Borders in the Middle East

12-02-2017 10:06 AM

Mary Fikry


 

A recent seminar at the French Cultural Centre in Mounira, Cairo, tackled the topic

“Borders in the Middle East”. Geopolitics expert Michel Foucher talked about the

issue.

Mr Foucher began by saying that once World War I ended, leading to the downfall

of the Ottoman Empire, several Arab leaders dreamt of a “Sunnistan” Arab State

that would include the Middle East Arab countries and that would act as a new

Islamic caliphate. Among these leaders was al-Sharif Hussein of Mecca who, once

the Ottoman Empire came to an end in the wake of WWI, proclaimed himself

Caliph. Even though he was first supported by the UK, with a view of

counterbalancing the fall of the Islamic Ottoman caliphate, the plan failed owing to

ethnic, racial, language and religious divisions in the Middle East.

The dream of one Arab World from the Atlantic to the Gulf, Mr Foucher

explained, is still supported by many Arab leaders. The issue, however, is not at all

simple, he said, owing to wide differences among the countries in the region;

differences in language and culture. But there is something else even more

profound than different local languages and cultures: this is the old geographic

configuration.

Mr Foucher posed the question: “What are the ‘good’ borders between countries?”

There are two answers to this question, he said. First, these are borders that are

approved and accepted by the countries with common borders; it does not matter

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what is the origin of these borders as long as the countries accept them. The second

answer, he said, is that these the borders were drawn by the [political and military]

powers in the world.

In case of the Middle East, Mr Foucher said, it is the colonial world powers post-

WWI, the UK and France, who divided and drew the borders of the Middle East

countries in what became famous as the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Syria, Lebanon,

Iraq and Turkey accepted these borders. The borders of Egypt were well known

since ancient times. The Iran/Iraq border was defined since the 17th century, as

was the border between Russia and the Ottoman Empire.

Today, Mr Foucher said, politicians from a number of Middle East countries are

calling for changes in borders but, he believes, it is better to adhere to the present

internationally-recognised borders in the region. Calls for redrawing borders, he

said, are in many cases based upon divisions among populations, such as the

Sunni-Shia divide. International interference and the division of lands can never be

the right answer to ideological or cultural divisions among people of the same land,

he said.

In reply to a question on how Israel figures in the Sykes–Picot Agreement, Mr

Foucher said the Sykes–Picot Agreement was made one year before the Balfour

Promise in 1917, and many years before the establishment of State of Israel in

1948. He added that it was not right to see Israel as an excuse or justification for

many of the region’s problems, such as the Sunna-Shia divide in Iraq. Middle East

border problems, he said, may be tied to issues that have nothing to do with Israel.

Watani International

11 February 2017

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