Were The Promises And Agreements Made Between The Arabs, French, And British During The First World War Which Led To The Formation Of The Middle East Compatible?

2355 words - 10 pages

"For by superior energies; more strict affiance in each other; faith more firm in their unhallowed principles, the bad have fairly earned a victory over the weak, the vacillating, inconsistent good."--William WordsworthWere the promises and agreements made between the Arabs, French, and British during the First World War compatible?The formation of the Middle East oft conjures up the image of Allied delegates huddled hawklike about a conference table littered with outdated maps, armed with pencils arbitrarily etching out the provisional boundaries of their post-war booty. A crude image, which depicts an era of imperialistic ambitions, where hungry, war-wrought nations were eager to reap ...view middle of the document...

The phrase "the Middle East" used to describe the vague geographical entity between Arabia and India only gained currency in the early 1900s. However, the Middle East as a reality composed of a patchwork of states was crafted by the French and British powers in the post-war settlement concluded by 1922, based on a blueprint provided by the Sykes-Picot agreement. Five new distinct states had ultimately been carved out of the moribund Ottoman Empire- Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq. Palestine was placed under a British mandate and so too was Iraq which was governed, although only nominally by an Arab hireling of the British. France, meanwhile, had succeeded, despite drawn out, lengthy negotiations and British artifice, in obtaining mandates for Lebanon and Syria. Transjordan had merely been cleaved off Palestine for which a puppet Arab regime had been setup while the Hashemite ruler of independent Arabia was ousted, by his archrival, from his holy station and frontiers were subsequently established between the new Saudi regime, Iraq and Kuwait. This was the settlement that Britain, after she had shrewdly elicited the assent of the unwitting Arabs, had managed to wrangle from France, which only served to satiate her imperialistic cravings in part.The compact to which the Arabs had pledged themselves, and thereby inadvertently giving Britain a free hand in the Middle East, takes the form of a series of missives that passed between Sir Henry McMahon, the high commissioner of Egypt and Hussein ibn Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, consequently known as the Hussein-McMahon correspondence. Not only are these documents of overriding importance because they are invoked as testimony evincing British betrayal but also because they identify the motives and premises held by the Arabs in apposition to those of the British and reveal the final agreement to which both were compelled to reach - an agreement to postpone agreement. Hussein had believed that in lending assistance to the Allies against the Ottoman Empire he would be able to secure a pan-Arab unified independent state, aspirations which, Arab intellectuals, according to George Antonius, had been harbouring since 1847, and that had continued to grow throughout the ever increasing despotic rule of the Young Turks. A timely offer, for the British were then embroiled in a vicious and internecine battle on the Gallipoli Front. Furthermore, they had been driven to believe that Hussein had the support of secret Arab societies who on proclamation of a Holy war, by the Sharif of Mecca, would disaffect, and form a mighty appendage to the allied forces against the Ottomans .Both premises were wrong. McMahon could not grant Hussein the unconditional independence of the Arab countries; in fact, he was indisposed to grant anything, "McMahon, an experienced bureaucrat had seen the need to be completely noncommittal". It was quite evident to McMahon that concessions would need to be made to Britain's wart...


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