Political and religious currents in the Middle East

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Révision datée du 21 décembre 2023 à 12:46 par Arthur (discussion | contributions) (→‎British influence in the Persian Gulf)
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Based on a course by Yilmaz Özcan.[1][2]

The Middle East, a region of fascinating complexity and considerable strategic importance, is the cradle of ancient civilisations and the point of convergence of several of the world's greatest religions. This geographical area, often defined by its borders stretching from Egypt to Iran, and from Turkey to Yemen, is a melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and beliefs that have intertwined and evolved over the millennia. At the heart of this diversity, political and religious currents play a central role, shaping not only people's daily lives, but also international relations and global geopolitics.

These currents are deeply rooted in history, influenced by events such as the rise and fall of empires, conquests, revolutions and reform movements. From the rise of Islam in the 7th century to the formation of the modern state, each historical period has left its mark on the political and religious structure of the region. Today, the Middle East is a living tableau of traditional monarchies, republics, fledgling democracies and authoritarian regimes, all intertwined with diverse interpretations of Islam and other religious beliefs, including Judaism and Christianity.


Arab nationalism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Emergence and Foundations of Arab Nationalism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Arab nationalism, an ideology that has significantly shaped the political and cultural history of the Middle East, emerged in the early 20th century against a backdrop of Ottoman and European imperial domination. This ideology is based on the conviction that Arabs form a united people, sharing a common history, culture and language, and that they should be politically united in a single entity or in closely linked entities whose borders correspond to their cultural and ethnic identity. The genesis of Arab nationalism can be traced back to the Nahda, the Arab Renaissance, a period of cultural and intellectual renewal that saw Arab intellectuals engage in in-depth reflection on their identity and their future. This period laid the foundations for a political awakening that intensified with the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and the intervention of the European powers, particularly following the First World War.

Emblematic figures such as Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt played a crucial role in promoting Arab nationalism. Nasser, in particular, became a symbol of this ideology through his anti-imperialist rhetoric and his advocacy of Arab unity. His role in the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 and the short-lived creation of the United Arab Republic (1958-1961), a political union between Egypt and Syria, are concrete examples of attempts to realise Arab nationalist ideals. Arab nationalism was also influenced by other ideological currents, notably socialism and secularism, as demonstrated by the emergence of the Baath Party in Syria and Iraq. This party, founded by Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar, advocated unity, freedom and socialism in the Arab world. However, the dream of Arab unity came up against many obstacles. Internal differences, divergent national interests and the failure of unitary projects such as the United Arab Republic gradually weakened Arab nationalism. In addition, the rise of competing ideological movements, particularly Islamism, has shifted the political centre of gravity in the region.

In terms of political theory, Arab nationalism illustrates the importance of identity-building and aspirations for self-determination in national liberation movements. It also highlights the challenges facing pan-nationalist ideologies in regions characterised by great ethnic, religious and cultural diversity. Today, although Arab nationalism is no longer the dominant force it was in the 1950s and 1960s, its legacy continues to influence politics and culture in the Middle East. It remains an important chapter in the modern history of the region and a key element in understanding current political and cultural dynamics.

The challenge to Arab nationalism began with the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, an event that profoundly redefined the political landscape of the Middle East. This period saw the emergence of various ideologies and nationalist movements, among which Baathism and Nasserism stood out as two notable interpretations of Arab nationalism. Baathism, embodied by the Baath Party, was founded in Syria by Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar. It represented a grassroots approach to Arab nationalism, emphasising Arab unity, freedom and socialism. This movement aimed to mobilise the masses through a pan-Arab ideology, transcending traditional national boundaries. The Baath party acquired significant influence, not only in Syria but also in Iraq, where it came to power under the leadership of figures such as Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, Nasserism, named after Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president, represented a form of Arab nationalism "from above", aimed more at the political and institutional elite. Nasser, a charismatic military leader, promoted Arab unity, independence from the West and economic and social development. His most emblematic action, the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956, was seen as an act of defiance against Western imperialism and reinforced his status as a heroic figure in the Arab world.

Although these two movements had different approaches, they shared common objectives, notably the aspiration for Arab unity and liberation from colonialism and imperialism. However, their trajectories were marked by internal and external challenges. Nasserism, despite its initial appeal, suffered from the failure of the United Arab Republic and its defeat in the Six-Day War in 1967. As for Baathism, despite its initial success in Syria and Iraq, it was eventually confronted with internal contradictions and regional conflicts. These movements illustrate the diversity and complexity of Arab nationalism and highlight the challenges facing pan-nationalist ideologies. Their historical development offers valuable insights into the political dynamics of the Middle East in the twentieth century, as well as the limits and potential of Arab nationalism as a unifying and liberating force.

Historical context and transformation of the Ottoman Empire[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The genesis of Arab nationalism cannot be fully appreciated without understanding the long and complex historical context that preceded and shaped it. The following key events play a significant role in this history. The conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Empire in 1517, marking the capture of Cairo, and the capture of Baghdad in 1533, consolidated Ottoman control over vast areas of the Arab world. These conquests not only extended Ottoman domination but also introduced new administrative, military and social structures to these territories. For centuries, although these regions were part of the Ottoman Empire, they maintained a certain cultural and linguistic autonomy, laying the foundations for a distinct Arab identity. Napoleon Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt in 1798 was another turning point. This French military intervention had a profound impact, not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab world. It exposed the Ottoman Empire's military and technological weakness in the face of modern Europe and triggered a process of internal reform, known as the Tanzimat, aimed at modernising the empire. The expedition also marked the beginning of the European powers' growing interest in the region, paving the way for an era of foreign influence and intervention.

Against this backdrop, the Arab Revolt of 1916 is often seen as a decisive moment in the emergence of Arab nationalism. Encouraged by the British to weaken the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, the revolt, led by figures such as Cherif Hussein of Mecca and his son Faisal, was motivated by a desire for independence and the promise of an independent Arab state. Although the results of the revolt did not fully satisfy these aspirations - largely due to the Sykes-Picot agreements of 1916, which divided the region into zones of French and British influence - it nevertheless laid the foundations for modern Arab nationalism. These historic events shaped the political consciousness of the Arabs, awakening an aspiration for autonomy and self-determination. They also highlighted the tensions between local aspirations and foreign interference, themes that remain relevant to the politics of the contemporary Middle East.

The Young Turk revolution of 1908, followed by the authoritarian seizure of power in 1909, was a crucial element in the emergence of Arab nationalism. Initially aimed at modernising and reforming the Ottoman Empire, this movement rapidly evolved into a form of authoritarianism and exclusive Turkish nationalism, exacerbating tensions between the Turkish elites and the various nationalities within the Empire, particularly the Arabs. The authoritarian turn of the Young Turks manifested itself tragically with the massacre of the Armenian population in 1915, an event that was not only a terrible human tragedy but also served as a wake-up call for other ethnic and national groups within the Empire. The policy of Turkification, which aimed to impose the Turkish language and culture as central elements of imperial institutions, was seen as a direct threat to the identity and autonomy of Arab communities. Against this backdrop, a number of Arab intellectuals, influenced by Western ideas and aware of the need to defend their own cultural and political identity, began to organise resistance. The first General Arab Congress, held in Paris in 1913, was an important moment in this process. This congress brought together delegates from different Arab regions to discuss the future of the Arabs within the Ottoman Empire and to formulate demands for greater autonomy.

It is interesting to note Egypt's particular position in this context. The Egyptian delegate to the Paris Congress presented himself as an observer, reflecting a distinct Egyptian identity that did not necessarily see itself as "Arab" in the political context of the time. This distinction was partly due to cultural and historical reasons - Egypt had a long history and a civilisational identity distinct from those of other Arab regions - and partly to the political situation of Egypt, then under British rule. This period of history illustrates the complexity of the process of shaping Arab nationalism, highlighting the various influences and the different political and cultural trajectories within the Arab world. It also shows how the internal dynamics of the Ottoman Empire, as well as the intervention and influence of the European powers, played a decisive role in shaping identities and political movements in the region.

Impact of the First World War and the Sykes-Picot Accords[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

During the First World War, the Arabs, although culturally and historically linked, were geographically and politically divided. This division was exacerbated by the Sykes-Picot agreements of 1916, in which the European powers (mainly France and the United Kingdom) shared out areas of influence in the Middle East, redrawing borders without taking ethnic and cultural realities into account. In addition, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, promising the establishment of a "Jewish national home" in Palestine, added another layer of complexity and tension to the region. Pan-Arabism, as a unifying ideology, gained popularity against this backdrop of fragmentation. It was driven by the feeling that Arabs, as a people, had to transcend colonial borders and unite to achieve autonomy and prosperity. This idea was reinforced by Nazi propaganda during the Second World War, which sought to influence the region against the British and French Allies, and by the exposure of Arab intellectuals to nationalist and anti-colonial ideas in Europe.

However, the dream of pan-Arabism came up against many challenges. National political ambitions and realities, cultural and religious differences within the Arab world, and the conflicting interests of regional and international powers hampered Arab unity. Notable failures, such as the dissolution of the United Arab Republic between Egypt and Syria in 1961, marked the limits of the pan-Arab ideal. The failure of pan-Arabism left an ideological vacuum in the region, which was gradually filled by Islamism. This movement, which seeks to organise society according to Islamic principles, gained ground against a backdrop of growing disillusionment with secular and nationalist ideologies. The following decades saw the rise of various Islamist movements, which capitalised on the feeling of disenchantment and the search for identity, by proposing an alternative based on religion and tradition.

The pan-Arab movement[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The First Promises and Deceptions: The Alliance of Sherif Hussein and the British Mandate[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Notables such as Sherif Hussein of Mecca played a crucial role as local leaders and intermediaries between the Arab populations and the colonial powers. In Hussein's case, his position as guardian of the Islamic holy sites gave him significant religious and political authority. During the First World War, he sought an alliance with the British, motivated by the promise of support for the establishment of an independent Arab kingdom after the war, in return for help against the Ottoman Empire. This alliance is emblematic of the strategy of the region's traditional notables, who sought to navigate between local interests and the ambitions of foreign powers. However, the promises made to Hussein by the British, known as the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, were ambiguous and ultimately proved to contradict other commitments made by the British, notably the Sykes-Picot agreements and the Balfour Declaration.

The outcome of these diplomatic negotiations proved to be a great disappointment for Arab aspirations. After the war, instead of the promised independence, the League of Nations established several mandates in the region, placing territories under British and French administration. Hussein's vision of a unified Arab kingdom collapsed, and the region was divided into several states, often with artificial borders that did not reflect ethnic and cultural realities. This period was marked by a growing sense of betrayal and disillusionment among Arabs, who saw their hopes of independence and unity evaporate. This disappointment laid the foundations for discontent with the Western powers and fuelled nationalist and anti-colonial movements in the decades that followed. The figure of Hussein and his failed attempt to create an independent Arab kingdom remains a powerful symbol of the Arab struggle for self-determination and of the complexity of relations between the Middle East and the Western powers in the early twentieth century.

Emergence of Arab Nationalist Theorists and Leaders[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

At the end of the First World War, the figure of Faisal, one of the sons of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, emerged as a key player in the formation of Arab nationalism. Fayçal, who had played a leading role in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire, became a symbol of the Arab aspiration for self-determination. His companion and adviser, Sati Al Husri, had a considerable influence on the theorisation of Arab nationalism. Sati Al Husri, who later became Minister of Education, is often regarded as the first major theorist of Arab nationalism. His approach was strongly influenced by the German conception of the nation, which emphasised linguistic and cultural aspects as the foundations of national identity. For Al Husri, the Arabic language was a central element of Arab identity, a bond that transcended religious, regional or tribal differences within the Arab world.

This focus on language and culture as defining elements of national identity was in part a response to the challenges posed by the diversity of the Arab world. By emphasising these common elements, Al Husri sought to create a sense of unity and solidarity among Arabs, irrespective of their individual differences. His approach helped shape the ideology of Arab nationalism in the decades that followed, influencing educational and cultural policies in several Arab countries. The post-war period, with the efforts of figures such as Faisal and the theories of Al Husri, was therefore crucial in the crystallisation of Arab nationalism. Although aspirations for Arab unity were thwarted by post-war political realities and international agreements, the idea of a common Arab identity, based on language and culture, continued to exert a profound influence on politics and society in the Middle East.

Arab nationalism between the wars: betrayal and external influence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The inter-war period was a crucial time for the development of Arab nationalism, largely influenced by the failure to fulfil the promises made to the Arabs during the First World War. The Sykes-Picot agreements of 1916, which secretly divided the Middle East between France and the United Kingdom, became the symbol of the betrayal of Arab aspirations for independence and self-determination. These agreements, revealed after the war, profoundly undermined Arab confidence in the Western powers and fuelled a feeling of mistrust and resentment.

Against this backdrop, other factors accelerated the rise of Arab nationalism. Fascist and Nazi propaganda resonated with certain segments of Arab society, particularly because of their shared opposition to British and French colonialism. The Nazi regime, seeking to extend its influence in the region, exploited Arab discontent with the colonial powers. This culminated in the 1941 pro-Nazi coup in Baghdad, known as the Rashid Ali al-Gillani Coup, which briefly established a pro-German government in Iraq before being overthrown by British forces. At the same time, the debate on Arab independence continued to grow in intensity. Intellectuals, politicians and opinion leaders in the Arab world were actively discussing ways of achieving political autonomy and resisting foreign influence. This period saw the emergence of several nationalist movements and the formation of political parties that were to play a major role in the region's post-colonial history. The inter-war period was one of intense political transformation for the Middle East. The combination of the non-fulfilment of promises made during the First World War, the influence of fascist and Nazi ideologies, and the internal debate over independence helped to shape the political landscape of the region and lay the foundations for the events and movements that would follow in subsequent decades.

The Baathist movement[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Origins and Context of Baathism: The Annexation of the Sandjak of Alexandrette[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The annexation of the Sandjak of Alexandrette by Turkey in 1939 is an event often seen as a significant catalyst in the emergence of Baathism, a political movement that would play a major role in the contemporary history of the Middle East.

The Sandjak of Alexandrette, a region in the north-west of modern Syria, was annexed by Turkey following an agreement with France, then the Mandatory Power in Syria. This annexation, which was perceived as a humiliating territorial loss for the Arabs, exacerbated nationalist feelings in the region. For many, it illustrated the vulnerability of Arab nations to the interests of foreign and regional powers. In this context of frustration and desire for resistance, Baathism, or the "Arab resurrection", took shape. Founded by Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar, two Syrian intellectuals, the Baath party promoted an ideology based on Arab nationalism, socialism and secularism. The Baath movement aimed to unify the Arab world, promote economic and social development, and resist imperialism and colonialism.

The annexation of the Sandjak of Alexandrette therefore served as an impetus for the development of this ideology, which sought to respond to the challenges facing Arab countries. It reinforced the feeling that collective action and Arab unity were needed to counter foreign influence and intervention in the region. Baathism, as a political and ideological force, subsequently played a central role in the politics of several Arab countries, notably Syria and Iraq. Although the movement has evolved and faced many challenges over the years, its emergence in the 1940s remains a key moment in the history of Arab nationalism and continues to influence the politics of the Middle East.

Foundation and Philosophy of the Baath Party: The First Congress in 1947[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The first Baath Party Congress, held in 1947, played a crucial role in defining the ideology and objectives of the movement. This congress marked an important stage in the crystallisation of the Baath vision for the future of the Arab world, based on three fundamental pillars: unity, independence and Arab socialism. The emphasis on unity reflected the aspiration to create a unified Arab state or federation of Arab states, transcending established colonial and national borders. This idea of territorial unity was rooted in Arab nationalism and aimed to counter the influence of Western and regional powers in the region.

Independence was another central pillar, underlining the need for Arab countries to achieve complete political and economic autonomy. This involved not only liberation from colonialism, but also the development of independent political and economic structures and systems. Arab socialism, as advocated by the Baath Party, sought to modernise and reform Arab society. It was not a copy of Soviet socialism, but rather an adaptation of socialist principles to Arab realities and needs, with an emphasis on land reform, industrialisation and social justice.

In addition to these three pillars, the Baath Party was characterised by its secular and non-confessional approach. This secular orientation was significant in a region marked by great religious and sectarian diversity. The Baath promoted the idea that all religious and ethnic communities should assimilate into the Arab national identity, creating a unified society across denominational divides. Finally, anti-Zionism was a prominent element of the party's ideology. This position reflected opposition to the Zionist movement and the creation of the State of Israel, perceived as a colonial settlement and a threat to the Arab world's aspirations for unity and autonomy. The first congress of the Baath Party thus defined the contours of a movement that was to have a profound influence on Middle East politics in the decades that followed. Its legacy, complex and sometimes controversial, continues to influence politics and society in the region.

Michel Aflaq and the Formation of Baathist Ideology[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Michel Aflaq, born in 1910 in Damascus, was a central figure in the founding and development of the Baath Party. Born into a Greek Orthodox family, Aflaq played a decisive role in shaping the Arab nationalist and secular thinking that characterised the Baath movement. In 1943, Aflaq, together with Salah al-Din al-Bitar and other intellectuals, founded the Baath party, whose full name is "Party of the Arab Socialist Resurrection". The party was created in the context of the nationalist awakening in the Arab world and in response to the challenges posed by colonialism and internal divisions in the region.

Aflaq served as Secretary General of the Baath Party, strongly influencing its ideological and political direction. His vision of Arab nationalism was inclusive, transcending religious and sectarian divisions, which was reflected in his own background as an Arab Christian. He firmly believed in the need for Arab unity, social progress and secularism as a means of modernising Arab society and resisting foreign influence. Under his leadership, the Baath Party sought to establish branches in several Arab countries, including Iraq. The Baath philosophy gained influence, particularly after the Second World War, in the context of the rise of nationalism in the region and the struggles for independence against the colonial powers. However, Aflaq's vision for the Baath Party and his interpretation of Arab nationalism were subject to various interpretations and adaptations, particularly in Syria and Iraq, where the party came to power. In Iraq, particularly under Saddam Hussein, the Baath Party took a distinctly more authoritarian turn, moving away from some of the original principles promoted by Aflaq. Michel Aflaq, who spent much of his life working for the Baath movement and promoting Arab unity, died in 1989. His contribution to Arab political thought remains an important subject of study and debate in the historical and contemporary context of the Middle East.

The evolution of Baathism in the Arab world and its association with power in various countries reveals a complex history of reform and progress, but also of conflict and repression. After it was founded by Michel Aflaq and his colleagues, the Baath Party sought to establish national sections in various Arab countries. The Baath ideology, centred on Arab unity, socialism and secularism, resonated in many of these countries, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, a period marked by anti-colonial struggles and a desire for modernisation and independence. In Syria and Iraq, for example, the Baath party came to power in 1963 and 1968 respectively. These Baathist regimes initiated numerous reforms, particularly in education, industry and agriculture, aimed at modernising the economy and reducing inequalities. They also promoted secularism and tried to reduce the influence of religion in state affairs, a move that broke with the political tradition of many countries in the region.

However, the Baath's rise to power was also accompanied by forms of violence and repression. In Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, the Baathist regime was marked by authoritarian policies, repression of dissidents, and internal and external conflicts, such as the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In Syria, under Hafez al-Assad and later his son Bashar al-Assad, the regime was also characterised by strong centralisation of power, close surveillance of society and repression of dissent. This complex history of Baathism as an ideology and as a practice of power underlines the difficulty of implementing nationalist and socialist ideals in a context of ethnic, religious and political diversity. Baathist regimes have, on the one hand, brought about significant change and reform in the countries they have ruled, but on the other hand they have often resorted to violence and repression to maintain their control, leading to divisions and conflicts that have profoundly marked the recent history of the Middle East.

The failure of the United Arab Republic and its repercussions[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The founding of the United Arab Republic (UAR) in 1958 represented a significant moment in the history of Arab nationalism and in particular of the Baathist movement. This ambitious project aimed to give concrete form to the ideal of Arab unity, a central principle of Baathist ideology. The RAU was a political union between Egypt and Syria. It was largely inspired and promoted by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, a leading figure in Arab nationalism. Nasser, although not a member of the Baath party, shared many of its aims, particularly in terms of Arab unity, socialism and resistance to imperialism.

The union was seen as a first step towards greater Arab unity, a goal long dreamt of by many nationalists in the region. It generated great enthusiasm and hope among those who aspired to see the Arab world unite politically and economically to form a major regional and global force. However, the United Arab Republic proved short-lived. In 1961, just three years after its creation, the union collapsed due to a number of factors. Political and economic differences between Egypt and Syria, the centralisation of power in Egypt, and growing discontent in Syria with perceived Egyptian domination all contributed to the dissolution of the union. The failure of the RAU was a blow to the Arab unity movement and illustrated the challenges inherent in achieving such a union in such a diverse region. Despite its failure, the RAU remains an important chapter in the history of Arab nationalism and continues to be studied as a significant example of attempts at political unity in the Arab world.

Baathism in Power: Reform and Repression in Syria[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The coming to power of the Baath Party in Syria in March 1963 marked a significant turning point in the political history of the country and of the Baathist movement as a whole. This seizure of power was achieved through a military coup, reflecting the rise of the Baath as a regional political force. Under the leadership of the Baath Party, Syria underwent a series of radical reforms in line with the ideals of Arab nationalism, socialism and secularism. These reforms included the nationalisation of industries, land reform, and the modernisation of education and infrastructure. The aim was to transform Syria into a modern, socialist and united state, breaking with the political and economic structures of the past. However, the Baathist regime in Syria was also marked by increased centralisation of power and political repression. This period saw the consolidation of power in the hands of a small elite, often dominated by members of the Alawite community, a branch of Shi'ism. This concentration of power within a confessional minority has led to sectarian tensions and a certain confessionalisation of Syrian politics.

Confessionalisation, or the increasing importance of religious and sectarian identity in politics, was at odds with the secular ideology of the Baath. Yet it has become a feature of governance in Syria, contributing to internal divisions and instability. This dynamic was exacerbated by Baath party policies which, although officially secular, sometimes favoured certain faith groups over others, leading to feelings of marginalisation and discontent among various segments of the Syrian population. The experience of the Baath Party in power in Syria, with its initial successes in social and economic reform and its subsequent failures, particularly in terms of sectarian governance and political repression, has had a profound impact on the country's development and continues to influence Syrian politics and society.

The Nasserist movement[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Foundations and aspirations of Nasserism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Nasserism, an Arab political ideology, takes its name from the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, whose reign from 1956 to 1970 marked a period of radical change in the Arab world. This ideology is characterised by its quest for Arab unity, its aspiration for complete independence for the Arab nations, and its interest in a form of socialism adapted to the Arab context.

Nasser, as a charismatic figure and influential leader, embodied and propagated Nasserism through his policies and speeches. One of the most striking examples of this ideology in action was the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956, an act that not only challenged Western interests in the region, but also symbolised the Arab countries' demand for sovereignty and self-determination. This decision led to an international crisis and ultimately reinforced Nasser's status as the champion of Arab independence in the face of Western imperialism. Nasserism also aimed to strengthen unity between Arab countries, based on the premise that despite their differences, these nations shared a common history, language and aspirations. This vision was realised, albeit briefly, with the formation of the United Arab Republic in 1958, a political union between Egypt and Syria. Although this union failed in 1961, it remains a historic example of Nasser's efforts to unite the Arab world under a single banner.

Impacts and reforms of Nasserism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In economic and social terms, Nasserism led to a series of socialist reforms. Nasser initiated programmes of nationalisation and agrarian reform, aimed at redistributing wealth and reducing inequalities. These measures, although different from Soviet socialism, reflected a desire to adapt socialist principles to Arab reality, with the emphasis on economic autonomy and social justice. From a theoretical point of view, Nasserism can be interpreted through the prism of dependency theory and post-colonial nationalism. As a response to colonial and neo-colonial domination, Nasserism sought to establish an independent path of development and emancipation for Arab countries. This approach reflected a desire to break the shackles of economic and political dependence and forge a distinct national and regional identity.

Nasserism, unlike Baathism, is an ideology that developed and crystallised mainly after Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power in Egypt. This feature marks a fundamental difference in the trajectory of the two ideologies within the Arab political landscape. Baathism, initiated by Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Din al-Bitar, was already well established as a political ideology before the Baath party took power in Syria and Iraq. This movement had developed a solid theoretical basis and clear objectives concerning Arab unity, socialism and secularism long before it became a dominant political player. Nasserism, on the other hand, emerged as a set of ideas and practices directly linked to Nasser's rise and actions as Egypt's leader. Nasser was not originally an ideologue in the traditional sense; his ideas and policies were formed and refined during his reign. After the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy in 1952 by the Free Officers Movement, of which Nasser was a key member, he gradually developed a vision for Egypt and the Arab world that would become known as Nasserism. This vision took shape in acts such as the nationalisation of the Suez Canal and the promotion of Arab unity, which were decisive moments in the definition of Nasserism. In addition, the socio-economic reforms undertaken by Nasser in Egypt, such as land reform and the nationalisation of industries, reflected his ideological principles.

Nasserism, Baathism and the United Arab Republic[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The founding of the United Arab Republic (UAR) in 1958 was one of the most significant manifestations of Nasserist thinking. This union, which brought together Egypt and Syria, was motivated by Gamal Abdel Nasser's ambition to achieve Arab unity, one of the central pillars of his ideology. Nasser's vision for the RAU went beyond a mere political alliance; it aimed to create a unified political and economic entity that could act as an engine of development and power in the region. For Nasser, the RAU was a step towards the realisation of a pan-Arab dream, where Arab nations could transcend their colonial and historical borders to form a larger and stronger union. In practice, however, the UAR faced a number of challenges. One of the most controversial aspects was the perception, especially in Syria, that the union led to a kind of Egyptian domination. In theory, the RAU was supposed to be a union between equals, but in practice it was often perceived as an attempt by Egypt, and Nasser in particular, to control or influence Syrian politics. This perception was exacerbated by the centralisation of power in Cairo and the marginalisation of Syrian political voices.

Syria, within the framework of the RAU, was often seen as an Egyptian province rather than an equal partner. This dynamic contributed to growing discontent in Syria, where many politicians and citizens felt marginalised and dominated by Egypt. This situation eventually led to the dissolution of the RAU in 1961, when Syria withdrew from the union. The RAU, despite its short-lived existence, remains an important chapter in the history of Arab nationalism and Nasserist thought. It symbolises the aspirations for Arab unity and the challenges associated with implementing this idea in a region characterised by great political, cultural and social diversity. The RAU experience also highlighted the limits of Nasser's centralised and dirigiste approach to Arab unification.

Nasserism in the Regional and Global Context[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Camp David Accords, signed in 1979 between Egypt and Israel, represent a major turning point in the history of the Middle East and are often cited as marking the end of the era of pan-Arabism. These agreements, which led to a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, were seen by many Arab countries as a betrayal of the principles of pan-Arabism and Arab solidarity. Pan-Arabism, as a political and ideological movement, had long promoted the idea of Arab unity against foreign influence and intervention, particularly against the State of Israel, seen as a colonial implant on Arab soil. The Camp David Accords, negotiated and signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, broke with this line of thinking by establishing official diplomatic relations and mutual recognition between Egypt and Israel.

The signing of these agreements had considerable repercussions. Egypt, one of the historic leaders of the Arab world and a fervent supporter of pan-Arabism under Nasser, was isolated in the Arab world. In response to the normalisation of relations with Israel, the Arab League suspended Egypt's membership and moved its headquarters out of Cairo. This exclusion symbolised the deep dissatisfaction and disapproval of other Arab countries with Egypt's unilateral decision.

The late 1970s and early 1980s thus marked a period of transition in Arab politics, with a decline in the influence of pan-Arabism as a unifying force and an increase in national politics and the interests of individual states. The Camp David Accords not only redefined relations between Egypt and Israel, but also had a lasting impact on regional dynamics and perceptions of Arab unity. These developments reflect the complexity of Middle East politics, where ideological aspirations often clash with political and geopolitical realities. The shift from pan-Arabism to more pragmatic national policies illustrates the changing nature of alliances and priorities in the region.

The League of Arab States (Arab League)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Beginnings of Arab Cooperation and the Concepts of Union[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In 1944, Egypt, under the reign of King Farouk, played a leading role in discussions aimed at establishing some form of cooperation or union between Arab countries. This period marked an important stage in efforts at regional collaboration, preceding the formation of the Arab League in 1945. At that time, several ideas and projects concerning Arab unity or cooperation were under discussion. One of the key concepts was Greater Syria, which envisaged a union of the Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Palestinian territories. This idea, rooted in the region's shared history and culture, was seen by some as a natural way of bringing together these peoples who share close ties.

Another concept was that of the "Fertile Crescent", which included Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. This idea was based on geographical and economic considerations, the Fertile Crescent being a historically rich and fertile region, considered to be the cradle of several ancient civilisations. The idea of creating a league or federation of Arab countries was also gaining ground. This proposal aimed to establish a formal structure for political, economic and cultural cooperation between the Arab states, enabling more effective coordination of their common policies and interests.

The Formation and Challenges of the League of Arab States[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

These discussions led to the formation of the Arab League in 1945, a regional organisation designed to foster cooperation between member states and promote Arab interests and identity. The creation of the Arab League was a decisive moment in the modern history of the Middle East, symbolising the recognition of the importance of regional cooperation and Arab unity. These different proposals reflect the diversity of approaches and visions of Arab unity at that time. They also show how, even before the rise of Nasserism and Baathism, efforts were already underway to establish political structures and regional alliances among Arab countries.

The Alexandria Protocol, signed in 1944, laid the foundations for what was to become the League of Arab States. This crucial step marked a concerted effort by Arab nations to formalise a structure for regional cooperation, an initiative that reflected the growing aspirations for unity and collaboration within the Arab world. On 22 March 1945, the League of Arab States was officially formed. Its founding members, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan (then Transjordan), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and North Yemen, represented a broad cross-section of the political, cultural and economic diversity of the Arab world. The aim of the League was to promote the political, economic, cultural and social interests of the Arab countries, and to coordinate their efforts in areas of common interest.

However, the internal workings of the League of Arab States proved complex. Its structure, requiring a consensus among its members for major decisions, often made it difficult to take quick and effective decisions. This difficulty was exacerbated by the great diversity of political systems, ideological orientations and national interests of the member states. In addition, despite their common cultural and historical identity, the Arab countries showed little economic integration. Trade between member states was relatively limited, and their economies were often oriented towards relations with non-Arab partners. This situation reflected the challenges posed by borders and economic structures inherited from the colonial era, as well as disparities in terms of natural resources and industrial development. Despite these challenges, the League of Arab States represented an important step towards the recognition and affirmation of Arab identity on the international stage. However, the achievement of its goals of unity and cooperation has often been hampered by the complex political and economic realities of the Arab world.

Attempts at regional unity: Union of Arab Republics and the Maghreb[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The attempt to create the Union of Arab Republics in 1971 is another example of efforts to strengthen unity and cooperation in the Arab world, although it did not lead to concrete results. This initiative, which aimed to unite Egypt, Libya and Syria in a federation, reflected the pursuit of the ideal of Arab unity that had been at the heart of many regional policies since the 1950s. However, despite its announcement with great fanfare, the Union of Arab Republics suffered from internal disagreements and a lack of practical coordination between the member countries. Ideological differences, divergent national interests and the strong personalities of their leaders hampered any meaningful political or economic integration. This experience has highlighted the challenges inherent in creating a political union in such a diverse region.

In the Maghreb, too, various attempts to bring the states of the region together have failed. Despite shared cultural and historical links, the Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania) have experienced different political trajectories, making it difficult to establish close regional cooperation. Attempts to create organisations or unions have often been hampered by political rivalries, differences in ideological orientation and economic problems.

The Gulf Cooperation Council and the New Regional Dynamics[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

After the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, the Gulf states, faced with a new regional dynamic, attempted to form a consultation council. The aim of this initiative was to coordinate policies and strengthen collective security in the face of what was perceived as a growing threat from Iran. Once again, however, concrete results were limited. Although the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was formed in 1981, bringing together Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, it has faced its own internal challenges, particularly in terms of foreign and security policy.

These various attempts underline the complexity of unification and cooperation efforts in a region marked by deep political, economic and ideological divisions. They also reflect the limits of regional initiatives in the context of an ever-changing Middle East and Maghreb.

The pan-Islamic movement[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Wahhabism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Wahhabism, a religious doctrine and a form of Islamic movement, has had a significant influence in certain regions of the Arab world, but its link with Arabism or Arab nationalism is complex and needs to be clarified.

Wahhabism, founded by Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab in the 18th century in the Arabian Peninsula, advocates a strict and puritanical interpretation of Islam. It focuses on a return to the practices of the "salaf" or first generations of Muslims, considered to be models of piety and Islamic practice. This approach insists on strict adherence to sharia (Islamic law) and rejects innovations (bid'ah) in religious practice. However, the link between Wahhabism and Arabism or Arab nationalism is indirect. Arab nationalism, as a political and ideological movement, emphasises the unity and independence of Arabs as a people, often focusing on common cultural, linguistic and historical aspects. Although Wahhabism is an influential force in the Arabian Peninsula, particularly in Saudi Arabia, it is primarily a religious reform rather than a nationalist movement.

Wahhabism has, however, played a role in shaping political and religious identity in some parts of the Arab world, particularly Saudi Arabia. The alliance between Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the House of Saud was crucial in the formation of the modern Saudi state. This alliance integrated elements of Wahhabism into the political and social structures of Saudi Arabia, but this should not be confused with Arab nationalism as such. It is also important to note that Arab nationalism and Wahhabism may even be in tension. Arab nationalism, with its secular tendencies and emphasis on political and cultural unity, can come into conflict with the conservative and sometimes sectarian religious approach of Wahhabism. In short, although Wahhabism has influenced the history and politics of certain Arab regions, it represents a distinct and sometimes even contradictory trend in relation to the principles of Arab nationalism.

The relationship between Mohammed Ben Abdelwahhab, the founder of Wahhabism, and Mohammed Ibn Saud, the head of the House of Saud, is crucial to understanding the genesis of modern Saudi Arabia and the influence of Wahhabism in the region. Mohammed Ben Abdelwahhab, born in 1703, preached a form of Islamic reform that aimed to purify religious practice of what he considered to be the innovations and superstitions that had crept into Islam over time. His teaching focused on a strict return to the teachings of the Koran and the Sunna, following the example of the first generations of Muslims (salaf).

His meeting and alliance with Mohammed Ibn Saud in the mid-eighteenth century marked a decisive turning point. Ibn Saud, ruler of the Najd region of the Arabian Peninsula, adopted Abdelwahhab's teachings and incorporated his principles into the governance of his territory. This alliance combined Wahhabi religious reform with Saud political and military ambition, creating a powerful force in the region. Together, they challenged the authority of the Ottoman Caliphate, dominant in the region at the time, and sought to extend their influence. Their movement was not only religious, but also political, seeking to establish a new order based on Wahhabi principles. This combination of religious reform and political ambition led to an increasing politicisation of religion in the region. The result of this alliance was the creation of the first Saudi Emirate, with its capital in Dariya. This Emirate was the predecessor of modern Saudi Arabia and laid the foundations for Wahhabi influence in Saudi governance and society. The alliance between the Sauds and Abdelwahhab thus played a key role in the formation of the Saudi state and had a lasting influence on politics and religious practice in the Gulf region.

The agreement between Mohammed Ben Abdelwahhab and Mohammed Ibn Saud is often described as a pact of power-sharing and mutual support that laid the foundations of the modern Saudi state. The pact, which dates back to the mid-18th century, established a division of responsibilities between the two parties: Ben Abdelwahhab focused on religious matters, preaching and establishing the Wahhabi foundations of Islam, while Ibn Saud took care of the political and military aspects, extending his power over the region. This unique partnership between religious and political power was essential to the foundation and expansion of the Saudi Emirate, the political entity that would eventually become Saudi Arabia. Ben Abdelwahhab provided religious legitimacy, insisting on a puritanical and strict interpretation of Islam, while Ibn Saud used this legitimacy to unify and extend his power over the tribes and territories of the Arabian Peninsula.

The pact between the two men established a symbiotic relationship between the House of Saud and the religious descendants of Ben Abdelwahhab (often referred to as the "Al ash-Sheikh"), which persisted for almost 300 years. This relationship was characterised by mutual support, with the Saud protecting and promoting Wahhabism, while Wahhabi religious leaders legitimised the Saud's political power. This alliance provided the ideological and political impetus for Saudi expansion in the Arabian Peninsula. It also established a model of governance in which religion and state are closely intertwined, with Wahhabism becoming a defining feature of Saudi national identity. The original agreement between Ben Abdelwahhab and Ibn Saud therefore played a fundamental role in the formation of Saudi Arabia and continues to influence the country's political and religious structure. This unique relationship between religious and political power remains central to Saudi society and politics.

Arab modernism or 'nahda[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Nahda, or Arab Renaissance, was a crucial period in the intellectual and cultural history of the Arab world, and Egypt played a central role in this movement. Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-1897) is often cited as one of the leading theorists of this period. His influence and ideas were decisive in shaping Arab modernism and Islamic modernism.

Al-Afghani, a thinker and political activist, moved to Egypt in his thirties. His time in Egypt was marked by close collaboration with Mohammed Abduh, who was to become Mufti of Egypt. Together they set about reforming and modernising Islamic thought and institutions, seeking to respond to the challenges posed by European expansion and colonial rule. Their approach, often referred to as Islamic modernism, aimed to reconcile Islamic principles with modern ideas and scientific advances. They advocated an interpretation of the Koran and Islamic traditions that was both faithful to the sources and open to new interpretations and adaptations to contemporary realities. This vision sought to revitalise Muslim society and promote education, rationality and scientific progress as a means of resisting Western influence and revitalising Arab-Muslim culture.

The Islamic modernism of Al-Afghani and Abduh had a significant impact on the Arab world, influencing many later intellectuals and reformers. Their work contributed to the Nahda by encouraging a spirit of questioning and reform in the fields of religion, philosophy, literature and politics. The Nahda, as a movement, represented a decisive turning point for the Arab world, marking a period of intellectual, cultural and political renaissance. The influence of thinkers such as Al-Afghani and Abduh was crucial in shaping a vision of the Arab world that was both rooted in its heritage and forward-looking, seeking to strike a balance between tradition and modernity.

The Nahda process led to a remarkable cultural upsurge in the Arab world, characterised by a rediscovery and reappraisal of Arab historical and cultural heritage. This movement marked a period of intellectual and artistic awakening, during which Arab intellectuals, writers, poets and artists explored and celebrated Arab history and culture, while integrating them into a modern context. The cultural Arabism of this period was marked by a renewed interest in the Arabic language, literature, history and the arts. The intellectuals of the Nahda sought to revitalise the Arabic language, modernising it while preserving its rich and complex heritage. This period saw the emergence of new literary forms, such as the novel and the short story, as well as the revival of classical forms such as poetry.

The rediscovery of the historical and glorious heritage of the Arab world was another key component of the cultural Arabism of the Nahda. Historians and thinkers revisited periods of greatness in Arab-Muslim civilisation, such as the Islamic Golden Age, and looked for ways to reconnect with this heritage in the context of contemporary challenges. This approach aimed to strengthen a sense of Arab pride and identity while providing a framework for modernisation and progress. In addition, the cultural rise of the Nahda was also characterised by increased dialogue with Western cultures and ideas. Nahda intellectuals often advocated a balanced approach, embracing Western scientific and intellectual advances while preserving Arab values and traditions. The Nahda as a whole therefore represented a crucial moment in the cultural history of the Arab world, marking a period of renewal, reflection and innovation. The impact of this movement is still felt today, both in the field of culture and in political and social thought in the Arab world.

The Nahda movement, characterised by its inclusive approach and its emphasis on the Arabic language, transcended denominational distinctions, uniting Arabs of different faiths around a common cultural and linguistic heritage. By emphasising Arabic as the language of literature, education and public discourse, this movement fostered a sense of pan-Arab identity that went beyond religious or sectarian divisions. The Nahda encouraged a renaissance in all aspects of intellectual and cultural life. It saw the creation of political parties, associations, leagues and organisations that promoted various aspects of education, social reform and modernisation. These groups were often driven by the idea that cultural and linguistic renaissance was essential to the political and social renewal of the Arab world.

The political parties formed during this period sought to channel national and regional aspirations into political programmes. These parties, although diverse in their ideological orientations, often shared a commitment to strengthening Arab identity and modernising society. The associations and leagues created during the Nahda played a key role in disseminating new ideas, organising cultural activities and promoting education and research. They were places where intellectuals and artists could meet, exchange ideas and collaborate on cultural and educational projects. This period also saw the emergence of new forms of media, such as newspapers and magazines, which played a crucial role in spreading the ideas of the Nahda. These publications provided a platform for debates on reform, politics, literature and culture, and were essential for reaching a wider audience.

The pan-Islamism promoted by the Ottoman sultan Abdülhamid II (reigned 1876-1909) represented a particular political approach that influenced Arab nationalism, although it was distinct from the latter. Abdülhamid II's pan-Islamism aimed to consolidate Ottoman authority and unify the empire's diverse Muslim peoples around Islam, in response to the internal and external pressures facing the Ottoman Empire at the time.

Faced with challenges such as the rise of nationalism in various parts of the empire and pressure from European powers, Abdülhamid II adopted a strategy of political and administrative centralisation. He sought to strengthen the Empire's central control over its territories, including the Arab regions, by putting in place procedures for centralisation, investigation and repression. Abdülhamid's emphasis on Islam as a unifying element was intended to counter separatist tendencies and maintain the cohesion of the empire. However, this strategy often had the opposite effect in Arab regions, where centralisation and repression created resentment and fuelled Arab nationalist sentiments.

Many Arab activists and intellectuals, in response to Abdülhamid II's repressive policies, sought refuge in Egypt, which was then perceived as a centre of liberal thought and relative autonomy from Ottoman rule. Egypt became a hotbed of Arab nationalist thought and the Nahda, where exiles could express themselves more freely and participate in intellectual and political debate. Although Abdülhamid's pan-Islamism was conceived as a means of strengthening the Ottoman Empire, it had a significant impact on the development of Arab nationalism. The Sultan's policies contributed, paradoxically, to the awakening of a national consciousness among the Arabs, who began to seek ways of achieving their own political and cultural autonomy.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Historical origins of the name "Palestine[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The notion of "Palestine" dates back long before the Ottoman Empire, with its origins in antiquity. The name "Palestine" itself has historical roots stretching back several millennia.

The term "Palestine" is derived from "Philistia" or "Peleshet" in Hebrew, which referred to a region inhabited by the Philistines around the 12th century BC. The Philistines were a people of the Aegean Sea who settled along the south-eastern coast of the Mediterranean, in the region that today includes the Gaza Strip and its environs. The term "Palestina" was first used officially by the Roman emperor Hadrian after the Jewish revolt of Bar Kokhba in 135 AD. In an effort to erase the Jewish connection to the land of Israel following the revolt, Hadrian renamed the province of Judea "Syria Palaestina", a name that subsequently became commonplace in literature and historical documents.

Over the centuries, the region has experienced various dominations and influences, including the Byzantines, the Arab Muslims, the Crusaders, the Mamluks and finally the Ottomans, each leaving their own cultural and historical imprint. However, the term "Palestine" has continued to be used throughout these periods to designate this geographical region. It is important to note that the modern conception of Palestine as a distinct political and national entity took shape more recently in history, in particular with the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War and the establishment of the British Mandate over Palestine. The contemporary notion of Palestine as a territory and a national identity is therefore partly the result of twentieth-century political developments.

During the first centuries of Islamic expansion, after the Arab conquest of the region in the 7th century, the "holy land" was often included in larger administrative entities under the Islamic caliphate. However, the term "Palestine" was used in various contexts to refer to the region, although it was not an official administrative entity under Islamic rule. The term was used both by the local population and by foreigners to refer to the geographical region that included Judea, Samaria, Galilee and other areas. With the European conquests, particularly during the Crusades, the term "Palestine" began to be used more frequently to refer to this region. The Crusaders, seeking to control the holy places of Christianity, used the term in their descriptions and maps.

Over time, and particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, as European interest in the region grew and the Ottoman Empire declined, the term "Palestine" was increasingly used to describe the region specifically. This change coincided with the emergence of Arab nationalism and Zionism, with both movements claiming historical and cultural links with Palestine. The Arab inhabitants of this region began to adopt the term "Palestine" to designate the territory on which they envisaged the creation of a future Arab state. This use was reinforced by the British Mandate over Palestine after the First World War, when Palestine was officially recognised as a separate territorial unit.

Palestine under Ottoman Influence and the British Mandate[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the 19th century, Jerusalem and other parts of what was then known as Palestine were the scene of intense and complex rivalries involving churches, states and foreign powers.These tensions were particularly acute in Jerusalem, a place of great religious importance for Christians, Muslims and Jews. The "Holy Places" in and around Jerusalem were at the centre of struggles for influence between different Christian denominations (Catholic, Orthodox, Armenian, etc.) as well as between European powers, each seeking to extend or protect its influence in the region.This competition was often linked to the imperialist ambitions of the European powers, notably France, Russia and the United Kingdom, each of which used the protection of Christian communities as a pretext to intervene in Ottoman affairs.

Faced with these tensions and growing foreign interference, the Ottoman Empire took steps to strengthen its direct control over Jerusalem.Placing the city under the direct authority of Constantinople (now Istanbul) was a way for the Ottoman government to maintain order and assert its sovereignty over this strategically and symbolically important territory. This decision also reflected the need to manage the delicate relations between the different religious communities and to respond to pressure from foreign powers.This period saw the application of the Statu quo, a set of rules and conventions established to regulate the rights and privileges of the different religious communities in the Holy Places.The Statu quo was intended to maintain a balance between the different communities and prevent conflict, although tensions persisted.

The period following the demise of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War was one of profound political and territorial change in the Middle East, including the area we know today as Palestine. With the end of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine came under British mandate, in accordance with the League of Nations agreements.The British continued to use the term "Palestine" to refer to this territory, although the expression "Southern Syria" was also sometimes used to refer to the region, reflecting its geographical and historical proximity to Syria.

On the Zionist side, the term "Arab state" was sometimes used to refer to the part of the British Mandate of Palestine envisaged for the Arab majority in the 1947 UN partition proposal.This proposal envisaged the creation of two separate states, one Jewish and one Arab, with Jerusalem under a special international regime.However, the Arab state envisaged in the partition plan was never established, partly due to the rejection of the plan by Arab leaders and the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

The Emergence of Palestinian Nationalism and the Conflicts of the 20th Century[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The process of Arab nationalism in the region of Mandate Palestine was complex and influenced by a variety of factors. Waves of migration, both of Jews fleeing persecution in Europe and of Arabs from other parts of the Middle East, altered the demographic composition of the region. In addition, politico-religious issues, linked to both the rise of Zionism and Arab nationalism, played a key role in defining identities and territorial claims. For Arab nationalists in Mandate Palestine and elsewhere, the defence of land was often expressed in terms of Arabism, an ideology that emphasised Arab identity and unity. This sentiment was reinforced by a perceived threat to Arab identity and the rights of Arab populations in the face of Jewish immigration and Zionist aspirations in the region.

During the period of the British Mandate in Palestine, tensions between the Jewish and Arab communities led to a series of acts of violence, including massacres, assassinations and bombings. The Great Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 in Palestine was a key moment in this period. It was triggered by growing frustration among the Arab population over Jewish immigration and the policies of the British Mandate. The revolt saw attacks on Jewish and British targets and was marked by severe British repression. In response to the revolt and rising tensions, the British government appealed to the League of Nations, which set up the Peel Commission in 1937. The Peel Commission proposed the first partition plan for Palestine, envisaging the creation of two separate states, one Jewish and one Arab, with Jerusalem under international control. This plan was rejected by the majority of Arab leaders, who were opposed to any form of territorial division and to the idea of a Jewish state. It was also rejected by Jewish revisionist groups, who demanded a larger territory for the Jewish state.

Tensions continued to rise until 1947, when the British, exhausted by the difficulties of governance and unable to keep the peace, decided to hand over their mandate over Palestine to the United Nations (UN). The UN then proposed a second partition plan in 1947, which also provided for the creation of two states. This plan was accepted by the majority of Jewish representatives, but rejected by the Palestinian Arabs and neighbouring Arab states. The period that followed saw the escalation of hostilities and led to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, following the declaration of independence of the State of Israel. This war and the events surrounding it were instrumental in shaping the modern Arab-Israeli conflict, with lasting consequences for the region.

Nakba and Formation of the Palestinian Diaspora[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The 1948 Palestinian exodus, commonly known as the Nakba (which means "catastrophe" in Arabic), is a central event in Palestinian history and in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It refers to the flight and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arab Palestinians from their homes and lands during the 1948 war that followed the creation of the State of Israel. The Nakba began in the context of the civil war in the British Mandate of Palestine, exacerbated by the UN partition plan in 1947, and intensified with the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. During this period, many Arab towns and villages were emptied of their inhabitants due to fighting, expulsions, fears of massacres and psychological pressure. This period saw massive population displacements, leading to a humanitarian crisis and the formation of a large Palestinian refugee population.

The Palestinian refugee question has become one of the most complex and enduring issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many of these refugees and their descendants now live in refugee camps in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, as well as in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The right of return of Palestinian refugees is a key issue in the peace negotiations, but remains a major point of contention. The Nakba was also a determining factor in the formation of the Palestinian diaspora. Palestinians who were displaced from their homes and settled in other countries have continued to maintain their cultural and national identity, contributing to the Palestinian cause in different ways. The annual commemoration of the Nakba is an important moment for the Palestinian community, both in the Palestinian territories and in the diaspora, symbolising their shared experience of loss, resistance and hope for return.

The Palestinian Liberation Movement: From the PLO to Hamas[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Palestinian nationalist movement underwent a significant evolution in the late 1950s and early 1960s, marked by a refocusing on specific Palestinian identity, partly in response to the perception that Palestinian interests were not sufficiently represented or defended by regional Arab leaders. This period saw the emergence of new Palestinian political organisations and movements, the most notable of which was the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), founded in 1964. Yasser Arafat, who became a leading figure in the Palestinian movement, played a crucial role in this development. Arafat and his colleagues within the PLO structure and particularly within the Fatah movement began to articulate a vision that emphasised the struggle for an independent Palestinian state, distinct from the broader pan-Arab objectives that had dominated earlier discourses on Palestine.

This redefinition of the Palestinian movement was accompanied by a strategy of armed struggle, seen as a means of liberation and claiming rights to Palestinian land. The PLO and other Palestinian groups carried out various military operations and attacks against Israeli targets, both inside and outside Israel. This period was also marked by tensions and conflicts with neighbouring Arab states, some of which supported the Palestinian movement while others opposed its methods or political objectives. The years 1958-59 marked a turning point in the Palestinian nationalist movement, with a shift from a pan-Arab orientation to a focus on Palestinian national identity and aspirations. Under the leadership of figures such as Yasser Arafat, the movement began to call more explicitly for the creation of a Palestinian state, using armed struggle as a means to achieve its goals.

As early as 1963, military operations led by Palestinian groups, notably Fatah led by Yasser Arafat, began operating from Jordan against Israeli targets. These actions helped to establish Arafat as a central figure in the Palestinian movement, gaining popular support among Arabs through these military initiatives. However, Israeli responses to these attacks put Jordan in a delicate position. In 1970, after a series of escalating tensions and conflicts known as Black September, King Hussein of Jordan ordered military action that led to the expulsion of Palestinian fighters from the country. These fighters then largely resettled in Lebanon. In Lebanon, the presence of Palestinian armed groups had considerable repercussions. They became involved in the Lebanese civil war, further complicating the situation. In 1982, after an assassination attempt on the Israeli ambassador in London, Israel launched Operation Peace in Galilee, a major invasion of Lebanon. The declared aim was to destroy the bases of the Palestinian fighters and push back the Syrian army. This invasion had dramatic consequences, both for Lebanon and for the Palestinians.

During this period, the perception of the Palestinians in Lebanon suffered, and the PLO headquarters finally moved to North Africa. Yasser Arafat and the PLO began to review their objectives, even considering acceptance of a two-state solution. The intifada, which began in 1987 in the Palestinian territories, reinvigorated the Palestinian nationalist movement. This popular uprising drew international attention to the Palestinian cause and helped to change the dynamics of the conflict. This period of turmoil and realignments eventually led to the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, when the PLO, under Arafat's leadership, officially recognised the State of Israel and accepted the principle of Palestinian autonomy in exchange for peace. These agreements marked a significant moment in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, paving the way for a new era of negotiations and dialogue, although the peace process remains complex and unfinished.

Ongoing conflict and the current political divide[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Negotiations between the PLO under the leadership of Yasser Arafat and Israel, although marking a historic turning point with the Oslo Accords, have failed, particularly on sensitive issues such as Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. These issues have remained major points of contention, hampering progress towards a lasting solution to the conflict. At the same time, Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have faced internal criticism, particularly from nationalist and Islamist groups such as Hamas. Arafat was accused of incompetence, corruption and nepotism, which contributed to a loss of confidence and legitimacy among certain sections of the Palestinian population.

Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist movement, gained political influence during this period. Founded in 1987, Hamas advocated a more Islamic approach to the Palestinian movement, distinguishing itself from the PLO in its ideological stance and tactics. Hamas rejected the Oslo Accords and maintained a position of armed resistance against Israel, seeing armed struggle as an essential means of achieving Palestinian goals. The rise of Hamas and other Islamist groups marked a third phase in the Palestinian movement, where the fault lines between different Palestinian factions deepened. This phase was characterised by a diversification of approaches and strategies within the Palestinian movement, reflecting a wider range of views and tactics regarding the achievement of Palestinian goals. This period also saw growing tensions between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Hamas, particularly after the latter won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections. These tensions led to internal conflicts and a political division between the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, and the West Bank, under the authority of the Palestinian Authority.

The resumption of armed struggle and intifada-style actions by Hamas in the Palestinian territories is marked by a rhetoric of jihad against Israel. Founded in 1987, Hamas has both a political and an armed wing, and has played an important role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2006, Hamas won a significant victory in the Palestinian legislative elections. However, Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by several countries, including the United States and members of the European Union. This designation is due to Hamas' use of armed struggle tactics, including suicide bombings and the firing of rockets against Israeli civilian targets.

Hamas's electoral victory led to a major political division within the Palestinian territories. Two separate governments emerged: one controlled by Fatah in the West Bank and the other by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This division has exacerbated the political and economic difficulties in the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian territory remains fragmented, and challenges such as unemployment, poverty and corruption have made the political and economic situation even more precarious. Both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza face significant internal and external challenges in their management of Palestinian affairs.

The Kurdish case[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Background to the Kurdish Movement[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Kurdish movement, with its aspirations for self-determination, is rooted in the complex and tumultuous history of the Middle East, particularly in the context of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. The Kurdish people, scattered mainly between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, have constantly sought to assert their identity and claim their political and cultural rights in a region marked by borders often drawn without regard for ethnic and cultural realities.

After the First World War, the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres envisaged the creation of a Kurdish state. However, this treaty was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which redefined the borders of modern Turkey without granting the Kurds an independent state. This was a watershed moment, leaving the Kurds without a nation-state, despite their distinct ethnic and cultural identity. In Iraq, the Kurdish movement has gone through several phases of rebellion and negotiations with the central government. The Iraqi Kurdistan Region, after decades of conflict, gained substantial autonomy following the Gulf War in 1991, and its position was strengthened after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Kurdistan Regional Government, led by figures such as Massoud Barzani, has established a semi-autonomous entity with its own administration and security forces. In Turkey, the Kurdish conflict has been largely dominated by the struggle of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), led by Abdullah Öcalan. Founded in the 1970s, the PKK has waged a guerrilla war for Kurdish rights and autonomy, a conflict that has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths. Despite several attempts at peace, the situation in Turkey remains tense, with periods of conflict and reconciliation.

The civil war in Syria has created a new dynamic for the Kurds in the region. Kurdish forces, notably the People's Protection Units (YPG), have taken control of large parts of north-eastern Syria, establishing a de facto autonomous administration in these areas. This has added a new layer of complexity to regional geopolitics, particularly with the Kurds' involvement in the fight against the Islamic State (EI). The Kurdish movement, in its quest for recognition and rights, continues to shape the politics of the Middle East. Their situation, often referred to as the "Kurdish problem", remains one of the thorniest challenges in the region, involving a mosaic of local, regional and international interests. The Kurds, while seeking to preserve their unique identity, are fighting for a place in an ever-changing Middle East, where questions of autonomy and independence are at the heart of political and social debates.

History and meaning of the word 'Kurdistan[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The term "Kurdistan", literally meaning "the land of the Kurds", has been in use for several centuries, with references dating back to at least the 12th century. This historical geographical term refers to the region inhabited mainly by the Kurds, an ethnic group indigenous to the mountainous region straddling modern Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. In historical texts, the term "Kurdistan" has been used to describe the regions inhabited by the Kurds, but it is important to note that the precise delimitation and extent of this region has varied over time, depending on political dynamics, border changes and population movements. Throughout history, this region has been part of various empires and states, including the Persian, Arab, Turkish and Ottoman empires. The Kurds, while retaining their distinct cultural and linguistic identity, have often been subject to external rule and have rarely enjoyed autonomy or an independent nation state.

The notion of Kurdistan as a distinct political entity gained prominence in the early 20th century, particularly after the First World War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, when Kurds began to aspire to greater autonomy or independence. However, aspirations for an independent or autonomous Kurdistan clashed with the political realities of the region's modern nation-states. Today, although Kurdistan as a sovereign state does not exist, the term is widely used to refer to Kurdish-majority regions, particularly Iraqi Kurdistan, which enjoys a significant degree of autonomy within Iraq.

Impact of the Ottoman-Seville War on the Kurds[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The war between the Iranian Sefevids and the Ottomans in 1514, marked by the emblematic battle of Chaldoran, was a defining moment in the history of the Middle East and is of particular importance to the Kurdish people. This confrontation between two great powers of the time, the Sunni Ottoman Empire under the reign of Selim I and the Shiite Sefavid Empire led by Shah Ismail I, resulted in an Ottoman victory that redefined the geopolitical balance in the region. The Kurdish region, which straddles the border between these two empires, was profoundly affected by this conflict. The Battle of Chaldoran was not only a struggle for territorial power but also an ideological clash between Shiism and Sunnism, which had a direct impact on the Kurdish population. Kurdish territories were divided, with some coming under Ottoman control and others under Sefevid influence.

In this context, Kurdish leaders were faced with difficult choices. Some chose to ally themselves with the Ottomans, hoping for autonomy or political advantages, while others saw the alliance with the Sefevids as a similar opportunity. These decisions were often influenced by local considerations, including tribal rivalries and political and economic interests. The consequences of the Battle of Chaldoran and the subsequent Ottoman-Sevid wars on the Kurds were significant. They led to political and territorial fragmentation that lasted for centuries. The Kurds, divided between different empires and later nation states, struggled to maintain their unique cultural and linguistic identity and to preserve their autonomy.

This period laid the foundations for Kurdish political challenges and autonomous aspirations in the centuries that followed. Their geographical position at the crossroads of empires made the Kurds key players in regional dynamics, while often placing them in a position of vulnerability to the ambitions of neighbouring powers. The Battle of Chaldoran and its repercussions are therefore crucial to understanding the complexity of Kurdish history and the challenges faced by this people in their quest for autonomy and recognition in an ever-changing region.

Treaty of Qasr-e Shirin and its consequences for the Kurds[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Treaty of Qasr-e Shirin, also known as the Treaty of Zuhab, signed in 1639 between the Ottoman Empire and the Sephardic dynasty of Persia, established the borders between these two empires, de facto affecting the Kurdish territories. This treaty marked the end of a series of Ottoman-Persian wars and established borders which, to a large extent, remained stable for several centuries and prefigured the modern borders of the region. However, it is important to note that although the 1639 treaty established borders between the Ottoman and Sephardic empires, these borders were not always clearly defined or administered, especially in the mountainous regions inhabited by the Kurds. The Kurds themselves did not have their own nation-state and were spread out on either side of this border, living under Ottoman or Persian (later Iranian) sovereignty depending on the region.

It was not until the 20th century, particularly after the First World War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, that the borders of the modern states of the Middle East began to be shaped and administered more rigidly. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, followed by the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 and the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, redefined borders in the region, resulting in the division of Kurdish territories between several new nation states, including Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. These developments in the 1940s formalised the existing borders and had a profound impact on the Kurdish question. The division of Kurdish territories between different states posed unique challenges for the Kurdish people in terms of cultural, political and linguistic rights, and shaped their struggle for autonomy and recognition throughout the 20th century and to the present day.

Post-First World War consequences for the Kurds[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the period following the First World War, the Middle East witnessed considerable political and territorial transformations, significantly influencing the situation of the Kurds. The fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of pan-Islamism, as well as the creation of new nation states, marked the beginning of a new era for the Kurdish people. After the war, Kurdish aspirations for autonomy were largely set aside in the context of the formation of new nation states. In Turkey, for example, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a policy of turquification was put in place, aimed at creating a unified national identity centred on the Turkish identity. This policy had a negative impact on the linguistic and cultural rights of the Kurds, exacerbating tensions and fuelling autonomist aspirations. In Iraq and Syria, under the British and French mandates respectively, the situation of the Kurds has been complex and fluctuating. Despite certain measures aimed at recognising Kurdish rights, particularly in terms of social benefits, these efforts were often insufficient to fully meet their political and cultural aspirations. These policies were often marked by periods of repression and marginalisation.

During this period, relations between the Kurds and other ethnic groups in the region, such as the Armenians, were strained. Conflicts in eastern Anatolia and the border regions between Turkey and Armenia were exacerbated by state policies and social upheaval. The Armenian genocide, for example, led to major population displacements and inter-community tensions. The post-Ottoman geopolitical context has had a profound effect on the lives of the Kurds. Caught between the nationalist ambitions of the new states and regional dynamics, the Kurds found themselves in a difficult position, seeking to preserve their identity and their rights in an unstable and often hostile political environment. This era laid the foundations for contemporary struggles for Kurdish self-determination, underlining the persistent challenges faced by this people in gaining recognition and autonomy.

Creation of the First Kurdish Political Organisation[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The year 1919 marked a turning point in the history of the Kurdish people, with the creation of the first Kurdish political organisation, signifying the emergence of a structured Kurdish nationalist movement. This period, in the aftermath of the First World War and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, opened up unprecedented opportunities and challenges for Kurdish aspirations.

The Kurdish political organisation created in 1919 was a concrete expression of the growing desire among Kurds to take their political destiny into their own hands. Its aim was to unite the various Kurdish tribes and communities under a common banner and to articulate demands for autonomy and even independence. The Treaty of Sèvres, signed in 1920, seemed to pave the way for the realisation of these aspirations. This treaty, which redrew the borders of the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, included provisions for autonomy for Kurdish territory, and the possibility of future independence if the Kurdish communities so wished. This formal recognition of Kurdish autonomy in the Treaty of Sèvres was seen as a significant victory for the Kurdish nationalist movement. However, the hopes raised by the Treaty of Sèvres quickly evaporated. The treaty was never ratified by the new Turkish Republic, led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and was replaced in 1923 by the Treaty of Lausanne. The Treaty of Lausanne made no mention of an autonomous Kurdistan, leaving Kurdish aspirations without international support. The period following the First World War was therefore one of both opportunity and frustration for the Kurds. Despite the emergence of an organised Kurdish nationalism and the initial recognition of their rights in the Treaty of Sèvres, hopes of autonomy and independence came up against the reality of new political balances and national interests in the reconfigured Middle East.

Challenges of establishing a Kurdish state[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the period following the First World War, the Middle East was redrawn by the victorious powers, profoundly affecting the aspirations of the peoples of the region, including those of the Kurds. The Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, which promised a degree of autonomy for the Kurds, raised hopes of an independent Kurdish state. However, this hope was short-lived due to a number of key factors. The geographical distribution of Kurdish populations, scattered between the spheres of influence of France, Great Britain and Russia, hampered the formation of a unified Kurdish state. This territorial division complicated any attempt to create a coherent Kurdish political entity, as each area was subject to different policies and influences. In addition, the allied powers, mainly Britain and France, who had redrawn the map of the Middle East, were reluctant to change their plans to accommodate a Kurdish state. These powers, preoccupied with their own strategic interests in the region, were not prepared to support the Kurdish cause to the detriment of their own geopolitical objectives.

The question of Armenian autonomy also played a role in the failure to establish a Kurdish state. The territories envisaged for Armenian autonomy overlapped with areas populated by Kurds, thus creating conflicts over territorial claims. These tensions exacerbated the complexity of the situation, making it even more difficult to reach a consensus on the Kurdish question. Another important factor was the relative weakness of Kurdish nationalism at the time. Unlike other national movements in the region, Kurdish nationalism had not yet developed a strong, unified base capable of effectively mobilising the masses. Internal divisions, tribal and regional differences, as well as differences of opinion on the strategy to adopt, limited the ability of the Kurds to present a united front. In addition, there was a debate within the Kurdish community on whether to accept or reject the Treaty of Sevres. Some Kurds were considering aligning themselves with Turkish nationalism in the hope of preserving some form of autonomy within a unified Turkish territory.

Ultimately, these challenges and obstacles led to the idea of an independent Kurdish state being abandoned in the years following the First World War. The political reality of the Middle East, shaped by the interests of colonial powers and complex internal dynamics, made the achievement of Kurdish autonomy extremely difficult, laying the foundations for Kurdish struggles for recognition and autonomy in the decades that followed.

Turkish Kurdistan[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Turkey's Assimilation Policy and the Denial of Kurdish Identity[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The early 1920s in Turkey, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, were marked by radical changes in the construction of the Turkish nation-state. One aspect of this transformation was the policy of assimilation and acculturation of ethnic minorities, particularly the Kurds. In 1924, as part of these efforts, the use of the terms "Kurd" and "Kurdistan" was officially banned in Turkey, symbolising an explicit denial of Kurdish identity.

This policy was part of a wider strategy of cultural and linguistic homogenisation aimed at forging a unified Turkish identity. The Turkish authorities implemented policies aimed at forcibly assimilating Kurdish populations, including the displacement of populations and the suppression of Kurdish cultural and linguistic expressions. Kurds were often described by the Turkish authorities as "mountain Turks", in an attempt to reinterpret and deny their distinct identity. This theorisation aimed to justify assimilation policies by asserting that linguistic and cultural differences were simply regional variations within the Turkish population.

These policies led to a context of permanent revolt within the Kurdish population. The Kurds, faced with the denial of their identity and the repression of their cultural and linguistic rights, resisted these efforts at assimilation. This resistance has taken various forms, from armed revolt to the clandestine preservation of Kurdish culture and language. The Kurdish revolts in Turkey, particularly those led by figures such as Sheikh Said in 1925, were moments of direct confrontation with the Turkish state. These rebellions, although suppressed, highlighted the deep tensions and disagreements between the Turkish government and its Kurdish population.

Kurdish Cultural Renaissance and Post-World War II Political Tensions[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

At the end of the Second World War, Turkey underwent a period of transformation and identity crisis that indirectly contributed to a renewed interest in Kurdish language, culture and history. This period marked a renaissance of Kurdish nationalism, although the circumstances were complex and often contradictory. The post-war period in Turkey was characterised by a relative openness and a questioning of Turkish national identity. This openness led to a certain rediscovery of Kurdish culture, which had previously been repressed under Kemalist assimilation policies. Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals began to explore Kurdish history and culture, contributing to a growing awareness of a distinct Kurdish identity. This cultural revival served as a catalyst for the development of Kurdish nationalism, with a new generation of Kurds demanding their cultural and political rights more openly.

However, this period was also marked by political instability in Turkey, with several military coups and increased repression. The military regimes that came to power in Turkey during the 1960s and 1980s, although sometimes open to certain reforms, maintained a hard line on ethnic policy, particularly with regard to the Kurdish question. The nationalist policies of these regimes often led to renewed repression of Kurdish cultural and political expression. The tension between the Kurdish cultural renaissance and state repression has led to a period of increased conflict. The Kurdish movement, increasingly organised and politicised, has faced major challenges, both from the Turkish state and from its own internal dynamics. The Kurdish question has become a central issue in Turkish politics, symbolising the limits of the nation-state model in Turkey and the challenges posed by the country's ethnic and cultural diversity.

PKK Armed Struggle and Impact on the Kurdish Question in Turkey[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The armed struggle of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which began in 1984, represents a decisive turning point in the history of the Kurdish movement in Turkey. Founded by Abdullah Öcalan in 1978, the PKK emerged as a Marxist-Leninist movement, oriented towards class struggle and Kurdish independence. The PKK's decision to launch a guerrilla campaign against the Turkish state marked the beginning of a prolonged period of armed conflict that has had a profound effect on south-east Turkey and the Kurdish community.

The context in which the PKK began its armed struggle was complex. The 1980s in Turkey were a period of political tension and increased repression against dissident groups, including Kurdish movements. In response to what they perceived as systematic oppression and the denial of their cultural and linguistic rights, the PKK opted for armed struggle as a means of demanding Kurdish autonomy. In its early years, the PKK enjoyed a degree of support from countries aligned with the Soviet bloc. This support took the form of training, arms supplies and logistical support, although the exact extent and nature of this support was open to debate. This support was partly due to the dynamics of the Cold War, when the PKK was seen as a potential ally by NATO member Turkey's enemies. The Turkish government's response to the PKK insurgency was characterised by intense military repression. Massive security operations were launched in the Kurdish regions, with serious humanitarian consequences, including civilian and military casualties and the displacement of Kurdish populations.

Over time, the PKK's philosophy and objectives have evolved. While its roots were deeply rooted in Marxist-Leninist ideology, the movement gradually adapted its demands, moving from the demand for an independent Kurdish state to calls for greater autonomy and recognition of Kurdish cultural and linguistic rights. The PKK's armed struggle put the Kurdish question at the centre of national and international attention, highlighting the complexity and challenges of the Kurdish question in Turkey. It has also polarised opinion, both within Turkey and the Kurdish community, on the appropriate strategies and objectives in the quest for Kurdish autonomy and rights. The conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state remains a thorny issue, symbolising the tension between Kurdish aspirations for autonomy and Turkey's imperatives of security and national unity.

International context and Soviet interest in the Kurdish Regions[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Since 1946, the Soviet Union has shown a growing interest in the Middle East, particularly in regions with a high concentration of Kurds and Azeris. This Soviet involvement is part of the wider context of the Cold War and the USSR's strategy to extend its influence in strategically important regions. One of the most significant examples of this policy was Soviet support for the Iranian Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan. In 1945, at the end of the Second World War, the Soviet Union, which had occupied northern Iran during the war, encouraged and supported the creation of the Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan, as well as the Republic of Kurdistan, in Iran. These autonomous entities were established with the support of local communists and the Soviets, and represented a direct challenge to the authority of the central Iranian government, then led by Reza Shah Pahlavi. The creation of these autonomous republics was seen by the USSR as an opportunity to extend its influence in the region and counter the British and American presence.

However, the ensuing Iranian-Soviet conflict led to international pressure on the Soviet Union to withdraw its troops from Iran. In 1946, under pressure from the international community and the United States in particular, the USSR withdrew its support for the autonomous republics, which were quickly taken over by Iranian forces. This period was significant for international relations in the region, showing how the dynamics of the Cold War influenced regional policies. Soviet support for autonomous movements in Iran not only reflected the geopolitical interests of the USSR, but also highlighted the aspirations of ethnic minorities in the region, including the Kurds and Azeris, for greater autonomy and recognition.

Religious and political tensions among Kurds in Iran[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Since the early 2000s, the situation of the Kurds in Iran has been characterised by growing tension due to religious and political differences. Iran, a predominantly Shia state, has seen its relations with its predominantly Sunni Kurdish population strained by religious, cultural and political factors. The sectarian difference between Iran's Shia majority and the Sunni Kurdish minority is a key aspect of this tension. While Iran has consolidated its Shia identity since the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iranian Kurds have often felt marginalised because of their Sunni religious affiliation. This situation is exacerbated by issues of cultural and linguistic rights, with Kurds demanding greater recognition of their ethnic and cultural identity.

Political tensions between Iranian Kurds and the central government have intensified due to perceptions of marginalisation and economic neglect. Kurds in Iran have long fought for greater regional autonomy and recognition of their linguistic and cultural rights, including the right to education and media in their mother tongue. The Iranian government's response to these demands has often been repression. Kurdish political movements in Iran have been closely monitored and sometimes repressed. Armed clashes have broken out on several occasions between the Iranian security forces and armed Kurdish groups, the latter seeking to defend Kurdish rights and autonomy.

The situation of the Kurds in Iran is also influenced by regional dynamics. Developments concerning the Kurds in Iraq, notably the creation of an autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, have had an impact on the aspirations of the Kurds in Iran. At the same time, Iran's foreign policy, in particular its involvement in regional conflicts such as Syria and Iraq, is having an impact on its domestic policy towards its own Kurdish population. In conclusion, the tensions between the Kurds and the Iranian government since the 2000s are the result of a complex mix of religious, cultural and political factors. These tensions reflect the challenges of governance in a multi-ethnic and multi-faith society and underline the persistent difficulties of minorities in the region to gain greater recognition and autonomy.

Iraqi Kurdistan[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Origins of Iraqi Kurdistan and the Vilayet of Mosul[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The history of Iraqi Kurdistan and its relationship with the vilayet of Mosul during the British Mandate is crucial to understanding the political and ethnic dynamics of the region. After the First World War and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman province of Mosul vilayet became a central issue in the redrawing of the borders of the Middle East.

The Mosul vilayet was rich in ethnic diversity and included a significant Kurdish population, as well as other groups such as Arabs, Assyrians and Turkmen. At the time of the establishment of the British mandate over Mesopotamia, which was to become Iraq, the future of this province was widely debated. The British, keen to control the region's oil resources, argued for its inclusion in Iraq, despite Turkey's territorial claims. In 1925, after a long process of negotiation and deliberation, the League of Nations decided in favour of annexing the vilayet of Mosul to Iraq. This decision was crucial in defining Iraq's northern borders and had a significant impact on the region's Kurdish population. The League's decision placed a large number of Kurds under Iraqi administration, changing the political and ethnic landscape of the new state.

The Struggle for Kurdish Autonomy in the 20th Century[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The integration of the Mosul vilayet into Iraq has influenced the Kurdish movement in the country. The Kurds, seeking to preserve their cultural and linguistic identity and achieve greater political autonomy, have faced a variety of challenges under successive governments in Baghdad. The struggle for Kurdish autonomy intensified throughout the 20th century, culminating in the creation of an autonomous Kurdistan region in the 1990s, after decades of conflict and negotiations. The development of Iraqi Kurdistan as an autonomous region was reinforced after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, establishing the region as a key player in Iraqi politics. The history of the vilayet of Mosul and its integration into modern Iraq are therefore essential to understanding the current dynamics of Iraqi Kurdistan, highlighting the historical and political complexities of nation-state formation in the region and the persistent challenges of ethnic and cultural diversity.

The League of Nations' decision in 1925 to annex the vilayet of Mosul to the British mandate of Iraq was a crucial step in the formation of the modern Iraqi state and had profound implications for the Kurdish nationalist movement in the region. The decision incorporated a territory with a sizeable Kurdish population into Iraq, laying the foundations for an ongoing Kurdish struggle for recognition and autonomy. The Kurdish nationalist movement in Iraq has been characterised by remarkable resilience and continuity, despite political challenges and obstacles. The struggle of the Kurds in Iraq for autonomy and recognition of their rights has been punctuated by rebellions, negotiations and sometimes violent repression. This perseverance reflects the specific nature of Kurdish nationalism in Iraq, where aspirations for regional autonomy and the preservation of Kurdish cultural identity have been constant themes.

Attempts at negotiations and agreements between the Kurdish leadership and the Iraqi government have often been unsuccessful, marked by broken promises and violated agreements. One of the factors contributing to these failures has been the lack of consistent international support for the Kurdish cause. In particular, Iran's withdrawal of support for Kurdish nationalism has been a significant setback. Iran, which has its own Kurdish populations and concerns about Kurdish autonomy within its borders, has often wavered in its support for the Kurds in Iraq, depending on its own geopolitical and security interests. The situation of the Kurds in Iraq has continued to evolve over the course of the 20th century, with periods of severe repression under regimes such as that of Saddam Hussein, as well as significant advances, such as the establishment of an autonomous Kurdistan region in the 1990s. These developments have been influenced by a variety of regional and international factors, reflecting the complexity of the Kurdish question in the region.

The Emergence of Kurdish Autonomy in the 1990s[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

1991 was a defining moment for the Kurdish movement in Iraq, particularly following the Gulf War and the weakening of Saddam Hussein's regime. The end of this war created an unprecedented opportunity for the Iraqi Kurds to establish a form of de facto autonomy in their regions.

Following Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War, a popular uprising broke out in the north of the country, mainly among the Kurds. This uprising was brutally put down by Saddam Hussein's regime, leading to a serious humanitarian crisis and massive population displacement. In response, the United States, the United Kingdom and France set up a no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel, allowing the Kurds to gain a significant degree of autonomy. This de facto autonomy enabled the Kurds to develop their own political and administrative institutions, a major step forward for Kurdish nationalism in Iraq. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was formed, with its own administrative, legislative and security structures. Although this autonomy was not officially recognised by the Iraqi government at the time, it represented a turning point in Kurdish history in Iraq.

Iraqi Kurdistan in the New Post-2003 Political Context[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The situation changed significantly after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003. The new Iraqi constitution, adopted in 2005, officially recognised Iraqi Kurdistan as a federal entity within Iraq. This constitutional recognition legalised Kurdish autonomy and was a major step towards realising Kurdish political aspirations. The inclusion of Kurdish autonomy in the Iraqi constitution also symbolised an important evolution in Iraqi politics, marking a break with the centralised and repressive policies of previous regimes. It also reflected changes in the political dynamics of the post-Saddam Middle East, where issues of ethnic and regional identity have become increasingly prominent.

The withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2009 and subsequent events had a significant impact on the situation of the Kurds in Iraq, exacerbating tensions between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central government in Baghdad. After the US withdrawal, relations between Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and Baghdad deteriorated. The Kurds often expressed concerns about increasing marginalisation by the central Iraqi government. These tensions centred on a range of issues, including the sharing of oil revenues, the status of disputed areas (such as oil-rich Kirkuk), and the political and administrative autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan, held in September 2017, marked a high point in these tensions. The referendum, which saw an overwhelming majority vote in favour of independence, was organised by the KRG despite strong opposition from Baghdad as well as international warnings. The Iraqi government, as well as several neighbouring countries and the international community, considered the referendum illegal and a threat to Iraq's territorial integrity. In response to the referendum, the Iraqi central government took severe measures, including the military takeover of some disputed areas, such as Kirkuk, and the imposition of economic and transport restrictions on Iraqi Kurdistan. These actions underlined the fragility of Kurdish autonomy in Iraq and highlighted the political and security challenges facing the region. The referendum and its aftermath also revealed the internal divisions within the Iraqi Kurdish movement, as well as the complexities of regional politics. While some Kurdish leaders saw the referendum as a step towards long-awaited independence, others expressed concerns about its timing and potential implications.

Syrian Kurdistan[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The creation of the 'Arab Belt' and its repercussions[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the 1960s, the situation of the Kurds in Syria was profoundly affected by the policies of the Syrian nationalist government. During this period, Syria, under the influence of the Ba'ath party, adopted an Arab nationalist approach which exacerbated ethnic divisions, particularly among the Kurdish community. One of the most notable and controversial policies of this period was the creation of the "Arab Belt". This initiative aimed to change the demographic composition of the regions with a high concentration of Kurds along the border with Turkey. The government encouraged Arabs to settle in these areas, often by forcibly displacing Kurdish populations. This policy was partly justified by development projects, such as the construction of a railway line, but was clearly politically motivated in order to dilute the Kurdish presence.

These actions led to forced displacement and increased economic and social marginalisation of the Kurds in Syria. The 'Arab Belt' not only caused demographic upheaval, but also fuelled a sense of injustice and exclusion among Syrian Kurds. These policies have heightened ethnic tensions in the region and contributed to a growing sense of mistrust towards central government. The consequences of these policies have been long-lasting. Kurds in Syria have continued to struggle for recognition of their cultural and political rights, as well as for autonomy. These tensions were exacerbated during the Syrian civil war that broke out in 2011, in which the Kurds played a significant role, seeking to establish some form of autonomy in north-eastern Syria.

The Kurds in Syria and the Struggle for Autonomy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the 2000s, and particularly with the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the Kurds of Syria began to demonstrate more visibly for autonomy. This period marked a turning point in the Syrian Kurds' struggle for recognition and self-determination.

Before the civil war, Kurds in Syria were often marginalised and deprived of basic rights. The regime of Bashar al-Assad, like that of his father Hafez al-Assad, maintained a policy of repression towards Kurdish culture and Kurdish political aspirations. However, with the outbreak of the civil war, central power in Damascus weakened, giving the Kurds an unprecedented opportunity to claim autonomy. Taking advantage of the power vacuum created by the conflict, Kurdish groups, principally the People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), took control of large areas of northern Syria. These groups have established a form of autonomous governance in these areas, including aspects such as civil administration, defence and education.

This de facto autonomy has been reinforced by the crucial role played by Kurdish forces in the fight against the Islamic State (EI), attracting the support and recognition of the international community, particularly the United States. The Kurds have managed to establish relatively stable areas of autonomy, known as the Northern and Eastern Syrian Autonomous Administration, despite continuing challenges, including tensions with the Syrian government and threats from neighbouring Turkey. However, the situation remains precarious. Official recognition of Kurdish autonomy in Syria by the government in Damascus remains uncertain, and regional tensions continue to threaten the stability of the Kurdish regions. The Syrian Kurds' quest for autonomy is therefore an ongoing process, deeply linked to the complex political and security developments in Syria and the wider region.

The Questioning of Nation-States in the Middle East[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Since the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq in 2003, followed by the Iraqi civil war and the Syrian crisis from 2011 onwards, the concept of stable nation-states in the Middle East has been profoundly challenged. The invasion of Iraq, aimed at overthrowing Saddam Hussein, triggered a series of unforeseen consequences, sending the country into a spiral of sectarian violence and political instability. The situation was further complicated by the emergence of the Islamic State, which exploited the chaos in Iraq and Syria to establish a cross-border caliphate, challenging the legitimacy of national borders and governments.

The Syrian civil war, which began with the popular uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in 2011, further exacerbated regional instability. The conflict has attracted a multitude of regional and international actors, each pursuing its own strategic objectives. The repercussions of these conflicts have extended beyond national borders, exacerbating sectarian and ethnic tensions and triggering large-scale refugee flows. These events have exposed the flaws in the Middle East's nation-states, whose borders were drawn by the colonial powers after the First World War. These borders, often established without regard for the ethnic, cultural and religious realities on the ground, have given rise to persistent tensions and conflicts.

Despite these challenges, the borders established in the Middle East have shown remarkable resilience. They remain key elements of the regional political order, despite being the scene of incessant conflict. The states of the region, though weakened, continue to struggle to maintain their sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of secessionist movements and foreign interference. The future of nation-states in the Middle East remains uncertain. The conflicts in Iraq and Syria have revealed deep divisions and raised fundamental questions about the legitimacy and viability of existing state structures. Against this backdrop, new political and territorial configurations could emerge, redefining the political landscape of the Middle East in the years to come.

Controversial Perspectives on Middle East Borders and the Syrian Civil War[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Ralph Peters, a former US Army officer and commentator on geopolitical issues, has presented a controversial perspective on the borders of the Middle East. In his writings, he argues that the region's current borders, largely inherited from the colonial and post-First World War era, do not reflect the political, cultural and religious reality on the ground. Peters argues that these artificial borders have contributed to many conflicts by failing to reflect the national, ethnic and religious identities of local societies. His vision, sometimes illustrated by redrawn maps of the Middle East, proposes a reconfiguration of borders to better reflect these realities. For example, he suggests the creation of an independent Kurdish state encompassing parts of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey, where large Kurdish populations live. It also envisages territorial adjustments for other ethnic and religious groups, with the aim of creating more homogenous states.

This proposal has provoked heated debate and widespread criticism, including within NATO and other international circles. Critics point out that redrawing borders along ethnic and religious lines is extremely complex and risky. They point to the dangers of aggravating existing tensions and creating new conflicts. Moreover, redefining national borders raises questions about sovereignty, self-determination and international intervention. Peters' ideas reflect a wider challenge facing the Middle East: how to manage ethnic and religious diversity in nation-states formed along lines drawn by foreign powers. While his proposals may seem logical from a simplified geopolitical perspective, they fail to take into account the complexity of national identities, historical relationships between groups, and political realities on the ground.

MOMCENC - Ralph Peters- Near East - Middle East.png

The Syrian civil war, which broke out in 2011, has brought about fundamental changes in the structure and composition of the Syrian nation, calling into question the viability of the nation-state model in the context of the Middle East. While Bashar Al-Assad's regime appears to be gaining ground, the reality on the ground has profoundly altered the very nature of the Syrian nation. The conflict in Syria has exposed the deep-seated flaws of a state built on heterogeneous foundations, in which the various ethnic and religious communities, including Kurds, Alawites, Sunnis, Christians and others, have been integrated in a precarious manner. The war has exacerbated these divisions, destroying the social fabric and causing a major humanitarian crisis. Historic cities such as Aleppo and Homs have been devastated, while millions of Syrians have been displaced within the country or have fled abroad, forming large diaspora communities.

Post-war Syria will face enormous challenges in rebuilding not only its infrastructure, but also its society. Assad's centralised and often authoritarian governance will have to adapt to a reality where different communities aspire to greater recognition and representation. These communities, although geographically delimited by Syria's national borders, are intrinsically linked by confessional, cultural and historical ties that transcend these borders. The concept of diaspora has become particularly relevant for Syria. Syrians abroad maintain close links with their homeland, playing a key role in the preservation of cultural identity and in the potential reconstruction of the country. The Syrian diaspora represents a diversity of opinions and experiences, reflecting the complexity of Syrian society as a whole.

The Persian Gulf[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Persian Gulf: History, Importance and Debates on Terminology[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The region known as the Persian Gulf is often at the centre of debate over its name. Indeed, some states, particularly those in the Arab world, prefer to use the term "Arab Gulf". This debate over terminology reflects the tensions and political dynamics in the region, where history, culture and national identity play a key role in how places are named. The Gulf, whether called the "Persian Gulf" or the "Arab Gulf", is a region of great strategic, economic and cultural importance. It is bordered by several key countries, including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, as well as Iran and Saudi Arabia. The region is known for its vast reserves of oil and natural gas, making it one of the richest and most strategically important areas in the world.

In recent decades, the Gulf has become synonymous with prosperity and luxury, particularly in the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Saudi Arabia. These countries have used their oil wealth to develop modern, diversified economies, investing heavily in urban development, tourism, education and infrastructure. Cities such as Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Doha in Qatar have become symbols of this prosperity, attracting international investment and tourists from all over the world. These states have also sought to play a greater role on the international stage, whether through diplomacy, economic investment or the organisation of world-class events.

Prosperity and Transformation in the Persian Gulf States[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The political and economic history of the Persian Gulf is closely linked to British influence in the region, which began to manifest itself significantly in the 19th century. At that time, the British Empire, seeking to secure the sea routes to India, its colonial jewel, began to establish a presence in the Persian Gulf. This influence took the form of protectorate agreements with the local emirates, giving Britain significant control over the political and economic affairs of the region. British interest in the Gulf increased with the discovery of oil in the early 20th century. The British played a crucial role in the development of the oil industry, notably by establishing companies such as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (which later became British Petroleum, or BP). This period saw a transformation of the region from a primarily maritime strategic importance to a centre of the global oil economy.

The British withdrawal from the region in the 1960s and 1970s marked a new era for the Gulf States. This period of decolonisation coincided with a significant rise in global demand for oil, propelling these newly independent states towards unprecedented economic prosperity. Independence also led to the formation of state-specific political structures, often in the form of monarchies, which continue to characterise governance in the region. However, the British legacy in the Persian Gulf has left lasting traces. The borders drawn during the colonial period, and the political and economic alliances established, have continued to influence the international relations and domestic politics of the Gulf States. The close relationship between these states and the Western powers, particularly the United States after the British withdrawal, has played a crucial role in the region's security and economic policy.

Throughout its history, the Persian Gulf has been closely linked to Mesopotamia, thanks in part to its rich pearl trade, a predominant economic activity long before the advent of the oil era. Important centres of this trade were established in Bahrain and Oman, where pearl fishing was an essential source of income for the local populations. Since ancient times, the waters of the Persian Gulf have been renowned for their rich pearl deposits. The region of Bahrain, in particular, was known as a major centre for pearl farming, attracting traders and merchants from various parts of the ancient world. In Oman, the long coastline also favoured the development of an active maritime trade, including the pearl trade. These activities were crucial to local economies, especially in regions otherwise limited in natural resources.

The economic and cultural boom under the Abbasids, from the 8th century onwards, contributed to the expansion of trade in the Persian Gulf. This period saw a flourishing development of trade, with the Gulf ports serving as important hubs for regional and international commerce. Trade in pearls, as well as other goods, flourished under the Abbasid administration, which effectively integrated the region into an extended empire. However, the decline of the Abbasid caliphate in the 13th century marked the beginning of a more difficult period for the region. Invasions, political unrest and the fragmentation of the empire disrupted trade and weakened the regional economy. Despite these challenges, the pearl trade continued to play a significant economic role until the 20th century.

From the 15th century onwards, a new era began for the Persian Gulf with the arrival of the European powers, motivated by the spice trade and the mastery of maritime routes. The Portuguese, led by navigators such as Vasco da Gama, were the first to establish a presence in the region in the early 16th century, seeking to control the trade routes to India and gain direct access to the lucrative sources of spices. Maritime trade became the main means of European influence in the Gulf. The Portuguese established several bases, such as Hormuz, which enabled them to control trade routes and influence local politics. This presence paved the way for other European powers, notably the British and the Dutch, who also sought to establish their influence in the region.

The impact of Europe's arrival in the Gulf was profound. It not only altered existing power structures, but also introduced new maritime and military technologies. Local states have had to navigate this new geopolitical environment, often forming alliances with or against these foreign powers. European involvement has significantly changed the regional dynamics of the Gulf. Rivalry between European powers for control of trade routes and strategic points has had a significant impact on the history of the region. For example, competition between the Portuguese and the British eventually led to more established British domination of the Gulf in the 19th century. This period thus marks a turning point in the history of the Persian Gulf, where the region moved from being a relatively autonomous commercial and cultural centre to a theatre of international rivalry and foreign domination. These events laid the foundations for future relations between the Gulf and the West, and influenced the political, economic and social development of the region until modern times.

British influence in the Persian Gulf[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

British involvement in the Persian Gulf evolved significantly from the 18th century onwards, marked by an increase in trade and the emergence of security challenges. The main reason for the British presence in the region was to protect the maritime trade routes to India, a jewel in the crown of the British colonial empire. Trade with India was intensified under British influence, transforming the Gulf into a vital commercial crossroads. However, this period was also marked by security challenges. The region was troubled by piracy and conflicts between various local chieftains, which threatened the free flow of goods and the safety of shipping routes. The British were therefore faced with the need to stabilise the region in order to maintain and secure their commercial interests.

With French expansion in the region, particularly following Napoleon Bonaparte's Egyptian campaign at the end of the 18th century, the British felt an increased threat to their interests. In response, they established pacts with local actors, such as the treaty with Oman, aimed at containing French expansionism. These agreements were essential to establishing friendly relations and guaranteeing a degree of stability in the region. In addition to external threats, the British had to deal with piracy activities in the Gulf. They adopted a negotiating approach with the pirates, seeking to end their raids on maritime trade. These agreements played a key role in securing the sea lanes and allowing trade to flow more smoothly in the region.

In the 19th century, these treaties determined Britain's economic and strategic policy in the Gulf. Not only did they secure the region, they also laid the foundations for future relations between Britain and the Gulf States. Although the region has been marked by instability, the growing commitment of local leaders to refrain from war has contributed to relative stabilisation, allowing the British to maintain considerable influence. These historical developments were crucial in shaping the politics and economy of the Persian Gulf, foreshadowing the modern dynamics of the region. The period of British influence laid the foundations for the political structures and alliances that still characterise the Gulf States today.

The Persian Gulf during the First World War[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

When the First World War broke out, it created a new geopolitical dynamic in the Persian Gulf, a region already marked by the growing influence of the European powers. Kuwait, strategically located at the entrance to the Gulf, played a crucial role in this new configuration. Led at the time by Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah, Kuwait sought to strengthen its position by aligning itself more closely with Great Britain. Already under a protectorate agreement signed in 1899, in which Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah had undertaken not to cede, lease or sell territory without British consent in return for British protection, Kuwait saw the war as an opportunity to consolidate this relationship. The rise of the Ottoman Empire as a threat during the war accentuated Kuwait's need for security and support. In response to these circumstances, Kuwait and Britain strengthened their protectorate agreement. This renewed agreement provided stronger protection for Kuwait against Ottoman ambitions and strengthened political and economic ties with Britain. For Britain, securing Kuwait was essential to protect its shipping routes to India and to maintain its influence in the oil-rich Gulf region.

The First World War thus had a significant impact on the Persian Gulf, redefining relations between local states and European powers. The agreements reached during this period between states such as Kuwait and Great Britain shaped the geopolitical future of the region, laying the foundations for the political and economic structure that would prevail for decades to come. This historic period also underlined the strategic importance of the Persian Gulf, not only for regional powers, but also for global players. The decisions taken and alliances formed during the First World War had lasting repercussions, influencing the politics, economies and societies of this key region.

British withdrawal and the emergence of the modern Gulf States[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The 1960s were a pivotal period for the Persian Gulf, characterised by a fundamental change in the region's international relations. This change was mainly driven by the United Kingdom's decision to withdraw from its strategic positions east of Suez, including the Persian Gulf. This decision, announced in 1968, came at a time when Britain, affected by economic constraints and a change in political paradigm, was reassessing its imperial role around the world. Britain's gradual withdrawal from the Gulf coincided with a period of geopolitical realignment. The independence of India and Pakistan in 1947 had already marked the beginning of the end of the British Empire, and the loss of these key colonies influenced the decision to reduce the British military presence in other regions. In the Gulf, this withdrawal left a power vacuum that had major implications for the states of the region.

The Gulf States, which had long been under British influence or protection, found themselves in a position where they had to navigate autonomously in a complex international environment. This accelerated the process of the formation of modern nation states in the region and gave rise to the creation of new political structures and alliances, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) founded in 1981. The British withdrawal also opened the door to other international influences, in particular that of the United States. In the context of the Cold War and the growing strategic importance of oil, the United States strengthened its presence in the Gulf, establishing close relations with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. This new configuration has redefined the balance of power in the region and had a significant impact on regional and international policies.

Oil discovery and the Second Wave of Independence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Following the British withdrawal from the Persian Gulf in the 1960s, local princes and rulers, who had previously established alliances with the UK, were faced with crucial decisions about the future of their territories. This period was characterised by profound political change, marking the formation of modern nation states in the Gulf region. British withdrawal left a power vacuum and paved the way for full sovereignty for the Gulf States. Notable examples include the independence of Bahrain and Qatar in 1971, followed shortly afterwards by the formation of the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven emirates. These events were crucial steps in defining the political boundaries and governmental structures of these nations.

The leaders of these new states have had to navigate a complex landscape, balancing the need to develop stable government institutions and manage international relations, while exploiting abundant natural resources, particularly oil and gas. The post-British era has also been marked by efforts to modernise and develop these countries, as witnessed by the reign of Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman, who initiated a series of reforms to transform his country. This period of transition has also seen an increase in the influence of the United States in the region. The Gulf States, rich in oil resources, became important strategic allies for the United States, particularly in the context of the Cold War and energy interests. The British withdrawal marked an era of significant transformation for the Gulf States. The decisions taken by local leaders during this period not only shaped the political and economic structures of their countries, but also had a profound impact on regional and international dynamics. The story of this period illustrates how geopolitical changes can influence the formation and development of nation states, as well as the complexity of international relations in a resource-rich region.

The discovery of oil in the Persian Gulf radically transformed the region, attracting significant renewed interest from Western powers. This hydrocarbon wealth coincided with a period of major political transition, leading to a second wave of independence for several states in the region in the 1970s. Oil, first discovered in the Gulf in the early 20th century, began to play a crucial role in the global economy, particularly after the Second World War. With some of the world's largest oil reserves, the Gulf countries quickly became key players in the global energy market. This wealth attracted the attention of Western powers keen to secure access to these vital resources.

In the 1970s, with the end of the British protectorate and the British withdrawal from the region, the Gulf States began a process of asserting their sovereignty and political independence. This period saw the emergence of independent and sovereign nations such as the United Arab Emirates in 1971, which united the Trucial Emirates under a single federation. Bahrain and Qatar also gained independence during this period. The oil-driven economic boom enabled these young nations to invest massively in development and modernisation. Oil revenues transformed societies that had previously focused primarily on fishing and the pearl trade into modern states with advanced infrastructures, social services and diversified economies. However, increased Western interest in the region was not without geopolitical implications. Relations between the oil-producing countries of the Gulf and the Western powers, particularly the United States, became a central aspect of international politics. These relations have been marked by complex dynamics of cooperation, economic dependence and political tensions.

Political Islam[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The Emergence and Foundations of Political Islam[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Political Islam is an ideology that gained ground during the 20th century, significantly influencing politics and society in Muslim-majority countries. This ideology aims to structure society and the state according to the principles and laws of Islam, based on a specific interpretation of religious texts such as the Koran and the Sunna. The emergence of political Islam can be seen as a response to the challenges posed by colonialism, modernisation and social change. Figures such as Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, and Sayyid Qutb, an influential theoretician of the same movement, were pioneers in formulating and promoting the ideology of political Islam. Their teachings and writings laid the foundations for a vision of society in which Islamic principles are integrated into all aspects of life, including governance.

Political Islam manifests itself in different forms, ranging from moderate reformist movements to more radical groups. Some groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, have sought to achieve their goals through political and social means, while others, such as al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, have adopted extremist and violent methods. A striking example of the impact of political Islam is the Iranian Revolution of 1979, led by Ayatollah Khomeini. This revolution led to the establishment of an Islamic republic in Iran, where laws and governance are based on specific interpretations of Shia Islam.

Political Islam also played a significant role in the Arab Spring events of 2011, where several Islamist movements emerged as key political actors in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. However, political Islam is a subject of controversy and debate. Its critics point to the risks of restricting individual freedoms, particularly as regards the rights of women and minorities. On the other hand, its supporters see it as a means of preserving cultural values and resisting Western influence. The rise of political Islam in the Arab world can largely be attributed to the failure of pan-Arabism, a political movement that advocated unity and cooperation between Arab countries while opposing Western domination. This ideology, which reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s under leaders such as Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, began to decline in the 1970s, leaving an ideological vacuum that political Islam began to fill.

The year 1979 is often seen as a turning point in the history of political Islam, marked by two major events. Firstly, the Iranian Revolution saw the fall of the Shah of Iran and the emergence of an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Khomeini, a development that had a profound impact throughout the region. Secondly, the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, known as the Camp David Accords, was seen by many Arabs as a betrayal of the Arab cause and a capitulation to Israel. The normalisation of relations between Egypt and Israel came as a shock to many Arabs, reinforcing feelings of antagonism towards Israel, which was seen as a symbol of Western influence and intervention in the region. This perception fuelled the imagination of political Islam, where the fight against Israel and opposition to Western interference became central themes.

Against this backdrop, Islamist movements gained in popularity by presenting themselves as credible alternatives to failed pan-Arabism and promising to restore the dignity and autonomy of Muslim societies through the implementation of Islamic principles. These movements varied in their approaches, some advocating gradual political and social reform, while others adopted more radical positions. The failure of pan-Arabism and the events of 1979 created fertile ground for the rise of political Islam, an ideology that has since played a major role in Middle Eastern politics. The rise of this ideology has been a response to the political disillusionment, socio-economic challenges and aspirations of many Muslim societies, redefining the political landscape of the region.

Political Islam Faced with the Failure of Pan-Arabism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Fundamentalism, a significant trend within political Islam, took root in the Muslim world as early as the 8th century, but it was with the emergence of Wahhabism in the 18th century that this trend gained significant influence. Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism, advocated a return to the practices and beliefs of the first generations of Muslims, a rigorous interpretation of Islam that became the ideological basis of modern Saudi Arabia. Fundamentalism as such is characterised by a desire to transcend history and return to the original sources of religion. This approach manifests itself in a literal and uncompromising reading of the sacred texts, often rejecting contemporary or contextual interpretations. Fundamentalism frequently opposes Western cultural and political influences, which are perceived as threats to the authenticity and purity of the Islamic faith.

The colonial period had a profound impact on the political imagination of the Arab world. European domination and intervention in Middle Eastern affairs were perceived as a direct aggression against Muslim societies. This perception has fuelled a sense of resistance that has often been expressed through recourse to Islamic values and principles. The national liberation movement, which emerged as a reaction to Western penetration, was strongly imbued with the Islamic tradition. Struggles for independence, while seeking to free themselves from the colonial yoke, also sought to reaffirm Islamic identity as the basis of national sovereignty. In this context, Islamic fundamentalism evolved into a response not only to the internal challenges of Muslim societies, but also to foreign interference. The resulting Islamist movements have varied in their approaches and objectives, ranging from social and political reform to more radical forms of resistance. This complex dynamic between tradition, modernity and external influences continues to shape the political and social landscape in many Muslim-majority countries.

The Muslim Brotherhood movement, founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan Al-Banna, represents an important milestone in the history of political Islam in the 20th century. The organisation emerged as a response to the social, political and cultural challenges facing Egyptian society at the time. Hassan Al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood with the initial aim of Islamising Egyptian society, as a reaction to the rapid modernisation and growing Western influence in the country. Al-Banna's vision was to reform society based on Islamic principles, considering the Koran to be the ultimate and infallible constitution for social and political life. One of the distinctive features of the Muslim Brotherhood was its organisational structure, which included a paramilitary branch. This characteristic not only reflected the military tradition of Egyptian society, but was also a response to the British presence in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood's ability to mobilise both politically and militarily contributed to its growing influence.

The Muslim Brotherhood rapidly gained in popularity and influence, becoming one of the first and most important Islamist organisations of the 20th century. Their approach, combining social, political and sometimes militant activism, served as a model for other Islamist movements throughout the Muslim world. However, the movement was also subject to controversy and repression. Successive Egyptian governments have alternated between tolerance, cooperation and severe repression of the organisation. The Muslim Brotherhood has been involved in various political struggles in Egypt, including the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, who came from its ranks.

Since its creation in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, the Muslim Brotherhood movement has gone through fluctuating periods, oscillating between significant political influence and severe repression. Although the organisation did not originally adopt armed action as its main tactic, it has found itself involved in major conflicts that have marked the history of the region. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, a conflict crucial to the future of Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood took part in the fighting. This involvement reflected their commitment to the Palestinian cause, seen as both a national and a religious struggle. Their involvement in this war illustrates the organisation's flexibility in the use of armed force for causes it considered just and in line with its Islamic objectives. In 1952, the Muslim Brotherhood played a role in the Egyptian revolution that overthrew the monarchy and led to the founding of the Egyptian Republic. Initially, they supported the free officers, hoping that the new regime would be favourable to their Islamic aspirations. However, relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and the revolutionary leader Gamal Abdel Nasser soon deteriorated, leading to a period of intense repression against the organisation.

The history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is characterised by highs and lows, illustrating the complexity of its political positioning. Under different regimes, they have alternated between an influential political presence and periods when they were repressed and marginalised. This dynamic reflects the persistent tensions between Islamist movements and secular or secular governments in the region. The history of the Muslim Brotherhood is therefore that of an influential but often controversial organisation, whose role in key events such as the 1948 war and the 1952 revolution testifies to its importance in Middle Eastern politics. However, their path has also been marked by confrontations and conflicts with the powers that be, reflecting the complex and sometimes conflicting nature of political Islam.

Sayyid Qutb, born in 1906 and died in 1966, is an emblematic figure of political Islam. His thought and work have had a considerable impact on the vision of the Islamic State and on the Islamist movement in general. An eminent theorist, Qutb developed a radical critique of the Muslim societies of his time, which he judged to have strayed from the true path of Islam. Qutb was a virulent critic of Westernisation and pan-Arab nationalism, dominant in Egypt and other Arab countries in the mid-20th century. In his view, these societies had drifted away from the fundamental principles of Islam, falling into a state of "Jahiliya", an Islamic term traditionally used to describe the religious ignorance prevailing prior to the revelation of the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad. For Qutb, the modern Jahiliya was not just religious ignorance, but also a departure from Islamic laws and values in governance and social life.

His personal experience of repression also influenced his thinking. Arrested and tortured by Nasser's regime in Egypt for his dissident views and membership of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb became convinced that the regimes in place in the Arab world were corrupt and illegitimate. In his writings, he developed the idea that resistance, including the use of violence, was legitimate against these "jahili" governments. Sentenced to death for plotting against the Egyptian state, Qutb refused to appeal his conviction, choosing to become a martyr for his cause. His death in 1966 reinforced his status as an emblematic figure in radical Islamism, and his writings continue to influence Islamist movements around the world. Qutb thus played a central role in the development of political Islam, notably by justifying violent opposition to regimes deemed un-Islamic. His vision of Islam as a complete system of life, encompassing both governance and society, has had a profound impact on contemporary Islamist movements and the debate on the nature and future of the Islamic state.

Although initially marginal, Sayyid Qutb's thought gained in influence and relevance in the late 1970s, a period marked by several crucial events that redefined the political and ideological landscape of the Muslim world. In 1979, several major events changed the ideological context in the Middle East and beyond. Firstly, the failure of pan-Arabism, symbolised by the signing of the peace agreements between Egypt and Israel, left an ideological vacuum in the Arab world. The decision by Egypt, a major player in Arab nationalism, to normalise relations with Israel was seen as a betrayal by many Arabs and weakened the credibility of pan-Arabism as a unifying movement. At the same time, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 saw the emergence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, establishing a government based on Shia Islamic principles. This revolution had a considerable impact throughout the region, demonstrating the viability of political Islam as an alternative to secular or pro-Western regimes. On the other hand, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 triggered a ten-year war in which the Afghan Mujahideen, supported by various countries including the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, fought against the Soviet forces. This war attracted Islamist fighters from all over the Muslim world, galvanised by the call to defend a Muslim land against a non-Muslim foreign power. These events contributed to a revival and radicalisation of political Islam. Qutb's ideas, in particular his critique of modern Jahiliya and his legitimisation of armed struggle against regimes deemed un-Islamic, resonated with those who were disappointed by the failures of pan-Arabism and worried about foreign influence in the Muslim world. As a result, political Islam, in its various forms, became a major player in regional and global politics, influencing power dynamics and conflicts in the decades that followed.

The Notion of Martyr in Political Islam[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The notion of martyrdom in political Islam gained greater significance and importance towards the end of the 20th century, particularly in conflicts pitting Islamist forces against various foreign powers. This conceptualisation of martyrdom, over and above its traditional religious meaning, has become a key element in the mobilisation and rhetoric of Islamist movements. In the context of conflicts such as the Soviet-Afghan war of 1979-1989, the figure of the martyr acquired a central dimension. Mujahideen fighters against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan were often celebrated as martyrs, heroes who sacrificed their lives in defence of Islam. This glorification of the martyr served to motivate fighters, attract international support and justify armed resistance against a superpower perceived as oppressive. The promotion of martyrdom in these contexts has become a powerful recruitment tool for Islamist movements, attracting fighters from various parts of the Muslim world. The promise of martyrdom, often interpreted as a path to paradise and honour, has been a key element in mobilising individuals ready to take part in armed struggles against enemies deemed unjust or anti-Islamic.

However, the notion of martyrdom in political Islam has given rise to much controversy and criticism. Many consider that the encouragement of martyrdom, particularly in the context of violent action, is a distortion of Islamic teachings and a source of conflict. This conception of martyrdom has been challenged both within the Muslim community and by outside observers. The figure of the martyr in political Islam symbolises the way in which religious concepts can be reinterpreted and used in political and conflictual settings. It reflects the complexity of Islamist movements and the way in which they integrate religious elements into their strategy and ideology. This approach has not only shaped the dynamics of Islamist movements, but has also had profound implications internationally, influencing policies and perceptions of political Islam around the world.

Political and Geopolitical Change[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the complex and sometimes unstable political landscape of the Muslim world, some states have responded to the rise of political Islam by incorporating Islamist policies, aimed at strengthening their authority and stabilising their government. This strategy has been adopted in a variety of contexts, in response to the internal and external challenges facing these countries. The adoption of Islamist policies by certain regimes has often been motivated by the desire to legitimise their power among predominantly Muslim populations. By aligning themselves with Islamic values and principles, these governments sought to present themselves as protectors and defenders of Islam, thereby winning popular support and countering opposition movements that might threaten their stability.

This approach has been particularly visible in contexts where governments have sought to counter the influence of radical Islamist groups or to respond to political and social crises. For example, Iran, following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, introduced a system of Islamic governance, with Ayatollah Khomeini as its emblematic figure, establishing an Islamic republic based on Shia principles. In countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and some Gulf States, Islamist elements have been incorporated into legislation and public policy, reflecting and reinforcing dominant religious values. However, this strategy is not without its risks and criticisms. The use of political Islam as a tool of governance can lead to internal tensions and contradictions, especially when the aspirations of the population differ from government policies. Moreover, the use of Islamism to consolidate power can lead to restrictions on civil liberties and human rights, raising concerns at both national and international level.

Transformation of Political Islam in the 1990s[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

During the 1990s, some scholars and observers concluded that political Islam had failed, partly because Islamist movements had failed to seize power in many countries. However, this analysis proved premature in the light of subsequent developments and the resurgence of Islamism in various forms. After the end of the war in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989, the Islamist fighters, or mujahideen, who had waged jihad against the USSR, began to redirect their struggle towards new enemies. One of the most significant changes was the rise of jihad against the United States, perceived as a new imperialist force in the region, and its allies, including Israel. This reorientation of jihad was in part a response to the US presence in the Persian Gulf, particularly after the 1991 Gulf War, and the perceived alignment of the US with Israel and against the interests of Muslim populations.

This period also saw the emergence or consolidation of radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, who had previously fought in Afghanistan. Bin Laden and other Islamist leaders began to target the United States and its allies as the main enemy in their struggle to establish an Islamic order. The view that political Islam had failed was therefore contradicted by these later developments. Islamist movements may not have come to power in the conventional way, but they had managed to establish themselves as significant forces in regional and global politics. Their ability to mobilise, influence and carry out violent actions demonstrated that political Islam remained a dynamic and influential force, capable of adapting to new contexts and challenges.

From the 1990s onwards, there was a marked evolution in political Islam, with a significant transformation in the approaches and tactics employed by certain Islamist movements. This period saw the emergence of a form of violence that could be described as sacrificial, a radical departure from previous practices. This new phase of violence in political Islam was characterised by the use of suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism. These acts were no longer seen simply as a means of fighting an enemy, but also as acts of ultimate sacrifice. The perpetrators of these attacks were often celebrated as martyrs, an evolution of the traditional notion of martyrdom in Islam, where voluntary death in an act of violence became a glorified ideal. A striking example of this evolution was the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, orchestrated by al-Qaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden. These attacks, carried out by suicide bombers, not only caused massive destruction and loss of life, but also changed the way in which political Islam was perceived and fought against on a global scale.

This period also saw the rise of groups such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, who used similar tactics in their fight against Western forces and the Afghan government. These groups justified the use of sacrificial violence with a radical interpretation of Islam that legitimised jihad against what they perceived as oppressive, anti-Islamic forces. The rise of this new form of violence in political Islam had far-reaching consequences. It led to an international response, with military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and sparked a global debate on the nature of political Islam and the appropriate response to its most extreme manifestations. These developments not only had an impact on the international scene, but also provoked debate and division within Muslim communities, between those who supported these tactics and those who condemned them. The transformation of political Islam in the 1990s and early 2000s was marked by a rise in sacrificial violence and terrorism. This has redefined the tactics and objectives of some Islamist movements, with lasting consequences for global politics and Muslim societies.

Political Islam in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq and the emergence of the Islamic State in 2014[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

At the beginning of the 21st century, the players in political Islam underwent significant changes, in particular with the emergence of al-Qaeda as a major player in the panorama of international terrorism. This period was also marked by a geographical relocation of these actors, particularly in Iraq, following the American intervention and the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq entered a period of political and social chaos. The Baath Party, which had long dominated Iraqi politics under Saddam Hussein, was banned, and a new power structure emerged in which the Shiite majority took a leadership position. This transformation created sectarian tensions and a feeling of marginalisation among the Sunni population, which had been dominant under Saddam Hussein's regime.

Al-Qaeda, led by figures such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, took advantage of this climate of instability to establish a presence in Iraq. Zarqawi, a Jordanian, founded the organisation "Al-Tawhid wal-Jihad", which later merged with al-Qaeda, becoming one of the most active and violent branches of the terrorist network. Under its leadership, al-Qa'ida in Iraq targeted not only US forces and their allies, but also the Shia population, whom they regarded as apostates and collaborators with the occupying forces. Al Qaeda's tactics in Iraq, including suicide bombings and mass killings, exacerbated sectarian tensions and plunged the country into a spiral of violence. Zarqawi's strategy, focused on provoking sectarian conflict, has turned Iraq into a battleground for regional and ideological power struggles, with profound repercussions for the region and the world. The evolution of political Islam in Iraq during this period reflects the complexity and fluidity of these movements. Al-Qa'ida in Iraq, although linked to the global al-Qa'ida network, developed its own objectives and strategies, rooted in the Iraqi political and social context. This period also highlighted the role of sectarian dynamics and political marginalisation in fuelling extremism and conflict.

In 2014, the group known as al-Qaeda in Iraq underwent a significant transformation, marking a turning point in the history of political Islam. The group, which had evolved and gained influence in the post-invasion context of Iraq, announced the formation of the Islamic State (IS), also known as Daech (Arabic acronym for al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham). The announcement of the creation of the Islamic State was made by its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This declaration signified not only a change of name, but also an extended territorial and ideological ambition. The EI aimed to establish a caliphate, a political entity governed by sharia (Islamic law), encompassing not only Iraq but also Syria and potentially other regions. Under the banner of Islamic State, the group rapidly extended its control over vast areas of Iraq and Syria, exploiting the power vacuum created by the Syrian civil war and the weakness of the Iraqi government. The EI gained notoriety for its brutality, including mass executions, acts of ethnic cleansing, destruction of historical sites and terrorist attacks around the world. The proclamation of the Islamic State represented a major challenge to regional stability and international security. It led to international military intervention to contain and eventually reduce the territory controlled by the EI. The rise and fall of the Islamic State also sparked important debates about the causes of and appropriate responses to violent Islamist extremism, as well as how to deal with the humanitarian and security consequences of its expansion.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]