Britain, the Hashemites, and Arab Rule, 1920-1925: The Sherifian Solution

Britain, the Hashemites, and Arab Rule, 1920-1925: The Sherifian Solution

Britain, the Hashemites, and Arab Rule, 1920-1925: The Sherifian Solution

Britain, the Hashemites, and Arab Rule, 1920-1925: The Sherifian Solution


Timothy Paris examines Winston Churchill's involvement in the struggle for power in a number of Middle Eastern countries between 1920 and 1925. His study traces the development of the Sherifian policy, a policy that was devised by the British and paid scant regard to the wishes of indigenous populations.


Eighty years ago in the aftermath of the First World War, the Great Powers of the time, with the British government in the vanguard, redrew the map of the Arab Middle East and settled Hashemite rulers in Iraq and Transjordan. This subdivision of the former Asiatic provinces of the Ottoman Empire, with the creation of French Mandates in Syria and Lebanon and British Mandates in Iraq, Transjordan and Palestine, was then given the imprimatur of the League of Nations with the commitment of the Mandatory power in Palestine to favour the creation of a Jewish National Home.

Now, at the start of the twenty-first century, the Powers, with the United States at their head, are again engaged in determining the map of the Middle East and what regimes should prevail there. As they assess the alternatives, Western policy makers and their advisers would do well to remember lessons from the past. Tim Paris' study of how British policy was made and imposed on the region is authoritative, persuasive and chilling.

British policy, as this study emphasizes, was developed for the territories involved with little attention paid to the wishes of the indigenous population. It was an imperial policy. If this has resonance in 2003 so does much else in the story. Policy was driven by politicians who, Curzon apart, were singularly ignorant of the region, and Curzon was ineffectual. It was forced through, despite deep internal divisions in London, largely because of the ability of the charismatic T.E. Lawrence to enlist Churchill's commitment to the Hashemite cause and Lawrence's ruthless use of the press to discredit opposition. Then as now there was the judgement that no leadership existed worthy of the name in Iraq itself. Then also Transjordan (now Jordan, but once again confined to the East Bank) was necessary not for its own value but as a buffer for Palestine. Perhaps only the economic context is changed: British policy was hamstrung by the Treasury and the need to cut post-war military expenditure.

Perverse processes do not necessarily produce bad results. On the whole the boundaries have remained more or less intact. the Hejaz, and with it the Hashemite kingdom there, was overrun within half a dozen years by the House of Saud, but in Jordan both the boundaries and the rule of Abdullah

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