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The 1916 Revolt of Sharif Hussein bin Ali Against the Ottoman Empire
October 2009
As Turkey's regional power and standing continue to ascend, it is worthy to recall how Sharif Hussein's revolt in 1916 against the Ottoman Empire separated Greater Syria and Iraq from Turkey after four centuries of Ottoman rule.
On June 10, 1916, in the midst of World War I (1914-1918), Sharif Hussein bin Ali fired the first symbolic shot from his palace towards the Jeroul Turkish military base in Mecca; thus launching the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Government of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). The aim of the revolt, as described in Sharif Hussein’s almost 2,500-word declaration on June 26, 1916 was the  “complete separation and the independence of the Hijaz, the Arabs, and Arab countries from the Ottoman Empire.[1] Great Britain was the main supporter behind the revolt militarily and financially. This cataclysmic event determined the shape of the map of the Middle East; possibly even the outcome of the WWI.
This article will discuss three issues relating to Sharif Hussein’s revolt between the early 1900s and the end of WWI: Arab attitude towards Ottoman rule, Sharif Hussein’s agenda, and Sharif Hussein’s dealings with British officials.
Arab Attitude Towards Ottoman Rule
On March 15, 1916, less than three months before the revolt and 16 months after WWI had started, Sharif Hussein telegrammed Enver Pasha, Minister of Defense in Istanbul, outlining his price to support Istanbul in the war. Among others, he demanded decentralized rule for Syria and Iraq, not separation.[2] In so doing, Sharif Hussein reflected the political aspirations of most Arabs. The political platforms of six of the better-known reform parties, societies, and groupings formed during the early 1900s will shed light on Arab political aspirations at that time. Although, each one of these groupings was limited in size to some tens of activist members, may be hundreds, rather than thousands, drawn from the small body of the educated Arab elite at that time, these parties are our only window on the limited scale of organized Arab public opinion during that era.
The Al-Fatat Society (Young Arab Society)
This Society was ultra-secret. Founded in Paris on November 14, 1909 by a group of Arab students, its purpose was to obtain Arab independence within the framework of a bi-racial Ottoman Empire, Arab and Turk, on lines similar to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, without breaking down the unity or destroying the existence of the Ottoman Empire.[3]
Hizb Al-Lamarkazia (Administrative Decentralization Party)
Formed in Cairo in 1912 with the knowledge of the Ottoman Government, this party was open to Ottomans, Arabs and non-Arabs. Its objective was safeguarding the Ottoman Empire from outside pressure and internal conflicts and the rallying of its peoples round the focal center of the Empire’s unity, the Ottoman Throne.[4]
The General Reform Society for Beirut                                      
Formed in 1912, it sought reforms within the framework of the Ottoman Empire, not outside it. The preamble to its program defined the Ottoman Government as a constitutional representative government. The First Article stated that the external affairs of the Vilayet (district) of Beirut were to be in the hands of the Central Administration, while the internal affairs were to be placed under the General Council of the Vilayet.[5]
The Qahtania Secret Society

Founded at the end of 1909, its objective was to turn the Ottoman Empire into a dual monarchy, Arab and Turkish with the Ottoman Sultan wearing in addition to his Turkish crown, the crown of the Arab kingdom.[6]
Al-Ahd Secret Society

Formed in October 1913, this society was established by Arab military officers serving in the Ottoman armed forces, a high proportion of whom were from Iraq. Al-Ahd had decentralization, not independence as objective. Nouri As-Saiid, a founding member of Al-Ahd, a military commander in the revolt, and 13 times Prime Minister of Iraq until his murder in the 1958 coup in Baghdad, wrote in 1947: “None of us thought of separation from the Ottoman Empire but our mind was focused on obtaining local Arab administration with Arabic as an official language along with partnership with the Turks in the management of the government.”[7]
The Arab Congress in Paris

Met on June 18-23, 1913, the Congress was the first public demonstration of Arab anti-Ottoman sentiment. It was attended by representatives of political parties and Lebanese and Syrian immigrant in the US and Mexico.
The Congress was sufficiently serious for the CUP government to send emissaries to Paris to negotiate with its leaders. In July, the Turkish Government announced that a 13-article agreement had been reached to give the Arab provinces a measure of autonomy. The main concessions were: 1) At least three Cabinet ministers were to be Arabs. 2) In time of peace the recruits are to do their military service in their own locality. 3) In regions where the majority of the population speaks Arabic, that language is to be the medium of instruction in all schools. 4) All officials in Arab provinces must be acquainted with Arabic as well as Turkish.[8]
Although, there was not even an allusion to “separation”, the Paris Congress was, nonetheless, opposed by certain Arab quarters because, in their opinion, it had gone too far against the Ottoman Empire. Al-Mukattam, a leading newspaper in Cairo, reported on September 4, 1913 that a second delegation from Syria visited government officials in Istanbul and accused the Paris delegates of being unpatriotic and planning to destroy the Caliphate, Islam, and the Muslims.[9]  The French Charge d’Affaires in Istanbul wrote to the French Consul General in Damascus on June 10, 1913 how the Turkish newspapers publish with “liveliest satisfaction” the telegrams sent to them from Aleppo, Damascus, Beirut and other principal Arab cities to protest against the Paris meeting and how the ulama and the notables of Medina refer to the party of Al-Lamarkaziah (administrative decentralization) as a group of traitors.[10]
Loyalty to Istanbul was expressed on a different level as well. Arab soldiers among the prisoners of war captured by the British army during WWI and held in India, refused to join Sharif Hussein’s revolt. Out of 2,100 soldiers who arrived at the Red Sea Port of Rabigh on December 1, 1916 from Bombay only 6 officers and 27 enlisted men agreed to disembark and join the revolt in spite of 4 days of concerted effort by officers of the revolt army, led by Nouri As-Saiid, to persuade the POWs to change their mind.[11] Although, a variety of reasons might be attributed to their refusal, opposition to the revolt was undoubtedly one of the reasons.
On the other hand, there were some Arabs who felt that the Paris Congress did not go far enough. A deputation arrived in Constantinople to insist on a wider basis of agreement. But, there is no evidence that even members of this delegation desired separation.[12]
Arab Christians attitude

The extreme anti-Turkish attitude was more the preserve of Arab Christians than Muslims. Separation from the Ottoman Empire became the aim of Arab Christians by the middle of the 19th Century, especially among the Maronites in Mount Lebanon. Feeding Christian resentment were the inequities of the Millet system that made non-Muslims second class citizens; the 1860 massacres of Christians in Mount Lebanon and Damascus; Christian missionary education, the printing press, the presence and then return of immigrants to America, and the ideas of the French Revolution that came with Napoleon’s interlude (1798-1801) in Egypt and Palestine; and protection by foreign powers of Christians. The dispatch from the Earl of Aberdeen to Consul Rose in Beirut aptly explains British attitude towards Christians and the Port: “I have to inform you that Her Majesty’s Government perfectly approve of your affording general and efficient protection to all Christians in Turkey who may appeal to you against the oppression of the Musulman authorities of the Port”.[13]
Arab Muslims Loyalty to Ottoman Rule

Arab Muslims (most Arabs are Sunnis) remained loyal to Sunni Ottoman rule for the four centuries since Sultan Selim I (1512-1520) conquered most of the Arab world. Islamic brotherhood between Arab and Turk and the rather good treatment the Turks accorded their Arab subjects, at least until the arrival of the Young Turks in 1909, could explain Muslim Sunnis loyalty.
Brotherhood in Islam

Quranic and Hadith injunctions created among Ottomans and Arabs bonds of brotherhood transcending national, linguistic, and ethnic boundaries. The Quran dictates in verse 4.59: “Obey God and obey the apostle and those of authority among you”. Verse 49.13 declares that: “The most pious amongst you is God’s dearest”. The Prophet had reportedly said, according to the Hadith compilations of Abi Dawoud (d. 888) and Al-Bukhari (d. 879) “I command to you fear of God, and to hear and obey, even an Abyssinian slave”. Answering a question as to how a Muslim should react to an emir or an imam who does not follow the true guidance, the Prophet is reported to have said, according to Muslim (d. 874): “Hear and obey the emir, even if your back is whipped and your property is taken; hear and obey”. Also, according to Muslim, the Prophet reportedly said: “He who obeys me obeys God; he who disobeys me, disobeys God. He who obeys the ruler, obeys me; he who disobeys the ruler, disobeys me”.
Decent Treatment of Arabs by Turks
The Ottoman era in Arab lands (1517-1918) may be divided into two parts; namely, the first 300 years and the remaining 100 years.
The First 300 Years

By virtue of their Islamic roots, wrote H. R. Gibb and H. Bowen, the Arabs were “regarded by the Ottoman ruling class, at least at the beginning, with a certain deference which they did not accord to the rest of the Sultan’s domain for the reason that its inhabitants did speak the sacred language”.[14] Amin Saiid described the relationship between Arabs and Turks up to 1908 as follows: “The Ottoman Sultans respected the Arabs and treated their leaders and ulama with graciousness and consideration. They were appointed to important positions so that some became ministers and governors working along side their Turkish brothers in the service of the State, with ability being the sole discriminating factor in favor of Arab over Turk or Turk over Arab and, thus grew the bond of sincerity and loyalty between two nations united in their religion, land and mutual interest”.[15]
Upon his conquest of Syria and Egypt in 1517, Sultan Selim I maintained the previous governor of Damascus in his position. In Lebanon, the Sultan confirmed the feudal lords who paid homage to him such as the Emirs of the Mountains, Kisrawan, Jubail, and Tripoli. In Egypt, he kept changes to a minimum, aside from a Pasha supported by a Janissary force of 5,000 men.
Ottoman officials did not attempt to assimilate with the local population. Indeed, they had little time to establish roots. During the 280 years of direct Ottoman rule of Egypt, 100 pashas succeeded one another; or, an average of 2.8 years each. Between 1517-1697 133 pashas, an average of less than 1.5 years each, were assigned to Damascus.[16]
Maintaining the local old holders of power in their positions meant that old rivalries, tribal feuds, and conflicts were carried over. Consequently, conditions in Arab lands remained to a great extent a product of the old local politics of Arab notables and leaders; now, however, subordinate to a new Pasha and a bureaucratic elite from Istanbul.
The Final 100 Years

Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) adopted Islam as his state ideology to rally the millions of Muslims in Western countries and colonies, especially in Great Britain, on his side. To prove his Islamic credentials the Arab provinces were paid a special attention. Amin Saiid wrote; “Sultan Abdulhamid worked during his long reign, which lasted a whole generation, on attracting the Arabs, keeping them satisfied and on removing every hint of ethnic discrimination against them. He brought them close to the center of power and opened his doors and treasures to them so they lived in peace and contentment”.[17] Nouri As-Saiid wrote in 1943: “In the Ottoman Empire, Arabs, as Muslims were regarded as partners of the Turks. They shared with the Turks both rights and responsibilities, without any racial distinction: the higher appointments of State, whether military or civil, were open to the Arabs”.[18] Sultan Abdulhamid's Islamic credentials were also  enhanced with the building of the 2,350-kilometer Hijaz railway, which was paid for in part by Muslim contributions and from the meager resources of an imperial treasury, which had defaulted on its obligations in 1875.
However, during the rule of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) between 1909 and the revolt of Sharif Hussein in 1916, the Arab provinces were subjected to a reign of humiliation, mainly as a result of the Turkification policies of the CUP government. It was during this period that Arab organizations grew steadily seeking decentralized rule. A good deal of the grievances listed by Sharif Hussein in his almost 2,500 word Declaration on June 26, 1916, were concerned with the poor Islamic credentials of the CUP and their secularization policies.
It is true that the condition of the Arab provinces at the end of WWI was pathetic in terms of low income, high illiteracy, poor health care, and primitive infrastructure. But, so were the conditions of the rest of the Empire.
Sharif Hussein’s Agenda

Sultan Abdulhamid II removed Sharif Hussein from Mecca to Istanbul in 1893 when he was about 40 years of age in order to stop his meddling in the affairs of the Mecca Emirate.[19] Sharif Hussein and his family were kept in exile under the watchful eye of the Sultan's security men in Istanbul until 1908. He had four sons: Ali, Abdullah, Faisal, and Zaid.
Sharif Hussein coveted the position of Emir, or Sharif, of Mecca. Despite his bidding, however, Sultan Abdulhamid II bypassed him on three occasions; in 1880, when he appointed Abdulmuttalib of the Zaid clan instead; in 1882 when he named Aoun Rafiq, and in 1905 when he appointed a cousin of the Sharif, Ali bin Abdullah.[20] In October 1908, following the second constitutional revolution of July 23, 1908, the CUP removed Ali bin Abdullah from his post and appointed in his place an old uncle of Sharif Hussein; who died before assuming the post. With the help of Sharif Hussein’s son Abdullah,[21] Ali bin Abdullah took refuge in Cairo, under British protection.[22]
Now that the position of Emir of Mecca became vacant, Sharif Hussein lobbied Sultan Abdulhamid II, via the Grand Vizier, Kamel Pasha, for the post, claiming that the Emirate of Mecca should become his because he was “the eldest member of the Hashimite family”.[23] Following an encouraging response from Kamel Pasha, an audience was arranged for the next day with the Sultan, during which Sharif Hussein was appointed Emir of Mecca.[24]  The date was November 24, 1908.
Who appointed Sharif Hussein to the Emirate of Mecca?

The role of three parties in this appointment will be examined: The Imperial Palace, the Porte (seat of Ottoman government) and the British Embassy.
The Imperial Palace

In the confused early months of the second constitutional period, a crisis of authority gripped Istanbul. The CUP and the cabinet challenged the Palace’s authority. The initial months of the revolution produced 5 changes in government. Saiid Pasha, the first Grand Vizier after the revolution survived for only 2 weeks before the CUP forced him out of office. In forming Saiid Pasha’s cabinet Sultan Abdulhamid II insisted on his right to appoint the Ministers of War and of the Navy directly instead of only approving the Grand Vizier’s choice. The CUP disagreed. Saiid Pasha sided with the Sultan. The CUP forced Saiid Pasha’s resignation.[25] The second Grand Vizier, Kamel Pasha, appointed in August 1908, was in power for about 6 months when the CUP caused Parliament to vote him out of office on February 14, 1909. Finally, on April 27, 1909, in the aftermath of the counter-revolutionary uprising of April 12, 1909, the CUP deposed Sultan Abdulhamid II on April 27, 1909 and installed in his place his brother Sultan Mehmet V.
Although, officially Sultan Abdulhamid II signed the appointment decree to the Mecca Emirate, it was unlikely that he had made that decision on his own. A weakened Sultan who had little, if any, authority left during the last 6 months of his reign could not have taken such an important decision. Indeed, when the Sultan had the authority to appoint Sharif Hussin to the coveted post he declined to do so three times. Also, it was Sultan Abdulhamid II who exiled Sharif Hussein from Mecca to Istanbul in the first place and kept him under his watchful eye for 15 years. 

The Porte

Kamel Pasha had a strained relationship with the CUP during his 6 months in office. A glimpse into Kamel Pasha’s relationship with the CUP, could be seen through a memorandum he handed to Sharif Hussein when the Grand Vizier was bidding the new Emir of Mecca farewell at the pier before his ship was about to sail to Jeddah. According to Abdullah bin Hussein’s memoirs the memorandum stated: “The blessed Hijazi administration is attached to the Great Caliphate directly. Nothing can undermine the holy relationship that connects the Emirate with the Sultanate, including the new constitution. So, perform your duties in accordance with the traditional old ways, may God be with you”. [26]
The British Embassy

Britain was the Western power with the greatest Muslim population—70 millions in India and 16 millions in the Nile Valley. As Caliph, Sultan Abdulhamid II had a huge moral and spiritual influence over Sunni Muslims; representing some 80% of world's Muslims. The Sultan used Islam as an instrument of foreign politics. Under such circumstances, Great Britain had to manage its Islamic affairs skillfully.
London was keenly interested Istanbul’s internal politics. In this regards, when it was rumored that Sayyid Fadhl of the Zaid clan was about to be named to succeed Emir Abdulmuttalib in 1882, London immediately requested its Charge d’Affaires in Istanbul to inform the Port that such an appointment “would be an act of seriously unfriendly character, which Her Majesty’s Government could not view with indifference”. The British Embassy was also instructed to use its “discretion to get a member of the Aoun clan appointed in accordance with the promise given to the British Ambassador by the Sultan in March 1880”.[27] Sharif Hussein was of the Aoun clan.
Sharif Hussein had learned that his elevation to the Grand Sharifate in 1908 had had England’s secret backing.[28] Mary C. Wilson quoted Sir G. Lowther’s message of November 24, 1908 to the Foreign Office describing Sharif Hussein as “an upright man who is unlikely to connive at or condone the extortion on pilgrims or other malpractices of his predecessor under the old regime”.[29] James Morris stated that the British Ambassador is believed to have put a gracious word of approval.[30]
Sharif Hussein’s son, Abdullah, revealed in his memoirs that old friendship had existed between the Egyptian royal family and Sharif Hussein’s family. Abdullah referred to five occasions between 1912 and 1914 during which he was a guest of Khedive Abbas Hilmi (1892-1914) at Abdin Palace.[31] It ought to be recalled that since Britain had occupied Egypt in 1882, the Khedive was under British control. Such circumstances could explain how Abdullah bin Hussein was able to assist the deposed Emir of Mecca, Ali bin Abdullah, to take refuge in Cairo under British protection.
It may be concluded that British persuasion (pressure) could have made the Grand Visier, Kamel Pasha, who had the reputation as a pro-British liberal[32] to drive the appointment of Sharif Hussein as the Emir of Mecca through the Imperial Palace.
The Likely Effect of Years in Exile on Sharif Hussein

Abdullah bin Hussein described living in Istanbul as a “residency forced upon us by coercion.” “My father”, Abdullah continued, “was taken to Istanbul to be exiled”.[33] Exile kept Sharif Hussein under the watchful eye of the Sultan’s informers. Adjusting to Istanbul’s urbane life compared to Mecca could have added to the strains of living in exile.
On arrival to Jeddah in early December 1908, a delegation from the local CUP arrived to welcome Sharif Hussein as the first Emir of the new constitutional period. They had hoped that a new era of modernization and progress would be ushered-in to replace the injustices and primitiveness of the previous emirs. Instead, Sharif Hussein made clear his policy to disregard CUP policies and pursue the traditional old ways, as Kamel Pasha instructed (see above). According to Abdullah bin Hussein’s memoirs, his father told the delegation; “This land is the land of God and is governed by God’s law... The Sultan who rules in the name of what you call constitution can apply it to his own country... The constitution of God’s land is the Sharia of God and the Sunna of His Prophet”.[34] With such a speech
Challenges to Sharif Hussein’s Ambitions

Sharif Hussein was challenged within the Hijaz and outside it. On the one hand, he needed to convince the tribes of the great trust and support he enjoys with the Porte. On the other, he needed to convince the Porte of his effective control and leadership over the tribes and the local scene.
Soon after landing in Jeddah, he announced to tribal leaders that “he could secure with one telegraph enough troops to turn the entire Hijaz upside down.[35]  In the Hijaz, the Vilayet administrative structure was not conducive to easy relations between the Ottoman Vali (governor) and the Emir of Mecca. Although the Emir’s domain was traditionally held to be over the pilgrimage and Bedouin affairs, the lines of authority and responsibility of the two positions were blurred. Conflict between Emir and Vali was inevitable, especially between young CUP men and an old traditional Emir.  In the five years between December 1908 and the end of 1913 seven Valis were replaced. Conflicts involved public issues—Preventing the extension of the Hijaz Railway from Medina (completed in 1908) to Mecca and Jeddah, disallowing the imposition of conscription in the Hijaz, retaining religious law in Hijazi courts, as well as personal issues—allegations of misuse of funds, registering large tracts of state land in Sharif Hussein’s name, taxes that went into his account, and using the military police for his personal aggrandizement.[36]
Outside the Hijaz, Sharif Hussein’s hope for a kingdom greater than the Hijaz, possibly even a Caliphate encompassing all Sunni Muslims, was frustrated by the aspirations of four independently minded rivals surrounding the Hijaz. Two were pro-Istanbul—Ibn Rashid to the North in Hail and the Zaidi Imam in Yemen. A third, Muhammad Idrisi to the southwest in Asir, was expressly anti-Ottoman. In 1910, he attacked the Turkish garrison in Abha, Asir. At the request of the Porte, Sharif Hussein fought Idrisi in 1911 and again in 1913 without conclusive result. Eventually, Idrisi signed on April 30, 1915 a treaty of friendship and border recognition with Britain.
The most serious regional rival to Sharif Hussein, however, was Ibn Saud to the east in Najd. Embarking from his refuge in Kuwait in 1890, Ibn Saud had succeeded by 1908 to consolidate his territory east of the Hijaz. A century earlier, it may be recalled that Ibn Saud and his Wahhabi compatriots conquered the Hijaz. It was only due to Muhammad Ali of Egypt that the Wahhabi movement was destroyed at that time. Now, Sharif Hussein had Ibn Saud as a neighbor. If his domain was to survive, let alone expand beyond the Hijaz, Ibn Saud’s power had to be eliminated. Sharif Hussein warned the Porte against the danger if the Wahhabi movement is not checked and solicited their help to attack him. In 1910, he invaded Ibn Saud, without the support of Istanbul. The results were dubious, although Sharif Hussein’s forces captured a brother of Ibn Saud. Ibn Saud signed on December 26, 1915, a treaty of friendship and border recognition with Britain similar to that of the Idrisi a few months earlier. Ibn Saud was allowed by Britain to conquer the Hijaz in 1925, ending Sharif Hussein’s project.
Sharif Hussein’s Dealings with British Officials

While in exile in Istanbul (1893-1908), Sharif Hussein was anxious to cultivate good relations with British officials. “He entered into cordial relations with the British Embassy, so far as prudence allowed, and had encountered friendliness”, wrote George Antonius.[37] Some months before his appointment as Emir of Mecca, Sharif Hussein sent the British Ambassador in Istanbul a “very friendly message expressing his feeling of gratitude to England for her sympathy towards the Ottoman constitutional movement”.[38] That an anti-constitutionalist like Sharif Hussein would take such an opportunity to gain favor with the British Ambassador is curious.
Meetings between Abdullah bin Hussein and Lord Kitchener in 1912/1913
Sharif Hussein’s son Abdullah, according to his Memoirs, met around mid 1913 with Lord Kitchener, British High Commissioner in Cairo, for the first time while visiting with the Khedive of Egypt at Abdin Palace. To Abdullah bin Hussein’s surprise, Lord Kitchener just appeared at the palace.[39] The date of this meeting, however, might have been  a year, possibly more that a year, earlier. According to a diplomatic report to the French Foreign Ministry, “as early as January 1912 the French Consul in Jeddah reported a trip Abdullah took to Cairo with the purpose of seeking the Khedive’s support” and that “the first contact between Abdullah and British authorities may have occurred on this occasion.[40]
British Documents corroborate the French account on the date of the meeting; namely, 1912. They also reveal that: “Hints of the aspirations cherished by Hussein and his family had been given privately to Lord Kitchener by Abdullah”.[41]
According to Abdullah bin Hussein’s memoirs, he paid a reciprocal visit to Lord Kitchener at the suggestion of the Khedive following the Abdin Palace meeting. During this visit, “Lord Kitchener intimated that he had learned that Istanbul might be contemplating major administrative changes in Arabia and that, if there were to be a change in the position of Emir of Mecca”, Lord Kitchener inquired, “would Sharif Hussein accept the change”?[42] Abdullah bin Hussein told Lord Kitchener that his father “would not object, but should Sharif Hussein deem defending his position to be in the best interest of his sacred nation”, Abdullah  added, “would Britain come to his aid?”[43] Lord Kitchner replied: “We have with Turkey traditional friendship that precludes us from interfering in its internal affairs”.[44] Abdullah then retorted: “Was Kuwait not a part of the Ottoman Empire when the British Governor of India interfered in its internal affairs at the request of governor Mubarak Al-Sabah”?[45]
With the Anglo-Turkish Convention of July 29, 1913 Great Britain was disinterested in new alliances in Arabia prior to entering WWI [it already had treatise with Muscat (1891), Bahrain (1892), and Kuwait (1899)]. This might explain why Idrisi’s advances for a treaty with Britain had to wait till April 30, 1915, after WWI had started, and why the treaty of Ibn Saud, also, had to wait till December 26, 1915.
It is noteworthy that Lord Kitchener, according to Abdullah bin Hussein's memoirs, made available to him the use of a British Navy ship to get him out of Istanbul should he wish.  
Communications with the British Authorities in Cairo on the eve of WWI

According to Abdullah bin Hussein’s memoirs, Sir Ronald Storrs of the British Embassy in Cairo sent him in August/ early September 1914 a hand delivered letter with an Egyptian agent of Storrs named Ali Al-Bazzar. In this letter, Sir Ronald asked a question which reveals that an earlier discussion on the subject of the revolt and independence from Turkish rule had taken place between the British and the Sharif side: “Since the Ottoman Government disregarded its traditional friendship with Great Britain by joining Britain’s enemy, Germany, Britain has no longer the obligation to honor its old traditional ties with Turkey. As such, are you and your majestic father still interested in your initial position to work towards whatever that could lead to the full independence of the Arabs? If yes, then Great Britain is ready to support the Arab movement with every thing that it needs”.[46]
According to British Documents, On September 24, 1914, five weeks before Great Britain declared war against the Ottoman Empire, “Lord Kitchener, caused a secret messenger to be sent to Abdullah bin Hussein inquiring how his father would stand if the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany against Great Britain”.[47] Abdullah replied by letter to the effect that if his Majesty’s Government would Guarantee the rights of the Emir and the Emirate, support their rights against foreign aggression and give assurance in writing of such support, the Sherifial family would prefer to be on the British rather than the Ottoman side”.[48] Lord Kitchener’s secret messenger was the same Ali Al-Bazzar who Abdullah had met a month or so earlier.[49]
The British authorities in Cairo agreed these terms on October 31, 1914 the day of the British declaration of war against the Ottoman Empire. The letter to Abdullah bin Hussein read: “If the Emir of Mecca is willing to assist Great Britain in this conflict, Great Britain is willing, recognizing and respecting the sacred and unique office of Emir Hussein (titles), to guarantee the independence, rights and privileges of the Sharifate against all external foreign aggression, in particular that of the Ottomans.”[50] “Till now,” the letter continued, “we have defended Islam in the person of the Turks; Henceforward, it shall be in that of the noble Arabs.”[51] This message reached Abdullah on November 16, 1914 and “caused him the liveliest satisfaction”.[52] Sharif Hussein caused an answer to be sent to Cairo, in which “Abdullah definitely committed his father to a policy of un-avowed alliance with England.”[53]
Alliance with Britain was Sharif Hussein’s best option. Should Britain win the war, and despite the generality and vagueness these letters Sharif Hussein was tantalized by the prospect of a kingdom, even a Caliphate, as well. On the other hand, if Britain were to lose the war, Sharif Hussein’s position was not going to be worse than the one awaiting him had he remained loyal to Istanbul. His constant conflicts with CUP officials since he became Emir of Mecca (1908) were going to lead to his removal from the Emirate anyway. The arrival of General Vahib Pasha as Vali in early 1914 convinced Sharif Hussein that his days as Emir of Mecca were numbered.
Sharif Hussein’s motives behind the revolt became clear when he proclaimed himself in early November 1916, five months after the revolt had started, as “King of the Arabs”. Britain and France notified him of their displeasure with such a title. Two months later, on January 3, 1917, the two countries recognized Sharif Hussein as merely “King of the Hijaz”. In March 1924, immediately after the abolition of the caliphate in Turkey, Sharif Hussein caused Muslim bodies in the Hijaz, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq to proclaim him as Islam’s Caliph.[54]
An undertaking by the British authorities in Cairo was made towards the end of June 1915. It stated that the British Government would “make it an essential condition in the terms of peace that the Arabian Peninsula and its Mohammedan Holy places should remain in the hands of an independent Sovereign State. But it is not possible to define at this stage exactly what territory should be included in this State”.[55] The substance of the undertaking was included in a proclamation distributed in Egypt, Sudan and Arabia. Copies of the proclamation were also smuggled to Syria and other places.
Meanwhile, Sharif Hussein had got in touch with the Syrian Nationalist Committee in Damascus.[56] An emissary from the Al-Fatat Secret Society met in January 1916 with Sharif Hussein in Mecca.[57] Syria’s support was important to Sharif Hussein. It had the potential of expanding his future kingdom well beyond the Hijaz into the Levant and Iraq. It was also an opportunity for him to impress Britain with his far-reaching influence in the region.
We have seen that the political aspirations of the majority of Syrian and Iraqi parties and societies were for autonomy within the Ottoman Empire, not separation. One of the reasons was their fear from European encroachment. This position was reiterated in a resolution taken by the higher committee of the Al-Fatat Secret Society a few months prior to the March 26, 1915 visit of Faisal bin Hussein to Damascus. It said: “In consequence of Turkey’s entry into the war… it being resolved that, in the event of European designs appearing to materialize, the Society shall be bound to work on the side of Turkey in order to resist foreign penetration of whatever kind or form”.[58] Within two months, by the time Faisal bin Hussein returned to Damascus on May 23, 1915, Al-Fatat and Al-Ahd Societies became interested in joining Sharif Hussein’s revolt. But, on the condition that Britain would agree to the independence of Arab countries lying within frontiers outlined in what became to be known as the Damascus Protocol. This document set the borders of the new independent State. Faisal took the document to his father to determine whether or not the British Government would accept it. Sharif Hussein included the Damascus Protocol in his first letter to Sir Henry McMahon on July 14, 1915, only to agree four months later to a greatly modified version of the Protocol without advising his compatriots in Damascus of the modifications (see below).
Was the change in activists' position between March 26, 1915 and May 23, 1915 due to Jamal Pasha’s execution of activists in Damascus and Beirut?
The answer is that contrary to the commonly held view in the Arab world that Jamal Pasha’s actions were responsible for the shift in activists' position from self-rule within the Ottoman Empire to separation and independence, the chronology of events suggests that this contention is false. Jamal Pasha arrived Damascus in early December 1914. His two acts of mass executions were on August 21, 1915, when 11 nationalist activists were hanged in Beirut, and on May 6, 1916, when 21 nationalist activists were hanged in Beirut (14) and Damascus (7). Since the Societies’ change of heart occurred around the time of Faisal bin Hussein’s visit to Damascus on May 23, 1915, three months before the first wave of executions and one year before the second wave, it is not possible to connect the two events. 
The Correspondence Between Sharif Hussein and Sir Henry McMahon

Aside from five letters, the first of which was initiated by Sharif Hussein on July 14, 1915, or by his son Abdullah, and five responses, the last of which was reciprocated on March 10, 1916, by Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Cairo (Lord Kitchener’s successor), there is no evidence of a formal agreement between the parties, or a single face to face meeting. This, curiously, contrasts with the two formal agreements Britain had signed during the same period with each of Idrisi and Ibn Saud. Details of the Sharif/ McMahon correspondence remained officially secret until February 1939 when the British Government de-classified and published them on the occasion of the London Round-Table Meetings on Palestine.
Four points should be noted regarding the letters: 1) Except for the first letter from Sharif Hussein, which was published in English, all others were published in Arabic. 2) These letters did not reflect the entire discussions between the two parties. In his 2nd letter on October 26, 1915, Sir Henry ended by writing that the courier of his letter would inform Sharif Hussein verbally certain useful matters.[59] 3) The Secretary of the 1939 Conference, H. F. Downie, wrote on February 15, 1939: “It was not certain that the revealed documents were verbatim copies of the originals. 4) Sharif Hussein kept the contents of these contacts to himself. On February 15, 1920, in an interview granted by Faisal bin Hussein to Al-Mufid Newspaper he complained that he never saw any correspondence between his father and the British and that his repeated requests for the correspondence to use as a weapon in his negotiations went unanswered.[60]
In his first letter to Sir Henry McMahon on July 14, 1915, Sharif Hussein included the terms of the Damascus Protocol in their entirety; namely, that “England to acknowledge the independence of the Arab countries, bounded on the North by Mersina and Adana up to 37 degree latitude, on which degree fall Birjik, Urfa, Mardin, Amadia Island (Jazirah), up to the border of Persia; on the East by the borders of Persia up to the Gulf of Basra; on the South, by the Indian Ocean, with the exception of the position of Aden to remain as it is; on the West, by the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea up to Mersina”.[61] This map came as a surprise to British officials. It complicated matters for them. Aside from her own interests, Britain was in partnership with France, which wanted after winning the war to have Syria and Cilicia and with Russia, which wanted Constantinople and the Straits.
The response letter from Sir Henry to Sharif Hussein was on October 24, 1915. It provided Sharif Hussein with a good idea about the price, which Britain was prepared to pay him in return for the revolt. Sir Henry wrote: “The districts of Mersina and Alexandretta and the portion of Syria lying to the West of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo can not said to be purely Arab and should be excluded from the proposed limits and boundaries. With the above modifications and without prejudice to our existing treaties with Arab Chiefs we accept these limits and boundaries, and in regard to these portions of the territories therein in which Great Britain is free to act without detriment to the interests of her ally, France, subject to the above modification Great Britain is prepared to recognize... the boundaries proposed by the Sharif of Mecca.[62]
In his third letter to Sir Henry on November 5, 1915, Sharif Hussein accepted the exclusion of the Vilayet of Adana, including the Port of Mersina from his proposed State. Also, He consented to British occupation of those parts of Iraq, which were in British hands in November 1915 for a period of time in return for a suitable pecuniary assistance from Britain.
In his fourth letter to Sir Henry dated January 1, 1916, Sharif Hussein left the amount of pecuniary compensation for those parts of Iraq in British hands to the “wisdom and the sense of justice of Great Britain". He also declared his desire to “avoid what may possibly injure the alliance of Great Britain and France in the war” and decided to "postpone" discussing the inclusion of those portions of Beirut and its coasts until “the first opportunity after the war is finished.”[63]
Pleased with Sharif Hussein constructive attitude, Sir Henry replied in his fifth letter on January 25, 1916: “As regards the Northern parts, we note with satisfaction your desire not to do anything which might possibly injure the alliance of Great Britain and France”.[64]
As the war ended, Sharif Hussein’s role ended too and with it the “postponed” discussion on the Damascus Protocol.

The story of Sharif Hussein’s revolt is a story of betrayal, not only of his Ottoman co-religionists and rulers in the middle of the war but also of his own Arab compatriots in Syria and Iraq. Sharif Hussein used the Damascus Protocol in the negotiations with Britain to obtain for himself and his family the biggest possible kingdom. Six months later, he accepted a much smaller kingdom without even advising his compatriots in Syria and Iraq.
In declaring his desire to “avoid what may possibly injure the alliance of Great Britain and France in the war,” Sharif Hussein compromised himself. The Bolsheviks revealed on November 23, 1917 the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided the Levant and Iraq after the war had ended between Great Britain and France.
On the other hand, the Sykes-Picot Agreement reflects British and French duplicity in dealing with Sharif Hussein. The Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917 compromised Sharif Hussein credibility among Arabs further. As compensation, Britain made Sharif Hussein’s son Faisal king over Iraq and created for his other son, Abdullah, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Sharif Hussein abdicated in 1924 to his eldest son Ali and took refuge in the Red Sea Port of Aqaba until June 1925 when British officials ordered him to leave. He elected to go to Cyprus. At the end of 1930, a stroke afflicted him and he was allowed to go to Amman to spend his last days near his son, now King Abdullah.[65] Sharif Hussein died on June 4, 1931, aged seventy-six. Ali bin Hussein lost the Hijaz in 1925 when Britain allowed Ibn Saud to take-over of the Hijaz.

[1] “Manshour Al Thawrra” (Declaration of the Revolution), cited in Amin Saiid, Al Thawra Al Arabia Al Kubra (The Great Arab Revolution), Vol.1 (Madbouli Publications, Cairo, 1934), PP. 150-157.
[2] Abdullah bin Hussein, Muthakkirati (My Memoirs), 2nd. Edition (Al-Ahlia Publications, Beirut, 1998), P. 111.
[3] Z. N. Zeine, The Emergence of Arab Nationalism, (Caravan Books, N.Y. 1976), P. 83.
[4] Ibid., P. 85.

[5] Ibid., PP. 89-90.

[6] George Antonius, The Arab Awakening. The Story of the Arab National Movement, (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1938), P. 110.

[7] Nouri As-Saiid, Muthakkarat Nouri As-Saiid Aan Alharakaat Alaskariyya Liljaish Alarabi Fi Al Hijaz Wa Souriyya 1916-1918 (Memoirs of Nouri As-Saiid Regarding the Military Movements of the Arab Army in the Hijaz and Syria 1916-1918), 2nd. Edition (Beirut, 1987), P. 20.

[8] Z. N. Zeine, Emergence, P. 93.

[9] Ibid., P. 96.

[10] Ibid., P. 98.

[11] Elizer Tauber, The Arab Movement in World War I (London, 1993), PP. 105 & 106.

[12] Z. N. Zeine, Emergence, P. 97.

[13] Great Britain, Foreign Office, 78/575, Turkey (Diplomatic), Dispatch No.10, September 19, 1844, cited in Z. N. Zeine, Emergence, P. 41.
[14] H. A. R. Gibb and Harold Bowen, Islamic Society and the West: A Study of the Impact of Western Civilization on Muslim Culture (Oxford University Press, 1950-1957), Vol. 1, Pt. 1, P. 160.

[15] Amin Saiid, The Great Arab Revolution, P.9.

[16] Philip Hitti, History of the Arabs  (Macmillan, London, 1970), PP. 719-730.

[17] Amin Saiid, The Great Arab Revolution, P. 10.

[18] Nouri As-Saiid, Arab Independence and Unity (Baghdad, 1943), P. 2, cited in Z. N. Zein, The Emergence, P. 14.

[19] Nouri As-Saiid, Memoirs of Nouri As-Said, P. 8.

[20] Hasan Kayali, Arabs and Young Turks (California University Press, 1997), P. 149.

[21] Abdullah bin Hussein, Memoirs, P. 40 & 41.

[22] Gerald de Gaury, Rulers of Mecca (Harpe & co. London, 1951), P. 261.

[23] Abdullah b. Hussein, Memoirs,PP. 20 & 21.

[24] Ibid., PP. 21 & 22.

[25] Erik Zurcher, Turkey. A Modern History (Taurus, London, 1998), P. 99.

[26] Abdullah bin Hussein, Memoirs, P. 31.

[27] S. T. Buzpinar, Abdulhamid II, Islam and the Arabs, Ph.D. Dissertation (Manchester, 1991), P. 279.

[28] George Aintonius, The Arab Awakening, P. 175.

[29] Mary C. Wilson, “The Hashemites, the Arab Revolt, and Arab Nationalism”, in The Origins of Arab Nationalism, editors; Rashid Khalidi et al. (Columbia University Press, New York, 1991), P. 207.

[30] James Morris, The Hashemite Kings (Faber & Faber, London, 1959), P. 25.

[31] Abdullah bin Hussein, Memoires, PP. 51, 57, 75, 83, &101.

[32] The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, (Leiden and London, 1971), “Hussein”, P. 605 and

   Erik Zurcher, Turkey. A Modern History, P. 99.

[33] Abdullah bin Hussein, Memoires, PP. 19, 29.

[34] Ibid., P.37.

[35] Hasan Kayali, Arabs and Young Turks, P. 149.

[36] Ibid., P. 183.

[37] Goerge Antonius, The Arab Awakening, P. 175.

[38] Mary C. Wilson, in The Origins of Arab Nationalism, P. 207.

[39] Abdullah bin Hussein, Memoires, PP. 75-77.

[40] Hasan Kayali, Arabs and Young Turks, P. 170.

[41] British Documents on Foreign Affairs: Reports and Papers from the Foreign Office Confidential Print. General Editors: Kenneth Bourne and D. Cameron Watt, Section Five, P. 391.

[42] Abdullah bin Hussein, Memoires, P. 77.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Abdullah bin Hussein, Memoires, PP. 107-108.

[47] British Documents, P. 391.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Abdullah bin Hussein, Memoires, P. 108.

[50] British Documents, P. 391.

[51] Ibid.

[52] George Antonius, The Arab Awakening, P. 133.

[53] Ibid. P. 134.

[54] Ibid., P. 335.

[55] British Documents, P. 392.

[56] Ibid., P. 395

[57] George Antonius, The Arab Awakening, P. 149.

[58] Ibid., P. 153.

[59] Z. N. Zeine, Alsiraa Aldawli Fi Alsharq Alawsat Wa Wiladat Dawlatai Souriya Wa Lubnan (The International Struggle in the Middle East and the Birth of Syria and Lebanon)  (Beirut, 1971), P. 281 & 282.

[60] Anis Sayegh, Alhashimiyyoun Wa Qadiyyat Philastin (The Hashimites and the Problem of Palestine) (Beirut, 1966), P. 55.

[61] British Documents, P. 394.

[62] Ibid., P. 400.

[63] Ibid., P. 405.

[64] Ibid., P. 406.

[65] George Antonius, op. cit. PP. 336-337.