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A Brief History of International Relations

The World Made Easy

Kathleen Brush

The world does not need to be complex and confusing. It can be made simpler so that the business, political, social, and economic implications of global news briefs beaming across televisions and electronic devices can be easily grasped. Key to this is knowing that a five-hundred-year competition for global supremacy between the Chinese, European, Islamic, and Russian empires only ended in 1945. When it did, the world had 57 independent nations. After all empires were dissolved in 1991, there were 193, and each nation carried histories of empires in the form of conquest, religions followed, languages practiced, diversified populations, repressive rule, and histories of discrimination. A Brief History of International Relations: The World Made Easy explores this history of global conflict to contextualize and simplify the often perplexing relations between nations and empires.

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Chapter 20. The Middle East and North Africa


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Islamic empires ruled the Middle East from the 7th century until 1922, and North Africa until the 19th century. Most empires were Sunni and Arabic speaking and predated the Era of Empire.1 The largest Sunni empire was, however, the Turkish/Ottoman-speaking Ottoman Empire and it was present for nearly the entire era. Unsurprisingly, MENA is overwhelmingly Muslim. Unusually, the Muslim population in the Middle East is a 50:50 mix of Sunnis and Shias.

The Safavids ruled the first major Shiite empire. Created in 1501 the Safavids embarked on an ambitious expansion spree setting in motion centuries of intra-Islamic wars with the Ottomans. When the Russian Empire (1721–1917) came into existence, it capitalized on the warring Muslim empires to annex huge swathes of land from the Ottoman and different Shiite empires.

The Shiite empires and the Sunni Ottoman Empire resolved some pointed differences, like ongoing boundary disputes in the 1746. Treaty of Kurdan and the two treaties of Erzurum (1823 and 1847). However, the seeds of future conflict were brewing in the nascent Saudi state. Its religious founder, Abd al-Wahhab was on a mission to purify Sunni Islam. Neither the Ottomans with their secular practices nor Shias (and Sufis) with their heretical practices were pure. ← 187 | 188 →

In MENA’s North Africa region, Shiism was not a source of Muslim disunity because Shiite empires never penetrated the region. Christianity was also...

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