A General History of the Middle East
Chapter 18: THE REST OF THE MIDDLE EAST SINCE 1948
This chapter covers the following topics:
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia: The Transcaucasian Republics
The three Transcaucasian states gradually came under Russian rule in the early nineteenth century, were briefly independent during the Russian Civil War (1918-20), and then were conquered by the Soviet Union. 1922 saw them lumped together to form the Transcaucasian SFSR, one of the USSR's four original republics.
For most of the next seventy years, almost nothing was heard from this region, as the Soviets stepped in to root out nationalism. In the case of Armenia, for example, they persecuted Christianity, because the Armenian Church was seen as the backbone of Armenian culture, and two districts that had been promised to Armenia in a 1920 agreement, Nakhichevan and Nagorno-Karabakh, were given to Azerbaijan instead. Georgia received two districts populated by non-Georgians, Abkhazia and South Ossetia; that would also lead to trouble. Joseph Stalin was a native of Gori, Georgia, but because communist ideology was anti-nationalist, he even forgot his native Georgian, and spoke only Russian. In 1936 the Transcaucasian SFSR was broken up into Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian SSRs. Some expressions of nationalism were permitted after the death of Stalin in 1953, but real tolerance didn't come until Mikhail Gorbachev introduced his policy of glasnost in the 1980s.
Even before the Soviet Union fell, fighting broke out between Christian Armenia and Moslem Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh district has an Armenian population, but is located in the middle of Azerbaijan. In 1988 the local Armenians began a secessionist movement, and Azerbaijan responded with an economic blockade of Armenia, which greatly hindered the arrival of relief supplies in the aftermath of the devastating December 1988 earthquake. Near the end of 1989, the Armenian legislature declared Nagorno-Karabakh part of Armenia. Moscow simply stated that the declaration was unconstitutional, and sent 5,000 troops to keep the conflict from getting any worse, but it did anyway. This meant that both Armenia and Azerbaijan overwhelmingly favored independence when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.
Meanwhile in Georgia, the Abkhazians and Ossetians began agitating for increased autonomy. The Abkhazians are a Moslem ethnic group, while the Ossetians, Christian descendants of a medieval tribe called the Alans, wanted to end the division of their people between Georgia and Russia. Unrest among these minorities increased after the Georgian Supreme Soviet passed a law establishing the Georgian language as the official state language in 1989. On April 9 of that year, demonstrators in Tbilisi, who were demanding that Abkhazia remain with Georgia and advocating Georgian independence from the USSR, were attacked by Soviet security forces. Nineteen people were killed and many others injured, resulting in increased anti-Soviet sentiment.
1990 saw the legalization of political parties in the Soviet Union besides the CPSU. When elections for the Georgian Supreme Soviet were held in November 1990, the Communist Party of Georgia lost its monopoly on power, with the majority of votes going to a coalition of pro-independence parties. Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the leader of the coalition and a longtime nationalist dissident, became chairman of the new legislature and Georgia's new head of state. In April 1991 the Georgian Supreme Soviet declared independence from the USSR, and elected Gamsakhurdia president a month later. This made Georgia the first Soviet republic to have a head of state who wasn't a Communist or ex-Communist party member.
Independence did not end the strife. In September and October a number of opposition parties charged Gamsakhurdia with imposing an authoritarian style of leadership, accusing him of acting like a latter-day Stalin, and staged a series of demonstrations demanding his resignation. Gamsakhurdia responded by ordering the arrest of opposition leaders and declaring a state of emergency in Tbilisi. Armed conflict broke out in the capital at the end of the year, and opposition forces besieged Gamsakhurdia in the government's headquarters. Gamsakhurdia fled to his home province of Mingrelia in January 1992, and the opposition declared him deposed. In March, former Soviet official Eduard Shevardnadze was chosen to lead the country, as acting chairman of the State Council (the country's new legislature). Shevardnadze was well known to the outside world; as the Soviet foreign minister in the late 1980s, he was the most enthusiastic supporter of Gorbachev's reforms. Gamsakhurdia's followers made several unsuccessful attempts to reinstate him by force, until Gamsakhurdia died in December 1993 or January 1994, of unknown causes (initial reports suggested suicide).
In October 1991, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, head of the Pan-Armenian National Movement (PNM) and former chairman of the Armenian Supreme Soviet, became the first popularly elected president of an independent Armenia. Like other post-Soviet leaders, he inherited a wrecked economy; Azerbaijan's blockade had closed a fuel pipeline and a railroad, causing severe food and energy shortages by 1992. Nor could supplies and imports come in through Georgia, due to the civil war there, and since the Azerbaijanis were cousins of the Turks, Turkey took the side of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Despite this hardship, Armenian forces defeated the Azerbaijani army in several confrontations during 1993. By August of that year, they had not only liberated all of Nagorno-Karabakh, but had also captured 20 percent of western Azerbaijan, forming a corridor between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia. By early 1994 an estimated 18,000 people had been killed and 25,000 wounded since the beginning of the conflict, with one million refugees displaced in Azerbaijan alone. The first cease-fire agreements failed to hold, but in May 1994 a new cease-fire agreement was reached after protracted mediation by Russia and the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe. It is still holding as we go to the press.
In July 1995 Armenia held its first legislative elections as an independent country. The PNM and its allies won a majority of seats, and voters also approved Armenia's first post-Soviet constitution at the same time. Ter-Petrosyan was reelected to a second term in September 1996, despite widespread allegations of vote fraud, and demonstrations against the election results. Instead, it was the dispute with Azerbaijan that brought him down; Ter-Petrosian announced that he would accept a compromise proposed by the international community, which would have left Nagorno-Karabakh a part of Azerbaijan but put local Armenians in charge of the government. Hardline supporters of Nagorno-Karabakh's secession forced his resignation in February 1998, and the president of Nagorno-Karabakh, Robert Kocharian, took his place.
In October 1999, five gunmen opened fire on a session of the parliament, killing eight officials, including Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliamentary speaker Karen Demirchian. The gunmen took dozens of hostages, but surrendered the next day after Kocharian guaranteed that they would receive a fair trial, and permitted them to broadcast a statement on national television. The leader of the group, an ultranationalist named Nairi Unanian, called the attack a patriotic action and accused the government of following ruinous economic and political policies.
Ayaz Mutalibov, Azerbaijan's first president after independence, was forced to resign in March 1992 because he was held directly responsible for the death of several hundred Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh. The interim president, Yagub Mamedov, was unable to control the political situation, and Mutalibov was reinstated in May. He was immediately deposed, however, when the Popular Front of Azerbaijan (PFA) seized control in a nearly bloodless coup with the support of military units. The leader of the PFA, Aliyev Abul'faz Elchibey, was elected president in June.
When it came to ending the war in Nagorno-Karabakh or improving Azerbaijan's war-ravaged economy, Elchibey did no better than his predecessors. In June 1993, an army garrison based in Ganja marched on Baku and seized control, and Elchibey fled to Nakhichevan. The Milli Majlis (National Assembly) voted to transfer Elchibey's powers to its chairman, former Communist official Geydar Aliyev. Aliyev had been the First Secretary of Azerbaijan's Communist Party since 1969, and was the USSR's Minister of Agriculture under Yuri Andropov; this made him the first citizen of a Moslem republic to climb all the way to the Politburo, since Mikhail Frunze of Kyrgyzstan in the 1920s. A republic-wide referendum supported Elchibey's removal, and in October 1993 Aliyev was elected president in a virtually uncontested election.
In other internal affairs, the Aliyev government faced mutinies among certain military troops (particularly the special militia attached to the Ministry of Internal Affairs) in October 1994 and March 1995. Forces loyal to Aliyev quickly crushed the revolts and reestablished government control. After these revolts, which Aliyev described as plots to oust him, the PFA was accused of involvement and banned by the government.
In November 1995 Azerbaijan held its first legislative elections since independence, for a new 125-seat Milli Majlis. Aliyev's supporters, the New Azerbaijan Party (NAP), won a majority of seats. Only two opposition parties were allowed to participate: the PFA, which had been officially reinstated, and the National Independence Party (NIP). At the same time, voters approved a new constitution that granted wide-ranging powers to the president, including appointment of the prime minister and other ministers, the procurator general, and the judges of the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court. International observers reported serious electoral violations, such as the exclusion of a number of opposition parties and hundreds of independent candidates as well as the restriction of the media. In October 1998 Aliyev was reelected, gaining 76 percent of the vote in a six-candidate race. Again international monitors reported a crooked election, claiming ballot box stuffing by Aliyev supporters and a pro-government bias in the media.
Aliyev was helped by an improving economy. Azerbaijan has been known for its petroleum since the Middle Ages, and in the days of the Soviet Union, Baku was the largest center for oil production west of the Urals. More recently huge oil and natural gas reserves have been discovered under the Caspian Sea, rivaling those of the Persian Gulf; the Azerbaijanis have to share this bounty with Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, but still this promises a prosperous future for all Caspian republics. Because of this, building oil pipelines to Georgia and Turkey, and a gas pipeline under the Caspian, have been priorities, so that Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan can export to the West. Here Aliyev has been successful. Thus, it looks like communism is back in Azerbaijan to stay, even with Western investors knocking on the door.
A peacekeeping force from Russia managed to keep the lid on Georgia's Ossetian problem, while Ajaria, a district on the Turkish border, was given autonomy. Then in July 1992, Abkhazia declared itself an independent republic. The result was a brief war, which Abkhazia won. By October 1993, Abkhazian forces had expelled the Georgian militia, and more than 200,000 ethnic Georgians had fled from Abkhazia. This prompted Georgia to join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in the same month, to win more Russian military support; it was the last former Soviet Republic to join. A UN-sponsored cease-fire took effect in April 1994, enforced by another unit of Russian peacekeeping troops. Under the agreement, Abkhazia would remain an autonomous part of Georgia; as a result, the Abkhazians now claim that Georgia is really a two-state confederation, with its capitals at Tbilisi and AqW'a (formerly Sukhumi).
In August 1995 the Georgian legislature approved a new constitution, which restored the office of the presidency and established a 235-member legislature, the Sakartvelos Parlamenti. However, the constitution did not define the territorial status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and those districts did not vote in the presidential and legislative elections that followed in November. Shevardnadze was overwhelmingly elected as president; his party, the Citizens' Union of Georgia, won the largest number of seats in the new legislature. One year later (November 1996), Abkhazia and South Ossetia held elections of their own, which the Georgian government declared invalid. Even so, the governments of Georgia and South Ossetia managed to reach an agreement not to use force against one another, and to avoid the use of economic sanctions. The twentieth century ended without a final political settlement regarding the territorial status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, so the Russians continue to maintain a peacekeeping presence.
Even in Tbilisi, President Shevardnadze has had a rough time; he survived assassination attempts in 1995 and 1998. In October 1998 some Gamsakhurdia supporters in the army ("Zviadists") launched a one-day revolt, taking over the army garrison at Senaki, and marching on K'ut'aisi; after a clash with government troops, the mutinous soldiers surrendered. Thus, when Shevardnadze was reelected by a landslide in April 2000, he saw it as a sound endorsement of his pro-Western policy; he has repeatedly promised to bring Georgia into NATO by 2005. His opponents accused him of staging a Soviet-style rigged election, since he walked away with 80.4 percent of the vote, so it remains to be seen if he can bring the country out of a depressed economy and entrenched corruption, while preparing a younger generation to run Georgia along democratic lines. As long as the economy remains bad, followers of Gamsakhurdia (now something of a martyr figure) and other opposition leaders will find opportunities to cause unrest.
Georgia's location on the crossroads of the Caucasus promises that life will remain complicated for some time to come. Russia is concerned that the civil war in Chechnya will spill across the Caucasus into Georgia, because Chechen fighters have used remote Georgian mountain villages as hiding places. The Georgians admit that they have taken in several thousand refugees, but as one Foreign Ministry official explained, "It is not always easy to be certain that a refugee is only a refugee." There are reports of terrorists from the notorious Al Qaeda group among the Chechens, so in the spring of 2002 the United States provided the Georgian military with helicopters and counterinsurgency training. On the economic front, Shevardnadze is backing the construction of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, hoping to earn an indirect profit from Azerbaijan's mineral wealth by transporting it to Turkey. As in Azerbaijan, foreign investors are lining up to put money into this project; this could be the first step in a new "Great Game," a rerun of the political contest Russia and Britain staged in the nineteenth century for dominance in Central Asia.
The Arab Nouveau Riche
The four ministates on the Persian Gulf's western shore are miracles of the modern world. When we last looked at this area (see Chapters 14 and 15), we saw petty sheikhdoms, parked in one of the world's poorest spots. In the Bronze Age the trade route from India to Mesopotamia ran through here, and the Gulf saw considerable fishing and pearl diving in medieval times, but all of these industries declined centuries ago. Here, more than anywhere else, the term "tribes with flags" was an accurate description of the local regimes. Then, starting in the 1930s, lakes of oil were discovered underneath all of them. Forty years later, they ranked among the richest nations, with some of the highest per capita incomes to be found anywhere. If it wasn't for the oil, some of these sheikhdoms wouldn't have survived, and those that did would have been under the protection of a stronger neighbor, most likely Iran, Iraq, or Saudi Arabia.
At first Bahrein's conservative monarchy didn't allow opposition parties or political dissent, and was quite content as a British protectorate. Then in the late 1960s, the British got out of South Yemen, and announced that they would terminate all their protectorates in the Gulf, so in 1971, like it or not, the Bahreinis found themselves completely independent. There was some fear of subversion at the hands of a radical Arab movement, especially Nasserism, and Iran put forth a claim to the whole country, because Bahrein's population is one third Iranian and 60 percent Shiite. The Shah only dropped his claim when a UN under-secretary general visited Bahrein in 1970 and reported that the Bahreinis were nearly unanimous in their desire for independence, and those who were not of Persian ancestry considered themselves Arabs.
Events in the late 20th century were a constant reminder of how unstable the Persian Gulf region could be. Iran's 1979 revolution increased tensions between Sunnis and Shiites on Bahrein, because the Shiites now had a regime to support them. In 1981 and 1985 the Bahreini authorities reportedly foiled Iranian-inspired Shiite plots to overthrow the government. Then came the Iran-Iraq War, which put everyone in the Gulf at risk. This prompted the latest effort at Arab unity, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Founded in 1981, this six-member organization (Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, Kuwait, Qatar, the U.A.E. and Oman) functions much like the European Union did in its early days, promoting free trade between its members. However, it is aware that all of the GCC states are militarily weak, so it has sought assistance in its defense from outside, especially the United States. After the Persian Gulf War of 1991, they also asked Egypt and Syria to maintain forces in the region, because nobody thinks it is politically realistic for the United States to keep bases there forever.
Political unrest among Bahrein's Shiites was a problem throughout the 1990s. In 1994 the Shiites called for the restoration of the National Assembly, which had been dissolved in 1975, staged protests and skirmished with police. Eventually the emir began negotiations with Shiite leaders, but the talks dissolved by mid-1995. By 1999, about 40 people had died as a result of incidents related to Shia unrest.
1999 also saw the death of Emir Isa bin Sulman al-Khalifa, who had run Bahrein since 1961. He was succeeded by his son, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, and the new emir chose reform, commissioning the drafting of a new national charter and pardoning hundreds of political prisoners. In February 2001 the government held a referendum on the charter, and the voters overwhelmingly approved it. Thus, Bahrein is now a constitutional monarchy with a new, bicameral legislature. Elections for the Chamber of Deputies, the elected house of the legislature, are scheduled for October 2002.
In June 1961, the emir of Kuwait's ruling Sabah family, Sheikh Abdullah, felt confident enough to ask the British for independence. Britain granted it, and Iraq's General Kassem immediately laid claim to the country, arguing that Kuwait was a part of southern Iraq that had been illegally separated at the turn of the century. This meant that although Kuwait had enough money to stand on its own, it did not have the armed forces needed for defense. The emir had to ask British forces to stay for two months, until the Arab League could send a peacekeeping force to take their place. Iraq replied by blocking Kuwait's entry the first time it applied to join the United Nations.
Six months later, in a move to promote national unity, the emir made the bold step of establishing the first constitutional monarchy in the Persian Gulf region. He allowed elections for a constituent assembly, and the assembly wrote a constitution that guaranteed the Sabah family's domination but allowed the people a role in government. The same year saw the establishment of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Development, an organization that lent money for various development projects, ranging from enlarging Beirut's port to modernizing Tunisian agriculture and the Sudanese railway system. Similar foundations had existed in the West for decades, but this was the first in the Arab world. In 1963 a fifty-member parliament, elected by all male Kuwaiti citizens, replaced the constituent assembly.
Sheikh Abdullah died in 1965, and was succeeded by Sheikh Sabah Salem. He ruled until the end of 1977, whereupon Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad took his place. During Sabah Salem's rule, Kuwait found its place among the Arab nations; like other Arabs, Kuwait favored Arab nationalism and a Palestinian state, but took a neutral stand between the radical states and the conservative ones. The government saw turbulent times, because the assembly was usually more liberal than the cabinet, and the two found it difficult to get along. Conditions grew so bad that the Emir suspended the constitution in 1976, dissolved the parliament, and muzzled the press. However, the ruling family wasn't ready to give up the idea of a Western-style government, so new elections under a revised constitution were held in 1981.
Meanwhile, revenues grew, and because the government chose to use its money wisely, a poor Kuwaiti became a contradiction in terms. In the Arab world Kuwait enjoyed the best education and the most advanced economy; from 1976 onwards, 10 percent of all state revenues were saved for future investments, instead of being spent immediately. These investments included considerable purchases of land and shares of companies overseas; by the late 1970s, this by itself generated an income of $9 billion a year. At home some of this went to build the first university in the region, scientific organizations like the Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research (KISR), and a local manufacturing industry.
The second time Kuwait tried a constitutional government, it found that life had gotten considerably more dangerous. First, many of the Palestinian refugees who fled Lebanon's civil war settled in Kuwait; as in Jordan and Lebanon, they became a destabilizing influence. Then in the mid-1980s, the worldwide slump in oil prices halved revenues and caused Kuwait's stock market to crash. Worst of all were the shockwaves from Iran and Iraq. As in Bahrein, Kuwait's large Shiite community supported the Iranian revolution, while the Sunni majority opposed it, leading to trouble between the two groups. Then during the Iran-Iraq War, Kuwait found itself at the eye of the storm; we saw in Chapter 17 how Iran marked Kuwait as an enemy for supporting Iraq, and how both the United States and the Soviet Union stepped in to protect Kuwait's ships. All this meant bitter debates in the parliament, and more bad relations between the executive and legislative branches of government. In 1986 the cabinet resigned, saying that it could no longer carry on its work, forcing the Emir to suspend the constitution and the press again. This time he waited until July 1990 to reinstate them, and instead of restoring the parliament, he created a National Assembly, a body that was part elected and part appointed, and gave it a four-year mandate to solve the problems which had caused the previous governments to collapse.
They never got a chance, because Iraq invaded a few weeks later. The Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, and the war to drive the Iraqis out, were covered in the previous chapter of this work, so we won't repeat the Persian Gulf War narrative here. After the war, those Kuwaitis who had fled the country began to return, and they found Kuwait City burned and looted; four-fifths of the oil wells had been sabotaged, leading to widespread environmental damage from oil spills and fires until they were capped. The total cost to rebuild the country was estimated at somewhere between $20 billion and $30 billion. Fortunately the Kuwaitis could pay for this, having $90 billion in financial reserves.
Rebuilding Kuwait's infrastructure proved to be relatively simple, compared with repairing Kuwaiti society. The Palestinians had been chased out, and many other foreign workers wouldn't come back, so Kuwait's population did not recover; as of 1998, it was 1.9 million. The Kuwaitis realized that they should learn how to work by themselves, but a future without help from the foreigners didn't look very attractive. At first martial law was necessary, but the Emir had promised from exile that the 1962 constitution would be made the law of the land again, once enough Kuwaitis had returned. However, he committed the blunder of holding onto power for too long; he didn't keep his promise until late 1992. Consequently, the dynasty that had acted so progressive in the 1960s now looked reactionary. Critics declared that the Sabah family was acting like the Bourbons in France, having learned nothing and forgotten nothing; human rights groups accused the government of staging unfair trials for Palestinian and Iraqi collaborators; some outsiders even asked if Kuwait deserved to be liberated.
Various crises in the Persian Gulf region remind the Kuwaitis how vulnerable they are, like the war scare of 1994 when Iraq massed troops near the border. For that reason, Kuwait still relies heavily on American forces for protection. This has caused some Arabs to ask if the Kuwaitis are still loyal to the Arab cause, or if they have become a protectorate of the West again. The country and its rulers may eventually regain the high status they enjoyed before the 1990 rape, but it will take quite a bit more time.
Like Bahrein, Qatar became independent when the British left the Gulf area in 1971; at the time, it had just enough people to qualify for membership in the United Nations. However, the reigning emir, Ahmad bin Ali al-Thani, spent much of his time abroad and didn't get much done, so in 1972 he was deposed by his cousin Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, who attempted to modernize the country by introducing new industries such as steel and fertilizers. Oil revenues, which peaked at $5 billion in 1980, were awesome when put against the population, so it didn't take long to provide education and health care for all of them, as well as palaces, a TV station, a university and newspapers. The population now stands at 769,152 (1999 figures), of which three fourths are immigrants.
In foreign affairs Qatar chose not to go it alone, preferring to agree with Saudi Arabia most of the time. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Qatar's troops and air force were part of the UN coalition, and were especially noted for their contributions in the retaking of Khafji.
In June 1995 Emir Khalifa was ousted by his son, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in a second bloodless palace coup. Hamad was recognized as Qatar's leader by most countries soon after taking power.
Oil was discovered offshore from Abu Dhabi in 1960. Subsequent exploration revealed that the Trucial Coast had about 60% as much oil as Kuwait, meaning that Abu Dhabi was about to get rich. Unfortunately, the emir of Abu Dhabi at this time was Shakhbut II, an eccentric who had no understanding of economics whatsoever. He was so backward-looking that he refused to have anything to do with checks or credit(1), and would wake up the young manager of the new British Bank of the Middle East after midnight, demanding to see all his wealth in cash. In 1966 Shakhbut was deposed by family agreement (and British encouragement), in favor of his brother, Zaid II. Zaid was far more capable of coping with the twentieth century, and he transformed the mud-brick village of Abu Dhabi into a modern city with eight-lane highways, office buildings, and a major airport.
Despite the British presence, the seven sheikhs regarded their realms as independent, but it wasn't clear what territory belonged to each of them. As with the "neutral zones" on Saudi Arabia's northern border, the boundaries were left undefined because of a nomadic lifestyle, with shepherds constantly moving their animals between grazing areas. Of course all of them hoped for the same good fortune that had fallen on Abu Dhabi, so to prevent fighting over the oil wells, a British agent demarcated the official boundaries. He did much of this by riding through the interior on a camel, asking the tribesmen he met which landmarks, from oases to wadis, they considered to be their own. The map he came up with resembled that of Merovingian France, with each ruler claiming an enclave in the middle of somebody else's land.
When Britain announced in 1968 that it was going to pull out, the sheikhs realized that they were too small to face the world alone. Six of them agreed to form a federation, with Abu Dhabi's Zaid as the president and Dubai's Sheikh Rashid II as vice president. This union went into effect on December 2, 1971. The seventh sheikh, that of Ras al-Khaima, refused to join at first because he was denied veto powers at council meetings, but he changed his mind and joined in 1972.
When the United Arab Emirates was born, many predicted that it would fail. For a start, there were border disputes with Saudi Arabia and Oman, and Iran seized the islands of Abu Musá, Tunb al Kubrá (Greater Tunb), and Tunb as Sughrá (Lesser Tunb) in the Persian Gulf, all of which had been claimed by the U.A.E. Furthermore, confederate governments like the U.A.E. had failed in the past, and because the sheikhs had no modern institutions, not even a lawyer or a judge, to resolve their quarrels, they had to rely on a government created by outsiders.
It was Rashid who made the U.A.E. a successful proposition. A genius when it came to matters of business, he was happy to let Abu Dhabi control the government so long as Dubai got to manage the economy. Even before independence came he was handling the trade of Sharjah, which had let its port silt up. Oil was discovered in Dubai's waters in 1966, but instead of depending solely upon that, he built a diversified economy, and gave Dubai two artificial ports, one of them the largest in the world. After independence he looked like a traditional desert chieftain in his seventies, but surprised many foreign businessmen with his knowledge of modern capitalism(2). Under him Dubai became the UAE's largest city, and also the world's second largest importer of Swiss watches, though it never was clear who wore them. However, not everything has changed in the sheikhdoms; when Rashid died in 1990, his son Maktoum took over his jobs as vice president and ruler of Dubai, without letting an election get in the way.(3)
What oil money has done for Dubai.
Like its neighbors, the U.A.E. has been threatened by Iran's Islamic revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait; it cooperated with the United States and its allies to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait in 1991. The dispute with Iran flared up again in April 1992, when Iran refused to allow several hundred former residents to return to the islands it had occupied twenty years earlier; negotiations failed to resolve this issue. In 1993, with the other Persian Gulf Arab states, the U.A.E. supported the Oslo accords between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The oil industry brought in so much money that the U.A.E. didn't suffer much during the price slumps of the mid 1980s and late 1990s. However, Sheikh Zaid was embarrassed by a financial scandal in 1991, when international regulators closed down the Pakistan-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) on fraud and forgery charges. Zaid had been a founding shareholder of BCCI, and Abu Dhabi businesses and investors lost approximately $2 billion. In addition, there are potential problems that Zaid will have to deal with in the time he has left. The main one is the changing population; as in nearby states like Kuwait, the rising life expectancy and the arrival of foreign workers has caused the population to grow rapidly. Currently it is 2.4 million, of which only a fourth are U.A.E. citizens. On top of all that, the younger citizens, having received a modern education, are calling for a more representative government, at a time when it is still not clear what the proper balance between the central government and individual state rights should be. Time will show us if the new generation is as willing as its parents to put aside their differences in the name of keeping the nation together.
Because they had a strong dislike for their former Turkish masters, the Greek Cypriots welcomed the British as liberators. But not for long; the 1878 treaty called for compensating the Turkish sultan in return for handing over the island, and Britain chose to pay by taxing its new subjects heavily. The size of this compensation had been calculated at £92,799, eleven shillings, and three pence(!), the average amount of the surplus of collections over expenditure during the last five years of Turkish rule. This worked out to ten shillings, or half a pound, for every man, woman and child on Cyprus, more than the average Cypriot could afford. What's more, the figures were not accurate, because Constantinople never saw the money in question; it promptly went into interest payments on the government's loans from the West, and if the sultan couldn't make a full payment, the governments of Europe had to pay the rest. Consequently a nationalist movement arose among the Greeks, which had two goals: independence from the British and enosis, or union with Greece. Britain tried to placate the nationalists by allowing them to participate in a legislative council, but when they voted in 1903 to become part of Greece, Britain refused, stating that enosis would be unfair to the Turkish minority and besides, Cyprus was still technically Turkish territory.
The British couldn't help but be aware of the emotional force of the call for enosis; when Winston Churchill, then the Deputy Minister for Colonies, visited the port of Famagusta in 1907, he saw the docks and streets full of Greek colors (blue and white), and slogans favoring enosis. In 1915 Britain tried to take advantage of this by offering Cyprus to Greece, if the Greeks would enter the war on the side of the Allies; the Greek king refused, being of German ancestry himself. After the war the British chose to keep the island, a move which seemed safer than either giving it to Greece or returning it to Turkey.
In 1931 anti-government resentment boiled over in serious riots. The British suppressed the riots, abolished the legislative council, and banned all political parties. Shortly after World War II ended the enosis issue resurfaced, and in 1946 the British proposed constitutional reforms that would lead to self-government on Cyprus.
In 1948 the bishop of Citium of Cyprus, Michael Mouskos, began to organize support for enosis through the church, to exclude Communist influence and to restore the power the church had enjoyed in Byzantine times. Two years later the British refused his request for a plebiscite on enosis. This time their argument was that enosis was an impossible fantasy; they had just been burned by fights in India and Israel, where religion was the main difference between the groups involved, and were not about to start another conflict like it here. The church decided to have its own poll in the Greek community anyway, and 95.7 percent favored union with Greece. In October of 1950, Bishop Mouskos was elected archbishop of the Orthodox Church on Cyprus, and changed his name to Makarios III; now he became the recognized leader of the enosis movement. However, he was also practical, and willing to settle for independence if that was the best he could get.
Other nationalists were not so moderate. The most important of the extremists was George Grivas (1898-1974), who was Cypriot by birth but a citizen of Greece. As a guerrilla he had fought the Turks in the Greco-Turkish War, the Germans during World War II, and had led an anti-communist group called C (Chi) during the Greek civil war of the late 1940s. As the last war wound down, he began to plan the violent liberation of the land of his birth and enosis with the land of his citizenship, by smuggling arms through the port of Paphos. Since Makarios was working toward a peaceful solution, Grivas would have to start the revolution by himself, in the hope that the archbishop would be forced to support him later.
Grivas knew that on an island as small as Cyprus, his guerrillas wouldn't be able to hide unless they could disguise themselves as civilians. He also realized that it wasn't feasible to annihilate the enemy, the way the Vietnamese had done with the French at Dienbienphu, so he aimed to win by wearing the enemy down. The tactics he used were bombings, assassination and intimidation, to destabilize British rule and make them wish to leave. Ideally, the guerrilla campaign would also cause the British to respond with repressive behavior that would turn world opinion against them. It was the sort of plan that any member of the Irish Republican Army would have understood. His organization, EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kypriakou Agonos), launched its struggle on April 1, 1955. Once EOKA got going, however, its main targets were not the British but Greek Cypriots who opposed it, like members of the police force. During the next four years EOKA killed 238 civilians, of which 203 were Greeks.
A British attempt to settle the dispute with a London conference, involving the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey, was unsuccessful. Early in 1956 the British government blamed the Church for starting enosis demonstrations, and exiled Archbishop Makarios and the bishop of Kyrenia to the Seychelles Islands. The reaction in Cyprus to this move was so violent that the government declared a state of emergency, and in early 1957 the UN General Assembly asked that negotiations be resumed.
Even more alarming to the British was the beginning of Turkish involvement. Until the 1950s the Turkish Cypriots had been quiet, because it appeared to them that the British were on their side. Although they only made up 18 percent of the population on Cyprus, they were well represented in the police force, and now they grew alarmed as it looked like Greek radicals would have their way. At the end of 1951, the first purely anti-Greek Turkish Cypriot group was founded under the name of VOLKAN, and it started organizing the Turks under the slogan "Cyprus is Turkish." In response to EOKA, the Turks armed themselves, and VOLKAN was soon succeeded by a terrorist organization, the TMT (Turkish Resistance Organization). The Turks also proposed their alternative to enosis; divide the island into Greek and Turkish portions, so that one group would not dominate the other. As a 1958 TMT pamphlet put it: "The day is near when you will be called upon to sacrifice your life and blood in the PARTITION struggle . . . All Turkdom, right and justice and God are with you. PARTITION OR DEATH!" Soon the TMT was going after both Greek Cypriots and Turks who favored peaceful coexistence and cooperation between the two communities.
As EOKA turned its forces on the Turks, a full-scale civil war looked likely, so the British began new negotiations with the governments of Greece and Turkey in 1958. Of course whatever solution they came up with would only work if everybody compromised, so the agreement they reached in February 1959 rejected both enosis and partition. The island would become a single republic, with a complex electoral system that promised to protect the rights of both Greeks and Turks; Britain would only keep two military bases. Makarios reluctantly accepted, because it seemed that nothing else would prevent a Turkish invasion of the island, and on March 1, 1959, the archbishop returned to a hero's welcome. He was elected president, while Fazil Küchük, a Turkish Cypriot, became vice president. Independence was proclaimed on August 16, 1960, and Cyprus joined both the United Nations and the British Commonwealth of Nations. George Grivas withdrew to Athens, vowing to fight on until Greece and Cyprus were united, even if their governments didn't want it.
In December 1963 Greek and Turkish Cypriots clashed after Makarios proposed thirteen constitutional changes, including abolition of the Turkish minority's power to veto laws in the legislature. Fighting spread across the island, until both Greece and Turkey threatened to intervene, and British troops stepped in; the UN appointed a mediator and organized a peacekeeping force to handle the crisis. A cease-fire went into effect on August 10, 1964.
Grivas returned to Cyprus at this time and took charge of the Greek forces on the island. He was forced to leave again in November 1967, after he ordered attacks on Turkish Cypriot villages, resulting in the deaths of several Turks. Meanwhile, President Makarios was reelected in 1968 and 1973. In 1971, Grivas returned secretly to the island, launching a terrorist campaign against the Makarios government.
EOKA scored its biggest success after Grivas died in early 1974. The junta which had governed Greece since 1967 decided that now was the time to get involved on Cyprus, so it took control of EOKA. On July 15, 1974, EOKA staged a coup that forced Makarios into exile. Then it installed Nikos Sampson, a newspaper publisher, as president, but he (and Greece) was unable to cope with the Turkish response. On July 20, Turkey invaded Cyprus, occupying part of Nicosia (the capital) and the Kyrenia mts. Sampson was replaced on July 23 by Glafkos Clerides, president of the Cyprus House of Representatives, and shortly after that the Greek junta also fell. By late August, following fighting that killed 6,000 and left many more homeless, the Turks controlled 37 percent of the island, and they stopped their advance at this point. In December Makarios returned to Cyprus and resumed his presidency. The 1960 constitution had reserved 30 percent of the seats in the legislature for Turks, but after all the Turkish members had quit and left, the Greek Cypriot government simply left their seats vacant, and since 1974 it has functioned without them, acting as if they could come back any day.
On February 13, 1975, the Turks proclaimed a semi-independent Turkish Cypriot state in their sector, with Rauf R. Denktash as its president. Negotiations began in the same year to reunite Greek and Turkish Cyprus. The talks continued after Makarios died in 1977 and was succeeded by Spyros Kyprianou. They finally ended in 1983 without a final agreement, because in that year Denktash declared the complete independence of his community, calling it the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). So far only Turkey has recognized this republic. The rest of the world had lost interest in Cyprus by this time, though the Greek and Turkish press continued to report on the island's events almost daily.
George Vassiliou defeated Clerides and Kyprianou in the 1988 presidential elections. UN-sponsored talks resumed in 1988, but have only occurred on an intermittent basis since then. In the 1993 elections Vassiliou lost his presidential seat to Clerides. One year later the European Union (EU), which wants to see a united Cyprus, ruled that all exports from Cyprus must have authorization from the official government, in effect banning direct trade with the TRNC. The Turkish Cypriot response was to coordinate the TRNC's defense and foreign policy with that of Turkey and to demand political equality and additional autonomy if peace talks succeeded. Despite this, the EU officially invited Cyprus to join in December 1997. In February 1998 Clerides was re-elected by an extremely narrow margin, and Denktash declared his intention of joining the TRNC with Turkey if the Greek part of the island joins the EU.
Turkey also became a candidate for EU membership in 1999, but its application has been postponed until Turkey changes its stand on the Cyprus issue. Meanwhile, UN efforts aimed at reunifying Cyprus have continued with little progress. Part of the problem is that Cyprus underwent its own version of "ethnic cleansing" during the 1974 war, with Greeks and Turks moving if they found themselves on the wrong side of the front line. As a result, reunification has become more difficult, now that a new generation has grown up, one that has never known anything but a divided Cyprus. Since this is what the Turkish Cypriots wanted in the first place, the current situation suits them just fine. Thus, it looks like the 1974 partition will be a permanent one, unless some unexpected breakthrough occurs at the negotiating table.
Said bin Taimur, the sultan from 1932 to 1970, hated the twentieth century, and did whatever he could to keep Oman from entering it. Micro-managing the government, he personally issued all visas for foreign visitors, and was very choosy about who he allowed in. Government officials and women needed special permission from him to travel abroad, which was rarely given. Inhabitants of the interior were forbidden to visit the coast, and vice versa. The only paved road in the country ran a few miles, from Muscat to the nearest town, Matrah. In a nation of 750,000 people, there were only three small elementary schools and one hospital; infant deaths and diseases such as malaria, leprosy, tuberculosis and trachoma were widespread. Among the items he banned were medicines, radios, music, dancing, glasses, trousers, cigarettes and books.
The sultan's wife came from Dhofar, the southernmost province, so in 1958 he moved from Muscat to Salala, the capital of Dhofar; there he stayed for the rest of his reign. They had one son, Qaboos bin Said, and he went to England to attend high school and the Sandhurst Military Academy. Upon the son's return in 1964, however, he was kept in the palace under a form of house arrest; the sultan's paranoia toward modern things extended even to his own family. Said bin Taimur particularly disliked education, and once he told a British advisor: "This is why you lost India, because you educated the people."(4)
Wretched poverty made the sultan's reactionary policies easier; at the start of his reign the country's main income came from customs receipts, worth about $140,000 a year. Large oil deposits were discovered in the 1960s, but the sultan refused to spend the new wealth on improvements. Now real discontent arose; in 1962 some dissidents formed a guerilla movement, the Dhofar Liberation Front. They merged with a Marxist group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab Gulf (PFLOAG), and together they waged a small-scale war in Dhofar Province, with support from South Yemen after it gained independence in 1967.
In July 1970 the sultan was overthrown in a palace coup and shipped off to a hotel in London, where he spent the rest of his days. The UK denied involvement, but since British officers held key posts in the army, there is little doubt that the British knew about the coup before it happened, and approved of the results. The throne now went to thirty-year-old Qaboos. One of his first acts was to change the name of the country from "Muscat & Oman" to simply "Oman." In 1971 Oman joined the United Nations.
For Qaboos, the top priority has been modernization, to end the ridiculous restrictions on Omani life and to bring the country out of the Middle Ages. Roads, schools, clinics, airports, and banks were built, and the new sultan freed his father's corps of 500 black slaves. Dealing with the Dhofari rebels took longer, but eventually Qaboos got the upper hand against them, too. Several hundred British soldiers stayed in Oman to assist him, while the Shah of Iran sent 4,000 of his own troops. By 1976 only a handful of guerrillas were left, driven back across the border into South Yemen; the establishment of diplomatic relations with South Yemen in 1983 insured that they would not come back.
When it comes to foreign affairs, the sultan has often acted independently of his Arab neighbors. Almost alone among them, he argued that the Arab-Israeli Conflict is a secondary concern, and that the threats posed by theocratic Iran and Soviet-dominated Afghanistan should be dealt with first; consequently he permitted the US Navy to operate out of Omani ports as early as 1980. He also went against general Arab opinion by endorsing the Camp David treaty between Egypt and Israel, the only Arab head of state to do so. In 1990 he tried to mediate a peaceful solution to the Kuwait crisis, and when that failed, he allowed the Americans and British to use Oman as a base for attacks against Iraq. More recently he has supported the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, the result being a small amount of trade with Israel.
One area in which Sultan Qaboos has not permitted much reform is in the government. An excellent example of an enlightened despot, the sultan routinely travels incognito around his country, looking for roadside eyesores that need to be removed. In the name of preserving Omani culture, all new buildings must include Islamic architectural features; homes can be painted only in traditional pastel colors; air conditioners, construction sites and laundry lines must be concealed from public view. Fines are imposed on litterbugs and anyone who drives a dirty car or leaves a building unpainted. In 1981 he established a Consultative Assembly, whose members he appointed, to advise him on social, economic, and educational policy. In 1990 Qaboos replaced the assembly with a Consultative Council, to give wider participation to Omani citizens, but all eighty members are chosen by government representatives, rather than elected, and they need the sultan's approval before they can serve. Like the assembly, this is an advisory body, rather than a legislative one. Women candidates are permitted, and the Council reviews all social and economic laws, helps to draw up and carry out development plans, and proposes ways to improve public services. Members serve three-year terms.
In November 1996 the sultan introduced a constitution, called the Basic Law, which called for a 41-member senate, the Council of State, to rule with the sultan and the Consultative Council. Religious tolerance was promised as well, since most of the foreign workers in Oman are Hindus from India or Christians from the West. Finally, because Sultan Qaboos has no children, the Basic Law outlines the process for choosing one of his relatives as a successor. This is of paramount concern, to a country that is only now learning the concept of rule by law. Things may be going well for Oman as this is being written, but absolute government is only as good as the person on top, and you've probably heard how absolute power can corrupt those who wield it. If examples in other countries can serve as a guide here, Oman may some day get a Western-style constitutional monarchy or republic, but not until it has to deal with a bad head of state.(5)
Ibn Saud's eldest son, Saud, was the first of these successor kings. He was a luxury-loving individual who lacked his father's authority and prestige. The Ulema was alienated by his extravagant lifestyle, and so were younger Saudis who found Nasser's Arab socialism more appealing. He spent Saudi oil money irresponsibly to gain political influence abroad, portraying himself as the conservative alternative to Nasser. However, in the Cold War he advocated Arab neutrality, opposing the Baghdad Pact (CENTO) when it was formed. Representatives from Saudi Arabia joined other neutral nations at the Bandung Conference, the event which marked the birth of the Nonaligned Movement, held in Indonesia in 1955. Later that year King Saud agreed to lend Syria $10 million for economic and military purposes. When the Suez Crisis caused foreign banks to freeze Egypt's accounts, Saud did a reversal, loaning $10 million to Egypt in August 1956. After the joint Israeli, British, and French attack on Egypt in October and November, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom and France, and cut off oil supplies to their tankers.
Despite this activity, most Saudis considered Saud a poor monarch. His brother Faisal was a strict ascetic who never smoked or drank, and his father had sent him on many foreign missions, so Faisal had diplomatic skills as well. No matter how you looked at them, it appeared that Faisal would make a better ruler. Indeed, Ibn Saud once said about his sons, "I wish Faisal had been born twins and Saud had not been born at all." In 1958 the princes, Ulema and sheikhs got together, and forced Saud to hand over all his powers, except for the right to veto, to Faisal.
Faisal immediately cut back on spending, applying to the country the same austerity he imposed on himself. This improved the Saudi royal family's image abroad, but it was unpopular at home, especially among those tribesmen who had stayed loyal because Saud had paid them subsidies. Some Saudi intellectuals, seeking to modernize the country, met with Saud and offered to help him get his powers back if he would introduce a representative government. Saud did regain his powers when Faisal resigned as prime minister in December 1960, but instead of keeping his promise, he jailed his progressive allies.
Saud's second reign was less successful than his first. The country was directly threatened by the 1962 coup which toppled the monarchy of Yemen, replacing it with a pro-Nasser republic. A war by proxy now developed; Egypt supported the new government, while Saudi Arabia gave refuge to the overthrown imam, promising to support his efforts to regain his throne, though Saud made the royalists carry out a few essential reforms, like the abolition of slavery. Egypt responded to Saudi attacks in Yemen by bombing Saudi towns, so Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Egypt and mobilized its armed forces in January 1963. Then Saud's health began to fail, so he was compelled to let Crown Prince Faisal become prime minister again. On November 2, 1964, the princes voted to depose Saud, and Faisal II became the next king.
Besides opposing Nasserism, Faisal was a passionate hater of communism and Zionism, which he considered to be the same. Although his country was too weak to lead any sort of anti-Nasser alliance, his personality and his growing wealth made foreigners pay attention.
Faisal had to wait until Nasser's death in 1970 to forgive Egypt; this may have been the reason why Anwar Sadat was so willing to break Egypt's ties with the Soviet Union. He also formally recognized Yemen's republican government in the same year, ending seven years of intermittent border fighting. However, Faisal had a bigger dilemma when it came to dealing with the United States. He wanted to keep the US as a friend because it was the only anti-communist superpower, but after 1967 it was also the biggest supporter of Israel. Thus, at the Arab conferences Faisal attended, he tried to form a united Arab alliance, but he didn't want to give much financial support to the states confronting Israel, since the two most important ones on the front line, Egypt and Syria, were also Soviet clients. When the Palestinian factor appeared, he chose to back Yasir Arafat's al-Fatah group, because it didn't promote Marxism as much as the PFLP and the DFLP.
Faisal's biggest success was in finding a way to make the most of his kingdom's primary resource. We saw how oil had been discovered at a time when the countries of the Middle East were weak, and easily dominated by the West. The desperately poor Arab and Iranian rulers of the early twentieth century were happy to receive whatever the oil companies were willing to pay them in royalties. In the 1950s they worked out new arrangements that were fairer to the host countries, usually a 50-50 split. This, combined with steadily increasing oil production, caused revenue to jump tremendously, but the oil companies were still the real owners of the oil, and many Arabs had a nagging feeling that they could do better. Iran's unsuccessful effort to nationalize its oil industry in the early 1950s was a lesson to the Arabs, and they acted more cautiously because of it.
They got their chance when the oil companies announced price cuts for both Venezuelan and Middle Eastern crude oil in 1959, without consulting the governments involved, and did the same thing again in 1960. Now the oil producers acted; in September 1960 five of them (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, and Kuwait) sent representatives to a conference in Baghdad, where they founded the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), to coordinate their policies and keep oil prices from dropping any further. In the late 1960s and 70s eight more countries joined OPEC--Algeria, Ecuador, Gabon, Indonesia, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Ecuador withdrew in 1992 and Gabon left in 1995, so now the organization has eleven members. Since most of them are predominantly Moslem, OPEC has often been a front organization for Islamic issues.
During the next few years the oil-producers succeeded in negotiating the nationalization of their oil, helped by a 1966 UN resolution which declared that each nation had the right to permanent sovereignty over the development of its natural resources. Otherwise, everything seemed to stay the same, and Westerners were skeptical that OPEC members would ever be able to agree on how much oil they should produce, and what they should charge for it. However, several trends would change that in a hurry. First, the known oil supply in non-OPEC countries was decreasing; in the 1970s the United States, a former oil exporter, began to import oil, now needing more than it produced domestically. Second, King Faisal had changed his mind about the Americans. Throughout the 1960s he had been firm in his view that oil and politics did not mix; he steadfastly opposed any suggestion to use oil as a weapon. He was right about that in 1967; the Arabs had tried to use the oil weapon then, but boycotting the West hurt them more than the intended victims, since the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 lasted only six days. Over the next six years, however, the king grew disillusioned because the United States continued to get along better with Israel.
In 1973 warning signs began to appear; tensions rose between Israel and its neighbors again, OPEC began a series of price increases, and the king and his ministers started saying out loud that Saudi Arabia would not indefinitely tolerate America's pro-Israel policy. The United States did not pay attention, having many other issues (Vietnam, Watergate, Détente, etc.) on its mind, so when the 1973 war began, the Saudi response took America by surprise. At the OPEC meeting held during the war, Saudi Arabia led the way in ordering a cutback in oil production, and a total boycott of the United States and the Netherlands for their support of Israel. The effect was immediate: widespread gasoline shortages, and a climb in oil prices. By early 1974 oil was selling for more than $12 a barrel, compared to $2.50 a barrel two years earlier. However, the United States was not as dependent on oil as Japan and Western Europe, what really hurt was America's recession, which now spread to the rest of the world. Several OPEC countries had wanted to continue the embargo until Israel withdrew from occupied Arab territories; instead the embargo had to be called off after six months, because concerns were rising that it could cause the economic collapse of the West, and a possible US-led invasion to restore the energy supply.
One long-term result of the oil weapon's use was that it brought an end to the days when the West could build its economy and infrastructure indefinitely, secure that it would always have cheap fuel. The United States experimented with ways to conserve energy, and began drilling for oil in northern Alaska; the Alaska Pipeline, built to transport this oil to civilization, suddenly went from being an environmental risk to a feasible project. Oil prices never returned to their pre-1973 levels, so now billions of petrodollars rolled from the developed nations to the oil-producers; it was the biggest peacetime transfer of money in history. The Arabs started using this good fortune to buy up real estate and shares of overseas companies, though western fears of them buying the whole world proved to be largely unfounded. Finally, the oil boycott put Saudi Arabia in the leadership role over OPEC, a position it would not be able to decline later, due to it having more oil than any other member. Overnight Sheikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani, Saudi Arabia's oil minister, became one of the world's most important figures.
Saudi Arabia used its influence at OPEC to keep oil prices from rising as much as more radical members (e.g., Algeria, Iraq, Iran) wanted, carefully managing both production and pricing so that neither would be more than the world market could bear. During the Iranian revolution, Saudi Arabia raised its production as high as 8 million barrels a day, to compensate for the Iranian oil that was no longer available. However, the Camp David treaty between Egypt and Israel was signed at the same time, and the Saudis disapproved of any Arab country making peace with Israel, so this time they didn't prevent their partners from jacking up oil prices again. For the West, the result was panic buying, a second energy crisis, and another recession, which hit before the developed countries had fully recovered from the previous one. The price of oil reached $40 a barrel, bringing the world economy to the edge of disaster. The West experimented with alternative sources of energy, increased conservation, and reduced oil purchases from the Middle East. Large amounts of oil had been discovered in the North Sea and Mexico during the 1970s, and China and the Soviet Union were big producers, so oil-consuming nations started buying from there, ending OPEC's days as a true cartel.
King Khalid died of a heart attack in 1982, and Fahd became the new number one. Yet another brother, Abdullah, the commander of the national guard, became the next crown prince. By now western consumption had dropped, and it was the oil producers' turn to face a recession. Prices fell dramatically after 1981; by 1986 they had dropped as low as $8 a barrel, before they began to recover. All of the Arab states with oil experienced tremendous drops in income, with deficits replacing the surplus budgets of recent years. Saudi Arabia, for example, saw its revenue go from $118 billion in 1981 to $18 billion in 1986.
Fortunately for the Saudis, most of their infrastructure-building program was completed by this time. These improvements included roads, huge airports at Jedda and Riyadh, smaller airports in the rest of the country (Saudis got used to commuting by plane about as often as Westerners took a bus or train), and two brand-new cities, Jubail on the Persian Gulf and Yanbu al-Bahr on the Red Sea. Jubail in particular was one of the largest building projects of the late twentieth century, because the Saudis planned it to be an industrial center as well as a port. Of course, planting all this in the desert was expensive; water had to be supplied by desalination plants, and the government paid heavy subsidies to farmers until they were growing enough wheat to provide some for exports. In 1983 the US Secretary of Agriculture mentioned that Saudi Arabia could buy American grain for one fourth of what it cost to grow it locally, and his Saudi counterpart told him that it was a matter of making the country self-sufficient in a vital resource, just as the United States keeps a strategic petroleum reserve for emergencies.
King Fahd has tried to act as peacemaker in disputes between other Arabs (the Lebanese civil war, Algeria vs. Morocco, Syria vs. Iraq). Beyond the Arab world, he supported Moslem causes, like ending the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and establishing diplomatic relations with the six new Moslem states created from the former Soviet Union. He didn't have it so easy with the Iranians, though. In 1986 he dropped the title "Majesty," and replaced it with "Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques," to make Islamic militants think twice about opposing the regime; Iran responded by constantly calling him "Mr. Fahd" in radio broadcasts. A year later, at least 400 people, mostly Iranians, were killed in Mecca when Iranian pilgrims clashed with Saudi police. Iranian demonstrators retaliated by sacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran and killing a Saudi diplomat; for the first time, Saudi-Iranian relations were broken and the Saudi media denounced the Khomeini regime. The House of Saud found itself in a paradox, declaring fundamentalism as its greatest enemy, while at the same time calling itself the true guardian of fundamentalist Islam. Mecca saw an even worse mishap in July 1990; more than 1,400 pilgrims died after a tunnel accident caused panic and a stampede.
In the long run, however, Iraq, Saudi Arabia's ally against Iran, proved to be more dangerous. When Iraq occupied Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia, the Saudis allowed the deployment of hundreds of thousands of U.S. and allied troops on its territory, and it contributed forces to the multinational coalition that fought Iraq in early 1991. Because the Persian Gulf War failed to get rid of Saddam Hussein, American troops and planes did not leave immediately, but have remained in the region ever since. This have proven to be an embarrassment for the royal family; before the war they had spent as much as thirty percent of their GNP on defense--the highest per capita amount in the world--and still they couldn't protect themselves or their smaller neighbors on the Gulf. Their main weapons are still economic ones--money and oil--and what would happen if those were used is very unpredictable. The war also caused a lengthy cooling of relations with Yemen, Sudan, Jordan and the PLO, because they all favored Iraq. And many Arabs had grave misgivings about stationing non-Arab soldiers in the region, due to the religious factor. In Chapter 9 we noted Mohammed's declaration that only Islam could exist in Arabia, so the presence of an army full of Christians, Jews, atheists--and women!--seems like a violation of holy ground, though none of its bases are located near Mecca or Medina. Even the setting up of Christmas trees raised some fears that the Westerners were planning missionary work. A poll taken in 2002 revealed that sixty percent of Saudi citizens hate America, so it's safe to say that they only want the Americans as foul-weather friends. Another poll said that the same percentage (60%) doesn't believe Arabs were responsible for the 9-11 attack (see below).
After the war, Saudi Arabia increased its oil output to compensate for the loss of petroleum supplies from Iraq and Kuwait. Economic problems became evident, however, in 1993. The United States had insisted that Saudi Arabia pay for the costs of US military protection during the war, a bill which cost $51 billion, at a time when the Saudi budget was running on a deficit (Saudi Arabia's foreign debt grew to $200 billion by 2002). War payments and declining oil prices forced the Saudi government to cut social and defense spending and to take out loans from international banks. Despite these problems, Saudi Arabia kept OPEC from reducing oil production until March 1999, when prices had again dropped to unprofitable levels.
Despite appearances, the Saudi monarchy is not absolute one-man rule. Rather it is an oligarchy, where decisions are largely made by consensus in the huge ruling family. To maintain its hold on power, the royal family appoints its members to as many local government positions as possible, and more serve as officers in the army. King Fahd took the first step toward a more modern government in 1992, when he established a 60-member consultative council to serve in an advisory capacity, provided a bill of rights, and changed the rules of succession. The Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shura) met for the first time in December 1993. In 1997 the Consultative Council was enlarged to 90 members, of which 60 were new appointees. Social reforms were less evident, however. Saudi men and women remain segregated, and government officials in the United States voiced continuing concern about human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. There was a particularly nasty incident in March 2002, when a girl's school caught fire in Mecca, and the religious police beat students to keep them from escaping through the front door because they weren't wearing regulation robes and head scarves (the back doors were habitually locked to prevent visits by boys); fifteen girls died in the blaze.
After suffering a stroke in 1995, Fahd's health deteriorated. He lived for ten more years after that, but was an invalid most of the time, and had to turn over control of the country to his half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah.
The Saudi royal family backed Wahhabism in the early days (see Chapter 14), but now seems to feel that it has created a monster. One could argue that the House of Saud has more to fear from its own people than from the Americans or Iraqis, because many Saudis regard the introduction of Western industry and technology as anti-Islamic and therefore evil. Religious extremists run the educational system, where they can control which ideas are taught to the next generation. Saudi Arabia built 64 colleges in the twentieth century, but the curriculum hasn't changed since the early 1960s; these institutions of higher learning still turn out more graduates in Islamic studies than in medicine or engineering. The fanatics who captured the Great Mosque of Mecca in 1979 shook the nation, but many horrified Saudis could also understand what drove the Mahdists to commit violence and sacrilege. Nor were they the last, either. Since the United States was the most powerful non-Moslem country, Islamists of all sects came to share Ayatollah Khomeini's view that the Americans were behind everything that was wrong in the world.
One of the Saudi Islamists was so dangerous that he eventually became the world's most wanted man. Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden (Osama bin Laden for short) was born in 1957 as the 17th of 52 children; his father, Muhammad bin Laden, ran Saudi Arabia's most successful construction company. Eventually Osama got $300 million as his share of the family inheritance; consequently he never had to worry much about money, and because he lived like a Puritan, most of this fortune went to work financing his political activities. In 1979 he graduated from King Abdul Aziz University in Jedda with a degree in civil engineering. Later in the same year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, so he left Saudi Arabia to join the Afghan resistance movement, the Mujahideen. At first he raised funds and recruited Arab volunteers for the Mujahideen; then he became a guerrilla leader, participating in many battles between 1986 and 1989. His biggest victory was a fierce battle over Jalalabad, which persuaded the Soviets to get out of Afghanistan. This made Osama a hero in the eyes of the Taliban, the group that took over after the puppet communist regime fell, and he eventually became the power behind the Taliban throne. In 1988 he founded his own organization, Al Qaeda ("The Base"), composed of Mujahideen and other followers.
Osama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia in 1989, and quickly found new enemies to challenge, first the Saudi royal family, and then the United States. The Saudis confined him to Jedda (a house arrest of sorts), but in April 1991 he escaped and fled to Afghanistan. A year later he moved to Khartoum, Sudan, which had just installed an Islamist government more to his liking. In a show of Islamic solidarity, the Sudanese were allowing any Moslem into the country without a visa, so hundreds of terrorists and ex-Mujahideen found it a sanctuary. The Sudanese also liked bin Laden because of the job-creating businesses he started there: a tannery, two large farms, a bank, an import-export firm, an investing firm, a major construction company--and at least three terrorist training camps. For the cause of Islam, he declared that Al Qaeda should put aside its differences with all other Moslem groups, including the Shiites; henceforth they should work together to bring down the corrupt governments of Moslem countries that do not follow the Shari'a (Islamic law), and to attack American targets until the United States pulls out of Saudi Arabia. The first attack took place at the end of 1992, when a bomb exploded in a hotel in Aden, Yemen; a Yemeni and an Austrian tourist were killed, but the intended targets, US servicemen, had already gone to Somalia. He may have provided funding or guidance for the first World Trade Center attack on February 26, 1993, but details are not clear. As for the Americans in Somalia, 18 of them were later ambushed and killed in Mogadishu, and it now looks like bin Laden and/or his followers were there at the time.
By now Sudan was on the US State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The Saudis revoked bin Laden's citizenship in 1994, and two years later American and Saudi pressure caused Sudan to expel him. Before bin Laden left for Afghanistan, Sudan tried twice to get back in America's good graces by offering to hand him over to the United States, but President Bill Clinton wasn't interested in dealing with terrorism, so he ignored the offer. On June 25, 1996, terrorists exploded a truck bomb at Khobar Towers, a housing center for U.S. military personnel near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; 19 were killed, and more than 300 people were wounded. US investigators believed that bin Laden was somehow involved, but there was no American response. Two months later, bin Laden issued a "Declaration of Jihad" which announced Al Qaeda's goals: drive US forces from the Arabian peninsula, overthrow the Saudi monarchy, liberate Moslem holy sites, and support Islamic revolutionary groups everywhere. Soon Al Qaeda was involved in nearly every war where one of the factions was Moslem, from Chechnya to Kashmir to the southern Philippines.
In February 1998, bin Laden issued a joint declaration with four other Islamist groups, claiming that they were the "World Islamic Front," and that Moslems should kill Americans, including American civilians, anywhere in the world. Six months later, two simultaneous explosions blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 225 people (12 of them U.S. citizens) and injuring 4,600. This time President Clinton couldn't ignore the attack, so he launched air strikes on targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. However, they proved ineffective; the planes hit various abandoned buildings in Afghanistan and a possibly blameless asprin factory in Khartoum. In October 2000, a raft full of explosives heavily damaged the USS Cole at Aden, Yemen; again the Americans did not retaliate. This led bin Laden to believe that the United States was weak, and too cowardly to use anything but aircraft and missiles when forced to react.
All previous terrorist attacks looked puny after the one of September 11, 2001, where Al Qaeda members hijacked four airliners and turned them into flying bombs, crashing them kamikaze-style into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. The Saudi rulers found themselves in a very ticklish situation; they declared that they were on the side of the United States, but bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudis, and most of the Saudi people preferred Al Qaeda's goals, if not its methods. As the United States made war against Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts, Crown Prince Abdullah and the Saudi public relations machine went into overdrive, visiting U.S. President George W. Bush to lecture him on how to treat the Middle East, paying for commercials on American TV, and offering a peace plan for the Arab-Israeli Conflict that proposed a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza strip--a plan very much like ones they had rejected when folks like Anwar Sadat offered them. However, they gave nothing but words for the "War on Terror," so they were really playing a neutral role, acting much like Franco's Spain did to Hitler's Germany; no matter who won, they would be able to claim that they had sympathized with the winner all along. So far Al Qaeda's most spectacular attacks have been against the United States, but intelligence analysts believe that it is only a matter of time before Al Qaeda turns its sights closer to home, to hit targets inside Saudi Arabia. Then we'll know for sure which side the Saudis are on.
On the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Saudi Arabia's actions speak differently from its words. The Saudi press routinely praises suicide bombers who kill Israelis, and uses telethons to raise money for their families; by mid-2002 the Saudi government had paid $33 million for the newest form of terrorism, and pledged another $50 million. In non-Moslem countries, the Saudis spent $70 billion to promote Islamist causes, using Moslem charities to build or gain control over 1,500 mosques, 210 Islamic centers, 202 colleges, and nearly 2,000 schools; they even trained Moslem chaplains for the US armed forces.(6) In March 2002, a government-controlled Saudi newspaper used a two-part editorial to resurrect a lie from the Middle Ages, claiming that Jews must slaughter Christian and Moslem children every year, and use their blood to make holiday foods for Purim and Passover. Like other Arabs, they would be quite pleased if Israel disappeared completely, but for the sake of Western consumption, they have to offer a less drastic solution. It remains to be seen how long the Saudis can keep both ends of a candle lit (one for the West, one for the Islamists), without getting burned.
Because most of the Middle East has no experience with democracy, and doesn't have any understanding of the principles behind it, its repressive monarchies and dictatorships find it easier to play "the blame game" than to learn from past mistakes. Thus, instead of blaming themselves, they have blamed the Turks, Mongols, French, British--and most recently the Americans and the Israelis--for lagging behind the rest of the world. One could argue that if the United States and Israel did not exist, Middle Eastern despots would have to invent scapegoats like them.
Earlier in this work, we noted that the three largest ethnic groups of the Middle East--the Arabs, Iranians and Turks(7)--are proud of their past, and dream of going back to the days when they led the world's most impressive civilization. Unfortunately, the key to regaining lost power is modernization, and the Arabs have been the least successful of the three at that. The different approaches of the Arabs and Turks to modernization can be compared with how Japan and China responded when the West threatened them in the nineteenth century. In both cases, the larger nation (China and the Arabs) was supremely confident of its superiority, and didn't like to consider foreign ideas; any suggestion that it should imitate the West was viewed as an accusation that the "golden age" was less than perfect. The smaller countries, on the other hand, were young enough to remember what life was like before they became civilized, and were aware that their civilization came from somewhere else; thus, the Japanese and Turks were more flexible, and when they had to modernize, they accepted it wholeheartedly. The Arabs have a special problem in that Islam is so tied up with their culture, that they feel they can't be Arabs without it; every Arab is expected to think and act like a Moslem, even if he is a Christian or a communist. A lot of them would feel more comfortable if they could Islamize the modern world, rather than modernize Islam. Yet those who would like to take Arabia back to the seventh century forget that Islam enjoyed its best years when Moslems tolerated non-believers in their midst, and were willing to learn from them. If the Saudis insist on looking to the past, they may deny themselves a future.
The United States hailed the 1950 elections as a sign that true democracy had come to Turkey, and it enthusiastically increased American foreign aid, which totaled $2.5 billion during the 1950s. This allowed the new leaders, President Celâl Bayar, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and Foreign Minister Fuat Köprülü, to rapidly expand the economy, building many new industries, expanding existing ones, and encouraging urbanization. However, such a large cash infusion also led to inflation, and many of the projects launched were not economically viable or even necessary. Apparently Menderes counted on the United States to bail him out if anything went wrong. When critics accused him of fiscal irresponsibility, he responded with severe repression, worse than what the Republicans had done to their opponents. He suspended the publication of newspapers, imprisoned their editors, and forbade radio stations to criticize the government. Even the military, which Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had been careful to keep out of politics, was put to work, harassing politicians from other parties and breaking up demonstrations.
By 1960, the government was even harassing former president Inönü, who we noted was a war hero and Atatürk's chief lieutenant (see Chapter 15). This caused widespread protests, and on May 27, 1960, a group of young officers, led by General Cemal Gursel, arrested 600 members of the government; a year later they hanged Menderes and two associates on charges of corruption, and gave prison sentences to the rest. In July 1961 they installed a new constitution based on modern economic and social principles, with provisions to prevent abuses like those the Democrats had inflicted.
New elections were held in October 1961. The CHP got a plurality of 40 percent of the vote, while the Justice Party, a new group formed from those Democrats who had escaped last year's coup, came in second place. Inönü came back as the head of a shaky coalition government, since he had failed to win a majority. The proportional representation provisions of the constitution made it difficult for any party to gain the majority needed to enact effective legislation. Thus, each new administration was weaker than the one before it, and activists had to take to the streets to get anything done. After several reshufflings of the cabinet, Inönü was forced to step down in 1965, though he remained leader of the CHP until 1972, the year before his death. Toward the end, he moved the party to a center-left position by supporting various social democratic ideas, and this was continued by his successor, Bülent Ecevit (1925-). Meanwhile the Justice Party, led by Suleiman Demirel (1924-), came to represent the old Atatürk traditions. In addition there were several minor parties to take away votes from the two big ones: communists, socialists, the National Action Party (MHP) for Turkish nationalists, and the religious National Salvation Party (MSP).
For the rest of the 1960s and 70s, Turkey would change its government with distressing frequency; Demirel would be prime minister one year, Ecevit the next. All this time, Turkey remained a faithful ally of the West. Ecevit was at the helm during the most difficult period, when Turkey occupied the northern part of Cyprus to protect the island's Turkish minority (1974, see the Cyprus page in this chapter). The United States accused Turkey of aggression, and cut off military and economic aid; Turkey responded by temporarily closing all U.S. bases in the country, and set up a separate Turkish Cypriot government, in defiance of the United States, the United Nations and the European Union. Tempers cooled off eventually; the Americans later resumed aid, and the Turks reopened the bases, but the incident left them suspicious of the U.S. presence, a situation encouraged and amplified by radicals on both the left and right ends of the political spectrum.
Already shaky to begin with, the government began to unravel in 1979. Demirel was prime minister at this time, and he favored retaining Turkey's close ties with the West, while the CHP called for more socialist controls over the economy and new alliances with communist countries and the Third World. Extremists from both sides resorted to acts of violence against each other, including assassinations.(8) On September 12, 1980, the army took over the government and suspended the constitution a second time. The new rulers, called the National Security Council, banned all political parties, restricted the press, and jailed thousands of suspected terrorists.
Turkey saw martial law for the next three years; the National Security Council's head, General Kenan Evren, was chief of state, and Admiral Bülent Ulusu was prime minister. A new constitution went into effect in 1982, and Evren became president of the republic. Parliamentary elections in November 1983 resulted in an upset victory for the conservative Motherland Party (the military had favored a more right-wing group), and party leader Turgut Özal became prime minister. In 1989 Özal was chosen as Turkey's first civilian president since 1960. Two members of the Motherland Party, Yildirim Akbulut and Mesut Yilmaz, followed Özal as prime minister; then in the October 1991 elections, the Motherland Party lost to Suleiman Demirel's True Path Party (DYP), and Demirel became the next prime minister.
Of all Turkish heads of state, Özal was the most successful at promoting a pro-Turkish foreign policy. For much of the twentieth century, Turkey's influence was limited because it was on bad terms with all its neighbors. That began to change during Özal's administration, which saw the breakup of the Soviet Union. Three new republics appeared on Turkey's eastern frontier, and since the Azerbaijanis were relatives and the Armenians were traditional enemies, it was only natural for Özal to support the former in their struggle against the latter. There was some concern in the West that the new Moslem states of the former Soviet Union would adopt the Iranian model, creating theocracies with anti-American ayatollahs. This fear turned out to be largely groundless, because only the Tajiks are ethnically close to the Iranians. The rest (Azerbaijanis, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Turkomans and Uzbeks) are Turks under another name, and their leaders decided that the quickest way to modernize their countries was to do what the Turks told them to do, since Turkey is already at the point of progress they hope to reach. In the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Turkey was usually neutral, but in the late 1990s, Turkey and Israel increased their trade and began to cooperate in military exercises, because both see a common enemy in Syria. In December 2001 Turkey acted as the go-between for the delivery of 100 Israeli tanks and 30 Israeli fighters to Azerbaijan, causing the Russian press to talk with dismay about an "emerging Tel Aviv-Ankara-Baku axis."
Özal died in 1993 and Demirel replaced him as president. Economics Minister Tansu Çiller took over leadership of the DYP and became the country's first female prime minister. However, Turkey's economy was now suffering from government deficits, a weak currency, and the loss of trade with Iraq, caused by the UN embargo of Saddam Hussein's regime. In April 1994 Çiller announced price and tax increases and privatization of state assets, in an attempt to stimulate the economy.
In the December 1995 parliamentary elections, the Welfare Party, an Islamic fundamentalist group, received the most votes, but like the winners of previous elections, it did not have enough votes to rule alone. The other parties refused to form a coalition government with the Welfare Party; instead, Çiller and Mesut Yilmaz of the Motherland Party (ANAP) formed a coalition government in which Yilmaz would serve as prime minister until 1997, and then Çiller would take over. However, the deal only lasted for three months. In June 1996 ANAP called for an investigation of how Çiller handled government contracts, and the DYP resigned from the coalition. Then parliament voted to hold a no-confidence vote against the government, but before it could, Yilmaz announced his resignation, too. A new coalition followed, this one between the DYP and the Welfare Party, with Necmettin Erbakan (the Welfare Party leader) and Çiller each serving one-year terms as prime minister.
Erbakan was the first religious head of state in the history of modern Turkey, and as one might expect, he tried to reestablish Islamic policies. Of course this was heavily criticized, especially by the Turkish military, traditional defenders of Atatürk's secular state. They pressured Erbakan to resign in June 1997, but Çiller couldn't take charge, due to a series of financial scandals, so President Demirel designated Yilmaz the next prime minister.
Yilmaz formed the third coalition government in as many years, consisting of ANAP, the Democratic Left Party (DSP), and the Democratic Turkey Party (DTP). In January 1998 the Turkish constitutional court outlawed the Welfare Party, on the grounds that it threatened the state. Erbakan and a few other Welfare Party members were banned from political activity for the next five years, but the rest regrouped to form Virtue, another Islamist party, and thus continued to hold the largest share of seats in parliament. The constitutional court responded with a crackdown, investigating more than 200 mayors and other officials with ties to Virtue.
Yilmaz lasted until November 1998, when he was toppled by a corruption scandal and a no-confidence vote. Former prime minister and DSP leader Bülent Ecevit led a temporary government until the next elections, held in April 1999. The DSP won, but again a coalition was required, so Ecevit formed a government (the 56th since 1922) with the DSP, its former rival the MHP, and ANAP. In May 2000 parliament elected Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the chief justice of the constitutional court and a strong advocate of democratic rights, to be the next president.
In August 1999 a powerful earthquake struck the northwestern city of Izmit,(9) killing more than 15,000 people. Many criticized the government for the slow response of its relief efforts, and blamed shoddy construction materials and practices for the collapse of so many buildings.
Besides Cyprus and the unstable government, there is one other major factor in modern Turkish politics: the Kurdish rebellion. We saw in the previous chapter how the Kurds had not received a state of their own, despite being promised one after the Ottoman Empire was broken up. Eastern Turkey is home to 40 percent of the Kurdish people, and after their first rebellion failed in the 1920s, the Turkish government discouraged Kurdish nationalism and culture for nearly six decades (even the Kurdish language was banned until 1991). Then in 1984 a Marxist group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) began a new series of raids in southeastern Turkey, as well as on coastal resorts and in Istanbul; the government called the PKK a terrorist organization.(10)
During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, Turkey allowed the UN coalition to use Turkish airbases for its attacks on Iraq. After the war, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees crossed the border into Turkey, leading to increased fighting between Turkey and the PKK. Later on, when the UN created a no-fly zone in northern Iraq and Saddam Hussein granted Kurdish autonomy, Iraq became more hospitable to the Kurds, and Turkish Kurds started migrating the other way. The Turkish army followed in 1995, sending 35,000 soldiers as much as 24 miles into Iraq to surround Kurdish guerrilla strongholds across the border.
In February 1999, Turkish military units, assisted by U.S. intelligence agencies, went to Nairobi, Kenya and captured PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. He was tried on charges of treason and sentenced to death. During the trial Öcalan bargained for his life; he expressed regret for all the bloodshed, offered peaceful negotiations between the Turkish government and the PKK, and warned that his followers would commit more acts of violence if he was hanged. Ankara chose to keep him locked up, without saying whether the death sentence will be carried out. In August 1999 Öcalan called for a cease-fire; by that time, the Kurdish uprising had left 37,000 dead, mostly civilians. With the end of the armed struggle, the PKK said it would reorganize itself as a political party, using democratic means to improve conditions for the Kurds.
At the time of this writing (July 2002), Turkey appears to be entering a new political crisis, while still recovering from an economic one. Prime Minister Ecevit has been ill since early May, but he refuses to step down, and his wife runs the DSP for him. There is no one designated to take his place, and some observers believe the DSP would break up without him. Nor does the MHP, the second largest party in the coalition, want anyone else as prime minister. If elections were held before the scheduled date in 2004, they would probably produce a coalition government containing the Islamists and/or the PKK, a prospect the military and the secularists view with horror.
To the West, Turkey has been an ally of critical importance, but it can also be an amazingly complicated and frustrating country. It has done better than most Moslem countries at creating a modern society, but as a democracy it hasn't gone far enough; another formula besides Atatürk's statism may be needed for the twenty-first century. We saw how the military had to step in twice, when the government fell apart completely. Even when the generals aren't in charge, dissent is severely restricted; criticism of the military and individual generals is simply banned; criticism of civilian officials can be almost as dangerous. Reports of human rights abuses come out from time to time, and the Turkish government could probably do much more to stop the latest form of slavery--human trafficking--which moves its victims into Europe by passing them through Turkey. It may be that the chief obstacle to true democracy is no longer Islam, but the system set up to keep Islam in check. In addition, there is no political party calling for the privatization of industry and free commerce; this would replace the state-run enterprises that cannot stand unless politicians throw money at them, and allow the country to dig itself out of its economic crisis.
Ankara has begun to reform, as liberal-minded Turks look to the European Union and the United States for help and advice, hoping to learn how capitalist nations achieved stability and prosperity without resorting to authoritarianism. The tricky part is to avoid sparking a backlash from the nationalists, which would make any pro-Western government unpopular, as was the case in Iran and the Arab world. Turkish politicians will also have to learn to accept the rule of law, separation of powers, and accountability to the rules. If Turkey can do all this, its potential is vast. Not only is it full of people willing to take advantage of the country's strategic location, turning it into a powerful crossing point between Europe, the Middle East and the countries of the ex-Soviet Union, but it can also become a role model to countries that are Moslem but not Turkish. This will not require the complete break with the past that Turkey managed in the 1920s, but it will mean major changes nonetheless.
In the current war between terrorism and civilization, it appears that the United States only has two real allies in the Islamic world: Pakistan and Turkey. American diplomacy failed to get anything from the Arabs when the issue of removing Saddam Hussein came up. However, there is little doubt that the Turks would join the Americans if such a shooting war comes about, since it is also in their interest to see Iraq under a friendlier leader. Thus, with a widening gulf between Arabs and Americans, the role Turkey can play becomes more important than ever.
About 40 percent of the Yemeni population follows Zaidi (Shiite) Islam; the rest are Sunnis, belonging to a local sect called the Shafei school. Though in the minority, the imams kept control by using the most extreme form of despotism, where no part of the government's business was so unimportant that it could be delegated to someone else. Like Oman's Said bin Taimur, Imam Yahya, Yemen's first ruler after World War I, kept his country in a medieval condition to make sure that his power would not be weakened by anything foreign or modern. He also used to his advantage a string of alliances with the tribes and the custom of taking hostages, where he insured the good behavior of the tribes by holding relatives of their leaders in a prison school. One result of his paranoia was that he was the world's last head of state who was never photographed; he forbade the taking of his picture because he feared it would cause his death.(11)
After the Ottoman evacuation of Arabia, Imam Yahya only held the area around San`a, in the mountainous interior, and the land surrounding the Red Sea port of Hodeida. He coveted more, but a brief 1934 war with Saudi Arabia and skirmishes with Great Britain failed to get him either the Asir district or Aden. However, they did give him boundaries with both countries that were fixed by treaty. For the next 30 years after that Yemen remained isolated and underdeveloped--by the 1960s there were still no paved roads in the country. Out of a population of five million, less than 50,000 boys went to schools of any kind, and girls did not receive any education at all, unless they learned to read at home. There were almost no doctors; the French lady doctor who worked at the country's only hospital in the 1950s said that it didn't deserve to be called one. The tropical Red Sea plain and the mountains provide a wide range of climates and can support the growing of many crops, but most farmers are so poor that they prefer to grow two cash crops: coffee and qat. The latter is a shrub with narcotic properties; most of the people chew qat leaves regularly, despite the damage it does to the digestive system, because it provides a temporary escape from an otherwise miserable life. Many Yemenis, frustrated by the lack of opportunities at home, went abroad, especially to Aden, Singapore and Indonesia.
A 1948 coup attempt managed to assassinate Imam Yahya, now eighty years old, and three of his sons, but a fourth son, Ahmad, succeeded in putting down the uprising. The new imam ruled much like his father, with a dose of sadistic cruelty thrown in. He trusted none of his people, but because Cairo's "Voice of the Arabs" radio station could be broadcast to any spot in the kingdom, he realized that he might not be able to keep his throne without making some kind of deal with the Arab nationalist movements abroad. Thus, when Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic in 1958, he announced he was also joining the union. Since Nasser's Egypt couldn't stay in agreement with Syria for long, the merger of primitive Yemen with two socialist states was an arrangement too bizarre to last. Ahmad approved when Syria left the UAR three years later, seeing it as a sign that Arab socialism had failed, and composed a poem to denounce Nasser-style ideologies, which was read on San`a Radio. Nasser responded by expelling Yemen from the UAR and launching a propaganda campaign against the imam.
Despite growing unpopularity and a failed assassination attempt, Imam Ahmad managed to hold onto power until he died of natural causes in 1962. His son, Imam Badr, was less fortunate. Not cut from the same authoritarian mold as the previous imams, Badr had tried to introduce a few political reforms when his father left the country for medical treatment, but Ahmad promptly cancelled them on his return. Badr also announced the freeing of political prisoners when he took charge, but he only got to hold the throne for eight days. A group of army officers, fed up with the country's atrocious monarchy, seized San`a and declared a republic, with Brigadier General Abdullah al-Sallal as the first president. However, they failed to capture the imam, who fled to some loyal tribes in the north and started a counter revolution.
The next seven years saw a war by proxy in Yemen, with Saudi Arabia and Jordan sending aid to the deposed imam, while Nasser sent Egyptian troops to keep the royalists from destroying the republic. Lacking experience in mountain warfare, and not knowing how to deal with Yemeni tribesmen, the Egyptians suffered heavy losses. They succeeded in keeping the cities in the hands of the republicans, but since the urban Yemenis made poor soldiers, it did not seem that the republic would be strong enough to last without the Egyptians; nor could Nasser bribe the tougher mountain tribes, because the Saudis could always pay more.(12) Thus, Yemen became "Nasser's Vietnam"; the more the government depended on Egyptian support, the more the rebels would claim that the government was a puppet to a foreign power.
By 1967, Egypt had nearly 50,000 troops in Yemen, and this probably contributed to Egypt's quick defeat in the Six Day War with Israel. The shock of losing the Sinai caused Nasser to negotiate with Saudi Arabia's King Faisal; he agreed to pull out his troops if the Saudis would stop backing the royalists. Then in November 1967 al-Sallal's government was overthrown, and a more conservative leader, Abdul Rahman al-Iryani, took charge. For a while it looked like al-Iryani would give peace a chance, until the royalists staged an unsuccessful offensive. A new round of fighting followed, this time with the Soviet Union, Syria and South Yemen supporting the republicans, and the Saudis renewing their aid to the royalists. Finally all sides reached a compromise in 1970 that ended the war; Yemen would take some royalist officials into the government, but not anyone from the royal family. The same year saw al-Iryani introduce a democratic constitution. Saudi Arabia recognized the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR), and soon the Yemenis would be relying heavily on the Saudis for foreign aid.
The British plan was to leave southern Arabia in the hands of friendly sheikhs, united in a system very much like the one developed for the United Arab Emirates a few years later. However, the only thing the sheikhs had in common was that all had signed treaties with the British, and neither they nor the British were prepared for the form of Arab nationalism that sprung out of Aden. Aden was considerably more advanced than the surrounding territory, having schools, trade unions and a civil service. Then when the monarchy in North Yemen was overthrown, the new republic denounced Britain's federation plan; southern sheikhs, with Britain's barely concealed approval, started supporting the royalists in Yemen's civil war; the Egyptian backers of the republic responded by supporting the anti-British nationalists. These nationalists also opposed British moves to prepare Aden for independence, fearing that this would place them under the control of sheikhs they viewed as leftovers from the Middle Ages.
The last years of British rule in Aden resembled the end of colonialism in many other places. Britain's efforts to restore order made the natives more anti-British, and Aden's military base, once an asset, became a liability. The group Egypt and the North Yemeni republicans supported was called the Front for the Liberation Of South Yemen (FLOSY), but an even more radical group, the National Liberation Front (NLF), triumphed in Aden, after the Six Day War forced Egypt to cut back its assistance to FLOSY. In November 1967 the British evacuated Aden, and behind them, the NLF leader, Qahtan al-Shaabi, proclaimed the independence of what he called the People's Republic of South Yemen. Al-Shaabi became the country's first president, with the NLF as the only legal political party.
Few new nations have faced a future as bleak as South Yemen did. Trade through Aden's port dropped to a trickle, because the Suez Canal had been closed by the Six Day War and because Aden's merchants and bankers had fled to escape the violence before independence--and they weren't going to return to a country with an anticapitalist government. The closing of the British base deprived Aden of its other major source of income, which had been worth £11 million a year. The rest of the country was better off only because it had never known anything but poverty; little of Aden's wealth trickled into Hadramaut, and the British had not been in control long enough to do much development. Before independence, the British had promised £60 million in aid over the next three years, but when they saw how hostile the new regime was, they only sent £1.8 million, reduced to £1.25 million after deducting South Yemen's existing debt to Britain.
Qahtan al-Shaabi's government was a group of young men who ranged from Maoists to Nasserists, so one of the first things they did was to confiscate the lands of the sheikhs; unfortunately for their program, the peasants who received the land didn't have either the resources or the skills to work it. In June 1969 the Maoist faction ousted al-Shaabi and replaced him with Salem Ali Rubayi; his rival, Abdel Fattah Ismail, moved into the number two spot. Together they worked to create the first (and so far only) communist Arab state. One year later they renamed the country the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY). Then a series of nationalization laws took over what little private capital remained, mostly foreign-owned property. Although Marxist slogans became commonplace, as well as posters of Lenin and Mao, South Yemen did not build a completely communist society. The main difference was that the constitution recognized Islam as the state religion; no doubt the NLF realized that any attempt to install atheism would have alienated the entire population. And while the amount of land that individuals could own was reduced, private ownership was never completely abolished.
Besides being poor, South Yemen was on the worst possible terms with its neighbors. Even before independence, the South Yemenis offended Oman by supporting a separatist movement in Dhofar Province. Saudi Arabia's King Faisal didn't like any of the Aden nationalists, and in November 1969 there was fighting on the border, which involved Saudi jet fighters. Worst of all were relations with North Yemen. Nationalists in both halves of Yemen complained that the division of their country was artificial, and as early as 1969 there was talk about reunification. But when the civil war ended in the north, the Yemen Arab Republic became more conservative and more pro-Saudi; the south wouldn't have any of that. Relations deteriorated, until a border war took place in September 1972, which lasted for a few weeks before the Arab League negotiated a cease-fire. Then the two Yemens suddenly announced that they would try to merge within a year. It didn't happen, for reasons similar to those which doomed other attempts at Arab unity, though the two governments did hold several meetings.
By this time Rubayi and Ismail were no longer getting along; the bomb that killed al-Ghashmi might have been planted to discredit Rubayi. Rubayi had wanted to improve relations with the rest of the Arab world, while the more doctrinaire Ismail formed a Cuban-trained People's Militia, to offset conservative influence from the military. Since Ismail also proposed a new, fully Marxist party, to take control over both the military and the government, Rubayi tried to rally his followers. Instead he was tried and executed, just two days after al-Ghashmi's death. Ismail, now both president and party boss, replaced the NLF with the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), and allowed the country to become a Soviet satellite (by contrast, the NLF had favored the Chinese).(13)
Over the next few months, tensions rose between the two Yemens again, leading to another war in February 1979. This was a repeat of the 1972 war; after three weeks, Arab League mediators reached a settlement, and again the two sides renewed unification talks surprisingly quickly. Although people on both sides desired unity, there were two outside powers who opposed it: Saudi Arabia, which did not want the south's Marxism to spread to the north, and the Soviet Union, which did not want to see another state absorb its closest ally in the Arab world.
The 1980s saw increased cooperation and the attention of both Yemens concentrated on economic development. President Saleh showed he was nobody's puppet by visiting Moscow in 1981, and in the same year he became the first northern head of state to visit Aden. In the south, Ismail was too much of an extremist by even Soviet standards, and in 1980 he was thrown out in favor of a less dogmatic leader, Ali Nasser Muhammad al-Hasani. Al-Hasani succeeded in ending the state of war with Oman, but the aid he received from the Soviets was meager, and the other Arab states wouldn't send anything because of the Soviet connection. In January 1986 a civil war erupted between the government and the hardliners of South Yemen; Ismail was assassinated, but al-Hasani was also a loser; after twelve days of fighting, he was forced to flee to San`a. Former premier Haydar Bakr al-Attas was elected president in October.
September 1989 saw San`a host the first meeting of a new organization consisting of North Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt, called the Arab Cooperation Council. Saudi Arabia wasn't pleased to be surrounded by these four nations, but it didn't matter; the council fell apart a year later when Iraq invaded Kuwait. By this time South Yemen had desocialized itself, applying its own version of perestroika (we're up to the end of the Cold War in eastern Europe). In December 1989 the northern and southern leaders met and prepared a final unification agreement; in February 1990 the Yemeni Socialist Party renounced Marxism and declared that from now on it would work to promote democracy and free enterprise.
Rising oil revenues and financial assistance from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, brought hope that Yemen would see more prosperous times ahead. Instead, the Persian Gulf War threw a wrench into the works. During the war, Yemen sympathized with Iraq and criticized Saudi Arabia for depending on foreign troops. This caused Saudi Arabia to expel 850,000 Yemeni workers and cut off Saudi aid, leading to widespread unemployment, economic upheaval, and eventually political unrest. Bomb attacks, assassinations and riots occurred throughout 1991 and 1992, and forced a postponement of the first elections. When they were finally held in April 1993, they completed the unification process. The General People's Congress (GPC), the ruling party of North Yemen, won 121 seats in parliament; the Yemeni Socialist Party won 56 seats; a new Islamic coalition party, al-Islah, won 62 seats; and the remaining 62 seats were won by minor parties and independents.
The president and prime minister remained in office after the election, but in August 1993 Vice President al-Beidh withdrew to Aden and refused to participate in the newly formed coalition government. Like many southerners, he felt that the south had been taken over by the north, instead of being treated like an equal partner. Then he issued a list of conditions which had to be met before he would return to San`a, most of which had to do with the security of the Yemeni Socialist Party (he claimed it had been the target of violence from northerners since unification).
Representatives from several foreign governments, especially Jordan and Oman, tried to end the standoff. They ended up producing a Document of Pledge and Agreement, which called for a thorough review of the constitution and the country's economic programs and goals. The president and vice president signed it in February 1994, but heavy fighting broke out in April at 'Amran, north of San`a, between northern and southern soldiers. By May the country was in a full-scale civil war, with missile attacks launched on both San`a and Aden. On May 21, al-Beidh announced the secession of the south and declared a new state, the Democratic Republic of Yemen (DRY). In the north, Saleh dismissed several YSP party members from Yemen's government to remove the influence of al-Beidh. After that, the conflict centered around the southern port cities of Aden and Al-Mukalla, until the north prevailed in July 1994.
After eliminating the DRY, Saleh's government was faced with the task of rebuilding Yemen's economy and government. The country's infrastructure had been heavily damaged, especially the water systems and oil facilities near Aden. The parliament began working on changes to the constitution; in October it formally reelected Saleh as president, and he appointed Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi as his new vice president. In February 1995 Yemen and Saudi Arabia began negotiating a defined boundary between their countries, to defuse another situation that could lead to war. Previously, maps showed the Saudi-Yemeni border as a dotted line, roughly following the southern edge of the Rub al-Khali; they succeeded in reaching an agreement in June 2000.
In December 1995 the new African nation of Eritrea seized Hanish al-Kabir (Greater Hanish Island), which was located in the Red Sea between Eritrea and Yemen. Yemen had troops stationed there, and at least 12 people were killed in the fighting. However, both sides were willing to let a court of arbitration settle the dispute, and in October 1998 it ruled that the Hanish Islands belonged to Yemen, so Eritrea withdrew.
Yemen held its first elections since the civil war in April 1997; the GPC held onto the largest share of seats in parliament. The country then held its first presidential election in September 1999, and Saleh was reelected to the top post.
The Al Qaeda terrorist group found Yemen to be a safe haven for its activities, after Osama bin Laden was forced to leave Saudi Arabia. On October 12, 2000, a suicide bomber steered a raft alongside an American destroyer, the USS Cole, as it was refueling in Aden, and detonated its cargo of explosives; 17 sailors were killed and 39 were injured by the blast, which tore a hole in the side of the ship. After the attacks in America on September 11, 2001, President Saleh flew to Washington to make sure the Americans knew the Yemeni government was on their side, and cooperated in removing terrorist cells from the country.
Except for the Islamists, Yemen now finally seems to have put its political problems behind itself. Again this raises hopes for a brighter future. Once upon a time Yemen was known as Arabia Felix, when it was rich and had the highest population in the whole Arabian peninsula. The time may come again when Yemen will be regarded as an equal by the rest of the Middle East, but around here progress happens in small steps, so don't expect that time to arrive tomorrow.
A General History of the Near East
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