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10.6.3 McMahon’s Response to Husayn

McMahon, Sir A. Henry

McMahon's Response to Husayn, October 24, 1915, The Husayn-McMahon Correspondence, Negotiating the Establishment of an 'Arab Kingdom' in the Middle East, 1915," in Sources in the History of the Modern Middle East, edited by Akram Fouad Khater (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), 129-131.

The British governor of Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, replied to Husayn one month later. It's important to recognize that McMahon was being very careful and cautious not to promise too much to Husayn. One reason that McMahon had to be careful was not to give away territories that France wanted. McMahon did not clearly state where those territories were, but he used the vague phrase, "within those frontiers wherein Great Britain is free to act without detriment to the interests of her ally, France." This would later allow Britain to exclude whatever territory France wanted. In item 5, McMahon used a vague euphemism, "necessitate special administrative arrangements," rather than writing clearly, "Britain wants to rule those areas" (which are now the country of Iraq). The key reason was mentioned in the phrase economic interests. Look at map 4 in Student Handout 10.6B to identify those economic interests. What did McMahon promise Husayn? What areas did McMahon exclude from the Arab kingdom? Vocabulary: detriment: harm aspirations: hopes and dreams yoke: rule vilayet: a province of the Ottoman Empire
McMahon’s reply to Husayn was cautious and full of euphemisms and vague language that will be difficult for students to interpret. Two of the most obscure are explained in the For the Student section. There is also a literacy strategy and a student handout to help English learners and those who read below grade level comprehend this source and grasp its nuances. Students should recognize that McMahon agreed to support an Arab kingdom and was trying to guarantee that only the British would be allowed into that kingdom as advisers. This could lead to the kind of imperialistic relationship that Britain had with Egypt. You might also draw students’ attention to the reasons McMahon lists in item 5 for British control of that area. Students should recognize that these are typical justifications given for imperialist control. The British already had a colony in Kuwait, and the Baghdad and Basra vilayets were rich in oil, as map 4 in Student Handout 10.6B shows. McMahon excluded the area west of Damascus and the Baghdad and Basra vilayets.  

I have received your letter with much pleasure and your expression of friendliness and sincerity have given me the greatest satisfaction....
I have, therefore, lost no time in informing the Government of Great Britain of the contents of your letter, and it is with great pleasure that I communicate to you on their behalf the following statement, which I am confident you will receive with satisfaction.
The two districts of Mersina and Alexandretta and portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo cannot be said to be purely Arab, and should be excluded from the limits demanded....
As for those regions lying within those frontiers wherein Great Britain is free to act without detriment to the interests of her ally, France, I am empowered in the name of the Government of Great Britain to give the following assurances and make the following reply to your letter:
(1) Subject to the above modifications, Great Britain is prepared to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs in all the regions within the limits demanded by the Sharif of Mecca.
(5) With regard to the vilayets [districts] of Baghdad and Basra, the Arabs will recognise that the established position and interests of Great Britain necessitate special administrative arrangements in order to secure these territories from foreign aggression, to promote the welfare of the local populations and to safeguard our mutual economic interests.
I am convinced that this declaration will assure you beyond all possible doubt of the sympathy of Great Britain towards the aspirations of her friends the Arabs and will result in a firm and lasting alliance, the immediate results of which will be the expulsion of the Turks from the Arab countries and the freeing of the Arab peoples from the Turkish yoke, which for so many years has pressed heavily upon them....
(Signed): A. Henry McMahon