Oil Geopolitics: the Shale Saga and Shifting Sands (Part 2/4)


  • One cannot understand global oil geopolitics without grasping the Middle East. But understanding this region is rather difficult. “It’s hot, sandy, and everyone hates each other.”
  • Despite the difficulty, one can still attempt to untangle the intricacies of the region by reviewing raw historical events and then drawing your own conclusions.
  • Some observations from the last 600 years of history in this region:
    • Most of the Sunni-majority Arabian peninsula were disparate tribes or vassal states of the Ottoman empire.
    • Shia-majority Iran, in contrast, was always a distinct political entity – the Persian empire.
    • Political alliances are complex and fragile. They change all the time.
    • Foreign intervention in the region has been the norm.
    • When there is a power vacuum, chaos and instability ensues until a new order emerges.
    • Events from outside the region have spillover effects. This is why it’s important to consider events outside the region too.
    • Ethnic and tribal identities persist for a really long time.
    • Most conflicts are irrational. This makes predictions difficult. Anything can happen.


If you haven’t already, highly recommend reading Part 1 first:

Oil Geopolitics: the Shale Saga and Shifting Sands (Part 1/4)


Part 1 

1. Fundamentals: source, sink, and route of oil.
2. US and the Shale Revolution: US production history; net exporter status; withdrawal from Middle East.

Part 2 (this post)

3. Messy mosaic of the Middle East: complicated relations; an over-simplified history of last 600 years; lessons from history.

Part 3 (coming soon)

4. Saudi-Iran conflict: ideological divide; oil production and sanctions; proxy wars.

Part 4 (coming soon)

5. China and Belt and Road: big appetite; Belt and Road; Petrodollar and Petroyuan
6. More oil geopolitics
: other key players (inc. Russia, Turkey); non-state actors; other ancillary factors (inc. natural gas, environmental sustainability).


3. The messy mosaic of the Middle East

3.1. It’s complicated

Accounting for one third of global oil production, one cannot understand global oil geopolitics without understanding at least the basic power dynamics of the Middle East.


But grasping the geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East is rather tricky. It quickly gets mired in complexity. It’s divorced from the binary narratives we’re familiar with Team A against Team B. Frenemies abound. 

As of July 2014. See Source for more interactive version.

A slightly neater version:


And to make matters worse, the above relations change rather quickly over time.

For instance, we hear about US sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program all the time (more on 2015 Obama Nuclear Deal and 2018 Trump withdrawal later). But those that have not studied history might not know that Iran was actually a US ally during the Cold War. And even fewer may knot that the US actually helped Iran developed nuclear capabilities in the 60s and 70s.

What’s driving these conflicts? The simple answer is power. Oil and resources being key factors. But there are indeed others at play: tribal and ethnic identities, ideology and legitimacy, as well as post-colonial legacies and foreign interventions.

So the problem with most headlines and political opinions about the region is over-simplification of the messy political mosaic.

But the other problem is the defeatist “it’s so complicated we’ll never be able to understand anyway.”

Perhaps a sensible approach to understanding the region is to look at raw events in history and drawing your own conclusions rather than simply relying on the reductive, and often misleading, narratives given to us by the media.


3.1. An over-simplified history

This section lists key events in Middle East and surrounds (western Asia, Balkan Europe, north Africa etc) from around 600 years ago, at a time when the Ottoman empire started to expand.

Events have been selected based on relevance, weighted by 3 factors:

  • Geography: Focus on events in the region. But major events outside region with significant spillover effects are also included.
  • Domain: Focus on political/military events. But some major economic/financial/business, social/cultural, and science/technology related events which inevitably influence political events are also included.
  • Time: More events are shown as we get closer to today.


1453: The Ottoman empire captures Constantinople and brings down the Roman Byzantine empire.

1455: Western Europe adopts newly invented Gutenberg printing press while the Ottomans suppress it. 

1492: Columbus arrives in the Americas, kick-starting the rise of European colonial powers who will quickly challenge Ottoman dominance.

1494: Spain and Portugal divide New World along a vertical line at Treaty of Tordesillas.

1498: Portuguese find a sea route to India. Europeans no longer need to go through the Ottoman middle man to trade with Asia.

1501: Ismail I conquers Persia and establishes Safavid dynasty (1501-1736), begins forced conversion of Sunni majority population into Shia; partly motivated to create more cohesive Persian identity against an ongoing Ottoman conflict.

1502: Spanish send African slaves to Caribbean, kick-starting the Atlantic slave trade.

1510: Safavid Persia defeats Shaybanids in Persian-Uzbek Wars (1502-1510).

1514: Ottomans win Battle of Chaldiran against Safavid Persia; gains eastern Anatolia and Mesopotamia.

– Protestant Reformation in Europe.
– Ottomans conquer Egypt, ending Mamluk rule (1250-1517).

1521: Spanish conquer Aztec empire, setting up a new influx of silver and gold into Eurasia.

1522: Spanish circumnavigate globe (Magellan expedition), the next milestone in Europe’s rise.

1526: Mughal empire founded by Timurid (Central Asian heritage) prince Babur (r. 1526-1857).

1529: Siege of Vienna; first attempt of Ottoman advance into Western Europe fails.

1534: Ottomans conquer Iraq from Safavid Persians.

1547: Ivan IV (the Terrible) becomes first Tsar of Russia (r. 1547-1584); terrorises nobility, centralizes administration and imposes military discipline.

1555: Ottomans win Ottoman-Safavid War 1532-1555; conquering Georgia and Dagestan from Persia.

1556: Mughal empire consolidates under Akbar (r. 1556-1605). 

1559: Despite 20 years of Ottoman challenge, Portugal maintains status quo control over Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean.

1570: Russia wins First Russo-Turkish War 1568-1570; for Black Sea control.

– Holy League Catholic coalition defeats Ottomans at Battle of Lepanto in Greece; last major Western world naval engagement between rowing vessels.
– Height of Safavid Persian empire under Shah Abbas (r. 1571-1629); reforms army and establishes diplomatic links with western Europe.

1581: Dutch overthrow Spanish after 80 year war, reflecting Spanish decline and the rising Dutch.

1588: England repels Spanish armada.

1590: Ottomans conquer Armenia and Shirvan (modern Azerbaijan) from Persia (Ottoman-Safavid War 1578-1590).

1595: First Dutch expedition to East Indies (Indonesia).

16th century: Spanish and Portuguese domination and Ottoman expansion

1600: British East India Company established in India.

– Dutch East India Company (VOC) chartered.
Safavid Persians conquer Bahrain from Portuguese.

1607: British establish Jamestown in North America.

1609: Galileo invents the telescope, kick-starting European Renaissance and scientific revolution.

1613: Russian Romanov dynasty (1613-1917) established, ending long period of instability and foreign intervention.

1618: Persia wins Ottoman-Safavid War 1603-1618; re-conquers Caucasus, Mesopotamia and east Anatolia from Ottomans.

1622: British-Persian alliance takes control of the Hormuz strait from Portuguese, opening it up to everyone including Portuguese.

1623: Persia wins Mughal-Safavid War 1622-1623; conquers Kandahar from Mughals.

1639: Ottomans win Ottoman-Safavid War 1623-1639; Caucasus partitioned; Ottomans gain Mesopotamia.

1644: End Ming dynasty (1368-1644), start Manchu Qing dynasty (1644-1912), putting end to Mongol threat and re-organising disparate Buddhist nomads and steppe Muslims into Xinjiang province.

1653: Safavid Persia wins First Russo-Persian War 1651-1653; defeating Russians in north Caucasus.

1663: Steam pump invented in England, laying foundation for Industrial Revolution.

1668: Glorious Revolution in England (Parliament power restored).

1674: Leeweunhoek sees microorganisms through microscope (Dutch).

1681: Second Russo-Turkish War 1676-1681, over Black Sea, indecisive.

1682: Tsar Peter I (the Great) (r. 1682-1721) reign expands Russia into Scandinavia and fights Ottomans for Black Sea control; partly thanks to weakened Mongols on eastern front (thanks to Qing).

1683: Holy Roman Empire, Hapsburg Monarchy and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth defeat Ottomans at Vienna (second Ottoman attempt into Europe also fails).

1687: Newton.

17th century: Spanish decline; Dutch domination

1700: Europe-backed Russia wins Third Russo-Turkish War (1686-1700); Russia gains Crimea and other Black Sea territories.

1707: Union of Scotland and England forms Great Britain.

1709: Hotaki dynasty (1709-1738) established in Afghanistan.

1711: Ottoman-Sweden win Fourth Russo-Turkish War (1710-1711)/Pruth River Campaign; Russia returns Crimea and other Black Sea territories.

1712: First practical stationary atmospheric steam engine (GB).

1717: Oman conquers Bahrain from Safavid Persians; but later resell it to them.

1721: Russia establishes naval presence in Baltic Sea (in modern Estonia), a window on Europe, after decades of war with Swedish.

1722: Hotaki Afghans occupy most of Persia (1722-1729).

1723: Russia wins Second Russo-Persian War 1722-1723; gains more Caucasus territory.

1735: Afsharid Persians wins Ottoman-Persian War 1730-1735; reconquering Caucasus.

1736: End of Safavid dynasty Persia (1501-1736); Start of Afsharid dynasty Persia (1736-1796).

1738: Afsharid Persians plunder Mughal India (1738-1739).

1739: Ottomans win Fifth Russo-Turkish War (1735-1739), repelling Russian-Austrian attack on Moldavia.

1744: Swiss-national Bernoulli founds statistics.

1746: Afsharid Persia wins Ottoman-Persian War (1743-1746); no significant territorial changes.

1756: Al-Sabah family takes control of Kuwait; semi-autonomous under Ottoman rule.

1758: British Raj established in India.

1763: Anglo-Prussian victory over France-Habsburg-Saxony-Russia-Spanish in Seven Years War (1756-1763);  triggered by unresolved Austrian succession, but ultimately about Britain-France vying for global dominance. 

1769: Watts patents more efficient steam engine (GB).

1773: Boston Tea Party (US).

1774: Russia wins major Sixth Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774); after Ottomans demanded Russia’s Catherine II the Great abstain from interfering with Poland; Ottoman Crimean khanate becomes Russian client state.

– (Mar) Adam Smith Wealth of Nations
– (Jul) Declaration of Independence (US).

1781: American revolutionaries (with French support) defeat British at Battle of Yorktown; last major battle in independence war; Britain recognises US officially 2 years later.

– Official end of American Independence war against British.

– Khalifa family (who continues to rule Bahrain to this day) seizes control of Bahrain from Afsharid Persia.

1784: British win Fourth Anglo-Dutch war (1780-1784); fighting occurs globally (North Sea, India, Indonesia, Caribbean).

– (Jul) French Revolution, Bastille prison is stormed. 
– End of Safavid dynasty in Persia (1501-1789); Start of Qajar dynasty (1789-1925); which will go on to the Muslim clergy (ulema) political power.
– First US president Washington elected.

– Napoleonic wars begin.
– Russia wins Seventh Russo-Turkish War (1787-1792)
; Ottomans lose more Black Sea coast.

– Vaccines discovered (GB).
– Third Russo-Persian war/Persian Expedition, again over Caucasus; no lasting consequences.

18th century: Dutch and Ottoman decline; Britain, France, and Russia rise.

1801: Napoleon campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798-1801) defeated by Anglo-Ottomans.

1803: US buys Lousiana from France, doubling its size.

1805: Ottoman Albanian commander Ali establishes dynasty (1805-1953) in Egypt; nominally part of the Ottoman Empire.

1809: Ottomans allied with Napoleon France fend off British attack and win Anglo-Turkish War 1807-1809.

– (May) Russia wins Eighth Russo-Turkish War 1806-1812; gains Moldavia (Romania) from Ottomans.
– (Jun-Dec) Russia repels Napoleon invasion.

– Russia gains Georgia, Azerbaijan, northern Armenia from Qajar Persia (Fourth Russo-Persian War, 1804-1813).
– Start of ‘Great Game’ between Britain and Russia for influence over Central Asia and South Asia (1813-1907).

1815: British defeat Napoleon at Battle of Waterloo, paving way for British global dominance.

1818: Ottomans and Egypt defeat Saudi army (Wahhabi War 1811-1818).

1819: Latin American independence from Spain.

1821: Greek rebellion against Ottoman starts.

1822: Brazil independence from Portugal.

– Monroe Doctrine, US claims Americas as its sphere of influence.
– Qajar Persia wins Ottoman-Persian War 1821-1823; no territorial changes.

1827: British-French-Russian-Greek sinks main Ottoman-Egyptian fleet.

1828: Russia gains Armenia, Azerbaijan and northern modern Iran from Qajar Persia (Fifth Russo-Persian War, 1826-1828).

1829: Russia wins Ninth Russo-Turkish War 1828-1829; Ottomans retaliate to Russian intervention in Greek independence war; Russia occupies more Balkan territory.

1832: Greece independence from Ottoman.

– British steamship crosses Atlantic (Quebec to London), drastically reducing global travel time.
– Egypt wins Egyptian-Ottoman War 1831-1833; sparked by Egypt demanding control over Syria as a reward for aiding Ottomans in Greek independence war.

1837: Commercial telegraphs and Morse Code (US).

1839: Aden in Yemen comes under British rule; an important refuelling port after Suez Canal opens in 1869. Goodyear improves rubber production techniques (vulcanization) (US), crucial for increased automobile use.

1841: Egypt wins Second Egyptian-Ottoman War 1839-1841; gaining Syria and recognition from Britain.

– British defeat Qing in First Opium War (1839-1842) to grow its trade surplus, Hong Kong ceded to Britain.
– Afghanistan repels British invasion; First Anglo-Afghan war (1838-1842).

– Mexico loses half its territory after losing US-Mexico war (1846-1848), on which the US would discover significant amounts of oil soon after.
– Marx publishes Communist Manifesto (although Russian translation not until 1882).

1856: British-French-Ottoman alliance defeat Russians in Crimean War (1853-1856); British and French refuse to let Russia grow too powerful as Ottoman declines.

1857: British defeat Qajar Persians in Anglo-Persian War (1856-1857); Persia withdraws from Herat, Afghanistan.

1859: Darwin publishes Origin of Species, further catalyzing the declining influence of religious institutions.

1860: Civil War in America (1860-1865).

1861: Bahrain becomes British protectorate.

– US Civil War ends; slavery abolished under 13th Amendment; Lincoln assassinated.
– Russia annexes Kazakh steppes and central Asian Muslim states.

1867: Dynamite patented by Swedish-born Nobel, paving way for ever more ambitious engineering projects. US buys Alaska from Russia.

1868: Meiji Restoration in Japan, ending the isolationist policy of the Tokugawa Shogunate rule (1600-1868), and starting Japan’s rapid industrialization.

1869: Suez Canal opens in Egypt, drastically reducing shipping time. US transcontinental railroad allows passengers and freight to cross country in 1 week (before it took several months).

1860s: Internal combustion engine developed, further increasing oil’s geopolitical importance.

1870s: Refrigerated ocean transport of meat; phosphate fertilizer industry begins; life expectancy starts to rise sharply in Europe and Americas mostly due to improved sanitation.

1871: Ottomans seize Qatar from Al-Thani dynasty (est. 1825).

1878: Last Tenth Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878); Russia and Balkan allies liberates Balkans from Ottoman rule; British and Austria-Hungary alarmed by Russian gains forces treaty to limit Russian military power.

1880: British win Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880); Afghanistan becomes British protectorate.

1882: British occupy Egypt. Koch discovers bacteria (Germany).

1880s: European colonization of Africa, the height of European colonial empires. Crude oil discovered in Texas, making the US the leading global oil producer for decades to come.

1892: Trucial States (later UAE) become British protectorate.

1893: Britain and Russia agree to leave Afghanistan as buffer state in their ‘Great Game’. Roentengen discovers X-rays (Germany).

1895: Japan defeats Qing in first Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895).

1897: Braun invents cathode ray tube (Germany).

1898: McKinley US wins Spanish-American War (Apr98-Dec98); gains Cuba, Puerto Rico, Philippines. US also annexes Hawaii. The US is now on par with Britain as global power leader.

1899: Kuwait becomes a British protectorate. Radio signals transmitted across English channel.

1890s: Begin commercial electricity generation in US and Western Europe.

19th century: Continued Ottoman decline; Britain dominates; Germany and US rise.

1901: Radio transmitted across Atlantic. Anti-imperialist/foreign/Christian Boxer rebellion in Qing China suppressed (1899-1901) with Western power help.

– Ibn Saud takes control of Ridyah (to be capital of Saudi Arabia).
– British win Second Boer War (Oct1899 – May1902), triggered by diamond and gold.

1903: Wright brothers flight, warplanes need oil.

1905: Japan wins Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905). Einstein (quanta, special relativity, E=mc2).

1908: Ford Model T launched (US), first mass-produced affordable car, cars need oil.

1906: Revolution in Persia forces Qajars to accept a constituion and limit monarch power, but ultimately failed; partly because clergy withdrew support; and partly because Britain and Russia worked to keep Persia weak.

1909: Anglo-Persian Oil Company established, which would later become BP.

– (May) Standard Oil is broken up (US).
– (Sep-Nov) Italy annexes Ottoman Libya; Mukhtar begins a 20-year resistance against Italian occupation.

– (Oct11-Feb12) Xinhai Revolution; Chinese revolutionary army overthrows Qing dynasty; Sun Yat-sen becomes first president of new republic; but regional warlodism continues.

– (Jul) Balkan League (Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, Bulgaria) defeat Ottoman overlord in First Balkan War (Oct12 – Jul13).
– (Jun-Jul) Bulgaria disputes Balkan League over territory, attacks its former allies and is quickly defeated in Second Balkan War.
– Rebellion suppressed in Qajar Persia.
– Haber-Bosch process to produce synthetic fertilizer. High pressure crude oil cracking.

– (May) Recognizing its importance for fueling a mechanized army (war ships, planes, and tanks), British government buys 51% of Anglo-Persian Oil Company, effectively nationalizing it.
– (Jun-Aug) Austrian archduke Ferdinand assassinated; Allies (Britain, France, Russia, Serbia) are at war with Central powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary).
– (Aug-Dec) Battles erupt around the world from the trenches in Europe, to the mountains in the Caucasus, to the seas in South America and Pacific, as well on European colonial territories in Africa and Asia.
– (Aug) Panama Canal opens.
– (Sep) First submarine warfare; Germans sink British cruiser.
– (Oct) Ottoman empire joins Central powers, mostly to fight Russia; Arabs begin revolt against Ottomans (with British support).
– (Nov) British capture Ottoman port of Basra, securing access to vital Persian oil.

– (Jan-Dec) Bad year for Allies. High casualty stalemate in western and eastern front.
– (Apr) First chemical warfare; German chlorine gas in western front trenches. Ottoman empire begins atrocities against Armenians.
– (May) Italy enters WW1 with Allies, and starts series of unsuccessful campaigns against Austria-Hungary.
– (Oct) Bulgaria enters WW1 with Central powers, and overwhelms Serbia.
– (Nov) Einstein publishes theory of general relativity.
– (Apr-Dec) Ottomans repel Allied (ANZAC) Gallipoli campaign.

– (Jan-Dec) War of attrition.
– (Apr) British at Kut (Iraq) surrender to Ottomans after 5-month siege
– (May) Britain and France sign the Sykes-Picot agreement, a secret plan to carve up the Ottoman Empire into their respective spheres of influence.


Remnants of Sykes-Picot lives on most visibly as the arbitrarily straight Syria-Iraq border. 


But much like the colonially designed straight-line borders drawn over Africa by European powers in the 19th century, these newly imposed borders in the Middle East forced disparate ethnic and religious groups into nation states. More on this later.

1916 (continued)
– (May) Arabs capture Mecca after Allies convince the Arabs to revolt against the Ottomans in exchange for independence after the war.
– (Jun-Sep) Russian Brusilov Offensive pushes back Eastern front.
– (Jul-Nov) Allied Offensive, Battle of Somme, ends in mass casualties on both sides with limited gains.
– Qatar becomes British protectorate.

– (Feb-Aug) Unrestricted German U-boat attacks contribute to more nations joining Allies.
– (Mar) British capture Baghdad from Ottomans. Russian Tsar Nicholas II abdicates.
(Apr) Wilson US enters WW1, joining Allies but takes months to deploy troops. French army starts to mutiny.
– (Jul) Arabs capture strategic Ottoman port of Aqaba (accompanied by Lawrence of Arabia).
– (Oct) British defeat Ottomans at Gaza. Central powers push into Italian front.
– (Nov) British Balfour declaration rallies for Jewish support with the promise of helping them establish an independent Jewish state in Palestine, contradicting existing pledges to Arab leaders. Bolshevik Revolution in Russia starts.
– (Dec) British capture Jerusalem, ending 400 year Ottoman rule. Russia signs armistice with Central powers.

– (Feb) Most Ottoman strength focused on crushing attempts by Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to create their own nations as Russians withdraw.
– (Feb18-Apr20) Spanish Flu pandemic infects 500 million (1/3 of world) and kills 20-50 million.
– (Mar) Amidst a Civil War that would go on for 3 more years, Bolshevik Russia signs peace treaty with Central powers, giving up vast amounts of Eastern European territory.
– (Mar-Jul) Germany’s gamble on final offensive on Western front fails, partly due to US-boosted Allied strength.

– (Aug-Oct) Allies begin Hundred Days Offensive and push back Germans beyond Hindenburg line.
– (Oct) Allies capture Damascus and Aleppo. Ottoman empire signs armistice.
– (Nov) Austria-Hungary and Germany signs armistice; End of WW1.
North Yemen gains independence from Ottomans; South Yemen continued to be ruled by British.

– (Jan) Paris Peace Conference. Several Eastern European nations emerge from remnants of Austro-Hungarian empire and Germany.
– (Jun) First non-stop transatlantic flight (Alcock and Brown). Treaty of Versailles places harsh war reparations on Germany.
– (Aug) Afghanistan gains independence from UK.

World War One reminds world how important oil is. It literally fuels war machines – tanks, planes, and ships. Government policies become more hands-on to ensure oil security.

– (Jan) League of Nations created.
– Alcohol prohibition in US (Jan20-Dec33); attempting to reduce crime and improve health; experiment fails and bootleg mobs become established.

– (Mar) Emir Feisel, Sherif of Mecca, who led Arab troops against Ottomans, becomes king of Syria.
– (Jun) Syria-Lebanon put under French mandate and Palestine under British.
– (Jul) French defeat King Feisel and supporters in Franco-Syrian war; Syria soon divided into 3 regions (coastal Alawis, southern Druze, and Lebanon.
– (Aug) Women given right to vote in US under 19th Amendment.

1921: British-supported Reza Shah coup in Qajar Persia.

– (Feb) Egypt granted independence from UK.
– (Oct) Turkey gains independence after fighting post-war Allied occupiers, mostly Greece (1918-1922).
– (Dec) Soviet Union established; as Bolsheviks win civil war (Mar18 – Dec22) against Britain-France-Japan-US supported White Russians.
– (Dec) World’s first aircraft carrier, enters Japanese service.

1923: French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon as well as British Mandate of Palestine and Transjordan (1923-1946) come into effect.

– (Jan) Lenin dies from stroke; Stalin rises.
– Ataturk Reforms (1922 – 1924) turns Turkey into a secular, modern nation-state.

– (Dec) Reza Shah crowned king, ending Qajar dynasty (1789-1925), starting Pahlavi dynasty (1926-1979); cancels Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s exclusive concessions.
– Chiang Kai-shek succeeds Sun Yat-sen’s as leader of Nationalist Kuomintang party following his death.

1927: Oil discovered in Iraq (north of Kirkuk).

1928: Penicillin discovered.

1929: Great Depression (Aug29 – Mar33).

1930: Kurdish rebellions (1925 and 1927-1930) in Turkey suppressed

– (Sep) Libyan resistance leader Mukhtar captured and executed by Italians.
– US Standard Oil subsidiary Bahrain Petroleum Company discovers oil and begins production the following year.
– Japan invades Manchuria and gradually occupies more of China through to 1945.

– (Sep) Ibn Saud unites Najd and Hejaz to form kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
– (Oct) Iraq gains independence as British mandate ends; Britain retains military bases.
– (Nov) Reza Shah cancels D’Arcy Concessions (exclusive rights given to Anglo-Persian Oil Company), straining British-Persian relations.

– Tribal revolts in Iraq (1933-1936) (Assyrians and Kurds in North, Shia population in South) suppressed.
– (Nov) Zahir Shah becomes Afghanistan king (r. Nov33 – Jul74).

– (Jan) Italy unites provinces in its colony Libya.
– (May) Saudi Arabia gains more territory after Saudi-Yemeni war.

– Persia is re-named Iran.
– (Oct34 – Oct35) Mao emerges as Communist party leader after Long March (series of Chinese Red Army retreats).

1936: Arab revolt in British-administered Palestine (1936-1939) is suppressed.

– Dersim rebellion, largest Kurd uprising in Turkey, is suppressed.
– Oil discovered in Kuwait.
– Kuomintang and Communists temporarily unite to fight off Japanese invasion.

– Oil discovered in Saudi Arabia; production begins under US-controlled Aramco (Arabian American Oil Company, formed in 1933).

– (Jan) Hewlett-Packard founded; birth of Silicon Valley.
– (Mar) Germany annexes Czechoslovakia. Spanish Civil War ends.
– (May) Hitler Germany pact with Mussolini Italy.
– (Aug) Germany-Soviet non-aggression pact.
– (Sep) Germany invades Poland, Britain and France declare war on Germany, WW2 starts; few weeks later Soviets invade Poland.
– Radar invented in UK; becomes vital to war.

1930s: Hitler rises; Stalin rises

– (May) Nazi Blitzkrieg into France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands. British PM Chamberlain resigns, succeeded by Churchill.
– (Jun) British evacuate from Dunkirk; Germany captures Paris; France signs armistice with Germany. Germany captures Norway. Italy joins WW2 with Germany.
– (Jul) Soviets capture Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia).

– (Sep) Germany, Italy and Japan sign Tripartite (Axis) Pact.
– (Jul-Oct) Britain wins Battle of Britain; repelling German air raids.
– (Nov) FDR re-elected US president. Romania joins Axis. 
– (Dec) British begin North Africa campaign against Mussolini Italy.

– (Jan) Allies capture Tobruk, Libya.
– (Apr) Yugoslavia and Greece surrender to Germany.

– (May) British re-occupy Axis Iraq.
– (Jun) Germany invades Soviet Union; (Aug) Siege of Leningrad begins; Germans make rapid advances into Soviet territory through to rest of the year.
– (Jul) British capture Syria. British Turing cracks Nazi secret code Enigma.
– (Aug) British and Russia jointly invade Iran in fear of Nazi control over Iranian oil; (Sep) Reza Shah abdicates throne to his son Mohammad Reza Shah.
– (Dec) Japanese attack Pearl Harbor; US enters WW2.

– (Jun) Nazi general Rommel reaches El Alamein near Cairo. Mass murder of Jews at Auschwitz begins. US sinks 4 Japanese carriers at Battle of Midway, crippling Japanese naval capabilities in Pacific for rest of war.
– (Jul) Germans capture Crimea and begin push into Stalingrad.
– (Sep) Battle of Stalingrad begins.
– (Nov) US invades North Africa. Soviet counter-offensive at Stalingrad.
– (Dec) US Fermi successful in controlled chain reaction; important progress on atomic bomb.

– (Jan) British Montgomery captures Tripoli, Libya.
– (Feb) Germans surrender to Soviets at Stalingrad, first major Hitler defeat. (Nov42-Feb43) Allies capture Italian Libya; Allied occupation from May43 to Dec51.
– (Apr) Allies win Battle of Atlantic thanks to improved radar tech.
– (May) Allies capture Tunisia; Germany-Italy surrenders in North Africa.
– (Jul) Allies land in Italy; bring down Fascist Mussolini govt, and new govt in Oct declares war on Germany.
– (Nov) FDR, Churchill and Stalin meet in Tehran, Iran. Lebanon gains independence from France.
– US sends military supplies to Soviet Union via Persian Corridor (Lend Lease Act).

– (Jan) Soviets push into Poland, kick-starting steady push into central/eastern Europe.
– (May) Germans surrender Crimea to Soviets.
– (Jun) Allied D-Day landing in Normandy. First German V-1 rocket attack on Britain.
– (Jul) Bretton Woods system established, requiring a currency peg to USD which in turn was backed by gold.
– (Aug) Allies capture Paris. Soviets capture Romania.
– (Dec) Allies defeat Hitler’s last major western front force at Battle of Bulge in Ardennes.

– (Jan) Soviets capture Poland; Soviets liberate Auschwitz.
– (Mar) Arab League formed by Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Last German offensive of war to defend oil fields in Hungary. Allies capture Cologne and establish bridge across Rhine into Germany.
– (Apr) Mussolini killed by Italian partisans; Allies capture Venice. Soviets reach Berlin. Hitler commits suicide.
– (May) Germany surrenders unconditionally, Allied victory in Europe.
– (Aug) US drops first atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Soviets invade Japanese Manchuria. US drops second atomic bomb on Nagasaki; Japanese unconditional surrender 5 days later; End of WW2.
– (Oct) United Nations born. 

– (Mar) UK leaves Iran.
– (Apr) Syria gains independence from France.
– (May) Jordan gains independence from UK. Soviet Union leaves Iran.
– (Dec) Mahabad Kurds in Iran suppressed.

– (Mar) Truman Doctrine; US Cold War policy of aiding countries threatened by communism.
– (Jul) AK-47 goes into production.
– (Aug) India and Pakistan gain independence from UK.
– (Sep) CIA established (US military-industrial complex).

– (Nov) UN proposes to divide Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.
– (Dec) Transistor invented (US).

– (Feb) Communist coup in Czechoslovakia. 
– (May) State of Israel is declared; Israel repels attack by surrounding Arab countries (First Arab-Israeli War, May48-Mar49).
– World’s largest oil field discovered in Saudi Arabia (al-Ghawar).
– US Marshall Plan (1948-1951) to reconstruct Europe.

– (Aug) Soviet Union becomes nuclear armed. 
– (Oct) Mao founds People’s Republic of China on mainland; (Dec) Kuomintang founds Republic of China in Taiwan.

– WW2; rise of US and Soviet Union.

– (Jun) Korean War (Jun50-Jul53) commences; proxy war between US and Soviet Union; ends in stalemate.

– (Apr) From British allowing more public participation in government after WWII occupation, Iran elects PM Mosaddegh.
– (May) PM Mosaddegh-led Iran Parliament votes to nationalize oil industry; Britain imposes embargo and blockade. First commercial computer UNIVAC (US).
– (Dec) Libya gains independence under king Idris.
– Saudi Arabia and US signs Mutual Defense Assistance Act; beginning a long-lasting and ongoing Saudi-US alliance (even through 1973 oil embargo).

– Revolution in Egypt overthrows monarchy.
– Turkey joins NATO, where US would later place nuclear warheads.

– (Feb) Watson Crick discover DNA structure.
British and US intelligence engineer coup in response to oil nationalization; Shia clergy supports demonstrations against the Mossadegh-supporting Tudeh communist party; power is restored to shah Reza Pahlavi; ending the brief democratic experiment.
– (Nov) Founding Saudi king Abdulaziz dies and succeeded by Crown Prince Saud.

1954: Vietnam. Laos, and Cambodia gain independence from France.

– CENTO/MENTO/Baghdad Pact (Feb55 – Mar79) (Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, UK) to contain Soviet Union.
– Warsaw Pact (May55 – Jul91) between Soviet Union and Central Eastern Europe in reaction to West Germany joining NATO.

– (Jun) Nasser becomes Egyptian president; drifts from West and buys arms from communist Czechoslovakia
– (Jul) Suez Crisis: Egyptian president Nasser nationalizes Suez Canal; (Oct) UK-France-Israel invade Egypt; US & Soviet pressure forces withdrawal; Suez canal closed Nov56 to May57.
– First concessions to foreign companies on oil exploration in Libya; drilling begins 1959.

– (Oct) Soviet Union launches first artificial satellite, Sputnik. First Toyota sold in US.
– US starts to help its Cold War ally Iran with its nuclear program via Atoms For Peace through to 1979.

– (Feb) Egypt and Syria unite to form United Arab Republic.
– (Jul) Qasim coup in Iraq overthrows king; new government withdraws from pro-UK Baghdad Pact.
– (Jul-Oct) US backed Lebanese government hold on against Egypt-Syria backed communist party civil war.
– (Sep) Invention of microchip (US)
– Mao China launches “Great Leap Forward”, a 5-year plan to collectivize agriculture and industry; but abandoned after 2 years; 20m-40m die of starvation making it the largest famine in human history.

1959: Castro leads Cuban Revolution.

– TV ownership in US goes from 3% in 1948, 45% in 1952, and 90% by 1960, forever changing the main medium and nature of shaping public opinion.
– Rapidly growing oil consumption driven by post-war boom and vehicle usage.
– US-Soviet Union Cold War; world lives in fear of nuclear mutually assured destruction.

– (May) Oral contraceptive approved by FDA (US), catalyzing social and cultural changes in the 60s.
– (Sep) Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and Venezuela form OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries): a forum for oil producers to coordinate and align interests. 13 members, with the biggest producer, Saudi Arabia, being the de factor leader:

Note: Ecuador left OPEC in Jan20 (didn’t want to pay the $2m membership fee). Source

Today, OPEC accounts for almost half the global production, and about 80% of the reserves:


– (Jun) Kuwait gains independence from UK.
– (Sep) Coup in Syria secedes it from United Arab Republic.
– (Sep61-Mar70) First Iraq-Kurdish war begins.
– Egyptian Nasser adopts socialist policies (1961-1966).
– Largest oil field in Libya discovered; pipeline to Mediterranean soon opened; allowing export for first time.

– (Oct) Cuban Missile Crisis; Kennedy US and Khrushchev Soviet Union almost go to nuclear war.
– North Yemen ruler assassinated; civil war between Saudi Arabia-backed royalists and Egypt-backed republicans that want to set up Yemen Arab Republic.

– Mao China cements de facto control over Tibet and Xinjiang after war with India.

– (Feb) Ba’ath coup overthrows Iraq PM Qasim.
– (Aug) Martin Luther King Jr “I have a dream”. Former British colonies (inc. Singapore) join Malaya (independent from Britain in 1957) to form Malaysia.
– (Nov) Arif coup overthrows Ba’ath in Iraq.  President JFK assassination (US)
– White Revolution in Iran (1963-1975), successful modernization program led by monarchy improves industry and education.

– (Jul) Civil Rights Act in US aims to end discrimination on grounds of ethnicity and religion.
– (Nov) Saudi king Saud deposed by his brother Faisal.

1965: LBJ US troops land in Danang (Vietnam). Indo-Pak war over Kashmir is stalemate; India drifted closer to Soviet Union, Pakistan closer to China.

– Assad seizes power in Syria after coup.
– Mao launches “Cultural Revolution” (1966-1976); a sociopolitical movement aimed at purging traditional elements and intellectuals.

– (Mar) Kurdish rebellion in Iran suppressed.
– (Jun) Israel wins Six-Day War, taking Sinai from Egypt, Golan Heights from Syria, and West Bank from Jordan; small scale fighting (War of Attrition) continues until 1970. Suez Canal closed until 1975, shocking global trade. At this point Soviet Union backs the Arab nations (inc. Saudi Arabia), while the US backs Israel.
– (Aug) Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand form ASEAN.
– (Nov) British withdraw from south Yemen (Aden Emergency, 1963-1967); People’s Republic of Yemen formed.

– (Jan) North Vietnamese Tet Offensive starts to make US public question whether they can win war.
– (Jul) Ba’athist coup under General al-Bakr regains power in Iraq; Saddam Hussein is made VP.

– (Jul) US land manned mission (Apollo 11) on moon.
– (Sep) Gaddafi coup overthrows king Idris in Libya; Gaddafi nationalizes most sectors inc. oil industry.
– China and Soviet Union relations become increasingly sour.

– Lots of coups in Middle East.

– (Oct) Sadat becomes president of Egypt following Nasser’s (r. 1956-1970) death.
– (Nov) Hafez al-Assad coup in Syria; becomes president following year.
– First Iraq-Kurdish war (1961-1970) ends in stalemate; Iraqi-Kurdish autonomy agreement.
– Republic forces win North Yemen civil war.
– Nixon US starts withdrawal from Vietnam.

– (Jan) Microprocessor invented (US).
– (Jul) Aswan High Dam in Egypt completed with Soviet funding; boosts agriculture and industry.

– (Aug) Nixon US takes USD off gold standard. Bahrain gains independence from UK; signs friendship treaty with UK; signs agreement to let US rent naval and military facilities.
– (Sep) Qatar gains independence from UK.
– (Oct) Mainland China joins UN while Taiwan is expelled.
– (Dec) UAE gains independence from UK (Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujayrah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Qaywayn are United Arab Emirates). Indo-Pak war; East Pakistan rebels against Pakistan, India intervenes, East Pakistan becomes independent Bangladesh.

– (Feb) US President Nixon visits China, spooking Soviet Union and Vietnam.
– (Jun) Iraq nationalizes its oil industry.

– (Aug) Sadat expels Soviet advisers; aligns Egypt closer to West.
– (Sep) Palestinian terrorists take Israeli team hostage at Munich Olympics. Marcos declares martial law in Philippines (1972-1981).
– First recombinant DNA.

– (Jan) Roe vs Wade, US Supreme Court ruling for pro-choice abortion.
– (Mar) Last US military unit leaves Vietnam.

– (Jul) Maud (r. Jul73 – Apr78) coup in Afghanistan overthrows Zahir Shah becomes Afghanistan king (r. Nov33 – Jul74).
– (Oct) Israel repels Egypt-Syria invasion (Yom Kippur War); Oil Crisis, Oct73 – Mar74, Arab nations impose embargo on Israel-supporting West, prices quadruple in last 6 months of 1973 from $3 to $12.
– Saudi Arabia buys 25% of US-controlled Aramco (ownership goes up to 60% in 1974, 100% by 1976), in response to US supporting Israel in war.

– (Aug) US president Nixon resigns after Watergate scandal.
– Saudi Arabia agrees to only accept oil sales in USD; saving the USD from the post-Bretton Wood uncertainty and reinforcing the Petrodollar system(more on this in Part 4).

– (Mar) Saudi king Faisal is assassinated by his nephew and succeeded by his brother Khalid.
– (Apr) Pol Pot establishes communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (Apr75 – Jan79). Reunification of Vietnam/fall of Saigon. 
– Lebanese Civil War starts (Apr75 – Oct90), Maronite Christians vs PLO Muslims.
– Iraq defeats Iran-supported Kurds in Second Iraqi-Kurdish War (Apr74 – mid75).
– Shah abolishes Iran’s two political parties replacing them with just one.

– (Jun) Syria intervenes in Lebanese civil war, with agenda of strengthening its Maroniate Christian allies, and maintaining status quo; occupies Lebanon until 2005.
– (Aug) Bogle establishes index funds.
– (Sep) Mao dies.
– Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins.

– Deng Xiaoping (r. 1978-1991) emerges as China’s leader following Mao’s death in 1976; launches economic reforms (Open Door Policy), starting with agriculture.

– (Jan) Iranian Revolution protests begin, mostly out of frustration about corruption and economic inequality.
– (Apr) Soviet-backed communist coup in Afghanistan.
– (Sep) Camp David Accords: Israel returns Sinai to Egypt in exchange for mutual recognition.
– (Dec) Deng Xiaoping (r. 1978-1991) launches economic reforms (Open Door Policy), starting with agriculture. 

– (Jan) Iranian monarchy collapses, ending Pahlavi dynasty.
– (Feb) Khomeini returns to Tehran after 14 years in exile.

– (Mar) Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty; Egypt expelled from Arab League, but begin to receive US economic and military aid.
(Apr) Iran becomes an Islamic Republic.
– (May) Margaret Thatcher becomes UK PM.
– (Jul) Saddam Hussein seizes power in Iraq from Ba’ath Party Purge after president al-Bakr made treaties with Syria to unify the two countries.
– (Nov) Ford US embassy staff taken hostage by protesters in Iran; Carter US ends diplomatic relations and imposes first sanctions (Nov79-Jan81); Khomeini becomes Supreme Leader of Iran; nationalizes petroleum industry and shuts down CIA facilities critical to monitoring Soviet nuclear monitoring.
– (Dec) Soviet Union and their newly established communist puppet Afghan government fight US-UK-Pakistan-Iran-SaudiArabia-China-backed mujahideen in guerilla war (Soviet-Afghan War, Dec79 – Feb89).
– One Child Policy in China (1979-2015).

– (Sep) Iraq invades Iran, Iran-Iraq War (Sep80 – Aug88), targeting territorially disputed Khuzestan; US and Sunni Arab nations support Iraq; while Iraqi Kurds, Syria (Ba’athist rival with Iraq), and surprisingly Israel (who wants Hussein stopped at all costs) support Iran; warfare similar to WW1 (trench warfare, barbed wire, bayonet charges, chemical weapons); oil prices surge. 
– (Nov) Reagan elected US president. Iran releases US embassy hostages.
– Shenzhen becomes first special economic zone (China).

– (May) Gulf Cooperation Council founded by all Gulf Arab states except Iraq: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE.
– (Oct) Egyptian president Sadat (r. 1970-1981) assassinated by Egyptian Islamic Jihad; his successor Mubarak (r. 1981-2011) continued much of his policies; and declares state of emergency (which would last till 2012).

– (Jun) Saudi king Khalid dies from heart attack; succeeded by his brother, Crown prince Fahd.
– (Jun-Sep) Israel invades Lebanon (First Israel-Lebanon War) to attack Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO); hoping to install pro-Christian Gemayel government attacks Syrian army; Beirut captured and Arafat moves PLO HQ to Tripoli; but Gemayel is assassinated, and Israel ends up losing influence to Syria.
– Iranian troops not only forced Iraqis out of territory but penetrated border themselves.

– US takes more measures to support Iraq war against Iran helping boost oil exports, and even willing to downplay use of chemical weapons.
– (May) Israel and Lebanon announce end of hostilities.

– (Apr) UK breaks diplomatic relations with Libya after London Libyan embassy shoots protesters and British police officer..

– (Jun) Israel withdraws from most of Lebanon
– Hezbollah, Shia militant group in Lebanon, founded.

– (Apr) US bombs Libya alleging Libyan involvement in Berlin disco bombing frequented by US military personnel.
– (Nov) Iran-Contra Affair/Irangate: Reagan admits to selling arms to Iran despite US embargo, with some of the proceeds going to Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Betrayed Saddam Hussein is furious.
– (Dec) Doi Moi economic reforms in Vietnam.

– (Oct) Black Monday stock market crash.
– (Nov) Saudi Arabia resumes diplomatic relations with Egypt, severed since 1979.
– (Dec) Reagan US and Gorbachev Soviet Union sign Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
– Palestinian uprisings in Israel intensify but are all suppressed, First Intifada (Dec87 – Sep93), Second/Al-Aqsa Intifada (Sep00 – Feb05).
– Reagan US places second sanctions on Iran.

– (Feb) Roh Tae Woo democratically elected in South Korea, ending decades of dictatorship.
– (Jul) US shoots down Iranian passenger plane in Straight of Hormuz.
– Iran-Iraq War (Sep80 – Aug88) ends in stalemate.

– (Feb) End of Soviet-Afghan War (Dec79 – Feb89), Soviet Union fails to quell mujahideen insurgency.
– (Jun) President Khamenei becomes new Iran Supreme Leader (r.1989-present) after Khomeini death (heart failure).
– (Jul) Tienanmen Square protest massacre. 
– (Nov) Fall of Berlin Wall.

– Reagan-Thatcher neoliberal economic reforms (privatization and de-regulation).
– IBM dominates S&P500.
– Iran re-starts nuclear program during war with Iraq, and acquires nuclear technology from Pakistani nuclear scientist

– (Feb) Mandela released after 27 years in prison.
– (May) After years of clashes; North and South Yemen unite with North leader Saleh as president and South as vice president; but this unity would only last 4 years.
– (Aug) Iraq invades Kuwait, over territorial disputes, accusations of slant oil drilling, and to alleviate fiscal pressure after war with Iran, leading to 7-month occupation/war; many countries condemn Iraq including Soviet Union and China.
– (Oct) Germany reunified.
– (Oct) Lebanese Civil War (Apr75 – Oct90) ends with PLO expulsion.

– (Jan-Feb) Gulf War; Iraq vs the world (US and usual allies, plus Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and other Gulf states); Kuwait independence restored; Iraqi Kurds gain autonomy; H.W.Bush US sanctions against Iraq until 2003.
– (Mar-Apr) Iran-backed Shia rebellion in Iraq is suppressed.
– (Jul) UAE Bank of Credit and Commerce International which Abu Dhabi ruling family owns 77%, collapses.
– (Dec) Gorbachev resigns and announces dissolution of Soviet Union into 15 states.

– (Aug) No-fly zone, where Iraqi planes not allowed, set-up in southern Iraq.
– Mujahideen forces led by Massoud removes Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan; and establish Islamic State government; but instability ensues.
– (1992-1999) UN imposes sanctions on Libya after Dec88 Lockerbie bombing; Libya hands over suspects in 1999 after which UN sanctions suspended and diplomatic relations with UK restored.

– (Feb) New York World Trade Center bombed by al-Qaida.
– (Apr) World Wide Web invented in 1989 is launched
– (Sep) Oslo Accords; Israel recognizes Palestinian autonomy, but not state.

– (Jan) Yahoo founded.
– (Apr-Jul) Rwandan genocide.
– (May) Mandela elected, ending Apartheid in South Africa.
– (May-Jul) Pro-union North defeat socialist South in 1994 Yemeni Civil War; Gulf states stop financial support as Yemen neutral in Gulf War against Iraq; economy deteriorates; 1991 North-South union under-promising; South tries to break off but North prevails.
– (Oct) Israel-Jordan peace treaty; 2 Arab nations now have normalized relations with Israel (Egypt and Jordan)
– China fixes RMB’s first floating rate since 1949, enabling free flow of money for imports/exports.

– (Jan) World Trade Organization created.
– (Mar) Clinton US reinforces 1987 second sanctions on Iran over alleged terrorism support, and nuclear weapons programs.
– (Aug) UN allows partial resumption of Iraq oil exports to buy food and medicine (oil-for-food program).
– (Aug) Netscape goes public. Microsoft Windows95 and Internet Explorer launched.
– (Nov) Balkan Peace Accord; to end Bosnian War (Apr92-Dec95), one of the ongoing Yugoslav Wars (Mar91-Nov01).

– (Jul) Dolly the sheep is first successfully cloned mammal.
– (Sep) Taliban captures Kabul and now controls most of Afghanistan.

– (Apr) Bahrain buys full ownership of Bapco (Bahrain Petroleum Company).
– (Jul) China regains sovereignty over HK from UK One country two systems.
– (Jul) Asian Financial Crisis; floating Thailand the baht triggerd capital flight causing a credit crunch; hits Thailand Philippines Malaysia South Korea hard for 12 months; crashes oil price.

– (Sep) Google founded.
– (Aug) al-Qaida attack US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
– (Dec) US president Clinton impeached after Lewinsky scandal (r. Jan93-Jan01).
– (Dec) US-UK operation bombs Iran’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs.

– (Jan) Euro introduced; physical cash circulates Jan02.
– (Jun) NATO ends Kosovo War (Feb98 – Jun99); expelling Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro) from occupied Kosovo; but ongoing Yugoslav Wars (Mar91 – Nov01) in Balkans continue.
– (Aug) Yeltsin appoints ex-KGB Putin to become Russia PM to suppress Chechnyan uprising.

– GE dominates S&P500 in 90s and early 00s.

20th century: British decline; Japan rises and falls; Russia (Soviet Union) rises and falls; US dominates; China rises.

– (Mar) DotCom bubble bursts: Mar00 investors start to sell; NASDAQ drops 52% by end of 2000; by Oct02 NASDAQ has dropped 78% since Mar00 peak.
– (May) Putin elected Russian president.
– (Jun) Syrian president Assad dies; suceeded by his second son Bashar Assad.

– (Sep) 9/11 Attacks on World Trade Center twin towers and Pentagon by Sunni Muslim fundamentalists, Al-Qaida led by Bin Laden.
– (Oct) W.Bush US invades Afghanistan; overthrows Taliban government and supports Afghan Northern Alliance fighting Taliban; but Taliban insurgencies will continue for many more years.
– (Dec) Saudi government issues ID cards to women for first time.

– (Jun) Israel starts building controversial barriers in and around West Bank; deviating from pre-167 ceasefire line.
– Erdogan elected Turkey PM, successfully boosts GDP sharply and drops inflation rate over the years.

– (Mar) H.W. Bush US invades Iraq to find “weapons of mass destruction”; none found; many years sectarian violence to come.
– (Mar) Last nationwide independent TV channel in Russia is axed.
– (Apr) US forces capture Baghdad; topples Hussein government.
– (Oct) Russian oil oligarch Khordorkovsky arrested as Putin further consolidates power.
– (Nov) Saudi king grants wider powers to Consultative Council (inaugurated in 1993), enabling it to propose legislation without his permission.
– (Dec) US forces capture Saddam Hussein (executed in Dec06). Libya announces abandoning weapons of mass destruction program; relations with West improve dramatically over next 5 years.

– Iraqi insurgency led by Sunni Ba’athists and al-Qaida erupts
– (May) US imposes economic sanctions on Syria, accusing it of supporting terrorism.
– (Jun-Aug) Anti-US, anti-Israel, Shia Houthi rebellion in northern Yemen suppressed; but will continually re-surge in years to come.

– (Jan) Libya auctions oil and gas exploration licenses; US oil companies return for first time in 20 years.
– (Jun) Hard-line fundamentalist Ahmadinejad elected president in Iran; ramps up nuclear pursuit.
– (Aug) Saudi king Fahd dies, succeeded by Crown prince Abdullah.
– (Oct) Iraqi voters approve new constitution.

– Iraqi elections bring Shia political powers to power in Baghdad, backed by Iran. Shia-Sunni violence intensifies.
– (Jul-Aug) Israel-Hezbollah war ends in stalemate.
– (Nov) Iraq and Syria restore diplomatic relations after almost 25 years.

– (Jan) W. Bush US sends additional troops to Iraq.
– (Oct) US places third sanctions on Iran, toughest since it first imposed sanctions in 1979.

– (Jul) UAE forgives entire $7b Iraq debt owed.
– (Sep) US Secretary of State Rice makes highest-level US visit to Libya since 1953.
– (Sep) GFC: Lehman Brothers goes bankrupt, triggering wave of global panic. (Oct) US Congress passes $700b bailout Bill.
– (Oct) Syria and Lebanon establish diplomatic relations for first time since independence. Nakamoto Bitcoin white paper.
– (Nov) W. Bush US agrees with Iraq to withdraw troops; US withdraws steadily over next 3 Obama early years.
– (Dec) Israel invades Gaza, responding to rocket attacks from Hamas and other groups; fighting would go on for years.

– (Feb) $25b Russia-China deal; Russia supplies oil for next 20 years; China supplies loans.
– (Jun) Gaddafi first state visit to Italy; Libya’s former colonial ruler, now its main trading partner.
– (Sep) Iran tests longer range missiles that can reach Israel and US bases in Gulf.
– (Dec) Obama US announces boosting US Afghanistan presence (30k to 100k).

– Rise of China
– Rise of Putin Russia
– Exxon dominates S&P in late 00s.

– (Jan) Russia agrees to sell Libya $1.8b of weapons. World’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa opens in Dubai, UAE.
– (May) First EU bailout for Greece approved (110b EUR); second in Feb12; third in Aug15.
– (Jun) UN Security Council places fourth sanctions on Iran over nuclear programme.
– (Aug) Last US combat units leave Iraq.
– (Sep) Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Gulf of Mexico; largest marin oil spill in history.
– (Dec) Self-immolation of man in Tunisia sparks years of Arab Spring protests in region.

– (Jan) Tunisian president resigns; first regional leader to succumb to Arab Spring protests.
– (Feb) Egyptian president Mubarak resigns; hands power to an army council; protests will to continue for years. Saudi king announces increased welfare spending. Violent anti-Gaddafi protests in Libya.
– (Mar-Oct) Obama US and NATO invades Libya; supporting anti-Gaddafi rebels in civil war.
– (Mar-ongoing) Syrian civil war begins after Assad shoots protesters.
– (May) US forces kill Bin Laden in Pakistan.
– (Jul) Free Syrian Army formed by military defectors.
– (Sep) Saudi king announces women right to vote and run in municipal elections etc.
– (Oct) Gaddafi captured and killed by NATO-backed anti-Gaddafi rebels; ending the 2011 civil war.
– (Nov) Obama US places sanctions on Iran. Yemen president Saleh resigns from Arab Spring protests; successor Hadi forms unity government.
– (Dec) US completes withdrawal from Iraq. Sectarian violence intensifies in Iraq over next few years.

– (Mar) Putin re-elected president for third term; first Mar00-Mar04, second Mar04-Mar08, Putin-loyal Medvedev in Mar08-Mar12 as constitution did not allow two consecutive terms.
– (May) Egypt state of emergency in place since 1981 ends.
– (Jun) Muslim Brotherhood Morsi narrowly wins presidential election in Egypt.
– (Jul) EU boycott of Iranian oil comes into effect. UAE starts operating pipeline that bypasses Iran-vulnerable Strait of Hormuz.
– (Sep) Islamist militants storm US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

– (Mar) Xi Jinping becomes president of China; launches anti-corruption drive and consolidates his power.
– (May) Snowden flees to Russia vs HK after leaking NSA information about illegal US surveillance on its citizens.
– (Jun) Rouhani (r. Aug13-current) with more moderate stance on US elected president of Iran.
– (Apr13-Sep14) Sunni-Shia violence intensifies in Iraq; by July country is at full-blown civil war.
– (Jul) Egyptian army overthrows president Morsi; sentenced to death in May15; Muslim Brotherhood declared a terrorist group in Dec13 after bomblast.

– (Feb-May) Russia annexes Crimea from Ukraine amidst protests; sanctions imposed on Russia by West; biggest Russia-West conflict since Cold War.
– (May) Former army chief al-Sisi wins Egyptian presidential election (r.2014-current).
– (May14 – ongoing) Civil war erupts again in Libya between new parliament Tobruk-based UAE-Sudan-Syria-supported Libyan National Army vs Tripoli-based Turkey-US/West-supported outgoing government General National Congress (transitional government since Aug12 refusing to disband after expired mandate).
– (Jun) Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) captures Mosul (Iraq) and declares caliphate.
– (Jul) UN staff and foreigners withdraw from Libya as security situation deteriorates
– (Sep) US and allies launch air strikes against ISIS. Shia Iraq leadership forms broad-based government, inc Sunnis and Kurds, united against new common enemy: the Islamic State.
– Over next few years, Islamic State starts to increase presence in civil war torn Libya; Islamic State ousted from Benghazi in Jul17.

– (Jan) Saudi king Abdullah dies, succeeded by Salman. Iran-supported Houthis unhappy with Hadi Yemen government capture Yemen capital Sanaa; Gulf Cooperation Council condemns the coup and fears Shia rebel control of strategic Bab-el-Mandeb strait (Red sea and Suez canal entrance).
– (Jan) ECB announces 1.1 trillion EUR quantitative easing program.
– (Mar) Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies impose blockade and launch airstrikes against Houthi in Yemen; Islamic State carries out suicide bombings in power-vacuum Yemen. Obama US announces delaying US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan after recent Islamic State presence.
– (May) ISIS destroy heritage sites in central Syria.
– (Jul) Rouhani Iran agrees to Obama US’s Iran Nuclear Deal; basically give up its nuclear weapons program in return for lifting sanctions.
– (Aug) Erdogan Turkey attacks ISIS-fighting Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, but does not bomb ISIS. Turkey and Russia allege each other to be buying black market oil from ISIS but no evidence produced.
– (Sep) Assad ally Russia carries out first airstrikes in Syria, claiming to target ISIS but West claim they’re targeting anti-Assad rebels. Syrian refugees top 1 million, photo of drowned toddler refugee provokes already increasing international concern. 
– (Oct) West places sanctions on Russia over Aleppo bombings.
– (Dec) Paris Climate Agreement; with big implications for oil use.

– (Jan) Sanctions on Iran lifted after passing UN nuclear inspection.
– (Apr) Turkey passes referendum giving Erdogan authoritarian power (control budget, military, appoint judges, extend term limit etc).
– (May) Obama visits Vietnam, lifting arms ban to contain China.
– (Jul) Erdogan suppresses coup and consolidates power in Turkey.
– (Nov) Trump elected.
– (Dec) Assad re-captures Syrian opposition strong-hold Aleppo.
– Over 7m, a quarter of Yemen’s population are risk of starvation.

– (Apr) Trump US conducts missile strike on Assad airbase after Assad uses chemical weapons.
– (May) Rouhani (r. Aug13-current) re-elected Iran president.
– (Jun) Saudi Arabia leads Arab blockade on Qatar over terrorism allegations. Crown prince bin Nayef (grandson of founding Saudi king, and nephew of current king Salman) relieved of all positions; new crown prince is king Salman’s son Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
– (Jun) New cybersecurity law in China gives government even more control over company data, domestic and foreign.
– (Jul) Iraqi Army drives ISIS out of Mosul.
– (Oct) US-backed anti-Assad Syrian Democratic Forces drive ISIS out of its self-proclaimed capital Raqqa.
– (Nov) Saudi crown prince MBS consolidates power; purging potential challengers for ‘anti-corruption’.

– (Jan) While Yemen is torn by: Iran-backed Shia Houthis in North, Saudi Arabia and Sunni Gulf state backed Coalition in South, pockets of Al-Qaeda in middle, a fourth force UAE-backed Southern separatist Transitional Council capture Aden, main city of South.
– (Mar) Legislative meeting removes tenure limitations on Chinese presidency, allowing Xi to remain in power indefinitely.
– (Apr) Bahrain claims discovery of largest oilfield in over 80 years.
– (May) Trump US withdraws from Obama’s 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal.
– (Aug) Trump US enforces new sanctions on Iran.
– (Oct) Journalist Khashoggi assassinated in Saudi consulate in Istanbul; international outcry.
– (Dec) Qatar announces withdrawal from OPEC, citing its greater reliance on gas exports and to distance itself from Saudi influence.
– US gives up on Syria and starts withdrawal.

– (Oct) US withdraws troops from northern Syria, Turkey moves in and attacks US Kurdish allies there.
– (Nov) UAE-backed Southern separatists and Saudi-backed Sadi government (kicked out of North by Houthis), both of whom are fighting Houthi in North, sign agreement to end conflict with each other; Yemen civil war since 2014 is ongoing today.

– smartphones, social media; Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon dominate S&P500, esp in second half of 10s.
– US Shale Revolution and US withdrawal from Middle East.
– Brexit; Trump US.
– Continuing rise of China; Belt and Road Initiative.

– COVID-19 pandemic; first in China; then Europe; later US, India, and Latin America are hardest hit; 30m cases, 1m deaths (as of Sep20).
– (Jan) US airstrikes kill top Iranian general Soleimani.
– (Feb-Mar) Pandemic crashes stock market, but rapid V-shaped ‘recovery’ sees new all-time highs a few months later.
– (Apr) Pandemic drives down oil price to lows; putting even more fiscal pressure on oil-exporting states. (See part 1 Section 1.9 more commentary on COVID-19 oil crash)
– (Aug) UAE and Bahrain normalise relations with Israel; 4 Arab nations now at peace with Israel (Egypt Mar79, Jordan Oct94, Bahrain Aug20, UAE Aug20). GPT-3 by OpenAI.


3.3. Lessons from history

This over-simplified history elucidates some key points.

  • (i) Most of the Arabian peninsula for most of recent history were disparate tribes or vassal states of the Ottoman empire. The rural populations of Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia (Iraq), and Egypt were directly administered while other parts of the region were ruled with a comparatively light touch.

  • (ii) Iran‘s history stands in stark contrast with the rest of the Ottoman Middle East. The Safavid dynasty in Persia established Shia Islam as the state region, partly driven to distinguish and unify Persia against the threat of Sunni Ottoman expansion.

  • (iii) Alliances are complex (friend of friend is enemy when it shouldn’t be) and fragile. They change all the time. While many criticize US foreign policy for using and discarding alliances as the US sees fit…

    “A victory by either [Iran or Iraq] is neither military achievable nor strategically desirable” – Richard Murphy, one of the deputies under US Secretary of State George Shultz.

    …a preservation of self-interest is actually the norm in history of pretty much all powers, rather than a recent phenomenon.

  • (iv) There has been a long-standing tradition of outside powers intervening in the region. And this intervention has ramped up since oil became increasingly important – it literally fuels war machines.
  • (v) When an incumbent power recedes, new forces will always fill the vacuum. But until the new forces establish a balance, chaos, instability and civil unrest will continue.

  • (v) Events that occur outside the region have spillover effects. (This is why I’ve included non-Middle Eastern events in the timeline below.)

  • (vi) Ethnic and tribal identities persist for a really long time: hundreds, even thousands of years.

  • (vii) Most conflicts are irrational. While the motivations are understandable, most coups and rebellions are suppressed. The small guy almost always loses to the bigger guy in a war. Take Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War for instance. This irrationality is what makes predicting future conflicts basically impossible. Anything can happen.

With this historical context in mind, we now turn our attention to the backbone of the regional geopolitical dynamic today: the Saudi-Iran conflict. This will be covered in the next post.

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If you found the regional snapshot maps helpful, you may also enjoy this video:


While I’ve endeavored to ensure historical accuracy, some dates may need corrections. Similarly, while I’ve tried to keep the summaries as opinion-neutral as possible, my biases will inevitably leak. Just remember that I’m just some guy on the internet so always do your own research.