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Artificial States and the Remapping of the Middle East

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

By: Asli Ü. Bâli

This Article critically examines arguments tracing contemporary crises in the Arab world to the making of the Arab state system a century ago. A series of popular and scholarly articles occasioned by the recent spate of World War I–related centenaries suggest that new boundaries be drawn in the Middle East to produce more stable nation-states. More specifically, a set of authors has advocated for different borders that would avoid ethno-sectarian conflict by designing relatively homogenous smaller states to replace multiethnic, multisectarian states like Iraq and Syria. Such proposals are significant for the underlying presumptions they reflect concerning the relationship between stability and diversity in the Middle East. This Article first offers a historical corrective to the purported artificiality of the current boundaries defining the states in the region. Second, the Article calls into question the legal and political grounds for arguing that more homogenous states would be more stable or better reflect the preferences of the underlying population. The Article concludes by suggesting alternative reforms that might serve the goals of conflict resolution in the Middle East.


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