4. The Decentralist Challenge and a New “Arab Policy,” 1912–1913
The opposition to the Committee of Union and Progress coalesced at the end of 1911 around the newly organized Liberty and Entente (Hürriyet ve İtilâf ) Party. In the first true two-party general elections held in the spring of 1912, the CUP engineered a dubious victory that failed to confer legitimacy to it. Removed from government through extraparliamentary pressures, it was unable to return to power until it carried out a violent coup d’état in January 1913. By then Ottoman losses in the Balkan Wars had transformed the multiethnic and multireligious empire to a Turco-Arab core. The demands of Arab reformist groups induced the CUP to devise a policy that would defuse autonomist tendencies in the Arab provinces by accommodating decentralist demands. Meanwhile, the changed political and demographic circumstances further necessitated a redefinition of Ottomanist ideology by placing a greater emphasis on Islam as a binding force. At the end of 1913 the Unionist government launched an intensive Islamic propaganda effort embellished with anti-imperialist rhetoric. This strategy also complemented the evolving “Arab policy.”
The 1912 Elections
The Entente Party’s by-election victory in İstanbul in December 1911 was a warning that the CUP, if it failed to check the opposition at this early stage, might eventually have to relinquish power. Thus the Committee decided to prevail upon the sultan to dissolve Parliament and go to new elections. It hoped that its superior empire-wide organization would secure in early elections a Unionist majority more loyal than the contingent in office. On 2 January 1912, Sultan Reşad complied.
In the spring of 1912 the political climate was very different from that of the 1908 campaign. Having lost the İstanbul by-election on the second ballot by a vote of 197 to 196, the CUP could leave nothing to chance in the approaching general elections and had to undertake a multifaceted campaign to win. The 1912 election is known as the “big-stick” election because of the manipulation, intimidation, and violence that it entailed. This designation, however, obscures the effort that went into the planning and conduct of the campaign and the rigorous contestation and popular mobilization it involved.
The CUP first secured with a tactical move the replacement of Grand Vizier İbrahim Hakkı Pasha by Said Pasha. An experienced statesman who had served as grand vizier under Abdülhamid eight times, Said was hardly a Unionist, and commanded wide respect despite his versatility, described as chameleonlike by one critic. As soon as Said Pasha came to office, the CUP engineered the predictable government crisis that enabled the sultan to dissolve Parliament, decree new elections, and reappoint Said as grand vizier. In order to facilitate the dissolution of the Chamber less circuitously, the CUP also tried to maneuver a constitutional amendment that, had it not been successfully blocked by the Entente, would have restored the arbitrary powers of the sultan over Parliament. The CUP’s plan to eliminate the constitutional immunity of Parliament and to manipulate it through its influence over the weak sultan was an act of desperation. The Committee had vigorously fought, and successfully annulled in 1908, a clause in the 1876 constitution that had recognized such powers in the sultan, who had abused them by shutting down Parliament for thirty years in 1877.
After the speedy dissolution of Parliament, the government applied itself to the task of obstructing the organization of the new party in the provinces. In 1912 the CUP enjoyed the significant advantage of having Unionist branches throughout the empire. To be sure, in many areas, including the Arab provinces, the CUP clubs had dwindled. There was, however, a critical nucleus of pro-Unionist functionaries in the provinces who owed their jobs to the Committee and frustrated the Entente’s efforts. The scarcity of local branches impaired the capability of the Entente for spreading effective propaganda and close supervision of the conduct of elections. Perhaps more important, the Entente’s low profile disheartened potential supporters among local leaders when it was time to endorse one of the contesting parties.
The CUP appointed declared Unionists as civil and religious functionaries and mayors to create an effective counterweight to Ententist propaganda. The Entente sounded out political opinion in the Arab provinces and was not encouraged. A need for change was felt by segments of the Arab notability, but many were hesitant to openly declare themselves for the new party. The CUP exploited its control over the administrative apparatus to redefine provincial electoral districts in order to ensure the success of its candidates. Meanwhile, the government modified existing laws to restrict freedom of association and speech and took special measures to close the traditional channels for recruiting support to the opposition. For instance, the discussion of political subjects in mosques was banned as a result of reports that religious functionaries, who would not be expected to “distinguish good from bad” in political issues, were preaching on matters of elections and politics. There was also an attempt to manipulate the tribal vote. According to the British consul in Baghdad, the government obstructed the registration of tribal groups who lived outside of towns and villages, apparently in order to curtail the power of their shaykhs, some of whom had formally requested the enfranchisement of their tribes. Open support for the Entente put at risk political standing and ambitions, particularly in view of the determined efforts and machinations of the CUP to maintain its power. Many candidates leaning toward the Entente quickly switched allegiance.
There was, however, more to the 1912 elections than manipulation, forceful tactics, and fraud. Both parties engaged in effective campaigns. The CUP did not simply react to the Entente challenge, but rather initiated major campaign drives in Rumelia and Syria. Some of the Arab cities were the scenes of heated political rallies. In February 1912 both the CUP and the Entente organized campaign tours in Syria. The CUP had been urged by governors to undertake a propaganda campaign in Syria even before the elections were called. It deemed an aggressive campaign in the Syria and Beirut provinces crucial for several reasons. First, though many Syrian Arab leaders had taken sides with oppositional factions and some had even assumed leadership positions in them, public opinion in the Arab provinces continued to be divided between the two parties. The Committee leaders felt a special effort would secure a Unionist edge. Second, the government was concerned about the possible effects on the Arabs of deteriorating fortunes in the Libyan War and the impending capitulation to Italy. Finally, the damaging campaign in the Arab press about CUP-engineered “Turkification” had to be defused before the elections.
In general, the decentralist program had wider appeal in the incompletely integrated outlying provinces, in ethnically homogenous regions (where increasingly articulate elites held that decentralization would better preserve a distinctive cultural ethos), and among non-Muslims constituting majority communities in their regions (whom decentralization would bring closer to self-determination). Thus, Arabs, Kurds, Albanians, Armenians, and Greeks were susceptible if not always responsive to decentralist propaganda. In advocating decentralized administration, the Entente reinforced particularism by appealing to parochial sentiments. This gave a new lease to Arabist propaganda.
In the two major urban centers of Beirut and Damascus the former allies of the CUP, deriving from the aspiring middle-class elements with modern schooling and salafi leanings, united around an Arabist platform and expressed full support for the opposition through the two leading Syrian papers, Al-mufid (Beirut) and Al-muqtabas (Damascus). Many notables, particularly outside these cities, felt little pressure or reason to respond to the call of the Arabists. The CUP’s compromise with the landed interests prevailed, though the Committee had not fully co-opted them. Some notables gravitated toward the Liberals in pursuit of further political and economic gain, but the base of the opposition’s power was not the countryside.
Beirut, a business center where the interreligious commercial middle class was the ascendant if not the dominant social group, extended strong support to the decentralist Entente. Beirut’s mercantile links were not so much with other areas of the Ottoman Empire as with Europe. The Beiruti merchants, whose prosperity depended on the local economy, favored a decentralized regime that would free the province from central administrative checks. The convergence in Beirut of Arabist intellectuals and an autonomous commercial middle class provided fertile ground for the growth of a local autonomist current, which in turn rendered active support to the decentralist Entente Party. The CUP enforced a rearrangement of electoral districts in the Beirut vilayet in order to break up the city’s support for the opposition.
The experience of neighboring Mount Lebanon made the Beiruti intellectuals and other upper-middle-class elements particularly disposed toward autonomy. An autonomous regime had been set up in Mount Lebanon in 1860, and by 1912 the area had achieved political and social structures that made it a viable entity largely independent of İstanbul. While Beirut was administratively separate from Mount Lebanon, its economy was linked to that of the mountain and there was a large population movement between the two areas. The example of Mount Lebanon, with its financial autonomy, lower taxes, and military exemption, did not escape the Beirutis.
The relative strength of commercial middle-class elements was less in other Arab towns. Furthermore, unlike the notables of Beirut, those “from Damascus, Aleppo, and Jerusalem held public appointments at the highest levels, and Iraqis from Musul and Baghdad joined the Ottoman army in large numbers and sometimes rose to high ranks.” Because of traditional opportunities in state service for the urban elite of these towns, Ottomanism maintained its political moment while also nourishing its rival, Arabism, within the dynamics of intra-elite competition. The CUP was still relatively strong in these towns, especially after it evinced its determination to remain at the helm of the government.
Both in the election campaign of 1912 and later in trying to harness the reform movement, the CUP seems to have exerted a special effort to appeal to and manipulate the urban lower strata. In Beirut the Committee had links with local chiefs of guild workers and the unemployed who could create mobs. Some of these headmen engaged in illicit activities. The leader of pier and customs workers in Beirut, Ahmad Shar qawi, was an unavoidable intermediary between stevedores and shipping agents. He was an agitator with close relations to the CUP and had also been instrumental in carrying out the 1908 boycott of Austrian goods. In 1912 local bosses like Baydun of the Basta district and Shar qawi came to be important factors in city politics. In addition, the Sunni notable families of Beirut who remained loyal to the CUP acted as intermediaries between the urban poor and the state and dispensed patronage much like the commercial and landowning notables who controlled the countryside.
The electoral race in the spring of 1912 was tight. The Entente ran an anti-Unionist campaign without pressing substantive issues. It banked on arousing latent ethnic and religious prejudices. For instance, consistent with the polemical arguments it brought to the Chamber the previous year, the Entente blamed in a campaign publication the impending loss of Libya on a CUP-Zionist plot. Fearful of losing more of its Arab support, the CUP countered such propaganda with Ottomanist-Islamic rhetoric. Sharif Ja‘far, cousin of Grand Sharif Husayn and a member of the Senate, was chosen to lead this propaganda effort and Unionist rallies in Syria.
On the whole, the CUP’s election calculations were accurate, but its fears regarding Libya proved to be unfounded. Instead of fueling the opposition, defeats in Libya helped the CUP muster support. The war came home to coastal Syria in the midst of the election campaign in February, when Italian battleships bombarded Beirut to force the government to make concessions in North Africa. The CUP used the panic caused by the sight of the enemy effectively to stress the importance of unity against European aggression. In the interior, where such threats were still not perceived, the Unionists orchestrated meetings in which Italian aggression in North Africa was denounced and the appropriate lessons in favor of unity were imparted to urban crowds.
In most localities the conduct of officials during the election was high-handed. Haqqi al-‘Azm, an Arab decentralist opponent of the CUP, published a booklet after the elections in which he cited numerous different breaches of law by the Unionists during the elections. Much of the violence, intimidation, and fraud was perpetrated by local officials, who acted on their own behalf keen on preserving their jobs. At times, the government actually tried to curb their measures. Even though the CUP actively lured Entente supporters to its own camp, it did not approve of candidates converting at the last moment.
On 26 March 1912 Ambassador Lowther summed up his impressions of the upcoming elections as follows:
Lowther was mindful of the tactics that the CUP was using and the foreign complications that served its objectives. His prognosis might have been less favorable to the CUP had he based it on the Arab provinces alone. The fact remains that while the CUP employed unacceptable pressures and was aided by foreign aggression and martial law justified by the war, the mandate it received reflected a political reality that was not in its entirety forged by the Committee.
[T]he opinion is general that the Committee will prove victorious. As they are the only party of any strength it is recognized that their success is desirable in the interests of the country.…Should they be defeated a fresh impetus will be given to the disruptive forces and perhaps fresh encouragement to its neighbors without, as in any case an opposition majority could only be a very small one.
Compared with the 1908 Parliament, the 1912 Parliament showed an increase in representation of the Arab provinces (from 23 percent to 27 percent of the Chamber). The more noticeable change, however, was in the body’s political turnover and ethnic composition. Only about one-fifth of the Arab contingent from 1908 was reelected. Furthermore, the ratio of Turks elected in the Arab provinces in 1912 more than doubled its 1908 size to somewhere between 14 and 22 percent. Yet more significant was the increase in 1912 of known Unionists in the contingent representing the Arab provinces (67 percent as opposed to 39 percent in 1908). Since state functionaries generally constituted a reservoir of Union ists, the CUP put up and supported the candidacy of such functionaries, among whom Turks were highly represented relative to other occupational and social categories. There was a 12-point increase in the percentage of functionaries compared to other professions between 1908 and 1912, from 23.5 percent to 35.5 percent.
The excess of coercive measures that the Unionists employed to win a majority tarnished the elections. The short mandate of this assembly ended in July 1912 with intervention from the army and a compromise government favorable to the Ententists. Ultimately, the CUP strategy backfired: the size of its continued majority in Parliament proved to be a source of weakness rather than strength.
The CUP’s Broken Fortunes and Arabs
By going to early elections the CUP had hoped to secure a parliamentary majority for another four years, yet it was only able to hold on to power for several weeks. The election campaign exposed the Unionists’ weaknesses, and, although the elections resulted in a CUP majority, the gross imbalance in its favor in the new Parliament was not only a sign of the Committee’s inequitable electoral conduct but also betrayed a lack of self-confidence, thus exposing it to a challenge from the army. Once again a faction of army officers, who called themselves Halaskâran (Saviors), intervened in the political process by asking the Said Pasha government to step down. Disenchanted with the Committee, Said Pasha resigned despite a vote of confidence in his favor, clearing the way for the “Great Cabinet” of Gazi Ahmed Muhtar Pasha, elder statesman and general, which also included two other former grand viziers, Kamil and Hüseyin Hilmi. The new government dislodged the CUP and gave new hope to the Ententists.
The period from July 1912, when the Gazi Ahmed Muhtar cabinet took over, to January 1913, when the CUP made a forceful comeback, was replete with political changes both domestic and external. Ahmed Muhtar Pasha dissolved Parliament in August and prepared for new elections. In October the Balkan countries opened hostilities against the empire, forcing the government to conclude a peace settlement with Italy and to cancel the elections. At the end of October Kamil Pasha came to the grand vizierate, a post he held until the Unionist coup of January 1913.
The Great Cabinet resolved to break Unionist influence in the provinces. Many in administrative positions were replaced, and orders went to the provinces enjoining all functionaries, clerks, and teachers to refrain from getting involved in party politics. Ahmed Muhtar Pasha did not intend, however, to weaken the CUP until it could not survive. Despite its Ententist sympathies, this cabinet functioned in the spirit of a compromise government that remained above party politics. A Union ist Arab deputy and the vice-president of the disbanded Chamber, Muhammad Fawzi Pasha (al-‘Azm) of Damascus, served in the cabinet as minister of religious foundations.
When Kamil Pasha resumed the grand vizierate, however, he attempted to eradicate the CUP. The CUP clubs in the provinces were searched and their records sent to İstanbul. This also induced defections from the party. Leading Unionists escaped abroad as the government moved to court-martial them.
In the second half of 1912 political activity and intrigue intensified in the Arab provinces as a result of several factors: the renewed—but ultimately aborted—hope that new elections offered; uncertainty regarding the future of the Ottoman state in view of foreign threats; diminished central authority and administrative control in the provinces; and the intensification of foreign machinations.
Arab Dissidence and the Egyptian Factor
In July 1912 the Ottoman authorities in Cairo reported the printing and distribution of pamphlets in Egypt critical of the CUP and “inciting the entire Arab nation to rise with the pen and the sword.” Soon after, there were reports from Syria regarding the arrest of spies of Algerian origin sent to Syria to provoke traitorous activities. The governor suspected European instigation and reiterated the need for an investigation in Egypt. Moreover, he advised the suppression of Arabist newspapers in Syria. These developments preceded the formation of the Ottoman Administrative Decentralization Party (Hizb al-lamarkaziyya al-idariyya al-‘uthmani) at the end of 1912, with the approval, if not encouragement, of the British administration and with links to Syria.
Already in occupation of Egypt and systematically acquiring footholds along the eastern fringes of the Arabian Peninsula, Britain was hardly disinterested in the Arab lands in between. European consuls in these regions reported frequently before 1912 on alleged activities of British agents among the Arabs and warned of British motives to occupy these areas. But London’s policies vis-à-vis the Arab East were shaped in general by its traditional interests in the region, namely the maintenance of its trade, the security of routes to India, and the continuation of its control over Egypt. As long as these interests were not threatened by either a strengthened Ottoman government or by the intervention of other powers, occupation was not desirable for diplomatic, political, and military reasons. In addition, Britain had to be more sensitive than before to French ambitions in Syria following the naval agreement concluded between the two powers in 1912.
In the summer of 1912, in view of the unstable political situation inside the empire and threats to it from outside, the British government reappraised its role in the Arab provinces and explored the option of occupation. Lowther sent a confidential query to the consulates regarding conditions pertaining to mobilization of local resources in Syria. Detailed reports responding to the query arrived from Damascus, Jerusalem, Aleppo, and Beirut and were relayed in London to the War Office. Consul Fontana (Aleppo) wrote in his report: “I have been informed by more than one Englishman in touch with the tribal sheikhs of upper Mesopotamia that these chiefs of tribes ask when the English are coming to occupy “Jezireh” [Mesopotamia], declaring that they will help them to conquer the country.”
The British administration in Egypt sought to exploit to its advantage the opposition movement in the Arab regions and the weakness of the Ottoman government. Syrian intellectuals residing in Cairo, having fled repressive Ottoman policies and found a safe haven under British administration, had little sympathy toward the Ottoman government. Egyptian nationalists, on the other hand, still looked to İstanbul in their anticolonialist struggle and were uninterested in the Arab political movement in Syria. The British, who all too vividly remembered the Egyptian nationalists’ declaration of anti-British sentiments during celebrations of the revolution in July 1908, condoned, if not encouraged, the anti-Ottoman attitude of the Syrians in Egypt. Anti-Ottomanism, even if it came with its potentially subversive corollary of demand for Arab unity, suited the British, because it weakened the ostensible case of Egyptian nationalists, who dwelled on the ties of Egypt to the Ottoman caliphate.
There were tensions between Syrians in Egypt, who tried to weaken the links with İstanbul by appealing to a common Arab identity, and followers of the Egyptian nationalist Mustafa Kamil, who professed allegiance to the empire. Ironically, the rhetoric of both Egyptian nationalists and Syrian Arabists reflected political expediency rather than an accurate and genuine expression of objectives. In both cases the stated aims did not conform to political realities. Egyptian nationalists were actually committed to the idea of “Egypt for the Egyptians,” which was incompatible with Ottoman suzerainty. As for the Syrians, they were all too uncertain about the political basis upon which the Arab unity they advocated could be achieved. By assisting the pro-British Syrian movement Britain hoped to enhance its own stature in Syria. It also proceeded to strengthen its position in Cairo by abrogating the post of Ottoman high commissioner in Egypt.
The outbreak of the Balkan War shook the empire in October 1912. As the already precarious political, economic, and diplomatic situation further deteriorated, British and French interest in the Arab provinces intensified. In November 1912 Edhem Pasha, the governor of Beirut, warned İstanbul of two disintegrative political currents in the province, one that desired the unification of Beirut and Mount Lebanon under a French protectorate and a second that sought the annexation of Syria to Egypt under British auspices. A third group advocated reforms and tevsi’-i mezuniyet (extension of authority) in order to countervail the first two tendencies. The governor pointed to the widely held view in Beirut that those countries that separated from the Ottoman Empire had advanced more rapidly. Warning that this conviction could strengthen the pro-French and pro-British currents and lead to foreign occupation he concluded by urging substantive and urgent reforms.
It is debatable to what extent the governor’s representation of Beirut’s political inclinations conformed to reality. Convinced as he was of the need for the execution of reforms to appease the population, he tried to impress its urgency on the government by depicting the fulfillment of demands for reform as the only solution that would maintain Beirut and possibly other provinces within the Ottoman Empire. Certainly, many reformists, at this stage consisting mostly of Muslims, favored the maintenance of ties to the Ottoman state and sought to improve conditions in their province and thus to forestall foreign encroachments.
The Reform Movement in the Arab Provinces
The demands of the reformists led to the formation of the reform societies in Beirut and later in other Arab cities. İstanbul advised the governor of Beirut that the general council of the provinces should meet and discuss measures for reform until such time as Parliament met and the deputies gave expression to the needs of their constituencies. Such vague encouragement for reform proposals did little to excite the proponents of change at a time when the outbreak of the Balkan War and swift Ottoman defeats shook the confidence of Arabs in the capability of the Ottoman state to survive the military, economic, and political crisis aggravated by the war or to protect its Arab-populated provinces against external threats. Advances by the armies of the Balkan states toward the capital created the fear that the seat of the caliphate might fall.
Rumors circulated at this juncture, probably spawned and propagated by Rashid Rida and the British in Egypt (see chapter 6), that there was an agreement among Arab leaders (the khedive, ‘Izzat Pasha, Sharif Husayn, Shaykh Sanussi, and Ibn Rashid were some names that circulated) to overthrow the government in İstanbul and establish an Arab caliphate. Further rumors about an antigovernment alliance between Arabs and Kurds in the North were an attempt to append to an exaggerated Arab nationalist movement an invented Kurdish one.
Expectation of higher taxes, forced loans, and requisitions due to the war effort in the Balkans troubled the Arab population. The American consular agent in Haifa wrote that the Arabs there “say if Turkey has given up the Tripolitana, European Turkey will also surely be given up; and now they ask themselves who will pay for the support of the sultan, Pashas, Valis and the whole government, and they have come to the conclusion that the Arabs will have to pay the greater part.” These fears were justified: the government sent commissions to Damascus and Beirut to assess property taxes. The Beirut commission concluded that Beirut’s tax revenues should amount to 430,000 liras instead of the 110,000 previously appraised. Agitated by the prospect of heavier taxes, the people of Damascus obstructed the work of the commission. In Beirut the governor was asked by the townspeople to disband the commission and cancel all its work.
The expectation that the Arab provinces would have to sustain the financial burden of the war effort coupled with the distinct possibility of an Ottoman collapse strengthened the pro-British tendency among the Syrians as well as the British interest in Syria. A British report from Jaffa reflected the mood in the town:
[T]he effect of the recent Turkish defeats upon the population of Jaffa has been to increase greatly the unpopularity of the Turkish government, and one hears from all sides the opinion that the Turkish regime is doomed, and the best thing that could happen for this part of the world would be an extension of the Egyptian frontier to its boundary at Acre. There has always been loose talk in this sense…but just now many Muslim notables are freely expressing the idea. These persons are afraid that the severing of a large part of the Empire will throw a much greater burden of taxation on the provinces which remain, and they hope equally that the value of their property will be increased, as site values have gone up so much in Egypt.
If Britain displayed reserve in abetting pro-British propaganda out of consideration for its ally France, attempts by France to enhance its influence in Syria only contributed to the growth of pro-British sentiments. The pro-British and pro-French factions were divided roughly on religious lines. While Lebanese Maronites looked favorably to French intervention, Britain appealed primarily to Muslim notables. A delegation of Arab notables visited the British consul in Beirut and expressed concern about French propaganda. Both British and other European diplomatic agents in Syria reported on the strength of agitation for a British protectorate, even annexation. On 12 December Mallet advised Ambassador Lowther that no encouragement should be given by His Majesty’s consuls “to the idea that Syria might come under British rule, as it is neither practicable nor desirable that His Majesty’s government should entertain such an extension of territorial responsibility.”
The consuls exaggerated the local enthusiasm for foreign intervention in Syria, but clearly there was a propensity on the part of some local notables to seek such an intervention in view of an anticipated Ottoman collapse. Since the 1908 Revolution decentralist proclivities had gained strength in the Arab provinces. Yet at the end of 1912 it became apparent that the Liberal government of Kamil Pasha, too, was failing to implement the administrative overhaul that would have expanded the prerogatives of local government. As the empire seemed to totter toward collapse, with defeats on the war front and economic and political difficulties internally, disaffected elements in the Arab provinces entertained Great Power intervention in search of a political formula that would secure a measure of autonomy under foreign supervision.
At this juncture some Arab leaders revived the notion of the Arab caliphate as the only feasible Arab political arrangement. Social and political norms as well as economic conditions showed a broad variety in the Arab provinces. Like Ottomanism, the notion of the Arab caliphate offered the framework for an umbrella ideology that would accommodate particular interests and regional, linguistic, and socioeconomic diversity in the Arab-populated lands. Yet the idea widened the religious division between Muslims and Christians. As a fairly clear split along religious lines already existed between the pro-English (Muslim) and pro-French (Christian) factions, the notion of an Arab caliphate enhanced Britain’s position in predominantly Muslim Syria. The propagandists for an Arab caliphate included ‘Izzat al-‘Abid, an Anglophile now living in Egypt. The khedive of Egypt, ‘Abbas Hilmi, emerged as a logical and eager candidate for caliph.
The British consul in Beirut argued that the pro-British current was waning because of the restraint in responding to local requests for intervention. With the pro-British Kamil at the helm of the Ottoman government now, the British authorities may have been less keen about generating provincial dissent. There were other important factors that effected the political climate in Beirut and the other Arab provinces, namely the changing circumstances of the Balkan War and İstanbul’s renewed initiatives to encourage reform proposals for these provinces. On 16 December 1912 peace negotiations between the Ottoman Empire and the Balkan states began at the London Conference. The war-weary Balkan states were willing to sit at the conference table and halt their advance. Despite some territorial losses, the Ottoman government had managed to arrest a vital threat to its integrity. Whereas only weeks before the fall of İstanbul seemed imminent, the Ottoman delegation was now bargaining in London to regain Edirne, a city of strategic and historical importance and the empire’s former capital, now under Bulgarian siege.
The Kamil Pasha government formally consented to the drafting of reform proposals by local leaders in the Arab provinces. On 25 December Governor Edhem reported from Beirut that the royal decree issued to the provincial council calling for negotiations toward reform was received with great joy. The governor commented that public opinion, which had been divided between various foreign and Ottomanist currents only a month ago, was now united in loyalty, with a firm belief that the provinces would attain reforms and progress. In addition to the official commission that was appointed to draft the preliminary reform proposals, Christian and Muslim notables held occasional meetings to exchange opinions on reforms and formed the Beirut Reform Committee. The governor summoned the general council of the province to a meeting at the beginning of January to discuss the draft proposals. Preliminary proposals formulated in the general council included acceptance of Arabic as the official language in the Arab provinces and the appointment of foreign advisors in government offices. On 1 January 1913 the minister of the interior advised the provinces of Syria and Aleppo as well to proceed with the preparation of reform proposals.
The Beirut Reform Committee was composed of an equal number of Muslims and Christians. Kamil Pasha allowed this self-appointed committee to supplant the official commission, for the voluntary cooperation of different religious communities was a welcome development and an indication of their willingness to live together and abandon the desire to seek foreign intervention. Muslim and Christian members of the Beirut committee shared the same economic interests and cooperated closely, as the two presidents Muhammad Bayhum (Muslim) and Yusuf Sursuq (Christian) mediated between the Ottoman government and the reformists.
In Damascus the reform project was worked out by the provincial general council. The fundamental points in both the Beirut and Damascus proposals bore a striking similarity: appointment of provincial functionaries from the local population, permission to use Arabic in government offices, local and shorter military service. In fact, the Damascus proposal went further in expressing localist demands. Clauses pertaining to the appointment of judges locally and the use of Arabic in court proceedings were, for instance, explicitly laid out by the Damascene general council. In addition, Damascus asked for financial subsidies to fund public works, agricultural development, and educational institutions. Yet the Damascus program did not contemplate a loosening of ties with the central government. The Beirut Reform Committee, on the other hand, made specific stipulations regarding the separation of provincial prerogatives and imperial ones in such a way as to restrict the latter to foreign and military affairs, customs, and communications. The Beirut Committee attempted to regulate the relations of the governor with a reorganized provincial council and to define and separate their respective powers in favor of the provincial council. Beirut also stipulated the employment of foreign advisors. These demands were most probably inspired by the example of autonomous Mount Lebanon.
The CUP Comeback
The Suppression of the Reform Movement
The Ottoman defeat in the Balkan War had been so swift and so massive that by December 1912 Grand Vizier Kamil Pasha had asked for the cease-fire that led to the London Conference. As these negotiations continued, the CUP leaders, in an apparent attempt to prevent Kamil from surrendering besieged Edirne to Bulgaria, stormed the Sublime Porte on 23 January 1913, ousted the cabinet at gunpoint, and took over the government. The fall of Salonika, where the CUP was headquartered, had constituted a psychological blow to the Unionists. The impending loss of Edirne motivated the violent intervention. The Unionists were also alarmed about the reprisals against the CUP by Kamil Pasha, the Committee’s political archenemy since his ouster in 1909. Whatever the reasons for the raid at the Sublime Porte (or the Bab-ı Âli baskını), it restored the Committee to power for the next five years, until the end of World War I.
The reform committees in Beirut and Damascus issued their projects only a few days after the coup and the formation of a Unionist government under Mahmud Shawkat Pasha. The CUP takeover had significant implications for the reform movement and the general course of events in Syria. Though opposed in principle to the extension of local autonomy to the provinces, the CUP seemed inclined to reconcile with the decentralists. It made overtures to include Sabahaddin in the new government. Having witnessed the ferment in Syria and the failure of the policy of centralization to retain regions affected by autonomist sentiment in the Balkans, the new Shawkat Pasha government set up a committee to study Arab demands. The government was inclined neither to concede the prerogatives that the Beirut Reform Committee demanded for the provincial council nor to accept a medley of reform proposals from the empire’s various provinces. Instead, it promulgated the long-deliberated Provincial Law in March 1913, which included decentralizing measures. But the reformists, and especially those of Beirut, adamantly opposed compromising their demands, which they thought they were so close to obtaining, and stepped up their campaign in Syria and Cairo. The Egyptian press featured articles about annexation as others contemplated an “Arab government” as the alternative to the implementation of reforms.
In the spring of 1913, though now back in charge, the CUP was not yet strong enough politically to assert itself in the reform question. Edirne could not be secured at the London Conference or in the aftermath of resumed warfare. The government came to feel the burden of defeats and extended warfare more fully. Removed from the scene of hostilities, the Arab provinces had been at first affected relatively little by the war, though, of course, they had to contribute to the war effort with recruits, which inevitably led to economic and social dislocation. In February both Damascus and Aleppo were the scene of popular demonstrations. In Damascus the price of bread increased by close to 30 percent in two weeks, triggering street riots. In Aleppo a demonstration of women protesting the increase in bread prices in front of the governor’s palace had to be dispersed by the police. There was a similar increase in the price of meat in Aleppo arising from the requisitioning of the province’s meat supply for the army. The government managed to take some effective measures to control shortages and prices. In Damascus the export of cereals was banned and speculation prohibited.
The Austrian consul in Damascus wrote that the Damascenes had been led to think that Britain was responsible for fomenting unrest in pursuit of its own political ambitions, namely setting up a caliphate under British protectorate with the grand sharif of Mecca as caliph. The rumor of a British-sharifian alliance circulated in Syria as early as 1913 and was unpopular with the Damascenes. In February the CUP-led government in İstanbul appointed an Arab, ‘Arif al-Mardini, as governor of Damascus, a tactical maneuver designed to appease the opposition there. The ability of the Unionist government to restore order and create a favorable public opinion in Damascus, at a time when sacrifices were being solicited for the war effort, represented a political success.
In Aleppo the burden of contributions for the war, borne primarily by the notables, was particularly heavy. The authorities considered raising a forced loan but resorted instead to requisitioning necessities such as meat, oil, and wheat from the notables. According to the Austrian consul, former leaders of the Entente Party (possibly some of the wealthiest individuals in town) suffered most from requisitions. This may help to explain why Anglophile sentiments lingered in Aleppo longer than in Beirut and Damascus.
Shortly after the Unionist takeover, Hazım Pasha, who had been ousted by the Liberal government in favor of Edhem, returned to Beirut as governor. Unionist policies aggravated the estrangement between Beirutis and the government. Hazım applied stricter controls on the press and closed two papers in Beirut. The rumor of a forced loan to be imposed on property holders never materialized, but the reformers’ suspicion of the government grew. Hazım Pasha refused to act on the Beirut reform proposal. The Provincial Law was designed to render various local demands obsolete by stipulating for limited decentralizing measures such as local administration of tax revenues in the provinces. Declaring the Provincial Law inadequate and angered by Hazım’s reticence to address the reforms they had proposed, the reformers undertook antigovernment protests. The Beiruti notable Salim ‘Ali al-Salam, who had served as vice-president of the Beirut commercial court and president of the municipal council, quit his position in the provincial administrative council. Shukri al-‘Asali declined the governorship of Latakia that was conferred on him in an attempt to secure his compliance with the new provincial regulations.
Hazım’s decision to close the society of the reformists (Reform Club) in Beirut at the beginning of April triggered even stronger reactions. The government was threatened by the unity of purpose that the Beiruti leaders displayed over the reform question and viewed their demands tantamount to provincial autonomy. According to the American vice-consul in Beirut, İstanbul’s decision to dissolve the Reform Club came after the latter opened negotiations with the reformists in Damascus. The reformists had extended their propaganda outside Beirut in order to increase the pressure for reforms on the government. The reform idea also found a response in Mesopotamia, particularly in Basra under the leadership of Sayyid Talib.
İstanbul anticipated the reaction that the decision to suppress the Reform Club would elicit in the provinces. The official journal of the Damascus province, Suriye, prepared the ground for the closure by publishing a polemical article about the reform movement. It urged a complacent attitude and advised the people to leave important issues concerning the province to their representatives in Parliament (which had not been in session for nine months). But the events in Beirut had a considerable impact on Damascus. Local papers sharply criticized the government and denounced the Provincial Law as a meager concession.
Having misjudged the intensity of public reaction against the suppression of the local reform movement, İstanbul sought to remedy the situation in two ways. First, it mobilized the large sectors of the population who were either indifferent or opposed to the reform movement. Second, it took some urgent measures to impress upon the population that it was serious in effecting change consistent with local demands. In its efforts to mobilize the lower strata of Beirut’s townspeople in response to the protestations of the reformists, however, the government did not have the success it had had during the election campaign of the previous year. Some notables who preferred to remain in the government fold did send telegrams condemning the reformist agitation, but the counterpropaganda was not very effective. İstanbul also sent agents to Syria to try to bolster the government position there, only to encounter the accusation that it was trying to create sectarian discord and to break up the remarkable unity that the Beirutis had displayed to promote their common interests.
One of the agents sent to Syria was ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Jawish. Jawish was an Egyptian nationalist agitator who had fled from Cairo to İstanbul in 1912. When the Ottoman authorities had refused to extradite him, Egypt’s Consul General Lord Kitchener had asked the British Embassy in İstanbul to keep a close watch over Jawish’s activities, expressing the fear that he might influence Egyptian students in the Ottoman capital. Attempts to extradite Jawish constituted a diplomatic issue that had also been taken up in the CUP Congress, which decided that the surrender of a refugee in the seat of the caliphate would be unacceptable. In reporting on the proceedings of the CUP Congress, Lowther had written that the CUP, now out of power, was trying to make a cheval de bataille out of Jawish in order to appeal to “nationalistic elements” in the country. The CUP was in fact invoking Islamic symbols, which had proven increasingly more effective in Ottomanist propaganda against imperialist ambitions.
In the aftermath of the suppression of the Reform Club, the British intensified their propaganda emanating from Egypt. The ouster of the pro-British Kamil added a further strain to relations between İstanbul and London. The CUP’s dispatch of Jawish to Syria led to British consternation and the resumption of all-out subversive propaganda against the Unionist government. An article published in the Egyptian Gazette of 22 April 1913, and couched in language that differed noticeably from that of even the most bitter discourse on the reform question, was aimed specifically at instigating racial hatred between Arabs and Turks. After denouncing Jawish’s mission, the article went on:
The article, which referred to England as the “regenerator of Egypt,” read both as a blueprint of the schemes taking definite shape in the minds of British authorities in Egypt at this time and an exhortation to the Arabs:
The struggle is between Semitic Mohammedan and Turk Mohammedan.…Race is the fundamental fact. And the Turk physically differs from the Arab somewhat as a drayhorse differs from a Derby winner. Greater still is the difference intellectually and spiritually, between the slow, placid, steady, autocratic, materialistic, unspeculative, unaesthetic Turk, and the quick-witted, restless, democratic, political, romantic, artistic, versatile Arab.
The author also mentioned that “the Hedjaz Railway would be torn up,” that “Egypt would break the last link of nominal dependence upon Turkey that still exists,” and predicted the “contraction of the Turkish Empire to its possessions in Asia Minor, Armenia, Upper Mesopotamia.” Another article predicted discord between Arabs and Turks in the aftermath of the Balkan War as a result of the decline in the military power of İstanbul and “the rise of an independent Grand Sharif at Mecca with the consent of the dominant naval power [Britain] in the Red Sea.”
[T]he old renown of Ottoman arms has gone down before Bulgarians, Greeks, and Servians, and the Arab is watching and waiting for his opportunity. On the occupation and protection of Mecca rests the sole claim of the Sultan to be Khalif; that is the loss by him of Mecca implies the loss of his right to command the temporal obedience of Mohammedans.
The sharp change in the tone of British propaganda emanating from Egypt did not escape the attention of the Austrian consul in Beirut, who reported that the Egyptian propaganda was taking a more tangible form which is no longer concealed under the “harmless expression ‘decentralization.’ ” In this context, Pinter mentioned flyers distributed in Beirut, which were anonymous but probably authored by those sympathetic to French interests in the region, who worried that Britain would take undue advantage of the government’s embarrassment in the reform question. These flyers urged Beirutis not to pay taxes, to close all businesses, schools, mosques, and to go to the “free Lebanon” until conditions changed.
The sequence of events that led to the dissolution of the reform movement convinced the government of the need to respond to demands in the Arab provinces. Concessions in the realm of language had the widest appeal and greatest symbolic weight. The language question was the issue that had received the greatest attention from all reform groups. The demand for the local use of Arabic also happened to be the least disagreeable to the CUP, whose principal aim was to defuse the more radical demands voiced by the Beirut Reform Committee, specifically the strengthening of the provincial council vis-à-vis the governor and the employment of foreign advisors.
A decree issued in April 1913 sanctioned the use of Arabic in law courts and as the main medium of instruction in schools (except the higher sultaniye schools, which existed in some provincial centers) and provided for the drafting of petitions and official communications in Arabic. Lowther described the new decree as the adoption by the CUP of the opposition’s policy of decentralization. The new language policy, and especially its immediate implementation, came as a surprise and produced the desired effect. In Damascus, court officials who did not know Arabic were replaced. Implementation of Arabic in schools, however, had to wait because textbooks could not be rewritten overnight.
The Ministry of the Interior received petitions from district officials, some written in Arabic, requesting the replacement of certain non-Arabic-speaking functionaries. The provinces saw an opportunity in the new language policy to remove unpopular or politically undesirable local officials. The Damascus governor ‘Arif, for instance, asked that the chief judge of the province, Hurşid, be replaced by the former deputy for Acre, As‘ad Bey (al-Shuqayri), because of the former’s unfamiliarity with Arabic. The Ministry rejected the request and argued that Hurşid was not only competent in his job but also in Arabic.
With the exception of Beirut and Basra, where Talib now sought to enhance his position by means of the reform society that he established, the CUP government was able to restore its authority in the Arab provinces. This should be considered a political success for the CUP, especially in light of its failures on the military and diplomatic front. When the First Balkan War came to a conclusion in May 1913, the CUP had not been able to regain Edirne and, thus, had forfeited the justification for the coup of January 1913.
The government did intend to go beyond palliative measures in order to satisfy Arab demands and to establish effective administration in the Arab provinces. With further losses of land in the Balkan wars, the Arab provinces came to constitute a greater percentage of the empire in terms of population, territory, and economic potential. The reform movement brought home the fact that the Arab peoples could no longer be regarded merely as other Muslims within the Ottomanist framework that downplayed economic, ethnic, and regional differences. The government would have to consider the demands by different social strata in diverse Arab regions lest these groups turn to separatist programs and create the conditions that the Ottoman government had found impossible to curb in its former European possessions.
In view of the territorial losses incurred in Europe, the relocation of the Ottoman capital away from the proximity of enemy lines came on the agenda. From a more central location the influence of the sultan-caliph could be projected more effectively into the Arab provinces. An article by Marshal von der Goltz in the Neue Freie Presse on 18 May 1913 started the debate on the transfer of the capital. Von der Goltz contemplated an Austro-Hungarian model for the Ottoman Empire and viewed Aleppo, with its central location and multiethnic population, as an appropriate choice for the imperial center.
The proposition attracted much interest. The French ambassador in İstanbul, Boppe, commented that the measure could be used by the Young Turks to win over Arabs to a stronger Ottomanist position, and added that it would be easier to administer the empire from its middle than from the periphery. Boppe’s German counterpart, Wangenheim, also contemplated the pros and cons of the issue. He indicated that, on the one hand, the luxury of life in İstanbul had a demoralizing and corrupting influence on government officials; but, on the other hand, having served as the seat of the government for centuries and occupying a coveted strategic location, İstanbul’s abandonment as capital could have serious domestic and international implications. In fact, the German ambassador maintained that displacing the seat of the caliphate would further encourage the agitation for the establishment of an Arab caliphate.
Wangenheim also mentioned that Grand Vizier Mahmud Shawkat Pasha was partial to relocation. As a general, Mahmud Shawkat was mindful of the strategic vulnerability of İstanbul. As an Ottomanist Arab he probably also thought that the transfer of the capital to Aleppo would help remedy the estrangement of segments of the Arab elite from the government. In the Ottoman press other suggestions were put forward. Ahmed Ferid [Tek], former deputy from the western Anatolian town of Kütahya, proposed Kayseri in south-central Anatolia as the best choice. He argued against a shift further south, because such a move might again peripheralize the capital, should the Arabs strive for autonomy. He also justifiably criticized the notion of a biracial Turco-Arab empire on the Austria-Hungary model. According to Ahmed Ferid, Austria-Galicia-Bohemia-Carinthia provided a more appropriate analogy than Austria-Hungary. The Ottoman Empire’s Arab lands did not constitute a single unit, and social and political circumstances differed from one region to the other.
In the end the Unionist position prevailed. The CUP’s power base had always been in Rumelia. For psychological and political reasons the CUP did not favor the proposed relocation of the Ottoman capital. In fact, all public reference to the subject was prohibited, bringing an end to the debate once and for all. Mahmud Shawkat Pasha’s assassination in June 1913 resulted in the abandonment of the idea. Nevertheless, even if the Unionists objected to moving the capital, they were increasingly convinced of the need to satisfy demands voiced in the Arab districts and inclined to give further thought to the “Austria-Hungary model” in order to preclude potential separatism. Indeed, in preparation for the next elections, the Ministry of the Interior instructed Hüseyin Hilmi Pasha, now ambassador in Vienna, to investigate the Austro-Hungarian electoral law.
The reform movement did not disappear with the closing of the Beirut Reform Committee, the ensuing protests of the townspeople, or the resignations of new Arab appointees. A group of Syrians residing in Paris took the initiative to revitalize the movement. Eight Muslim and Christian Syrians wrote a circular that denounced Unionist policies, called for the unification of all Syrians around the principle of decentralization, and invited delegations to a general Arab conference in Paris where the following four main issues would be discussed: the national existence of Arabs and their opposition to foreign occupation; the rights of Arabs in the Ottoman Empire; the necessity of reforms on the basis of decentralization; immigration to and emigration from Syria.
The call from Paris found receptive ears in Beirut, but not in the interior. In Damascus, Medina, and even Aleppo, the conservatism of the notables prevailed. Some Damascenes protested a congress in Paris by establishing the “True” Reform Party. In Aleppo, according to the Austrian consul, the town’s poorer merchants and craftsmen were sympathetic to the movement, yet too weak and timid to call for reforms. The idea was popular with the town’s sizable Christian population, which was also relatively better educated and more Europeanized. Any initiative on their part in favor of reforms, however, would have appeared as schismatic and invited repression. Indeed, the strong representation of Christians in the Arab Congress, coupled with the fact that it was held in the capital of a European state that was hardly disinterested in Syria, undermined its credibility.
The Congress met in Paris between 18 and 24 June 1913. The majority of delegates consisted of Syrians, many living outside the Ottoman Empire. ‘Abd al-Hamid al-Zahrawi presided over the sessions. The largest contingents were from Beirut, the Decentralization Party in Cairo, and the Syrian Arab community in France. The proceedings revolved around the idea of reform within the Ottoman Empire, with no mention of any separatist aims. It came out, however, that Christian members of the Beirut delegation (Dr. Ayyub Thabit and Khalil Zainiyyah) had held prior private meetings with French officials in Beirut. When Beirut’s Muslim members found out about these links, they felt compromised and decided to settle the questions of reform directly with the Ottoman government. Eager to co-opt the Arab leaders in Paris, the CUP had sent a delegation under the leadership of Midhat Şükrü, a CUP Central Committee member, to carry out negotiations, in which a Christian CUP loyalist, Sulayman Bustani, also participated. Midhat Şükrü signed an agreement with the members of the Arab Congress granting many of the latter’s demands: enforcement of Arabic in provincial government and in schools at all levels; employment of foreign experts in provincial administration; local military service; and specified quotas of Arabs as governors, mutasarrıfs, and senators.
While the agreement between Arab leaders and the Ottoman government fulfilled some of the demands of the decentralists, its overall effect was to moderate the decentralization movement. During the organizational stages of the Congress it had become evident that the commitment to decentralization did not supplant integrationist political and social forces among the Arabs outside of Beirut. In Paris, the pro-Europe separatist component of the reform movement was exposed to the dismay of the majority of Ottoman participants. The Muslim members of the Beirut delegation to the Arab Congress (Salim ‘Ali al-Salam, Ahmad Mukhtar Bayhum, Ahmad Tabbara) visited İstanbul on their return, and at a special audience with Sultan Reşad declared their loyalty to the Ottoman state and caliphate.
In the meantime, Mahmud Shawkat Pasha’s assassination was used by the CUP to crush the Liberal opponents in İstanbul. Prominent Liberals held responsible for plotting the grand vizier’s murder were rounded up and court-martialed, and 350 were exiled to Sinop in the central Black Sea region. The execution of twelve opponents of the CUP in İstanbul, now under Cemal Pasha’s military governorship, coincided with the closing day of the Arab Congress. The executions eliminated the Liberal opposition in the capital and foreshadowed similar drastic measures (including trumped-up charges, summary executions, and deportations) that Cemal would employ against the Arab decentralists as governor of Syria and commander of the Fourth Army in Syria during the war. The purge of the leaders of the opposition was a clear sign that politics as usual would be curtailed. In the absence of party politics, Arabism lost much of its meaning.
The Ottoman state had greater relative success in the Second Balkan War, which ended with the recapture of Edirne by the Ottoman army in July 1913. The second half of 1913 saw a respite from military engagements and a reevaluation of the country’s internal condition. Warfare had impoverished the economy and hurt the commercial elements, weakening (quite apart from the reprisals) the Liberal opposition to the CUP in the Arab districts and elsewhere in the empire. Progovernment groups in the provinces became more vocal in their support of İstanbul and rejection of the decentralists.
The appointment of Sa‘id Halim Pasha, a statesman with Arab affinities, as grand vizier upon the death of Mahmud Shawkat Pasha in June 1913 signified the new outlook in İstanbul vis-à-vis the Arab element in the empire. Sa‘id Halim was the son of a disaffected member of the khedivial family, Halim Pasha, who settled in İstanbul in 1870, when Sa‘id was seven years old. The language spoken at home may have been Turkish, though Sa‘id Halim was proficient in several Middle Eastern and European languages. He studied political science in Switzerland and preferred French as his pen language in drafting his Islamist-modernist essays later on. Upon his return to İstanbul, he was made a member of the Council of State in 1888. His association with the CUP led to his ouster from the capital. He spent his exile in Egypt and Europe, primarily in Cairo, where he was commissioned by the CUP to promote Unionist propaganda among Arabs. He returned to İstanbul after the revolution, was appointed to the Senate, and rose in the ranks of the CUP to join the Said Pasha cabinet as the president of the Council of State and to be named secretary general in the Committee’s 1912 Congress. He was serving as foreign minister in the Mahmud Shawkat cabinet at the time of the assassination of the grand vizier. Despite Sultan Reşad’s alleged reservations, he was pushed by the CUP to replace Mahmud Shawkat.
The CUP appointed more and more of its partisans to posts in the provinces, and a greater proportion of the new appointees were Arabs. One result of this policy was that party and ideological differences supplanted ethnic and regional ones. For instance, in Acre Liberal notables raised objections about the replacement of a Turkish Liberal mutasarrıf by an Arab Unionist. At this time, none of the four mutasarrıfs in the Beirut vilayet were Turkish: three were Arab, and the fourth was a Kurd.
The agreement that the Arab Congress concluded with the government signified a separation of the reformists from those decentralists who viewed foreign involvement as a necessary condition of decentralization. While not all Beiruti Muslim reformists were co-opted to Union ism, the reform movement petered out in Syria following the Congress. Important Arab notables such as Muhammad Fawzi Pasha al-‘Azm, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Yusuf, Shakib Arslan, and Shaykh As‘ad al-Shuqayri declared their opposition to the Arab Congress and contended that it was not representative of the Arab provinces. The government attempted to co-opt other Arab notables, primarily Damascenes, who opposed the reform movement. It recalled the four Unionist deputies from Damascus for consultations. In İstanbul the government formed commissions, in which Arab officials took part, in order to supervise the implementation of reforms, apparently in particular the enforcement of Arabic language policies. Many of the reforms actually implemented fell short of expectations. Now that the Balkan quandary was settled and domestic opposition stifled, the CUP procrastinated on reform issues in the Arab provinces, envisaging more fundamental, empire-wide reforms.
Meanwhile, France intensified its missionary activity in Syria and established closer links with the disaffected elements, while Britain shifted its attention to the Persian Gulf. It was partly due to this enhanced British presence near the Persian Gulf that the reform movement in Iraq gained in force. On 9 June 1913 the progovernment Baghdad paper Al-zuhur pointed out the growing British influence in the region and held Britain responsible for the unrest in Najd. In Baghdad the general provincial council convened in November, and its delegates voiced the demand that Iraq should belong to the Iraqis. In Basra Sayyid Talib, head of the Basra Reform Committee, provoked protests against the Ottoman government, which he then “quelled” in a crafty demonstration of his local power and prestige.
In the Fifth CUP Congress that met in September 1913 economic issues predominated. (With Salonika lost in the Balkan Wars, the 1913 Congress was the first to be held in İstanbul.) The only explicit endorsement of policies that had been enacted in the spring was instruction in local languages. The first item of the Congress’s political program was an administrative clause that called for the time-honored precept of tevsi’-i mezuniyet, or the extension of the administrative prerogatives of local officials. This was hailed by the French ambassador Bompard somewhat inaccurately as a “striking conversion of Young Turks to the ideas of administrative decentralization.”
Most noticeable in the new program was an explicit denunciation of the capitulations that perpetuated the economic bondage of the empire to Europe. The idea long current in İstanbul that the economic concessions enjoyed by European countries in Ottoman territories caused the economic decline of the empire spread also in the provinces. In November the Austrian consul reported from Aleppo:
Differences between Turks and Arabs have lost their intensity noticeably. The number of adherents of the Young Turk Party is on the increase. The view is expressed more and more loudly that the Europeans are aiming at the destruction of Turkey, and thus that of the Muslim world-view, and at the economic exploitation of its people.
Conclusion: Islamist Reinterpretation of Ottomanism
As a result of the events of the years 1912 and 1913, Islam gained further in importance in the Ottoman body politic and in the thinking of the Young Turks. Many factors were responsible for the ideological reorientation. The most obvious was the shrinkage of the physical boundaries of the empire to yield a numerical predominance of Muslims. This contraction was also proof that the secular Ottomanism espoused in 1908 had not worked well as an ideology to ensure the allegiance of the empire’s diverse communities to İstanbul. Not only had the mere fact of dismemberment of Ottoman territories reduced the scope of an Ottomanist ideology, but the government’s failure to maintain territorial integrity had caused ethnic and religious groups still within the geographic boundaries of the empire to question the efficacy of Ottomanist policies. Finally, the blows to the Ottoman Empire in Libya and in the Balkans, coming from Christian Europe, provoked Islamic sensibilities.
In its efforts to bring the reformist movement under control, the government found it expedient to depict the movement as generated by the complicity of Christian Syrians with Christian European powers. The Egyptian Gazette reported that an Arabic pamphlet titled Al-haq ya‘alu (Truth [or God] Will Triumph), published in the capital under the direction of Jawish, circulated in Syria and aimed “to stir up Moslem fanaticism by stigmatizing all the Christians of Turkey as secret agents of Europe and the betrayers of the Moslem fatherland.” The Gazette’s hyperbole notwithstanding, İstanbul attempted to blunt the vitality of a broad-based sociopolitical movement that was gaining momentum. In Beirut, where the social forces desiring reform were stronger than in other Arab regions, this tactic had limited results, despite deliberate propaganda. But after a number of Christian reformists established close, secret links with European countries, especially France, in order to promote separatist aims, the Unionist government managed to discredit the reform movement by depicting it as a Christian conspiracy.
Even as the decentralist movement was disparaged because of its contrariety to Muslim unity, the need to address the decentralist grievances was recognized. Celal Nuri [İleri], a Turkish modernist author, who, like many others, was attracted to political Islamism in 1913, wrote a book titled İttihad-ı İslam (Union of Islam). The book denounced imperialist Europe for creating discord between Arabs and Turks and urged decentralizing measures in the Arab provinces that would “foster…a special relation between Turks and Arabs within a Muslim union.”
At the end of 1913 the Unionist government promoted Islam as the main pillar of its ideology. Arabs wishing to see the continuation of the Islamic empire under the Ottoman caliph embraced the idea. The best example of the expanded propaganda effort was a detailed report drafted in December 1913 by the leading Arab proponents of the Islamic idea, including Jawish and Shakib Arslan, “who was admitted to the inner circles [of the Young Turks] in 1913.” The report was written following the celebrations in Medina that marked the groundbreaking for an Islamic university. It touched on improvements necessary for the Hijaz, because the holy places were to serve as the locus of Islamic propaganda among both the Ottomans and Muslims elsewhere. Much of the propaganda effort in the Arab provinces was carried out by a government intelligence unit that around this time came to be called Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa (Special Organization).
As the year 1913 came to an end, Ottoman participation in the impending international hostilities may have seemed far-fetched. But it was a short step to the mobilization of Islam for the Ottoman war effort, once the world war broke out. Sa‘id Halim Pasha, a prominent Unionist statesman with multiple cultural identities, an ardent Islamist modernist intellectual, and a member of the Egyptian royal house with a Turco-Arab upbringing, embodied the new outlook in İstanbul and led the Ottoman government as grand vizier for the next four years.
1. See Kayalı, “Elections,” 273–77. [BACK]
2. Selahaddin, 40. [BACK]
3. HHS. PA 38/355. Pinter to Aehrenthal (Beirut, 10 January 1912). [BACK]
4. HHS. PA 38/354. Pinter to Berchtold (Beirut, 3 April 1912). [BACK]
5. MAE. Turquie, N.S. 9. Bompard to MAE, no. 178 (20 March 1912). [BACK]
6. BBA. BEO 302292. The Ministry of the Interior to Grand Vizier (16 March 1912). [BACK]
7. PRO. FO 195/2415. Consul J. G. Lorimer to Lowther, fol. 296–304 (Baghdad, 6 March 1912). In contrast, the government encouraged tribes in Basra—presumably won over to the government cause—to register and considered sending delegations to the Peninsula to enable the tribes to participate. See Prätor, 19–20. [BACK]
8. For measures taken by the government to undermine the Liberal candidate for Sidon, Kamil Bey al-As‘ad, and to win him back to the Unionist camp, see HHS. PA 38/354 (see note 4). Similarly, for pressures exerted on the Liberal notable of Damascus, ‘Ata Pasha Bakri, see HHS. PA 38/355. Ranzi to Berchtold (Damascus, 24 April 1912). [BACK]
9. See Rashid Khalidi, “The 1912 Election Campaign in the Cities of bilad al-Sham,” IJMES 16 (1984): 461–71. [BACK]
10. HHS. PA 12/205. Pallavicini to Aehrenthal (12 March 1912). [BACK]
11. See Khalidi, “1912 Election,” 466, and “‘Uraysi,” in Buheiry, 44–45. [BACK]
12. Feroz Ahmad, “The Agrarian Policy of the Young Turks, 1908–1918,” in Bacqué-Grammont and Dumont, 278. [BACK]
13. Salibi, 205–6. [BACK]
14. HHS. PA 38/354 (see note 4). [BACK]
15. Engin Akarlı, The Long Peace (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993), 61, 127, 187–192. [BACK]
16. Salibi, 205. [BACK]
17. On the role of port workers and their links with the Unionists during the boycott, see Donald Quataert, Social Disintegration and Popular Resistance in the Ottoman Empire, 1881–1908 (New York: New York University Press, 1983), 141. [BACK]
18. HHS. PA 38/354. Pinter to Berchtold (Beirut, 14 March 1912). In an earlier report Pinter refers to the CUP’s support among the “lowest popular classes” and “unsavory elements” such as boaters and porters. Pinter to Aehrenthal (Beirut, 1 February 1912). [BACK]
19. Michael Johnson, Class and Client in Beirut (London: Ithaca Press, 1986), 17. [BACK]
20. BBA. DH-SYS 53/46. The Court-Martial General to the Ministry of the Interior (April 17, 1912). The specific pamphlet was titled Açık Söz: Hürriyet ve İtilâf Fırkasının Makasidini Yanlış Anlayanlara İzahat ve Red-i İtirazat (Kustantiniye [İstanbul]: Hikmet Matbaası, 1330 ), of which 20,000 copies were printed and distributed. For accusations about Libya, see p. 12. [BACK]
21. Kayalı, “Elections,” 276; Khalidi, “1912 Election,” 462. [BACK]
22. The British consul in Aleppo estimated the size of one such rally in Aleppo at 80,000. PRO. FO 195/2429. Fontana to Lowther (Aleppo, 2 May 1912). [BACK]
23. Haqqi al-‘Azm, Haqa’iq ‘an al-intikhabat al-niyabiyya (Cairo, 1912); Kurşun, 66–67. [BACK]
24. See BBA. DH-SYS 83–1/2–16 (31 March 1912) on CUP attempts to censure the governor of Latakia because of violence against Entente supporters in that city. [BACK]
25. The offer of the Musul candidate and ex-deputy Dawud Yusfani, for example, to be admitted as a Unionist candidate at the eleventh hour was turned down. PRO. FO 195/2415, fol. 323–38. Lorimer to Lowther (Baghdad, 4 June 1912). [BACK]
26. PRO. FO 195/2389. Lowther to Grey (draft) (Constantinople, 26 March 1912). [BACK]
27. Sixty-six out of 288 in 1908, 77 out of 284 in 1912 (Prätor, 27–29). [BACK]
28. Prätor, 47. [BACK]
29. Ibid., 33. [BACK]
30. Ahmad, Young Turks, 106–7. [BACK]
31. BBA. BEO 306762 (305252, 305838). Grand Vizier to all state agencies (1 October 1912). [BACK]
32. Prätor, 62–63. [BACK]
33. BBA. BEO 310332. Grand Vizier to the Ministry of the Interior (30 January 1913). This document was drafted after the CUP takeover in January and referred to past policy. [BACK]
34. Among them Dr. Nazım (perennial member of the CUP’s central committee), Halil (head of the CUP’s parliamentary group), and Rahmi (influential Salonika deputy, later governor of İzmir). Menteşe, 34. [BACK]
35. Menteşe, 34. The new government suspended martial law but soon had to reinstate it. See Ahmad, Young Turks, 109. [BACK]
36. BBA. BEO Defter 112, no. 1123 (24 July 1912). [BACK]
37. The governor recommended that the request of Shukri al-‘Asali and Ahmad Kurd ‘Ali, coeditor of the closed Al-muqtabas with his brother Muhammad, regarding reopening of the seditious paper, be denied. BBA. BEO 305092. Grand Vizier to the Ministry of the Interior (4 August 1912). [BACK]
38. On the organization and program of the party, see Tauber, Emergence, 121–34, and Duri, 277–80. [BACK]
39. James Paul Thomas, “The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916: Its Genesis in British Policy” (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1971), 4. See Khalidi, British Policy, 113–86, on an extensive discussion of Anglo-French railway agreements of 1909–10, which marked the beginnings of the partition of Syria among the two powers. [BACK]
40. PRO. FO 195/2433. Lowther to consuls of Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem, Aleppo (confidential), fol. 19 (Pera, 26 June 1912). [BACK]
41. James Jankowski, “Egypt and Early Arab Nationalism, 1908–1922,” in Origins of Arab Nationalism, ed. Khalidi et al., 255–56. [BACK]
42. Thomas Philipp, The Syrians in Egypt, 1725–1975 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1985), 114. [BACK]
43. PRO. FO 195/2446. Grey to Lowther, fol. 66 (25 November 1912). [BACK]
44. BBA. BEO 309692 (266893). Governor Edhem to the Grand Vizier (9 November 1912). [BACK]
45. Ibid. Grand Vizier to Beirut (25 November 1912). [BACK]
46. PRO. FO 195/2444. Devey to Lowther (14 November 1912). [BACK]
47. PRO. FO 195/2445. C. Leonard Woolley to Consul Fontana. Enclosure in Fontana to Lowther, no. 78 (14 December 1912). Also PRO. FO 195/2445. Lowther to Foreign Office (İstanbul, 31 December 1912). [BACK]
48. US 867.00/1455. Theodore J. Stuve to Hollis. Enclosure in Hollis to Secretary of State (23 December 1912). [BACK]
49. HHS. PA 38/354. Pinter to Berchtold (Beirut, 6 December 1912). [BACK]
50. PRO. FO 195/2446. Hough to McGregor (8 November 1912). Enclosure in McGregor to Lowther (Jerusalem, 8 November 1912). [BACK]
51. HHS. PA 38/354. Pinter to Berchtold (23 November 1912). [BACK]
52. See, for example, PRO. FO 195/2446, fol. 17. Captain Cuthbert Hunter (?) to Lowther (19 November 1912); HHS. PA 38/354. Pinter to Berchtold (28 November 1912). [BACK]
53. PRO. FO 195/2446. Mallet (for the Secretary of State) to Lowther, fol. 43 (12 December 1912). [BACK]
54. PRO. FO 195/2446. Cumberbatch to Lowther, fol. 36–42 (4 December 1912). [BACK]
55. On role of Fa’iq al-Mu’ayyad in pro-Arab caliphate propaganda, see HHS. PA 38/354 (see note 51). [BACK]
56. Ibid. [BACK]
57. The authorities cracked down on a committee in Damascus that favored British occupation and arrested six members. Shafiq al-Mu’ayyad and ‘Izzat Pasha, who were known to be the originators of this group and were in Damascus at the time of the arrests, fled to Egypt. HHS. PA 38/359. Ranzi to Berchtold (5 January 1913). [BACK]
58. PRO. FO 195/2446. Cumberbatch to Lowther, fol. 53 (31 December 1912). The consul was personally involved in establishing contacts between Egyptian authorities and Syrians. See Khalidi, British Policy, 266. [BACK]
59. Shaw and Shaw, 295. [BACK]
60. BBA. BEO 309692. Governor Edhem to the Grand Vizierate (25 December 1912). [BACK]
61. Zeine, Arab Nationalism, 89. [BACK]
62. BBA. BEO 309692. The Ministry of the Interior to the provinces of Syria and Aleppo. [BACK]
63. Tauber, Emergence, 135–51; Johnson, 61. [BACK]
64. HHS. PA 38/359. Ranzi to Berchtold (8 February 1913). See enclosure to same for a list of Damascene reform proposals. For Beirut’s proposals, see Tauber, Emergence, 138–39. [BACK]
65. US 867.00/523. Willoughby-Smith to Secretary of State (14 April 1913). Enclosure: “Projet de Reforms à appliquer au Vilayet de Beyrouth” (31 January 1913). [BACK]
66. Birinci, 202. [BACK]
67. Ahmad, Young Turks, 134. [BACK]
68. BBA. BEO Sadaret Defterleri 922, no. 75 (13 February 1913). [BACK]
69. HHS. PA 38/359. Ranzi to Berchtold (Damascus, 24 February 1913). [BACK]
70. HHS. PA 38/358. Dandini to Berchtold (8 March 1913). [BACK]
71. HHS. PA 38/359 (see note 69). [BACK]
72. HHS. PA 38/358 (see note 70). [BACK]
73. On the persistence of the idea of British annexation in Aleppo, see Kha lidi, British Policy, 284. [BACK]
74. US 867.00/492. Captain Fletcher to Secretary of Navy (16 February 1913). Enclosure in Navy Department to Secretary of State (8 March 1913); HHS. PA 38/358. Pinter to Berchtold (27 March 1913). [BACK]
75. PRO. FO 195/2451/484. Cumberbatch to Lowther (Beirut, 27 March 1913). [BACK]
76. On other resignations from public offices, see Tauber, Emergence, 141. [BACK]
77. PRO. FO 195/2451/484 (see note 75); Salibi, 207; Samir Seikaly, “Shukri al-‘Asali: A Case Study of a Political Activist,” in Origins of Arab Nationalism, ed. Khalidi et al., 89–90. [BACK]
78. US 867.00/517. Willoughby-Smith (vice consul-general in charge) to Secretary of State (?), no. 426 (14 April 1913). [BACK]
79. Tauber, Emergence, 157–68. The reform movement in Basra strived to unify the shaykhs of Mesopotamia in a struggle “for local autonomy, if not for absolute independence of the Turkish government.” US 867.00/517. Sauer to Secretary of State (Baghdad, 17 March 1913). [BACK]
80. HHS. PA 38/356. Ranzi to Berchtold (Damascus, 22 April 1913). [BACK]
81. HHS. PA 38/358. Pinter to Berchtold (23 April 1913). [BACK]
82. PRO. FO 195/2414 (31 January 1912). [BACK]
83. PRO. FO 195/2390. Lowther to Grey (25 September 1912). Enclosed in the report is a clipping from the Liberté of the same date reporting on the CUP’s consideration of Jawish’s case. [BACK]
84. After the January 1913 takeover of the government by the CUP, Kamil traveled to Egypt, where he waited for his moment to reclaim his former post. [BACK]
85. Egyptian Gazette, 22 April 1913. “The Khalifate.” Enclosed in US 867.00/535. Willoughby-Smith to Secretary of State (28 April 1913). [BACK]
86. Egyptian Gazette, 15 April 1913. “Turks and Arabs.” Enclosed in US 867.00/527. Willoughby-Smith to Secretary of State, April (?), 1913. [BACK]
87. Ibid. Quotes Alexandria Consul General Donald Andreas Cameron, Egypt in the Nineteenth Century (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1898). [BACK]
88. HHS. PA 38/358. Pinter to Berchtold (Beirut, 23 April 1913). [BACK]
89. HHS. PA 38/359. Ranzi to Berchtold (Damascus, 22 April 1913). Also, PRO. FO 195/2452/1831. Lowther to the Foreign Office (Pera, 21 April 1913). [BACK]
90. HHS. PA 12/206. Pallavicini to Berchtold (13 May 1913). [BACK]
91. See, for instance, the petition from the mayor of the Bab district of Aleppo regarding the removal of the kadı. BBA. DH-MTV 60/48 (25 July 1913). [BACK]
92. BBA. DH-MTV 60/35 (8 May 1913). [BACK]
93. MAE. Turquie, N.S. 9, fol. 450. Boppe to Ministère des Affaires Etrangères (26 May 1913). See chapter 1 for a similar proposal in 1897 by von der Goltz, who had been responsible for the reorganization of the Ottoman army in the 1890s and was to command Ottoman forces in their Arabian campaigns during World War I. [BACK]
94. Ibid. [BACK]
95. AA. Türkei 134/Bd. 32, no. 171. Wangenheim to B. Hollweg (Therapia, 29 May 1913). [BACK]
96. PRO. FO 195/2453/2368. L[owther] to [FO], no. 475 (Pera, 26 May 1913). [BACK]
97. BBA. DH-KMS 15/7 (16 February 1913). [BACK]
98. HHS. PA 38/358. Pering to Berchtold (17 May 1913). Enclosure: Da‘wa ila ebna’ al-umma al-‘arabiyya. Signed by ‘Awni ‘Abd al-Hadi, Jamil Ma’luf, Nadra Mutran, Muhammad al-Mahmasani, ‘Abd al-Ghani al-‘Uraysi, Sharl Debbas, Shukri Ghanem, Jamil Mardam. See also Tauber, Emergence, 179. [BACK]
99. Tauber, Emergence, 183–84. [BACK]
100. HSS. PA 38/358 (see note 98). [BACK]
101. Zeine, Arab Nationalism, 92; Antonius, 114–17. See Al-mu’tamar for the proceedings of the Congress. [BACK]
102. Salibi, 210. [BACK]
103. It is interesting and surprising that Midhat Şükrü’s memoirs do not mention his own involvement in negotiations with the Arab leaders. Mithat Şükrü Bleda, İmparatorluğun Çöküşü, ed. Turgut Bleda (İstanbul: Remzi, 1979). [BACK]
104. Prätor, 220. [BACK]
105. Zeine, Arab Nationalism, 93; Mousa, Al-haraka, 39. [BACK]
106. Salibi, 210. [BACK]
107. Fourteen Liberal leaders who had fled the country were sentenced to death in absentia. These included Sabahaddin, Şerif Pasha, and Gümülcineli İsmail. See Ahmad, Young Turks, 130; Birinci, 210; Danişmend, İzahlı, 397; Fahri Belen, 20. Yüzyılda Osmanlı Devleti (İstanbul: Remzi, 1973), 178. [BACK]
108. US 867.00/556. Hollis to Secretary of State (Beirut, 24 June 1913). [BACK]
109. See, for instance, the letter sent to İstanbul by Osman Nashashibi and other Jerusalem residents. PRO. FO 195/2451/484. Hough to Marling (Jerusalem, 1 July 1913). [BACK]
110. For his career until 1913, see Bostan, 17–36. Sa‘id Halim Pasha’s biography in a recent modern Turkish edition of his works is largely based on Bostan’s M.A. thesis, the precursor of his book. See Sa‘id Halim Pasha, Buhranlarımız ve Son Eserleri, ed. M. Ertuğrul Düzdağ (İstanbul: İz Yayıncılık, 1991), xiii–xviii. Excerpts of his work and a synoptic biography occur also in İsmail Kara, ed., Türkiye’de İslâmcılık Düşüncesi, 2d ed. (İstanbul: Risale, 1987), 1:73–174. [BACK]
111. Bostan, 34. [BACK]
112. AA. Türkei 165/Bd. 35/36, no. 93. Loytved-Hardegg to Bethmann-Hollweg (Haifa, 26 July 1913). [BACK]
113. Mousa, 38. [BACK]
114. Conservative notables were cajoled with promises such as salary increases to religious students and functionaries, improvement of the waterways in the holy city of Medina, and the opening of a medical school in Damascus. AA. Türkei 177/Bd. 10. Mutius to Bethmann-Hollweg (Beirut, 4 September 1913). [BACK]
115. HHS. PA 38/359. Ranzi to Berchtold (Damascus, 5 November 1913). [BACK]
116. HHS. PA 38/359. Ranzi to Berchtold (Damascus, 16 October 1913). [BACK]
117. AA. Türkei 177/Bd. 10, no. 122. Loytved-Hardegg to Bethmann-Hollweg (Haifa, 26 September 1913). [BACK]
118. US 867.00/566. Sauer to Embassy (Baghdad, 9 June 1913). Reported by Ravndal to Secretary of State (31 July 1913). [BACK]
119. US 867.00/592. Vice-consul to Secretary of State (Baghdad, 12 November 1913). [BACK]
120. The deputy-governor for Basra, İzzeddin, reported the “extraordinary assistance” that Talib rendered in mollifying the crowds who stormed the post office with their petitions. İzzeddin added that great services could be expected from Talib in the upcoming elections. BBA. DH-KMS 63/43 (11 October 1913). [BACK]
121. Tunaya, Siyasal Partiler, 106–10. [BACK]
122. MAE. Turquie, N.S. 9. Bompard to MAE (Pera, 3 November 1913). [BACK]
123. HHS. PA 38/358. Dandini to Berchtold (Aleppo, 12 November 1913). [BACK]
124. The Egyptian Gazette, 25 April 1913. “Turks and Arabs.” Enclosure in Willoughby-Smith to Secretary of State (Beirut, 6 May 1913). In Baghdad government organs denounced decentralist agitation as being “against the principles of the Muslim religion which stands for unity.” US 867.00/548. Sauer to Embassy (Baghdad, 3 May 1913). [BACK]
125. Landau, Pan-Islam, 80–83. [BACK]
126. William L. Cleveland, Islam against the West (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), xvii. Shakib Arslan was the brother of Amin Arslan, whom we encountered as the leader of the Turco-Syrian Committee at the end of the nineteenth century. Amin was elected deputy to Parliament for Latakia in the by-election of June 1909. [BACK]
127. Jawish was the president of the committee entrusted with the mission of establishing the university. BBA. DH-KMS 5/24. The Ministry of the Interior to the Muhafız of Medina (19 November 1913). Martin Strohmeier, Al-kulliya as-salahiya in Jerusalem (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner [Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft], 1991), 8–12. [BACK]
128. BBA. BEO 318545. From ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Jawish, Shakib Arslan, and Ahmad Zafar to the Grand Vizierate (6 December 1913). [BACK]
129. On Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa, see Philip Hendrick Stoddard, “The Ottoman Government and the Arabs, 1911–1918: A Preliminary Study of the Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa” (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1963); Ergun Hiçyılmaz, Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa (İstanbul: Ünsal, 1979). [BACK]