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What awaits the Arab world?

Jul 01,2014 - Last updated at Jul 01,2014

As the situation continues to worsen in many major Arab countries, overwhelmed Arabs continue to wonder on how worse matters would have to get before turning better.

So far, there are no signs of a promising reversal.

More than two weeks after the fall of more than one third of the Iraqi territory to a small number of foreign invaders, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, now in full control of provinces, major cities, borders, vital highways, resources and a principal oil refinery, attempts by the current Iraqi government to regain some of the lost territory have so far proved ineffective.

The government forces’ counterattack to retake the strategic city of Tikrit is yet to make any progress.

Besides the poor training and inadequate gear, the spectacular and the instant collapse of the Iraqi army is mainly attributed to the lack of spirit and will to fight.

Many reports from the scene spoke of soldiers unwilling to sacrifice their lives for a sectarian leadership in Baghdad they have no loyalty for.

Iraqi citizens in the invaded areas were also reported to have welcomed the invaders as saviours. Others, such as some of the former Iraqi army personnel, former Baath party members, marginalised communities and community leaders, joined the invading forces, offering moral as well as practical support.

All calls, from friend and foe, on the current Iraqi leadership to seek political rather than military solution for the crisis have been ignored.

The prospects of either a political or a military exit seem bleak.

Iraq is virtually divided. It is hard to imagine that the integrity and the political unity of the Iraqi territory can be restored any time soon. That is deeply worrying and hard to ignore.

Fears of a possible Balkanisation of the Arab region have circulated for decades. Such move was rejected as a product of foreign designs intended to abolish the common Arab identity and replace it with a mosaic of ethnic, religious and sectarian entities.

Israel, often believed to be behind such designs, would then impose its hegemony on such competing and weak mini-states.

In 2006, Joe Biden, then senator from Delaware gearing up for a presidential campaign, proposed that Iraq be divided into three semi-independent regions, for Shiites, for Sunnis and for Kurds. He predicted that if his plan was ignored, Iraq would be torn by sectarian conflict “that could destabilise the whole region”, the Sun-Times Wires (June 21, 2014) recently reminded.

Because the Bush administration chose to ignore Biden, Sun-Times said: “Old sectarian tensions have erupted with a vengeance as Sunni militants seize entire cities and the United States faults the Shiite prime minister for shunning Iraq minorities.”

While reminding of this eight-year-old fact, I am in no way endorsing it, as the Sun-Times Wires does, as a wise vision.

I strongly believe that the Arab countries often cited as candidate for such breakups — Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, in particular — have all the means of remaining politically and territorially united despite the diversity of their citizens.

Promoting and working to achieve an ethno-sectarian map might lead to an endless process of fragmentation that would hardly stop at the currently circulating ideas: three states in Iraq, three in Syria and three or more in Lebanon.

The population of every country worldwide is made up of various ethnic and religious components. All the ethnic and the sectarian groupings of which the Iraqi society is made up exist in the United States, as well as in many other non-Arab countries, without similar problems.

The reason why such calls for separation only relate to Arab countries is far from objective. It is meant to disguise the real causes of instability and communal discord, mainly wars, foreign intervention and outright self-serving incitement.

In a real democracy, where the governing factor in the society is citizenry, any such ethnic or sectarian differences disappear.

They disappear when people are equal before the law, when their rights are defined and respected, when they all are treated in the same manner, regardless of what they are, who they are, what they look like and where they came from, and when justice and the rule of law prevail.

Those who keep reminding that Iraq was originally composed of three provinces — Basra, Mosul and Baghdad — in the post-World War I forget another historical reality. They dismiss the fact that the three said provinces were not independent entities and that the entire Iraq was part of the huge Ottoman Empire, which contained countless various ethnic and religious groups.

Syria, as well as the entire so-called Middle East, was part of the Ottoman Empire too until the latter was dismembered, at the end of the 19th century.

Both Iraq and Syria managed to maintain their political independence for decades, until struck by war and foreign conspiracy.

Under the Hashemite monarchy, from the establishment of modern Iraq until the devastating military coup d’état in 1958, Iraq was a democracy where Kurds, Christians, Turkmen, Muslims (Shiites and Sunnis) and others lived perfectly with each other.

Even under the changing dictatorships after that Iraq remained united.

Only as a direct result of the American-led war on Iraq of 2003 did the country fall apart.

Instead of the state-building promise, and the installation of democracy by the forces that invaded Iraq and destroyed the existing institutions, chaos, instability, uncertainty and collapse of law and order were left behind by the invading forces.

Sykes-Picot, the Anglo-French secret agreement that in 1917 drew the regions’ borders in anticipation of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, creating Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, was already meant to fragment an Arab world seeking liberation from Ottoman rule and unity.

Sharif Hussein of Mecca obtained definitive promise from the British that he would lead a united Arab kingdom comprising all the areas covered by the secret Sykes-Picot schemes once the war is won by the allies.

The earlier generations of Arab nationalists regarded the entire Arab world as one independent and united political entity. And it would have been, had it not been for the secret allies’ conspiracies.

Despite the negative side of past events, the creations of Sykes-Picot became accepted realities, although transitional for the many who believed that total unity of Arab parts would one day be realised.

It is this part of the region that is currently threatened with further partition.

In the prevailing uncertainty and social, ethnic and sectarian tensions, it is difficult to examine the real sentiments of the concerned people, whether they want separation or unification. That can only be possible under a democracy.

This has led to a vicious cycle in which chaos pushes further apart any chance of democratisation and the steady drift away from democracy causes more chaos.

This cycle has to be broken first. I cannot claim to know how.

What I know is that few seem willing to learn the lessons of recent history.

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