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Will the region’s history of Sykes-Picot repeat itself?

Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi wonders if Middle Eastern countries recognise the gravity of current developments
Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, Director General of the ECSSR attends a symposium discussing his recent book, The Mirage, at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research in Abu Dhabi on May 19, 2015. Christopher Pike / The National
Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, Director General of the ECSSR attends a symposium discussing his recent book, The Mirage, at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research in Abu Dhabi on May 19, 2015. Christopher Pike / The National

The Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916, named after British and French diplomats Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, divided the Ottoman-controlled territories in the Eastern Mediterranean (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine) between Britain and France.

This secret agreement between the two governments was a landmark event in the history of the Arab region and the world.

As a result of the deliberate minefields that the Sykes-Picot Agreement placed in terms of the Arab political borders, the region was beleaguered with constant threats. Throughout the years, there were indeed plans to redraw the map of the region; however, they remained on paper and never took ground.

The “state”, as declared by the terrorist ISIL group, is perhaps the most serious example of remapping borders.

As this self-proclaimed “state” practically eliminates large parts of Syria and Iraq, it thus paves the way, directly or indirectly, towards redrawing the maps of the Levant along ethnic, political and sectarian lines.

In Iraq, for example, there are repeated calls for dividing the country into three mini-states, one each for the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish populations. In Syria, there is frequent talk about establishing an Alawite state on the Syrian coast. Should this scenario materialise, it will automatically imply the birth of a Sunni state in the remaining Syrian territories. Further, some call for the establishment of an independent Sunni state in the ISIL-controlled areas in Iraq and Syria.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement was only revealed in 1917 after the Communists took power in Russia. So the fact that there are no current plans that have been publicly announced by certain powers to divide the region does not mean that such plans do not exist – perhaps the details will become evident at a later time.

Over the past 100 years, the Arab region and its people have paid a high price for the borders drawn by the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

The borders that had been created between areas of shared identity and characteristics, and drawn to combine discordant populations with integral differences as one entity, has the effect of creating ticking time bombs that periodically detonate. As a result, development in this part of the world has been significantly hindered.

Today, in the century following Sykes-Picot, it seems that history is repeating itself – but in a more catastrophic manner.

The integrity of some regions in the Arab world is again challenged as these regions confront a tidal wave of turmoil and chaos that threaten to redefine their borders along ethnic and sectarian lines – creating states as isolated warring cantons governed by violent groups who believe in nothing other than conflict, blood and terrorism.

While the first borders of Sykes–Picot were drawn by colonisers to serve their best interests, the new lines drawn under the “second Sykes-Picot” will be filled with hatred and animosity; they will be ethnic and sectarian borders that detonate with blood and desolation, marring the entire region as it plunges into chaos.

Their objective is to create a new Middle East – one of various dysfunctional imbalances that counteract the interest of the Arab world in a bid to serve the interests of non-Arab regional powers, namely Iran and Israel.

The former will realise its goal in the establishment of Shia mini-states with strong ties, and the latter will realise its old dream of transforming the region into a landscape of sectarian states where it properly fits as a Jewish state along with Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish states.

The question that begs an answer is the following: Does our region recognise how serious the current developments are and how they will affect the future – or is it blindly headed towards its inevitable destiny?

Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is the director general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research

Updated: April 5, 2016 04:00 AM

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