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Think You Can Design the Middle East’s Borders Better?

When we look at the Middle East today, we see a region that has been torn apart by conflicts, wars and instability. It is a region where lines on the map have created more problems than solutions. The borders we see on the map of the Middle East were drawn by Europeans, at the end of World War I, without much consideration for the people who would be living there, their religions, cultures, or even their histories. As a result, the Middle East is home to some of the world’s most conflicted and complex disputes.

The problem with the establishment of borders in the Middle East is that it was carried out without taking into account the region’s diversity, historical context, and cultural differences. The primary purpose was to secure the interests of conquering powers and not the well-being of the region’s inhabitants. In many cases, borders were designed to divide and rule, where colonial powers created borders that split communities and regions, intentionally setting groups against each other using tribal and ethnic differences.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France is an infamous example of such deliberate designs to control the area. The agreement envisaged the division of the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire into French and British spheres of influence. The lines that were drawn on the map of the Middle East by Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot have caused nothing but chaos in the region a century later.

In Iraq, the Sykes-Picot Agreement ignored the fact that large parts of the population were Shi’a Muslims, who had long ties to Iran. As a result, the Shi’a Muslim majority found themselves ruled by a Sunni Muslim minority who had little regard for their aspirations. In Syria, the Agreement spread chaos by carving up the region into nation-states, laying the groundwork for the ongoing civil war that has destabilized the area since 2011.

The ramifications of designing borders without considering the region’s social, cultural, and historical considerations have led to the rise of extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. These organizations have taken advantage of the resulting sectarian tensions, taking advantage of artificial borders to seize territory, providing support to local communities and governments.

The current state of the Middle East’s borders has led many to question whether it is time to redraw the borders across the region. A new approach to designing borders would require taking into account the region’s social, economic, and cultural contexts, acknowledging the fact that any new boundaries need to reflect the identity and aspirations of the people living in the region. The first principle of any redesign needs to depend on free and open communication, dialogue, and engagement with communities in the area, avoiding the imposition of solutions by external powers.

There are examples of how this can work. New borders were laid out when Yugoslavia was divided in the 1990s, and the Republic of South Africa ended the apartheid regime, and Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip. In each of these cases, social, cultural, and historical considerations were taken into account, allowing communities to decide their own futures.

Moreover, as the European Union has shown, new borders can be created without the need for borders. As interconnectivity and globalisation increase, boundaries and borders may no longer have the same importance they once did. Economic, social and fiscal policies can replace geopolitical borders, opening the prospect of shared customs arrangements or security agreements, allowing nations to work together to resolve their problems peacefully.

In conclusion, while redrawing the borders of the Middle East may not provide a quick solution to the region’s problems, it is an idea well worth exploring. A new border design that considers the hopes, aspirations, and needs of the people living in the Middle East could lead to lasting peace, stability, and prosperity. The first steps towards such a solution must involve a change in mindset and a willingness to engage with the people of the region. If we do that, then we will see a brighter future for the Middle East.