Boundaries in the Arab world and their remarkable durability

Summary: the boundaries of Arab states, mainly drawn by colonial powers, have shown remarkable durability. In some instances, these boundaries have been challenged but such challenges have generally failed to change the map of the region.

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3 thoughts on “Boundaries in the Arab world and their remarkable durability”

  1. Durable the frontiers may be, but most have only been in place for a hundred years or less. Arab family and tribal ties are strong and long, and it can be misleading to think of an Arab as simply a Saudi, Jordanian, Iraqi or whatever – he or she may feel differently (worth reflecting that Irish independence is also nearly a hundred years old yet many anomalies remain in Anglo-Irish relations – how many soldiers in the Irish Guards, an elite unit of the British Army, see themselves as 100% British?)
    Two examples among many. First, the mother of the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was from the Shammar tribe, whose ancestral territory is divided between modern Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq. His feelings and policy toward Syria were affected accordingly.
    Second, in 2003 as the news of the Iraq war broke I took part in a meeting with a number of Turks resident in Britain including the ambassador, some businessmen, students and others as well as some of their families. Leaving politics aside, I was struck by the concern many felt about their cousins in Baghdad, facing the prospect of war.

  2. A footnote to this story was the attempt to draw the borders of the Trucial States according to tribal affiliations rather than using colonial -style straight lines. The resultant mosaic had to be simplified after the Trucial States’ evolution into the UAE. A second footnote would be separatism within the region and not only in Sudan and Kurdistan. Until Baghdad reasserted its control over Basra, there were for a time southern aspirations for autonomy if not independence for Basra or permutations of varying numbers of surrounding provinces. It was always clear that Baghdad could not contemplate losing the oil and access to the Gulf provided by Basra. Oil is likely to rule out Iraqi acceptance of Kurdish independence or loss of resource control through much Kurdish autonomy.

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