* The Cold War country trends Middle East and North Africa

The Cold War: Middle Eastern and North African Country Trends

Figure 1.--: Here a crowd of men and boysd celebrate after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal (1956). Nasser mote than any other figure inserted the Arab world squarely into the Cold War with a focus in destroying Israel. Egypt and the Arab world is still paying the consequences. Despite his abject faulures, he still has an enormous following in the Arab world.

The Middle East and North Africa had been a battlefield in Cold the War. Much of the region had been a part of the British, French, and Italian colonial empires. The British did not attempt to rule as colonkizers, but the French and Italians did. Most of the region rapidly achieved its independence after the War, although the French made a major effort to maintain its control over Allgeria. The region was buffeted by European totalitarian politics, in part because it fit the Islamic outlook and because the Germans first and the later the Soviets offered support to resisting British and French colonialism. The pro-NAZI suport was fueled by the Zionist experiment in Palestine and even more by the actual crearion of a Jewish state after the War (1948). Soviet policy was at first uncertain, but soon aligned with the more radical Arab states attempting to destroy Israel. Vast quantities of Soviet arms flowed into the Middle East making it the most heavily miltatized region in the developed world. Soviet alliances easily replaced the NAZIs. Poorly educated Arab rulers saw the Soviet Union as the template for rapid modernization, hiving rise to Arab Socialism. Soviet police state approaches also was a way for Arab rulers to hild on to power permanently. The development of oil began even before World War II and expanded rapidly after the War. The Soviets did not need Middle wastern oil, but the West did and thus was a way of pressuring the West. The Middle East divided into countries with ties to the West and other with close ties o the Soviet Union. None of the countruies, however, adopted free market economies and liberal democracies. As result, none of the countries developed successful economies unless they had oil and gas resources. Vast resources were wasted on military spending and wasteful government spending. With the end of the Cold War, the experiment with Arab Socialism had ended, but authoritarian regimes ruled most countries and radical Islam was increasingly wining converts in the region, in part because of the failures of Arab leaders. There is a continuing tendency in the region to blame problems on the West. One author writes, for example, 'To maintain superiority, control and influence over the region, the West has placed corrupt Arab leaders into positions of power ...." The most aggregious Arab leaders (Assad, Mubrack, Qadafi, Sadam and others) were not installed by the West, but by the dynamics of Arab politics.



Egypt had been a British protectorate. Thus during World War II there was considerable Egyptian support for the NAZIs, including the Young Officer's Movement. After the War the Soviets pursued a anti-colonial effort which attracted support in Egypt and some other Arab states. After the Egyptian defeat in the First Arab-Isteali War (1948-49), the Egyptains were interested in improving their military arms. The Young Officers seized power from King Farouk (1953) and Col. Nasser became a major figure in the Arab world. He seized the Suez Canal leading to the Suez Crisis (1956). Nasser wanted to modernize the economy and like other leaders in the develping leaders saw gradiose state ptojects such as those pursued in the Soviet Union as the best approach. After he negotiated arms deals with the Soviets, the Eisenhower Afdministration was reluctant to finance the Sawan High Dam. The Soviets agreed to do so. Nasser spent huge amounts on arms to defeat Isreael, nut failed to do do. Even more disasterous for Egypt, his statist approach saddeled Egypt with a huge infficient beauracracy that stifeled the econony and continued to do so even today.


Reza Shah supressed Kurdish resistance to his nationalist policies and establish a defined frontier duting the 1930s. He was also an admirer of the NAZIs andcracial policies. It is at this time that the name of the country was changed from Persia to Iran to emphazize reputed Aryan roots. The Shah's pro-NAZI orientation prompted the British to intervene and replace him with his son-- Mohammad Reza Shah. The Soviets occupied the north and the British the South. Iran during the Warc was the primary conduit for American Lend Lease aid to the Soviets. The Communist Party had been banned by Reza Shah. The party reorganized as the Trudeu (Communist) Party. It received support from the Soviets. After the War the Soviets were relutant to withdraw from Iran. Reza Shah beca,e a firm ally of the United States in the developing Cold War. Iran joined the Central Treaty Alliance (CENTO) and its economic off-shoot, the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD). With the earnings from the developing oil industry, Reza Shah financed a modernization program which disturned many traditionalist Muslims. He refused to allow any democratic reforms which could have committed the middle-class to his government. The Savak, a secret police, suppressed political dissent.


Soviet objectives were to turn both Iran and Iraq into allies. The Soviet Union bordered on Iran, but not Iraq. The Soviets saw Iraq as cespecially important as it along with Syria, bordered on Turkey, essentially outflanking this vital NATO country. And the Iraqis welcomed an anti-colonial patron. The Soviets bought influence through massive arms sales. The Iraqis unlike many Arab countries had oil money with whuch ti actually pay for arms. Iraq became one of the nmost heavily armed countries in the world. The Iranian Islamic Revolution overthtrowing the pro-Western Shah created an opportunity for Soviet inroads in now ardently anti-American Iran. Saddam Hussein signed a 15-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union (1972). He was in absolute contol of Iraq (1976), although he did nor formally seize power for a few years (1979). Saddam tried to fill the void of pan-Arabist hero, Gamal Abdul Nasser (1970). and with Anwar Sadat 'traitorous' peace with the Israel, Saddam in may eyes became an Arab hero against Jewish or Persian intrusions. The Sovietrs could tolerate this, but then Saddam complicated Kremlin foreign policy experts when he inaded Iran with his Soviet arsenal (1979). Ironically, anti-American Iran defended itself with American arms. This was the same year the Soviets invaded Afgahanistan. As the Soviets wanted both countries as an ally, it at first adopted a polivcy of 'strict neutrality'. This would, however, not last. Efforts to achieve a negotiated peace got nowhere. Iraq had been an important ally for decades and with the Shah gone, the Soviets attempted to win over Iran as well. The Islamic Republic's slogan of 'neither East nor West' was not uncouraging. Then the War began to tilt in Iran's favor (1982). Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini pledged not to stop the conflict until he had overthrown the Iraqi Saddam. This was not what the Soviets wanted and they resumed arms sales to Iraq while maintaining an official policy of neutrality. The Soviets were concerned about losing their Iraqi ally to the West. The Americans had begun supplyin limited civert aid to Iraq. The Iranians made further Iranian gains raising the possubility of a Iraqi collapse (1986). The Soviets massively increased military aid to Iraq, in this case as the War was bankrupting Iraq on credit. The Soviets were becoming concerned with Iranians fundamentalism spreading into Soviet Central Asia. The expanded Soviet aid allowed the Iraqis to mount a major counteroffensive which finalklky convined Khomeini to make peace (1988). By this time the Sovuet Uniin was beginning to implode and Saddam decided to solve his cash flow problem by invading Kuwait (1990). He was convinced that the Americans weaked by Vietnam would not intervene and confront his huge-battle hardened army.


Stalin at the end of World War II was unsure how to project Soviet unfluence into the Middle East. Unlike Asia and Latin America, there were no Communist Parties of any importance in the area. He knew that many Jews has left-wing orientations and for a time toyed with the idea of usung this entee port. This did not kast loing, but low enough for the Isreakis to get some armd from East Bloc countries like Czechoslobakia. They played a role in the Isreali victory in the Indeoendence War (1947-48). Stalin soon began to support anti-colonial sentiment and court Aran Nationalism. Her Egyptian President Nasser provided a key figure in acceptung Soviet aiud. This was the era of Arab Socialism during which for a time Islamic influences receded. The Sovirts bough influence with the Aawan High Dam and massive arms dsales,whiuch exceopt for Iraq was all on credit. After another humiliating defaeat iun the Suez (1956), all Arab countries wanted arms and the the Sivirts privide modern aircraft, tanks, artillery, and other arms in huge quanity. It looked like tuny Israel facing an American aems biycott woykd be ovewhaelmed. The showdown was the Six Days War in which the Israelos managed ti feaft larger and netter armed Arab armies (1986). The Soviets reamed the Arabs who fauled again with the Yom Kipur War (1973). And finally Amerucan becgan to arm Israel so that it coukld no longer be over whealmed with Siviet weapons. The Soviuets began to revaluate their cistly Arab adventures and gave moire attentiin to boirdering Afghanistan, soweing rekatiins with some Arabs. Then the Jewiush Refusniks began to unsettle Soviet society. Many wanted to emoigrate to Israel.




The British occupied Libya During World War II after defeating Rommel' Afrik Lorps aat the Battle of El alakamein (October 1942). The British after the war granted independence to Cyrenaica as an emirate (1949). Emir Sayyid Idris Sanusi becomes the leader. Later in the year the United Nations took up the issue of Libya's future. The United Nations declared that the new country was to be united within 2 years. A Libyan National Assembly convened in Tripoli (1950). The Assembly recognizes Emir Idris as king of a united Libya. The new constitution was promulgated and King Idris declared the independence of the United Kingdom of Libya (1951). The first parlimentary elections were held (1952). Libya joined the Arab League (1953). The British negotiated an agreement granting the right to military bases for 20 years (1953). Libya granted the United States the right to military bases for the same period (1954). Libya joined the United Nations. Libya grants oil concessions to two American oil companies (1956). Additional concessions followed. Foreign companies built a 167-km pipeline from oil fields to a coastal shipping point allowing exports to begin (1961). Libya demands and gets an increased share of oil profits, increasing from 50 to 70 percent. Parliament amended the cnstitution. Libya becomes a unified state and women were given the right to vote (1963). Libya began negotiations with America and Britan over the cesation of military activities and the closing of bases. Young officers influenced by Egyptian President Nasser and led by Col. Mu'ammaru Qadafi launched a coup against King Idris and attacked the Royal Palace (Septembr 1, 1969). Qadafi established a Revolutionjary Council to govern the Libyan Arab Republic. He proceeded to run Libya with an often incoherent mixture of Islamic, Socialist, and Pan-Arab ideas. Qadhafi rejected democracy and political parties and claimed be estanlishing a 'third way' superior to both Capitalism and Communism. His ideas were expressed in his Green Book. He became increasingly hostile not only to the United States, but a very disruptive force in the region. There were hostilities in unternatioal waters off the coast. President Reagan ordered an air strike after Qadafi sposored terror attacks on U.S. persionnel in Germnany. He responded with the Lockerbie Pan Am bombing (1988). The end of the Cold War and his abject failure to mamnage the country's economy forced some moderation in his incoherent policies. Qadafi finally fell a victim to the Arab Spring long after the Cold War had enbded (2011).

Saudi Arabia


Many leaders in the Arab world were strongly influenced by totalitarian political movements, in part because both the NAZIs and the Soviets challenged British power. As the Soviets emerged victorious in World War II, socialist ideas received considerable popularity as the economic system to rapidly develop newly independent states. These currents in the Sudan mixed with Islamic fundamentalism in the dominant Arab north. The military seized power and ruled the country (1958-64). Elections brought a Muslim government to power which banned the communist party (1965). Col. Gaafar Mohamed el-Nimeri led a leftist coup (1969). He set up single-party rule by the Sudanese Socialist Party and would rule udan for 16 years. Nimeri aligned Sudan with Soviet bloc in the Cold War. He pursued more pragmatic policies at home. This enabled him in 1972 to end the 17-year-civil war in the rebellious Christian south. He changed policy in 1983 which led to renewed civil war. He had begun as a communist, famous for being an alcoholic, and finished as a hardcore Islamist who closed Khartoum bars in 1985 and banned alcohol. He changed the educational system from being taught in English to being taught in Arabic in the span of one summer. This abrupt change caused chaos and confusion for years. It was Nimeri who changed the flag from a pan-African to a pan-Arab style (1970). Sudan was a communist country for 3 days (1971). A a coup d'etat by the Communist Party managed to overthrow Nimeri and arrest him. Col Gaddafi in Libya intervened and arrested their leader (1971). Nimeri managed to escape from the Communists by umping out of window. There are legends about how physically strong he was. He apparently would even physically abuse his ministers. There is a kind of a slap (a kind of push on the side of the face) that is today known in Sudan by the mame of one of his ministers. Nimeri infamously did it to him in front of journalists. The changes in policy, especially the Islamization anf language changes led to the renewal of the southern Christian-African rebellion. From this point, Sudan became less involved in the Cold War and more involved in Fudamentlist Islamic politics.


The Soviet Union established a diplomatic relations with Syria as the country was movung toward indepedence from France (July 1944). After World War II, the Soviets commited to supporting independence even before Frenchg troops cwithdrews (February 1946). French troops withdrew (April 1946). Syria along with other Frint KLine Arab States attemo=opted to prevent Israeli independebce, but failed (1947-48). The Siovirts became a major arms supplier to the Soviers. The Syrians launchged sporadic attacks on Isreal. They used the Golam Heights to sporadic shell Iserarli kibutzes. The Soviets armed Syria to the hilt, but the country was defaeted by the Iseaelis in the Six Days War (1967). Syria lost the Golan Heights. Soviets prioceeded to rearm Syria again. President Hafez al-Assad allowed the Soviet Union to open a naval base at Tartus (1971). Russia continues to use the base today. Egypt and Syria launched Yom Kipur War, but were defeted again by the Israelis (1973). President Assad refused to participate in the Egyotia-Isreali peace treaty (1979). Syria demanded return of the Golan. Suria is a mnucg smaller country than Egyor and although well arned by the Soviets would not dare go to war with Isral without Egypt. Syria and the Soviet Union signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation (1980). The treaty is for 20 years and has automatic 5-year extensions.


Kemal Ataturk helped estanlish a secularist Turkish republic. It was to be the oly secularist largely Muslim country. He forced the Allies to rengotiate the first World War I peace treaty. He helped quash Kurdish resistance and establish definitive frontiers with the neigboring Arab states (Iraq and Syria). During World War II both the NAZIs and Allies attempted to draw Turkey into the war on their side. The Turks with pan-Turkish anbitions were tempted to join the NAZIs who offered territorial gains in Central Asia. , but memories of World War I as well as distrust of the NAZIs helped bring about a sober decesion to stay out of the War when it looked like the NAZIs might win. Subsequent Soviet and Allied victories confirmed their neutral status. After the War the Turks still had a border with the Soviet Union. Control of the Dardenelles was a long-term Soviet objective. Turkey along with Greece were the two countries that the American the Truman Doctrine was designed to assist. Turkey's secular Government recognized Israel, a rare majority Muslim country to do so. Turkey after the War was primarily concerned about Soviet expansionism. And they had that eastern border with the Soviet Union which alone they would be unable to defend. Thus they joined NATO and became a strong U.S. ally in the Cold War. This allowed the military to obtain U.S. miklitary assistance and U.S. backing in the case of any Soviet threat. The Sovies at the time were developing close relations with two neighboring Arab states (Iraq and Syria) which surrounded half of the country. The Turks since World War I, had been wary of the Arabs. Turkish officials saw the Arabs and Soviet Communism as their biggest security threat.


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Created: 10:05 AM 10/24/2020
Last updated: 10:05 AM 10/24/2020