The Arab region is witnessing several political changes similar to those that followed the First World War. Among the key consequences of that war was the end of the Ottoman Empire, which was referred to as ‘the sick man of Europe’, as well as European colonialism in the region.
Back then, Arabs bet on European powers to support their right to independence and the creation of a single unified Arab state. The era was referred to as the ‘Great Arab Revolt’ (1916–1918). It was led by Sharif Hussain Bin Ali, Emir of Makkah, against the Ottomans in 1916 with support from Britain.
The Arab Revolt was declared by Bin Ali in the name of all Arabs with the aim of securing independence from the ruling Ottoman Turks and creating a strong unified Arab state spanning from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen.
To this effect, the principles of the Arab Revolt were laid down by Bin Ali and other Arab leaders in Syria and Iraq. The British government pledged in what became known as the ‘Hussain-McMahon Correspondence’ (1915), to support Arab independence in exchange for their participation in the war against the Turks.
However, Arab aspirations for independence and unity did not coincide with the greedy designs of Britain and France, the era’s colonial powers.
Although Arab forces succeeded in sweeping away the Turks from Hejaz in East Jordan, and helped British forces militarily and politically in the Arab east, Britain began to split and occupy the region.
While accepting the principles of Arab independence laid down in the Hussain-McMahon Correspondence, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed by Britain, France and Russia in 1916, divided the supposed unified Arab state into three military zones.
As a result of this agreement, Palestine, East Jordan and Iraq came under the British mandate while Syria and Lebanon were put under the French mandate.
This is exactly what the status of Arabs was in the early 20th century. Relying on British promises did not help them establish a unified Arab state.
The political aspirations of the Arabs were not to be realised, however, due to the conflicting promises made by the British to their wartime allies. In any case, the interests of the colonial powers took precedence over promises made to the Arabs.
In contrast, the British government helped establish a “Jewish national home’ in Palestine, through the Balfour Declaration which was made by then British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour.
The declaration was followed by the so-called Faisal-Weizmann Agreement which was signed by Prince Faisal Bin Sharif Hussain with Chaim Weizmann, head of the World Zionist Organisation at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Acknowledging the Balfour Declaration, Prince Faisal gave facilities to Jews that helped them establish a national home in Palestine.
The Arab revolution was initiated to advance the status of Arabs and place the nation on a path of progress as part of the Arab renaissance project. However, what began as a legitimate Arab revolution with high aspirations ended up being controlled by European powers that utilised the revolt to further their own interests.
The Zionist movement made the best use of this revolt by creating an ‘Israeli state’, but the single unified Arab state did not come into existence.
Today, the Arab region is seeing the downfall of the ‘sick official Arab system’ in view of the growing global attention given to the Arab region and its resources, as well as of Israel’s major impact on events happening in the region due to its influence on the US, the world’s sole major power at present.
No one can defend the status of the ‘sick official Arab system’ or accept this system to continue to exist. Yet, the most wanted change is not just a matter of goals or slogans, but is demand that cannot be achieved without having a clear vision and national agenda that define practices, means and priorities.
In fact, there are hectic attempts to internationalise domestic issues in the Arab region so as to once again bring Arab countries under a UN mandate, similar to what once prevailed in the first half of the 20th century. Libya has come under the UN Security Council’s supervision and the direct trusteeship of the Nato alliance.
Sudan was and is still under international trusteeship, while attempts continue to internationalise internal crises in Yemen, Syrian and Lebanon.
Regretfully, there are painful events taking place within Arab societies, such as sectarian and ethnic divisions and the weak immunity of the Arab system to face such a challenge.
On the other hand, Israel hopes that the Arab street will no longer protest against Israel, but against Arab governments.
Addressing US Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slams the Arabs with his no’s; ‘No’ to the 1967 borders, ‘No’ to the Palestinian ‘right to return’, ‘No’ to halt colony-expansion, and ‘No’ to the division of occupied Jerusalem.
In Israel, there has been a non-stop endeavour for many decades to support the creation of sectarian and ethnic states in the Arab region. Israel has a rich record of creating sectarian and ethnic strife in Lebanon, Iraq and Sudan. And now, it has been attempting to create sectarian strife in Egypt — the recent arrest of an Israeli spy is clear evidence of what the Zionist entity is trying to do in the region.
Even more, there are Israeli attempts to divide Egypt into three states, expel the Palestinians from Gaza to Sinai and divide all the Arab countries into small entities, similar to what happened in Sudan.
This is simply because the existence of small sectarian and religious states in the region is the super solution to Israel’s internal and external problems, and then slogans such as a Jewish state or a state of Jews will be acceptable to Arabs since they have Sunni, Shiite, Alawite, Druze, Nubian and Amazigh sects among others.
By dividing Arab countries along religious lines, Israel hopes that what happened after the Sykes-Picot Agreement will happen again: the new states will end up fighting each other to the point that they seek help from foreign powers. This will lead to forging alliances with Israel, just like it happened in Lebanon during the civil war.
The establishment of new small states will require a demographic increase in various sects. This will facilitate the Zionist design aimed at settling the Palestinians in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and some Gulf states. This is the solution on which Israel is betting.
Of course, Israel will take advantage of the era of establishing the ethnic and sectarian states in which the Arabs will be busy fighting each other, while the Hebrew state will continue to build colonies in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank and apply more pressure on Palestinians in the 1948 areas, in a bid to force out as much as it can to the other newly established or already existing states.
The most dangerous design by Israel is proposing Jordan as “an alternative home for the Palestinians”. When the Arabs, as Israel wishes, involve in bloody battles, it would be the time to achieve its design by making Jordan the alternative home for the Palestinians.
What I have mentioned is not mere imagination, but are Israeli facts on the ground, especially in light of the radical right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
Certainly, Israel’s plans and designs are not God’s will and destiny. There have been many such projects in the past decades that have been resisted and thwarted.
Nevertheless, what is happening now is different from what occurred in the past in terms of circumstances. The talk about resistance against Israel and challenging foreign domination is not a priority to many Arab groups and parties, some of which would not be embarrassed to demand foreign intervention.
Maybe, the biggest problem now is the existence of American, European, Israeli, Turkish and Iranian designs on dealing with changes in the Arab region and how to make the best use of them in favour of non-Arab agendas.
Yet, this can only be achieved if there is a complete absence of an Arab strategy to maintain the territorial integrity of Arab countries and preserve the independent will and decision-making of the Arab nation.
But, it is regretful that there is no national unification strategy in Arab countries where revolutions were victorious. So, how would it be in countries which are facing uprisings?
Hopefully, both Arab rulers and citizens will realise the direction they are taking!
Sobhi Ghandour is the head of Al Hewar Centre in Washington.