So, I’m a bit late to the party, but I had to get an exam paper out of the way before I could get around to writing this. Since this seems to be the only episode devoted to colonial regions, I’ll use 1930 as a sort of turning point, but cover some stuff both before and after - I understand the video has got a time limit and all, and you can’t fit everything in, but I’ll write up some stuff anyway and you can feel free to use what you want, put some of the stuff in other episodes if you find it fits, or use it for special episodes on the Middle East once the WWII series gets going. Also, feel free to ask me questions, send me scripts etc. regarding the Middle East!
The interwar years might seem like the triumph of Imperialism - Especially for the Middle East. Only the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, and Turkey retained their independence, and of these, most were highly influenced by the Great Powers, carved up into spheres of influence like Iran or the rulers dependent on stipends and support from the colonial powers like in peninsular Arabia. Others, such as Egypt or Morocco were nominally independent but protectorates or having a “treaty of preferential alliance”, yet in reality power was held not by the local elites, but by the colonial offices of Paris and London. However, as Foucault liked to remind us: Wherever there is power, there is resistance.
On October 20th in 1930, the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Passfield announced what has become known as the Passfield White Paper, that heavily criticized the Jewish Agency, noted the many evictions of Palestinian farmers from their land, and proposed limiting Jewish immigration to Palestine. All of course, contrary to the Balfour Declaration. In february 1931 Prime Minister McDonald read out what has become known as the ‘Black Letter’ among Palestinians - completely backtracking from the Passfield White Paper.
In 1929 a dispute over access to the holy sites in Jerusalem escalated, the Wailing Wall being the point of contention as part of both al-Aqsa Mosque and the ruins of the Second Temple. Riots abounded throughout August, with more than 250 dead, and over 500 wounded, split roughly evenly among Jews and Palestinians, although Palestinians had been leading the riots and were responsible for most attacks on the Jews, while they were met by indiscriminate gunfire from the British authorities, leading to most of the Palestinian deaths. The british fearied a full scale revolt, and noted that while the Wall had been the spark, the unrest were rooted in deeper issues, and thus the Passfield White Paper was announced.
The British were not free to do as they pleased however. While I can’t talk for sure about legal documents, Zionists heavily criticized the British government, claiming that this went against the terms of the mandate as laid down by the League of Nations. It wasn’t settled in a court or by the League, as the mass letterwriting campaign organized by the Zionist movement scared McDonald that his minority-government would be overturned. When Passfield visited Tel Aviv in October 1930, he was pelted with stones by angry Zionists. Fearing both Jewish unrest in Palestine as well as critique from Zionists at home, the black letter was written by the prime minister to reassure Chaim Weizmann, the leading Zionist, and subsequently read out to Parliament in february 1931. Yet the problems that sparked the 1929 riots were not solved, and five years later a new Arab Revolt would break out. In the same year as Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland, Mussolinis troops reached Addis Ababa, and Spain erupted into civil war, Palestine was struck by a surge of strikes and riots, quickly turning into violent ambushes and homemade landmines. With Fascism rising in Europe, the British were loathe to have to deal with a colonial revolt. The following three years in Palestine were dominated by the violent insurgency by Palestinians and Arab volunteers - a large party of whom were led by a certain Fawzi al-Qawuqji - only ending on the eve of the Second World War.
It seems like the British fared better in Iraq, despite the early troubles. At the time, Iraq were called ‘The Model Mandate’ and in 1932 they gained independence, and Iraq thus became the first and only LoN mandate that would join the League as state of its own. Were the British truly living up to their responsibilities as a mandatory power, simply shepherding the Iraqi people until they were able to govern themselves?
Not by a long shot.
A treaty was signed, in june 1930 while Iraq remained a mandate, that would go in effect once Iraq became independent. Setting the tone for the relationship between Iraq and the UK once independence were achieved, the treaty stipulated that while Iraq would keep internal order and defend itself against foreign aggression, all matters of foreign policy which may affect their common interests were to be fully and frankly discussed with the British - pretty much everything were of ‘common interest’, considering the British stake in the Iraqi Petroleum Company, sphere of interest in Iran, Kuwait and the Trucial States being British protectorates, as well as Jordan being a mandate. They also retained the right to station troops in Iraq, and two RAF bases in the country - Two bases for the airforce that were instrumental in crushing the Iraqi revolts of 1920. While independence were a victory for the nationalist movement in Iraq, Faisal and the royal family, being Sunni Arab and thus part of the minority, remained highly dependent on the British. And the independence were only nominal, leading to the Iraqi nationalists looking to Germany and Italy. Especially following the fall of France, dissatisfaction with the terms imposed by the British would lead to war.
Regarding France, they weren’t having too good of a time in the Middle East either. While they got off to a rocky start, with Faisals attempt at an independent Kingdom of Syria defeated at Maysalun in 1920, a decade later they seemed to finally be in control. While both the British and French had understood the maxim of divide and conquer, they did so in different ways. The British strategy in Iraq had been to put everyone together, and pick a minority to rule that would then be depending on the colonial power to retain their position. The French were more literal in their interpretation - fearing that the Syrians might stand together despite the ethnic and sectarian differences in the area, they decide to simply remove Syria from the map. In it’s place, they created a Christian majority Greater Lebanon, an Alawite State, a Druze State, a State of Damascus, a State of Aleppo, and a State of Alexandretta. This strategy didn’t quite work out for the French, on the 14th of May 1930 a Republic of Syria were proclaimed, including all the former states but Lebanon. Syria were not to be divided and ruled, at least not in the time between two wars.
The Syrians had fought together, some with the Arab Revolt, some with Faisals kingdom before they were defeated by the French. Sultan Atrash, a Druze leader who had joined Faisal when he seized Damascus in 1918 led a revolt in 1925 in the Druze state, defeating several french attempts at pacifying the mountainus area. Fawzi al-Qawuqji, a soldier who had fought at Maysaloun, were inspired by insurgents led by Abd al-Krim in Morocco, made contact to Atrash and led a mutiny among the gendarmes of Hama. Abdul Rahman Shahbandar, who had served as minister in Faisals short-lived government, declared Atrash king of Syria and led an insurgency in Ghouta near Damascus, attacking the French as they moved in and out of the city. The French struck back with a vengeance, hanging captured insurgents in the squares of Damascus - yet in october 1925 a Druze raid into the city with support of the inhabitants, burned down the residence of the French High Commisioner and were only dislodged after an artillery bombardment of the old city. The fighting lasted for years, with Syrian insurgents often crossing the border into Transjordan, where the French could not pursue without sparking a diplomatic incident with the British. When Abd al-Krim surrendered in Morocco, in may 1926, the French were able to divert far more troops into Syria. The insurgency were eventually defeated through the use of airpower, artillery bombardment and tanks in the streets in spring 1927. Stability were only restored, following a press conference on the 26th of July, 1927, where General Georges Catroux announced that the Druze State would join a united Syrian State - still a French mandate of course. Qawuqji, Atrash and Shahbandar went into exile in Transjordan, to escape the death penalty at the hands of the French.
The Syrians continued their demands for independence. Having been defeated in the field, they took to negotiations instead. The Syrian state that were proclaimed in may 1930 were a republic, and in parliament the nationalists often had a strong position, despite the French authorities attempts at rigging the elections. ‘Honorable Cooperation’ were the slogan, where the Nationalist bloc debated with the French authorities on the future of Syria - especially following Iraqi independence, they gained momentum. The first Treaty of Independence proposed were rejected by the Syrian Parliament, as it would lead to a continued massive role for France in Syria. In 1936 a new treaty of independence were written up, following a month long general strike throughout the country organized by the Nationalist bloc in Parliament. It was never ratified by France however, and independence were pushed along - at least for a while longer. World Wars tends to change the calculation.
While Empire seemed to be at it’s height in the Middle East following the First World War, it was contested at every step of the way, in 1920, 1930, and 1940 as well. Indeed, it would seem that while the British and French were hardly willing to work together in hunting insurgents that crossed the border, the Arabs were inspired by each other, even if not always working together. Qawuqji is a case in point: A Syrian Arab who fought for the Hejazi Faisal in 1920, were inspired by the Moroccan Abd al-Krim, connected with the Druze Atrash to lead a revolt, fleeing into Transjordan, before leading a couple of hundred Arab volunteers into Palestine during the revolt of 1936-39.
For the Syrians under French control then, open revolt gave way to honorable cooperation and a general strike. For the Palestinians, cooperation gave way to riots and finally revolt. In Iraq, Revolt gave way to cooperation - and when that failed, they looked to the fascists. No matter the strategy, Empires face resistance.