Arabs and World War I Centenary

Arabs and World War I Centenary

Wednesday, 14 November, 2018 - 15:45
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.
Around half a million Arabs fought in World War I which ended 100 years ago. Arabs fought with both camps. Arab soldiers fought and died from Sudan to the Levant and Morocco. Some were transported by ships to Europe to serve the combating armies.

The Ottoman Turks used around 300,000 Arabs in their armies to fight with Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Serbia, they were called central powers, against Britain, France, the US, Russia, China and others from the Allies. Most of the fighting was in Europe and most of those killed, whose number reached 10 million, were also in Europe. The destruction, however, reached most of the world, including Arab countries.

The authority’s greed, the illusion of expansion and the emergence of extremist European nationalism were the reasons behind the war.

As for Arabs, they had no causes in this war, except for the Arabs in the countries which were under Ottoman rule and who suffered from the “humiliating taxes” and mismanagement, especially that the Turkish rule back then was underdeveloped and weak, and could not keep up with the industrial progress in European colonial countries. As a result, Arab countries under Ottoman’s rule became poor, unlike the countries that were governed by the British or French empires.

At the end of WWI, Turkey itself became the first victim and the target of the victorious countries which wanted to seize it all, not just its Arab colonies. Russia, Greece, Britain, and France targeted Turkey. However, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk emerged and was able to manage the battles and save most of the Turkish Anatolia. This is what makes Ataturk the greatest figure in modern Turkey, in addition to his modernist and industrial project.

The management of the Arab region was transferred to European colonials who won the war. The Sykes-Picot Agreement which was reached before the war had nothing to do with the results, although this has been commonly known in history. Dividing the region came as a result of defeating the Turkish colonizer.

Neither the victors nor the losers learned from the lessons of WW I. The nationalist intellect that dominated Europe had a major role in feeding hostility and pushing events towards World War II in which more than 60 million people died.

Lessons from great wars are often forgotten and all that’s left from them are military academic papers on how to mitigate losses and achieve victories. Europe, which was the reason behind the two world wars, was the loser and it finally accepted the concepts of the free market over the policy of colonization which had its motive in securing raw material resources and guaranteeing markets for their products, as buying one barrel of oil for $1 is not better than a barrel of oil for $100 because it leads to the continuity of fighting. Countries like South Korea or Sweden influenced world markets without sending a single soldier beyond their borders.

The 100th anniversary of the end of WWI comes at a time when the world is facing more crises as a result of conflicts between the Russian and American powers, amid escalating suspicions and fears due to the Chinese dragon’s expansion, and amid indicators of divisions within the European Union. World wars ended but they have not died.

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