Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared in CNN’s newsletter Meanwhile in the Middle East, a three-times-weekly overview of the region’s biggest stories. Register here.
When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952, Britain was the dominant power in the Middle East and North Africa. He had direct control over protectorates such as Sudan, Egypt and Iraq and indirect control over Gulf states such as Bahrain, Qatar and what is now the United Arab Emirates, which had signed treaties with Great Britain.
But in just three decades of her reign, she has seen her country’s supremacy in the Middle East crumble as her empire shrinks.
Much of Britain’s traditional control of the region was rooted in monarchies that had been imposed or supported by it through close ties to its royal family. But by 1971, all of its Middle Eastern protectorates had gained independence as the cost of running the British empire rose.
Yet British influence in the region, particularly in the Gulf Arab states, remained strong, thanks in particular to Queen Elizabeth and the monarchy.
“Britain’s role and the legacy it had in the Gulf was very different from the legacy Britain left in Palestine, Iraq, Egypt and Yemen, where Britain was basically kicked out,” said James Onley, a history professor at the American University of Sharjah who has studied relations between Britain and the Gulf monarchies. “When Britain announced in 1968 that it would withdraw its military from the Gulf and its protection from the smaller Gulf states, the Gulf states asked Britain not to leave.”
After its withdrawal, Britain established strategic partnerships with Gulf states involving defence, security, investment and energy interests – and the royal family played a role in safeguarding this relationship.
“The Royal Family has provided Britain with a means to forge and maintain decades-long relationships with the region’s ruling elites, particularly in the Gulf, in a way that would be difficult for political leaders elected to replicate,” Kristian Ulrichsen, a Middle East Fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, told CNN. “Although this has not always translated into measurable results for British interests in the region.”
The Queen had made two rounds of state visits to the Gulf region in 1979 and 2010 and images of her laughing alongside the ruling elite portrayed a strong affinity.
The number of mutual visits between Gulf Arabs and members of the British royal family is comparable to royal family visits to Commonwealth realms, Onley said. “It’s quite surprising considering that [Gulf] not part of the Commonwealth, but in many ways a de facto member… Britain is more than just a strategic ally [in the Gulf]it’s a family in many ways,” he said.
Memories of British rule aren’t as dear further north in the Arab world. Many in the Middle East attribute today’s political grievances to the era of colonialism. The death of Queen Elizabeth II may have caused an outpouring of grief in countries Britain once controlled, but the legacy of what she represented was also seen as a symbol of oppression.
The queen began her reign as Britain attempted to reformulate its relationship with countries it previously controlled, Abdel Razzaq Takriti, a history professor at Brown University, told CNN.
“During this period, the region was engaged in a massive series of anti-colonial uprisings… and attempts to overthrow British rule,” he said.
These attempts were successful, and under the reign of Queen Elizabeth Britain’s influence in the Middle East underwent a dramatic change, as colonial structures have now largely disappeared.
“The Queen’s reign can be characterized as overseeing the management of Britain’s decline as an imperial and world power, a period which was summed up by the fallout from the Suez Crisis in 1956, just four years after the start of his reign, and the struggle to rebuild Britain’s position in the region in the years that followed,” Ulrichsen said.
Takriti said it was difficult for people in the Middle East to walk away from Britain’s history when its impact lingers.
“The most salient British legacy in the region, which of course was never resolved during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, was the question of Palestine. And many people in the region have never forgiven Britain,” he said.
Turkish drone maker will build factory in Ukraine, says Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy met with the head of Turkish defense firm Baykar on Friday and said the company would set up a factory in Ukraine to build unmanned aerial vehicles, Reuters reported.
- Background: Baykar’s Bayraktar TB2 drone was extremely popular in Ukraine, where it helped destroy many Russian artillery systems and armored vehicles. A video posted online shows Zelenskiy presenting Bayraktar with the Ukrainian Order of Merit. In return, Zelenskiy received a traditional embroidered Ukrainian shirt with a drone.
- Why is this important: Russia has already complained to Turkey about its sale of drones to Ukraine. Turkey has not joined its NATO allies in sanctioning Russia for its war in Ukraine and has facilitated talks between the warring parties.
Greek PM wants to keep channels with Turkey open despite ‘unacceptable’ comments
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Sunday that Athens would try to keep lines of communication open with Ankara despite recent “unacceptable” comments by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Reuters reported. He said he had always been willing to meet Erdogan.
- Background: Erdogan has accused Greece of occupying demilitarized islands in the Aegean Sea, saying Turkey is ready to “do what is necessary” when the time comes. Last week, the European Union expressed concern over Erdogan’s statements, while Greece sent letters to NATO and the United Nations, complaining about what it called “inflammatory” comments. .
- why is it important: The two countries – NATO allies but historical enemies – have been at odds for decades over a range of issues, including the start and end of their continental shelves, overflights in the Aegean Sea, the status of the demilitarized islands and the division of Cyprus.
Iran urges Saudi Arabia to show goodwill in talks to rekindle ties
Iran has no preconditions in its talks with Saudi Arabia, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, calling on Riyadh to take a “constructive approach” to improving relations. reported Reuters. “Iran will respond proportionally to any constructive action by Saudi Arabia,” Kanaani told a televised news conference.
- Background: Last month, Tehran said a delayed sixth round of talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Baghdad would take place when conditions are right in Iraq. In May, the Saudi foreign minister said there had been some progress in talks with Iran, but “not enough”.
- why is it important: Tehran and Riyadh, the main Shia and Sunni Muslim powers in the Middle East, severed ties in 2016, with both sides supporting opposing sides in proxy wars across the region, from Yemen to Syria and elsewhere. The talks take place as former enemies from the Middle East move in to mend fences. Last month, the United Arab Emirates sent its ambassador back to Tehran.
Saudi Arabia: Nazar Bahbari insults Saudi women
A renowned Saudi doctor’s research into women’s porn viewing habits has sparked controversy in the Gulf state, with many attacking the practitioner for “offending Saudi women”.
Nazar Bahbari is the director of the Saudi Society for Infectious Diseases in Jeddah which had gained a large following on social media during the Covid-19 pandemic as many logged on to listen to his advice. It has over 230,000 subscribers.
However, his popularity suffered when, in an interview on Saturday with a Saudi TV channel, Bahbari said a 2019 survey he conducted showed that 92% of Saudi women had viewed pornography, compared to 23% in a 2014 social media survey. The survey involved 3,000 women, he told the television station.
Soon, Twitter accounts run by critics of Saudi Arabia and its leaders began citing the video as evidence of the alleged negative impact of social freedoms being introduced to the kingdom. Pornography is prohibited in Saudi Arabia.
Others attacked the doctor, with the Arabic hashtag “Nazar Bahbari insulting Saudi women” trending on Twitter.
“He’s sitting there making the world feel like Saudi women are easy,” a user tweetedquestioning his dignity.
“Evil, poisonous and malevolent words”, another user tweeted.
Bahbari revealed his findings against the backdrop of growing concerns about pornography addiction, which he says hinders sex within marriage. He defended his social media research, noting that the survey only included 3,000 women, whose pornography viewing habits do not represent the entire community.
“In order to create appropriate outreach content, I do surveys to find out the extent of the problem,” he said. in a video uploaded on Twitter on Monday.
Nazar declined CNN’s request for comment.
By Nadeen Ebrahim