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«TOWARDS NAKBA: THE FAILURE OF THE BRITISH MANDATE OF PALESTINE, 1922-1939 A Thesis Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State ...»

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Many of Arab nationalism’s most famous and influential writers were Christians from Syria. One of the most influential Arab nationalists was Ibrahim al- Yaziji, an early proponent of Arabism in the 1860’s. He argued that the Arabs were the most remarkable of the nations of the world because they rose to power and created a vibrant influential culture quickly. According to al-Yaziji, Europeans had achieved intellectual and military progress because of their exposure to Arab culture. Al-Yaziji also advocated a secular society which gave equality to all people regardless of religion. Most Ottomanists rejected this idea. Mohammad Abduh and Mohammad Rashid Rida, the leading Muslim Ottomanists contemporaries of al-Yaziji, would not entertain the idea of Arab nationalism being dominated by Christians. In turn, Christian nationalists had to acknowledge the primacy of Islam in Arab culture and Arab ascendancy. Although al-Yaziji’s secular ideals found few adherents in Ottomanism, they heavily influenced the burgeoning Arabist movement and helped shape post-First World War Arab nationalism. 41 Many of the most influential nationalist writers were not politicians; rather, they were academics, essayists, and poets. One of the most famous and influential early nationalists was Amin al-Rihani, a Maronite Christian from Lebanon. In 1888, al-Rihani was sent to live in the United States. In 1897, he returned to Lebanon where he taught English and in 1905 took a position as a lecturer at the American University of Beirut.

Following the Young Turk revolution and the failure of the 1913 Paris Conference, he endorsed Syrian independence from the Ottoman Empire. He advocated an Arab state ruled by a secular government with a secular educational system. In his model, there would be no distinctions between religious or ethnic groups; all would be equal citizens.

See: Dawn, pp 132, 140-141.

Rather than appealing to the ruling Arab families, he addressed the masses, theorizing that the rulers would follow suit. 42 In 1908, the Committee of Union and Progress, commonly known as the Young Turks, took control of the Ottoman Empire. The Young Turks consisted of westerneducated Turkish politicians who felt that the Ottoman Empire was lagging behind the European powers because it was too Oriental. The Young Turks implemented many western-style reforms in the Ottoman Empire. They promoted industrialization, westernstyle education, and a single secular law code for all citizens. The Young Turks were also vehemently nationalistic. They wanted to create an Ottoman Empire united by a single culture. Whereas Arabists focused on the elevation of Arab culture, the Young Turks focused on the elevation of Turkish culture. In their discourse, Ottoman culture equaled Turkish culture. This presented a monumental problem in that the majority of Ottoman subjects were Arab as opposed to the Turkish-speaking ruling class found in Asia Minor.

Under the Young Turks, discrimination against non-Turks became commonplace.

The imposition of Turkish culture stirred up great resentment in the non-Turkish population. Hitti wrote, “The immediate result was the stimulation of the separatist movements and the encouragement of nationalist loyalties among their Greek, Arab, Armenian, and other subjects.” 43 In Damascus, the Society of the Young Arab Nation, known popularly as al-Fatat, emerged as the most powerful Arab nationalist group in the Ottoman Empire along with al-‘Ahd, which advocated the creation of a dual TurkishArab Ottoman Empire based on model of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 44 See: Tauber, p. 226.

Hitti, p.363.

For more on al-Fatat and al-‘Ahd see: Tauber pp 2-3, 7-8, 10, 20, 26, 29, 31, 53-57, 55 and Dawn pp 27In June of 1913, twenty-one Arab delegates convened in Paris to discuss the state of Turkish-Arab relations, focusing on Syria in particular. The congress demanded the declaration of Arabic as the official language of Syria and greater authority for the local government centered in Beirut. The Ottoman government consented to the demands. This consent, however, was only on paper and the demands were never met. The aftermath of the Paris conference marked the break between Syrian nationalists and the Ottoman government. The failure of the Paris conference turned the broader Arab nationalist movement against the Ottoman government because of Syria’s role as the dominant intellectual center of Arab nationalism.

In 1914, when the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War on behalf of the Central Powers, the majority of its subjects opposed the war. Many Arab nationalists thought, rightly so, that the Ottoman Empire’s entry into the First World War invited Europeans to colonize the Middle East as they had the Ottomans’ north African territories like Algeria in 1830, Egypt in 1882, and Libya in 1911. To suppress anti-war sentiment, the Young Turks arrested and executed pacifists and Arab nationalists. They also reestablished the Hejaz railway system, which extended deep into Arab territories, for military transport. The Hejaz rail system allowed the Ottoman military to project power into Medina, Mecca, and the deep desert of the Arabian Peninsula.

In light of the actions of the Young Turks, the Arab tribal leader Sharif Hussein bin Ali of Mecca decided to support the British Empire in the war against the Ottomans. 45 Youssef Choueiri argues that the Sherif rebelled out of a sense of Arab brotherhood. Dawn and Tauber assert that the Sharif’s motives were more personal.





Hussein belonged to the Hashemite clan. This clan ruled Mecca from the 7th century CE to 1925.

According to the Hashemites, they are the direct descendents of the prophet Mohammed. “The Official Site of his Royal Highness Prince Hamzah bin al-Hussein,” http://www.princehamzah.jo/english Dawn points out that although Husseini bin Ali was a lower-tier Ottoman official and thus subordinate to both the Sultan and Caliph, he had in fact enjoyed a degree of autonomy because of the distance between Constantinople and the Hejaz. The construction of the Hejaz railway system, however, meant that the Ottoman government would be able to exert more control over the Sharif. He was prompted to revolt against the Ottomans to preserve his own power and was anointed the “leader” of the Arab world by the Asquith-led British government, particularly the war minister Lord Kitchener.

Hussein did not embrace the idea of an Arab state until 1915, when he was approached by both al-Fatat and al-‘Ahd. 46 British military intelligence officers realized that with Arab support and assistance they could destabilize the Ottoman Empire from within. The British sent T.E. Lawrence, popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia, as the military liaison to the army of the Sharif Hussein and to help co-ordinate attacks on the Ottoman army. To gain Arab support in 1915, the British government promised to support an Arab state in the Middle East. In a letter to Hussein, Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, proposed Arab self-rule within the Middle East.

McMahon promised to Hussein that, excepting “the two districts of Mersina and Alexandretta and portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo, areas which could not be said to be purely Arab…Great Britain is prepared to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs in all the regions within the limits demanded by the Sharif of Mecca.” 47 Hussein wanted Great Britain to recognize his rule of an independent Arab state that encompassed all lands between See: Tauber, pp 10-34; Dawn, Ch. 1; Nafi, Ch. 2.

The McMahon Letter, October 24, 1915. Courtesy of http://domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/9a798adbf322aff38525617b006d88d7/eb39ca1bfead52dd852570c00 079484e!OpenDocument.

Egypt and Persia and below Turkey. McMahon agreed to recognize Hashemite rule in the Middle East with the exception of the coastal plain of Lebanon, which would be under European rule. McMahon further proposed that “Great Britain will guarantee the Holy Places against all external aggression and will recognize their inviolability.” 48 McMahon guaranteed Hussein that the British would not under any circumstances enter Mecca or establish a military presence in Medina and Jerusalem. McMahon also stated that Britain would assist the new Arab state in establishing an internal system of governance that would centralize Hashemite rule, saying that “when the situation admits, Great Britain will give to the Arabs her advice and will assist them to establish what may appear to be the most suitable forms of government those various territories.” 49 McMahon attempted to preclude other European powers from encroaching upon any Hashemite lands, stating his understanding that “the Arabs have decided to seek the advice and guidance of Great Britain only, and that such European advisers and officials as may be required for the formation of a sound form of administration will be British.” 50 This article stated that Great Britain would be the new Arab state’s principal ally in Europe. McMahon concluded his letter, “With regard to the vilayets of Baghdad and Basra, the Arabs will recognize that the established position and interests of Great Britain necessitate special administrative arrangements in order to secure these territories from foreign aggression, to promote the welfare of the local populations and to safeguard our mutual economic interests.” 51 In 1915, geological indicators pointed to the existence of vast oil deposits in the vilayets of Baghdad and Basra. The British thus were demanding The McMahon Letter, October 24, 1915.

The McMahon Letter, October 24, 1915.

The McMahon Letter, October 24, 1915.

The McMahon Letter, October 24, 1915.

exclusive access to the Mesopotamian oil fields and the right to maintain a decisive, meaning military, presence in the region. The British government wanted to, and later did, construct a pipeline that ran from the Baghdad area to Basra, where oil would be shipped around the Arabian Peninsula, up the Red Sea, though the Suez Canal, and to Britain via the Mediterranean Sea.

Sharif Hussein agreed to the stipulations presented in McMahon’s letter. Arab nationalists, including Hussein, interpreted this letter to mean that the Arab state would gain its independence at the conclusion of the war. In Hussein’s opinion, all land below what is modern day Turkey was to be included in the Arab -his- territory. Hussein consented to allow the British to maintain a presence in what would become Iraq. He also agreed that Britain would be the only European nation consulted by the Arab state.

The McMahon-Hussein agreement brought Arab troops into the war on Britain’s side. The British government also entered into an alliance with Ibn Sa’ud, the leader of the rivals of the Hashemites, to support the Arab revolt against the Turks. 52 Lawrence’s strategy was to attack the Hejaz railway, which extended from Damascus to Medina, therefore stranding Ottoman soldiers far away from the front lines of the war in Asia Minor and Iraq. The strategy was successful. The Ottoman Empire was unable to fight a war on two fronts against the British military in Iraq and Egypt. By 1917, the British military had captured Jerusalem and by 1918 the Ottoman Empire was dismembered. The stage seemed to be set for the establishment of an independent Arab state under Hussein’s rule. Unbeknownst to the Sharif of Mecca and the various leaders in Damascus and Baghdad, however, the British and French governments had reached an agreement Founded by local emir Muhammed Ibn Sa’ud, the al-Sa’ud clan rose to prominence in the 1700s. In 1902, the Sa’ud clan established their center of power in Riyadh. “A Chronology: The House of Sa’ud.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saud/chron/.

between themselves over claims to dismembered Ottoman territories in 1916. Under the orders of the Secretary of War Lord Kitchener, Lieutenant Colonel Mark Sykes, UnderSecretary of the War Cabinet concerned with Near Eastern affairs, and French diplomat Georges Picot agreed the British and French Empire would divide the Middle East into respective spheres of control and influences. 53 The following map shows the divisions

agreed upon by the French and British governments:

–  –  –

The Sykes-Picot Agreement stated that:

France and Great Britain are prepared to recognize and protect an independent Arab states or a confederation of Arab states (a) and (b) marked on the annexed map, under the suzerainty of an Arab chief. That in area (a) France, and in area (b) Great Britain, shall have priority of right of enterprise and local loans. That in area (a) France, and in area (b) Great See Shane Leslie, Mark Sykes: His Life and Letters ( London: Cassel and Company, 1923), p. 20.

Courtesy of http://www.ece.neu.edu/~smolloy/courses/docs/islam/sykes_picot_agreement_1916.gif Britain, shall alone supply advisers or foreign functionaries at the request of the Arab state or confederation of Arab states. 55 As map 3 shows, Britain and France divided all the territory north of the Arabian Peninsula between themselves. In the areas designated “A” and “B”, the French and British would recognize whatever Arab government established itself as the dominant power, whether it was a centralized state or a coalition government. The British and French governments would exert influence on the states that emerged in these zones.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement also stipulated that “in the blue area France, and in the red area Great Britain, shall be allowed to establish such direct or indirect administration or control as they desire and as they may think fit to arrange with the Arab state or confederation of Arab states.” 56 This clause meant that areas stretching from Baghdad to Basra, the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates River, would be under direct British control. The area encompassing the southern coastal plain of modern-day Turkey and Lebanon, including Beirut, along with the interior plains of Northern Syria, would be under direct French control. Both of these territories would be, for all intents and purposes, colonies. The French wanted to claim the fertile region in Northern Syria in order to export cereal and cotton, the chief agricultural products of the region, to France from the ports of Beirut. The British wanted to secure the right to identify and develop the oil fields of modern Iraq for themselves.



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