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Professor Dawn Chatty writes for Open Democracy about the irony of British cooperation with the armed opposition in Syria

Could the neglected strength of the mainstream Muslim community – a vestige of the Ottoman self-governing ethno-religious millet system – hold Syria together as it did nearly 100 years ago and prevent its dismemberment into a number of mini-states?

At the end of World War I, the spoils of the Middle East went to the victorious Allies, England and France. Two secret agreements concluded several years before were to determine the shape of what was to become of the southern provinces of the defeated Ottoman Empire. The 1915/6 McMahon-Hussein Correspondence between the British High Commissioner in Egypt and the Sharif of Mecca promised the Arabs a state of their own in Arabia if they rose up and fought with the British to defeat the Ottomans.  A second agreement a few months later was signed by the French, British and Russians – the 1916 Sykes-Picot Accord. It provided for the carving up of the region into a French zone over Greater Syria (Bilad-al-Sham) and a British zone over Palestine, Mesopotamia and a Kurdish zone. It also gave Jerusalem to Russia on account of its special relationship with orthodox Christianity. The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 put paid to Russian claims, but the rest of the Sykes-Picot Accords all came to be integrated into the Paris Peace Conference of 1920. It was a catastrophic outcome from the view point of the Arabs. Syria’s dismemberment was just part of the story.

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