Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


MERC Book Talk: 'How the West Stole Democracy From the Arabs'

28 September 2022, 5:00 pm–7:00 pm

How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs book cover, Elizabeth F. Thompson

Prof Elizabeth F. Thompson (American University) in conversation with Seth Anziska (UCL). Prof Thompson's award winning book, 'How the West Stole Democracy From the Arabs', was published to high acclaim in English and will come out in September in Arabic.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Seth Anziska


IAS Common Ground
G11, ground floor, South Wing
UCL, Gower Street, London
United Kingdom

When Europe’s Great War engulfed the Ottoman Empire, Arab nationalists rose in revolt against their Turkish rulers and allied with the British on the promise of an independent state. In October 1918, the Arabs’ military leader, Prince Faisal, victoriously entered Damascus and proclaimed a constitutional government in an independent Greater Syria.

Faisal won American support for Syria’s self-determination at the Paris Peace Conference, but other Entente powers plotted to protect their colonial interests. Under threat of European occupation, the Syrian Congress declared independence on March 8, 1920 and crowned Faisal king of a “civil representative monarchy.” Sheikh Rashid Rida, the most prominent Islamic thinker of the day, became Congress president and supervised the drafting of a constitution that established the world’s first Arab democracy and guaranteed equal rights for all citizens, including non-Muslims.

But France and Britain refused to recognize the Syrian Arab Kingdom and instead imposed a system of mandates on the pretext that Arabs were not yet ready for self-government. In July 1920, the French invaded and crushed the Syrian government. The fragile coalition of secular modernizers and Islamic reformers that had established democracy was destroyed, with profound consequences for the future of democracy in the region.

Using previously untapped primary sources, including contemporary newspaper accounts, reports of the Syrian Congress, and letters and diaries from participants, How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs (2020, Grove Atlantic) is a groundbreaking account of an extraordinary, brief moment of equity and justice—and of its destruction.

Sponsored by the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies and the Centre for Palestine Studies at SOAS. Please register to attend: https://merc-how-west-stole.eventbrite.co.uk

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About the Speaker

Elizabeth F. Thompson

Mohamed S. Farsi Chair of Islamic Peace at American University in Washington DC

Elizabeth F. Thompson is a leading historian of the modern Middle East. She is the author of two previous books, Colonial Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon, winner of two national book prizes, and Justice Interrupted: The Struggle for Constitutional Government in the Middle East.

More about Elizabeth F. Thompson