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Jordan

 
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Jordan

CONFLICTING NATIONALISMS: ARAB NATIONALISM AND ZIONISM

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The street of columns at Jarash

In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, two separate movements developed that were to have continuing effects for all of the Middle East--the Arab revival and Zionism. Both movements aimed at uniting their peoples in a national homeland. They were to converge and confront each other in Palestine where, it was initially thought by some, they could each achieve their aspirations in an atmosphere of mutual accommodation. The two movements would, in fact, prove incompatible.

By 1875 a small group of Western-oriented Muslim and Christian Arab intellectuals in Beirut were urging the study of Arab history, literature, and language to revive Arab identity. By means of secretly printed and circulated publications they attempted to expose the harsh nature of Ottoman rule and to arouse an Arab consciousness in order to achieve greater autonomy or even independence. The idea of independence always was expressed in the context of a unified entity--"the Arab nation" as a whole. After only a few years, however, Ottoman security operations had stifled the group's activities.

At about the same time, a Jewish revival was finding expression in Europe that called for the return of the Jews in the Diaspora to their historic homeland. The impulse and development of Zionism were almost exclusively the work of European Jews. In 1897 Theodor Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress at Basel, Switzerland, where the Zionist Organization was founded with the stated aim of creating "for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law." As a result of Zionist efforts, the number of Jews in Palestine rose dramatically to about 85,000, or 12 percent of the total population, by the start of World War I.

The increased Jewish presence and the different customs of the new settlers aroused Arab hostility. The rising tension between Jewish settler and Arab peasant did not, however, lead to the establishment of Arab nationalist organizations. In the Ottomancontrolled Arab lands the Arab masses were bound by family, tribal, and Islamic ties; the concepts of nationalism and nation-state were viewed as alien Western categories. Thus, a political imbalance evolved between the highly organized and nationalistic Jewish settlers and the relatively unorganized indigenous Arab population.

A few Western-educated Arab intellectuals and military officers did form small nationalist organizations demanding greater local autonomy. The primary moving force behind this nascent Arab nationalist movement was opposition to the policies of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.

In 1908 a group of reform-minded nationalist army officers in Constantinople, known as the Young Turks, forced Sultan Abdul Hamid II to restore the 1876 Ottoman constitution. The next year the Young Turks deposed Hamid in favor of his malleable brother, Mehmed V. Under the constitution, Ottoman provinces were represented by delegates elected to an imperial parliament. The restoration of the constitution and installation of Mehmed V initially generated a wave of good feeling among the empire's non-Turkish subjects and stimulated expectations of greater self-government.

It soon became clear, however, that the Young Turks, led by Enver Pasha, were bent instead on further centralizing the Ottoman administration and intensifying the "Turkification" of the Ottoman domains. Arab opposition to the Turkish nationalist policies asserted itself in two separate arenas: among urban intellectuals and in the countryside. One source of opposition developed among Arab intellectuals in Cairo, Beirut, and Damascus, who formulated the ideas of a new Arab nationalism. The primary moving force behind this nascent Arab nationalist movement was opposition to the policies of Sultan Abdul Hamid. The removal of Sultan Abdul Hamid by the Committee of Union and Progress (the umbrella organization of which the Young Turks was the major element) was widely supported by Arab nationalists. The committee's program of institutional reform and promised autonomy raised Arab nationalist hopes.

After 1908, however, it quickly became clear that the nationalism of Abdul Hamid's successors was Turkish nationalism bent on Turkification of the Ottoman domain rather than on granting local autonomy. In response, Arab urban intellectuals formed clandestine political societies such as the Ottoman Decentralization Party, based in Cairo; Al Ahd (The Covenant Society), formed primarily by army officers in 1914; and Jamiat al Arabiyah al Fatat (The Young Arab Society), known as Al Fatat (The Young Arabs), formed by students in 1911. The Arab nationalism espoused by these groups, however, lacked support among the Arab masses.

A more traditional form of opposition emerged among the remote desert tribes of Jordan and the Arabian Peninsula, which were politically inarticulate but resentful of foreign control. The link between the urban political committees and the desert tribesmen was Hussein ibn Ali Al Hashimi, the grand sharif and amir of Mecca and hereditary custodian of the Muslim holy places. Hussein, head of the Hashimite branch of the Quraysh tribe, claimed descent from the Prophet. Hussein and his sons Abdullah and Faisal (who had been educated as members of the Ottoman elite as well as trained for their roles as Arab chieftains) had spent the years 1893 to 1908 under enforced restraint in Constantinople. In 1908 Abdul Hamid II appointed Hussein amir of Mecca and allowed him and his sons to return to the Hijaz, the western part of present-day Saudi Arabia. Some sources contend that Hussein's nomination was suggested by the Young Turks, who believed that he would be a stabilizing influence there, particularly if he were indebted to them for his position. In his memoirs, however, Abdullah stated that Abdul Hamid II named his father in preference to a candidate proposed by the Young Turks. Hussein reportedly asked for the appointment on the ground that he had an hereditary right to it. From the outset, Abdullah wrote, his father was at odds with the attempts of the Young Turk regime to bring the Hijaz under the centralized and increasingly secularized administration in Constantinople. Once in office, Hussein proved less tractable than either the sultan or the Turkish nationalists had expected.

Abdullah and Faisal established contact with the Arab nationalists in Syria. Faisal delivered to his father the so-called Damascus Protocol in which the nationalists, who appealed to Hussein as "Father of the Arabs" to deliver them from the Turks, set out the demands for Arab independence that were used by Faisal in his subsequent negotiations with the British. In return, the nationalists accepted the Hashimites as spokesmen for the Arab cause.

Data as of December 1989


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