The Division of the Middle East: Sykes-Picot Agreement and its Aftermath

The Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret pact between the United Kingdom and France with assent from Russia, drastically reshaped the Middle East in the 20th century. This agreement and the subsequent division of the region continue to have significant implications today.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement

The Sykes-Picot Agreement, formally known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was signed on May 16, 19162. Named after British diplomat Sir Mark Sykes and his French counterpart Fran├žois Georges-Picot, the pact outlined spheres of influence in the Middle East for France and Britain following the expected downfall of the Ottoman Empire during World War 1.

Under the agreement, France was to control Lebanon, Syria, and northern Iraq, while Britain would rule southern Iraq and Jordan. Palestine was to be internationally administered due to its significance to multiple religious groups.

The Balfour Declaration and the Creation of Israel

The Balfour Declaration of 1917, a letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, declared Britain’s support for establishing a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. The creation of Israel in 1948 profoundly reshaped the region and intensified conflicts.

Post-World War I: The Mandate System

Following World War I, the League of Nations established the mandate system. Britain received mandates over Iraq and Palestine, while France controlled mandates over Syria and Lebanon. These mandates, essentially forms of colonial rule, bred resentment and aspirations for self-determination among the local populations.

Decolonization and the Emergence of New States

The process of decolonization post-World War II saw the emergence of newly independent states. Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria all achieved independence, but the arbitrarily drawn borders, often disregarding ethnic and religious differences, led to internal conflicts that persist to this day.

The Discovery of Oil and Superpower Rivalry

The discovery of oil in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, intensified international interest and rivalry. The Cold War also had significant impacts on the region, with the United States and the Soviet Union vying for influence.

Current Conflicts

Today, the Middle East continues to grapple with conflicts, many of which can be traced back to the Sykes-Picot Agreement and its aftermath. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Syrian civil war, and the sectarian strife in Iraq reflect the enduring consequences of the division of the Middle East.


The Sykes-Picot Agreement and its aftermath significantly shaped the Middle East. While the region has witnessed immense change and faced numerous challenges since the agreement’s signing, its impacts, seen in the current political, ethnic, and religious conflicts, remain evident today.