Research topic: The Middle East
The Middle East has been a cultural and political flashpoint throughout history. The earliest civilisations emerged in Egypt and in the area (in present-day Iraq) bordered by the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.
The three great world religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all originated in the Middle East. The Arabic language, as well as Arabic literature, culture and science, have enjoyed long periods of dominance in large parts of the world, from the Iberian peninsula to India and South-East Asia.
Even so, ever since the Roman Empire and up until modern times, many of the countries in the Middle East have been under external rule. When the 600-year-old Ottoman Empire dissolved following its participation on the losing side in World War I, the United Kingdom and France imposed a political order in the Middle East that created unrest, instability and conflict from the Mediterranean to the Gulf.
Oil and strategic considerations associated with the Middle East made the region attractive to the USA and Russia. In turn this made the region a potential flashpoint for political rivalry between these new great powers. The foundation of the state of Israel, and the ensuing wars between Israel and the Arab nations, contributed to a continuing high level of conflict.
At the same time the region today is characterised by the existence of authoritarian regimes, failing social and economic development in many countries and increasing inequality between rich and poor. With a young and increasingly educated population, opposition is growing towards the incumbent regimes.