Main Features of British Policy towards the Middle East

Main Features of British Policy towards the Middle East


An approach to examining British policy towards Middle East nations must consider regional concerns and knowledge of the national self-interest. On general terms, we could describe imperial policies as those that are double-sided. These policies entail broken promises regarding the issue of national independence (Davis 2010, p. 7). Similarly, we could describe imperial policies as those that attempt to conceal some critical information. Our understanding of the British objectives towards nations in the Middle East would be successful if we categorize them under European politics and perceive the region as distinct entities. The supremacy of Britain in the region had been due to the need to secure the routes to India and Asian countries and keeping the region from any great hostile power (Gilmartin 2016, p. 769). The paper will provide an in-depth examination of Britain foreign policy towards nations in the Middle East during and after the First World War.

Interests of Britain in the Middle East

Britain was unwilling to conquer the Ottoman Empire prior to the outbreak of the First World War. However, they started developing an interest in 1915 after the Ottomans linked with the Central Powers (Davis 2010, p. 7). Some of the reasons why Britain was unwilling to invade the Ottomans included the following. Firstly, the British thought that it would be costly to launch a sudden invasion. Secondly, invading the Ottomans would have required the British to have extensive regional support, which they lacked at that time. The British considered the Ottoman Empire as their greatest ally because they secured the British route to India (Davis, 2010, p. 7). The collaboration between the British and the Ottomans improved the image of British imperialism outside Europe.

Egypt, a country that had been tied to Britain through treaties and agreement was significant because of the availability of the Suez Canal. Moreover, the strategic location of the country also played a critical role after the commencement of the First World War. Another significant resource that Britain relied on was the oil from the Middle East nations. The oil was useful since it replaced coal that the British used to run their ships (Gilmartin 2016, p. 770). Countries with the biggest gold reserves under the influence of British used the power to generate direct oil revenue and obtain preferential on matters of economic trade and partnerships.

The British had a different perception about the Arab countries when they were approaching them. According to the British, Arabs were backward, and in a situation when they are given immediate independence, they would be unable to survive. Therefore, the view of British was that Middle East countries needed protection from countries with a superior culture. Similarly, Middle East countries were in need of modernization that included railways system, bureaucratic institutions, irrigation networks and constitutional laws (Gilmartin 2016, p. 770). In the past, the superior nation used the idea of modernization to inflict power politics on those nations that were less developed. Britain managed to inflict power politics over Middle East nations through indirect rule. Similarly, they employed a system that prepared such nations for the outside world. At that time, the British used a rule that was cunning and less aggressive compared to the French. The primary focus of British was to take control of the region, win over regional interests of the French and stop Russia from expanding.

Secrets of the Great Britain during the First World War

Immediately after the war broke out, Britain engaged in secret deals regarding the future of Middle East; however, many people believe that the invasion by British on Ottomans began in 1918 after the Armistice. According to the British, their interests and relationship with Ottoman were disrupted when the group supported the Central Powers. This incident made Britain sign contradictory separate deals. Also, they made false promises to the Arab nations about their future. However, the outcome of the three signed deals was significant particularly for the existence of the region after the war.

In 1915, Hussein Sharif, influential Arab leader signed a deal with McMahon (Gilmartin 2016, p. 769). The aim of the deal was to benefit both parties; however, there was a problem since the British kept on giving uncertain promises. The collapse of the Ottoman regime required assistance from influential Arab, but Britain was unwilling to lose the control of the region entirely. The deal that was signed implied that Hussein Sharif would commence a rebel against Istanbul in exchange of the Arab kingdom after the war. The agreement on the division of border was untouched. Apart from many vague promises, Britain collaborated with partners who depended on their goodwill for survival.

During the same period, both Britain and France were forming their regional segments. Regarding the Sykes-Picot agreement, Britain was to take sections of Palestine and Mesopotamia while the France was to take control of Syria (Schneer 2010, p. 120). The British signed another secret agreement in January 1916 in spite of it being contradictory to the promises made to Hashemites (Schneer 2010, p. 120). The war in Europe forced Britain to find ways it could maneuver through the false promises. The situation in Bolshevik that led to the unmasking of the deal that Britain had signed with Sykes-Picot was a frustrating one to the Arabs community and humiliation to Britain. Arabs started doubting the loyalty of Britain, and this led to them protecting their national interests.

In November 1917, Britain experienced Zionist pressure from their ally, US organizations and ended up signing the Balfour Declaration (Schneer 2010, p. 120). The objective of this declaration was to offer protection to the Jewish in Palestine. Also, the declaration allowed for the extensive migration of the European Jewish refugees. This deal was different with the previous one. According to Arabs, Britain was not exclusively in control of the region. Similarly, they rejected Zionism because they feared that having a relationship with them would jeopardize the future of Palestinians (Schneer 2010, p. 121). The contradictory and comic deals made by Britain resulted in them being named the regional mediators and protector to the humanity. However, in reality, Britain was able to secure the geographic and economic supremacy. Conversely, with the situation, Britain destroyed itself with policies. Arab got inspired by the secret deals from the Western nations while pro-Zionist policies triggered instability in the region for years.

British Foreign Policies in Specific Countries

Regardless of the patterns of the British policies, conditions in regions that depended on Britain varied because it consisted of individuals with different ethnic and political background. Similarly, the geographical composition of the region varied. The policies of Britain rested on the idea of distinct national experience. There were certain behavioral directions in the British policies that applied to all nations. Firstly, the cooperation by the Sharifian played a critical role in enhancing the interest of British after certain portion started talking about the anti-British sentiments. Secondly, Arabs did not have knowledge of the European law and politics, and Britain took advantage of it and developed the region on Western (Kolinsky 2016, p. 18). Thirdly, Britain used different tactics in many nations. For instance, in most nations, Britain started the disengagement policy to perpetuate the perception that a nation will indeed govern itself while guarding the economic and political power of British.


The experiences of Iraq under the British rule was different from the Egyptians. The existence of Iraq as an entity was not known before Britain drawing its borders. Meanwhile, the partnership with Anglo-Egyptian was already settled and growing. Britain and France discussed renewing the appearance of nations in the region after the war (Kolinsky 2016, p. 20). At that time, policies of Britain were uncertain, and their deals were contradictory; however, the condition that both sides agreed on was that France was to take Syria. In a situation when there is a violation of the Anglo-French post-war agreement, then there would have been a potential re-ignition of tension in Europe. On the same note, any violation of the Anglo-Arab agreement would have resulted in the emergence of rebellion in the region that would chase Britain from the nation.

The relationship between France and Syria was tight, and this forced Britain to find ways it could appeal Hussein who experienced a decreased demand for an Arab kingdom. The two sons of Hussein were granted significant substitutions that safeguarded the regional policies and interests of Britain (Kolinsky 2016, p. 30). The incident that involved the French chasing the younger son of Hussein, Faysal from Damascus made Britain to find an alternative means that would help stop the rise of anti-British feelings. The British possessed a vast land in Mesopotamia after the collapse of the Ottoman. The lack of concerns within the region made it easy for the land to be brought under Iraq.

From the beginning, Britain faced drawbacks when implementing their policies. First, when Britain united regions such as Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul, it combined diversified tribes, which did not share cultural, political and the historical backgrounds. Second, Britain faced one of the greatest threats after realizing that the new country was a home to many religions such as Christians, Shia, Jewish, Sunni, and Kurdish (Kolinsky 2016, p. 40). With all these drawbacks, Britain had an undesirable role of developing a united country from scratch. The job of Britain was to use the local chieftains to create the nation. Also, Britain was to import the head of state directly. Britain used fictive national self-determination policies and conducted a referendum that crowned Faysal as the leader (Heller 1983, 160). Iraq was lucky to have a leader, and other reforms such as political, educational and economic were implemented.

Although Britain had influence over Iraq, we could not say that their policies were truly beneficial to the people. Britain created a country that struggled to gain domestic cultural stability for a long time. They exhibited manipulation of the interests of the nation and politics that ensured they maintain their superiority.


Britain regarded Egypt as its most stable ally. Since Egypt was not British mandated, it was privileged to enjoy more political freedom. Also, the country enjoyed having self-capable institutions compared to their counterparts, Iraq and Palestine. Egypt was under the control of Britain since 1882. In 1914, the country became a British protectorate and disconnected its relationship with the Ottoman Empire (Heller 1983, 162). At that time, the Ottoman Empire supported the Germans during the WWI, and this is the reason, Egypt had to cut its tie with them (Heller 1983, 162). The significance of Egypt to Britain during the war ignited their interest in the country. They used Egypt as a military base, a supplier of resources such as armed forces, military equipment, and food. Also, the country provided a safe route via the Suez Canal. The policies that Britain had towards Egypt was destructive. For instance, the policy interfered with the domestic politics of Egypt resulting in the anti-British campaigns. Egyptians also created the Wafd Party, with the aim of demanding the British withdraw from the country (Heller 1983, 165). Although Egypt gained independence, it was done under imperial conditions. Besides, even after the Egyptian independence, Britain still exercised control in the domestic politics. The influence of Britain was in the form of indirect rule in spite of the short-term existence of the delegates’ chamber. Also, the indirect influence of Britain was seen in the inflicting of pro-British rulers. For instance, in 1917, Britain imposed Faud I (Heller 1983, 165).

Regarding the issue of political unrest or demonstrations against threats from foreign nations, Britain ensured that it remained militarily present in the country. On the same note, associations with Anglo-Egyptian could be depicted as the empire by treaty. The indirect role of Britain included securing unique political stability in Egypt (Heller 1983, 163). Conversely, the policies of Britain triggered nations in the Middle East. This was a retaliation to the uncertain treaties of the First World War when nations in the region lost hopes. Another policy was taking advantage of the Egyptian land it acquired. This policy made Egypt suffer from inflation, inadequate workforce, decreased economy and the shortage of essential goods. Even with these challenges, Britain managed to secure a partner that continued to support them even after 1922 when the protectorate ended (Kolinsky 2016, p. 199).

During the WWI, the British policies were not perfect; however, given the supremacy of British, it allowed Egypt to utilize its political atmosphere and use its own terms to start a new life as a nation.


Among the nations created by Britain, Jordan was second, and it offered similar imperial goals as Iraq. The country supported British policies by allowing them to give the throne to Hussein’s son. Also, Jordan ensured that they maintained a healthy relationship with France. The impact of British policies in Jordan was the creation of ideal conditions for the new land (Kolinsky 2016, p. 213). Jordan was an artificial country, and the influence of Britain was not intense; however, modernizing policies, the emergence of new reform and people’s declaration of their king supported by Britain was enough to create a favorable environment. Moreover, the existence of British policies such as political interference, indirect rule, and regional support created a country that was capable of demonstrating self-rule and exist independently.

Palestine and Israel

With Palestine, the experiences of British and the impact it had on the future of the country was completely different from other nations. In previous cases, all British lands in the region were under the management of self-rule and supported by institutions (Cohen 2012, p. 140). Conversely, in Palestine, nothing like that happened since the British turned them into a distinct entity. Besides, they were divided between Jews and Arabs who portrayed signs of unwillingness to work together. In this case, Britain had to rule Palestine directly. The significance of the governance was that the region maintained the British policies of prominence and control regardless of the consequences. According to Davis (2010, p. 7), Britain would have been forced to invent Zionist if they had not been in existence in 1917. In the first place, Balfour Declaration was portrayed as harmless since it was meant to protect the Jews from the Eastern Europeans; however, this resulted in a permanent problem in the country and increased the intensity of war in the national and regional level.

The concern of the people was that Britain brought instability in the region. It was perceived that Britain created an artificial state that practiced a religion that was contradictory to those practiced by the rest of the region. Also, Britain was blamed for triggering refugee crisis that left the locals with limited land to cultivate and run other businesses. I was argued that due to the influx of refugees, the original Arabs were deprived of their homeland. Initially, the Balfour Declaration aimed at ensuring the less privileged Jews had a place to call home, but the situation changed to a humanitarian catastrophe. According to Davis (2010, p. 7), there was a split in the region. Israel got separated from the Arabs who were perceived as uncivilized and had no power to flourish their land.

Contrary, in the case of Jews, they were portrayed as an inspiration to the region. Therefore, it was worth to give them financial assistance. Since Jews were in need of the financial support, they made it possible by starting to lobby for British economic aid and Washington. The impact the British policies had on Palestine was adverse (Judis 2014, p. 1). First, the Jewish population initiated mass killings, and this forced the Palestinians to flee to neighboring countries for safety. Second, the British demonstrated biased behaviors towards the Jewish, and this ignited the anti-British demonstrations (Davis 2010, p. 7). Third, the British policies broke the Hashemite deal thus damaging the prominence of British. Moreover, it had an adverse impact on the Sykes-Picot deal. The policies of Britain in Palestine were interested in the domestic affairs of the nation, and this resulted in Britain managing to damage its reputation in the region, isolate its former allies and cause evacuation of the local population. Britain embarrassed itself when it asked for assistance from the United Nations.

Results of the British Policies

During the WWI, British policies had several critical outcomes, and they included the following. Firstly, the policies provoked Arab nationalism. The outcome of this was that all colonial powers were drawn out of the Middle East. Secondly, when Britain created Israel, the outcome in the region was poverty, war, disorder and famine for many years. Thirdly, the policies resulted in the appearance of extremist groups such as terrorists and other Islamic extremists (Judis 2014, p. 1). Fourthly, the policies created nations that have experienced problems throughout due to political disturbances. Also, those nations experienced democratic issues and refusal to adhere to the values and laws of Western countries. Although Britain secured modernization in the region, the policies resulted in the creation of dangerous regions with nations that are frustrated and relied on the assistance of Britain for survival (Judis 2014, p. 1). It is wrong to blame individual groups with power for the outcome of policies towards regions in the Middle East. This is because we can recognize a nation when they are capable of governing themselves rather than improved domestic politics.


After the First World War, the impact of Britain on Arab allies has been more than just betrayal. Britain created a political map of the Middle East without considering awareness of the cultural identity of the local population, demands and the geographical realities. According to the perception of many Europeans, the Middle East region was a minor incident of the WWI and an uncontrolled problem to the war-torn region. The call for assistance by the Arabs was always unimportant. Conversely, the priority for Britain was the imperial prestige and the allied harmony. The belief of many individuals in Europe was that Arabs in the Middle East region were not utilizing the opportunities of their land. Britain used their imperialist position to correct the situation by enacting a stern state control that was not known during the Ottoman governance. The incident turned the policies towards the region into a catastrophic situation that encompassed self-interest and desired for political power. Due to the portrayal of self-interest by the British, the Middle East collapsed indeterminately. The political system before the WWI resulted in a distrustful environment and extremist Arabs that have damaged the instability of nations in the world for a longer period.



Cohen, M.J., 2012. Palestine to Israel: From mandate to independence. Routledge.

Davis, R., 2010. Britain’s Middle Eastern Policy, 1900-1931: Dual Attractions of Empire and Europe. Histoire@ Politique, (2), pp.7-7.

Gilmartin, D., 2016. The British Empire and the Hajj, 1865-1956. By John Slight. Journal of Church and State, 58(4), pp.769-770.

Heller, J., 1983. British policy towards the Ottoman Empire, 1908-1914. Psychology Press.

Judis, J. B., 2014. The Middle East that France and Britain drew is finally unravelling. The Republican Magazine. [Online] Available at: <> [Accessed 17 March 2017].

Kolinsky, M., 2016. Britain’s war in the Middle East: Strategy and diplomacy, 1936–42. Springer.

Schneer, J., 2010. The Balfour Declaration: the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Bond Street Books.


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