A thousand years ago when Europe was in the period known as the Dark Ages, the Arab world was generally an area of tolerance and trade. Percy Bysshe Shelley's famous 1817 sonnet "Ozymandias” was about the "colossal wreck, boundless and bare" of a once mighty pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, lying amidst the desert sands. The history of the Arab people over the past 750 years has also been one of decay and economic stagnation, despite oil riches in some countries in recent times.


Baghdad was once a world centre of the arts, learning and science, and after its destruction in 1258 by the Mongols, led by Hulegu, a grandson of Genghis Khan, the Abbasid dynasty of caliphs of Baghdad, the second of the two great Sunni dynasties of the Muslim empire, also ended. The ancient city of Mosul is today run by what is claimed to be a revival of a caliphate and the government of Syria is struggling to survive in Damascus, another city with a long history.

President Obama said in a speech in Cairo in 2009:

It was Islam that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed.

The rise of the Ottoman empire with the 1453 conquest of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople — which the Turks called Istanbul— also enabled the Turks to claim the legitimacy of a caliphate.

After the collapse of the empire at the end of the First World War, the British and French moved in as colonial powers and Israel was established in 1948 as a homeland for the Jews.

Economic growth has reduced poverty in Asia and Latin America in recent times but Arab countries have been both brutally and badly run while the Gulf countries have relied on foreign workers but with little home-grown innovation in their economies.

Ethnic minorities ruled Iraq and Syria and the end of brutal dictatorships would inevitably be followed by turmoil.

The Saudi Arabian ruling Saud family's promotion of the extreme version of Sunni Islam that was first promoted by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792), has encouraged religious fanaticism while Israel's plantation of occupied Palestine  area known also as the West Bank of the Jordan River, has also given a recruiting tool to jihadists.

Ultimately, the Arabs comprising 375m people, can only save themselves but it may take a long time.

The history of the Al-Andalus caliphate in Cordoba and the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad, show a tolerance for other religions and outside ideas, that is not seen in modern Saudi Arabia. The ban on women driving shows the struggle between the modern and what is seen as tradition - however, some of the ancient rulers had more wisdom than contemporary ones.

Arab civilisation, Al Hambra

La Alhambra Muslim fortress, Grenada, Spain,  Al-Ḥamrā' in Arabic meaning "the red one"