The Political backdrop
For Britain the political implications of the Balfour declaration and the partition of the middle east were enormous as they had many interests in Greater Syria and Egypt and retaining the biggest slice involved much manoeuvring. The circumstances, that led to the ‘Picot-Sykes Agreement’ 1916, under which certain Arabic territories were apportioned to France and Britain, were complex and damning for the Arabs as it exploited and exacerbated the many divisions, that existed already.
Fergal Keane, a journalist reporting on the programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ BBC radio 4, gave a brief overview of the ‘Picot-Sykes Agreement’ 1916, under which a line was drawn in the sand. Mr. Keene used the mournful tone as journalists on the programme often do, when he pondered over the role of the west in the Arabia and, how it contributed to the upheaval in present day Syria and Iraq. His description did shed light on the assertion in ‘Syria and the Holy Land’, discussed in the last entry, that the future of Damascus depended on, that of Mesopotania.
The Arab revolt, the seeds are sown
The post now takes most of its information from Peter Mansfield and Albert Hourani but lets recap a little. If people remember; the colonisation of the middle east by western powers, necessitated the overthrow of the Porte or Ottoman empire. As such it was the antipathy of the Arabs to Turkish rule, which was exploited by Britain and its cohorts. Mr. Mansfield gives an account of some of the grievances, expressed by Arabic people against Ottoman rule but concludes it was not cut and dried and many Arabic people continued to favour the Turkish.
Mr.Hourani refers to the Treaty of Versailles, drawn up after the 1914-1918 war, which gave the Arabic states token independence. The various regions were mandated to the western powers, notably Britain and France, who had fought for the privilege for over a century. The treaty was formalised by the newly instituted League of Nations in 1922 along with the Balfour declaration, that allowed the eventual Zionist state.
Mr. Mansfield gives an in-depth account of the Arab revolt, that led to ‘Picot-Sykes agreement’, in 1916, rather than independence. He qualifies his account by emphasising, that all the Arabic states were ruled either by Europeans or the Turkish, who governed in different ways, some popular and others not so ideal. He utilises this to explain the lack of homogeneity during the”Arab renaissance”.
According to Mr. Mansfield the Arab revolt was inspired by an uprising of the ‘Young Turks’ in the 1890s. They were tired of Ottoman rule and after a failed coup in 1896, their leaders were exiled.Dissent arose from the failure of the Tanzimat, in 1876; regular readers will remember this was a set of government reforms, innovated by Midhat Pasha.
When the ‘Committee of Union and Progress’ (C.U.P.) reinstated the Midhat constitution in 1908, it was supported by Turks and Arabs of different faiths. In addition the Sultan Abdul Hamid supported the move, though reluctantly. The dichotomy, according to Mr. Mansfield, was the contrast between ”two ideologies”, Ottoman liberalism and Turkish nationalism. For instance Mustafa Kemal or Atarturk, as he became known, was among the dissenters and founded the Turkish republic, based on the latter.
Meanwhile the C.U.P. attempted to enforce a constitution, which promoted equality between the Muslims and the other faiths. This was controversial as many Christians did not want Ottomanisation imposed on them. Eventually for all manner of reasons, including the influence of western Christian powers the momentum collapsed, along with the empire itself.
As these events occurred, several secret Arabic movements were constructed, some involved joint rule with the Ottomans and others Arabic independence. Al-Fatat is an example of the latter and under its auspices, a group originating in Syria, organised an Arab Nationalist Congress, in Paris. There it advocated devolution for Arabia but the suggestion was rejected by the C.U.P. The rift between the Arabs and the Turkish widened but the revolt had yet to come.
The British Conservative party thwarted? A rare sight indeed
In the early 1900s, Britain occupied Aden in Yemen and had drawn up treaties with the various eastern Emirates. The treaties were originally introduced in 1820 to ensure trade agreements as other European powers, entered the region.
Against this political backdrop it is plain, that Britain hoped to extend its political power to the western Arabic states permanently. This probably accounts for the Conservative party’s reluctance to support a Jewish ”homeland” in the 1920 parliamentary session mentioned in a previous entry.
Since their inauguration the Whig or Liberals and the Tories have disagreed on foreign policy and tactics. Though the former were said to be sympathetic to a Jewish ‘homeland’, it is doubtful, that sympathy was the only motivation. It is quite likely, that the Liberals saw their interests better served with the European Jews and the Conservative party, after the overthrow of the Ottomans, by the Arabs. The investiture of the ‘League of Nations’, a type of world government clearly inhibited Tory ambition on that occasion.
Fergal Keane report revisited
Mr. Keane concluded, that the violence would have happened anyway, due to the many differences in the region. It never occurred to him to mention, that this is no excuse, that Britain and co. make matters worse consistently or, that Iraq and Syria were stable and progressive regimes for decades.
The feature did, needless to say, mention the brutality of the Assads, Sadam Hussein and ”ISIL”, despite their backing for the latter. President Bashir al-Assad let the different cultural groups go their own way, as I observed, when I visited; a mistake. President Hafez (his father) was a warrior but by keeping the sectarianism in check, insured stability. Who can blame him if he wanted to reunite Greater Syria?, the European union has drawn everyone into that economic debacle.
All I can say is Mr. Keane is fortunate, that he can flit from country to country, Particularly considering all the people, who are longing to return to those ”terrible” regimes he refers to and are forbidden because of the outside influences unleashed upon them. At any rate, if Britain is mulling over the issue it shows their position is precarious and that they don’t know, which way to turn. Hopefully this will result in the end of the nonsensical invasion of Syria and the restoration of a unified Iraq.
No to NATO!!
There will be a NATO summit held in Newport and Wales is none to pleased. We plan to oppose this debacle. If you are interested see www.nonatonewport.org for further info.