August 25, 2020


How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs: Elizabeth Thompson's book examines how the West subverted democracy in the Arab world. (Josh Ruebner, 25 August, 2020, New Arab)

While the imposition of colonial mandates on the Arab former provinces of the Ottoman Empire is a well-told story, Thompson provides an invaluable historical service in excavating the lesser-known dynamics of how Syria was well on its way towards democratic self-governance before France brutally overthrew its indigenous attempts at parliamentarianism and constitutionalism. 

The book focuses on the short span between the capture of Damascus in October 1918 by Prince Faisal, the son of Sharif Hussain, King of the Hijaz, and France's destruction of the constitutional monarchy established under his leadership following the Battle of Maysalun in July 1920.

Within less than two years, Faisal succeeded in setting up a functioning governmental apparatus out of the shambles of a post-Ottoman bureaucratic void, and Syrians elected a religiously and geographically diverse constituent assembly on the basis of universal male suffrage, which was composed of a multi-confessional assemblage of leaders from Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. 

In turn, the Syrian Arab Congress declared independence and crowned Faisal king in March 1920 and was well on its way to finalising a liberal constitution through which Faisal would be accountable to the legislative branch.

Thompson helpfully includes in her book the first published English translation of the Syrian constitution in all of its 147-article complexity, demonstrating the seriousness of thought which went into the drafting of the document and the detailed mechanisms worked out for a democratic system of government in a diverse land.

The proceedings of the congress and its commitment to a liberal constitutional order put paid to French Orientalist tropes that Arabs were not capable of self-government and therefore needed the mission civilisatrice that only the French could supply. 

Crucial to the destruction of Syria's fledgling democracy was Robert de Caix, the leader of France's powerful colonial lobby who was later appointed interim high commissioner in 1922. Despite his avowal that he knew nothing about Syria, de Caix mobilised Islamophobic tropes to denigrate Faisal and the Syrian congress in order to systematically undermine it and impose direct French rule.

De Caix falsely claimed that "Faisal did not represent Syrians, but rather was a 'Sharifian'- a descendant of the Prophet aligned with the religious fanaticism of his father in Mecca," writes Thompson. The emerging liberal constitutional order was, for de Caix, merely a duplicitous cover for "Muslim theocrats who threatened France's Christian clients." 

The alliance among Donald, Israel and the Sunni dictators maintains this spirit.

Posted by at August 25, 2020 7:53 PM