• Wednesday 21st April 2021

Colonial Powers Did Not Set The Middle East Ablaze By Roula Khalaf

To blame Sykes-Picot is to ignore the fact of deeply entrenched territorial nationalism in Arab states

 

Colonial powers did not set the Middle East ablaze

By Roula Khalaf

To blame Sykes-Picot is to ignore the fact of deeply entrenched territorial nationalism in Arab states

When it

launched its spectacular offensive through northern Iraq in June, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, bulldozed a berm on the border with Syria. “Smashing Sykes-Picot”, the jihadi group tweeted to its followers. The stunt worked wonders, reigniting the debate over the 1916 secret British-French agreement that carved the Arab territories of a collapsed Ottoman Empire into separate states.

British-French agreement that carved the Arab territories of a collapsed Ottoman Empire into separate states.

Sykes-Picot is dead, declared some; it is at the root of the present mayhem in the Middle East, said others. As Iraq and Syria teeter on the brink of break-up, zeroing in on the artificial borders defined by the Sykes-Picot accord has a certain appeal. It offers a simple explanation for the extraordinary sectarian mayhem. It also makes the case for partition of the two Arab states less contentious. If people seem bent on killing each other because colonial powers unwisely lumped ethnic and religious communities together artificially, would they not be better off living apart?

Focusing on Sykes-Picot also conveniently obscures more recent foreign meddling, particularly the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, which ousted Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime and sparked a sectarian struggle for the state. It suggests that the mistakes in Iraq were not committed a decade ago, but before anyone in the George W Bush administration was born.

Yet, while debating European colonialism might be a worthy exercise, relating today’s events to colonial borders is misleading.

True, the boundaries designed by Mark Sykes, a British diplomat, and François George-Picot of France, who divided up Arab territories into spheres of influence, took more account of European interests in the aftermath of the first world war than those of the populations concerned. The agreement also contradicted British promises made to the Arabs, and ushered in a period of colonialism the legacy of which


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *