. The borders finalized by Britain and France continue to exist today. Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Kuwait were all arbitrarily-created nations, and the lack of attention to important details such as tribal and clan relations resonates today, as has been especially prevalent since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Another factor resulting from the Ottoman Empire’s fall and its replacement was the Balfour Declaration, named for the British diplomat, Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour, who famously (or infamously, depending upon one’s perspective) proclaimed the right of the Jewish people to a nation of their own in much of what is today the State of Israel. The Balfour Declaration helped to solidify the support of Britain’s Jewish community for the war effort but was viewed with alarm by Arabs across the Middle East, who even today view Israel’s existence as an affront, despite the fact that Jews had sustained vibrant communities in the region for thousands of years. While some Arab states have begun to view Israel as an essential counterweight to the growing strength and reach of Iran, a Persian nation dominated by its majority-Shi’a theocracy (which stands in contrast to the Sunni monarchs who dominate Arabia), the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East will likely remain a point of contention forever.

These, then, are the major implications for the modern Middle East of the end of the Ottoman Empire.

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