National and State Identity in Syria

Eyal Zisser*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


For many years, Syria’s late president, Hafiz al-Asad, used to start his meetings with Western guests with a long, and mostly boring, review of the modern history of the Middle East.1 The central, recurring motif in these reviews was ‘the guilt, or the sin of the West’. Asad claimed that the Western powers had for the preceding two centuries tried to prevent the Arab nation from taking its rightful place on the stage of history as a proud and prosperous, independent and unified nation. They had, thus, done everything in their power to keep the Arab nation backward, divided and devoid of any national, political or social consciousness, so that it remained under Western hegemony. Prime examples of this Western guilt, according to Asad, were the Sykes-Picot Agreement2 and the Balfour Declaration.3 The Balfour Declaration, which recognised the right of the Jews to establish their homeland in Palestine, that is in the southern part of the Syrian lands (Bilad al-Sham), and even more so the Sykes-Picot Agreement, were designed, in Asad’s view, to shatter the unity of the Arab world, first and foremost the unity of the Syrian lands, while ignoring the desire of its population for unity and independence. If the Sykes-Picot Agreement was the original sin, however, the new regional order established in the Middle East in the early 1920s should also be considered as such. After all, it was based on an Anglo-French understanding inspired by this agreement, and established territorial states in the Middle East such as Lebanon, Jordan as well as Iraq and, of course, Syria.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCommunity, Identity and the State
Subtitle of host publicationComparing Africa, Eurasia, Latin America and the Middle East
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781135766108
ISBN (Print)071465664X
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2004


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