A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, August 28, 2015

August 30, 1915: Sir Henry McMahon's First Response to Sharif Hussein

Just a reminder: Postings will be sparse during my current two week vacation. Normal blogging pace will resume on Monday.

Back in July I noted the anniversary of the first letter from Sharif Hussein of Mecca to Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commissioner in Egypt, which initiated the celebrated Hussein-McMahon correspondence that would become a key element in the subsequent Arab-Israeli dispute and lead to the Arab Revolt in 1916. The correspondence took considerable time; the Sharif was an Ottoman subject after all, and Britain and the Turks were at war; McMahon was not an Arabist and was dependent on his experts in Cairo and the approval of London. This weekend marks the centennial of the August 30 initial response by McMahon:

McMahon's August 30 response was evasive on the questions of what borders Britain would support for a new Arab Caliphate, the issue that would later haunt the correspondence:
McMahon (Seven Pillars)
WE have the honour to thank you for your frank expressions of the sincerity of your feeling towards England. We rejoice, moreover, that your Highness and your people are of one opinion-that Arab interests are English interests and English Arab. To this intent 'we confirm to you the terms of Lord Kitchener's message, which reached you by the hand of Ali Effendi, and in which was stated clearly our desire for the independence of Arabia and its inhabitants, together with our approval of the Arab Khalifate when it should be proclaimed. We declare once more that His Majesty's Government would welcome the resumption of the Khalifate by an Arab of true race. With regard to the questions of limits and boundaries, it would appear to be premature to consume our time in discussing such details in the heat of war, and while, in many portions of them, the Turk is up to now in effective occupation; especially as we have learned, with surprise and regret, that some of the Arabs in those very parts, far from assisting us, are neglecting this their supreme opportunity and are lending their arms to the German and the Turk, to the new despoiler and the old oppressor.
Sharif (Later King) Hussein
Nevertheless, we are ready to send your Highness for the Holy Cities and the noble Arabs the charitable offerings of Egypt so soon as your Highness shall inform us how and where they should be delivered. We are, moreover, arranging for this your messenger to be admitted and helped on any journey he may make to ourselves.
Friendly reassurances. Salutations!
(Signed) A. H. McMAHON.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

A double irony. Perfidious Albion is encouraging eventual resumption of the Caliphate under an Arab Caliph, presumably Sharif Hussein, while in the short term, the Sharif of Mecca's loyalty is to be purchased with revenues wrung from Egyptian labor and Suez Canal tolls. Reminds me of the way the U.S. paid for the liberation of Kuwait in 1991.