In Praise of Sykes and Picot

The Sykes-Picot accord was a dastardly and wicked attempt by the colonial powers to divide the great Arab nation for their nefarious purposes”

Thus intoned the Fourth Grade Civics and History book widely used in Egypt throughout the 1960s. It would be more than two decades before one reader would begin to divine the nonsense therein. At its basic level the Anglo-French agreement created borders and recognized states to be ruled by Arab leaders for the first time in centuries. If these lines had not been drawn, it is likely that even smaller statelets or worse, mayhem, would have reigned. The reader with any doubt need look no further than current headlines about the bloodbath in the Levant.

The Arabs of the region would not have made a single unified nation had Sykes and Picot not made a few of them. And nothing really stopped them from uniting into larger units once the colonial powers departed two or three decades later. In fact, that departure occasioned the fragmentation of Lebanon, the descent of Syria and Iraq into despotism, and the laying bare of Arab lands for the grasping and meddling hands of the retrograde House of Ibn Saud, now rewarded with a Kingdom. Had oil not been discovered and made to fill its coffers that state would have collapsed as surely as the previous iterations of Wahabi Utopias. The current attempt at unification by the so-called Islamic State features a replica of Saudi Arabia, less the oil and the lavishly endowed royal family. It too will likely fail, by the usual means. Internal backstabbing among its leaders, corruption, and a fatal tendency to sell out to the highest bidder.

Today the Levant could do far worse than to restore the Sykes-Picot borders and create moderately repressive states within them. Far more likely there will be more, not less, states than Sykes and Picot imagined, and some of them will bring forth horrors on their inhabitants. So let us sing the praises of Sykes and Picot, two men who attempted to unify the Arabs, and failed not because they made too many states, but too few.
— Maged Atiya

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