The Elections of 1914 and the Eclipse of the Reform Movement
From its position of strength, the CUP pursued a co-optive strategy vis-à-vis Arabs with leanings toward the Liberal camp. It compromised with the Arabist and decentralist trends, the two overlapping pro-Liberal platforms of the preceding years. In many districts it stood by to watch Unionists lose their bid for reelection. In Aleppo the head of the local CUP ran as a candidate but lost. In some districts the government withdrew its support from Unionists and manipulated the electoral process in favor of the Liberals. In Acre, for instance, the authorities detained secondary electors who were largely favorable to Shaykh As‘ad al-Shuqayri, a pro-Unionist deputy since 1908, in order to grant newcomer ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sa‘adi a victory. The CUP had apparently promised al-Shuqayri’s ouster to ‘Abd al-Hamid al-Zahrawi, who as religious scholar from the Prophet’s lineage, former Arabist journalist, president of the Arab Congress, and now senator (see page 176) embodied the compromise with the Arabists. In Nablus Amin ‘Abd al-Hadi and Tawfiq Hammad ousted incumbent Haydar Tuqan amid accusations of manipulation of electoral districts and obstruction of the vote in favor of the challengers, as Nablus sent two deputies to Parliament for the first time. In ‘Amara (Iraq) Unionist incumbent Munir’s candidacy was not supported—and in fact was sabotaged, according to the candidate—possibly as a concession to Sayyid Talib.
In Beirut the CUP created an Islamist organization to neutralize Arabist loyalties. Here and in Damascus the deputies-elect were compromise candidates, and all but one in each district were newcomers. Basra, another center of the reform movement, elected nearly twice the number of deputies it had in the previous two elections, all with decentralist leanings, though they did not belong to the Entente. In general, the CUP manipulated the electoral process to privilege candidates from the notable class, who commanded the esteem of the population, yet would be less inclined to engage in active opposition than the Arabist Liberals.
The increase in numerical and proportional representation of the Arab provinces in Parliament continued from the 1912 elections to the 1914 elections and was significantly larger than the increase between 1908 and 1912. With the loss of the Balkan provinces (which contained no Arab populations) since 1912, the proportion of Arab deputies to the total number predictably increased (from 24 percent to 32 percent). In absolute terms, too, the contingent from the Arab provinces registered an increase of sixteen (or 25 percent of its size in 1912). This proportional and numerical increase is particularly striking, however, given that the Arab contingent lost ten deputies because of the loss of Libya to Italy. The representation of the Arab provinces that remained within the empire increased by some 30 percent from 1912 to 1914. The number of Turks representing Arab provinces did not change significantly in this period in absolute terms, and diminished by about 5 percent in proportion to the total representation from the Arab provinces.
The dramatic increase in the size of Arab representation in the 1914 elections illustrated only one facet of the CUP’s policy of accommodation with the Arabs. Even prior to the elections, and apparently to strengthen the CUP position at the polls, several senators were selected for the Chamber of Notables from the Arab provinces: Yusuf Sursuq (a Greek Orthodox Christian from Beirut), ‘Abd al-Hamid al-Zahrawi (Hama), and Muhammad Bayhum (Beirut), all three former opponents of the CUP; and Ahmad al-Kakhia (Aleppo), ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Yusuf (emirülhac in 1908 and Unionist deputy after 1909), Muhi al-Din al-Kaylani (Baghdad), and Sulayman al-Baruni (Tripoli-Libya). Senate membership carried considerable symbolic, though little practical, weight. The appointments more than doubled the number of Arab senators to twelve, even though the number of new appointments fell short of the demands that the Arab Congress had expressed. His appointment subjected al-Zahrawi to the accusation of treason by “certain Arab circles,” presumably former associates in the reform movement.
The new Parliament elected as its deputy president the Damascene deputy Amir ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri, a newcomer. The cabinet included Sulayman al-Bustani as minister of commerce and agriculture. Two leading reformists, Shukri al-‘Asali and ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Inkilizi, were among the six new Arab appointees (out of a total of twenty-four) as provincial civil inspectors. Their appointment to Damascus was vetoed by the governor of Syria, and therefore al-Inkilizi was reassigned to Bursa and al-‘Asali to Aleppo, despite similar objections from the governor of Aleppo.
Al-Zahrawi, al-‘Asali, and al-Inkilizi were among the Arab leaders whom Cemal Pasha sent to the gallows in 1916. The executions made the three men later into heroes of Arab nationalism; and viewed as such, the motives and circumstances of their reconciliation with İstanbul in 1914 has posed a problem. Their acceptance of government jobs substantiates Ernest Dawn’s point that recognition and official position induced Arab leaders to an Ottomanist stance. But would these men or other reformists have accepted government positions earlier as readily? Al-‘Asali’s rejection of the governorship of Latakia in 1913 seems to suggest otherwise.
One explanation for their acceptance of official positions is their conviction that reforms promised by the government could only be achieved if the reformists accepted an active role in government. Samir Seikaly regards this as an apologetic explanation and writes, “It is probably [sic] that al-‘Asali’s return to government service was facilitated by the expectation of immediate economic relief and the receipt of a regular salary.” Rashid Khalidi’s appraisal of the decision as “temporary apostasy” and “momentary opportunism” sounds less charitable, but implies that the co-optation was an ephemeral one that did not derail these leaders from their Arabist convictions. Seikaly argues that al-‘Asali “was committed to the continuation of the empire of [sic] a political entity in which all races would be equal and in which Arabs and Turks, bound by the links of a re-created Ottomanism, would jointly cooperate in its government.” Ahmed Tarabein advances a similar argument for al-Zahrawi, whose “being an Arab nationalist was not incompatible with being committed to Ottomanism.” These authors represent the prevalent view that İstanbul’s commitment to an Ottomanist reconciliation, in which men like al-‘Asali and al-Zahrawi placed their sincere hopes, was illusory and deceptive.
While the Arabist agenda negotiated in Paris may not have been addressed in its entirety, İstanbul’s concessions to Arab demands, made within the logic of a new Turco-Arab fusion buttressed by an Islamist official outlook, deserve a closer look. The CUP adopted in 1914 a noticeably lenient attitude toward its former Arab opponents. Muhammad Kurd ‘Ali, the convicted Arabist editor of Al-muqtabas, received a pardon. The Ministry of the Interior solicited the müftüs of Damascus and Aleppo for positions in the office of the şeyhülislam in İstanbul. ‘Izzat Pasha, the infamous second secretary of Abdülhamid who had fled İstanbul in disgrace in 1908, was allowed to return in order to take care of matters related to his land interests in Damascus. In return, he made donations to government-sponsored Islamist organizations. There were also new official initiatives designed to reach agreements with those tribal leaders who maintained an adversarial posture.
The government proceeded with diverse reforms in the Arab provinces. Talat Bey, restored as the minister of the interior, showed particular concern to drumming up popular support by fulfilling some of the promises the CUP had made to the Arab Congress leaders, even though the publication that contained the minutes of the Congress (along with the text of congratulatory telegrams sent to it) was banned. Together with Cemal Pasha, Talat met with Arab leaders to discuss the demands for reform. As a result of these initiatives, the requirement that officials appointed to the Arab provinces have knowledge of Arabic was enforced. The functionaries had to take an Arabic language examination in İstanbul before they could proceed to their provincial posts. Furthermore, more and more provincial officials appointed from outside were replaced by locals. New regulations allowed documents to be drafted in Arabic (in addition to Ottoman and French) in Ottoman consulates, a measure aimed at assuaging the expatriate Arabists outside the empire. The application of the new policies was erratic. Particularly in the province of Aleppo, which contained mixed populations of Turks and Arabs, the clauses of the provincial law pertaining to local language caused confusion and even chaos.
By 1914 questions that pertained to ethnic differences became indiscernible in the public sphere as political activity tapered. From its position of power, the CUP had gone on to crush the Liberals with executions and deportations. The opposition gradually lost ground until the government’s emergency powers, assumed on grounds of wartime security during the Balkan Wars, silenced it altogether and forced its leadership into exile, where the Liberals lost contact with what had remained of their Arab proponents. As the political alliance of the Liberals with ethnic (including Arab) and religious groups foundered in the face of reprisals against the Liberals and the disappearance of party contestation, new manifestations of an “Arab opposition” were to emerge elsewhere.
Two secret Arab organizations, Al-jam‘iyya al-‘arabiyya al-fatat (The Young Arab Society) and Al-‘ahd (Covenant) included in their ranks members with revolutionary or separatist proclivities. Arab organizations and committees had existed since 1908, but they were primarily cultural organizations (not unlike the Turkist groups) that had only weak popular roots and vague political programs. Al-fatat was founded in Paris in 1909 and soon found adherents in Syria. While the organization remained secret, it maintained contacts with the reform movement and included Arabists such as ‘Abd al-Ghani al-‘Uraysi as members. Al-‘ahd was a successor of Al-fatat’s counterpart in the army, Al-qahtaniyya. Founded in October 1913 in İstanbul by ‘Aziz ‘Ali al-Misri, Al-‘ahd may have grown to include more than half of nearly 500 Arab officers in İstanbul. It also had branches in Baghdad and Musul.
The activation of Arabism among the officers of the Ottoman army had to do with a purge that Enver Pasha implemented upon being promoted to general and minister of war in the 1914 cabinet. No sooner had he taken office than he sent some 300 officers to retirement. Arab military officers benefited neither from the political compromise the CUP had struck earlier with the Arab political leadership or from Enver’s reorganization of the officer corps. In Damascus, for instance, ninety officers were retired. The positions of most were eliminated, while a few Arab officers were replaced by Turks. Enver’s reorganization was accompanied by measures that reflected the official Islamic reorientation and were aimed at curtailing dissidence, such as stricter enforcement of religious observance in the barracks.
In 1914 the government initiated a systematic policy to cultivate the Arab provincial press. The role that the press had played in politics had become evident in the preceding years. Several papers in the Syrian provinces received subsidies from İstanbul; some entered the government’s service. This, to some extent, reflected the rising Islamist-Ottomanist feeling among the Arab public. It also pointed to the malleability of an influential segment of the Arab intellectual elite. Already in January, the Beiruti papers Ray al-‘am, Ababil, and Al-balagh received subsidies from İstanbul, as the criticism of the government shifted to Arabist journals abroad.
In Basra Sayyid Talib’s posture offers a remarkable indication of how Arab leaders appraised changes in domestic and international political conditions and of the implications of these developments for local and personal interests. Talib was not only a local notable with extensive influence over town, country, and tribes but also a deputy in Parliament, elected to represent Basra for a third time in the 1914 elections. As the leader of the reform movement in Basra, however, he had been in strong opposition to the government in 1913 and had come to dominate the administration of Basra “condemn[ing] the official government authorities to an absolute and shameful inactivity.”
A new set of circumstances in 1914 induced Talib to come to an understanding with İstanbul. Despite his effective leadership and the propaganda campaign emanating from Cairo, the reform movement had failed to produce unity in Iraq, in part due to religious (sectarian) and tribal differences. Arab officers in the region who looked to the reformist agenda with favor were in contact with Talib. As part of Enver’s reform in the army, therefore, officers stationed in Basra and al-Hillah, to the south of Baghdad, were either replaced or brought under closer supervision, while the number of troops stationed in the region was increased. With the dissipation of the reform movement in Iraq, Talib sought to further his personal aspirations through different venues.
Prior to announcing his reconciliation with İstanbul, Talib sounded out British representatives in search of support for “the cause of Arab decentralization.” Describing him as a “slippery customer,” the Foreign Office denied assistance. In a printed declaration, Talib then pronounced his differences with İstanbul settled and pledged to promote Ottoman unity. İstanbul proceeded to consolidate its position in the region by replacing, in the spring of 1914, the acting governor and commander İzzeddin Pasha, held responsible for the deterioration of government authority in the province, with Sulayman Shafiq Pasha. The new governor immediately embarked upon elaborate urban projects characteristic of attempts to solidify the authority of the central government. Talib engaged in public manifestations of his support for the government. He conducted a campaign in Basra for donations to the Ottoman navy in addition to his personal generous contributions. He agreed to preside over a commission to bring about a settlement with Ibn Sa‘ud in al-Hasa district. However, he never submitted to central authority and asserted his local stature by periodically engaging in demonstrations of force to settle local strife.
In Arabia İstanbul favored improving relations with the other tribal notables in order to reduce Ibn Sa‘ud, suspected of seeking an alliance with Britain, to submission. Ibn Rashid was further reinforced against Ibn Sa‘ud, inducing the latter to seek to negotiate with the government through the mediation of Sayyid Talib. Especially after the outbreak of war in Europe, the government renewed its efforts to befriend Arab tribal shaykhs, in competition with Britain, which aspired to expand its sphere of influence beyond the eastern fringes of the Peninsula. When it appeared that Ibn Sa‘ud was entering into closer relations with İstanbul, Ambassador Mallet convinced London to seek “friendly relations” with Ibn Sa‘ud. Cognizant of the need for the military support of the Najdi tribes in any war effort, İstanbul attempted the reconciliation of Ibn Rashid with Ibn Sa‘ud and formed a commission to achieve this.
The French consul in Damascus remarked in March 1914 that the reentry of Enver’s troops into Edirne the previous year, the executions in İstanbul, and the promise of reforms established the prestige of the caliph, the authority of the CUP administration, and the loyalty of the separatists. Two months later the German ambassador reported to Berlin that the Arab movement had been dormant because of the concessions over the last year, adding that the leadership that could put it back in motion was missing. On the whole, with the consolidation of the CUP government after the elections, dissidence among Arabs was either resolved, shelved, or went underground or abroad. Against this background, in the Hijaz relations between Sharif Husayn and the central government took a new turn.