Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Divvying up the Middle East

Posted by metaphorical on 3 February 2007

In November 1915, diplomats François Georges-Picot (for France) and Mark Sykes (for Britain) negotiated an ‘understanding’ about how to divide the Middle East into spheres of influence for their respective countries. At the time, the area was still under control of the Ottoman Empire, linked to the Central Powers (Germany and Austro-Hungary) and therefore an opponent of the British, French and other Allies in World War I.

The Sykes-Picot Plan was secretly agreed to by the British and French governments on May 16, 1916. The outlines of the combined zones of influence have partially determined the borders of Syria, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia as they still stand today. Internally, the zones do not correspond to the present border situation.


To this day, Arabs and Westerners alike are paying the price for British and French hubris in the Middle East. (Not that they did a bang-up job in India or Indochina.) Strange Maps shows the Sykes-Picot map and describes the zones here.

Of course, the days of hubris in the Middle East are not over.

One Response to “Divvying up the Middle East”

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