In this webinar, Elizabeth F. Thompson will speak about her recent book How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs, which presents a new perspective on the history of democracy in the Middle East and reasons for its weakness today.
The book tells the story of the Syrian Arab Congress of 1920, which drafted and ratified what she calls the most democratic constitution to date in the Arab world. Inspired by Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points and fearing occupation by France, the Congress forged a historic alliance between liberals and conservative Muslim leaders. In the name of freedom and equality, and with the blessings of Muslim clerics, the Congress disestablished Islamic years before the secularist Turkish Republic did. Thompson argues that European colonisers feared Arab democracy would threaten their rule in North Africa and their access to oil in Iraq and the Gulf. Leaders of the Paris Peace Conference, with the cooperation of the new League of Nations, therefore decided to destroy the democratic regime in Damascus. France’s occupation of Syria discredited liberalism in the Arab world. Under these circumstances, secular elites and Islamic populists parted ways, opening a political cleavage between Islamists and liberals that continues to weaken struggles against dictatorship a century later.
This event is part of our celebration of the centenary of state building attempts in the Levant.
Elizabeth F. Thompson is a Professor of History and Mohamed Said Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace at the American University in Washington, DC. Her research is on the history of democratic struggles in the Middle East since the early 20th century, with a special interest in how gender, race, and foreign interventions have shaped popular movements. Thompson has won prestigious awards from the Carnegie Corporation and Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars to support research for her most recent book, How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs. She is also author of Justice Interrupted: Struggles for Constitutional Government in the Middle East and Colonial Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege, and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon, which won two national book awards.
Dr. Rim Turkmani (@Rim_Turkmani) is the Principal Investigator of the Legitimacy and Citizenship in the Arab World project and the Research Director of the Syria Conflict Research Programme in the Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit in the Department of International Development.
The hashtag for this event is #Levant100.
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