The Sykes-Picot agreement

On May 16, 1916, in London, at the height of World War I, Mark Sykes, a British diplomat, signed a secret deal with his French counterpart, François Georges-Picot, about the division of the Middle East between Britain and France, once the Ottoman Empire, the ruler of the region for four centuries, would be defeated. By annexation or through spheres of influence, Britain would be given southern Iraq, Transjordan, Palestine and parts of the Arab Peninsula. France would have Lebanon, Syria and southeastern Anatolia (in today’s Turkey). The Sykes-Picot Agreement, later endorsed in 1920 by the San Remo Conference that divided the spoils of that bloody war among the victors, not only demarcated the Middle East as we know it today, but also planted the seeds of its century-long unrest  (from an article in the Miami Herald).

Now that we have reached the centenary of the Sykes-Picot agreement, what are we to make of its long-term outcome?  In fact, we can see that in the long run, the machinations of the imperialists have not worked.  Neither Syria not Iraq are stable states, because different tribes, clans and sectarian groups have been cobbled together to make what seemed a rational state.  But, in the Middle East (and perhaps elsewhere) tribes and sects do not cohere.  So the Alawis, the Shia, the Christians, the Kurds, the Arabs, the Persians, the Beduin, the Saudis, the Yazidis, etc. etc. are battling it out to determine the future demarcation lines between them.  They are of course helped by outside forces, including the US, UK, Russians, etc. who have their own interests.   Certainly it is in Western interest to see the Islamic State defeated.

But, we should not be so superior, since it was Europe that set the standard for bloody tribal conflicts that took millions of lives (WWI, WWII) before coming to a supposedly peaceful conclusion where everyone agrees on the borders between them (Germans, Czechs, Hungarians, etc.).  In fact, the EU was supposed to be a border-free zone according to the Schengen Agreement, until the status quo was tested by the influx of nearly 2 million mostly Muslim refugees seeking sanctuary and economic opportunity in Europe.  If only the Muslim Arab countries could come up with a similar stable sovereignty arrangement to that of the EU.  But, that could take another 100 years.  Meanwhile, the only stable, economically viable States in the region are Israel and the Gulf States.





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