A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

July 14, 1915: Sharif Hussein of Mecca Writes a Letter to Sir Henry McMahon and Begins a "Correspondence" with His new Pen Pal

Sharif (Later King) Hussein
A century ago today, Sharif Hussein of Mecca wrote a letter in Arabic to Sir Henry McMahon, British "High Commissioner" (but effectively, Viceroy) in Egypt.

This was somewhat unusual, since Hussein was the traditional ruler of Mecca under the Ottomans, who were at war with Great Britain.

McMahon (Seven Pillars)
If you have ever taken a course on the Modern Middle East or the Arab-Israeli Conflict you will have had to study the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence (if you studied in Britain you may know it as the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence). Most of the controversy arises from an October 24, 1915 letter in which Sir Henry spelled out the exceptions Britain was making to the promise of Arab independence. (The Sykes-Picot Agreement would undermine it anyway, but did they include or exclude Palestine?) But that's a tale for another day, which most of my readers probably already know. The Correspondence led directly to the Arab Revolt in 1916, and whether Britain betrayed the promises made to Hussein became a major topic of postwar debate.

But the Correspondence began with Hussein's first letter, dated a century ago today. (Note that McMahon was a product of the Raj, not an Arabist, and the McMahon Line between India/Pakistan and Afghanistan, and India and China, are named for him. The McMahon letters to Hussein were probably mostly produced through Oriental Secretary Ronald Storrs and the British Foreign Office, though McMahon signed them.) The whole correspondence can be found a number of places online, such as here.

The first letter, proposing an alliance, in full except for the florid Arab greetings:

Whereas the whole of the Arab nation without any exception have decided in these last years to accomplish their freedom, and grasp the reins of their administration both in theory and practice; and whereas they have found and felt that it is in the interest of the Government of Great Britain to support them and aid them in the attainment of their firm and lawful intentions (which are based upon the maintenance of the honour and dignity of their life) without any ulterior motives whatsoever unconnected with this object;
And whereas it is to their (the Arabs') interest also to prefer the assistance of the Government of Great Britain in consideration of their geographic position and economic interests, and also of the attitude of the above-mentioned Government, which is known to both nations and therefore need not be emphasized;
For these reasons the Arab nation sees fit to limit themselves, as time is short, to asking the Government of Great Britain, if it should think fit, for the approval, through her deputy or representative, of the following fundamental propositions, leaving out all things considered secondary in comparison with these, so that it may prepare all means necessary for attaining this noble purpose, until such time as it finds occasion for making the actual negotiations:
Firstly.- England will acknowledge the independence of the Arab countries, bounded on the north by Mersina and Adana up to the 37th degree of latitude, on which degree fall Birijik, Urfa, Mardin, Midiat, Jezirat (Ibn 'Umar), Amadia, 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. England to approve the proclamation of an Arab Khalifate of Islam.
Secondly.- The Arab Government of the Sherif will acknowledge that England shall have the preference in all economic enterprises in the Arab countries whenever conditions of enterprises are otherwise equal.
Thirdly.- For the security of this Arab independence and the certainty of such preference of economic enterprises, both high contracting parties will offer mutual assistance, to the best ability of their military and naval forces, to face any foreign Power which may attack either party. Peace not to be decided without agreement of both parties.
Fourthly.- If one of the parties enters into an aggressive conflict, the other party will assume a neutral attitude, and in case of such party wishing the other to join forces, both to meet and discuss the conditions.
Fifthly.- England will acknowledge the abolition of foreign privileges in the Arab countries, and will assist the Government of the Sherif in an International Convention for confirming such abolition.
Sixthly.- Articles 3 and 4 of this treaty will remain in vigour for fifteen years, and, if either wishes it to be renewed, one year's notice before lapse of treaty is to be given.
Consequently, and as the whole of the Arab nation have (praise be to God) agreed and united for the attainment, at all costs and finally, of this noble object, they beg the Government of Great Britain to answer them positively or negatively in a period of thirty days after receiving this intimation; and if this period should lapse before they receive an answer, they reserve to themselves complete freedom of action. Moreover, we (the Sherif's family) will consider ourselves free in work and deed from the bonds of our previous declaration which we made through Ali Effendi.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Wherein Sharif Hussein announces the intention of proclaiming an "Arab Khalifate of Islam." Seems quite modest compared to the claims of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for a Caliphate of all Islam headquartered in Raqqa.