As much of the western world commemorates World War I (1914-1918) and looks at the role Europe played in ultimately defeating an aggressive Germany. Despite losing WWI, it was the Ottomans and other European empires that were rubbed of the global map – Germany was largely left intact. The political mess we have in the Middle East today goes back to what Britain and France created 100 years ago, when they dismantled the Khilafah. Understanding this 91 years on is the key to placing everything in its correct context.
Despite roaring its way into Europe in 1453 and dominating the continent by 1600, by 1900 – 300 years later, the Ottomans became the sick man of Europe and was under occupation by both Russia and Britain. By then Britain had already made contact with Ibn Saud of Najd and Sharif Husain for them to revolt against the Ottomans. The discussions between Sharif Hussain and Henry McMahon of the British Empire were revealed in the McMahan-Hussein correspondence, where Hussein was prepared to commit treason against his own brethren in return for becoming ruler over the whole of Arabia.
By 1917, the British had made three different agreements with three different groups promising three different political futures for the Arab world. Ibn Saud was promised the whole of Arabia, as was Sharif Hussein. Whilst the Zionists were promised a homeland in Palestine as promised by Lord Balfour. But when the Russians were forced out of WW1 due to the Bolshevik Revolution, the ransacking of the Tzar’s ministries brought to light the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret agreement between France and the UK to divide the region amongst themselves. The agreement created new countries and remain the borders in the Middle East today. The borders were drawn without regard for the wishes of the people living there, or along ethnic, geographic, or religious boundaries – they were truly arbitrary. It is important to note that even today, political borders in the Middle East do not indicate different groups of people. The differences between Iraqis, Syrians, Jordanians, etc. were entirely created by the European colonizers as a method of dividing the Muslims against each other. The situation at the time was summed up by Professor David Fromkin, an expert on Economic History at the University of Chicago “Massive amounts of the wealth of the old Ottoman Empire were now claimed by the victors. But one must remember that the Islamic empire had tried for centuries to conquer Christian Europe and the power brokers deciding the fate of those defeated people were naturally determined that these countries should never be able to organize and threaten Western interests again. With centuries of mercantilist experience, Britain and France created small, unstable states whose rulers needed their support to stay in power. The development and trade of these states were controlled and they were meant never again to be a threat to the West. These external powers then made contracts with their puppets to buy Arab resources cheaply, making the feudal elite enormously wealthy while leaving most citizens in poverty.”
Iraq – Officially created in 1920 had never existed in history. The wilayah of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra existed prior to this artificial creation. King Faisel, the son of Sharif Hussein was shipped in as a reward for his father’s treachery. Iraq was literally a creation out of thin air.
Jordan – This country remains today as the most artificially created construct in living memory. The areas Jordan today occupies comprised of a few Bedouin tribes, but was administratively linked to the adjacent al-Sham under the Ottomans. But as a reward for his treachery, Sharif Hussein’s other son, King Abdullah was shipped in to be ruler of a nation created out of thin air. Even today Jordan lacks the resources to function as a state and without Gulf finance it would have collapsed a long time ago. Today’s king, King Abdullah II, is the great, great grandson of Sharif Hussein’s son, King Abdullah.
Syria – Everything north of Mount Hermon went to France. France literally drew some lines in the sand and called it Syria. Prior to this al-Sham was much larger and consisted of the wilayahs of Aleppo, Der as Zour and Damascus. By WW2, the French left the minority Alawi’s in power over an overwhelmingly majority Sunni population.
Lebanon – Literally carved out of Syria, the French had contacts with the Maronite Christians in the 19th century and placed them in power. Lacking a name for this territory they named the country after a nearby mountain with the same name.
Even today there is no such thing as a Jordanian, Iraqi or Lebanese, these were literally created out of thin air by Britain and France in order to maintain the division of the region. The political mess that Britain and France created in the aftermath of WWI remains today. The competing agreements and the subsequent countries that were created to disunite the Ummah from each other led to political instability throughout the Middle East. The rise of Zionism coupled with rulers not loyal to their people has led to corrupt governments and economic decline for the Middle East as a whole.
But the aim of Sykes-Picot was to maintain the division of the region, but the Ummah never abandoned her Deen and as long as this remained, the demand for Khilafah remains within her. If we take the example of Turkey, the only country to renounce Islam completely in its constitution. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk sought to destroy Islam in Turkey and he thought the Turkish people despised their Islamic heritage. However, after just a few decades, pressure on the regime mounted steadily and by the 1950’s Turkish governments started to play up Islamic sentiments in order to maintain their grip on power. By the 1970’s Turkey had its first sign of Islamic resurgence with the incorporation of Necmettin Erbakan in the cabinet. Erbakan like many of the Muslim rulers utilised Islam to gain support from the masses. In the last decade, Erdogan has been forced to use Islam to maintain his dominance of Turkish politics.
The Turkish example is just one of many; Islamic influence in Algeria was so great that the FIS managed to win a landslide victory in 1991. Similarly, the people’s love of Islam in Afghanistan saw the establishment of a state under the pretext of Islam.
We also find that the rulers today protect the architecture created 100 years ago, but their positions have become untenable. This gulf was not present for most of the last century. We witnessed how Jamal Abdul Nasser enjoyed the strongest relationship with the people. He was seen as the Arab saviour due to his wresting of the Suez Canal from the British and his stand against Israel. The Muslims believed that Jamal Abdul Nasser was reflective of them. The Muslims hailed Yasser Arafat as one of the lions of Islam; Arafat managed to enlist hundreds of thousands of young Arab men to his rallying call against Israel. The Muslim Ummah until the late 1980’s were oblivious to the actions of King Fahd and the other Gulf rulers due to their economic prosperity and the influence of the Saudi backed scholars and movements.
Prior to the first Gulf War, the Muslim Ummah generally did not sense the treachery of the Muslim rulers. However, after the first Gulf War, which was prosecuted under the pretext of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, both the American animosity and the complicity of the Muslim rulers became evident. Not only did the Gulf regimes lose credibility for allowing the American troops bases in the Hijaz and other places, but the Islamic scholars who justified the war. Now the Ummah could sense the gulf between themselves and the rulers.
We can measure the level of the Ummah and how far she has come by observing her reaction during the first Gulf War and observing her reaction today. During the first Gulf War, America was not seen as an enemy, and the Muslim rulers were able to open up their territories to America virtually unchallenged by the Ummah. In the second Gulf War, Turkey was forced to turn down billions due to its people seeing the invasion as an attack on her brothers and sisters. Today it was not the Ummah praying Janaza at the death of the Saudi King, but people like David Cameron and John Kerry. Imams were thrown out of masajid for suggesting prayers for King Abdullah
The Arab Spring was a direct challenge to the western created borders that aimed to divide the people. The rulers, who protect these borders, maintained their position by oppressing the people in order to maintain their grip. But what began in the markets of Tunisia, eventually led to thousands to take to the streets in the country. This uprising then crossed the artificial border into Egypt, then Libya, then Syria until it engulfed the whole region with hundreds and thousands calling for political change. This month Syria will reach its fourth anniversary and despite the uprising being diverted in the other countries, the Arab Spring is not over and this opening salvo has removed the fear of the rulers that for so long gripped the people.
The gulf between the people and the rulers has not gone unnoticed by the US who since the early 2000’s has been looking to manage the people’s demands for change. The Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI), is an attempt to further divide the region along new lines. As far as the US is concerned Sykes-Picot is outdated and new borders need to be redrawn in the sand. It is not surprising a new map emerged from a former US colonel which placed the Coptic Christian areas of North Egypt as a new nation, as well as Mecca and Medina and the Oil rich regions of Saudi as new independent nations. This new carving of the region is merely to further divide the region, taking into account these new developments.
Whatever the future of the region there are a number of emerging trends that will make the status quo unlikely to remain and whoever can harness them will likely dominate the region.
Demographics – Today the Middle East has a population of 225 million, but according to the most recent Arab Human Development Report, this will reach 500 million by 2050. Today over half of the population in the region is under 25, this is expected to rise to 75% by 2050. The challenge for the rulers is millions of young people will need jobs every year, these millions of young people want the region run in a way that represents their beliefs and works for them. Until now the rulers have maintained control by oppressing the people, this is no longer sustainable.
Economy – Despite the region possessing significant energy wealth, this wealth has not reached the majority of the people. Many of the economies of the Middle East despite being rich in mineral wealth languish in poverty. The Middle East as a region has the highest unemployment rate in the world of 11%. Youth unemployment is over 30%. Many of the economies are built around a few commodities, or are driven by imports or services. Wealth in the region is in the hands of the few whist the majority languish in poverty. The “victims” of the Arab Spring such as Gaddafi, Mubarak and Ben Ali were sitting on fortunes that they looted from the masses. With the shackles of fear lifted, this status quo will no longer remain. The rulers in the region and their bankrupt economic policies and lack of long-term strategy was the catalyst for the Arab spring.
Energy – Despite the recent developments of shale energy, this will not make the Middle East any less important. The regions possess most of the world’s oil, but more importantly consists of the light sweet type of crude oil and remains the cheapest and easiest to refine. It costs $1-$2 dollars to refine the oil from the Saudi oil fields in the east of the country, the same is the case for Iraq’s oil fields as well as most of the oil in the Persian Gulf. If these strengths were harnessed in the interests of the people, with its young population it will be a force to be reckoned with.
Social media – For long the Muslim rulers controlled information and its dissemination through controlling the media, newspapers and magazines. This KGB method was to ensure organised polity could never take off. But the rise of social media as well as the internet – currently internet access as a percentage of the population is 44% and growing (the lowest in the world). But the Arab Spring showed that the young, who make up the majority of people in the region, are more aware of the treachery of their rulers and have even used social media to communicate the true reality in the region. This tool of controlling information is now at an end in the Middle East.
Islam – Successive polls of the region show the people want their beliefs to be represented in governance. In a 2006 Gallop Poll titled “Islam and democracy”, which gathered data from 10 predominantly Muslim countries, the demand for Shari’ah was well in excess of 60% in the Middle East. In Jordan and Egypt, the demand for Shariah as a source of legislation was in the 80% region. The most recent poll by Pew on Muslim attitudes on sharia, the demand for Shari’ah to be part of governance remained well in excess of 50%.