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The articles in this issue have been divided up into the following categories







The Arabs have forfeited their right to lead the Middle East


After eighty years of failed Arab attempts to destroy her, Israel is now entitled to impose her own solution for the problems of the whole region.

Middle East peace is not divisible

Middle East Confederation –
The path to stability
Condensed from a paper by Myles Robertson,
commissioned in 1983

The purpose of this project is to speculate about certain aspects of “the Middle East problem” – though there are several problems – beyond the conflicts of the 1980’s.

One way of decreasing the number of conflicts and of reducing the tensions which plague the region would be to develop the processes of federalism, that is, for states to join together for mutual benefit. Hopefully they could do this on the grounds of economy, shared interests and for the progress of all the units which make up the federation.

The central assumption of this paper is that present policies will change radically; as a result Middle East government will undergo re-organisation and re-structuring in response to regional demands and altering world circumstances.

A change of approach is needed and federation is one way to achieve this.

The following present-day states are the core of this study on the future for federalism – Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Syria, The Gulf States and to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia. From a variety of Arab, Israeli and European sources the paper examines the issues from four viewpoints:

(i) Minorities of the region and their prospects
(ii) The federal idea in principle and practice
(iii) Some present examples
(iv) Possible models

The Minorities

Minorities are the people who stand to benefit most from federation, hence their importance in this study. The “mosaic of peoples” as they have been termed, which collectively comprise a large part of the population of the region as a whole, are often referred to by Western observers as “minority” peoples (the term is indefinite but has become the standard means of reference).

More often than not, forces beyond their control have denied basic rights to those ethnic communities seeking autonomy. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries attempts to establish a satisfactory sense of identity have been frustrated by external powers, political backwardness and military repression.

Under imperial Ottoman administration the millet (nation) policy granted to communities a juridicial autonomy in their internal affairs, religious institutions and supervision of education. On the whole this policy succeeded in producing a system capable of managing though not always benevolently, a multi-ethnic empire. But the feudal structure of the system proved too rigid and incapable of adapting to the nationalist challenge that emerged even before the Ottoman collapse at the end of World War One.

The dissolution of Ottoman power by Kemal Ataturk and the rise of Kemal republicanism was followed by a period of harsh persecution of minorities: The Armenian people were deported en masse from Anatolia (1915-20) and suffered heavy loss of life in the process; the Greek population was expelled from Asia Minor. Both groups became refugee communities elsewhere in the region.

Great Power conferences after 1918 briefly raised hopes among the former subject peoples of a re-organisation along autonomous lines. In particular the Treaty of Sevres (1920) promised the Kurdish and Armenian nations that they would receive independent homelands, as did a joint British-Iraqi declaration in 1922 which recognised Kurdish rights to “form a Kurdish government within Iraqi frontiers”.

Such hopes were short-lived. The Turkish War of Independence (1920-22) and the dictates of British political and strategic necessity forced an altogether different course to be pursued in practice. Their legitimate status unrecognised, their claims overruled, the minorities found themselves once again as subject peoples of a divided region.

For example, in part of Arabia various unrelated ethnic communities were arbitrarily amalgamated in 1921 into the Transjordan Emirate.

“Greater Syria” was another interesting case of artificiality. The term originally applied to the countries now known as Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and Syria itself. After World War I “Greater Syria” had been reduced by half and was given to the French as a mandate. They met so much armed resistance that they sub-divided the area into Lebanon and Syria to make it more easily controllable.

The British, to exercise command over resources in the oil-rich Mosul district, added it to the districts of Baghdad and Basra in Iraq. They also split up Iraq for administrative purposes, a process which put the Jews of Baghdad under the brutal bureaucrats of the Iraqi civil service. These bureaucrats hated the Jews and organised violence against them. Shops were wrecked and looted, bombs were thrown and members of the community were murdered in the streets. In June 1941, 600 Jews were massacred in Baghdad and in 1950 an Iraqi law virtually forced the survivors to leave within a year.

In re-drawing boundaries arbitrarily and artificially and by failing to protect minorities, the Powers created great problems. Their re-organisation was not merely geographical but political. While holding ultimate control, the Imperial powers found it useful to support the Arab peoples as the basis of local power. Consequently Arabism and pan-Arab nationalism expanded at the expense of the less-organised and less-powerful ethnic ideologies, such as the Jewish communities. The inter-war years, 1918-1939, were periodically disturbed by armed clashes provoked by the nationalist aspirations of powerful Arab elements. Clearly it was into the hands of these activist factions – an amalgam of religious leaders, bureaucrats, army officers and middle-class traders – that control was destined to fall after the colonial powers had relinquished authority.

The post-war (1945) rise of military and authoritarian regimes backed by revolutionary ideologies intensified control by the central state power. All potentially divisive forces, such as minority aspirations, were ruthlessly suppressed. Even previously tolerated communities were encumbered by new restrictions. as were the Copts in Egypt. Many were banned from citizenship, had property confiscated, were forbidden to use their own language and practise their own customs. Others were forced to live in ghetto conditions or driven into exile. Such was the fate of the Jews of Iraq and the Christian Assyrians of north-east Syria and of Iraq. The Armenians of Syria and the Greeks of Egypt chose to emigrate rather than endure the continued oppression, while others turned to armed struggle to assert their claims. the Egyptian Copts, though numerous, simply endured their near-persecution.

No generalisations can be made about minority groups within the Middle East. Each ethnic group’s situation is a product of particular national circumstances and not that of some transnational trend.

The “State” in the Middle East

In the geographical area termed the “Middle East” the idea of “statism” is still in a state of evolution, because many of the countries have only recently achieved independence from the colonial powers. Their idea of territorial sovereignty, while strong in some quarters, is not irrevocably established. Professor Elazar of the Jerusalem Institute for Federal Studies has said, “...the élites have bought the Continental notion of “state” in toto, but the mass has not.” The idea of the “state” exists in constant tension with three other main forces: ethnic or national consciousness, Islam, and social change. As the relative influence of these forces towards each other has fluctuated from state to state, so the fortunes of minorities have varied.

Many of the “problems” of the Middle East are minority problems. The root of the difficulties of identity and stability was cogently evaluated by Professor Ben-Dor of the Shiloah Institute, Tel Aviv, who argues that “to be tolerant towards a minority one really needs a state majority.” He means that the majority need not then fear the minority. The theory that tolerance must follow does not necessarily hold true – the Sunni Muslims of Egypt are in an 8-to-1 majority over the Copts but widespread intolerance exitsts. There is a further difficulty – that of defining which groups constitute the majority in any particular Middle Eastern state. A classic example is Lebanon. The last census was held in 1932 so nobody knows how its population is made up.

It follows that it is just as difficult to decide under these circumstances which groups are in a minority by using “minority” you created a problem - use national groups (ED). Professor Ma’oz of the Truman Institute emphasises this point. “.........It is very important to bear in mind that each country has in its own way a unique situation.”

See also PAX ISRAELITA, the editorial of The Scribe No. 45, November 1990, reproduced elsewhere in this issue

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