March 1938: The newly-united Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hits the jackpot when commercial quantities of oil are discovered in Dammam well no. 7 in the Eastern province. Search for oil in the vast Saudi desert had started five years early, with a 1933 concession agreement between Saudi authorities and the Standard Oil Company of California, but without much success until the discovery of well no.7. The well was quickly pumping out thousands of barrels a day, and Dammam was discovered to be the most oil-rich region in the world. Pictured above, a drilling crew in Dammam.
October-November 1943: The surroundings of the Egyptian city of El Alamein are the scenes of one of the most decisive battles of World War II’s Middle Eastern theatre. Allied forces win a decisive victory over Axis forces, and prevent them from advancing further eastwards and reaching the strategically important Suez Canal. Pictured, Field Marshal Rommel, commander of the German troops at El Alamein.
14 May 1948: A day before British rule in Palestine is set to end, Jewish community leaders gather in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. David Ben-Gurion, head of the World Zionist Organization and soon to be prime minister, reads a declaration written in the days before, proclaiming the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, Israel.
1951: After nine years of Allied occupation following the defeat of their colonial masters Italy in World War II, Libya is granted independence by the United Nations. The possibility of dividing the country into the three historical regions of Tripolitania, Fezzan and Cyrenaica is ruled out — instead forming a single, unified Kingdom of Libya under the rule of the former Emir of Cyrenaica, who becomes known as King Idris, Libya’s first and only king. Pictured above, King Idris meets US president Richard Nixon in 1957.
1952: A group of officers in the Egyptian army, calling themselves the Free Officers Movement, stage a coup d’état against the Egyptian monarchy, overthrowing King Farouk and establishing a republic. The new regime launches an ambitious programme of industrialisation, urbanisation and agrarian reform, transforming the Egyptian economy and Egyptian society as a whole. Pictured above, one of the Free Officers and president from 1956 to 1970, Gamal Abdel Nasser with his supporters.
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1953: Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh is overthrown in a coup d’état. Two years previously, Iran’s parliament, under Mossadegh’s leadership, voted to nationalise the country’s oil industry, including the gigantic British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. American and British secret services plot the coup against Mossadegh, who is arrested and tried for treason.
1954: The Algerian National Liberation Front, FLN, launches a guerilla war against French colonial authorities that have controlled the country for over a century. The ensuing war is marked by great ferocity on both sides, leading to at least half a million deaths. The war causes a political crisis in France, vaulting Charles de Gaulle back to power and the founding of the Fifth Republic. The war finally ends in 1962 with an independence referendum overwhelmingly in favour of independence. France’s other colonies in North Africa had become independent six years earlier. Pictured above, FLN members captured by French forces being marched to their executions.
26 July 1956: Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser seizes control of the French and British-owned Suez Canal Company and nationalises the Suez Canal. The act is provoked by the United States and Britain’s refusal to fund construction of the gigantic Aswan Dam because of Egypt’s increasing ties to the Soviet bloc. After weeks of diplomatic gridlock, Britain and France machinate to have Israel attack Egypt in October, and in the following week, the two Western powers occupy the canal zone. The occupation is met with international criticism and the United Nations forces the invaders to withdraw. President Nasser emerges victorious from the crisis as a champion of Arab nationalism and anti-imperialism, and France and Britain lose face, as well as much of their influence in the region. Pictured above, smoke rising from oil tanks after an Anglo-French attack on Port Said.
1963: Military officers and members of the Syrian branch of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party seize power in Syria and overthrow President Nazim al-Kudsi. The Ba’ath movement, founded by Syrian Michael Aflaq in the 1940s, espoused a mix of Arab nationalism, socialism and anti-imperialism. The Syrian coup is inspired by a Ba’athist military coup in Iraq earlier the same year. Among the leaders of the coup is air force pilot Hafez al-Assad, who will become president in 1970. Pictured above, military officers celebrate Syria’s independence day in 1963. The new Ba’athist regime had not yet changed the country’s flag.
Photos: Saudi Aramco, German Federal Archives, Wikimedia Commons, and Syrian Archives.