Seumas Milne: The ‘Arab spring’ and the west: seven lessons from history

Drawing on the Pathé News archive, Seumas Milne picks out the recurrent themes of imperial efforts to control the Middle East

talat harb 1956/2011

October 2011: Egyptians in Talat Harb square, Cairo, protest against military rule; October 1956: Egyptians demonstrate in the same square against British-French invasion. Photograph: Getty/Associated Press

There’s a real sense in which, more than any other part of the former colonial world, the Middle East has never been fully decolonised. Sitting on top of the bulk of the globe’s oil reserves, the Arab world has been the target of continual interference and intervention ever since it became formally independent.

Carved into artificial states after the first world war, it’s been bombed and occupied – by the US, Israel, Britain and France – and locked down with US bases and western-backed tyrannies. As the Palestinian blogger Lina Al-Sharif tweeted on Armistice Day this year, the “reason World War One isn’t over yet is because we in the Middle East are still living the consequences”.

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