30/10/1916 A new King for the Arabs?

Sharif Hussein, the Emir of Mecca, is leading an revolt against the Turkish Empire. Hussein has received support from Britain, but the progress of his revolt remains uneven. A strong Turkish garrison remains in place in Medina and continues to threaten the territories controlled by the rebels.

Nevertheless, Hussein decides that now is the time for a grand gesture. Today he has himself declared “king of the Arab lands”, claiming the loyalty of all Arabs. The hope is that this will inspire the people of Syria and Mesopotamia to join his rebellion.

Hussein’s British allies are discomfited by his bold claim. The British have made vague promises to create an Arab state, headed by Hussein, but only in Syria (the territory between the Arabian peninsula and the Turkish heartland). Britain is intent on retaining Mesopotamia for itself. But Britain has also made a secret agreement to divide up Turkey’s Arab territories with France, whose leaders will not be impressed by this bold claim by Britain’s client. And Hussein’s claim of kingship over the “Arab lands” is rather vague in its boundaries. Surely he is not also claiming Egypt as part of his realm?

So the British are wary of Hussein’s ambitions. They cannot dispense with his services but they do not want to encourage him too much. So they formally recognise him as King, but only of the Hejaz, the western Arabian region he had ruled as a client of the Turks.

image source:

Sharif Hussein bin Ali, by Kahlil Gibran (Wikipedia)

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