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The World at Home

Last update - Tuesday, July 1, 2014, 11:07 By Charles Laffiteau

  Last time I discussed the hypocrisy of European democracies like France that supply advanced weaponry to Russia knowing they will be used to undermine democracy in its neighbouring states. But I want to go a step further and examine the reasons why democracy has thus far been a failure in the Middle East, and Iraq in particular.

First, though, we must first determine what we mean when we characterise a particular country as being a “democracy”. Going by my dictionary, the word defines either a form of government whereby people choose their political leaders by vote, or a country or organisation where all are treated equally and have the same rights. Both are quite general definitions, which means countries like Syria, Russia and Iran can claim they are democracies.

A better definition of democracy, and the one I use, is a form of government in which people choose leaders by voting in free and fair elections, and a country in which legal institutions insure that everyone is treated equally and has equal rights. Under these more specific definitions, Syria doesn’t qualify, because it’s elections were not free and fair. Ditto Russia, for its legal system does not ensure equal rights for all, and Iran, whose real leader is the unelected Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Meanwhile, the leaders of France, Great Britain and the United States love to tout their own “democratic values”, but none of them are very keen about acknowledging how their countries’ past actions have precipitated the current unrest in Syria and Iraq. Former British PM Tony Blair disputes the notion that Iraq would be stable now if the US and Britain had not invaded and overthrown Saddam Hussein. But what he doesn’t mention is the role the UK and France played in drawing up Iraq and Syria’s borders.

Almost a century ago, in 1916, Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot negotiated a secret agreement to divide up the Ottoman Empire’s Arab provinces outside of the Arabian Peninsula into separate spheres of British and French influence. France was to control southeast Turkey, Lebanon and most of what is now Syria and northern Iraq. The British were to control what are now Israel, Jordan and Kuwait, as well as most of Iraq, from Kirkuk to the Persian Gulf. Although both countries later repudiated the agreement, its main terms were affirmed with the mandates later ratified and approved by the Council of the League of Nations in 1922.

The Sykes-Picot agreement is important because it represented a betrayal of the promises the British and French had made through TE Lawrence – better known as Lawrence of Arabia – to support the establishment of an Arab homeland in greater Syria in exchange for Arab support against the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately, the deal was only the first in a series of broken promises made by western democracies to the Arab populations living in the Middle East.

Following years of civil unrest, France finally signed a treaty in 1936 that recognized Syria as a sovereign nation and promised a gradual movement towards full independence over the next 25 years. But thanks to the imperialist ambitions of some French politicians, and fears of being outflanked by Nazi Germany, France broke its promises by first refusing to ratify the treaty and then later reasserting its control over its League of Nations mandate in Syria. Although Syria and Lebanon both gained their independence in 1943, French troops didn’t leave until 1946.

In Iraq, Great Britain set up the Hashemite King Faisal I, who had been forced out of Syria by the French, as its colonial ruler and selected Sunni Arabs to fill all of its government offices. At the urging of King Faisal, Britain granted Iraq independence in 1932 but retained all of its military bases as well as its oil concessions. But when a coup deposed the Hashemite monarchy in 1941, the British invaded to protect their oil supplies, restored the Hashemites and began a military occupation that lasted until 1947.

So Blair is at least partially right when he contends that you cannot blame the current civil unrest in Iraq solely on the US-led 2003 invasion that deposed Hussein. But while the seeds of the current Sunni-Shiite conflicts in the region were sown decades ago, it was the 2003 invasion that created the unstable conditions that allowed those seeds to blossom.

The Iraqi people may have voted for their current political leaders in free and fair elections, but they still do not live in a country where legal institutions treat them equally. On the other hand, while the Syrian people have never been able to vote for their leaders in free and fair elections, before the civil war they were able to live in harmony in a country where the legal system also insured that Shiites, Sunnis, Alawites, Christians and Druze were all treated equally.



Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is pursuing a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011.

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