British influence in the Middle East from 1917 to 1956

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Classe(s) : Tle ES - Tle L - Tle S | Thème(s) : The Middle East : a conflictual area
Corpus Corpus 1
British influence in the Middle East from 1917 to 1956




> timelines and maps, p. IV-V

The British influence in the Middle East spread across five countries of today: Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Iraq. How did this influence decline over the years?

1 Strong economic and strategic interests

 For most of the 19th century, Britain was interested in acquiring commercial concessions from the Ottoman Empire. In 1909, a British holding was created to extract oil* from Iran and Iraq: the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later known as the British Petroleum Company.

keywordThe Suez Canal, connect­ing the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, provided Britain with a shorter sea route to its empire and oil.

 Britain also started to be strongly involved in Egypt in 1875 when it took control of the treasury of Egypt and the Suez Canal. In 1914, Egypt became a British protectorate.

 During World War I, Britain acted with imperial interests. It wanted to extend its territories at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, a German ally.

 It made promises to gain the support of different peoples. McMahon, on behalf of* the British government, promised that lands held by the Ottoman Empire would be returned to the Arabs. Meanwhile, in November 1917, Lord Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild, one of the most influential members of the British Jewish community, to declare his support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

 In 1918, Britain became the dominant power in the region.

2 The mandates era (1918-1948)

A Palestine

 Palestine is one of the British mandates created by the League of Nations after World War I. However, the Jews and the Arabs wanted to make it their homeland.

 After World War II, the British still controlled Palestine. Some Jews resorted* to terrorism: they bombed the British military headquarters, the King David Hotel in July 1946.

 Unable to contain violence, the British looked for a way out and accepted the United Nations proposal to partition Palestine into a zone for the Jews (Israel) and a zone for the Arabs (Palestine). They withdrew* from the zone on May 14th, 1948.

B Iraq

 Mesopotamia is another British mandate. As soon as the British arrived in 1919, they faced nationalist strikes that turned into an outright rebellion*. They decided that a plebiscite would be held to confirm a new Arab leader, King Faysal.

 But in 1930, treaties were negotiated to ensure British control over foreign and financial matters. Domestic matters were handed to the new Arab king.

3 Suez Crisis (1956)

 On July 1956, Nasser, Egypt’s leader, seized the Suez Canal from the British stockholders who owned and operated it. Britain, France and Israel plotted* an offensive to recover the canal.

 On October 29th, 1956, Israeli brigades invaded Egypt and marched on the canal. The general assembly of the UNO demanded* Israel to withdraw from the Sinai. On November 5th, regardless of this demand, French and British governments sent paratroopers in Port Said, at the mouth of the Suez Canal.

 In retaliation, Britain had to face the prospect of a devaluation of its currency and the possibility of an Arab oil embargo. President Eisenhower declared that Britain would not receive support from the USA.

 On December 23rd, British troops withdrew and Britain lost its influence in the Middle East.

  • oil = le pétrole
  • on behalf of = au nom de
  • an outright rebellion
    = une rébellion ouverte
  • to resort = se résoudre
  • to withdraw = se retirer
  • to plot = comploter
  • to demand = exiger