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European Interest

In the mid-18th century, as France and Britain fought for control of India, both took a strategic interest in the Ottoman Empire and Iran, which lay across the route between Europe and India. Britain had gained supremacy in India by 1763, but in 1798 French emperor Napoleon I attempted to establish a stronghold in Egypt from which to attack the British in India. The Battle of the Nile resulted in the defeat of France and Britain's continued supremacy in India, as well as renewed European interest in the Middle East. As industrialization progressed, first in Britain and then in other European nations, demand grew for both raw materials and markets for manufactured products. The Middle East became a source of grains and wool, as well as cotton in Egypt and Syria, silk in Lebanon, and tobacco in Anatolia and Iran. Overall, the value of European trade with the region increased tenfold during the 19th century.

At various times in the 19th century, the governments of Egypt, Iran, and the Ottoman Empire began to borrow on European money markets, almost always on disadvantageous terms. Partly as a result, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire went bankrupt in the 1870s. Bankruptcy was followed by the installation in local treasuries of European financial controllers who introduced austerity programs and tax increases to pay off the debt. These measures aroused strong local opposition, which in Egypt was followed by a British invasion in 1882. Although supposedly made to protect the ruler from his rebellious subjects, the invasion actually inaugurated a long period of foreign rule.

By the first decade of the 20th century, a variety of nationalist movements had come into being in the Ottoman Empire. Arab nationalism became popular among intellectuals in Greater Syria, while Armenian nationalism also grew after the massacres of Armenians in Anatolia in the 1890s. Zionism (the movement to reunite the Jewish people in Palestine) had begun to gain momentum in Europe, and the first waves of Jewish settlement in Palestine began in 1882. A Turanian movement stressing the unity and solidarity of the Turkish people from present-day Turkey eastwards through Central Asia was growing as well.

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