Multi-structure of Middle East and Its Impact on State Formation Process- III


For long periods of history, large parts of the Middle East were dominated and populated by tribes, not by imperial states which are largely composed of by these tribes. In the mid 19th century the tribal populations of these areas have commenced to incorporate into modern states....

State Formation Process: As a Factor of Unity or Disunity? 

For long periods of history, large parts of the Middle East were dominated and populated by tribes, not by imperial states which are largely composed of by these tribes. In the mid 19th century the tribal populations of these areas have commenced to incorporate into modern states.

The term state is a modern concept of Europe and it is unfamiliar neither with the Middle Eastern institutions nor its realities. According to Ali Banuazizi and Myron Weiner “the state implies a sovereign authority, a sovereignty based upon the consent and coercion. The state is associated with a particular bounded territory over which it exercises a monopoly of coercive authority. Legitimacy implies myths and symbols which provide a kind of ideological rationalization and justification for this monopoly of coercive authority.”[1] In the Middle East, this process has failed. The monarchs, the military officers have faced with the difficulties in building monopolies of coercive authority and they were unsuccessful in developing the legitimacy in order to support their rule. In consequence, they faced with opposition and resistance from social/political forces. 

The new states of the 20th century had to adopt borders that did not previously exist. Several states signed treaties among themselves under the impulsion of European powers, in the 1920s and 1930s. However, these territories have become difficult to administer as their habitants were not willing to leave their autonomy to a central authority. Neighboring states started territorial claims which made frontiers become a rivalry between the new states of the region. Frontier disputes between Saudi Arabia and Yemen is a good example. Thus, the new states of the Middle East did not succeed in integrating the communities in the name of European nation state.

Here I define nation as a named population that shares common history, territory, common myths and historical traditions, that has a public culture, common rights and duties. In this sense, nationalism is an ideological movement which seeks to maintain autonomy, unity, identity on behalf of the population whose members deem themselves as a potential nation.

Tibi suggests in his essay that the term nation state is just a nominal cover for the mélange of different ethnic groups, tribes, linguistic and cultural identities. He argues that with the collapse of Ottoman Empire, there emerged multitude of nation states during the colonial rule. But this new kind of state formation was foreign to the Muslim world. With the integration of this world of Islam into the new world system; its Arab core has become a subordinate system. He claims that the concept of external sovereignty has no counterpart in Arab Islamic society. In the imperial state, the tribes or communities were not transformed into homogenous polity; tribal ties were the basic element of a group reference. Thus, the nation state has got into crisis in the Middle East. This crisis of nation state promoted the revival of the universal Islamic claims and gave rise to the resurgence of localities as tribal, ethnic and sectarian.[2]

The Middle East has two legacies which are Ottoman legacy and European Colonial legacy. In the Ottoman Empire, there was a distinction between Muslims and non Muslims; non Muslims were divided among their ethnicities and religions into separate millets. This means that Empire did not deny local communities and their particular ties. The European colonialism has left behind two opposite movements. They used ethnic and religious divisions for a divide and govern policy. The reactions against colonial powers engendered anti-colonial nationalist movements which are unifying on one hand and divisive on the other. 


Middle East is a region of unity by the occupations and social groupings of the population and by Islam as a social bond. But, it is a region of disunity when religious and ethnic divisions are considered. This diversity which could be respected as a cultural richness of the region has become the main reason of the conflicts in Middle East. Many of the post colonial conflicts in Middle East are the results of the colonial era. They are the struggles for the political power. They stem from the ethnic and religious issues. The growth of nationalism and the growing claims to self determination right thrusted the region into an impasse.

The ambition of the governors to attain more and more political power ended with discrimination and disrespect to the other communities; so with violence and conflict. Middle Eastern states have failed to become a nation, hence a state in the European meanings of the term because of the failure of the governor in constructing their legitimacy. Today, with the badly regulated Western institutions, insufficient power of control and failure of local governments to understand the problems of the inhabitants, Middle East is a region waiting to recover one day.


[1]Philip S.Khoury, Joseph Kostiner, Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East, (Berkeley: University of Caliornia Pres, 1990), Introduction p. 3

[2]Bassam Tibi, “Old Tribes and Imposed Nation States” in Tribes and State Formation in Middle East






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