Faisal I of Iraq

Faisal I of Iraq

by Ali A. Allawi


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300127324
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 03/11/2014
Pages: 672
Sales rank: 1,098,947
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 2.50(d)

About the Author

Ali A. Allawi is research professor, National University of Singapore. He was appointed Iraq’s first postwar civilian Minister of Defense in 2004 and in 2005 was appointed Minister of Finance. This is his third book. He lives in London and Baghdad.

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By Ali A. Allawi


Copyright © 2014 Ali A. Allawi
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-300-12732-4



The late nineteenth century into which Faisal was born was a world of empires, and none marked it more for him and all Arabs than the Ottoman Empire. By 1883, the year of Faisal's birth, the empire had shrunk considerably from its peak centuries, when it bestrode three continents. The empire had once included large parts of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, Crimea and the Caucasus, the Near East (the Arab territories of the Ottoman Empire and Egypt) and nearly all of North Africa, but it had retreated under the pressure of stronger, more determined and dynamic adversaries: expansionist European empires and the new forces of ethnic nationalism. A series of constitutional, legal and economic reforms were enacted in the mid-nineteenth century to check the slide of the empire and begin its modernisation. These reforms, collectively known as the Tanzimat, effectively transformed the Ottoman state from a dynasty ruled by an eclectic mix of sharia law for Muslims, religious law for non Muslims, customary laws and privileges and autocratic decrees, into something approximating the idea of a modern European state.

This period of reform culminated in 1876 with the promulgation of a constitution, written mainly by western-educated intellectuals and bureaucrats known as the 'Young Ottomans'. They were fired by the ideals of liberal democracy and bent on establishing a new identity and focus for the empire's hugely mixed population: the idea of Ottomanism. The Young Ottomans engineered a coup that eventually led to the enthronement of a scion of the ruling Ottoman family, 'Abd al-Hamid, who was proclaimed sultan. 'Abd al-Hamid agreed to rule as a constitutional monarch and the first elected parliament of the Ottoman era was called into being. It met twice, in 1877 and 1878, coinciding with the disastrous Russo-Turkish war. At its second session in 1878, 'Abd al-Hamid initially suspended, and then entirely prorogued, it. He subsequently ruled as an autocrat for three decades. His long reign had a profound effect on the course of the Ottoman Empire and its Arab provinces, and loomed over the life of the young Faisal. Nearing the end of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire had reached a quasi equilibrium, balancing its diverse ethnic and religious groups and managing to fend off the continuing dismemberment of its non-European territories. But this was to be short-lived.

The sharifs of the Hijaz

The Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire had languished in the centuries that proceeded the era of reforms. The exercise of Ottoman central authority was minimal and a variety of local dynasties or powerful governors ruled, under the nominal authority of the sultan. This provision applied to the Hijaz, the province in which Faisal was born. The Hijaz is the name given to the western parts of the Arabian Peninsula, stretching from the Gulf of Aqaba in the north to the Yemen foothills in the south, and from the Nejd plateau in the east to the Red Sea in the west. The word 'Hijaz' derives from the word meaning 'barrier' in Arabic, and refers to the string of mountains that stretch along the spine of this land. West of these mountains lie the lowlands of the Tihama, in which are the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Torrid heat, scant rainfall and an inhospitable terrain had made the Hijaz a place of sparse settlement. Agriculture was only possible in a few oasis towns, and a large part of the population was composed of Bedouin tribes, ever on the move for pasture for their livestock.

The population of the Hijaz in the mid-nineteenth century probably did not exceed one million, with the city of Mecca accounting for about 100,000 people, followed by Medina, 60,000, and the port of Jeddah with about 50,000. A significant number of the residents of the cities were foreign born, drawn to the Hijaz by the pilgrimage trade and the presence of the two holy cities. In fact, the life, culture and history of the towns of the Hijaz are inexorably linked to the course of Islam and its origins in the towns, oases, valleys and deserts of the region – the places where the Prophet Muhammad received his revelations, delivered his message, and lived his life. It was in Mecca that Islam's holiest shrine, the Ka'aba, was to be found, towards which Muslims around the world direct their daily prayers. Once in their lifetime, believing Muslims are obligated, if able, to conduct a pilgrimage to Mecca. And it is in Medina that the Prophet Muhammad established his first community of Muslims and where he is buried.

The pilgrimage traffic was the main economic activity of the area well into the twentieth century, and the control, management and safeguarding of pilgrims became the main concern of all the authorities that governed the Hijaz. Supplying the pilgrims with food, accommodation, transport and guides was the foundation of the Hijazi economy, and there were generous subsidies provided by the empires and dynasties that controlled the destiny of the Hijaz, for the upkeep of holy places and in support of the pilgrimage traffic. Foreignborn traders and merchants were also attracted to the area by the large throngs of pilgrims, and many stayed on as permanent residents of the towns of the region. Control over the area was a matter of honour and prestige, providing a profound source of legitimacy for the Ottoman Empire, probably more important for it than for its predecessors, given its non-Arab provenance. But before such control could be established, the Ottomans had to contend with the presence of a powerful local dynasty, the sharifs of Mecca, whose authority over Mecca and the surrounding tribes had been established for centuries.

The sharifs of Mecca were direct lineal descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima, her husband Ali (the Prophet's cousin as well as son-in-law) and her eldest son Hassan. The title, sharif (singular, ashraf plural) means 'noble' or 'honourable', in recognition of the holder's connection to the household of the Prophet. The Islamic empire that grew after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE covered vast stretches of the known world. It was first centred on Damascus, but under the Abbasid dynasty the capital moved to Baghdad. Inevitably, central authority over this huge territory weakened, thus allowing local dynasties and warlords to emerge. In the Hijaz, Qatada, a sharif from the Yanbu' area seized power in Mecca in 1200. He established the line of the Banu Qatada who continued to rule Mecca and its dependencies until the twentieth century. Their authority was consolidated by the long reign of one of Qatada's descendants, his great grandson, the energetic and stern Abu Numayy (1254–1301). Until the Ottoman ascendancy in the sixteenth century, the Hijaz was often the centre of complex manoeuvrings between the reigning powers of the time. The one constant was the Mamluk dynasty in Egypt (1250–1517) which frequently intervened in the internal affairs of Mecca, not only in support of one faction of sharifs over another, but also to ensure that their regional rivals did not obtain a permanent foothold in the Hijaz. When the Ottomans destroyed Mamluk power in Egypt in 1517, and assumed the latter's role as suzerains over Mecca and the Hijaz, the ruling amir in Mecca, Barakat ibn Muhammad (1497–1525), acknowledged the Ottoman suzerainty over the Hijaz.

The Ottomans confirmed the sharifs as the rulers of Mecca and afforded them wide latitude in the conduct of their internal affairs. Their two main requirements were that the name of the Ottoman sultan be mentioned in the Friday congregational prayers, and that the annual pilgrimage traffic be adequately protected from brigands and marauding tribes. The Ottomans even assisted the sharifs in extending the range of their authority to cover nearly all the Hijaz. Even so, the Ottomans did appoint a mufti (religious official) to Mecca, as well as a governor for the district of Jeddah. Apart from these overt symbols of Ottoman presence, however, the sharifs were virtually autonomous in their rule, to the extent that the Bedouins and townsmen of the Hijaz recognised no other authority. The sharifian family nevertheless often splintered into warring factions as one or other sought supremacy, and three different clans emerged that contested for power. These were known as the dhawi (clan of) Zaid, the dhawi (clan of) Barakat and the 'Abadilla, vying between and within themselves for power, while still maintaining a degree of reciprocal protection so that the amirate did not slip away from the overall control of the descendants of Qatada.

By the late eighteenth century, sharifian power was stable and extended along most of the Arabian littoral of the Red Sea as far south as Yemen. They were a force to be reckoned with, but were still not yet in a position to sever their ties to the Sublime Porte – the seat of Ottoman government in Istanbul – completely. One of the enduring characteristics of the sharifs was that their life was simple, and their rule was largely in harmony with their surroundings. They did not live lives of lavish opulence, as did other eastern rulers, and kept close to the tribes and townsmen of their territories. They maintained a personal guard of slaves, servants and freedmen, and a contingent of mercenaries to keep the peace and enforce their writ in Mecca, while relying more on the adroitness of their dealings with the tribes to maintain countrywide order.

However, the mid-eighteenth century saw the rise of the Wahhabis, followers of a literal and puritanical version of Islam. They emerged out of Nejd, the desert plateau that covered most of central Arabia and directly threatened the rule of the sharifs of Mecca. In the early parts of the nineteenth century, the Wahhabis turned their attention to the Hijaz. In 1803 they occupied Mecca and in 1805 Medina. In 1807 they ordered all the remaining representatives of the Ottomans to quit the Hijaz and effectively took over the entire province. The Wahhabi state that was established in the Hijaz was built on a creed that was considered heretical by most Muslims. It stretched right to the frontiers of Syria, and was a serious embarrassment and potential threat to the Ottomans. But the empire did not have the means to undertake the difficult and expensive operation required to dislodge the Wahhabis from the holy cities and destroy their power in their Nejd stronghold. In 1809, the Ottoman sultan turned to his nominal client the governor of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, to undertake the task on behalf of the Ottoman state. Muhammad Ali landed his troops in the port of Yanbu' on the Red Sea, and in 1818 his son Ibrahim captured the Wahhabi stronghold at Dar'iya. Muhammad Ali's control over the Hijaz was now complete and the Amirate of Mecca was in his power to bestow. In 1827 Muhammad Ali appointed Muhammad ibn 'Awn, of the dhawi 'Awn to the sharifate. This was the beginning of the sharifate of the clan to which Faisal belonged.

Muhammad Ali's tenure as lord over the Hijaz ended in 1840 when the Egyptian army that buttressed his power was withdrawn to meet other, altogether more serious, duties. An Anglo-Austrian fleet had assembled to threaten Muhammad Ali and his ambitions to become a power independent of the Ottoman Empire. The Hijaz once again came under Ottoman dominion, but this time the Ottomans were determined to curtail the powers of the sharifs and exert their own authority through their appointed governors. The restoration of Ottoman power and formal authority over the Hijaz coincided with the period of the Tanzimat. The Ottomans were bent on introducing the new patterns of administration into all their provinces and to draw the provinces more tightly into a centralised state. The sharifs, however, could counterbalance the new supremacy of the Ottoman state in the Hijaz by recourse to the sultan-caliph in Istanbul, to whom they owed their primary loyalty. The ensuing struggle between sharifs and governors see-sawed over the latter half of the nineteenth century and became a permanent feature of the politics of the Hijaz until the outbreak of the Arab Revolt in 1916.

Arabs in the empire

The accession of 'Abd al-Hamid to the sultanate in 1876 coincided with the end of a disastrous war in the Balkans in which the Ottoman Empire lost huge tracts of territory to the newly established states in Romania, Serbia and Montenegro. Bulgaria also achieved quasi-independent status. These Slavic states were backed by the military power of a belligerent and expansionist Russia, determined to extract the maximum advantage from a weakening Ottoman empire. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, the independence of the three Balkan states was confirmed. The loss of the mostly Christian Balkan territories shifted the population balance of the Ottoman Empire further towards the Muslims, and a determined effort was made by the new sultan to build on the continuing loyalty of his Muslim subjects to the Islamic identity of the empire. Nationalist sentiments amongst the Muslim population of the empire in that period hardly existed, and were only exhibited by a very small band of intellectuals and literary figures. There were still large Muslim populations remaining in the Balkan areas under the control of the Porte, in Albania, Macedonia and Bosnia, but the bulk of the empire's Muslim populations resided in Turkey proper or in the Arab lands of the empire. It was towards these groups that Sultan 'Abd al-Hamid directed his new policies. They were the best internal defences against the creeping ambitions of the great powers.

'Abd al-Hamid built his new policies on three essential pillars. The first was a strong authoritarian and centralised state under his immediate supervision, enhancing the empire's identity as an Islamic power. The second was the protection of Muslim interests, which would be achieved by building on the religious symbolism of the functions of the sultan as caliph, and by propounding the idea of pan-Islam, or Islamic unity, as a counterweight to nationalism. His third aim was to promote economic and technological modernisation and the development of a key transport and communications infrastructure that would bind the empire's core provinces together. The remaining Arab provinces of the empire therefore became crucial to the plans of 'Abd al-Hamid. In North Africa, the territories of Algeria and Tunisia had already been lost to the French – the former in 1832, the latter in 1881 when France forcibly imposed a protectorate – leaving the vast desert lands of Libya, lying between Egypt and the French dominion in North Africa, as the only remaining Ottoman province in that region. Egypt had already slipped out of the Porte's control with the rise of Muhammad Ali, and with the establishment of the British presence there in 1882 it became a colony in all but name. It was only remotely and nominally connected to the empire. The Arab provinces of the Near East, especially those of the Fertile Crescent – Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq – consequently became the centrepiece of the empire's newly found interest in Arab territories. Governors sent to these provinces were graded higher on the Ottoman bureaucratic register with commensurately higher salaries. Larger military units were posted to the Arab territories and garrisons were strengthened with new fortifications. The Arab role in the propagation of Islam was stressed, and 'Abd al-Hamid appropriated this legacy to strengthen the Ottomans' claim to the caliphate.

There were only very faint stirrings of separatist consciousness amongst the Arab Muslims of the empire. These were, if anything, aimed at improving the circumstances of Arabs within the empire, and linked to achieving greater opportunities for Arabs in the bureaucracy and military institutions of the Ottoman state. The greater power and wealth of notable families in the Arab provincial cities at the beginning of the Hamidian era were partly owing to land laws, which made some of them exceedingly wealthy. This class was more inclined to assimilate within the structures of the empire, and many sent their sons to the burgeoning modern schools in Istanbul and to its military and civil administration training academies.

It was during this time of imperialist expansion, desperate Ottoman consolidation, the beginnings of nationalism, pan-Islam and religious reform, as well as radical economic and social change, that Sharif Faisal ibn Hussein ibn Ali ibn Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Mo'in ibn 'Awn was born.

Excerpted from FAISAL I OF IRAQ by Ali A. Allawi. Copyright © 2014 Ali A. Allawi. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ix

List of Illustrations xii

List of Maps xiv

Key Personalities xv

Chronology of Events xviii

Prologue - September, 1933: Death of a King xx

Part I An Empire Disintegrates: The Ottoman Era (1833-1914)

1 From the Desert to the Metropolis 3

2 Return to Mecca 21

3 Prelude to War 31

Part II Breaking the Bonds: The First World War and the Arab Revolt (1914-1918)

4 The Road to the Rising 43

5 The Arab Revolt I: Consolidating the Revolt 70

6 The Arab Revolt II: Breaking Out 87

7 The Arab Revolt III: Railroad War 107

8 To Damascus! 124

Part III A Shattered Dream: Syria and the Paris Peace Conference (1918-1921)

9 The Rudiments of a State 151

10 First Footsteps in Europe 174

11 At the Paris Peace Conference I 192

12 At the Paris Peace Conference II 210

13 The Struggle for Syria 229

14 The Collapse of the Kingdom of Syria 258

15 Adrift 295

16 A King in Waiting 314

Part IV A New Beginning: Iraq (1921-1933)

17 From Mesopotamia to Iraq 339

18 King of Iraq 361

19 Faisal, Cox and the Fuse of the Opposition 382

20 The Rebellion of the Ayatollahs 410

21 Assemblies, Treaties, Constitutions 433

22 Oil and the Mosul Question 450

23 Struggling to Break Free 471

24 Towards Independence 488

25 Vindication at Last 515

26 A Calamitous End 534

Epilogue: Faisal the Great 561

Notes 563

Index 606

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Faisal I of Iraq 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
ZilGamur More than 1 year ago
This is a very fine book. A lot of excellent information, fascinating portraits of key individuals, and all very nicely written. Enjoy!
XX More than 1 year ago
Ali A. Allawi’s contribution to history is the interpretation of Arabic documents from the era. He has presented a vivid story of the life of Faisal I of Iraq from cradle to grave. The book will enlighten the reader to better understand this part of the world. Ali A. Allawi is a wonderful story teller!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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