How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs (Kobo eBook)

How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs By Elizabeth F. Thompson Cover Image
Available Now


“This expertly researched account brings to life a meaningful but underexplored chapter in world history.” —Publishers Weekly

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 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, instead imposing a system of mandates on the Arab provinces of the defeated Ottoman Empire, on the pretext that Arabs weren’t yet ready for self-government. Under such a mandate, the French invaded Syria in April, crushing the Arab government and sending Faisal and Congress leaders into 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.

“Important and fascinating.” —Amaney A. Jamal, Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Politics, Princeton University