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One of the most prevalent political issues that existed and continues to exist is that of the Middle East

One of the most prevalent political issues that existed and continues to exist is that of the Middle East; it’s therefore not surprising to find that the Anglo-Italian conflict started around its control. When Mussolini took power, he had one goal in his mind; to bring back the great Roman empire. On the other hand, Britain was the main colonial power in the Middle East and his majesty’s government was set to maintain the existing state of affairs. Through the discussion and comparison of two books, “Anglo-Italian relations in the Middle East” by Massimiliano Fiore and “Mussolini’s propaganda abroad” by Manuela A. Williams, this essay will describe the rise of the Anglo-Italian conflict with a focus on propaganda and how it affected the Middle East and Mediterranean. Firstly, it will give a quick summary of the themes of the two books as well as their approaches, followed by explaining the histography of both countries in order to show the time and reasons the Anglo-Italian conflict started. Afterwards, it will discuss the policies that were created in the Red Sea in regard to Yemen and Ethiopia and the way in which, some historians argue, it officially started the war of words that hurt the Anglo-Italian relationship. Finally, it will illustrate the propaganda created by Fascist Italy and the response of Britain. It will conclude that the conflicts over the Middle East were damaging to the relationship between the two countries at the time and in the end, there were no real winners.
Themes of the books
The two books that help guide the discussion of this essay both have similar themes and time frame. Firstly, there is “Anglo-Italian relations in the Middle East” by Massimiliano Fiore. Its main theme is that although the tense antagonism by Mussolini didn’t start until the 1930s, there was tension between Italy and Britain in the Middle East beginning in the 1920s that built up over time . It focused on the time period between the early 1920s until 1940 when World War two would begin; discussing all the diplomatic attempts, the conflict and competition in the Middle East between the two countries. In the end, it is able to make two conclusions; first that despite every effort, many Middle Eastern countries were working towards autonomy and independence rather than being under the control of either country, the second is that a conflict arising between Britain and Italy was inevitable because of their conflicting goals. The second book which the essay uses the discussion of is “Mussolini’s propaganda abroad” by Manuela A. Williams. This book discusses themes of propaganda by Italy during the interwar period and how it was used for expansion of economic and military capacities as well as for promoting the fascist ideology . It also displays the British response to this propaganda with discussions of whether Britain should’ve done more to counter the fascist propaganda. While the book discusses also German influence in the Middle East, that will not be focused on for the purpose of this essay. Finally, it is able to conclude, similar to Fiore’s book, that Arab populations were more concerned with gaining independence and therefore the imperial hopes of both Italy and Britain were inevitably destroyed.
Summary of the approaches taken by both authors
As will be observed throughout this essay, it is evident that there was a lot of conflict between Britain and Italy that led to a war of words. While this interwar period was discussed by many authors and historians before, both books used in this essay take an approach that aims to capture the details which have been overlooked by most historians. They assure that it is made clear to the reader that the Anglo-Italian conflict had been building up for years before the Ethiopian conflict, as well as take a stance that its occurrence was inevitable. Both books also acknowledge that while many historians claim that Mussolini’s agenda and leading style change, the truth was the only change that occurred was in the circumstances surrounding him, such as Italy’s military abilities, which allowed him to finally attempt perusing his imperial ambitions. Overall, they were both able to clearly convey their central thesis and show examples that clearly identify how and why this the conflict took place. However, in conveying these messages the books took slightly different writing methods and emphasized different occasions in order to show their main thesis. On one hand, Massimiliano Fiore “in his Anglo-Italian relations in the Middle East” uses a chronological style in which he explains each event and its significance and impact. The focus is on the Italian policies and how they affected the Middle East and Britain. Comparatively, Manuela A. Williams in “Mussolini’s propaganda abroad”, takes a non-chronological order, he stresses the ways in which fascist propaganda took place and again, their effect on the surrounding area of the Middle East as well as Britain. It illustrates various points by jumping back and forth between dates to signify specific events. While this is a good approach because it is able to show focus, it can be confusing to the reader to follow along. In both cases, however, the authors show how the conflict leads into World War II and both make similar conclusions about the effects and reasonings effectively.
The histography of the Middle East, Britain and Italy
At the interwar period, all three locations being discussed had very different standings in terms of their power and goals. On one hand, the Middle East was still under colonial power, mainly that of Britain and France, because of the effects of World War I where the two countries were able to take over former colonies of the Ottoman empire , “this military defeat…brought a considerable augmentation of Britain’s power in the Middle East.” . However, the Middle East was no longer happy with being a colony and was on its way to fighting for independence. A prime example that can be observed early on was Egypt, in 1920, the country took part in negotiations with Britain that granted them freedom, as long as Britain still managed foreign interests in the country . On the other side of this, Britain was content, they stated multiple times that they just wanted to keep what they had and maintain the peace. At this time, they had been the winners of World War I alongside the allies and wanted to avoid another war at all costs in order to help their commercial and financial interests . Finally, there was Italy who had a new becoming leader, Benito Mussolini, who some historians describe him as “the personification of restraint and reason” during the 1920s . That being said, Mussolini still had imperial goals, yet he was unable to act because of various economic, political and military realities at the 1920s, Italy wouldn’t be able to go against Britain and thus stability was necessary for later success . Both books stress the fact that while other historians believe that Mussolini progressed and changed as a leader, it was actually just a matter of circumstances and that from the beginning he was determined to grow Italy in order to make up for previous humiliating losses . The differences in the goals and aims for the future of all three regions explains why tension and conflict were bound to occur; the fight of Britain to stay at the top as one of the most powerful countries, Italy’s hopes of expansion and the Middle East’s aims to become independent. It was impossible for all of these to succeed together.
Policies in the Red Sea
While Fiore’s perspective that the conflict between Italy and Britain was inevitable and had started forming long before the conflict that broke out over the control of the Arab peninsula is valid, it is also fair to look at William’s point of view that says this conflict was the situation which ignited an anti-British approach from Mussolini. At the time, and arguably to this day, the Middle East was an area which showed great potential for political and economic gains; whether it is from its rich resources or its centered location making, it was a place where trade could flourish. Italy was right in the center of the Mediterranean and could count the Middle East as a national area of interest, it was known as “the last among the great or the first among the first” ; Mussolini and the Duce were determined to modernize Italy by gaining control of various colonies in the area. Firstly, there was the struggle over Yemen, which was followed by the Yemen-Saudi war. By the end of WWI, both Britain and Italy were hoping to establish close ties with Yemen, however, starting with commercial relationships, Italy was able to create close political ties with the country using the unanswered question of the Aden protectorate to its advantage . This newly found relationship caused a lot of anxiety to his majesty’s government because it threatened the British empire. In March 1934, the war between Saudi and Yemen broke out, this affected the Anglo-Italian relationship because as both authors explain, as each country took a side, it was indicative of their growing contention. All of this leads up to the Italo-Ethiopian conflict of 1935-36, it had great effects on both the views of Mussolini and the fascist regime as well as detrimental effects on the Anglo-Italian relations. With this outbreak, the strategic plans for the red sea and for the control of the Arab peninsula became more and more important , the way in which Italy became militaristic and expansionist caused many to retract their respect of the dictatorship and no longer sympathized with fascist regime, including Britain . The various policies and actions taken during this period set the stage for the propaganda needed to gain the trust of the Arabs as well as the cold war that was coming between Italy and Britain.
Views on Propaganda
Although propaganda was not always meant to be a manipulative way of controlling the overall public, through decades of its use in that way, it now has a negative undertone and a connotation of manipulation and deceit. Under the Oxford dictionary, it is defined as “Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.” . As will be observed in the discussion of the propaganda by both countries, it is clear that Italy and Britain had different perspectives on propaganda and the morals of its use. On one hand, Italy had no problem with using propaganda to any extent in order to advance its goals. Mussolini had a complicated inconsistent campaign to try to be on the good side of both the Arabs and the Jews thus covering most of the area in the Middle East . That shows that the campaign wasn’t based on honesty but rather stuck to the definition of manipulation and deceit. In contrast, Britain had more trouble in using propaganda regardless because it wanted to maintain the image of transparency and morality. Both authors emphasize the trouble many British officials had through countless debates on how to counter the Italian propaganda, cautious of using anything that can be interpreted as manipulative, especially vigilant because of the knowledge that the general public in Britain was highly critical of propaganda’s use and its implications . That being said, officials were able to pass some types of propaganda anyways, even with the distaste and disagreement of the treasury . The reason for the cautions behind the use of what can be interpreted as propaganda goes back to its use in World War I. At that time, propaganda was often used to get control of military and other political purposes, consequently, using these types of aggressions during peace time was seen as highly immoral . Although each country tried to become more favorable among people in the Middle East in their own way and at difference lengths, there is no doubt that the use of propaganda was evident.
Italy’s use of propaganda in the Middle East
As mentioned earlier, Italy had high imperial hopes and was determined to grow to make up for past failures. Consequently, it was very focused on propaganda and had a large budget dedicated to it. At first, it was just a way to better Italy’s image and promote its ideology; it was a piece of “peace time diplomacy” used to further foreign policy objectives . However, by the 1930’s Mussolini took a pro-Muslim and Anti-British approach ; he assured to send a message of support to the Arabs by using news stories that misinterpret the facts to encourage anti-British actions in various colonies . There were two both legitimate and illegitimate direct ways used by Mussolini in order to get his influence in various countries. One of the most common and most effective was the radio Bari, by 1936, it was the most common way of receiving news for many Arabs, it mainly used British criticism in Egypt and Palestine were Britain was most vulnerable . The way propaganda was carried out was careful and smart in order to have the best effects possible. Various departments were in play each doing a different job; the ministry of foreign affairs provided directions to assure that overseas propaganda met the objectives of Italy’s foreign policy and provided the logistical support, the minister of popular culture was in charge of the operational factors such as starting and coordinating propagandist activities through press, publications, cinema and radio, both ministers shared the budgeting and funding tasks of all propaganda . Through employing a way in which grasps everyone’s attention, incorporating both entertainment and news, Mussolini was able to reach many Arabs and send his message across. All in all, though, any success that occurred for Italy was more due to an anti-British approach not a pro-Italian movement; the Middle East was ready to use Italy’s expansionist goals in order to achieve its own goal of independence.
Britain’s counter-propaganda in the Middle East
In comparison, Britain used propaganda as a mere reaction to Italy in order to assure that its image and relationship with the Arabs stayed positive. There were two main establishments created; the British council and the BBC Arabic service. The British council was meant to spread the British culture overseas to help create respect and understanding between the two cultures which they hoped would result in better political and commercial results in the Middle East . However, the budget was very limited and therefore they were required to get financial aid from other businessmen which resulted in a clash of interests and a lack of any major successes . Nevertheless, there was some success observed in Egypt, with all British kids living there gaining English education regardless of the financial abilities by the end of 1940 , that was able to make way to sustain the British culture in Egypt in some forms and assure that it wasn’t all forgotten. The second main use of propaganda was through the BBC radio, aimed to counter radio Bari. It had claimed to only show the truth in “bold and factual” terms and was aiming for an audience that was not only the everyday listeners walking by and sitting in cafĂ©s but also wanted to get the attention of the intellectuals and political elites . Regardless of its attempts at giving a new source of news and entertainment, there was no doubt that Arab listeners were still convinced that this retaliation would only carry propaganda . Radio Bari also proved to be more entertaining because it integrated the Arab culture and language in their broadcasts unlike the British BBC . It is safe to say that Britain’s attempts had both successes and failures; it was able to give a second side to the story, which lessened the effects of Italy’s propaganda. It was no longer just the news coming from Italy, even if the Arab listeners were cautious of propaganda, they were given the chance to assess the other possibilities. Yet, the effort was not enough to gain favor with the Middle East and maintain its domination in the area. While both authors argue that more could’ve been done, Williams especially argues that Britain lacked effort in its response. Whether it was the lack of financials or the inability to engage the listeners, Italy’s promises of support and appeal to the culture was able to triumph over Britain.
End of the imperial dreams and a broken relationship
This war of words led up all the way until the second world war. As described by Fiore, “it was like a quarrel between two life-long friends where words were exchanged which neither side would even have thought of before. They could be withdrawn and forgiven but they could not be forgotten.” . Not to mention, with all the tension that was caused by the fight towards imperialism and power, neither country was able to get what it aimed for. As Italy’s ambitions for colonialism became apparent to the Arab population, their audience and sympathizers lessened; Britain was unable to take advantage of that opportunity and as World War II began, the priority was given to other issues . Thus, at the end, Italy was never able to remake the great Roman empire, and the existing British empire eventually disintegrated.
Conclusion
To conclude, the Middle East was truly a point of great importance to Italy and Great Britain, it was therefore difficult for either of them to give up on maintaining or gaining its control. While both countries tried using different forms of propaganda and asserting influence in the region, it was evident that the Middle East was too focused on its hopes for independence to allow another country to take control. That being said, Italy was taking lead in the Middle East’s support for a long time until their true nationalistic aims and fascist personas were revealed. In the end, neither country was able to achieve its desires and eventually World War II was well on its way carrying with it the rise of fascism and an end to the British empire. Both books convey this message in a clear and concise manner, giving the reader the proper context and understanding of the various events leading up and following the conflict. They address points which have been glossed over in the past yet are crucial in understanding why this conflict was inevitable and setting a stage to the wars that would occur between the Allies and the fascist regimes during World War II.