Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1417, (8 - 14 November 2018)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1417, (8 - 14 November 2018)

Ahram Weekly

WWI is not over

Walid Abdel-Nasser reflects on the “war to end all wars”, that didn’t

The world is about to celebrate the centenary of the conclusion of World War I, which came to an end 11 November 1918, by the armistice signed in Paris. On this occasion, French President Emmanuel Macron invited the heads of 60 countries from all over the world to Paris to celebrate this significant occasion, not only for Europe, but for the whole of mankind. Those invited leaders include the US and Russian presidents and the German chancellor. 

 Different from World War II, whose results were mostly undone with the end of the Cold War, one could safely argue that the results of World War I largely remain with us until today. This is particularly the case for the Arab region and the Middle East. To be sure, we increasingly witness plans, initiatives and manoeuvres aimed at redrawing the map of the region. These came under different titles and from different parties, whether non-Arab regional powers or international actors. However, few, if any, such plans came from the Arab world itself.

 Only two years ago, when the world was celebrating the centenary of the famous Sikes-Picot Agreement, the secret colonialist agreement between France and the United Kingdom in 1916, there was a lot of speculation, occasionally mixed with fear, regarding attempts to elaborate a new, but rather different in content, “Sikes-Picot 2”. At the time, voices in the West particularly warned mainly the Arabs of simply repeating the “conspiracy theory” logic that has dominated their thinking for decades, if not centuries. However, the reality was there and senior officials as well as well-connected writers, journalists and intellectuals, in several of the capitals of the world that influence developments in the course of events, were simply confirming these fears and concerns expressed by Arab intellectuals with an advanced degree of awareness and consciousness.

 If we recall the evolution of the background of events that led to the eruption of World War I, and if we decide to leave aside the precipatory factors that directly and immediately led to its eruption, we will easily and clearly notice that in essence it was a war among colonialist powers, predominantly European. The subject matter of that war was simply the incessant and increasing competition, dispute and conflicts over the control of the largest amount possible of colonies, whether in the old world or in the then relatively freshly discovered new world. The target was not the countries or the peoples themselves, but rather the wealth, natural and otherwise, contained on their territories or beneath them, and in their waters or under them, as well as the markets they offer and the geostrategic locations they occupy. In addition, the inter-colonialist dispute was over the control of the worldwide routes of transportation, whether for military or commercial navigation purposes. If leftist circles have insisted on calling that war the “Imperialist War” rather than World War I, one could see some merit in such a description. 

 At that point of history, one of the main, if not the main, concerns for the colonialist powers was to inherit the territories that were for centuries or decades controlled by the Ottoman Empire in the Arab and Muslim worlds. This was particularly the case as those same European colonialist powers at that time — 1914 — were keen to liberate the European territories that were still under Ottoman control and leave their peoples free to enjoy the fruits of their then recently developed nationalist aspirations that came as a result of the spread of nationalist ideologies in Europe during that era, deciding on their own political independence.

 It is also worth recalling that it was only thanks to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia that erupted and gained power in October 1917 that we knew of the Sikes-Picot secret agreement between the British and the French, as the new leadership in Russia, namely Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, widely known as Lenin, decided that Russia was withdrawing from the World War I, which he labelled the “Imperialist War”. The release of that secret colonialist agreement dealing with the partition of the Ottoman Empire’s Arab territories was one good reason used to show the real nature of that war, particularly in light of the liberating and progressive ideology of the new revolution.

 World War I was, at its time, the most destructive war humanity had witnessed, both in terms of material losses and human casualties. Again, if one looks at these losses and casualties and compares them to the real motivations of the colonialist powers, a competition over spoils, one feels sorrier still regarding the damage incurred, particularly the human losses, as in real terms those people died for no good or noble reason. They were dragged from all sides to go and participate in a war in which they had no interest whatsoever. This statement applies for the peoples of the warring countries, and even more to the peoples that were recruited, in most cases by force, to join the war efforts of the countries at war, primarily from the colonies of these countries, including the Arab world. 

 Finally, World War I had a lingering impact at the ideological level for Europe and for the whole world, because during it the world witnessed the success of an important ideology, namely Marxism, in seizing power in a big European country, namely Russia. Also, the aftermath of the war witnessed the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe in different forms, mainly in Italy and Germany, but also in Spain and Japan. These ideological developments were to impact the destiny of humanity, not only until the end of World War II, or even until the end of the Cold War, but until this very day, and probably for years and decades to come.


The writer is a commentator.

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