Middle East countries include Israel, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan, Libya, Kuwait, Algeria, Armenia, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and Bahrain. These countries are a centre of world affairs (Goldschmidt 1). The climate of Middle East is hot and arid. Despite the hot and arid climate, some regions like Jordan and Israel have rivers that provide for irrigation and hence support agriculture. Major religions of the world such as Islam, Judaism and Christianity have origins in the Middle East.
Middle East has enormous amounts of crude oil. The large stocks of crude oil in Middle East have given it a new economic and strategic importance. The main oil reserves in the world are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Iraq. In these regions, mass production of oil begun in 1945 (Goldschmidt 1). In the history of the modern world, Middle East has remained to be a politically, economically, religiously, culturally and strategically a sensitive region. During the cold war, superpowers were struggling to gain Middle East because of the regions strategic advantage and the large oil reserves. They were struggling to gain control over the oil reserves since oil was becoming quite vital to world’s economy (Goldschmidt 1).
This essay will identify and discuss the varied cultural and sectarian groups present in the Middle East and state the major common norms and values shared among them and the major variations. It will also explain the differences between “cultural” and “sectarian” groups and examine which of these terms characterize the varied groups of the Middle East. The reasons behind the conflicts among these groups will be discussed and examine whether it is a cultural, sectarian or if it is an outcome of another ground.
The Varied Cultural and Sectarian Groups Present in the Middle East
The varied cultural groups present in the Middle East include Arabs, Assyrian people, Jews, Nubian people and cultural groups in Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Kuwait, Yemen and Lebanon (Beaumont 2). The varied sectarian groups present in the Middle East are among religious lines. They include Sunni Muslims, Shi’a Muslims, Maronite Christians and Coptic Christians. Islam religion has several branches/sects. Many Muslims belong to Sunni Islam (Hussein 1). They follow the traditions of Muhammad. Sunni Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad had not appointed his successor before his death. After the death of Prophet Muhammad, the community elected Abu Bakr to head the Islam religion. The Shi’a Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad appointed Abu Bakr to succeed him before his death. The confusion of who appointed Abu Bakr led to Sunni Muslims and Shi’a Muslims (Hussein 1).
Christian religion has several sects. Copts are the native Christians of Egypt. Most Christians in Egypt belong to Copt sect. It is hard to culturally differentiate a Copt from the Egyptian population. They also speak Egyptian Arabic like the rest of the Egyptians population. Government policies in Egypt have discriminated Coptic Christians. For example, Coptic Christians were to seek approval before undertaking a new project in their churches. The Coptic Church is limited to Egypt and has its own ceremonial calendar and headed by a patriarch (Moosa 5). Maronite church is limited to Lebanon. Maronites belong to the Syriac church of Antioch (Moosa 6).
The varied cultural and sectarian groups present in the Middle East share common norms and values. Arabic is the official language of Middle Eastern countries and the most spoken language in Arab countries. Though there are diverse religions in the Middle East, Islam is the largest religion in the region (Beaumont 1). Conservative Muslims do not drink alcohol or eat pork. Muslim women wear long scarves and dresses to cover the body. During Ramadan, Muslims fast in the daytime. In Middle East countries, elders have high status because of their experience. People from the Middle East preserve their privacy. They do not disclose detailed personal information to strangers. Middle Eastern conservatives may be embarrassed by personal or sexual questions (Beaumont 2).
Cultural groups comprise of people with a common heritage, culture, language, ideology and religion. Sectarianism refers to subdivisions within a group. A religious sectarian group under political or economic pressure will attack or kill members of another sectarian group (Moosa 3). Sectarian conflict refers to violence along political or religious lines. Such conflicts may be between Protestants and Catholics or Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. Cultural conflict refers to violence based on conflicting cultural values. For example, members of a cultural group may have conflicts between values considered liberal/progressive and those considered conservative/traditional (Moosa 4).
The “Sectarian” group characterizes the varied groups of the Middle East. In the Middle East, there have been conflicts between the varied sectarian groups. For example, in May 2011, a conflict between Coptic Christians and Muslims broke out in Cairo, Egypt. At least ten people died while about two hundred were wounded (John 1). Tension between the Coptic minority and the Muslim Egyptian population has always been in existence. Some months before the violence, 23 Copts were killed when terrorists attacked a Coptic church. Terrorists’ organizations such as al Qaeda have before threatened to attack Christians. For example, in Iraq, thousands of Christians fled the country in fear of terrorist attack from al Qaeda (John 1).
There have been conflicts between Sunni Muslims and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq. In Iraq, Sunni, allies of al Qaeda bombed Shi’a Mosque in Iraq. The bombing almost brought the country near to civil war. Shi’a swiftly and violently retaliated. After the blast, more than a hundred Muslims and 6 American soldiers were killed (John 1).
Reason/s behind the Conflicts among these Groups
The reason behind these groups is a sectarian one. For example, in Egypt, a sectarian conflict arises whenever there is a rumor that a Copt woman is held prisoner in a Copt church due to her marriage to an Islam man. In Egypt, Muslims are angry whenever they hear Copts saying that all Egyptians should be Coptic since Pharaoh was a descendant of Egypt. The reason behind Sunni and Shi’a Muslim conflict is over whether Abu bkar was appointed by Prophet Muhammad or not (John 1).
On the surface, the reason behind the conflicts among groups in Middle East may be seen to be Sectarian but it is an outcome of another ground. For example, in Bahrain, the conflict going on may appear Sectarian but in reality it is economic. The impact/effect of the conflict may appear to be the cause. The main reason behind Bahrain’s conflict is the distribution of wealth and economic conditions. The effect of the two reasons is sectarian, national divisions and political unrest (Med 1). This can be well considered by considering that when people experience extreme pressure in life e.g. economic pressure, they are likely to seek support from their ethnic or religious groups. If the other ethnic or religious groups have economic control, group with economic pressure is likely to rise against the controlling group.
The sectarian conflicts in Bahrain can be controlled by ensuring a growing and large middle class and an open socioeconomic system (Med 1). For example, during the 70s Lebanon civil war, there was a conflict between Muslims and Christians. On the surface, the conflict looked like a sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians but in reality it was an economic conflict since the conflict was between the ruling Christians and the poor Muslims. The leaders in Lebanon then thought that the Palestinians in Lebanon had caused the war. The war continued even after the Palestinians left the country. Near the end of the war, Muslims had conflicts with one another and the Christians had a conflict with one another. This is a clear indication that the cause of conflicts is economic pressure while the effect is sectarian conflicts (Med 1).
The Impact of the Imperial Powers and the Establishing of “Israel” on the People and Culture of the Middle East
“Israel” is a “political” entity. After the conquest of Palestine by the Arabs, the remaining inhabitants of Palestine were assimilated into Muslim religion and Arab culture. Zionism, as a political and nationalist movement, was focused to restore the land of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people (Goldschmidt 1). Jews from Yemen and Eastern Europe migrated to Palestine. The Arabs in Palestine resisted the Jewish migration and purchasing of land in Palestine. Britain also did not accommodate Jewish immigrants. Pressure from Zionists and Arabs made Britain turn to United Nation for the provision of solution. To reduce the pressure, the United Nations divided the Palestine land into two equal parts. Jews accepted to occupy their portion but the Arab countries and the Palestinians rejected the plan. Palestinians Arabs attacked Jewish communities and convoys throughout Palestine. The Arab league could not agree to the establishment of a Jewish state. Israel was declared a state in 1948 (Goldschmidt 1). After the declaration, Arab troops invaded Israel. The main cause of the Israel-Arab conflict is the claim on one land. Arabs refused to accept Jewish occupation of the Palestine land. Since 1948, Israel has fought five wars against Arab forces (Goldschmidt 1).
Imperial powers have had an impact on the people of the Middle East. Corrupt Arab leaders have been placed into positions of leadership by imperial powers. The imperial powers have supported the overthrow of leaders who are seen as unfavorable. Sometimes leaders are overthrown in the name of dealing with communism. The reason behind overthrowing some of the leaders in positions of leadership is to gain control of oil reserves and militaries (Med 1). In 2003, the imperial powers invaded Iraq with claim that Iraq had weapons that were a threat to the world. Iraqis believe that the imperial powers invaded them so as to have control of their oil reserves (Goldschmidt 1).
Imperial powers have had an impact on the culture of Middle East. For example, the United Nations has improved state of human rights generally and in particular women’s rights. Access to education in Middle East has improved as a result of influences from the imperial powers. The number of educated girls and women has increased. Primary school enrollment among girls has risen and women are more likely to join universities than in the past (Med 1).
In my view, the current revolutions in various Arab countries are not an outcome of conflicting interests among different cultural or sectarian groups but as a result of numerous factors. These factors include corrupt governments, violations of human rights, economic decline, extreme poverty and unemployment. The increase in food prices has posed a threat to food security hence people have expressed their anger through revolutions. For example in Algeria, people have been striking over increased food prices. Concentration of wealth in few people has also led to revolutions. In Bahrain, people have protested in need of respect for human rights and political freedom.
The Current Socio-Cultural Map of the Middle East
Middle East encompasses the region of Northern Africa and Western Asia. It is home to Arabs, Persians, Jews, Samaritans, Armenians, Kurds and Egyptians. Most cultures in Middle East practice Female Genital Mutilation. The main social cultural characteristics: Arabs, Iranians and Turks are the three main ethnic groups in Middle East. The common languages in Middle East are Turkish, Arabic and Persian. Most people in Middle East are Muslims. Recently, people in Middle East have moved from rural to urban cities (Goldschmidt 1).