An American author is trying to answer the question of the last century… How did the West steal democracy from the Arabs?

On March 8, 1920, the “Syrian General Conference” issued a declaration of independence in the name of the Arab-speaking peoples living in Greater Syria, which includes the countries of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. During World War I, many Syrian Arabs fought with the Allied forces, which contributed to the status of An end to the war.

And the book “How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs: The Syrian Arab Conference of 1920 and the Destruction of the Historical Liberal-Islamic Alliance” was recently published by Atlantic Publications for the year 2020, by the American author and academic Elizabeth Thompson.

Thomson considered in her book, which she presented “To All Syrians,” that many of the Arab elites in the Levant embraced, a century ago, the principles of American President Woodrow Wilson in “freedom and the right of self-determination for large and small states alike, and ensuring independence on the basis of equal rights, and the rejection of policy of conquest and colonialism.

The Syrian Conference had already drawn up a constitution for a democratic parliamentary monarchy that could be a counterpart to Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries that were independent from the Russian, Austrian and Ottoman empires that were defeated in World War I, but France and other Western countries met at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and had a different opinion.

Arab democracy

The book of the historian and professor of modern Middle Eastern history at the American University tells the story of a pivotal moment in the history of the modern world, when representative democracy became a political choice for the Arabs, while the West considered it a threat to its colonial interests and deliberately lost it.

The author published the book with two maps, one of them for the lands that Prince Faisal considered “the Levant” or natural Syria in 1919, and included Jerusalem, Haifa, Tripoli, Beirut, Damascus, Daraa, Amman, Homs, Aleppo, Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor and Al-Jawf. / July 1922 in the League of Nations, a division that almost coincides with the current situation of the countries of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

The book tells the story of the 1920 Syrian Arab Congress, which drafted and ratified what it described as the most democratic constitution to date in the Arab world, inspired by the 14 Principles of US President Woodrow Wilson (1846-1924).

Influenced by the fear of occupation by France, the Syrian Council forged a historic alliance between liberals and conservative Muslim leaders, in the name of freedom and equality and with the blessing of Muslim clerics.

Thomson argued that European colonialists feared that Arab democracy would threaten their rule in North Africa and their access to oil in Iraq and the Gulf, so the leaders of the Paris Peace Conference, in cooperation with the new League of Nations, decided to destroy the fledgling “democratic order” in Damascus.

The author continues, arguing that France’s occupation of Syria has discredited liberalism in the Arab world, and under these circumstances, the secular and Islamic elites separated from each other and divided, entrenching a sharp political polarization between Islamists and liberals that continued to weaken the struggle against dictatorship a century later. The Arab Spring and beyond.

Reality inspiration

In her interview with the site dialectic Thompson said she decided to embark on the book in August 2013 to coincide with the “Muslim Brotherhood massacre in Cairo that became a hallmark of the end of the revolutionary alliance between Islamists, secular liberals, Muslims and Christians, which mobilized Tahrir Square and brought down dictator Hosni Mubarak.” After that, the Syrian uprising against Bashar al-Assad turned into a civil war, as she put it.

The author compared the collapse of this alliance between Islamists and secularists, with what happened in 1920 when religious and secular leaders united and agreed to replace a new democratic system with the Ottoman rule of Syria, as she described it.

Western rejection

The author says that the British supported Arab nationalists in a “nationalist” uprising against Turkish rule, seeking to build an independent state. In October 1918, Prince Faisal and British intelligence officer Lawrence and Arab leaders entered Damascus, where they announced a constitutional government in independent Greater Syria.

The following year, at the Paris Peace Conference, Faisal secured the support of US President Wilson, who sent an American commission to Syria to investigate the political aspirations of its people. However, other Allied leaders in Paris – and later the San Remo Conference – criticized Arab democracy, considering it a threat. for their colonial rule.

On March 8, 1920, the Syrian Arab Congress declared independence and crowned Faisal as king with a “representative monarchy.” The cleric and Islamic thinker Rashid Rida supported this option, and led the Constituent Assembly to achieve equality between all citizens, including non-Muslims, under the full legitimacy of the rights, according to the author.

But France and Britain refused to recognize the Damascus government and instead imposed a mandate system on the Arab provinces of the defeated Ottoman Empire, arguing that the Arabs were not yet ready for self-government.

Under this mandate, the French invaded Syria in April 1920, crushing the Arab government, sending the leaders of the General Syrian Congress into exile, and destroying the fragile coalition formed by the alliance of “secular modernists and Islamic reformists” who may have established the first democracy in the Arab world, as he put it. the book.

amazement and amazement

In her interview with Jadaliyya, the author said that her book is a contribution to historical debates about the weakness of democracy and the impact of World War I in the Middle East, and challenges the still prevalent colonial narratives that blame local culture for dictatorship, political violence, and the oppression of minorities, by showing how it undermined The French and the British deliberately launched a popular political platform for tolerance, equality and the rule of law.

Thompson considers the book to be her third contribution to the effort to understand the ways in which colonial rule shaped the institutions and political mores of the Levantine Arab world, and how “foreign intervention drove a wedge between secular and religious parties, weakening democratic opposition to the Arab dictatorship ever since.”

The author discussed how the British and French viewed the Arabs at that time, and how they – the Arabs – were politically organized despite years of war, famine, and deprivation of the basic tools needed to build and secure an independent state.

The author expresses her astonishment that the members of the Arab societies in Damascus read and adopt the principles of US President Wilson. In the dialogue, she also expressed her astonishment at the contribution of Sheikh Rashid Rida, during his stay in Damascus, in drafting a democratic constitution and his central role in this civil movement, which adopted civic orientations different from the ideas of “The crushing of the religious class” that occurred in the Ataturk era in Turkey at a later time, according to the author’s words.

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