Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
The Arab world is currently going through difficult times. Truth be told, this region has seldom experienced times of lasting stability. Who is to be blamed for this state of affair? Should we pass the buck to foreign powers trying to manipulate the region so as to gain from the disorder in the Arab world or are these self-inflicted wounds that continue to fester? The majority of the inhabitants of this region believe in conspiracy theories articulated by western powers regarding divisions among the Arabs. We also cannot deny the fact that it is the Arabs who seek help from western powers to resolve their internal or regional conflicts. Arabs generally refer to the Sykes-Picot Agreement as the source of evil in the Arab world. We should not forget that the treaty in question is over a century old. Since then many things have happened in the world. Many people in the Arab world say that the treaty led to the divisions among Arabs especially the areas covering Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. While making such claims we tend to forget that these areas are susceptible to more divisions than what the Sykes-Picot Agreement had initially suggested. This is seen very clearly in many Arab countries. Each of these countries have been divided in such a way that the influence of the central governments is confined to particular areas and territories outside the influence of the state are generally ignored by the central authorities. This was not just noticed during the Arab Spring but it was the reason behind the prolonged Lebanese civil war. Lebanon spent lion share of its national budget in Beirut while the rest of the country was ignored. In Egypt, Sinai Peninsula was only remembered when the Israelis occupied it in 1967. Central governments in the Arab world only built and took care of the major cities or cities that were full of people loyal to the central government like what we see in Yemen, Libya or Syria. And when we have revolts, it is always the western powers or the Sykes-Picot Agreement to be blamed. Ironically, at the end of the day, we call western capitals to take care of our self-inflicted wounds. As for the current chaos in the Arab world, it is only the Arabs who can fix it. Western powers with their war machines or politicians will only prolong the turmoil. It is important for the Arab world to just forget something called the Sykes-Picot Agreement. No matter who planned it and no matter what was the intention of the treaty, it is a century-old treaty. During the last 100 years, the world saw two great wars that caused tens of millions of casualties, complete destruction of countries and use of atom bombs against two cities. But the conflicting parties of those wars resolved to forget the past and moved on for a better future. It would be pertinent to mention here that the Arab world almost remained unaffected from all the destruction during those wars. Countries in the Arab world have been blessed with fertile lands, hardworking manpower, raw materials and the most important commodity the world has ever known — the black gold (oil). The Arab world had the chance to reach to the top of the world in science and technology. Instead of utilizing the wealth for better education, health care services, better infrastructure and better standard of living, it was simply wasted on unnecessary conflicts among each other and against their neighbors. Iraq alone wasted hundreds of billions of dollars generated by oil production on an eight-year war with Iran and the invasion of Kuwait. These hundreds of billions could have made Iraq one of the most advanced countries in the world and could have made the Iraqi people the highest paid in the world. The Arabs must detach themselves from the past. The past should only be remembered so that we can take lessons from it. The Arab world should think about the future and about the welfare of its future generations. Now, we are seeing millions of displaced Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans and Yemenis who have fled their respective countries and will most likely never return. Many of them are educated and this will cause a very severe brain drain in the Arab world. Ironically, many of them are heading to the western countries that we hold responsible for our collective plight. In the Arab world, there is enough wealth for everyone. But, we lack fair distribution of these riches. The Arab world these days has become the theater of mini world war. The irony is that all the victims are from the Arab world. It is sad to see the Arab world and its people sharing many common things such as language, culture and religion but we have never seen real unity among its people. We still blame others for our problems. These divisions are caused because of the continued mistrust among the Arabs and not by a century-old treaty. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. It’s Time to Learn From Past Mistakes reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.