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The Gulf Wars

1974   On January 18, 1974, Egypt and Israel, in the aftermath of the 1973 War, signed the first of two "Disengagement of Forces Agreements."  "Sinai I" called for Israeli troops to withdraw from the west bank of the Suez Canal.  (Sinai II)

In April, Yitzak Rabin replaced Golda Meir as Prime Minister of Israel.   Following two weeks of sustained napalm bombing of Palestinian villages in South Lebanon killing 200 and rendering 10,000 homeless, Palestinian commandos on May 15 struck back killing 22 Israeli paramilitary cadets in a school at Maalot.

In June at a meeting of the PNC (Palestinian National Council) Arafat began to back away from the PLO hard line concepts of "armed struggle" and "total liberation" and began to favor a more diplomatic approach.

In October, the Arab League at its meeting in Rabat, Morocco endorsed the PLO as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people."

On November 22, 1974, U.N. General Assembly Resolutions 3236 and 3237 (texts at MidEast Web) recognized the right of Palestinian people to independence and sovereignty, recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, granted the PLO observer status at the United Nations, and reaffirmed "the inalienable right of the Palestinians to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced." (New York Times, March 29, 2002, A11 -- see also U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 of December, 1948). Arafat traveled to New York to address the General Assembly. There he said,  I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.  Colin Chapman, Whose Promised Land? (Oxford, England: Lion Publishing, 1992), 97)  These events marked a huge defeat for Jordan and for King Hussein whose claims to the West Bank from this point on were no longer recognized.

Afghanistan's constitutional monarchy was overthrown in 1974 (see). The country began a gradual slide into chaos prompting the Soviet Union in 1978 to install a pro-Communist government.

In 1974, a group called the Islamic Liberation Organization attempted a coup d'état in Egypt attacking the Military Technical Academy in Cairo (Heliopolis) and killing a dozen people. Two leaders of the coup were executed and thirty more imprisoned.

In 1974, Qatar and Kuwait took over their own oil production. Libya nationalized American oil companies and Dutch Royal Shell.

Also in 1974, Turkey invaded and occupied the northern half of Cyprus in order to protect ethnic Turks who were complaining they were suffering represssion at the hands of the ethnic Greek majority.

1975     The U.S. stated that American conditions for recognizing and dealing with the PLO were based on PLO acceptance of UN Resolutions 242 and 338, coupled with recognition of Israel's right to exist (the 1964 PLO charter called for the destruction of "the Zionist entity")

In 1975, Lebanon erupted in civil war that lasted until 1989. (Details)

The Suez Canal was reopened in 1975, and the second disengagement agreement between Egypt and Israel in the Sinai went into effect.

Abu Dhabi took control of its own oil production in 1975. Iraq completed nationalization of its oil industry in 1975 (see also 1972).

On March 25, 1975, Saudi Arabia's King Faisal was assassinated by a nephew.  He was succeeded by Khalid who reigned until his death in 1982. The nephew sought revenge for the killing of his brother by police during a 1965 demonstration by religious conservatives who were protesting the first television broadcast in the kingdom (a recitation from the Qur'an!).

The UN General Assembly on November 10, 1975 passsed Resolution 3379 (text), which branded Zionism a form of racism. This resolution was repealed at the insistence of Israel and the United States in 1991.  However, in 2001, during the al-Aqsa intifada ("uprising") some Arab states attempted to put the question back on the agenda of a U.N. conference on racism set to begin on August 31, 2001 in Durban, South Africa

On September 1, 1975, the "Sinai II" Accord was signed.  Israel ceded more of the Sinai back to Egypt, and returned control of the oilfields to Egypt.  (Sinai I)

In December, 1975, as Portuguese rule over East Timor collapsed, Indonesia invaded.  Indonesia formally annexed East Timor in 1976 despite protests from around the world. 

In 1975, Libya's ruler Muamar Qaddafi published his Green Book, a political treatise on what he called "direct democracy" that appeared to be modeled after the Red Book of China's Mao Tse Tung.

1976  Palestinian commandos hijacked an Air France airliner bound from Tel Aviv to Paris, and diverted it to Uganda, landing at Entebbe near the capital city of Kampala. An Israeli commando team made a daring and successful raid on the airport rescuing 100 hostages and flying them safely back to Israel. One hostage, a woman who had been hospitalized in Kampala, was pulled from her bed and murdered by police under orders from Ugandan president, Idi Amin.

On March 30, 1976, six Arab citizens of Israel were killed by police during demonstrations against Israeli expropriations of land belonging to Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.  The incident was commemorated by both groups of Arabs in annual "Land Day" obervances.

In Egypt during July, 1976, al-Da'wa ("The Mission"), an Islamist magazine of the Muslim Brotherhood, was allowed to resume publication. It had been founded in the 1940s, but publication had been sporadic, especially during the Nasser period. Its editor in chief is 'Umar Talmasani. It was shut down again in September, 1981, just a few weeks before Sadat's assassination. The journal became known for its attacks on Jews, some of which were modeled after the virulently anti-Semitic The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published by the Tsarist secret police in nineteenth century Russia. (More: "Wars of Words and Images")

Besides demonizing Jews as the seditious enemies and perverters of Islamic society, al-Da'wa included Coptic Christians (referred to as the "Crusade"), secularists, and Communists in the same category denouncing all in flamboyant, apocalyptic tones as the offspring of Satan.

In August, 1976, Syria intervened in Lebanon's civil war.

1977   On January 18, 1977, Egypt, in an effort to reduce the cost of subsidies, increased prices on a number of commodities by as much as 31%. The worst riots since 1952 broke out. President Sadat's government rescinded the price increases and, as a further appeasement, left in place wage increases that had been intended to help soften the blow of the price increases. The memory of this riot tempered all future economic reform attempts.

Also in 1977, there was a coup in Ethiopia, and war broke out between Ethiopia and Somalia.

In Pakistan on July 5, 1977, martial law was imposed by General Zia-ul-Haq who overthrew Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.  Zia was a fervent admirer of Islamist revivalist thinker Maulana Mawdudi

In June, 1977, Menachem Begin was elected Israeli Prime Minister. Begin's victory marked the first time the Likud Party had run a government since Israel became a state in 1948.  The party's roots were in the Irgun Zvai Leumi ("National Military Organization"), a paramilitary group founded in 1937  and inspired by the memory of Vladimir Jabotinsky.  The group turned against the British after 1939.  In 1946, they bombed Jerusalem's King David Hotel.  Begin ran on a platform of no concessions on territorial issues and no peace with the PLO. Likud support ran deep among Sephardic (Arab and African) Jews who, having suffered discrimination in Arab countries, were hostile toward and unsympathetic with Palestinian interests in particular and Arab interests generally. 

On November 19 and 20, 1977, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat and Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin met in Jerusalem. Sadat sought the return of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, which Israel had occupied since the 1967 War. Sadat had taken an enormous risk by going to Israel, ignoring intense Arab opposition both at home and abroad. His risk was all the greater in view of much unrest back home provoked by sharp increases in the prices of many basic goods. Meeting Begin in Jerusalem was seen as the catalyst for Sadat's assassination in 1981, but it also laid the groundwork for the Camp David talks, which began the following year and culminated in the agreement of 1979

In Libya in 1977, the Qur'an was declared to be the basis for the legal system. More broadly, Libya's ruler Muamar Qaddafi proclaimed a "people's revolution": he changed the country's official name from the "Libyan Arab Republic" to the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriyya of the Masses" (jamahiriyya was a word Qaddafi coined from the Arabic word jumhuriyya ("republic") to emphasize Libya as a society of the "masses"). He set up "revolutionary committees" charged with managing social affairs. After this time, Libya's behavior became, in the opinion of many, erratic and chaotic.

In Egypt, members of the Islamist separatist group Takfir wa-l-Hijra ("Condemnation and Migration"), also known as the "Society of Muslims," attacked night clubs in Cairo during a more general series of food riots that broke out. A few months after this, Takfir  kidnapped a moderate Islamic preacher, Sheikh Muhammad al-Dhahabi, and subsequently murdered him. The group's leader, Shukry Mustafa and four hundred other members were arrested. Mustafa was tried for the crime, found guilty, and executed.

Also in 1977, Muhammad ‘Ata ur-Rahim, in his book Jesus: Prophet of Islam ( Diwan Press:  Norfolk, England, 1977), attempted to defeat Christianity by deconstructing it.   He pointed to what he regarded as the strong unitarian tradition in pre-Nicene Christianity in the thought of prominent Christian leaders like Origen, Irenaeus, and Tertullian.  He traced this unitarianism down through the ages documenting its role in the thought of Locke, Milton, and William Ellery Channing.  Noting that the “unreliability” of the gospels (p. 196) is attested to by Christian textualists themselves, ‘Ata ur-Rahim moves from here to trace Jesus as we find him in the Qur’an and the Hadith.  His aim in writing about Jesus is to enlighten Christians who have been “in the dark” (p. 221) all these centuries concerning Jesus’ history and teachings.   Jesus, for this author, was man, not God.  (See also "Wars of Words and Images")

1978   The United Nations issued Resolution 425 ordering Israel out of south Lebanon. Israel refused (and would stay there until the spring of 2000). (more)

In April, 1978, a communist coup took place in Afghanistan:  Marxist members of the army deposed Sardar Mohammed Daud who had ruled since 1973.  But, the Marxists were split into two rival factions: Khalq ("the masses") and Parcham ("the flag").  The Soviets intervened, invading Afghanistan in December, 1979, and installed Parcham leader Babrak Karmal as President.  Afghan mullahs and warlords immediately declared jihad against the Communist "infidels." This led to a war by Islamist jihad fighters (many of them Arab mercenaries) that resulted in the withdrawal of the Soviets in 1989.  One of the "Afghan Arab" jihad fighters, as they came to be known, was Osama bin Laden.  (see also September 11, 2001).  Another jihad fighter was the future Afghan leader of the Taliban, "Mullah" Mohammed Omar.  (see Ahmed Rashid, Taliban:  Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 2000), 11ff. -- Rashid was in Kandahar, Afghanistan in December, 1979 and saw the Soviet tanks roll in.)

On August 31, 1978, Imam Musa al-Sadr, a charismatic Iranian born Shiite cleric in Lebanon and leader of the Shiite militia Amal ("Hope"), disappeared while in Libya for talks with Libyan leader Muamar Qaddafi. His bags were found going round and round on the carousel at the Rome airport. 

In September, 1978, the "Camp David" Peace talks began between Egypt and Israel, mediated by the United States. The talks grew out of the visit of Egypt's President Sadat to Jerusalem the previous year. Initial agreements were reached on September 17 paving the way for the signing of the full treaty the following March (1979).  (Efforts by U.N. Ambassador to effect a peace treaty between these two countries had broken down in 1971.)

In October, 1978, exiled Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khomeini moved to Paris and lived there until the revolution called him home the following year..

Also in 1978, Algerian leader Hawari Boumedienne died on December 27 and was replaced by army Colonel Chadli Bendjedid.

Also in 1978, Columbia Professor Edward Said (1935-2003), a Palestinian-American, published his influential book Orientalism.  Starting from the premise of Italian political historian Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) that history is a fabricated representation of reality driven by material interests, along with the contention of French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984) that knowledge and power are mutually supportive, Said argued that the Middle East ("the Orient") was an invention of Western scholars, past and present (Bernard Lewis belonging to the latter group), who were partners in or supporters of the colonization that took place there for the most part in the nineteenth century.  Said's book won widespread praise, especially among Leftists and post-structuralist thinkers.  On the other hand, it was criticized by those who argued that Said repeated a central flaw in Foucault's thought:  the assumption that all systems of power - democratic as well as totalitarian - were equally oppressive.  The result, the critics argued, was that Said had constructed a caricature of the relationship between the West and the Middle East that was just as distorted as some of the writers he criticized, and he had failed to recognize some of the major contributions Western (especially German) scholars had made to understanding the region.  Some critics were especially severe.  In 2002, ex-Muslim writer Ibn Warraq (a pseudonym used by other dissenting Muslim writers throughout history -- see also and see also) argued that Said had taught a whole generation of Arabs to wallow in self-pity and to blame the West for their problems, questioned his historical accuracy on many points, and chastised him for his practice of engaging in ad hominem attacks upon his critics (see "Debunking Edward Said:  Edward Said and the Saidists:  Or Third World Intellectual Terrorism," Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society, 2002). Some (Fred Halliday, for example, in an interview in 2005: http://www.skidmore.edu/salmagundi/printfhalliday.htm) charged that Said's preoccupation with "meta-issues" had become a major distraction for the discipline of Middle East studies at the expense of that field's principal responsibility: to train experts in the countries in that region. (See also "Wars of Words and Images")

1979   Revolution broke out in Iran orchestrated by a coalition of  bazaaris ("merchants"), industrial workers, slum dwellers, white-collar workers, and the Shia clergy.  The Shah fled on January 16.  The Shia clergy moved quickly to out maneuver the other coalition members.  the Ayatollah ("sign of God") Ruhollah Khomeini returned from his exile in Paris on February 1 and quickly declared an "Islamic Republic."  Khomeini decreed a "reign of virtue" in Iran under firm rule now by the Shia clergy. (see also "Sources of the Iranian Revolution", the Shah's "White Revolution (1963), and the Shah's coronation ceremony (1971)). By the following November, Khomeini had begun referring to the non-Muslim United States as "the Great Satan." (More: "Wars of Words and Images")

In February, 1979, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat, echoing the call of Ali Abd al-Raziq in 1925, provoked strong criticism when he called for the separation of religion and politics, a position deemed un-Islamic by many Muslims, especially the fundamentalists who called for the establishment of an Islamic state and the application of Islamic (sharia) law.

On March 26, 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty, the culmination of the U.S. sponsored "Camp David" talks (Text at Yale's Avalon Project) which had begun the previous September.  The groundwork for the talks that led to this pact was laid with Egyptian President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in 1977.  Part of the package was a planned five year transition period leading to Palestinian "autonomy" in the West Bank and Gaza. But, "autonomy" was left undefined (and Israeli leader Menachem Begin made it quickly clear afterward that he had no intention of yielding control over the West Bank, only allowing limited "self rule.").  The Palestinians, on the other hand, thought the treaty meant statehood. (see also Israeli occupation, 1967)

Camp David crowned a process toward normalization that began when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat traveled to Jerusalem to meet with the Israelis. Arab reaction was swift and hostile.  Arab countries broke off diplomatic relations with Egypt and imposed an economic boycott.  The Arab League moved its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis. The rift was healed in 1987, and two years later, the Arab League moved back to Cairo. Meanwhile, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in 1982.  (See also Sinai I (1974) and Sinai II (1975) Agreements)

On April 4, 1979, former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan was executed by the military government of General Zia al-Haq.

Also in 1979, Saddam Hussein (a Sunni Muslim, born April 28, 1937, died December 30, 2006) became president of mostly Shiite Iraq. Saddam had led the coup of July 30, 1968. In 1979, Iraq was riding a wave of prosperity. Thanks to the worldwide oil shortage created in 1973 by Arab oil producing nations in response to the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, Iraq found itself sitting atop a $35 billion foreign surplus when Saddam took over.  The previous year, the Ba’athists had nationalized the British controlled Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). 

This windfall powered an array of reforms in all sectors of Iraqi life: industrial development and social reforms. A campaign on illiteracy was launched in 1978.  The legal status of women improved.  More women were educated:  by 1982, 30% of all university students were women.  The regime sought to bring more and more women into the workplace by introducing free child care, mandating paid maternity leave and equal pay for equal work.  In 1978, forced marriages were outlawed, the legal powers and rights of women who divorced were expanded, and polygamous marriages henceforth were allowed only with the permission of judges.  Iraq became a social welfare state:  taxes were reduced, food was subsidized, free health care was introduced, and university tuition fees were done away with.  Living conditions and income levels for most went up substantially.  In spite of its totalitarian regime, Iraq was becoming one of the wealthiest and most progressive nations in the Middle East, and, while the regime was certainly not loved, the prosperity it brought made it tolerable for many.  By the end of the first Gulf War in 1988, the $35 billion surplus had become a $50 billion deficit.

On November 4, 1979, the American embassy in Tehran was seized by Iranian students (some of whom were graduates of American universities) with the full support of the revolutionary forces and 63 U.S. hostages were taken.  Americans were outraged at this violation of international law. The students demanded the return of the exiled shah for trial in Iran. The U.S. responded by freezing more than $11 billion in Iranian assets on deposit in American banks. Nineteen hostages were released within a short time, but fifty two others were held for 444 days and released on January 21, 1981, at the precise moment of President Reagan's inauguration, a jab at outgoing President Carter

On November 20, 1979, several hundred dissident Wahhabis led by Juhayman al-Utaybi seized and briefly held the Great Mosque in Mecca. Saudi Arabia executed sixty three of the conspirators following what was seen as a direct challenge to Saudi authority over the holiest mosque in Islam. This event, against the background of the Shiite Iranian revolution earlier this year and anti-Saudi pro-Wahhabi demonstrations in Islamabad, Pakistan, which had been endorsed by Iran's new leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, was seen as a sign that (Sunni) Saudi religious dominance in the Muslim world, which had been firm since the creation of the Islamic Conference in 1969 and which had been underscored in the "triumph of petro-Islam" (Gilles Kepel) following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, was coming under siege and could no longer be taken for granted. So, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan the following month, Saudi Arabia moved to shore up its religious credentials by supporting the anti-Soviet jihad that erupted there in response.   (see also Hajj riots of 1987)

On December 2, 1979, a mob in Libya attacked and overran the U.S. embassy. In May, 1980, the U.S. withdrew all American diplomats from Libya. Diplomatic relations were officially severed in 1981.

Also i n December, 1979, Soviet troops invaded and occupied Afghanistan in an effort to prop up the weak Communist government that had taken over in April, 1978

1980 On January 23, 1980, United States President Carter in his State of the Union speech said, "Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."  This came to be known as the "Carter Doctrine," and served as one of the foundations for major American roles in the second and third Gulf Wars.

On April 7, 1980, the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Iran. On April 24, 1980, a secret U.S. military mission authorized by President Carter and aimed at rescuing the American hostages in Iran failed and eight U.S. servicemen perished. 

On July 2, 1980, members of the Jewish militant group Gush Emunim ("Army of the Faithful") carried out car bomb attacks against two West Bank mayors: Bassam Shaka of Nablus and Karim Khalaf of Ramallah. Both men lost limbs but survived.

On the night of July 9, 1980, the "Nuzhih Plot" to overthrow the infant Islamic republic in Iran was broken up.  Several hundred active and retired Iranian paratroopers were arrested as they arrived at the Nuzhih Air Force base near Hamadan before they were able to set the plot into motion.  The incident triggered a purge throughout the armed forces by the Khomeini regime.  The government of Iraq was also implicated in the plot.  Tensions between Iraq and Iran at this point began to escalate dangerously in advance of the Iraqi invasion in September that opened the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988)

Elsewhere in 1980, the deposed Shah of Iran died in Cairo on July 27, 1980. Egyptian President Sadat ordered a state funeral for him. He was entombed in the Rifai mosque. Radical Muslim groups supporting the revolution in Iran were enraged. There were riots in Cairo and elsewhere, including clashes between the Muslim Brothers and the Copts in upper Egypt. Sadat responded with restraint. His policy throughout the period had been one of fundamental tolerance. When he came to power, he had released many of the Muslim radicals imprisoned by Nasser.

The extremist group, al-Jihad, made its mark for the first time in the struggle against the Egyptian government by planting bombs in Cairo's Coptic churches. Among the members was a young army officer named Khalid Islambouli, who led the successful assassination attack on President Sadat the following year. 

On September 12, 1980, the Turkish military carried out a coup d'état in an effort to restore parliamentary stability and put an end to the extremist violence that had plagued the country throughout the late 1970s.  (other coups: 1960, 1971, and 1997).

 

The Gulf Wars

Iraq and Iran, 1980-1988
Iraq Occupies Kuwait, 1990-1991
Toppling Saddam, 2002-03

Coalition Provisional Authority Rule, 2003-04
 "Sovereign" Iraq, 2004-2005
Civil War in Iraq, 2006-2007
The New Iraq, 2008-2009

Benchmarks in the History of Modern Iraq

BBC Iraq pages
BBC Profile of Iraqi Insurgents
Map of Iraq (Univ. Texas)
 
Documents:

 

The Gulf Wars:

Iraq and Iran, 1980-1988

On September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran initiating the Gulf Wars period. Iraq's ruler Saddam Hussein called it the "second Qadisiyya." The conflict was the latest expression of the centuries old animosity between the two regions along their shared border of 750 miles. One of the immediate causes was a dispute over the Shatt al-Arab waterway at the northern end of the Gulf (which according to the 1975 Algiers Agreement signed by both countries was to be divided at mid-channel). Another was that Iraq wanted back three islands in the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf that Iran had seized in 1971. Iraq also claimed territory in the mountainous Musain region of Iran. But, perhaps the overriding motive was Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein's fear that his Shiite population in the south was being incited to rebel by the leaders of the new Islamic republic in Iran (see Iranian Revolution).  The war dragged on for eight years ending in a stalemate in July, 1988.  Shortly before the end of the war, a chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja occurred that fueled the propaganda campaign against Saddam during later phases of the Gulf Wars.

In December, 1980, Libya paid Billy Carter, brother of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, nearly a quarter of a million dollars in an effort to improve relations between the two countries.

1981  On January 21, 1981, at the moment of U.S. President Reagan's inauguration, the American hostages held in Tehran since November 4, 1979 were released.  The setting for this event was the signing of the "Algiers Accord" in which the United States pledged not to interfere in the internal affairs of Iran

On May 6, 1981, the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Libya.

In June 7, 1981, Israel bombed and destroyed Iraq's French-built nuclear reactor at Osirak, near Baghdad.

On June 20, 1981, the Iranian Islamic regime carried out brutal purges of Communists, women's rights advocates, and other progressives.  The event became known as the "Khordad Massacre" because it took place on 30 Khordad, 1360, according to the Islamic calendar. 

In Egypt, tensions between Muslims and Copts were on the rise. In June, an especially gruesome round of violence erupted in the overcrowded Cairo slum of al-Zawiyya al-Hamra, fanned by intense summer heat accompanied by frequent cutoffs in the water supply. Men, women, and children were slaughtered. Some babies were thrown from windows to their deaths in the streets below.

Egypt recoiled in horror. Tensions continued to mount as Muslims and Christians blamed one another in diatribe after diatribe published in the press. In September, President Sadat cracked down hard on both sides. There were mass arrests (nearly 1,600 were detained). The powerful Islamic student associations (Jama'at Islamiyya ), which had sprung up after the 1967 war and which had enjoyed government favor throughout much of the 1970's, were banned on September 3. (The leader of one of these student groups at Asyut University, Muhammad Islambouli, was arrested and roughed up. It was his brother, Khalid, who assassinated Sadat the following month.) The head of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenuda III, was banished to a monastery in the Wadi Natrun.

Among the Muslim detainees was the popular and, by virtue of his status as a graduate of al-Azhar, influential Muslim preacher, Sheikh 'Abd al-Hamid Kishk. He had alienated the regime by demanding that it restore al-Azhar to its pre-1961 status: that is, independent of all official ties to the government. While he did not explicitly call for the overthrow of the secular Sadat regime, radicals interpreted his remarks on the reform of al-Azhar as a green light to do so.

On August 19, 1981, in a deliberate ploy to provoke Libya, U.S. warplanes shot down two Libyan fighter jets that had fired on them as U.S. ships were carrying out exercises in the Gulf of Sidra.

On October 6, 1981, during the annual holiday parade (see 1973 War) Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by radical Muslim fundamentalist army regulars led by army First Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli. (more) Sadat was succeeded by Vice President Hosni Mubarak, an Air Force pilot. The new regime enacted emergency laws that effectively stifled all opposition and remained in force throughout the rest of the century.  After 2000, though, strong calls for reform had begun to stir (more).

In the subsequent trial that took place in Egypt in December, 1981, it was revealed that the conspirators, members of a militant group called Jama'at al-Jihad, ("Organization for Jihad") had obtained a fatwa (religious legal opinion) from a blind sheikh at Asyut university, Dr. Umar abd-al-Rahman, to the effect that killing Christians and stealing gold from Christian jewelry shops to finance jihad were permissible since a technical state of war existed between Muslims and non-Muslims rendering the property "spoils of war" rather than stolen goods. The sheikh would wind up serving a life sentence in the United States for his role in the 1993 bombing of New York City's World Trade Center.

Two days later, fifty men attacked the police station in Asyut, 250 miles south of Cairo. The death toll from the subsequent gun battle was 87, sixty six of whom were police.

In other developments in 1981, in August, Saudi Arabia suggested the "Fahd Plan" (named after the Saudi prince who became king the following year) calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state along with recognition of all existing states in the region including Israel.

On December 14, 1981, Israel annexed the Golan Heights hoping to lure the Syrians into military action. The Reagan administration suspended a strategic cooperation pact with Israel in response to the Golan annexation and imposed financial sanctions. Prime Minister Begin responded that Israel was being treated like a "vassal state." (New York Times, March 10, 1992, p. D24)

Also in 1981, Menachem Begin was reelected prime minister in Israel.

1982   In February, Syrian government troops and tanks led by Rifaat al-Asad (the President's brother) crushed an uprising in the central Syrian city of Hama. The Muslim Brotherhood in Hama had been waging attacks against members of the minority Alawite sect (to which the Asads belonged) that included the murder of 32 Alawi officer cadets in a bomb attack on the Aleppo Artillery School in 1979.  After an army unit was ambushed in the souks of the old city in February, 1982, the Brotherhood called for a general uprising. The battle between government forces and the Brothers lasted three weeks during which 15,000 residents were massacred. Later, President Hafez al-Asad produced proof (in the form of confiscated equipment and weapons) of American, Israeli, Jordanian, and Lebanese Christian armed support to the militants (see Lebanon's civil war). Only Jordan would later acknowledge its role in this attempt to undermine Syrian president Asad (three years after the events themselves).

On April 25, 1982, Israel completed its withdrawal from the Sinai under the terms of the Camp David accords.  This included the forced evacuation and demolition of the Jewish settlement of Yamit by order of Israeli General Ariel Sharon. 

On July 8, 1982, security forces in Iraq massacred dozens of Shiite residents of Dujail (north of Baghdad) in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt against Iraq's (Sunni) ruler Saddam Hussein.

On September 1, 1982, as the last PLO guerrillas were shipping out of Beirut, U.S. President Reagan announced his "Reagan Plan" for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. It called for an immediate freeze on Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza, advocated Palestinian self rule "in association with Jordan," and explicitly ruled out Israeli annexation of the Palestinian occupied territories. Reagan affirmed UN Resolution 242, emphasizing that it was his understanding that the resolution called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the territories (as well as the Sinai, which was, as far as the Israelis read the resolution, a demand Israel believed it had met under the Camp David Treaty when it returned the Sinai to Egypt in 1982.

The plan outraged President Asad because it failed to even mention Syria or its own Israeli occupied Golan Heights. The Israelis, obviously, were also outraged. A shocked Begin called it "the saddest day of my life." The plan was a bungled, half baked attempt to mollify the Arabs based on a State Department draft brief which had never been meant to go public.

On September 8, 1982, the Arabs issued the "Fez Plan," calling for complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, and a Palestinian state under the leadership of the PLO in exchange for which Arabs will recognize Israel's right to exist. (Khouri, p. 437)

Any doubts that the Israeli Labor Party was less expansionist than Likud were dispelled in December by Uzi Shimoni, head of the party's propaganda branch, when he advocated the return of some highly populated Arab areas of the West Bank to Jordan (not to the Palestinians) so that Israel would not have to deal with the Arab "demographic problem" (Chomsky, 112).

The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon sowed the seeds of the first Palestinian intifada or "uprising" which began in 1987. Arafat’s humiliating departure from Beirut sent the message to residents of the occupied Palestinian territories that if they wanted to be free, they would have to do the job themselves.

By year's end, 2,500 Islamists suspected of plotting the overthrow of the Egyptian government were in jail along with most of the 1,600 arrested by President Anwar Sadat in the security sweep shortly before his assassination in 1981. One group of 302 individuals arrested after the Asyut uprising following Sadat's death went on trial, the largest trial in Egyptian history. Sheikh Umar abd-al-Rahman (who would later be jailed in the United States for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center) was among the defendants. He was acquitted along with 173 others. Sentences for those convicted were lighter than expected.

By 1982, the jihad to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan was fully underway with the mujahideen ("jihad fighters") receiving $600 million per year from the CIA and the same from the Gulf states.  (Gilles Kepel, Jihad:  The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge, MA:  Belknap Press, 2002), 143. See also al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden).

In Saudi Arabia in 1982, King Khalid died and was succeeded by his half brother Fahd.

1983   On February 10, Peace Now activist Emil Grunzweig, 33, was killed by a grenade thrown by a fanatical supporter of Menachem Begin during a demonstration against the war in Lebanon. Six years later, Israeli political observers would look back on this incident as a turning point: the time when Israel came to the brink, looked hard at its internal divisiveness, and chose to retreat into a haze of psychological denial, i.e. "We have no problems in this country, everything is fine, we're okay, everything's "all right," beseder ).

Many saw the roots of the first Palestinian Intifada, which began in 1987, in the events of 1983: in Begin's failure to impose his terms on Lebanon. Two days prior to Grunzweig's death, the Kahan Commission, an investigative body appointed by the Israeli government, had issued its report indicating there was no evidence of a conspiracy on the part of Ariel Sharon or the IDF in connection with the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla. However, the commission found Sharon indirectly responsible for the massacres for failing to foresee their likelihood.

On July 19, 1983, the Refah ("Welfare") Party, an Islamist movement, was founded in Turkey.  It rose to power in 1996.

In 1983 in the Sudan, President Jaa'far Nimeiri instituted rule by Islamic sharia ("law"). This led to the second round of the civil war (first round 1955-1972), which lasted until 2003.

Also in 1983, in Israel, Yitzhak Shamir became prime minister.

1984   Inconclusive Knesset (parliament) elections in Israel led to a coalition between the Labor and Likud parties under a power sharing plan involving the leaders Shimon Perez and Yitzhak Shamir.

Beards and veils began to proliferate in the streets of Cairo again as Islamist resistance against the government took an upturn after a year or so of calm. Rioting broke out at al-Azhar university after a student was run down and killed by a police car. Security forces closed the university briefly.

Also in 1984, Kurdish separatists led by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched a campaign to take over parts of southeast Turkey.

1985    Israel lost 600 soldiers in its two and a half year campaign in Lebanon, equivalent proportionally to half of the death toll suffered by the United States in Vietnam.

On January 18, 1985, in Sudan, moderate Muslim Sufi mystic leader, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha (b.about 1909) founder of a group called the Republican Brothers, was hanged for alleged apostasy and sedition: he had advocated liberal reforms, such as equality of men and women, and he opposed the imposition of sharia law in 1983. The execution, according to former military ruler Jaafar al-Nimeiri (from 1969-1985), was secretly ordered by Taha's sectarian rival, Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood leader Hasan al-Turabi. (See George Packer, "The Moderate Martyr," The New Yorker, Sept. 11, 2006, 61ff.) (See also "Wars of Words and Images")

On February 11, 1985, Jordan and the PLO signed the "Amman Agreement" (also called the Hussein-Arafat Accord) calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank in confederation with Jordan with its capital at East Jerusalem.  A year later (February 19, 1986), amid reports that he was secretly dealing with the Israelis on setting up joint control over the West Bank, King Hussein nullified the pact after Arafat refused to endorse UN Resolution 242.  Moreover, President Reagan had bluntly refused to acknowledge Palestinian rights to self-determination. The net effect was a vastly weakened bargaining position for the PLO, a key factor contributing to the decision by Palestinians in the territories to take matters into their own hands and, in 1987, to launch the first intifada ("uprising").  (See Kirsten Schulze, The Arab-Israeli Conflict (New York: Longman, 1999), 73-74).

On April 6, 1985, there was an army coup in the Sudan. Nimeiri, who had been president since 1971, was ousted and General Abdul Rahman Siwar el-Dahab seized power.

In mid June, 1985, TWA Flight 847 from Athens to Rome was hijacked by Hizbullah commandos and diverted to Beirut. During the incident, U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem was executed by the hijackers.

On September 25, 1985, PLO commandos murdered Israeli citizens in Cyprus. On October 1, in retaliation for this attack, the Israeli air force bombed Tunis aiming at PLO targets, but killing many civilians in the process.

On October 7, 1985, Palestinian commandos led by Muhammad ("Abu") Abbas hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro killing a handicapped American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, who was shot, then pushed over the side in his wheelchair. The U.S. media had a field day with this event (including two made-for-TV movies), but barely mentioned the assassination of Arab poet Alex Odeh the same week in Los Angeles. Odeh's suspected murderer, Robert Manning, fled to Israel and took  asylum in the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba in Hebron. As of 1992, Manning had successfully resisted efforts to extradite him back to the U.S. to stand trial. Abu Abbas was finally captured by American troops in Baghdad during the 2003 Gulf WarAmerican fighter jets intercepted an Egyptian civilian airliner carrying the accused hijackers and forced it to land in Sicily.

Later in the fall of 1985, Palestinian commandos from the Abu Nidal cell killed nineteen passengers in attacks on airports in Vienna and Rome.

A poll conducted in Egypt revealed that 96% of all Egyptians would prefer to live under the Islamic sharia law code.

1986   In February, 1986, hundreds of Egyptian security troops living in squalid tent encampments in Giza (on the outskirts of Cairo, in the shadow of the pyramids) reacted with fury at the news that the government intended to extend their enlistments. Believing that "Western" interests were behind their own problems as well as those of the country as a whole, they went on a rampage over the course of  several days, burning tourist hotels, video stores, nightclubs, and discos.

On April 15, 1986, the United States challenged Libya's right to close the Gulf of Sidra. After an Arab commando attack on U.S. servicemen stationed in Berlin, President Reagan ordered the bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi. U.S. and British hostages were slain in Lebanon.

On April 17, 1986, a 32 year old Jordanian, Nizar Hindawi, was arrested in London for planting a bomb in the suitcase of his pregnant Irish girlfriend who had planned to take an El Al flight to Israel. Hindawi claimed he had been helped by the Syrians (a story he later retracted at his trial). This came two days after the American bombing of Libya, one day after a rash of bombings in Syria  (Seale, 477).

Patrick Seale argued in his biography of the Syrian president (479ff.) that Hindawi had indeed been  working for Syria, although Asad was personally unaware of it. However, Hindawi was also working for Israel's Mossad. Seale says there is evidence that the El Al incident was set up by the Israelis as a further attempt to paint Syria as a terrorist state.

In May, 1986, the Soviets installed Najibullah as president in Afghanistan. He would be deposed in 1992 after the mujahideen captured Kabul.  In 1996, he was executed by the Taliban

In June, 1986, Sadiq al-Mahdi formed a coalition government in the Sudan.

In Pakistan this year, agitation for free elections was led by Benazir Bhutto, daughter of the former Prime Minister who had been executed in 1979 by military strongman General Zia al-Haq.

On October 15, the Palestinian "Islamic Jihad" group launched its "Gate of Moors" operation: a hand grenade attack on Israeli conscripts at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem. Seventy conscripts were wounded and the father of one is killed.

1987   Iranian troops besieged Basra in the first of the Gulf (Iran-Iraq) Wars.

In 1987, a U.S. presidential commission confirmed that the U.S. sold arms secretly to Iran early in its war with Iraq (1979-1988) and diverted profits to support the right wing Contras in their efforts to dislodge the Marxist government in Nicaragua. The motive was to win early release of the hostages taken in the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran by Iranian students in November, 1979.  The architect of the scheme was Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North. 

The United States agreed to the reflagging of Kuwaiti oil tankers resulting in the entry of the U.S. Navy into the Gulf with the mission of protecting Kuwaiti shipping from attack by Iran.

In March, 1987, American Jonathon Pollard was convicted in U.S. courts of espionage on behalf of Israel and sentenced to life in prison. (more 1996, 1998)

In May, an Iraqi fighter jet mistakenly attacked the U.S. frigate Stark, launching a missile that killed 17 U.S. sailors.

On July 31, 1987, tensions between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, especially acute since the Iranian Revolution, led to a riot during the hajj ("pilgrimage") that left more than 400 dead.  Still flush from their successful revolution in 1979, Iran's Shiite clergy flexed their muscles challenging Saudi Arabia's preeminence in the Muslim world (the Saudi's supreme status had been firm since 1969, but had endured an initial challenge in 1979 when, following Iran's Islamic revolution, the Great Mosque in Mecca had been attacked by dissidents). The first serious incidents had occurred during the 1981 hajj when Shiites waved banners of the Ayatollah in defiance of Saudi wishes, which the Saudis took (rightly) as a challenge to their authority as the leaders of the Islamic world. From 1983 through 1986, Shiites succeeded in forcing the Saudis to expand the numbers of Shiites permitted to make the hajj to 150,000, and to allow the Shiites to demonstrate in favor of the Iranian (Shiite) Islamic revolution.  But, the Shiites had overplayed their hand.  The death toll from the 1987 hajj horrified the whole Muslim world and left the Saudis, and their Wahhabi backers, with enhanced authority in the face of what was perceived as Shiite fanaticism.  The Rushdie fatwa (1989) represented Iran's attempt to take the Saudis into a second round.  Saddam Hussein was to take advantage of the Iranian-Saudi quarreling and use it to advance his own claims to leadership of the Middle East.  (See Gilles Kepel, Jihad:  The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2002), 134f.)  (see also Wahhabi challenge to Saudi authority, 1979 and the Buraydah Uprising of 1994)

On November 7, 1987, the aged President of Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, was deposed by his prime minister, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Ben Ali, initially worked to open up Tunisian politics, giving more voice to Islamic opposition groups which had been repressed under Bourguiba's long tenure of one man rule. However, by 1990, as Islamic radicalism increased, Ben Ali had reversed himself and had begun cracking down on opposition.

Also in November, 1987, a communiqué from an Arab summit conference in Amman, Jordan roundly condemned Iran.  More importantly, the conference authorized Arab nations to restore diplomatic ties with Egypt broken off nearly ten years earlier to the day when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat made his trip to Jerusalem in 1977 which led to the Camp David Treaty between Egypt and Israel. The Arab League headquarters was moved from Tunis back to Cairo two years later in 1989.

The Arab Israeli Wars

Roots

1948
1956
1967
1973

Palestinian Intifadas: 1987, 2000

War: Summer, 2006

First Palestinian Intifada, 1987

BBC Maps on the Arab-Israeli Conflict

On December 8, 1987, following months of escalating tensions and sporadic violence, the first Palestinian intifada ("uprising") broke out in the Israeli-occupied territories (the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  The precipitating event was a traffic accident in Gaza involving an Israeli tank-transport vehicle and several Arab cars. Violence erupted at the funerals of four Palestinians killed in the accident. A second intifada broke out in September of 2000).

The Palestinian shebab ("guys") fighters deliberately avoided the use of arms and chose to rely instead on general strikes, closing of businesses, throwing stones, burning tires in the streets, and erecting barricades. Israeli tactics against the Palestinians in addition to tear gas and bullets included mass detentions, beatings (including the deliberate breaking of bones to prevent stone-throwing), deportations, curfews, travel restrictions, the forced opening of Arab businesses closed by strike, and the closing of schools in the occupied territories.

Palestinian tensions had been rising steadily due to a number of factors.  There was anger over the continuing process of Israeli expropriations of Palestinian land.  Arafat had been snubbed and humiliated by other Arab leaders at the summit in Amman in November (see also events 1985-1986). The final communiqué had made no mention of the Palestinians or their cause at all. High profile Palestinian commando operations in the fall of 1985 had corroded Arafat's stature in the eyes of both Arab and non-Arab leaders.   Palestinians inside the territories resolved, therefore, to wage the struggle against Israel for themselves. After the outbreak of the intifada, Arafat moved quickly and skillfully to reclaim leadership. But, seeds of the intifada had also been sown much earlier, after Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.  Another factor was that by early 1983  it became clear that Israel's Menachem Begin could not impose his terms on Lebanon

On December 14, 1987, a new Palestinian resistance group of Islamic fundamentalists emerged, "HAMAS" (Harakat al-Muqawamat al-Islamiyya, or, "The Islamic Resistance Movement"). Based in Gaza and led by Sheikh Ahmed Yasin, this group was much more radical than the PLO, and advocated the violent destruction of Israel.

1988    On March 17, 1988, upwards of 5,000 residents of the Kurdish town of Halabja in northern Iraq near the border of Iran died from a gas attack carried out by Saddam Hussein's forces in an effort to dislodge Iranian forces that  had captured the town during the "Anfal Campaign" of February to September, 1988 ("Anfal" - "The Spoils" - was the title of Sura 8 of the Qur'an).. This campaign was part of a broad program of ethnic cleansing in Kurdish areas that had begun in 1963). (It was not the first usage of poison gas in Arab warfare; that distinction belongs to Egypt and its campaign in Yemen.)

Also in March, PLO commandos attacked an Israeli commuter bus in the Negev desert killing five Israelis. On April 16, Khalil al-Wazir ("Abu Jihad"), military chief of the PLO, was gunned down in his home in Tunis by two Israeli commandos who had come ashore. Officially, Israel neither affirmed nor denied responsibility.

In May, Israel celebrates its fortieth anniversary of independence. In the occupied Palestinian territories, the twentieth anniversary of occupation saw the uprising move into its sixth month.  By mid May, 230 Palestinians, mostly youths wielding stones, had been killed on the West Bank and in Gaza by Israeli riot-control troops using live ammunition.

On May 29, 1988, Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister in Pakistan, the first woman to lead an Islamic country. 

In June, Palestinian-American activist Mubarak Awad was deported from Israel for alleged illegal activities in support of the Palestinian uprising.

On July 3, 1988, the American naval destroyer Vincennes accidentally shot down an Iranian passenger airliner in the Persian Gulf killing 291. At the time of the incident, the Vincennes had been under attack by four Iranian gunboats. Discovering that its cries for condemnation of the U.S. had fallen on deaf ears, Iran, war-weary, and discovering that it had become isolated from the world community, agreed to accept a ceasefire in its war with Iraq. Iraq responded by launching another attack across the border against Iran.  Soon thereafter, hostilities ceased.  The war proved particularly costly for Iran:  260,000 Iranians were killed and 1.6 million rendered homeless. In addition, vast portions of its infrastructure were damaged or destroyed:  oil refineries, ports, irrigation networks, and roads.  In one area, Iran emerged from the war better than Iraq.  Iran used mainly domestic resources to pay for the war.  Iraq, however, borrowed heavily from abroad and went heavily into debt as a result ($50 billion).  This crushing foreign debt was a major factor in Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's decision to invade Kuwait provoking the second round of the Gulf Wars.  (more on the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980)  (second round of the Gulf Wars)

On July 30, 1988, King Hussein disavowed all Jordanian claims to sovereignty over the West Bank and refused to be involved in any negotiations over the disposition of the Israeli occupied territories. While disavowing any claims of his own, King Hussein was known privately not to favor an independent Palestinian state because he feared it would pose a threat to Jordan.

On August 17, 1988, Pakistan's military strongman General Zia al-Haq was killed in an air crash. The following November, Benazir Bhutto was elected Prime minister as the first female Prime Minister of a Muslim nation.

Also during the summer of 1988, Soviet Jews began immigrating into Israel.  On October 23, the Washington Post reported that an Israeli plan to force Soviet Jews to resettle in Israel rather than in the U.S. failed due to Dutch opposition (The Middle East Journal, Spring, 1988). By 2004, a million had come to Israel.  However, discouraged by poor economic conditions in Israel, at least 50,000 had returned home to Russia between 2001 and 2003 (BBC, Nov. 25, 2004).

Also in October, 1988, the most serious riots since independence was gained in 1962 broke out in Algeria.  The rioters came from the ranks of the young urban poor in a country where 24 million were under the age of fifteen (40% of the population), where the urban population was more than 50% of the total population, and where the unemployment rate was in excess of 18.1%.  (See Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Cambridge, MA:  Belknap Press, 2002), 159)

Israel held elections on November 1, but neither the Labor nor the Likud party won a majority. A feverish round of negotiations began with each of the big parties courting the small, mostly orthodox religious parties to gain the votes needed to form a government.  The small parties worked to extract promises of Labor or Likud support for altering the Law of Return to permit citizenship for only those Israelis who could prove orthodox descent, and for legislating strict adherence to Jewish religious laws. "Moledet," a new party calling for the expulsion of Palestinians from the occupied territories, won 2 seats. Eventually, Labor and Likud grudgingly agreed to form a new coalition, mostly out of fear of ceding power to the religious right.

On November 15, 1988, the Palestinian National Council, legislative wing of the PLO, meeting in Algiers proclaimed an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and implicitly recognized Israel's right to exist by voting to accept UN Resolution 242. Other documents rejecting terrorism and calling for the convening of an international peace conference under the auspices of the UN were also accepted. Israel denounced the declaration as "irrelevant and unimportant." On December 14, the US authorized the opening of  a "diplomatic dialogue" with the PLO after a statement by PLO Chairman Arafat in Geneva which, the US determined, amounted to a recognition of Israel's right to exist. US ambassador to Tunisia, Robert Pelletreau, was appointed as US representative to the talks. Israel denounced the move. Talks began two days later.

On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland by a bomb on board killing all 258 passengers and crew. The bomb was believed to have been planted in Frankfurt, and set to go off en route between London and New York. An Iranian group claimed responsibility saying the blast was in retaliation for the American downing of an Iranian airliner in July. But, many suspected the radical Palestinian group, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) based in Damascus and led by Ahmed Jabril. Two Libyan agents were arrested and eventually tried.  In 2002, Libya offered to compensate victims. (See recent tussles between the United States and Libya: 1981, 1986. See also 2006)

1989   On January 4, U.S. Navy F-14s shot down two Libyan MiG-23s over international waters off the Libyan coast. The US planes had been conducting maneuvers when the Libyan jets approached at full speed in attack formation.

On January 17, Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin announced tougher measures for dealing with the intifada. According to the New York Times count, 322 Palestinians had died and 152 Palestinian homes had been sealed or destroyed since the beginning of the uprising in 1987. The same day, members of a group planning for a future "State of Judea" announced that the state would deny "national rights" to the "overwhelming Arab majority" and would seek union with the state of Israel.

On February 14, 1989, Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeni issued a fatwa (Islamic legal "opinion") calling on Muslims to execute London-based writer Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, and his publishers at Viking Penguin. Khomeni charged that the book insulted the memory of the prophet Muhammad and all Islam, and declared that any Muslim killed in the act of trying to kill Rushdie would achieve the status of martyr (all sins forgiven, entrance to heaven assured). Two days earlier (on the twelfth), a mob protesting the Rushdie book had stormed the American Cultural Center in Islamabad, Pakistan killing five (including Deobandi Muslim scholar Fazlur Rahman) making it clear that even though America had supported the jihad in Afghanistan and even though Rushdie was not an American, Muslim fury at what was perceived to be yet another Western attack against Islam was not to be allayed. The fatwa against Rushdie was repealed in 2001. Rushdie was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2007. (More: see "Wars of Words and Images"; see Rachel Donadio, "Fighting Words," The New York Times Book Review, July 15, 2007, 27: Donadio quotes reactions from a variety of prominent Westerners at the time who accused Rushdie of inflammatory opportunism and self-aggrandizement.)

On February 15, 1989, one day after the Rushdie fatwa, Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan, weary from nearly a decade of guerilla war mounted against them by Afghan jihad fighters supported by the United States, whose ranks also included Muslim revivalist militants from other countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  Kabul later fell to the mujahideen in 1992.  Almost immediately, the United States began cutting back its aid to the mujahideen.  The storm created by the Rushdie fatwa the day before all but obscured the triumph of the American and Saudi sponsored jihad to liberate Afghanistan and thrust Iran back into contention for leadership not only in the traditional Islamic world, but, now in the West as well.  With the Saudis back on the defensive in the face of the Ayatollah's new challenge, Saddam Hussein saw an opportunity to begin plotting his move upon Kuwait, which would result in the second Gulf War

On February 16, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and North Yemen formed an economic alliance called the "Arab Cooperation Council. The agreement was signed in Baghdad by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Jordanian King Hussein, and YAR President Ali Abdullah Salih.

In Algeria on February 23, voters in a referendum approved the new constitution by a margin of 73.

On February 26, Egypt and Israel signed an agreement for the return of Taba to Egypt and the evacuation of Israel on March 15th.

On March 8, the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv issued a study concluding that an independent Palestinian state should eventually be established in the territories. On March 20, Israeli media revealed the contents of an internal intelligence agency report asserting that the intifada could not be thwarted in the near future, and that a political solution to the problem could only be achieved through talks with the PLO. The report also indicated that there was no "serious leadership" in the occupied territories other than the PLO and that the organization had moderated.

On April 2, the PLO Central Committee elected Yasser Arafat president of the Palestinian state declared in November. The PLO claimed the recognition of 114 nations. Faruq Qaddumi was appointed Palestinian Foreign Minister.

On April 13 in Cairo, Egypt, Sa'id Kanaan, a leader of the intifada in the West Bank, revealed a peace plan proffered by the uprising's leadership. It called for Israeli withdrawal from major cities and towns in the occupied territories, elections under international supervision, followed by two years of talks on "internal issues." These steps would be followed by final status negotiations involving the PLO which would be guaranteed by the United States and which would lead to a Palestinian state in confederation with Jordan.

In the middle of April, riots erupted in Jordan when stern economic measures were introduced in line with renegotiated agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Also in April, 1989, Egyptian Interior Minister, Zaki Badr, announced the arrests of 1,500 Islamic fundamentalists in the latest of a series of crackdowns on extremists opposed to the pro-Western government of President Hosni Mubarak.

On May 2, 1989, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat told a French interviewer in Paris that the clause in the Palestinian National Charter calling for the destruction of Israel was "null and void." He used the French word caduc, which was considered ambiguous in this context. As a result, many did not regard Arafat's statement as a formal abrogation of the clause, and the Charter continued to reflect the view that Israel's existence was not recognized. (Text of the Palestinian National Charter at Yale's Avalon Project) (See also HAMAS)

In May, Egypt was invited to attend a meeting of the Arab League in Casablanca ending ten years of ostracism by other Arab countries following Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.

On June 3, 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeni died of a heart attack while recuperating from surgery for stomach cancer. An estimated nine million people attended his funeral (according to the Guiness Book of World Records). Majlis Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani began the process of accumulating power and quickly emerged as the new chief executive of Iran. His hold on power was by no means secure as late as the fall. He was strongly opposed by radical factions led by the late ayatollah's son, Ahmed.

On June 25, Michel Aflaq (born 1912), co-founder of the Ba'ath Party, died in Paris.

On June 30, Cairo's daily, Akhbar al-Yom reported that an unofficial delegation of Americans had held informal talks with Libyan officials. The talks were billed as "an exchange of views." In the same month, round trip air service resumed between Egypt and Libya.

In July, 1989, an army coup led by Lieutenant General Omar Hasan al-Bashir toppled the government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in the Sudan. While Bashir was the titular head of the government, it was widely believed that the real power in the Sudan was Islamic scholar and lawyer, Dr. Hasan al-Turabi. Tensions had been rising for months as disaffection grew over the government's failure to bring the prolonged civil war with the Christian south to an end. The country's resources had been exhausted.

The casualty count in the Palestinian intifada as of September 10 had risen to 635 dead.

On October 16, riots broke out in East Jerusalem in response to provocations by Orthodox Jews who attempted to lay a cornerstone for the new temple at the Haram es-Sharif (Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque). Israeli police blocked the attempt, but it was not enough to prevent Arabs from rioting.

By 1989, the easing of tensions over the previous few years between Washington and Moscow had begun to make itself felt in Middle Eastern regional affairs. Evidence began to come to light that the Soviet Union was reigning in its proxies, chiefly Syria, to a lesser extent Libya, which in the Cold War era were employed to offset United States influence. The Soviets appeared at this point to be trying to cooperate with the U.S. Moreover, the Russians were making warmer overtures toward Israel. Restrictions on Jewish emigration from the USSR were eased, and the Soviets moved to establish diplomatic ties with Israel. At the same time, the Soviets began telling their chief client in the region, Syria, that its goal of military parity with Israel was no longer acceptable. Military aid to Syria was cut back sharply. This caused Syrian support of militant Palestinian activity (on the part of Ahmed Jabril's group in particular) to wane. (see John Hannah's article in NY TIMES, 11/28/89, and Alan Cowell on 12/12/89)

On November 24, 1989, radical Palestinian university professor and member of the Muslim Brotherhood Abdullah Azzam was assassinated by unknown assailants in Afghanistan where he had been involved in an anti-Soviet jihad that had broken out in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. (see also Communist coup of April, 1978).  

On December 21, 1989, the Soviet Union collapsed as the former republics made their bids for independence.  See ahead, 1991, for the official end of the Soviet Union.


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