Sykes-Picot and the Arab World

How has the Sykes-Picot agreement impacted the Arab people?

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As World War I raged, Britain and France secretly set about carving up the Arab territories ruled by the Ottoman Empire. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 predicted the fall of the Ottoman Empire and divided much of the Arab World into British and French ‘zones of influence’.

But what impact did the Sykes-Picot agreement have on the cause for Arab unity and how has European colonialism influenced relations between the Middle East and the West?

Al Jazeera put these questions to people from across the Arab world and Middle East experts, and this is what they said.

Join our Arab Unity debate on the Your Views section of the site to let us know your thoughts.

George Khoury, 65, retired engineer – Palestinian

Khoury: Let unity take its couse

“Yes, the Sykes-Picot agreement fragmented the Arab World and forced new leaderships on the Arab people.

These leaderships are the ONLY defenders of the Sykes-Picot planning. The Western governments are ready, when these leaders beckon, to come in, in big forces, to fight the people who stand against their governments in an attempt to unify the Arab people.

In my opinion, the Sykes-Picot agreement is not an unusual phenomenon. Thieves were have always been out there.

Piracy was always there, trying to steal other people’s properties, and kill them if they resisted. The important matter here is the ability and creativity of people to defend themselves against these pirates. If people decide to resist, there is nothing that can stop them.

Therefore, Arab people hold the key. The Arab governments will comply or vanish, or simply change course and lead their people towards unity.

In short, the Sykes-Picot agreement caused the fragmentation of the Arab world, but the Arab people hold the solution in their hands. The sooner they realise that Arab unity is their salvation, the better off they will be. I will take this occasion to say to Egypt not to close the gates in Rafah and Al-Ariesh. Keep the borders open between Gaza and Egypt. Let unity take its course.”

Fadi Jundi, 33, computer engineer – Lebanese

Jundi: The deal was designed in a manner
that fulfills the interest of the West

“The Sykes-Picot deal was designed in a manner that fulfills the interest of the West based on the ground realities that existed at the time [1916] i.e. it was a solution that was far from optimal in establishing a stable long term existence in the Middle East.

Accordingly, the various consequences that arose made all the different Middle East people unite under the umbrella of pan-Arab nationalism versus the oppressing West.

In that sense it gave a joint cause for the common people of the region to feel the need for unity against an oppressing West. However, such feelings of unity were to a large degree easily replaced whenever the political echleon in a country decided the need to do so.

However, in my opinion, the main consequences on the Middle East and the turmoil the region has been plagued with would still have existed today, under the guise of slightly different slogans.

The more powerful West would still have needed to control the oil-rich Middle East. The Jewish people would still have insisted on establishing a state in the region. They would still have persecuted the people in Palestine.

The Arabs following their long historic nature would still want to dominate each other whenever the power balance in the various sector of the regions shifted.

In summary, the state of nationalism and the status quo of the region would not be significantly different today in a world were there was no Sykes-Picot deal.”

Fadia Badrawi, 36, graphic designer – Egyptian

Badrawi: It has managed to divide Arabs
rather than unify them

“With regards to Sykes-Picot, it’s obvious to me that the carve-up of the region by the imperial powers was a successful policy of divide and rule and it has managed to divide Arabs rather than unify them, (the US is still doing it right up until today).

Although there might have been some nationalist awakening after the agreement, as a means to combat colonialism, I think the carve-up of the Middle East has been too deep and too detrimental for any meaningful Arab unity to arise in the near future.

I think our current Arab leaders are too weak, too corrupt and do not have the popular support to realise what the majority of Arabs would like – freedom from interference from the West.”

Sarah El Sirgany, 25, journalist – Egyptian

El Sirgany: It has a role in what we are today

“In a sense, it’s the pretext – or rather the history – that explains the politics of the region today. But to trace every event, mishap, war, conflict or even agreement back to the Sykes-Picot agreement would be giving it more than it deserves.

Of course, it has a role in what we are today, an undeniable role in dividing the region between then-world-powers as if a war trophy.

However, a lot has happened since, and that could have changed the course of this agreement and its consequences.

World powers have changed, governments were overthrown and others came in place – a lot. It would be unfair to say this deal is the sole factor in driving us to where we are now.

Bernardo Attias, 41, professor of communication studies – American

Attias: News of the agreement was
followed by an uprising

“One could say that the Arab nations of the Middle East were created by the agreement.

“One could say that the Arab nations of the Middle East were created by the agreement.

The Sykes-Picot agreement was a secret understanding between Britain and France dividing up remnants of the Ottoman Empire into areas that would be administered by these two superpowers.

From an Arab perspective, the divisions created were entirely artificial.

Nevertheless, these divisions led to the national boundaries that followed.

Yet most of the inhabitants of these nations rejected these boundaries for years, preferring a kind of pan-Arab identity; news of the agreement was followed by a pan-Arab uprising.

To this day, the most effective Arab national leaders have been those who speak to the desire for an Arab identity that transcends national boundaries.”

Source: Al Jazeera