The Mideast Crack-Up | Tablet Magazine
By David Samuels
Q: Our current maps of the Middle East were drawn by British and French cartographers after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of World War I. Are the lines on those maps about to change? Or is this simply a moment of local bloodshed that will get cleaned up once governments—in Baghdad, Damascus, Washington, Ankara, Jerusalem, Moscow, Beirut, Beijing, Ramallah, etc.—draft a few well-worded accords?
Nathan Thrall: Long-lasting as many minority regimes proved to be, it hardly seems the case, as David Goldman suggests, that they were the “only possible stable government.” Egypt since the 1952 revolution lasted longer than minority regimes elsewhere in the region, yet it was not ruled by Copts. The Saudi regime has outlasted rivals, yet it is not made up of Saudi Shiites. Iran is not governed by Azeris. Turkey is not under Kurdish control, and Palestinian citizens of Israel have not taken over the Jewish state.
Without doubt we are witnessing the strongest challenge yet posed to the post-Ottoman order in the Levant. With every passing day, Syria comes to more closely resemble an earlier period in its history, when the French briefly divided the territory into statelets containing Druze, Alawite, Sunni, and Maronite majorities—the last of which survived to became modern-day Lebanon. The current Syrian civil war threatens to spill over into Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq, which teeters on the brink of a renewed civil war of its own.
Yet, as distant as a unified Syria may seem today, most of its people still want such a state, while Iraq has survived enormous bloodshed, reversals of regional alliances, calls for partition, increasing Kurdish autonomy, and the end of Sunni minority rule. What is finally remarkable about the Middle East’s poorly drawn borders is how durable they are. Altering them could occur under present conditions but would be far more likely in the aftermath of a wider regional war.
Photo: James Gordon/Flickr