Ted Thornton
History of the Middle East Database
World War I and the Early Mandate Period
1914 - 1929
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1914   Europe's tumble into World War I began with the assassination of Austria's Archduke Ferdinand on June 28 in Sarajevo. The Ottoman Empire aligned itself with Germany against Russia, Great Britain, France, and Italy. The war gave Britain an excuse to depose the Egyptian Khedive, Abbas Hilmy. Britain had maintained a protectorate over Egypt since 1882. British troops occupied southern Iraq.

1915  The British instigated an Arab Hashemite revolt against the Ottomans in Palestine. The Arabs believed that Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner in Cairo, had promised to support Arab independence if the Hashemite tribe under the rule of Sharif Husayn of Mecca rose up against the Ottomans.  The Arab world had been ablaze with nationalist aspirations since the mid nineteenth century, due in part to exposure to American democratic ideology transmitted through such institutions as the American University of Beirut. Some claimed that McMahon was ambiguous about whether an independent Palestine was to be included in his promise to the Arabs, but there was no mistaking that Husayn thought the promise did include Palestine. (Text of Husayn-McMahon correspondence at MidEast Web. See George Antonius, The Arab Awakening for a very complete printed collection of the correspondence between McMahon and Sharif Husayn.)

Also in 1915, allied troops landed at Gallipoli but failed in their efforts to capture the Dardanelles. Ottoman forces were commanded by a young officer named Mustafa Kemal who would later rule Turkey as "Ataturk," a surname he took in 1934 which means "Father of the Turks."

1916   France and Great Britain conducted secret talks (Sykes-Picot Agreement - excerpt at Yale's Avalon Project) carving up the Middle East into zones of influence. France was to oversee the affairs of Lebanon and Syria, while Britain was to do the same for Iraq and Transjordan. Palestine was to have been under dual control, but France subsequently ceded all rights to Britain.  On June 5, even though he was aware of the Sykes-Picot agreement, Sharif Husayn of the Hijaz initiated the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. He calculated that his chances were better with the British than with the Ottomans.

In the first edition of his book Ancient Times published in 1916, American historian James Henry Breasted coined the term "Fertile Crescent" to describe a wide swath of cultivable area in West Asia. Breasted's thesis that European civilization had its origins in the cultures of the ancient Middle East and not in Greece and Rome eventually achieved widespread acceptance.

1917   In Palestine, the Ottoman Turks, who had sided with Germany in World War I, surrendered to the British under General Allenby. In a critical development, British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, in his "Balfour Declaration" of November 2, pledged that His Majesty's government favored, "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of that object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the religious and civil rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine."  (quoted by Fred Khouri, The Arab-Israeli Dilemma, Third Edition (Syracuse, 1985), 526)  (The "Declaration" was framed in a letter Balfour wrote to Lord Walter Rothschild, a prominent British Zionist - Full text at Yale's Avalon Project)

It eventually emerged that Balfour had no intention of supporting Palestinian interests. Writing in a private memorandum in 1919, he said, "For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American (King-Crane) commission has been going through the form of asking what they are. The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land."  (quoted in Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle (Boston, 1983), 90)

Balfour had been pressured to throw Britain's weight behind Zionism by Chaim Weizman, a Russian-born chemist (he was involved in creating acetone) who taught at Manchester University. 

Among those Jews who dissented from the aims of Balfour was a group of English Jews who published a statement in The Times (May 24, 1917) that pleaded strongly against political Zionism, fearing it would, "have the effect throughout the world of stamping the Jews as strangers in their native lands and of undermining their hard-won position as citizens and nationals of those lands."

Also in 1917, the British captured Baghdad.

From 1917 until 1948, Palestine was governed by the British under a "Mandate" conferred by the League of Nations. A series of British High Commissioners oversaw affairs in Palestine. Britain shortly found itself caught in the middle between Jews who had begun immigrating into Israel in great numbers, and the Arab inhabitants. Ninety percent of the population in Palestine at this time was Arab.

Following the 1917 revolution in Russia, Lenin's Bolshevik ("majority") faction took  power and reconstituted itself the following year as the Communist Party. 

1918  In February 1918, the first of a series of nationalistic and Islamic rebellions against attempts by the new Communist government in Russia to impose sovereignty broke out in Central Asia.  These became known as the Basmachi Rebellions.  They continued until 1929. 

On 16 June, 1918, in a statement to Arab leaders ("Declaration to the Seven") the British reaffirmed earlier promises to promote the "complete and sovereign independence of the Arabs" in the Arabian Peninsula, stated that the future of Iraq and Palestine was to be determined in accordance with "the principle of the consent of the governed," and, with respect to Syria and Mosul, that the British government desires "that the oppressed peoples in those territories should obtain their freedom and independence." This statement was met with jubilation in the Arab world and went far to dispel fears stirred up by the discovery of Balfour's hypocrisy and the Sykes-Picot Agreement. But, Britain and France were to renege on these promises as well.

On November 11, 1918, World War I came to an end with the declaration of an armistice. 

In November, 1918, Syria fell under the control of Great Britain. Britain and France declared their intention to establish in Syria and Iraq "'national governments drawing their authority from the initiative and free choice of the native populations'" (Anglo-French Declaration of 7 November, 1918," quoted in Khouri, ibid, p. 527).'" But, as with the Balfour Declaration, this was double-talk. The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of May 16, 1916 between Britain and France had given France the green light to establish an administration in Lebanon and to provide whatever "assistance and advice" she deemed fit and necessary to whatever regime ruled the interior (i.e. Syria).

Britain got similar rights over Iraq and Transjordan. Palestine initially was to be under international control, but France later ceded all rights to Britain. The Arabs occupied Damascus. The amir, Faysal, set up a rudimentary government in Damascus.

In 1918, Britain attempted to establish a protectorate over Iran.

In May, 1918, Armenia gained its independence from Russia (which it had been part of since 1828) and lost it in 1920 when Armenia became part of the Soviet Union).  Armenia had been predominantly Christian since the fourth century.  In 1620, Armenia was divided between Turkey and Persia. The Persian half was eventually absorbed into the Russian Empire in 1828. Turkish Armenia was the scene of numerous massacres from 1892 to 1894, in which it was estimated that almost 300,000 Armenians were killed. Armenians claimed that from 1915 to 1922, 1.5 million Armenians died at the hands of the Turks in what some considered the first genocide of the twentieth century. Many of the survivors found refuge in Russian Armenia. Many Turks regarded the mostly Christian Armenians as "fifth columnists," blaming them in large measure for undermining the Muslim Ottoman Empire over the previous couple of centuries. (See also the struggle between Armenia and Azerbaijan, 1994) (source: Cultural Handbook to the New Independent States. 1995 Edition. Sponsored by the United States Information Agency. http://members.tripod.com/~stelka/Armenia.html#history)

1919   In March, a petition was presented to President Woodrow Wilson signed by thirty one prominent American Jews including Henry Morgenthau and New York Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs. The petition included the following statement:

...we protest against the political segregation of the Jews and the re-establishment in Palestine of a distinctively Jewish State as utterly opposed to the principles of democracy which it is the avowed purpose of the World's Peace Conference to establish. Whether the Jews be regarded as a "race" or as a "religion," it is contrary to the democratic principles for which the world war was waged to found a nation on either or both of these bases.

("Jewish Anti-Zionist Petition Presented to President Wilson in 1919," American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism Report, No. 52, p. 138.)

On March 9, 1919, what many called "the first revolution" broke out in Egypt (making 1952 the second).  Protest demonstrations erupted in Cairo and quickly spread throughout the country. Egyptians were infuriated at the British expulsion of Wafd Party nationalist leader Saad Zaglul and three others who were exiled to Malta for their part in stirring up Egyptian aspirations for independence (Zaghlul's Wafdists had expressed outrage when they heard that Syria would be permitted to send a delegation to the Paris Peace Conference while they would not be).

The toll after three weeks of rioting was 800 Egyptians killed. The British finally backed down and Saad was freed on April 7. On April 11, the Wafd delegation finally reached Paris to plead its case for independence at the Allies Peace Conference. They were bitterly disappointed by the United States which replied to him that it backed the British Protectorate.

Meanwhile in July, 1919, a Syrian national congress met to demand independence for Syria. It was strongly opposed by the French. Ten weeks later, Britain ceded complete authority over the region to the French, and Gen. Henri Gouraud was appointed High Commissioner. By December, there was fighting between Faysal's forces and the French. (A second congress was held a year later.)

On August 28, 1919, the American "King-Crane Commission" presented its report and recommendations to the allies on the status of Syria, Iraq, and Palestine (text of the report at Great War Primary Documents Archive). This commission, appointed after an appeal to Woodrow Wilson by Dr. Howard Bliss, President of Syrian Protestant College (later known as the American University of Beirut), had been delegated by the Paris Peace Conference to study the situation there. The Commission, noting that, "‘a national home for the Jewish people is not equivalent to making Palestine into a Jewish state,’" recommended that, "‘...Jewish immigration should be definitely limited, and that the project for making Palestine distinctly a Jewish commonwealth should be given up.’" (see George Antonius, The Arab Awakening (London, 1938),  448, 450)   The report recommended the creation of a single Arab state - "Greater Syria"- that included Lebanon and Palestine and would have been administered under American mandatory power. ("Palestine" at the time also included the area that became Jordan in 1921.)  The recommendations never saw the light of day: the French and the British, whose objectives in the region the report threatened, made sure it was not published. (see Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, fourth edition (New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001), 84). 

Also in 1919, the Anglo-Persian Agreement that Great Britain imposed on Iran stirred up nationalist opposition in Iran and elsewhere in the region.  Lord Curzon, who as Britain's Foreign Secretary, drafted the document, described his country's policy in terms that would repeat themselves many times over in Western attitudes toward Middle Easterners down through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first:

"'If it be asked why we should undertake the task at all, and why Persia should not be left to herself and allowed to rot into picturesque decay, the answer is that her geographical position, the magnitude of our interests in the country, and the future safety of our Eastern Empire render it impossible for us any time during the last fifty years - to disinherit ourselves from what happens in Persia.  Moreover, now that we are about to assume the mandate for Mesopotamia, which will make us coterminous with the western frontiers of Asia, we cannot permit the existence between the frontiers of our Indian Empire and Baluchistan and those of our new protectorate, a hotbed of misrule, enemy intrigue, financial chaos, and political disorder.  Further, if Persia were to be alone, there is every reason to fear that she would be overrun by Bolshevik influence from the north.  Lastly, we possess in the southwestern corner of Persia great assets in the shape of oil fields, which are worked for the British navy and which give us a commanding interest in that part of the world.'"  (quoted in Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2003), 39-40)

Finally in 1919, Afghanistan gained independence from the British.

1920   In Turkey, Mustafa Kemal ("Ataturk," an adopted surname meaning "Father of the Turks") raised an army to challenge the Greeks who had occupied Izmir in 1919 claiming it as part of "Greater Greece." In September of 1922, Kemalist led Turkish forces evicted the Greeks and Izmir was reincorporated into Turkey.

Also in 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres promised a homeland for the Kurds in part of Turkey (three years later Mustafa Kemal successfully blocked this initiative - a key component of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 - and Turkey maintained sovereignty over the area in spite of several Kurdish revolts.)

On March 8, 1920, Arab nationalists held a second congress in Damascus calling for complete independence (the first congress had taken place in 1919). Three days later, Faysal, son of Sharif Husayn, was proclaimed king of Syria taking the name Faysal the First. Neither the French nor the British recognized him. Faysal was dethroned by French General Henri Gouraud and driven into exile in Europe (he rose again as king of Iraq one year later). France then organized Syria into four states: Aleppo, Damascus, Alawite country, and Jabal ad-Druze. Lebanon was created out of the former Ottoman vilayet of Beirut together with Mt. Lebanon. These divisions, reflecting the tactics of "divide-and-conquer," were made with the object of weakening resistance to the French. Syrian nationalists who considered Lebanon to be a part of Syria resisted (see also). As a partial concession, the French reunited Aleppo and Damascus in 1925. This only encouraged the nationalists to push for complete reunification. The first major uprising against the French was instigated by the Druze in 1925. The French at first were routed, and the revolt spread. It was finally put down after a major military campaign in 1927.  The French policy of setting Syrian political groups off against one another was seen as the chief factor in Syria's turbulent history of frequent coups and political instability following independence in 1946.

From April 19-26, 1920, the League of Nations "Mandates" under which Great Britain and France ruled areas of the Middle East were finalized in San Remo (Italy). The French took control of Syria and Lebanon under a League of Nations mandate. Britain assumed control of Palestine and Iraq. Arab hopes for independence were dashed. The League of Nations grew out of American President Woodrow Wilson's "Fourteen Points" (see Article XIV in full text at Yale's Avalon Project).

C.H. Jansen, in his book Militant Islam (New York: Harper and Row, 1979, 104-105) writes, Interreligious and interdenominational unity was particularly urgently required in Syria in 1920 when the French took over as Mandatory power. The policy of 'divide and rule' was immediately applied. The mainly Christian areas on the coast of geographical Syria were split off to form Lebanon, with some adjacent Muslim areas added to it. The rest of Syria was split into four separate autonomous areas, two of which were based on separate, heterodox, vaguely Muslim sects - one for the Druze sect in the south and the other for the Alawites in the northwest. The Syrians did not then, and still do not, accept the separateness of a 'Christian Lebanon'. Therefore, if in 1920 or at any time thereafter they had stressed the Muslim character of the freedom struggle, even though Syria is three quarters a Muslim country, they would have pushed the Lebanese Christians farther away from the larger Syrian motherland, and deeper into their already existent minority psychosis (which is presently in full bloom). Likewise, if the Sunni majority aspect of the movement had been emphasized the nominally Muslim Druzes and Alawites would have taken fright. As far as these two communities were concerned the restraint worked, and faced with a pan-Syrian protest movement the French were compelled to scrap their autonomous areas. This necessity for communal restraint has been an element in Syrian politics ever since, and was the determining force once again when the Syrians rose against the French in 1945."

The principle of "divide and rule" was the main motive for the British as well. Their chief concern was to keep secure their transport and communications routes through Palestine and Iraq and beyond to their domains in India, a major reason they supported a strong Jewish presence in Palestine and likewise why they retained a strong interest in controlling affairs in Iran (see, for example, Lord Curzon's remarks in 1919). As for Iraq, they had originally envisioned it being administered by the British Viceroy of India (see David Fromkin, The Peace to End All Peace (New York: Henry Holt, 1989), 140ff., 169ff., 281-282, 295).

In June, 1920, a bit more than a  month after the British received their mandate to rule Iraq, rebellion broke out among tribesmen living along the Euphrates River who resented the British aim of imposing centralized rule in an area that had grown accustomed to a decentralized style of administration throughout the long (four hundred year) period of Ottoman rule (the British might have taken a lesson from the difficulties the Ottomans had controlling the region in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries; likewise the Americans in the early twenty-first century). The uprising lasted until the following October, when the British put it down but at an enormous cost in lives and money:  nearly 10,000 Iraqi tribesmen dead along with 450 British soldiers and a price tag of 40 million pounds.  Steps were quickly taken to ensure that nothing like it should happen again (see Cairo Conference below).

1921   In February, the report of a mission sent by Britain to Egypt following the riots of 1919 was published. The report recommended that the Protectorate of Egypt be terminated. A struggle erupted between the Wafd, led by Saad Zaglul, and the Egyptian government over which side would negotiate the independence treaty with the British.

Things were quieter in Lebanon where nationalists were hoping for a future Lebanese nation independent of Syria. A constitution was drafted in 1921.

Also in Palestine in 1921, the Jewish Haganah ("Defense") was formed, a secret army organized to protect against and respond to attacks by Arabs.

Also in Palestine in 1921, Avraham Kook (1865-1935) was appointed the first Chief Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine.  Kook, following the beliefs of the Mizrachi Movement, practiced religious Zionism as opposed to secular Zionism: he argued against the conviction of many other religious Jews who believed that the Messiah must come first before a Jewish state can be created. Kook was among those who believed that the settlement of the land of Israel by religious Jews before the Messiah's arrival was part of God's divine plan and would actually hasten the coming of the Messiah. Later in the century, Kook's followers interpreted Israel's gains after the 1967 war as proof that Kook was right, and became even more determined to press for the occupation of ancient "Samaria" and "Judea" after the 1973 war when they discovered common political ground with the newly formed Likud Party and eventually even with some evangelical Christians. For religious Zionists, the gains confirmed what they read in the Book of Deuteronomy 11:23-24:

"then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours: Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the Euphrates River to the western sea."

In a similar vein, Judah Halevi, a twelfth century philosopher and poet, authored a book, The Kuzari, that became a major inspirational text for such militant settler groups in the post 1973 War era as Gush Emunim. A major premise of the book is that Ishmael, Abraham's first son and patriarch of Muslim Arabs, was the historical (if not racial) inferior of Isaac and had no patrimonial rights in the Land of Israel.

At the Cairo Conference of 1921, the British decided to name one of Sharif Husayn's sons, Faysal, king of Iraq (after a rigged plebiscite -- see Arthur Goldschmidt Jr. and Lawrence Davidson, "The Roots of Arab Bitterness," in The Contemporary Middle East (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2006), 39) and another son of Husayn, Abdullah, Amir of Transjordan. Britain, in spite of Zionist opposition, established the emirate of Transjordan, still part of the British Mandate but administratively distinct from Palestine, partly to keep Abdullah from stirring up trouble in Syria (which, the British feared, would in turn attract unwanted attention from the French). Faysal's coronation was a strictly British affair:  he was obliged to receive his crown to the strains of Britain's anthem, "God Save the King."  This was Faysal's second coronation (he had been named king of Syria one year before, but then was quickly dethroned by the French).  Before his coronation, Faysal had not set foot inside the country he was to rule. 

"Iraq," the official name of Faysal's new realm, came from the Arabic word araqa meaning "deep-rooted."  Etymologically, "Iraq" came from the Sumerian region of Uruk (Warka) dating to about 3400 BCE.  The biblical name for the region was "Erech" (Genesis 10:10). 

The official boundaries of Iraq and Transjordan were the product of a sketch on tracing paper in 1918 by a low level British diplomat named Gertrude Bell, an assistant to Sir Arnold Wilson, the first civil commissioner of the British Mandate. Bell conspired with T. E. Lawrence to set up Faysal as king of the new nation of Iraq (see Janet Wallach, The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell (New York, 1996).  Iraq resulted from the union of three Ottoman provinces:  Mosul in the north, Baghdad in the middle, and Basra in the south. 

An American missionary had warned Bell of the folly of trying to corral such three disparate regions inside the borders of a single nation: "You are flying in the face of four millenniums of history if you try to draw a line around Iraq and call it a political entity. Assyria always looked to the west and east and north, and Babylonia to the south. They have never been an independent unit. You've got to take time to get them integrated, it must be done gradually. They have no conception of nationhood yet." (quoted in David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (New York: Henry Holt, 1989), 451).

Mosul's natural ties were to Syria and Turkey and its politics and history were bound up with those of the Kurds as well.  Baghdad, and the adjacent Shiite shrines of Najaf and Karbala, set their eyes  toward Persia.  Basra was also heavily Shiite and looked toward the Gulf and commerce with India.   This improbable and unnatural union would prove difficult to hold together. There were three Kurdish uprisings in the north between 1922 and 1932 and a rebellion in the south between 1935 and 1936. Between 1921 and 1958, more than fifty governments came into power, frequently, beginning in 1936, on the wings of military coups.  This would lead to a tradition of "strongman" rulers such as Saddam Hussein in the later decades of the twentieth century. 

Elsewhere in 1921, in the Maghreb the Rif revolt broke out led by Muhammad Abd al-Karim Khattabi. It lasted until 1926 when Khattabi's son was exiled.

1922  The British protectorate, which had begun in Egypt in 1882, ended, subject to four "reserved points:"

1. Security of imperial communications within Egypt;

2. Defense of Egypt against foreign attack;

3. Protection of foreign interests and personnel;

4. Britain continues to rule the Sudan.

Egypt became officially independent under the rule of King Fuad I. Unofficially, the British continued to meddle in Egyptian affairs until the revolution of 1952, a practice that inspired Hasan al-Banna to found the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928.

1923  In Palestine, the Jewish Agency was formed at the invitation of the British. Both Arabs and Jews were invited to join in an effort to help the British govern the area. The Arabs refused the offer. Vladimir Jabotinsky and Chaim Weizman, veteran Zionist leaders, along with younger leaders like David Ben-Gurion were involved.  Roots of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

The British officially designated Abdullah "Amir" of Transjordan.

In 1923, Mustafa Kemal became Turkey's first president. Kemal ruled from 1923 until 1938. He embarked on a vigorous campaign of Westernization, much of it at the expense of traditional Islamic values since a key goal was to "laicize" the government: to bring religion into submission to civil authority. Better known as "Ataturk" ("Father of the Turks"), he abolished both the sultanate (1923, actually, the National Assembly had abolished it on November 1, 1922) and the caliphate (1924). Kemal introduced advances in education (especially in the sciences), gave women the vote (1932), and outlawed the wearing of the red fez as a symbol of outmoded Ottoman ways. He abolished the Arabic alphabet and introduced the Latin alphabet (1928) insisting the transition be completed within six months. He required Turks to take surnames (1934): for himself he adopted the surname "Ataturk."  He overhauled the bureaucratic and economic spheres of Turkish activity. He abolished the office of Sheikh ul-Islam (the highest ranking religious official in the Ottoman Empire) and closed religious schools.  The administration of all vakifs (religious and charitable endowments) was given over to the office of the prime minister. Islamic law courts were shut down. All Sufi orders and lodges were closed (1925). A civil code of law, based on Swiss civil law, was put in place to supersede Islamic law in personal matters (1926).  Finally, a constitutional amendment dropped Islam as the state religion (1928). ( Peter N. Stearns (ed.), The Encyclopedia of World History, sixth edition (New York:  Houghton Mifflin, 2001), 753)

On July 24, 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne recognized the new Republic of Turkey and settled borders of many states that had once been part of the Ottoman Empire. The biggest losers were the Kurds who saw the homeland promised them in the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) taken away from them.

From 1923 to 1931, the Second Italo-Sanusi War was fought in Libya (the first was fought as part of World War I between Ottoman troops and Sanusi tribesmen on one side and British and Italian forces on the other).  Benito Mussolini had risen to power in Italy in October of 1922.

1924   First Egyptian parliament. In Turkey, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) abolished the caliphate on March 3 bringing to an end the dynasty of Osman which had come to power in 1299. (See summary of Ataturk's other reforms.)

On August 9, 1924, Arabian tribesmen from the Wahhabi movement known as al-Ikhwan  raided villages inhabited by the Bani Sakhr, just south of Amman, Jordan. The Ikhwan had conducted a similar raid just two years before, part of the Wahhabi-Saudi campaign to wrest control of the Hijaz away from Husayn and the Hashemites.  British RAF warplanes had to come to the rescue and bomb the Wahhabis into retreat.  Abdullah had relied on British aid the previous year as well (1923) in putting down a revolt by Adwan tribesmen who had marched on Amman.  After this latest Wahhabi attack, Abdullah (if in fact he had ever doubted it) was forced to admit that he could not rule without British support. (see also)

Three weeks after these events, Ibn Saud captured Ta'if and Husayn abdicated in favor of his eldest son, Ali. Husayn went into exile, first to Cyprus, then, after falling mortally ill, to Amman where he died on June 4, 1931.  Ali lasted only one year until 1925 before following his father into exile as Ibn Saud became king. Husayn had become a burden to the British: he had not signed the Versailles and Sevres treaties and had proclaimed himself "King of the Arabs." (See Arthur Goldschmidt Jr. and Lawrence Davidson, "The Roots of Arab Bitterness," in The Contemporary Middle East (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2006), 38).

1925  On May 25, 1925, the British put into effect what became known as the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty. The British recognized what had been the provisional government in Transjordan as permanent and officially separated Transjordan from their Palestine mandate (Stearns (ed.), Encyclopedia of World History).

In July, 1925, a rebellion broke out in Syria against French Mandate rule.  The rebellion continued until 1927 and resulted in 6,000 Syrian dead before the French put it down. The French bombarded Damascus in October of 1925 killing 1,400 people.  The failure of the Syrian revolt forced a change in the strategy of Arab nationalists which had been developing since 1921.  Where before, the emphasis had been on Arab unity, now, nationalists focused their energies on organizing and acting within each of the particular mandated states.

Also in 1925, Egypt's al-Azhar University condemned the theory of the separation of religion and state as alien to the Islamic tradition. This decree was prompted in part by the publication this year of a new book by Ali Abd al-Raziq, Islam wa usul al-hukm (Islam and the Fundamentals of Government) in which he argued that the Prophet Muhammad had not come to establish a form of government but only to establish a new religion.

In 1925 in Iran, the Qajar dynasty was overthrown by Reza Khan who founded the Pahlevi dynasty and ruled as Reza I. "Pahlevi" was a pre-Islamic period name used to refer to the Persian language. Its adoption by Reza infuriated the Shiite ulema ("religious scholars").  Reza instituted reforms that weakened the influence of the religious mullahs and laid the basis for the modern secular state. Women were no longer required to wear the veil and divorce laws were liberalized. Further reforms under his sonMuhammad Reza Pahlevi, paved the way for the Iranian Revolution in 1979.  See also the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry (1951) and the brief exile of the Shah (1953).

Also in 1925, Afghanistan gained its independence from Great Britain.

1926   In January, 1926, Ibn Saud became king of the Hijaz (a region in the Arabian peninsula that included the holy city of Mecca).

In 1926, Lebanon was proclaimed a republic by France, but France maintained control over Lebanese foreign affairs and its military:  in short, the French Mandate was still in force and remained a block to Lebanese self-determination until 1946.  The French introduced a constitution that provided for a single chamber of deputies elected according to religious representation, but the exact formula for determining the makeup of the representative chamber would not be worked until the drafting of the "National Pact" of 1943

In Egypt in 1926, Taha Husayn caused an uproar with his book, Pre-Islamic Poetry (fi'l Shi'r al-Jahili ). Applying Cartesian logic to literary criticism, Husayn questioned whether this poetry had been written in pre-Islamic days at all. The implications of some of the arguments in the book cast doubt on the veracity of the Qur'an. Husayn was savagely criticized and he was forced to withdraw the book.

1927  In the Indian subcontinent, the Tablighi Islamic movement was founded by Maulana Muhammad Ilyas, graduate of the Darul Uloom in Deoband.  The Tablighis initially avoided politics and concentrated on religious piety. (Ira Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 736) However, by the 1990s, they had become more highly politicized and in 1998 won the presidency of Pakistan.

Also in 1927, Wahhabi Ikhwan ("Brothers"), puritanical Sunni Salafist fighters, began attacking Shiite areas in southern Iraq. The attacks continued until 1929 when they were stopped by the army of Ibn Saud. (see also)

1928   In March, al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon ("the Muslim Brotherhood") was founded in Ismailia, Egypt by Hasan al-Banna, a schoolteacher. In the latter half of the twentieth century, a number of extremist movements grew out of the Brotherhood (see Models of Islamic Revivalism). (more on the Brotherhood)

In Syria in 1928, a constitutional assembly was formed.

In Turkey in 1928, the Arabic script was abolished and the Latin alphabet was  adopted. Islam was no longer recognized as the "state religion." The principle of secular statehood was established.

From 1928 to 1929, Arabs and Jews clashed at Jerusalem's Western Wall (known also as the "Wailing Wall"). By the summer of 1929, the clashes had become severe. Legally speaking, because the Muslim shrines (the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of al-Aqsa) were located there, the area had been a Muslim waqf ("trust") since the time of Salah al-Din. However, in 1928, Jewish worshippers, without permission from the Muslim authorities in charge of what Jews called the "Temple Mount," began bringing benches to sit on and a screen to separate men from women. The police removed them several times but Jews kept bringing them back. Muslims then retaliated by running a thoroughfare through the area which disturbed the worshippers. Fights broke out and all of this escalated into a small civil war resulting in hundreds of casualties on both sides. Arabs in August, 1929 massacred almost all the Jews living in Hebron. Jews complained to the British. But, the British found in favor of the Arab position, blaming the unrest on Jewish immigration and land purchases.  Roots of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Russian-born Zionist revisionist leader Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky (1880-1940) speaking at the annual Zionist Congress of 1929 said:  "What does the word Palestine mean?   Palestine is a territory whose chief geographical feature is this:  that the River Jordan does not delineate its frontier, but flows through its center."   (cited in Christopher Sykes, Crossroads to Israel (London, 1965), 135).

1929    In the Arabian Peninsula, Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud was forced to put down a rebellion by al-Ikhwan ("the Brothers"), a paramilitary Wahhabi Bedouin group he had organized in 1912 to help him subdue Arabia and bring it under unified Saudi control. Throughout the early 1920s, the Ikhwan not only helped Ibn Saud pacify Arabia, but also launched attacks against his enemies, the Hashemites, who by that time controlled Transjordan and Iraq as well as Mecca.  By 1926, the Ikhwan had grown powerful enough to challenge Ibn Saud's authority, which they began to do, choosing to frame the conflict on religious grounds:  they condemned Ibn Saud for introducing such innovations as telephones and automobiles, acts they branded as apostasy. Ibn Saud obtained a fatwa from the ulema ("religious scholarly authorities) permitting him to crush the rebellion. This proved to be a turning point for the ulema: from this point, they were seen as a force for legitimating political actions. (More: Ikhwan in Transjordan. Ikhwan in Iraq).


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