BECK index

Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan 1700-1950

by Sanderson Beck

Syria and Lebanon 1700-1920
Syria under the French 1920-26
Syria under the French 1927-39
Syria and Lebanon 1940-50
Gibran and The Prophet
Trans-Jordan 1917-50

This chapter has been published in the book Mideast & Africa 1700-1950.
For ordering information, please click here.

Syria and Lebanon 1700-1920

Ottoman and Persian Empires 1300-1700

Ottoman Sultan Selim conquered Syria and Lebanon in 1516 after defeating the Mamluks in the battle of Marj Dabiq. Their association with France began in 1535 when François I obtained the first capitulations. The French established trading posts and consulates in Syria that continued during the eras of Henri IV, Richelieu, and Louis XIV. Colbert promoted trade during the mercantile epoch. France renewed the capitulations in the treaty of 1740 that included the Levant and the holy places. During most of the 18th century the governors of Damascus were from the ‘Azm family. Ahmad al-Jazzar governed Sidon 1775-1804. Napoleon left Egypt in February 1800 with about 13,000 troops and invaded Syria, taking Jaffa on March 7 and then besieging Acre for two months before ordering a retreat. He estimated that Syria had a population of 2,500,000 with 320,000 Christians and 120,000 Druzes. He also calculated that one-fourth of the revenue was sent to Istanbul, and he confirmed French privileges with the sultan in 1802. Syria was divided into the four provinces of Aleppo. Damascus, Tripoli, and Sidon (Acre).

In 1810 Sulaiman Pasha of Acre and Bashir II Shihab (r. 1788-1840) of Lebanon marched to Damascus ostensibly to defend it from a Wahhabi attack but secretly to overthrow Yusuf Pasha for the Ottoman empire. Yusuf was defeated and fled to Cairo. In 1829 Bashir Shihab added 2,000 men to ‘Abdullah Pasha’s army that besieged the Sanur fortress in Nabulus. Two years later ‘Abdullah was besieged at Acre as the Egyptians led by Ibrahim invaded Syria. Acre fell on May 27, 1832 and was soon followed by Damascus and Aleppo. Ibrahim defeated the Ottoman army by the end of the year, but his father Muhammad ‘Ali told him not to advance toward Istanbul. His heavy taxes and conscripting men for his army made Ibrahim unpopular. Bashir Shahib ruled Lebanon for the Egyptians who allowed him to keep a larger income. In 1837 the Ottoman army began a campaign to regain Syria. Ibrahim already had 20,000 Syrians enlisted in the army, but he demanded 170 conscripts. The Druzes revolted, and the Egyptians attacked them at Hawran. Shibli al-‘Uryan escaped to southern Lebanon with two hundred horsemen. Ibrahim ordered Christians to attack the Druzes, beginning enmity between these two communities. Shibli surrendered to the Egyptian army and was given a command after the revolt ended in August 1838. In Syria only the Lebanese had not revolted against the Egyptians, but the last rebellion against the Egyptians in Syria occurred there and was put down by the Egyptians and Bashir in July 1840. That year the British and the Austrians helped the Ottoman empire defeat the Egyptians, and Bashir II was deposed in Lebanon.

In the first clash between the Druze and the Maronite Christians in 1841 the French backed the Maronites, and the Druze turned to the British. The French developed a relationship with the Maronites, and they intervened on behalf of Lebanon’s autonomy 1842-45 and in the bloody Druze-Maronite civil war in 1860. In 1857 the French investors financed building a paved road from Damascus to Beirut. Literary societies began in Beirut in 1846, 1850, and 1868. The Catholic press began in 1848, and the first school Rushdiyyah was established in Aleppo about 1861. In 1864 the Vilayet law divided Syria into the two provinces of Aleppo and Damascus. The latter was called Suriyya (Syria) and governed the dependencies of Tripoli and Sidon (Acre). The Syrian Protestant College began in 1866 and became the American University of Beirut after 1920. A Jesuit school began in 1875 at Ghazir and moved to Beirut as the Jesuit College which became the Université Saint-Joseph in 1881.

In 1875 five young Christians in Beirut founded a secret society, and they established branches in Damascus, Tripoli, and Sidon. They sent messages condemning the Turks, and on the last day of 1880 their program included independence for Syria in union with Lebanon, recognizing Arabic as an official language, removing censorship and restriction on free expression, and employing locally recruited military units. In 1890 Syria was altered into the three provinces of Aleppo, Suriyya, and Beirut with special districts called Lebanon, Dair as-Zur, and Jerusalem.

‘Abdul-Rahman Kawakibi was a Muslim journalist who had been born in Aleppo. In 1898 he left Syria and went to Egypt. Two years later he traveled to Somaliland, Zanzibar, Yemen, and Mecca before returning to Cairo, where he died in 1903. His first book Umm al-Qura was a symposium on the destiny of Islam with 22 fictitious characters. His other book was The Attributes of Tyranny, and both were popular in Cairo. He was influenced by the pan-Islamic revival advocated by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, but Kawakibi was appealing to an Arab movement. In 1904 the Christian Najib ‘Azuri founded the Ligue de la Patrie Arabe in Paris, calling for the liberation of Iraq and Syria from Turkish domination.

On September 2, 1908 members of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) in Istanbul founded the Ottoman Arab Fraternity. The Hijaz Railway from Damascus to Medina was completed at this time, and Sharif Husain ibn ‘Ali became Grand Sharif of Mecca after having been under house arrest in Istanbul for nearly sixteen years. The CUP drove the Arab organizations underground. In the summer of 1909 al-Muntada al-Adabi (the Literary Club) was founded in Istanbul for Arabs. The secret society al-Qahtaniya was founded by the end of 1909, and in 1911 at Paris the secret Young Arab Society al-Fatat was started to work for the independence of Arab countries. In 1912 in Cairo the Ottoman Decentralization party was begun to mobilize Arab opinion. Many intellectuals from Syria and Lebanon attended an Arab congress at Paris in 1913. When the Ottoman government refused to accept decentralization, the Syrians moved toward separation. Al-Fatat moved to Beirut that year and to Damascus in 1914. By then the French owned all but one of the railroads in Syria.

Beirut also had a Committee of Reform, and they sponsored demonstrations in Damascus, Aleppo, Acre, Nablus, Baghdad, and Basra. On April 8 in Istanbul the police informed them that the Government had decreed their dissolution and closed their headquarters. Shops in Beirut were closed, and newspapers were printed with black borders, announcing the order of dissolution. In 1915 al-Fatat made Damascus its headquarters. Faisal bin al-Hussein visited Damascus twice, and the secret societies al-Fatat and al-‘Ahd gave him the Damascus Protocol, which called for Britain to recognize the independence of Arab countries between the Persian frontier and the Mediterranean Sea. The Arabs would revolt in alliance with the British and give them economic privileges. Faisal’s father Hussein already ruled the Hijaz in the south. On July 14 the Sharif Hussein wrote his first letter to Henry McMahon proposing an alliance with Britain, and their correspondence worked out the details.

The Ottoman army in alliance with Germany attacked the Suez Canal in 1915, and the next year the British established an imperial force in Egypt and invaded Palestine. On June 10, 1916 about 3,500 Arabs attacked the port of Jidda as British warships and planes bombarded. Six days later the Ottoman garrison surrendered. By September the Arab armies had captured the coastal towns of Rabegh, Yenbo, and Qunfida while taking 6,000 Ottoman prisoners. Faisal first met Captain T. E. Lawrence on October 23 at Hamra, and he arranged the British Navy’s attack on the Ottoman forces that kept them out of Yenbo in December. He persuaded the Arabs to attack Ottoman troops on the Hijaz railway rather than Medina. On January 3, 1917 Faisal led an advance along the Red Sea coast to the north with 5,100 men riding camels and 5,300 infantry. The Royal Navy supplied them from the sea. They attacked Wejh on January 23, and the Ottoman garrison of 800 surrendered. This stopped the Ottoman advance toward Mecca as they took defensive positions. Lawrence with forty men recruited a Howeitat force from Syria, and he led a land attack on Aqaba which took the port city on July 6. Lawrence rode 150 miles to Suez, and the Royal Navy sent supplies and food to the 2,500 Arabs and 700 Ottoman prisoners at Aqaba.

General Edmund Allenby occupied Jerusalem in December 1917. On June 5, 1918 Muhammad Jamal sent a letter to Faisal proposing Syrian independence, withdrawal of all Turkish troops south of ‘Amman, transfer of all Arab officers in the Turkish army to the Arab army, the Arab army retaining independent command, and all stores and supplies in Syria being left for the Arab army. T. E. Lawrence got a copy of this from Faisal’s secretary and gave it to Dr. D. G. Hogarth who turned it into the Foreign Office. The Arabs began negotiating with the Turks to draw them away from the British alliance. The British recognized Faisal as the representative of the Hijaz kingdom, but King Hussein called him the representative of the Arab government. On September 30 the Arabs in revolt at Damascus declared their loyalty to Sharif Hussein. On October 3 his son Faisal entered Damascus with a thousand men, and he declared all Arabic speakers equal with the same rights and duties. Faisal aimed to govern a decentralized and independent Arab state. Faisal was still commander of the Northern Arabian Armies, but he was not yet recognized as the head of a state.

By November 1918 Allenby’s army had control over Syria. On November 7 the Anglo-French Declaration was signed in which the British and French promised to assist indigenous governments in Syria and Mesopotamia (Iraq), but Palestine was not mentioned. On November 23 the Bolsheviks published the hitherto secret Sykes-Picot Agreement in Izvestia and Pravda, embarrassing the Allies and increasing the Arabs’ mistrust of the British and French.

Faisal bin al-Hussein led the Arab delegation at the Peace Conference at Paris, and he was aided by Gertrude Bell. On January 3, 1919 he and Dr. Chaim Weizmann signed an agreement of Arab-Jewish cooperation that accepted the Balfour Declaration, and Faisal welcomed the Jews home.

The French promised Faisal that he would be proclaimed king of Syria that would not include Lebanon, Tripoli, and Alexandretta, and he arrived in Beirut on January 14, 1920. The French had already installed General Henri Gouraud in Beirut as High Commissioner of the French Republic in Syria and Commander of the Army of the Levant. On March 7 the Syrian National Congress proclaimed Faisal King of Greater Syria, and the Arab declaration included Palestine and rejected the Zionist claim to a national home. In Syria between January 1919 and April 1920 the French had 3,432 men and 150 officers killed.

Syria under the French 1920-26

In April 1920 the San Remo conference gave France the League of Nations mandate for Syria and Britain the mandate for Iraq. The mandate was intended to be “a sacred trust of civilization.” Yet the contract was determined by the Supreme Council of the Allies, nor did the two mandatory powers follow international law by maintaining the status quo. The League Council did not formally approve the mandate until July 24, 1922, and it did not go into effect until the Treaty of Lausanne started on August 6, 1924. The martial law declared by General Allenby in 1918 lasted until 1925 and in some districts longer.

Faisal’s government turned anti-French, and this conflict became the Franco-Syrian War. In May 1920 the French-owned Banque de Syrie issued a Syrian currency tied to the franc. Emir Faisal’s Minister of War Yusuf al-‘Azma led the Sharifian Army and the guerrillas against the French invaders. They attacked French troops on the Aleppo-Rayak Railway. Christians on the Administrative Council of Beirut advocated the independence of Lebanon and economic union with Syria. On July 15 General Gouraud ordered Faisal to demobilize his army, recognize the French mandate, and dismiss his extremist supporters, or he would be expelled from Damascus. On July 23 the French occupied Aleppo with about 18,000 troops although the Aleppines were pro-Turkish and anti-French. The next day the French used heavy guns, tanks, and airplanes to win a major victory in the battle of Maysalun, and al-‘Azma was killed. On July 25 about 9,000 French soldiers entered Damascus. Three days later Faisal was told to leave, and he went to England in August. That month the French proclaimed the state of Lebanon including the cities of Tripoli, Sidon, and Tyre with Beirut as the capital. Syria was divided into the former Ottoman provinces of Damascus and Aleppo.

The French appointed Haqqi al-‘Azm the first governor of Damascus, and he won friends by handing out jobs. The French subdued the rebels in most of Syria by the fall of 1921, and General Gouraud granted amnesty to nationalists in exile. Martial law repressed political activity, and the Iron Hand Society operated underground. ‘Azm served the French until June 27, 1922. The Iron Hand Society was led by ‘Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar, who while attending the Syrian Protestant College had successfully led the Muslims’ protest against all students having to attend chapel. King Faisal appointed him Minister of Foreign Affairs in May 1920. Six weeks later he and other nationalists were sentenced to death. Shahbandar fled to Egypt, and he returned to Damascus after the first French amnesty in the spring of 1921. After Dr. Shahbandar and other Iron Hand leaders were arrested, 8,000 people protested at the Umayyad Mosque on Friday April 8. Then 10,000 people marched through the bazaar. The French killed three Syrians and wounded many others. Shahbandar was sentenced to 20 years, and other leaders got from 5 to 15 years. Sa‘dallah al-Jabiri led the Red Hand, and he was put in prison for six months. On May 9 French detectives raided Iron Hand’s headquarters and arrested 17 people. Five were sentenced to prison, and 15 others were expelled from Syria.

Wealthy Shakir Ni‘mat al-Sha‘bani organized the Democratic Party of Aleppo. Another former Ottoman bureaucrat, Ibrahim Hananu, recruited 680 men and gathered 1,700 rifles for his League of National Defense. ‘Abdul-Rahman Kawakibi was president of the political Arab Club of Aleppo, and the Alawite rebellion was aided by Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalists, who were fighting the French in Cilicia and Anatolia. By November 1920 Hananu had an army of 5,000 men. After Syrian forces were defeated in July 1921, Hananu fled to Transjordan. The British arrested him in Jerusalem in August and put him in prison for six months. In Hananu’s trial his Christian lawyer Fathallah al-Saqqal argued that he was not a criminal but a national hero, and after a three-day trial he was acquitted.

In March 1921 the British recommended Faisal to rule the British Mandate of Iraq, and he was proclaimed King of Iraq in August. France had 500 advisors in Syria, but this was reduced to 300 by 1926. The Army of the Levant had 70,000 men in 1921. By 1924 this was down to 15,000, but it increased greatly during the Great Revolt of 1925-26 and during World War II. The French forced the Syrian government to pay 200,000 gold dinars as reparations, and the inhabitants had to turn in 50,000 rifles. The cost of maintaining the French army of the Levant in 1922 was 383 million francs. In Aleppo some government tax collectors had their fingers cut off, and rich landowners were forced to pay the taxes of their tenants.

Turkish officials withdrew from Latakia in October 1918, and some Sunni Muslims proclaimed a provisional government loyal to the Arab nationalist government in Damascus. The Alawite region was in rebellion against France from 1919 to 1921. In 1922 the French announced their protection of Jabal Druze with its own governor and congress, and they also protected the large Alawite population in the mountains behind Latakia which was proclaimed a state. Later that year the Syrian Federation was formed with the states of Aleppo, Damascus, and the Alawites. At the end of 1924 the Syrian state was reduced to Aleppo and Damascus and the separate Sanjak of Alexandretta.

In June 1922 General Gouraud formed a Federal Council of fifteen from the appointed Administrative Councils of the three states of Damascus, Aleppo, and the Alawite territory. He organized two-stage elections, but the Federal system collapsed after a year and a half. Economic difficulties caused the French franc to lose half its value, and in response taxes were increased. On June 26, 1924 the High Commissioner announced the Syrian Union combining Aleppo and Damascus. On January 2, 1925 the popular general Maurice Sarrail arrived as the new High Commissioner. He began by dismissing the French governor of Lebanon, and the Council in Beirut was dissolved. He appointed a secular French governor with power to legislate. Shahbandar founded the People’s Party in June.

In a treaty with the French in March 1921 the Jabal Druze had formed a special administrative entity with their own governor and representative council. Conflicts with the French occurred, and the first Druze uprising started in July 1922. For about a year Druze rebels waged guerrilla war in the Jabal. Sultan al-Atrash was morally supported by nationalists in Damascus and Amman, and he led the fight in the name of Syrian independence. Yet he received little actual support, and he retired as governor before surrendering. One week after three Druze chiefs were arrested on July 11, 1925, Druze highlanders fired on a French airplane that was circling over the Jabal Druze. On July 21 Sultan al-Atrash’s band attacked 166 Algerian and Syrian troops, killing more than half of them. The Druzes rallied around him and became an army of more than 8,000 men. Christians and others fled as the Druze rebels burned five Christian villages. On August 2 Sultan al-Atrash’s forces attacked a French force, killing 14 and wounding 385 with 432 missing.

The People’s Party in Damascus was not ready for a major revolt, and Dr. Shahbandar managed to escape from the French. France sent reinforcements that landed in Beirut in late August 1925. General Gamelin deployed 10,000 troops between Jabal Druze and Damascus. The Army of the Levant could not stop the Druze and Bedouin forays in the Hawran, and they plundered villages. On September 24 Gamelin managed to capture the Druze capital, but many Syrian soldiers deserted to the rebels. On October 4 the Syrian rebel Fawzi al-Qawuqji led several hundred Bedouin from the Malawi tribe and others against the French in Hama. French planes bombed the business district, and Senegalese troops burned houses. The rebels fled on the 7th; most of the 344 killed were unarmed civilians.

The People’s Party planned a political demonstration in Damascus to the Umayyad Mosque, and the French arrested the leaders. The French used Circassian troops to destroy villages that harbored brigands. On October 15 they attacked the Ghuta, burning two more villages. A curfew was imposed on Damascus, and two days later twelve Circassians were found dead in French uniforms. General Gamelin demanded that Damascus pay an indemnity of £T 100,000 and surrender 3,000 rifles by October 24, or they would renew the shelling. The French Communist newspaper L’Humanité estimated that the shelling killed 1,416 people including 336 women and children, though the French estimated the civilian casualties at only 150. The former is considered more accurate because the area bombed in Damascus was much greater than in Hama. The French calculated the damage at £T 1,000,000 or 100 million francs.

General Maurice Sarrail was succeeded as High Commissioner by the liberal Henry de Jouvenel, who arrived in Beirut in early December 1925. He aimed to hold elections for an Assembly but only in districts not under French martial law which meant everywhere except in Damascus, the Hawran, and the Jabal Druze. Subhi Barakat resigned as President of Syria on December 21. The election was successfully boycotted in Aleppo but not in the rural districts. During a demonstration at the Great Mosque in Aleppo on January 10, 1926 the French killed 15 people and wounded 60 with machine guns. Many people voted in the Alawite state and the Sanjak of Alexandretta but not in Hama and Homs. The French favored the moderate Shaykh Muhammad Taj al-Din al-Hasani, but they could not agree. So Jouvenel appointed his special envoy Pierre Alype to administer the Syrian state, ending the pretense of indirect rule. A beltway was constructed around Damascus, and in February barbed wire was put up all around the city to join fourteen garrison posts. The French used Circassian and Armenian conscripts who looted houses and violated women. Shaykh Badr al-Din al-Hasani interceded to prevent Muslims from murdering Christians in retaliation.

Rebel bands operated in outlying areas in the Ghuta and between Damascus and Nabk. They confiscated apricots and other harvests. Damascus notables urged the rebels to negotiate, but they said only the provisional government led by Sultan Pasha al-Atrash and Dr. Shahbandar could do so. The French launched an offensive in March around Mount Hermon and between Homs and Nabk. On April 25 the French recaptured the Druze capital of Suwayda’. On May 7, 1926 General Gamelin launched a major assault on the Maydan, killing about 800 people but only 50 rebels. Also in May the constitution drafted by the Lebanese Representative Council became law, establishing an elected Chamber of Deputies and a Senate of sixteen members appointed by the High Commissioner. The Deputies elected the Greek Orthodox lawyer and journalist Charles Dabbas the first president of the Lebanese Republic.

Damad Ahmad Nami was appointed prime minister of Beirut on April 27, and he issued a ten-point program for a constitution, a treaty, Syrian unity, a united judicial system, a national army, gradual evacuation of French forces, joining the League of Nations, reforming the Syrian monetary system, a general amnesty, and forgiveness regarding Damascus. Jouvenel publicly approved, but nothing was implemented. On July 18 the French launched their biggest offensive in the Ghuta with 5,000 troops, tanks, artillery, and planes. About 1,500 were killed including 400 rebels. The French reported they had only 49 deaths, but others estimated 200. On July 24 Raymond Poincaré became the leader of the French government, and he wanted a military victory in Syria; but Jouvenel disagreed with that strategy and resigned. By November the revolt was collapsing as the French deployed 50,000 troops. Sultan Pasha and several hundred armed rebels fled to Transjordan. In the Great Revolt 6,000 rebels and 2,000 French were killed, and about 100,000 people were made homeless.

Syria under the French 1927-39

After the French quelled the Great Revolt in 1927, the rebels were divided by factions. By December two separate committees were operating in Cairo claiming to be the Executive of the Syrian-Palestine Congress—the ‘Abdin Committee led by Michel Lutfalah, Dr. Shahbandar, and other chiefs versus Rashid Rida and Istiqlalis led by Shukri al-Quwwatli. Ahmad Nami had been prime minister since April 1926; but he resigned on February 2, 1928 as High Commissioner Ponsot announced he had lost the confidence to preside over the elections with objectivity. Ponsot chose Shaykh Taj al-Din al-Hasani to form a provisional government to supervise the elections scheduled for April 10 and 24. Seven of the nine deputies elected from Damascus were from the National Bloc; the others were Taj himself and the Jewish merchant Yusuf Linyadu who was unanimously elected by his community. The Nationalists also did well in Aleppo, Homs, and Hama. At the inauguration on June 9 they demanded the resignation of Taj’s provisional government. However, Ponsot trusted the majority of moderates elected from rural districts and the Sanjak, and the Nationalists elected Hasham al-Atasi president of the Assembly. Ibrahim Hananu was elected chairman of the Assembly’s committee to draft a Syrian constitution.

In February 1929 the top French diplomat Philippe Berthelot agreed to suspend the Assembly. After a new constitution was drafted, on August 26 the National Bloc organized a protest in Aleppo that drew 6,000 people who heard arguments against six controversial articles. On the same day in Damascus 3,000 people chanted against the Balfour Declaration and attacked a police station. In Lebanon a new government was formed by Bishara al-Khuri, who was installed on May 14. Under French pressure Charles Dabbas was re-elected to a second term as President. In Syria only 39% of school-age boys and 17% of girls were in school.

In May 1930 High Commissioner Ponsot issued the new constitution for Syria by decree. The treaty maintained all the old articles except those the French did not want. By summer strikes were being organized for higher wages and against the depreciation of Turkish silver. The Anglo-Iraqi treaty of June 1930 set a better example, but the Syrians rejected being joined to Iraq under the monarch Faisal. In the 1931 elections the National Bloc campaigned for a republican government. The voting took place on December 20 and January 4, 1932, but only one member of Ponsot’s Consultative Council was from the Bloc. The French pulled together a coalition of three factions to oppose the Bloc in the primary. On election day the Government had police turn away voters by force while paid agents stuffed the ballot boxes. A riot broke out in Damascus; five people were killed, and fifty were injured. In Duma 1,500 union men attacked the election officials while police fired bullets into the crowd. In Hama a Higher Council of Trade Unions had incorporated twenty new unions. The Nationalist Bloc won easily in Homs, but in Aleppo they were defeated by the French-supported Liberal Constitutionalist Party.

The final elections on January 4 were conducted under tight security, and the Government list could not be defeated. The National Bloc organized a 16-day strike and aggressive demonstrations. New primaries were held in Damascus, Duma, and Hama. The moderates in the National Bloc led by Jamil Mardam won, and they had 17 deputies out of 69. Subhi Barakat was elected Speaker; but Muhammad Ali al-Abid was elected President of the Republic, and he invited the pro-French candidate Haqqi al-‘Azm to form a government on June 15. In Aleppo from January to May the defeated Bloc waged a campaign of terror against the Liberal Constitutionalist deputies with twenty violent attacks that resulted in 48 arrests and with four large demonstrations in which 50 people were arrested.

In Lebanon on May 9 the French suspended the constitution and dissolved the Chamber of Deputies to prevent the Muslim Muhammad al-Jisr from being elected president of the republic. In France the left had elected Edouard Herriot prime minister in May, and he wanted Syria emancipated like Iraq. High Commissioner Ponsot returned to Syria in October and began by releasing all political detainees in preparation to negotiate a treaty, but the Bloc led by Ibrahim Hananu and Aleppo hardliners would not agree. Jamil Mardam led an effort for “honorable cooperation,” and he negotiated secretly with the High Commissioner and his staff in April 1933. Nonetheless Hananu and Shukri Quwwatli of Damascus still led the National Bloc, and they demanded that the High Commissioner accept the Bloc’s position on unity.

When the Parliament reconvened on April 22, the French cut telephone lines in Damascus. Police in helmets patrolled the streets, and demonstrators sang national songs. On May 3 Prime Minister Haqqi al-‘Azm reorganized his cabinet. Five days later the Nationalists were still boycotting the Parliament that was protected by bayonets. The treaty effort fizzled out by the end of 1933 as Mardam and Mazhar Raslan resigned. Ponsot suspended the Damascus newspapers al-Ayyam and al-Qabas, and he increased the surveillance of nationalist leaders. Ponsot became ill in May, and after his summer vacation in France he was transferred to Morocco. The sixth High Commissioner to Syria and Lebanon, Damien de Martel, arrived in Beirut on October 12, 1933. The government empowered the Prime Minister to sign the treaty on November 16, but after being in Syria for only two months Martel went back to France for a long vacation. The treaty was denounced by many and never went into effect.

In the early 1930s 150,000 people were unemployed in France’s Syrian mandate. By 1933 Syria’s exports fell by one-half while imports dropped 38%. The goals of the National Bloc were Arab sovereignty, unity, and independence. At the Qarna‘il Conference in August 1933 the League of National Action was founded by about fifty radical Arab nationalists, and the organization soon spread into the urban areas of Syria except in Aleppo which was opposed. The National Youth had begun in 1929 and was associated with the Boy Scouts. In March 1934 the Comte de Martel returned from a long vacation in France, and he asked the compliant Shaykh Taj al-Din al-Hasani to form a new government. Martel suspended the Parliament for six months, and then on November 2 he suspended it indefinitely. Later that month the Compagnie Libano-Syrienne de Tabacs announced their tobacco monopoly.

On January 20, 1936 disturbances in Damascus provoked closing down the office of the National Bloc in al-Qanawat. The leaders Fakhri al-Barudi and Sayf al-Din al-Ma‘mun of the National Youth were arrested. Students demonstrated and were arrested as the police fired into a crowd. This stimulated demonstrations in Aleppo, Hama, and Homs. The next day four people were killed at the Great Mosque by Moroccan and Senegalese troops. The day after that 20,000 people marched in Damascus during the funeral of the four protestors. Many people were already on strike, and on January 27 the National Bloc called for a General Strike. For the next 26 days much of Syria’s business was paralyzed. On February 11 Jamil Mardam and Nasib al-Bakri were arrested and deported. Two days later the French arrested four Bloc leaders in Aleppo, and on February 16 they forced the Khuri brothers to stop teaching on the Law Faculty in Beirut. After six weeks the imprisoned leaders were released, and the strike ended the next day.

National Bloc leaders Hashim al-Atasi, Jamil Mardam, Sa‘dallah al-Jabiri, and Faris al-Khuri went to Paris to negotiate in April. The general elections in France on April 26, 1936 enabled the Socialist Leon Blum to head a left-wing coalition. The French and Lebanese achieved a treaty first that protected religious minorities, and the French Chamber ratified it on November 17. Syria had elections on November 14 and 30, and the National Bloc won victories throughout the country giving them a majority in Parliament. On December 22 Jamil Mardam and Pierre Viénot signed the Franco-Syrian Treaty in Damascus, and five days later the Bloc got it unanimously ratified in Parliament. Muslims in Beirut and Tripoli wanted unity with Syria, and demonstrations caused some deaths and arrests. In Lebanon the Chamber of Deputies elected Emile Eddé president by one vote over Bishara al-Khuri, and in January 1937 the Maronite Eddé asked the Sunni journalist Khayr ad-Din al-Ahdab to form a government, beginning the tradition of a Maronite president and a Sunni prime minister.

The Treaty required three years of probation before the French could ratify it. In January 1937 the constitution of 1926 was restored, and the Assembly passed a law for the election of two-thirds of its members with the other third nominated by sectarian groups. Mardam reacted to manifestoes calling for the execution of despots by arresting fifteen members of the Shahbandar group. The next day people protested against the government, but on January 18 a counterdemonstration by the National Bloc drew about 10,000 people, including Communists who backed the Treaty. Dr. Shahbandar, Sultan al-Atrash, and other leaders, who had been exiled during the Great Revolt a decade earlier, were allowed to return to Syria in May. The French agreed that the treaty would go into effect on September 30, 1939, and they promised to submit it for ratification to parliament.

The Alawite state and Jabal Druze were not included in Syria until 1936. These two districts were again separated from Syria in 1939 and were reunited in 1942. On January 27, 1937 the League of Nations Council made a settlement regarding Alexandretta in favor of Turkey. France and Turkey made a Friendship Treaty on May 29 that went into effect on July 4. Turkish troops entered the Sanjak the next day. The elected Sanjak Assembly renamed itself Hatay on September 2, and the cabinet was all Turkish. In 1938 the League of Nations sent out to the Sanjak an electoral commission with Turkish and French representatives. They supervised registration that no longer required proof of religion or ethnic origin. On June 23, 1939 France and Turkey made a treaty of mutual assistance, and the French ceded the Sanjak of Alexandretta to Turkey.

On the last day of 1938 the French parliament confirmed the treaty as negotiated, repudiating amendments. By then the National Bloc had divided into at least three factions. The Mardam party was challenged by Shukri al-Quwwatli and others using the al-Insha’ newspaper to criticize Mardam. The third faction was led by the Bakri brothers and Fa‘iz al-Khuri. Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, resented its taxation, but several from there were prominent in Mardam’s cabinet. The movement led by Dr. Shahbandar emerged as the main opposition along with the Istiqlal Party led by Shukri al-Quwwatli. While Shahbandar was still in exile, the youth led by lawyer Zaki al-Khatib looked out for his concerns. Khatib had founded the Party of National Unity in 1935, and they denounced the 1936 treaty for extending French control for 25 more years. After large demonstrations, in January 1938 Mardam tried to shut down Shahbandar’s organization by arresting Zaki al-Khatib and other leaders and by closing down anti-government newspapers. Shahbandar returned to Syria permanently in 1938, but he was under police surveillance.

The new High Commissioner Gabriel Puaux arrived at Damascus on January 12, 1939. Mardam and his cabinet resigned in February. During demonstrations and strikes the government passed a resolution on March 29 that negotiations between the Syrian government and France could only be based on the treaty of 1936. On April 5 President Atasi appointed Nasuhi al-Bukhari to lead a neutral government. Five leading nationalists resigned from the Bloc on April 20, and the new directors were Shukri al-Quwwatli, Lutfi al-Haffar, and Ahmad al-Lahham. In late May the Syrian parliament affirmed the 1936 treaty without amendment. On May 10 Puaux went on radio in Beirut and announced that the French would resume negotiations based on the 1936 treaty as amended in November 1938. When Puaux decreed the autonomy of the Alawites and Druzes and put the Jazirah province directly under the French, President Atasi resigned on July 7. Three days later High Commissioner Puaux suspended the Syrian constitution, dissolved the Parliament, and appointed civil servants to head the departments under his supervision. On October 9 France and Britain signed a treaty of mutual assistance with Turkey.

Syria and Lebanon 1940-50

France mobilized the large Army of the Levant in Syria under General Maxime Weygand, but the German invasion of France in the spring of 1940 resulted in the Vichy government of collaboration being imposed on Syria and Lebanon as well. In August the German and Italian commissions arrived in Beirut, and Herr von Hentig from the German Foreign Office came to spread Nazi propaganda.

Shahbandar denounced nationalist rivals and developed ties to the British, but he was assassinated in Damascus at the end of June 1940. Jamil Mardam, Lutfi al-Haffar, and Sa‘dallah al-Jabiri were charged with complicity, but they all avoided arrest by fleeing to Iraq. Four men were found guilty and were executed in February 1941. General Charles de Gaulle of the Free French appointed General Georges Catroux commander in the Levant on June 24, and he came to Cairo in September 1940 to overthrow the Vichy regimes in Syria and Lebanon, which found their borders to the British mandates closed. Puaux was recalled before the end of 1940, and he was succeeded by General Henri Dentz. He would not agree with the nationalists who demanded recognition of Syria’s independence and formation of a national government. Dentz dismissed his unpopular cabinet and chose Khalid al-‘Azm to be chef du gouvernement, replacing both the president and prime minister. Shukri al-Quwwatli was the leader of the Nationalist Bloc, and he launched a strike of shopkeepers in Damascus on February 28, 1941.

France withdrew from the League of Nations in April, and the nationalists believed that ended the French Mandate. President Eddé was forced to resign in Lebanon, and he was replaced by the Maronite judge Alfred Naccache. In May 1941 General Dentz permitted German planes to land and refuel on Syrian airfields while going to support Rashid Ali’s rebellion in Iraq. The British Ninth Army with a few Free French invaded the Levant on June 8 as Allied planes dropped thousands of leaflets over Syria and Lebanon proclaiming their independence under the Free French. An armistice was signed on July 14, and Syria and Lebanon were put under the British Middle East Command. They promised independence but allowed the Free French to continue administering the government and using the Troupes Spéciales. On August 15 the British minister Oliver Lyttelton and General de Gaulle agreed in letters that after the war was won, the Levant states should be independent. In September the British included them in the sterling currency bloc. Delegate General Catroux could not persuade Hashim al-Atasi to form a government, and so in September once again the French appointed Shaykh Taj al-Din al-Hasani as president, angering the nationalists.

On September 28, 1941 Catroux published a manifesto declaring Syria’s independence. Lebanon’s independence was proclaimed on November 26 when Alfred Naccache became President. The British recognized both governments. People were suffering from lack of bread and other necessities, expensive public transportation, and inflation. Strikes by workers and students spread. In February 1942 Britain appointed General Edward Spears its first minister to Syria and Lebanon. President Taj forced Prime Minister Hasan al-Hakim to resign, and he was replaced by the wealthy landowner, Husni al-Barazi, who dominated the Syrian hashish market. He could not get along with Taj either and resigned before the end of 1942.

Quwwatli returned to Syria in September 1942 and improved his relationship with the British. Jamil Mardam also returned, and on January 17, 1943 Taj died. Jean Helleu succeeded Catroux, and de Gaulle authorized him to restore the constitutions of Syria and Lebanon, form governments, and hold elections that were scheduled for July. The nationalist elder statesman Hashim al-Atasi managed to reconcile Quwwatli and Mardam. Meanwhile the Shahbandarists were promoting the Hashemite ‘Abdullah to be king of Syria. The July elections were won by the leftist list of Quwwatli. The new nationalist government included Sa‘dallah al-Jabiri as Prime Minister, Jamil Mardam as Foreign Minister, and Lutfi al-Haffar as Interior Minister. Quwwatli was elected President of the Syrian Republic. Akram Hawrani was elected by peasants around Hama, and he raised social issues in Parliament along with the Ba‘thists, the Communists, and the Muslim Brethren. The Christian teacher and writer Michel ‘Aflaq led the new Ba‘th (Renaissance) Party. Many jam‘iyyat (religious charities) formed during the 1930s and joined the Muslim Brethren.

During the summer of 1943 it was decided that the Lebanese Chamber of Deputies would have 30 Christians and 25 Muslims and Druzes. In September they elected Bishara al-Khuri president, and he chose Riyad as-Sulh to be prime minister. On November 8 the Lebanese Chamber passed legislation to annul anything in the constitution that went against their independence or sovereignty, and they declared Arabic the only official language in Lebanon. Two days later the French Delegate-General Helleu sent French marines and Senegalese troops to arrest President Bishara al-Khuri, Prime Minister Riyad as-Sulh, three ministers, and one deputy. He also suspended the Lebanese constitution, dissolved the Lebanese Assembly by decree, and installed the pro-French Emile Eddé as head of state. A curfew was announced, and newspapers were suppressed. Demonstrations erupted in Beirut, Tripoli, and Sidon, and about twenty people were killed by French troops. The British commander ordered the Lebanese President and the other ministers released by November 22, or the British would set them free. The British minister Casey demanded that Helleu be recalled, and Catroux did so. Helleu was succeeded by General Beynet. The Syrian Assembly passed similar legislation, and on December 22 the French agreed to delegate power to the Lebanese and Syrian governments.

The French Mandate was dissolving, but they still had the Troupes Spéciales, who were Syrian or Lebanese citizens. Syrians and Lebanese continued to agitate for their independence in 1944. On January 24 the President and members of parliament swore allegiance to the constitution without article 116 on the French Mandate. In December the Syrian chamber banned the teaching of any foreign language in primary schools, offending the French. On May 6, 1945 a French cruiser delivered 900 Senegalese troops to Beirut. The French used armored cars, machine guns, and airplane bombing to suppress dissent in Beirut, Tripoli, Damascus, Aleppo, and Hama, killing about 80 gendarmes and 400 civilians. Two weeks later a general strike began in Damascus and Beirut. By May 29 most of the officers and many of the soldiers in the Troupes Spéciales had defected, and the French detained the rest in their barracks. The next day Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered General Paget to take command of all Allied troops in the Levant, and he ordered the French to stay in their barracks. The British began occupying the major buildings and strong positions. On June 21 Syria and Lebanon issued a joint declaration transferring the Troupes Spéciales to their control, and on July 7 the French agreed to the transfer.

Syria and Lebanon participated in the negotiations to create the Arab League, and both signed the pact on March 22, 1945. The British and the French issued a joint statement on December 13 promising to evacuate their forces from the Levant. Syria and Lebanon took the issue to the United Nations Security Council on February 4, 1946. That winter the French withdrew their troops from Syria; after all were gone, the Syrians celebrated on April 17. French troops withdrew from Lebanon by the end of August 1946, and the last technicians left by Christmas; Lebanon made December 31 their national holiday.

Shukri al-Quwwatli was re-elected president of Syria in April 1948. Independent Syria more than doubled the number of students in primary schools within three years as education became the second largest part of the budget after defense. Lebanon chose to become independent of Syria too, and by 1950 the customs union of the two countries had been separated. Syria decided to break free of France’s monetary policy and withdrew from the franc bloc. The Lebanese wanted complete independence and did not try to join Greater Syria. Mishandling of the war in Palestine made the Syrian government unpopular, and Quwwatli tried to blame it on the Army. Prime Minister Mardam resigned in December 1948. After two weeks of politicians trying to form a government, Khalid al-‘Azm succeeded. He announced that he would reject partition and support the liberation of Palestine.

On March 30, 1949 Chief of Staff Col. Husni az-Za‘im arrested President Quwwatli and Prime Minister Khalid al-‘Azm, dissolved the Parliament, and asserted dictatorial power. He declared martial law, closed schools, censored the press, and controlled public meetings. He proclaimed himself head of state and held a referendum in which he was the only candidate for president. Za‘im admired Kemal Ataturk, and he introduced income taxes on persons and business profits, separated religion from the state, planned public works, and extended voting to qualified women. During the summer he banned political parties and could not form a party himself. However, his extravagance and use of Kurdish and Circassian troops in the interior while leaving Arabs on the Palestinian border alienated his fellow officers in the army.

On August 14 Col. Sami Hinnawi carried out another coup by capturing Za‘im and his Prime Minister. They were quickly tried by a court martial and shot. Hinnawi asked Hashim Bey al-Atasi to head the government while elections were organized for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. In November women voted for the first time, and the People’s Party won 42 of 114 seats. Their leader Rushdi al-Kikhya was elected president of the Assembly. Quwwatli’s National Bloc boycotted the elections. Hannawi reversed policy and sought closer relations with Iraq and Jordan. In December the new assembly elected Atasi president, and they began to consider union with Iraq.

The Army opposed this, and on December 19 Col. Adib Shishakli staged a third coup. He arrested Hinnawi but later let him leave the country. Shishakli and others did not trust the British and still resisted union with Iraq and Jordan. Atasi wanted Nazim al-Qudsi to form a government; but the Army opposed him, and they forced President Atasi to appoint Khalid al-‘Azm as prime minister. Defense Minister Akram Hourani countered the People’s Party by forming the Arab Socialist Party with 45 members of the Parliament. In January 1950 Saudi Arabia loaned Syria $6 million, and they signed an agreement with an American oil company. Dr. Nazim al-Qudsi led the committee drafting a new constitution, and after studying fifteen Asian and European constitutions they devised a bill of rights that included habeas corpus, the inviolate home, freedom of expression, guaranteed employment, and free education. Various socialists, Communists, Christians, and others were opposed to making Islam the state religion, but they found a compromise by declaring Islam “the main source” of legislation while affirming the rights of all religions. As the religion of the majority, Islam was entitled to due respect. President Atasi appointed Qudsi prime minister on June 4, and he accepted Shishakli’s top advisor, General Fawzi Selu, as Minister of Defense. The Assembly adopted the new constitution on September 5.

In Lebanon with independence President Bishara al-Khuri and Prime Minister Riyad as-Sulh maintained their power in the 1947 elections, but controversy and violence caused turmoil. In September opposition groups demanded the Assembly be dissolved and new elections held. The Palestinian issue diverted attention in 1948. Antoun Saadeh led the Syrian National Party, and he advocated the Greater Syria plan. He and some associates were arrested on July 7, 1949, and the next day he was executed by a military court. Ten days later the Lebanese police shut down the headquarters of the Phalanges Libannaises as too extreme. Yet President Khuri was sworn in for another six-year term as President, and Riyad as-Sulh remained Prime Minister despite an attempt on his life by the Syrian National Party in March 1950.

Gibran and The Prophet

Kahlil Gibran was born in Basharri, Lebanon on January 6, 1883 into a poor family that could not give him education. From Maronite priests he learned Arabic and Syriac and the Bible. About 1891 his father was accused of embezzlement and imprisoned, and his property was confiscated. His father was released in 1894, and the next year his mother Kamila took Kahlil, his half-brother, and two younger sisters to America. They settled in Boston, and Kahlil attended a public school. About 1898 Kahlil returned to Beirut, and he graduated with honors from the Madrasat Al-Hikmat (School of Wisdom) in 1901. He wrote his first version of The Prophet when he was fifteen years old. He also excelled at drawing, and he studied painting in Paris for the next two years, writing much in Arabic as well.

By 1903 Gibran had published three stories as Spirits Rebellious. In “Khalil the Heretic” Rachel and Miriam find the body of a young man in the snow, and they revive him in their home. Kahlil tells them how after his parents died, he was taken to live in a monastery, where he took care of the animals. Later he rebelled against the rules and hypocrisy he saw in comparison to the teachings of Jesus, and he was expelled. Young Kahlil criticizes the exploitation of the poor by the powerful, and he preaches for a more spiritual way of living. He wrote,

The ruler claims himself as king of the law,
and the priest as the representative of God,
and between these two the bodies are destroyed,
and the souls wither into nothing.1

Sheik Abbas hears about this and has Kahlil arrested, and Rachel and Miriam follow him. Kahlil explains that he hears the cry of the poor, and it makes his spirit revolt against the oppressors. Sheik Abbas and Father Elias become very angry after his defense in the courtroom. The Sheik orders his servants to arrest the women too, but the servants refuse to do so. Kahlil is allowed to leave the courtroom, and he is followed by the multitude. He raises both his hands to heaven and calls on Liberty to have mercy on them. After two months he is still preaching to them to show their rights and the greed and oppression of the rulers and the monks.

The spiritual fantasy “Kahlil the Heretic” caused the book to be burned in Beirut, and the Maronite Christians excommunicated him. Hearing of this in Paris, Kahlil replied that a second edition would be a good idea. He advocated the independence of Lebanon and Syria. After the Ottoman government changed in 1908, his banishment was cancelled. In 1903 Kahlil returned to Boston and published his first essays in the Arabic newspaper al-Muhajir (The Emigrant). He went back to Paris in 1908 for three more years and made portraits of Auguste Rodin, Henri de Rochefort, Claude Debussy, Maurice Maeterlinck, Edmund Rostand, and others. In 1910 he returned to Boston and then moved to New York City. Gibran was influenced by his meeting with the Bahá’í apostle ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during his tour of America in 1911-12, and he made a portrait of him. Gibran settled in a studio building at 51 West Tenth Street and lived there until his death on April 10, 1931 from tuberculosis and cirrhosis of the liver. At his request his body was returned to Lebanon for burial.

Gibran wrote in Arabic, and in 1918 he published his first book in English, The Madman, containing aphorisms and parables,. In 1920 Gibran founded the Pen League for Lebanese-American authors with his friend Mikhail Naimy. The poetic essays in The Prophet were first published also in English in 1923. This book has never gone out of print, and it has been translated into more than twenty languages. His Arabic books were translated into English, and his other major works in English are The Forerunner (1920), Sand and Foam (1926), and Jesus, the Son of Man (1928), which describes him from the viewpoint of more than fifty people who knew him. After Gibran’s death many more of his writings were published in a dozen books.

In Gibran’s The Prophet the chosen and beloved Almustafa has waited for twelve years for a ship to take him home. When it finally arrives, he preaches to the residents of Orphalese, discussing various topics that the people ask about. Here are some highlights from this inspired book, beginning with love:

When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,”
but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not that you can direct the course of love,
for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires,
let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook
that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully….
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea
between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.2

A woman with a baby asked about children, and he said,

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.3

On giving he said this:

You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give….
There are those who give little of the much which they have—and they give it for recognition,
and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life,
and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy,
and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain,
and that pain is their baptism….
It is well to give when asked,
but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
And to the open-handed the search
for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.
And is there aught you would withhold?
All you have shall some day be given;
Therefore give now, that the season of giving
may be yours and not your inheritors’.4

A farmer asked him to speak of work, and he replied,

You work that you may keep pace with the earth
and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons
and to step out of life’s procession that marches
in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite….
Always you have been told that
work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work,
you fulfill a part of earth’s furthest dream,
assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour
is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret….
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love,
you bind yourself to yourself and to one another and to God.5

A merchant asked about buying and selling, and he said,

It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth
that you shall find abundance and be satisfied.
Yet unless the exchange be in love and kindly justice,
it will but lead some to greed and others to hunger.6

He also spoke of pleasure and of beauty, saying,

Oftentimes in denying yourself pleasure
you do but store the desire in the recesses of your being.
Who knows but that which seems omitted today,
waits for tomorrow?
Even your body knows its heritage,
and its rightful need and will not be deceived.
And your body is the harp of your soul,
And it is yours to bring forth sweet music from it
or confused sounds.7

Beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
But you are life, and you are the veil.
Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
But you are eternity, and you are the mirror.8

Kahlil Gibran also wrote,

The truly great man is he who would master no one,
and who would be mastered by none.9

Keep a watchful eye over yourself
as if you were your own enemy;
for you cannot learn to govern yourself
unless you first learn to govern your own passions
and obey the dictates of your conscience.10

I came to live in the glory of Love and the light of Beauty,
which are the reflections of God.
I am here, living,
and I cannot be exiled from the domain of life,
for through my living word I will live in death.
I came here to be for all and with all,
and what I do today in my solitude
will be echoed Tomorrow by the multitude.
What I say now with one heart
will be said Tomorrow by thousands of hearts.11

Trans-Jordan 1917-50

The region east of the Jordan River has been called Trans-Jordan, and it was also part of the Ottoman empire until World War I. With help from T. E. Lawrence in 1917 Faisal and his Northern Arab Army moved north from Wajh, and with a surprise attack they captured ‘Aqaba on July 6. They advanced north through Trans-Jordan capturing Ma‘an, Shawbak, and Tafilah west of the railway line and Bayir and Azraq on the east side. They destroyed the Hijaz railway and protected the right flank of the British. Then together they invaded Syria and captured Damascus in September 1918. Faisal ruled Trans-Jordan as part of the Arab kingdom of Syria until July 1920. For the next eight months Trans-Jordan was under the British as part of the their Palestine mandate assigned by the San Remo conference.

Sharif Hussein’s second son ‘Abdullah led forces from the Hijaz in November 1920 to try to restore his brother Faisal’s kingdom of Syria; but the French were well established there. ‘Abdullah settled at Amman in February 1921. After the war the British had divided the Trans-Jordan region into three parts with northern ‘Ajloun having its administration at Irbid, central Balqa based in Salt, and the south under Moabite Arabs at Karak. Ma’an and Tubuk had been incorporated into the Hashemite kingdom of the Hijaz. Emir ‘Abdullah wanted to unify these Arab territories under the Hashemites, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill proclaimed him the Emir of Trans-Jordan on April 1 at Amman with a monthly subsidy of £5,000. ‘Abdullah appointed the first government on April 11 with Rashi Tali‘a as prime minister. Palestine’s High Commissioner Herbert Samuel advised a budget of £180,000 to provide £100,000 for the military, £30,000 for the Emir, £30,000 to pay Ottoman debts, and £20,000 for the British representatives.

Captain F. G. Peake organized the Arab Legion with a thousand men, and they defended against Wahhabi incursions. Later Major J. B. Glubb became their most celebrated officer. After a dispute over who to appoint as chief judge, ‘Abdullah replaced Tali‘a in August with another Syrian, Mashar Rislan. On May 15, 1923 Britain formally recognized Trans-Jordan as a state under Emir ‘Abdullah. On June 11 he named his cabinet the Council of Deputies and divided Trans-Jordan into the six districts of Irbid, Jarash, Salt, Amman, Madaba, and Karak.

In May 1925 Ma’an and ‘Aqaba, which had been in the Hijaz state, became part of Trans-Jordan. On November 2, 1925 Gilbert Clayton negotiated the Hadda Agreement with Ibn Saud that protected Trans-Jordan from aggression among other things. In the Treaty of Jidda in 1927 Ibn Saud allowed Trans-Jordan to retain Ma’an and ‘Aqaba temporarily. On February 20, 1928 the Anglo-Transjordanian agreement was signed in Jerusalem. On April 16 the British promulgated the Organic Law for Trans-Jordan that gave the Emir executive and legislative powers assisted by an Executive and Legislative Council, which was guaranteed proportional representation for religious and ethnic minorities and the Bedouins. The first election for fourteen of the 21 members of the Legislative Council was held in February 1929, and the other seven were appointed.

In September 1939 Trans-Jordan was the first Arab country to declare war on Germany as ‘Abdullah pledged his support for Britain and the Allies. The British subsidies increased to more than £2 million a year in the 1940s. In 1940 the Arab Legion added the Desert Mechanized Regiment, and the next year they helped defeat Rashid Ali’s rebellion in Iraq. By 1944 the population of Trans-Jordan was about 340,000, mostly Sunni Arabs. On October 7 the League of Arab States was formed as the Covenant was signed by representatives of Egypt, Syria, Trans-Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the Yemen. The League went into effect on March 22, 1945 at Cairo, and Trans-Jordan ratified it on April 16. Trans-Jordan was recognized as an independent state in the treaty of alliance with Britain that was signed in London on March 22, 1946. The British continued to subsidize the government in exchange for retaining military bases. Some did not like the treaty, and it was not signed in Amman until two years later. On April 25 ‘Abdullah began calling himself king, and the parliament proclaimed him king of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on May 25.

In August 1947 the Soviet Union vetoed Jordan’s admission into the United Nations because they believed it was a British puppet. On August 12 ‘Abdullah tried to revive the effort for the Greater Syria State and its union with Iraq by calling for the revival of the All-Syria Congress, but he received angry responses from Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The King was especially irritated by Jamil Mardam of Syria, and he ordered Prime Minister al-Rifai to send a reply. Then he made public his own letter to Syria’s President Quwwatli.

After the United Nations announced the partition of the Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state in November 1947, the Arab states prepared to fight. On May 14, 1948 the British terminated their mandate over Palestine, and Israel quickly declared itself an independent state. During the Palestinian war of 1948 the Arab Legion fought in Judea, Samaria, and part of the Negeb. With help from Iraqi forces they were able to preserve some Arab land west of the Jordan River that came to be called the West Bank as well as the old part of Jerusalem; but they could not block the Israelis from opening a corridor to west Jerusalem. ‘Abdullah went against the Arab League when he annexed what was left of Arab Palestine on December 1. When the Armistice was agreed on April 3, 1949 the west bank of the Jordan River was controlled by Trans-Jordan, and on April 26 he renamed the country the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The Palestinian Ruhi Bey Abdul Hadi became Jordan’s foreign minister in May 1949. Jordan held elections on April 11, 1950 that included Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank, and they were equally represented in Jordan’s bicameral legislature, which approved the annexation and the name of Jordan on April 24. Jordan became the home for about 500,000 Arab refugees from the rest of Palestine, and they were offered Jordanian citizenship.


1. Spirit Rebellious by Kahlil Gibran tr. Anthony Rizcallah Ferris, p. 82.
2. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, p. 13, 15.
3. Ibid., p. 17.
4. Ibid., p. 19-21.
5. Ibid., p. 25-26.
6. Ibid., p. 37.
7. Ibid., p. 72.
8. Ibid., p. 76.
9. Sand and Foam by Kahlil Gibran, p. 56
10. The Voice of the Master by Kahlil Gibran, p. 56.
11. Ibid., p. 3.

Copyright © 2009 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book Mideast & Africa 1700-1950.
For ordering information, please click here.


Ottoman Empire 1600-1907
Ottoman Fall and Turkey 1908-1950
Persia (Iran) and Afghanistan 1600-1950
Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq 1600-1950
Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan 1600-1950
Palestine and Zionism 1600-1950
Egypt, Sudan, and Libya 1600-1950
Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco 1600-1950
West Africa and the French 1600-1950
West Africa and the British 1600-1950
Ethiopia and Somaliland 1600-1950
East Africa 1600-1950
Congo, Angola, and Mozambique 1600-1950
Southern Africa 1700-1950
Summary and Evaluation



World Chronological Index
Chronology of Asia & Africa to 1800
Chronology of Asia & Africa 1800-1950
Mideast & Africa to 1950

BECK index