June 7, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6461

On 100th Anniversary Of Sykes-Picot Agreement, Some Arab Writers Fear New Sykes-Picot Imposed By U.S., Russia; Others Argue That Internal Arab Strife Is The Real Danger

June 7, 2016
Special Dispatch No. 6461

Marking the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided the Ottoman Empire into several territories and thus largely shaped the map of the Middle East as we know it today, the Arab press published many articles discussing this agreement and its outcomes. Some writers focused on the agreements' adversary effects, and warned that the U.S. and Russia are currently formulating a new Sykes-Picot agreement that will subdivide the region's states into even smaller states on a sectarian and ethnic basis. This, in order to further weaken the Arab world and subordinate it to their control. There were also articles that accused the Arab regimes of cooperating with this plan, consciously or unconsciously, and some accused Israel of being party to it.

Conversely, other writers claimed that the disintegration of the Arab world along ethnic and sectarian lines stems not from external plots but from the division and hatred that currently prevail among the Arabs.

Yet another approach was taken by Lebanese journalist Khairallah Khairallah. He wrote that the Sykes-Picot agreement was actually a "gift from heaven," but the Arabs failed to take advantage of it. Instead of using it to develop states that benefit their people, they used it as an excuse to oppress their people and as to justify all their failures.

The following are translated excerpts from some of the articles.   

The U.S. And Russia Are Formulating A New Sykes-Picot Agreement In Cooperation With Israel And Some Arab Regimes

The Egyptian daily Al-Ahram warned in an editorial against reappearance of the "the ghosts of Sykes-Picot," and urged the Arabs to unite in order to avert the danger. It wrote: "Today, May 16, is the 100th anniversary of the cursed Sykes-Picot agreement... that divided the Arab homeland between France and Britain... Today the Arab world is experiencing one of the worst periods of weakness it has even known. Many countries are dealing with internal wars, external plots and international intervention, in addition to domestic deterioration due to the struggle against terror and the economic crises... The plot [that exists today] is clear. Western research institutes and the American press are openly talking of a new Sykes-Picot [agreement] that will correct the mistakes of the previous partition. Nobody can fail to notice that five Arab countries - Iraq, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Sudan - are to be divided into 13 states. The ghosts of Sykes-Picot are tangibly present, [and plan] to divide the Arab region into mini-states along sectarian lines: [separate] states for Christians, Shi'ites, 'Alawites, Sunnis and Kurds... The danger is real and threatens all of us, and therefore we Arabs must awaken and unite, before we awaken to an even greater disaster."[1]

Nizar 'Abd Al-Qader, a Lebanese strategic analyst, wrote in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat that plans for partitioning Syria, Iraq and other Middle East countries had been formulated in the U.S. as early as the 1970s, and that today some Arab states were cooperating with them: "American plans formulated in the 1970s and in the subsequent decades whetted [the appetite of] some sectarian and ethnic leaders and were met with encouragement by some corrupt and tyrannical regimes [that though these plans would] help them stay in power. Apparently, the U.S. administrations also continue to encourage [these plans]...

"Do the Arab rulers understand the danger of submitting to plans of redrawing the present borders - [plans]  leading to religious and ethnic chaos that could last a century, as happened in Europe during the Middle Ages - [and all this] in order to serve the geo-political interests of Israel and of the world?"[2]

"100 years after the Sykes-Picot agreement," the "Kerry-Lavrov" pencil erases the existing Middle East borders (Al-Ghad, Jordan, May 19, 2016)

Fathi Mahmoud, a columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, likewise wrote that the Arabs are party to a new Sykes-Picot agreement and that the division of the region has already started: "What is happening now is a redrafting of the regional map that goes further than the [original] Sykes-Picot agreement and divides what was already divided in the past [into even smaller areas]. As usual, it is the Arabs who will suffer, even though this time around they are the main partners in the re-division of the region...

"The partition of Syria has already started in practice, in the north, with the establishment of [Kurdish] autonomous regions. [The creation of these regions] was dictated by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which has laid down the foundations of what looks like a mini-state for the [Kurdish] people. [This state] has a parliament, called the People's Assembly of Western Kurdistan, and it has formed military forces called the People's Protection Units, and it also has a government, a constitution and an education system. In Iraq, [too], the division along sectarian lines is proceeding with all speed." Mahmoud warned: "The new Sykes-Picot will be much more difficult and tragic than the previous one, which caused the loss of Palestine. It looks like we are in for another Nakba."[3]  

Another Al-Ahram columnist, Dr. Mahmoud Al-Sa'id Idris, wrote that the present partition plan was drawn up by the U.S. and Israel and its implementation started with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. He added that the plan was meant to weaken the Arab world, and warned: "All this is happening amid an almost complete lack of Arab awareness. [The Arabs fail] to draw the connection between Israel and the harming of their interests that is happening [today]. Moreover, Israel is playing a pivotal role in this second round of the plan for partitioning the Arab region, amid a climate of unprecedented cooperation, or at least understanding, between it and the Arabs.

"What brought about this transformation in the Arabs' awareness and understanding of the Zionist entity despite all the destructive roles it has played against them?... How did Iran become the enemy of the Arabs, after it was an ally for a while, at least of some of them? How did the Arabs become as hostile towards Iran as Israel is, and come to regard [Iran] as an existential threat? [And] what is the source of the terrorism that the Arabs have come to regard as their enemy and which competes with and even replaces the Zionist entity [as the Arabs' enemy]?..."[4]

"The Sykes-Picot agreement, 100 later" (Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, May 30, 2016) 

'Abd Al-Mun'im Ibrahim, a columnist for the Bahraini Akhbar Al-Khalij daily, likewise stated that there was an American plan to redraw the map of the Middle East and carve up the Arab states, and that Russia was party to this plan. He warned: "Are we, the Gulf states, immune to this partition plan? Of course not. But right now they [the U.S. and Russia] are delaying the implementation of their plans here [in the Gulf] because they recognize the economic and military might of these states. The alliance between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or more accurately, between Egypt and the Gulf, is restraining the new colonialist partition plan. But once they finish [dividing up] Syria and Libya, they will take their scalpel to the Arab Gulf."[5]     

The Internal Strife And Sectarian Hostility In The Arab World Are Worse Than The Sykes-Picot Agreement

Conversely, other writers blamed the Arabs themselves for the current state of their region. They stated that, for years, the Arabs have made a habit of cursing the Sykes-Picot agreement and blaming it for dividing the Arab world; however, today the Sykes-Picot borders must be upheld because they are better than complete chaos. They stated further that it is the sectarian and ethnic extremism prevailing in the region today, and not any plot by the superpowers, that is responsible for its disintegration.

'Omar 'Ayasra, a columnist for Al-Sabil, the paper of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, wrote: "How saddening that the proverb 'hang on to the wretched thing [you have] so that you do not end up with something even worse' accurately describes the Arabs' attitude towards the imperialist plans that were imposed on them. This proverb exactly describes the Sykes-Picot agreement, which we cursed so much, regarding it as the source of the problems that made us so dependent and backward... On the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement that divided [the Arab world], we yearn for [this agreement] to hold up, because [if it doesn't] what will come will be much worse and much blacker.

"We never imagined that the states of whose [viability] we were never convinced would become a paradise compared to the hell of division and partition that may become a solid fact in the near future. The states of Syria Iraq, Libya, Yemen and others are being remade by destroying these countries and their societies and reviving the [old] ethnic and secondary loyalties.

"[Recently], Masoud Barazani, [president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region], declared that the Sykes-Picot [agreement] has completed its role and it is time to look for an alternative.[6] Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Druze in Lebanon, [likewise] believes that Sykes-Picot is no longer valid and should be altered. The various minorities and sects aspire to establish states that will highlight their particular identity. I consider this a much bigger tragedy than Sykes-Picot."[7]

"The New Sykes-Picot": the tank of "sectarianism" divides Iraq, Syria and Yemen

Ayman Al-Hammad, editorialist for the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh, stressed that the danger to the unity of the Arab world did not lie in a new Sykes-Picot agreement but in the sectarian and ethnic hostility that prevails among the Arabs. He wrote: "To tell the truth, I do not think that [we will see] a new Sykes-Picot agreement like the one [sighed] 100 years ago. Despite the considerable weakness and instability of the present Arab regimes, what is happening today is very different from the scenario that unfolded a century ago. [Today] there are entities whose borders are clearer. The facts are different, and the interests intersect in a more  complicated manner. However, we may be in a new psychological state that [enables us] to bear the idea of the Sykes-Picot [agreement]. [I refer to what is] in the heart of the Arab citizen, whose attitude towards his neighbors in the region, [or even] in the neighborhood where he lives or in the next town, has become dark. This is because the events we are experiencing have sown a sense of alienation in every citizen in the country. Invisible yet tangible boundaries exist even between the residents of a single neighborhood. I think that is even worse than the Sykes-Picot [reality]."[8]  

Liberal Saudi journalist Khalaf Al-Harbi wrote in the government daily 'Okaz: "It has come to the point that we mourn [the destruction] of the Sykes-Picot agreement, after for a whole century we lamented its outcomes... Today the Arabs do not need a new Sykes-Picot [agreement] and there is no need for foreign forces to redraw our maps - because our hearts, filled with sectarian hatred, and our minds, filled with ethnic and tribal extremism, serve as the despicable pen and ruler [with which we] divide [our own region].

"Sure, there are declared plans by the superpowers to [re-]divide the region that was [already] divided in the past and turn the [existing] mini-states into even smaller mini-states - but these plans would not have existed without the division that prevails among us... The Arabs will not derive much benefit from talking about a grand international plot [against them], just as they derived no benefit from cursing the Sykes-Picot [agreement] for the past 100 years..."[9]

Lebanese Journalist: Sykes-Picot Was A Boon For The Arabs, But They Failed To Take Advantage Of It

Conversely, Lebanese journalist Khairallah Khairallah, the former editor of the London-based daily Al-Hayat, praised the Sykes-Picot agreement, calling it a "boon" for the Arabs and "a gift from heaven." He wrote in the London-based daily Al-Arab: "There are those in the Arab world who have always cursed the Sykes-Picot [agreement], seeing it as the main [reason] for the [Arabs'] calamities and defeats in every field. [But] the Sykes-Picot agreement was not the main reason for these calamities and defeats, but merely the coat hanger on which many Arabs hung their problems and their helplessness, in order to excuse their inability and backwardness.... Sykes-Picot failed because the Arabs moved away from what is realistic and rational, though it could have been made into a success... Most Arabs thought that slogans were enough in order to realize their aspirations. They never distinguished between reality and dreams...

"Sykes-Picot was a boon, but not a single Arab regime managed to preserve it, adapt itself to it, and develop it so as to serve the people of the region and their future generations. On the contrary, the regimes used it as an excuse to oppress their peoples, sometimes in the name of Palestine and sometimes in the name of Arab unity and resistance to global colonialism and imperialism. On the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot [agreement], the Arabs will [find themselves] lamenting [its loss]. It was a gift from heaven that they did not manage to preserve. [This is] only because they did not understand from the beginning... that they had states and political regimes that could be developed, instead of resorting to military rule and security apparatuses that gave birth to sectarian militias - from the Sunni organization ISIS to its Shi'ite equivalents, whatever their names."[10]  




[1] Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 16, 2016.

[2] Al-Hayat (London), May 21, 2016.

[3] Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 17, 2016.

[4] Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 17, 2016.

[5] Akhbar Al-Khalij (Bahrain), May 22, 2016.

[7] Al-Sabil (Jordan), May 23, 2016.

[8] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), May 16, 2016.

[9] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), May 23, 2016.

[10] Al-Arab (London), May 20, 2016.

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