In recent days, newspapers around the world, including Arab ones, have devoted ample space to the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the succession to the British throne. As for the Middle Eastern press, many contents are openly celebratory, such as this Arab News article that greets the queen as a great “friend” and “ally” of the Arab world. Others offer a historical look, recalling what the region looked like at the beginning of Elizabeth II’s long reign. Some advocate complaints and criticisms or reflect on colonial legacies. Here you can see a Middle East Eye photogallery about the queen in the Middle East.
When Elizabeth II ascended the throne on February 6, 1952, much of the Middle East and North Africa was directly or indirectly under British control. Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman and southern Yemen were all territories ruled by the British Empire “de jure o in fact”Writes Alex MacDonald in Middle East Eye. Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia were heavily under his influence. “Much of the UK’s traditional control over the Middle East was based on a series of monarchies that had been imposed or supported by the empire and maintained close ties to the British royal family,” comments MacDonald.
In an article on Al Jazeera, Abubakr al Shamahi recalls when Queen Elizabeth landed in Aden in April 1954, “the only Arab territory that has become a colony of the British Empire”. Al Shamahi explains that Aden, a port city in the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula, now part of Yemen, “was directly ruled by the British crown since 1937. It was first occupied in 1839”. British control extended throughout the Gulf region, including present-day Bahrain, Qatar and the Emirates.
But only Aden was directly governed by the UK, with no local intermediaries. The city was cosmopolitan, modern and its port was one of the most important in the world. London used it to maintain her dominance in an increasingly important region thanks to oil and gas reserves, and to control the route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. Thousands of British soldiers were stationed in Aden, Middle East Eye also points out. The colonial authorities were mainly concerned with making agreements with local clan leaders to avert threats from trade unions and left-wing militants who demanded more autonomy and rights for indigenous workers.
The separatist-led uprising in 1963, just thirteen years after the Queen’s reception, is a reflection of the “true feelings of the locals towards colonial rule” and the “same Arab nationalism that had driven the British out of the Suez Canal. in Egypt, in 1956 ”, continues Al Shamahi on Al Jazeera. Over time, other legacies have emerged, manifesting themselves mainly in the great Yemeni diaspora in the United Kingdom and in the turbulent history of Aden and all of Yemen, which lasts to this day.
During her seventy years of reign, Elizabeth II traveled the world, visiting more than 120 countries. Among these, however, there was never Israel and according to Ofer Aderet, a journalist from Haaretz, it was an “unofficial boycott”. The reasons, explains Aderet, could be a “‘revenge’ for the violent Israeli resistance to the British mandate” or the desire not to antagonize the Arab world. It is said that on a visit to Jordan in 1984, in front of a map of the West Bank dotted with Israeli settlements, the Queen commented: “What a depressing map”.
In reality, the queen never even went to Lebanon, which instead was visited several times by her husband. On the Orient-Le Jour, Mohammad el Chamaa recalls when Prince Philip was greeted with great pomp at Beirut airport on March 20, 1967 to go and inaugurate a school dormitory outside the capital. Historian James Vaughan explains that since the end of the Second World War, the United Kingdom sought to exert its influence in the Middle East mainly through educational institutions. The Lebanese president at the time, Camille Chamoun, and the British ambassador Edwin Arthur Chapman-Andrews had created a fund to build a British school in Lebanon, raising public and private funding. However, the school never saw the light and the money was used to build the dormitory of the Broummana high school, a private institute founded in 1873 by the Quaker missionary Theophilus Waldmeier.
The role of Carlo
In the Arab press there are also several articles that question the relations that the new King Charles III will establish with the Middle East. The New Arab stresses that its priority will be to maintain good relations with the Gulf countries. His support for the Palestinian cause will be more uncertain, even if Carlo is considered the exponent of the royal family who has shown himself most interested in the issue. Many recall his comment in favor of more “freedom, justice and equality for all Palestinians” during a trip to the West Bank in January 2020.
Another question concerns the sale of arms manufactured by British companies. According to Al Jazeera, over the past decade, Charles has played a key role in promoting the export of British arms to the Middle Eastern monarchies, worth nearly $ 17 billion. Since 2011, he has allegedly organized 95 meetings with eight leaders in the region whose power had been threatened by the protests. In the book of 2018 Charles at seventy: thoughts, hopes and dreams, the journalist Robert Jobson, an expert on the royal family, however, puts forward the hypothesis that Charles has communicated to the British ministers the decision to no longer use his personal contacts to sell weapons in the Middle East. We’ll see.