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10.6.2 Letter from Sharif Husayn Ibn-Ali to Sir Henry McMahon
During World War I, the Ottoman Empire fought on the side of the Central Powers. The British government negotiated with Arab leaders in and around the Arabian Peninsula to get their support against the Ottomans. The British wanted the Arab leaders to rebel or at least cause trouble for the Ottomans. One of those leaders was Sharif Husayn Ibn-Ali, amir (governor) of the Hijaz, the area of western Arabia around Medina and Mecca. Husayn wrote this letter to the British governor of Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, offering to lead a military rebellion of the Arabs against the Ottomans. What did Husayn ask for in exchange? To see the territory claimed by Husayn, look at map 1 in Student Handout 10.6B. What preference did Husayn offer to England?
Sharif: a notable person, also a title indicating that the person is a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad
The British made offers to subject people of the Ottoman Empire in an effort to secure their assistance in undermining the Ottoman Empire’s ability to fight. Sharif Husayn Ibn-Ali, the local amir, or governor, of an important part of that territory, saw an opportunity to advance the interests of the Arab population and his own ambitions when he proposed leading a military revolt against the Ottomans in exchange for British support for an Arab kingdom. He clearly intended to be the ruler of that kingdom. When he identified these areas as “Arab,” he was intentionally differentiating them from the Turks. However, not all people in the territory he claimed were Arab, nor were all the people in that area ready to accept rule by a leader from the Arabian Peninsula. He wanted British support for his Arab kingdom and promised them preference in economic enterprises, a key imperialist goal.
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 that it is to the interest of the Government of Great Britain to support them and aid them to the attainment of their firm and lawful intentions....
For these reasons the Arab nation [asks] the Government of Great Britain for the approval, through her deputy or representative, of the following fundamental propositions:
Firstly - England to acknowledge the independence of the Arab countries, bounded on the north by Mersina and Adana up to the 37' of latitude ... [and] 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 of the proclamation of an Arab Khalifate of Islam.
Secondly - The Arab Government of the Sharif to acknowledge that England shall have the preference in all economic enterprises in the Arab countries whenever conditions of enterprises are otherwise equal.