This timeline focuses on Middle Eastern history since 1900. Some events prior to 1900 are included to provide points of reference, but these should not be taken as a comprehensive summary of earlier history in the region.
2000-1700 B.C.E.: Abraham, spiritual founder of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is born in southern Mesopotamia.
According to tradition, Abraham (the Bible refers to him as Abram and later Abraham; the Koran refers to him as Ibrahim) is chosen by God to spread the message of monotheism. Abraham's wife, Sarah, unable to have a child, tells him to conceive a child with their Egyptian servant Hagar, and Ishmael is born. Sarah, however, later has a son, Isaac, with her husband. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all consider themselves Abraham's spiritual descendants. Muslims claim descent from the firstborn son, Ishmael; Jews track their descent through the line of Isaac and his son Jacob.
c. 1280 B.C.E.: Moses leads the Exodus from Egypt
According to the Bible, Moses leads the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. An essential story for the Jewish people, the Exodus is commemorated through the festival of Passover. Shortly after the Exodus, Moses receives the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.
c. 4 B.C.E.: Jesus of Nazareth is born.
Jesus is the central figure of Christianity and is considered to be the son of God. Muslims also recognize the importance of Jesus, but as a prophet, not the son of God. Jesus was a Jew whose father was a carpenter in the Galilean village of Nazareth. Although the exact date is uncertain, he was probably born about 4 B.C.E. The New Testament gospels and the Koran state that Jesus had a miraculous birth: His mother, Mary, became pregnant by the power of God. In his late 20s Jesus began a career of teaching and healing. Most of his teachings were about the coming of the Kingdom of God and about personal humility before other humans and God. When Jesus was about 32, he was crucified in Jerusalem. According to Christian belief, Jesus rose from the dead after three days, visited his disciples, and then ascended into heaven.
622: The Hijra: The Prophet Muhammad moves from Mecca to Medina.
In the Islamic faith, Muhammad is considered the last in a long line of prophets of Allah (God). The Quran, Islam's holy book, is said to have been revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. The Hijra marks the beginning of the growth of Islam into a world faith. The Muslim calendar counts dates from the Hijra, which is why Muslim dates have the suffix A.H. (After Hijra).Related Links
1095-1291: As the influence of Islam grows, Christian Crusaders from Europe come to the Middle East to fight its spread.
Muslims have ruled Jerusalem since 638, but Christians are permitted to visit the city on pilgrimage. By the 11th century, however, the Seljuk Turks, now in control of Jerusalem, begin to prevent such pilgrimages. To reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims, Pope Urban II helps launch the first of what will ultimately be seven military assaults that run through the 13th century. The Crusaders eventually capture Jerusalem in 1099, but overall fail in their quest: The Crusades do not result in any permanent conquests in the Middle East, nor do they slow the spread of Islam. Another part of their legacy: The Crusades bear tremendous responsibility for the intolerance that develops between Christians and Muslims as well as Jews and followers of eastern Christian churches, who also fell victim to the Crusades.
1517-1918: The Ottoman Empire extends over most of the Arab world.
The Ottoman Empire begins in the 1300s in what is now Turkey. Between 1516 and 1517, the Ottomans conquer the Arab provinces. Islam is one of the major forces holding the diverse empire together. Ottoman law, in fact, is derived from both Islamic law and edicts of the sultan. In the 1700s and 1800s, though, the once-powerful Ottoman Empire starts to lose power. On the hunt for new territories to conquer, Great Britain, France, and Russia begin to interfere in the affairs and territories of the Ottoman Empire as well as in Egypt. The Ottomans retain control over the Balkans until the early 1900s, and over most of the Arab world until 1918. On the losing side of World War I, their lands are dispersed to Allied powers, including Great Britain and France.
1798-1801: Napoleon Bonaparte, the French military commander, invades and conquers Egypt.
Napoleon, one of the greatest military commanders in history, wants to destroy British trade with the Middle East. After landing in Egypt with 35,000 troops, he quickly captures Alexandria. He then leads his soldiers across the desert, and Cairo falls to him as well. After fighting the Turks in Syria, Napoleon leaves his troops in Egypt to return to France.
1830: France conquers and colonizes Algeria.
Algeria is France's first colony in North Africa. With it, France begins a policy of assimilation aimed at making the colonists into model French citizens, with little regard for their native culture and history.
1840: Aisha Taymur, the distinguished female poet and writer, is born in Egypt.
Aisha Taymur participates in the struggle for the emancipation of women in the early 20th century. She is one of the leading figures of an Arab intellectual and cultural awakening.
1853-1971: Britain maintains control over several independent emirates of the Persian Gulf.
In 1853, Britain and the Arab sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf sign the Perpetual Maritime Truce, in which the Arabs agree to recognize Britain as the dominant power in the Gulf. Though it never assumes sovereignty over them, Britain controls the foreign affairs of these emirates and maintains responsibility for their protection. The Trucial States, as they were called, will later join together to make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
1860-1920: Christian Arabs leave the Middle East in large numbers, many emigrating to the United States.
This first wave of immigration from the Middle East to the U.S. is led by Christian Arabs, mostly from Syrian and Lebanese provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Increasingly frequent skirmishes between Muslims and Christians living there, the worst of which is a massacre of several thousand Christians in Damascus, Syria, prompt this exodus. Between 1860 and 1920, several hundred families a year -- then several thousand a year -- leave the region.
1867: Lebanese poet Warda al-Yaziji publishes her collection of poems.
Warda al-Yaziji's collection of poetry, called The Rose Garden in English, speaks to a female presence within a broader, Arab identity. Al-Yaziji also has also published several articles about the status of Arab women.
November 17, 1869: The Suez Canal, a crucial communication and transportation link between the Mediterranean and Red Seas, opens in Egypt.
Designed to give European powers better access to Middle Eastern, East Asian, and South Asian markets, the Suez Canal is built by France (using Egyptian workers) over 10 years. The French later sell the Canal to the British, who control it for 84 years before Egypt nationalizes it. It is wide enough to accommodate most ships and, at 120 miles long, is the longest canal in the world without locks.
1881: The French conquer and colonize Tunisia.
Tunisia will not regain independence until the 1950s.
1881: Anti-Jewish riots (pogroms) in southern Russia lead Alexander III to expel Jews from the region.
With the czarist government under threat from rioting revolutionaries, Alexander III issues a new policy against the Jews, whom he insists are responsible for the riots. The May Laws state that Jews are forbidden to settle outside the towns and shtetls (townlets); deeds of sale and lease of real estate in the name of Jews outside the towns and shtetls are canceled; and Jews are prohibited from trading on Sundays and Christian holidays. Where Alexander II's policies towards Jews had been liberal, Alexander III's lead to their systematic expulsion from towns and villages where they had lived for almost a century. Though the pogroms stop, the threat of riots is kept alive by an anti-Semitic press. By 1914 almost two and a half million Jews will flee Russia.
September 1882: British troops take control of Egypt.
After Egyptian nationalist supporters rebel against Egypt's British-backed government, British troops attack and occupy Alexandria before defeating opposition forces. Britain is primarily interested in protecting its investment in the Suez Canal, a crucial communication and transportation link to British colonies in India.
1892: The first Arabic-language newspaper in the United States is published.
The first Arabic-language newspaper published in the U.S., Kawkab Amrika (Star of America), gets its start in 1892. By 1919, Arabic-speaking immigrants are served by nine such newspapers. The most significant publication of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though, is the journal Syrian World, which publishes notable writers such as Khalil Gibran and showcases a range of works, including poems, plays, articles, and stories. While Gibran's name may be the most familiar to American readers, Ameen Rihani is widely considered to be the "father of Arab American literature."
February 1896: Theodor Herzl publishes his vision for a state where Jews could live free from persecution.
After covering the Dreyfus Affair, a trial of a Jewish officer in the French army who was wrongfully accused as a traitor, Theodor Herzl, a Jewish journalist from Vienna, publishes a pamphlet called "The Jewish State." Disturbed by the wave of anti-Semitism set off by the trial, Herzl calls for a state in which Jews can live without fear of persecution. He travels the world over to find monetary and political support for his vision.
1897: The Zionist Organization is founded by Theodor Herzl.
The Zionist Organization is founded at the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, with the goal of working towards the establishment of a secure home for the Jewish people in Palestine. In 1960, the group changes its name to the World Zionist Organization.
1899: The Egyptian book The Liberation of Women stimulates enormous public debate on women's status in Egypt.
In his book The Liberation of Women, written and published at the end of the 19th century, Egyptian lawyer Qasim Amin argues that the emancipation of women is a necessary step in freeing Egypt from foreign domination. He also uses portions of the Quran to support his argument. The book, controversial upon its publication, continues to be so today, more than 100 years later.