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date: 25 February 2024

West Africa and the Middle East since 1900locked

West Africa and the Middle East since 1900locked

  • Oliver CoatesOliver CoatesDepartment of History, University of Cambridge

Summary

West Africa has long-standing economic, religious, cultural, and military ties to the Middle East and North Africa. Historical links between the two regions include centuries of pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, educational travel to Al-Azhar University in Egypt, and trading and religious links with the Arabian Peninsula and Maghreb. The years from 1900 to c. 2020 can be divided into three periods: the colonial era until 1960, the years of pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism from 1956 to around 1979, and the intensification of political and religious contact after 1979, with Saudi Arabia and Iran playing prominent roles. In the 21st century, trading relations have intensified and diversified, involving new interventions by Turkey, the Gulf States, and Morocco, while Middle East and North African actors, both state and nonstate, were closely implicated in the destabilization of the Sahel in the 2010s, including providing military, intelligence, and ideological support to West African states and terrorist groups.

Since 1900, significant issues and ideas affecting interactions between the Middle East and West Africa included pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism, Salafi and Wahhabi thought, spanning far beyond jihadist ideas to incorporate social and political critique, and new formulations of shiʾi Muslim identity following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Importantly, Africans actively appropriated and developed these ideas for diverse ends, mounting their own interpretations of the Middle East, ranging from ʿulema settling in Mecca to shiʾa students in Iran, Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem, and the search of West African Jews for recognition by Israel.

Subjects

  • West Africa

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