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When Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne in 1952, Britain was the dominant power in the Middle East and North Africa. It 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, that had signed treaties with Britain.
But within just three decades of her rule, she witnessed her country’s supremacy in the Middle East crumble as her empire shrank.
Much of Britain’s traditional control in the region had been rooted in monarchies that had either been imposed or backed by it through close ties to its royal family. But by 1971, all its Middle Eastern protectorates had gained independence as the cost of running Britain’s empire mounted.
Still, British influence in the region, particularly in the Gulf Arab states, remained strong, not least through Queen Elizabeth and the monarchy.
“Britain’s role and the legacy it had in the Gulf was very different from the legacy Britain left behind in Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, and Yemen, where Britain was basically kicked out,” said James Onley, professor of history at the American University of Sharjah who has studied the relationship between Britain and Gulf monarchies. “When Britain announced in 1968 that it would be withdrawing its military from the Gulf, and its protection from the small Gulf states, the Gulf states asked Britain not to leave.”
After its withdrawal, Britain built strategic partnerships with Gulf states involving defense, security, investment and energy interests – and the royal family played a role in safeguarding that relationship.
“The royal family has provided a means for Britain to forge and maintain decades-long connections with ruling elites in the region, especially in the Gulf, in ways that would be difficult for elected political leaders to replicate,” Kristian Ulrichsen, fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute told CNN. “Although this has not always translated into measurable outcomes for British interests in the region.”
The Queen had made two sets of state visits to the Gulf region in 1979 and 2010 and images of her laughing alongside the ruling elite depicted a strong affinity.
The number of mutual visits between Gulf Arab and British royals is comparable to royal family visits to the Commonwealth realms, said Onley. “This is quite surprising considering that the [Gulf] is not a part of the Commonwealth, but in many ways, it is a de facto member… Britain is more than just a strategic ally [in the Gulf], it’s family in many respects,” he said.
Memories of British rule aren’t as fond 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 prompted an outpouring of grief from countries Britain used to control, but the legacy of what she represented was also seen as a symbol of oppression.
The Queen started her reign when Britain was trying to reformulate its relationship with the countries it had previously controlled, Abdel Razzaq Takriti, a history professor at Brown University, told CNN.
“In that period, the region was engaged in a massive range of anticolonial uprisings… and attempts to overthrow British domination,” he said.
Those attempts succeeded, and under Queen Elizabeth’s reign, Britain’s influence in the Middle East underwent dramatic change, as colonial structures have now largely disappeared.
“The Queen’s reign can be characterized as overseeing the management of decline of Britain as an imperial and a global power, a period that was encapsulated by the fallout from the Suez Crisis in 1956, just four years into her reign, and the struggle to rebuild Britain’s standing in the region in the years that followed,” Ulrichsen said.
Takriti said that it’s difficult for people in the Middle East to move on from Britain’s history when its impact continues to linger.
“The most salient British legacy in the region, which of course was never resolved under the reign of Queen Elizabeth, was the question of Palestine. And many people in the region never forgave Britain for it,” he said.
Turkish drone maker to build Ukraine factory, Zelensky says
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday met with the head of Turkish defense firm Baykar and said the company would set up a factory in Ukraine to build unmanned aerial vehicles, Reuters reported.
- Background: Baykar’s Bayraktar TB2 drone has been hugely popular in Ukraine, where it helped destroy many Russian artillery systems and armoured vehicles. A video posted online showed Zelenskiy giving Bayraktar the Ukrainian Order of Merit. In return, Zelenskiy received a traditional embroidered Ukrainian shirt featuring a drone.
- Why it matters: Russia has previously complained to Turkey over its sale of the drones to Ukraine. Turkey hasn’t joined its NATO allies in sanctioning Russia over 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 communication channels with Ankara open despite recent “unacceptable” comments from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Reuters reported. He said he has always been willing to meet Erdogan.
- Background: Erdogan has accused Greece of occupying demilitarized islands in the Aegean Sea, saying Turkey was ready to “do what is necessary” when the time came. The European Union last week voiced concern over Erdogan’s statements, while Greece sent letters to NATO and the United Nations, complaining over what it called “inflammatory” comments.
- Why it matters: The two countries – NATO allies but historic foes – have been at odds for decades over a range of issues including where their continental shelves start and end, overflights in the Aegean Sea, the status of demilitarized islands, and divided Cyprus.
Iran urges Saudi Arabia to show goodwill in talks to revive ties
Iran has no preconditions in its talks with Saudi Arabia, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, calling on Riyadh to adopt a “constructive approach” to improve ties, Reuters reported. “Iran will respond proportionately 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 the conditions are right in Iraq. In May, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said there had been some progress in the Iraq-mediated talks with Iran but “not enough”.
- Why it matters: Tehran and Riyadh, the leading Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim powers in the Middle East, severed ties in 2016 with both parties backing opposite sides in proxy wars across the region, from Yemen to Syria and elsewhere. The talks occur as former Middle East foes move to mend fences. Last month, the UAE returned its ambassador to Tehran.
Saudi Arabia: Nazar Bahbari insults Saudi women
A renowned Saudi doctor’s research on women’s pornography-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 who had acquired a large social media following during the Covid-19 pandemic as many tuned in to listen to his advice. He has over 230,000 followers.
However, his popularity suffered when, in an interview on Saturday with a Saudi TV channel, Bahbari said that a 2019 survey that he conducted showed that 92% of Saudi women had watched pornography, up from 23% in a 2014 survey on social media. The survey included 3,000 women, he told the TV channel.
Soon, Twitter accounts run by detractors of Saudi Arabia and its rulers began citing the video as evidence of the alleged negative impact of the social freedoms being introduced in the kingdom. Pornography is banned in Saudi Arabia.
Others attacked the doctor, with the Arabic hashtag “Nazar Bahbari insults Saudi women” trending on Twitter.
“He is sitting there and giving the world the impression that Saudi women are easy,” one user tweeted, questioning his dignity.
“Evil, poisonous and malicious words,” another user tweeted.
Bahbari revealed his results in the context of rising concerns over addiction to pornography, which he said hinders sexual relations in marriage. He defended his research on social media, noting that the survey included only 3,000 women, whose pornography-watching habits do not represent the entire community.
“In order to create appropriate awareness content, I do surveys to know the extent of the problem,” he said in a video uploaded to Twitter on Monday.
Nazar declined CNN’s request for comment.
By Nadeen Ebrahim