Syria: From Great War to Civil War

10th July 2014

News, Student news, Alumni news

A hard-hitting new book from Wadham’s John McHugo (1970, Oriental Studies) considers why Syria's foundations as a nation have proved so fragile.

Syria's descent into civil war has already claimed an estimated 150,000 lives while nearly nine million people have fled their homes. This is now the greatest humanitarian and political crisis of the twenty-first century.

In Syria: From the Great War to Civil War John traces the history of Syria from the First World War to the present, laying bare the causes of the current tragedy. He takes in the country’s thwarted attempts at independence, the legacies of the Anglo-French partition that fragmented it, and the failures of divisive French policies. He then turns to recent events: religious and sectarian tensions that have pulled Syria apart, the pressures of the Cold War and the Arab-Israeli dispute, and two generations of rule by the Assads.

Did Syria ever have a chance? The conclusions drawn in this timely account are uncomfortable for both Westerners and Arabs alike.

“The short-sighted policies of many countries have helped wind up a time bomb that has finally gone off,” says John. “The international community now owes a responsibility to Syria which can no longer be shirked”.  

John McHugo is an international lawyer and Arabic linguist, with over forty years’ experience of the region. After graduating John completed his MA in Arabic Studies at the American University in Cairo, then returned to Wadham for an MLitt in medieval Sufi thought which he completed in 1977. He then qualified as a solicitor and worked as a lawyer in several Arab countries, notably Egypt, Bahrain and Oman. A board member of the Council for Arab British Understanding and of the British Egyptian Society, John is also chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine. He published A Concise History of the Arabs in 2013.

John is married to fellow Wadhamite and author Diana Darke (1974, German and Philosophy/Arabic) who published My House in Damascus - An inside view of the Syrian revolution earlier this year. The couple live in London.

  • John McHugo with his wife and fellow Wadhamite, Diana Darke

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