The Decision That Ruined the Middle East

Studying history is important, because it brings in something

we often never get.

*Drum roll*

Context. (yay)

Context for how a particular event played out,

context for how something changed

and context for how the past always plays a role in affecting our lives.

In the present, we kind of just write off the Middle East as a place that has

always been a region of fundamentalism,

dictators and civil wars.

But it didn't have to be.

History is chocked full of divergent points,

crucial decisions that lead to certain changes, for better or worse.

There is always the joke that we live in the darkest timeline. And after doing lots of research,

I think that's actually true in regards to the Arab world.

A place of failed states and terrorism,

was not at all the destiny for the region set in stone.

One single decision, ruined

the entire region, before it had a chance.

No, I'm not talking about the United States invading Iraq or Russia being involved in Syria,

I'm saying that Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon

never were supposed to exist, in the first place.

So, when did this decision take place?

It wasn't from a decision millennia, or even centuries ago,

It happened at the end of World War I.

The Ottoman Empire once ruled the entire Middle East.

For centuries, they had oppressed people from Europe and Arabia alike.

By the time of the 20th century,

their land and power had diminished considerably.

The final nail in the coffin for them was betting on the Central Powers.

As the war raged on, the Ottoman front was not really considered important.

Compared to the European fronts, they were the sick man of Europe,

and the Germans and Austrians were seen as bigger threats.

It was a sideshow to Britain and France.

That didn't mean that the Ottomans were entirely useless.

They were losing power, and the British knew that they could

exploit this weakness by gaining the help of people

who were also sick of Turkish rule: the Arabs.

You might know of this rebellion because it involves Lawrence of Arabia

who helped the Arab rebels fight against the Ottomans.

Now although Lawrence of Arabia is kind of a modern mythical figure today,

at the time the Arab rebellion,

against the unimportant Turks, in a desert far away,

was not seen as very important, it was deemed the sideshow to a sideshow.

For their support in the war, the Arabs agreed with the British on one condition:

if the Arabs fought against the Ottomans, then after the war,

they would be able to organize their own, unified Arab state.

That was the understanding,

until, well, the war actually ended.

When the Great War was over and the Ottomans surrendered,

their land was now up for grabs at the negotiating table.

And that's when the Arabs got the bad news:

that previous agreement was not actually going to happen.

It turned out that 2 years earlier France and Britain, in secret,

had decided that they wanted the land for themselves.

This was called the Sykes-Picot agreement.

It was a secret pact by both countries

to split the Ottoman territories among themselves,

nicely divided into Zone A, and Zone B,

the humble origins of what would become Syria and Iraq.

You see, France had invested resources into the Syrian region for decades,

stuff like electricity and schools.

So, to them, it was only natural that they would take Syria

as a French dominion in the Mediterranean.

The British already own Egypt, and the nice canal included,

so they want a territory that could

protect their strategic interest in Egypt, if they had to.

Long story short, there was a lot of debating between the two

to finalize just where French Syria would end and British Arabia began.

The Arabs weren't involved, don't be silly.

By the end of the war, the United States was now the bright-eyed new power that could tell

the older Europeans a thing or two.

Woodrow Wilson was a staunch anti-colonialist

and his negative attitude towards global empire was what

America brought to the table. Consent of the governed was an idea

that America preached frequently at the grumbling of everyone else.

However, Europe did listen to one Wilson idea:

the establishment of a League of Nations, a proto-UN,

that would be for peace and prevent wars,

which it certainly did.

One of the things this new "League of Nations" did

was establish the idea of "mandates".

A mandate is when an allied power takes control

of former German and Ottoman land and "governs it"

to protect the natives from the modern world,

at least until they're able to protect themselves.

No, you silly! It's not "spoils of war", it's international diplomacy!

What are you talkin' about? We'll just take these for now.

For global peace.

This established the new ter-, I mean "mandates" of the Middle East:

The French Mandate of Syria,

the British mandates of Palestine, Trans-Jordan and Iraq

were set up at least until the natives, could take care of themselves.

It was just a coincidence

these mandate borders lined up perfectly with the agreement before the League even existed,

but that... don't... think about it.

At the time, the British and French were competing with one another

over their ever expanding empires that would certainly never collapse, until they did.

Two decades after the decision to split up the Arabs was made,

World War II effectively destroyed the homelands of France and Britain.

Now, America was a global superpower, and this spelled the death of colonialism and the two empires.

Remember the idea that mandates should be ruled until

they're able to take care of themselves?

Well, conveniently, after the war

the mandates were granted independence.

Now, the mandates, that were made artificially

without the consent of the natives, were legal modern nation states. (sarcastic horn)

Good luck everyone! No changing the borders now! (screams)

That means you Kurds. (more screams)

This is the fundamental flaw of the modern Middle East.

These borders only exist because they were strategically important

to long gone empires.

And we're seeing today the effects of this.

It isn't that Europe made the Middle East a violent place,

it's always been that.

It's that these borders split people up who wanted to be together

and made countries out of people who didn't want anything to do with one another.

If people in your country can't get along,

then you have an unstable society.

Strong-men dictators usually take hold of unstable societies

as we've seen time...

and time again.

However, that isn't the actual reason why I made this video.

Simply segmenting people into nations isn't directly the cause,

even if it's a massive contribution.

What was the ultimate genesis for all these issues

was the betrayal of that agreement

and how that betrayal accidentally lead

to the rise of Islamic terrorism.

In the original agreement, the British were going to allow

the Arabs to control their own state.

One that controlled, *this* region.

It was to be ruled by the Sharif of Mecca, Hussein Bin Ali.

He was to be the "king of the Arabs".

Because of the British decision to make the land, instead, mandates,

this hurt the relationship with the Sharif.

At the time, the Arabian peninsula was not united.

Instead, it was being fought between

mainly two different factions

Hussein Bin Ali was a member of the Hashemites,

the tribe of the prophet Mohommad.

By the 1920s, a powerful family called the House of Saud

had been conquering territory throughout the region

The Saud's believed in an ultra-conservative sect of Islam

called Wahhabism, or Salaphism.

It was fundamentalist.

Far more than any at the time.

Because of this diplomatic breakdown between the Hashemites and the British,

due to the Sykes-Picot agreement in the first place,

instead of ruling a significant larger portion of land,

Hussein ruled a small kingdom on the coast.

By the 1920s, without British support, it was conquered by the Saud's.

If that name sounds familiar, it's because Saud's renamed the region

the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

So, an ultra-conservative kingdom now ruled over a fair bit of land, instead of a more moderate one.

This wasn't much of an issue... least until the 1950s,

when Saudi Arabia discovered their vast, vast oil supplies.

Salafism is a religious movement

with the main goal to bring Islam

back to an ultra-conservative mindset.

When the Saud's discovered oil, that extreme ideology

now was funded by billions and billions of dollars in oil money.

So, what did Saudi Arabia do?

They built mosques, schools, funded scholarship,

funded journalists, universities, professors and militants,

all over the Islamic world,

to abide by their version of conservative

and violent Islam.

Frankly put, oil money funded a religious and cultural shift

around the globe.

New groups like Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS... All were born,

inspired by this one particular teaching of Islam.

So, the Sykes-Picot agreement did two things:

it set the stage for a fundamentalist regime to rise instead of a moderate one,

which then funded a violent cultural shift in the Islamic world,

and split the region into mandates, like Iraq and Syria,

who were never meant to actually govern themselves

and shockingly... collapsed

Yes... this is truly the... darkest timeline for the Arab world.

Now, does this excuse the decisions of both Arab

and western leaders in recent times?


Does this mean that the Middle East was a perfect place of sunshine and happiness before?


It's an example of how history that we might not have heard of

can culminate to shape our everyday lives.

The war on terror, Syria, the refugee crisis,

all in many ways stand from the single decision

from empires long gone.

I don't have the answer. I can only attempt to imagine a world where it didn't occur,

which was, actually what the video was supposed to be about,

but instead became 80% history since

nobody would actually know what I was talking about.

So, take this as a prequel of sorts.

I want to imagine a world where this decision never happened,

and the best solution was to just make a separate video for it.

History always influences our lives, even of it's people and events

we never thought of before.

And that's why bringing in context can also shape our ideas

of how our world today, truly came to be.

This is Cody, of AlternateHistoryHub.

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