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How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs

The Syrian Congress of 1920 and the Destruction of its Liberal-Islamic Alliance

Elizabeth F. Thompson



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Grove Press
02 June 2020
When Europe's Great War engulfed the Ottoman Empire, Arab nationalists rose in revolt against the Turks. The British supported the Arabs' fight for an independent state and sent an intelligence officer, T.E. Lawrence, to join Prince Faisal, leader of the Arab army and a descendant of the Prophet. In October 1918, Faisal, Lawrence and the Arabs victoriously entered Damascus, where they declared a constitutional government in an independent Greater Syria. At the Paris Peace Conference, Faisal won the support of President Woodrow Wilson, who sent an American commission to Syria to survey the political aspirations of its people. However, other Entente leaders at Paris-and later San Remo-schemed against the Arab democracy, which they saw as a threat to their colonial rule. On March 8, 1920, the Syrian-Arab Congress declared independence and crowned Faisal king of a 'representative monarchy.' Rashid Rida, a leading Islamic thinker of the day, led the constituent assembly to establish equality for all citizens, including non-Muslims, under a full bill of rights. But France and Britain refused to recognize the Damascus government and instead imposed a system of mandates on the Arab provinces of the defeated Ottoman Empire, on the pretext that Arabs were not yet ready for self-government. Under such a mandate, the French invaded Syria in April 1920, crushing the Arab government and sending Faisal and Congress leaders in flight to exile. The fragile coalition of secular modernizers and Islamic reformers that might have established democracy in the Arab world was destroyed, with profound consequences that reverberate still. Using many previously untapped primary sources, including contemporary newspaper accounts and letters, minutes from the Syrian-Arab Congress, and diary and journal entries from participants, How the West Stole Democracy From the Arabs is a groundbreaking account of this extraordinary, brief moment of unity and hope - and of its destruction.
By:   Elizabeth F. Thompson
Imprint:   Grove Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Edition:   Main
Dimensions:   Height: 240mm,  Width: 170mm,  Spine: 40mm
Weight:   930g
ISBN:   9781611856392
ISBN 10:   1611856396
Pages:   496
Publication Date:   02 June 2020
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Elizabeth F. Thompson is a leading historian of the modern Middle East and Mohamed S. Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace at American University's School of International Service. She is the author of two previous books, Colonial Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon, winner of two national book prizes, and Justice Interrupted: The Struggle for Constitutional Government in the Middle East, published by Harvard University Press.

Reviews for How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs: The Syrian Congress of 1920 and the Destruction of its Liberal-Islamic Alliance

Elizabeth Thompson, in a sweeping and magisterial argument, demonstrates that the perpetual hand-wringing in London, Paris and Washington over the lack of democracy in the Arab World is sort of like Jack the Ripper complaining about the high murder rate. Breath-taking in its moral clarity. * Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan * Harnessing meticulous research to careful analysis; moving among international diplomacy, personal interactions, and local politics, Thompson expertly argues that after World War I, the fate of Ottoman Arab lands was not merely contested but that radically different outcomes for independence, constitutional government, and liberal arrangements were very live possibilities, far more so than is generally remembered. * Nathan J. Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University * A bold and important book. Through brilliant scholarship and engaging prose, Thompson pieces together the Arab constitutional order that European imperialism shattered in the aftermath of World War I. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand a century of conflict in the modern Middle East. * Eugene Rogan, author of THE FALL OF THE OTTOMANS * Elizabeth F. Thompson has brilliantly recreated this fateful turning point in twentieth century Middle Eastern history. I thought I knew this story well. But the new details she reveals in this riveting account often left me open-mouthed. * James Barr, author of A LINE IN THE SAND *

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