The International Politics of the Middle East

By Raymond Hinnebusch | Go to book overview
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Core and periphery: the international system and the Middle East

The Middle East has been profoundly shaped by the international system, or more precisely, the great powers, which dominate its developed 'core'. The nineteenth-century expansion of capitalism and imperialism into the region reflected a combination of superior Western technological, market, and military power which penetrated and eventually reduced the Middle East to an economic periphery of the core and imposed a very flawed Western state system on it. Even after independence, Western capitalism continued to penetrate the Middle East: the region's strategic transit routes, oil resources, the creation of Israel, a Western bridgehead, and the relative power vacuum issuing from regional fragmentation all continued to draw in external powers.

Leon Carl Brown (1984: 3—5, 16—18) has argued that the Middle East became a penetrated system, one subject to exceptional influence and intervention from the outside but which could not be fully subordinated or absorbed. Fred Halliday (1988) observes that, from the time of the Eastern question, great power competition over the Middle East has been more enduring than in any other Third World region. As Brown stresses, local players have always tried to manipulate such rivalry for their own agendas. But equally, imperialism's fragmentation of the region into rival states often harbouring irredentist grievances against each other, its implantation of client elites and new class structures against local resistance and the creation and military enforcement of the state of Israel, have kept the region divided and dependent on external powers. Moreover, when there has been a hegemon on the world scene, it has tended to dominate the region on behalf of a relatively united 'core'. The first of these hegemons, Great Britain, came near to imposing an imperial order

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The International Politics of the Middle East


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