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Middle East is divided enough

Redrawing borders throught breaking countries apart on ethnic and sectarian grounds is futile in the absence of a civil state that cares for citizens

Gulf News

The regression of the situation in Iraq, other Arab Spring countries and the return of talk about provinces in Iraq and Barqa in Libya as a way out of the two countries’ deterioration, made me re-read an article written by former US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice in November 2012. In her article titled ‘Syria is central to holding together the Mideast’ Rice said that the “civil war in Syria may well be the last act in the story of the disintegration of the Middle East as we know it”.

Rice also warned the US administration of the fact that the opportunity to hold the region together and to rebuild it on a firmer foundation of tolerance, freedom and, eventually, democratic stability is slipping away from the US’ grasp.

Frankly, Rice’s article is very interesting. However, I want to emphasise the part where she writes about dismantling and partitioning the Middle East. In her article, she did not speak about it as a possibility but rather as an inevitable reality that would take place. Rice also considered the Arab Spring as a tool for dividing the Middle East. Her belief may or may not ring true for many people. However, the US standing with Arab Spring countries despite its knowledge that these countries will be fragmented, is a curious matter.

The question which arises here regards the US aim of backing these projects that will eventually fragment nations and other countries where no Arab Spring took place. The Middle East with its different regimes and systems has never demarcated its borders according to the will of its people, because its countries did not have establishments and institutes that backed people’s views and demands. The demarcation that did take place, put together mixed populations in the context of one state, while surpassing the rights of some of them. However, the people of all these countries are blameless.

The situation today is very different. We cannot blame colonialism or the West for dismantling the whole area today and re-drawing its different maps through tearing countries apart. The countries that were exposed to the Arab Spring are not devoid of well developed political elites that cannot be forgiven for the disintegration of their countries — although they did not take direct part in the process through the usage of means available to them.

The Sykes-Picot agreement, which effectively divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire and demarcated their borders did not take into consideration the historical, ethnic and religious differences in the region. The shaping of these borders was done according to the interests of Britain and France. As a result, new countries and realities emerged. which contributed in merging different people with very different roots and pasts.

The Middle East countries which emerged from this agreement were not democratic countries. Instead, they were countries that were ruled by groups which came as a result of military coups. They set up regimes and extreme security systems to enhance their resistance locally and abroad, where they maintained the unity of the new countries through sheer strength.

The Arab Spring on the other hand led to the birth of countries with a loose structuring of liberties, Constitutions and laws that were left with loopholes on purpose.

This is exactly what happened in Iraq, where it is very easy to penetrate the country ideologically and on the level of beliefs to promote political projects and partitioning schemes. As a result, regional countries surrounding Iraq have all the freedom and ability to play big roles there because of its weakness and the decline of its national identity.

Iraq is one of the most susceptible countries to be broken down as a result of ethnic and sectarian reasons. The setting up of provinces in Iraq today means a project for dividing and breaking up the country tomorrow.

Moreover, if these issues are resolved delicately and elegantly in political avenues, they will not be dealt in the same manner as in alleys and streets. We shall always remember what happened in Yugoslavia that witnessed much ethnic and religious cleansing during the dismantling of the country.

Breaking countries apart on ethnic and sectarian basis is not a natural law to be followed. We have witnessed throughout modern history the establishment of strong national countries made of borrowed communities from tens of other countries and locations, where they are not joined together by religion, sect or ethnicity. However, these people are joined together by their respect for the essence of human beings in a civil state which respects and cares for all- something that cannot be said about Arab Spring countries.

Dr Mohammad Akef Jamal is an Iraqi writer based in Dubai.