Imperial Rivalry in the Modern Mediterranean

France and Turkey are now contending for political and economic dominance in the Mediterranean in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions.

Soner Cagaptay, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argues that the imperial legacies of the French Empire and the Ottoman Empire are shaping the current neoimperial policies of both France and Turkey in the Mediterranean region.

The Ottoman Empire conquered most of the Eastern Mediterranean and much of North Africa in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, becoming a major world power. France engaged in early forms of maritime imperialism in the Mediterranean from the sixteenth century before expanding its Atlantic colonies in the Caribbean and Canada. Despite French involvement in latter-day crusading against “the Turk” in the early modern period, France and the Ottoman Empire sometimes acted as allies against their common Habsburg enemies.

As Cagaptay emphasizes, Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt disrupted the political situation in North Africa and the Levant.  French “new” imperialism in North and West Africa in the nineteenth century then led to direct rivalry with the Ottoman Empire.  Echoes of this competition are being felt today.

Cagaptay’s op-ed is available at the New York Times online.

This entry was posted in Comparative Revolutions, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, Empires and Imperialism, Mediterranean World, Political Culture. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Imperial Rivalry in the Modern Mediterranean

  1. Thanks for drawing attention to an interesting article.
    There’s a lot I would agree with there, but the author is a bit selective, for his own purposes (or the purposes of an American readership).
    By emphasizing French influence in the 19th century, he completely ignores the British – who controlled Egypt for much longer than the French. Much French influence was cultural and linguistic rather than political.
    He’s also too cute, I think, in his phrasing about the expansion of Turkish embassies. If 18 out of 33 are in ‘Muslim and African countries’ then 15 are not, and this seems a reasonable ratio, given the general expansion of Turkish wealth and diplomatic engagement, and the breakup of larger states into smaller units – how many Turkish consulates are there now in the former Yugoslavia, for instance?

    • Thank you for your comment and your point about the Soner Cagaptay’s selectivity. I agree with you that French influence in the eastern Mediterranean has often been cultural and linguistic. I am not sure about the location of the new Turkish embassies, so I cannot comment on this aspect of the op-ed.

      I found the Cagaptay’s attempt to link the early modern history of the Mediterraenan to current Mediterranean politics interesting, since I teach an undergraduate course on the Mediterranean World, 1450-1750. I try to encourage my students to read current news and information that makes use of the historical period that we are studying, and then to assess how effectively contemporary authors utilize the past.

      Thanks again for your comment.

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