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Jere D. McGaffey Annual Lecture: “Europe’s Destruction of Arab Democracy in 1920: A Century of Consequences”

April 23, 2019, 3:00 pm - 6:30 pm


Presented by Dr. Elizabeth F. Thompson from American University in Washington DC. A reception will follow the talk.

Omitted from history textbooks on the legacy of World War I, a democratic regime emerged in the Arab world at the same time as Germany’s Weimar Republic. Arabs from the Eastern Mediterranean— including today’s Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia— convened a constitutional assembly at Damascus in 1919-20 that established a constitutional monarchy far more democratic than the defeated Ottoman Empire. Woodrow Wilson’s envoys to the region praised the Syrian Arab Kingdom, but Britain and France feared it: Arabs’ democratic self-rule threatened their colonial occupation of North Africa, Egypt, Palestine and Iraq. In July 1920, the British and French colluded to destroy the kingdom before Arabs could make their claims to the new League of Nations. The consequences for Arab and world politics were profound and long-lasting: It discredited the new world order Wilson had promised, based on international law, and it discredited liberalism. Arab politicians. A new brand of populist Islamism spread, defining itself against liberalism as a Western ruse and rejected the Islamic liberalism that had underpinned the 1920 Kingdom. The cleavage between Islamism and liberalism lasted for decades, and eventually tore apart the Arab Spring movements that attempted to dislodge dictatorships across the Arab world in 2011.

Elizabeth F. Thompson is Professor of History and Mohamed S. Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace at American University in Washington, DC. Her new book, on the Allies’ suppression of Arab democracy and the consequent rise of Islamism after World War I, will appear with Grove-Atlantic Press in early 2020. She has also co-directed the National Endowment for Humanities’ faculty seminar on World War I in the Middle East. Thompson is the author of two previous books, “Justice Interrupted: The Struggle for Constitutional Government in the Middle East” and “Colonial Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege, and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon.”



April 23, 2019
3:00 pm - 6:30 pm
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