The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism

The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism

The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism

The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism


"Anyone wishing to understand Syrian history or learn something of value about nascent Arab nationalism will profit from this book. - The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences "I am convinced that Provence's book will be a significant contribution to the literature on popular rebellions in the Arab world." - Philip S. Khoury, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 1920-1945

The Great Syrian Revolt of 1925 was the largest and longest-lasting anti-colonial insurgency in the inter-war Arab East. Mobilizing peasants, workers, and army veterans, rather than urban elites and nationalist intellectuals, it was the first mass movement against colonial rule in the Middle East. The revolt failed to liberate Syria from French occupation, but it provided a model of popular nationalism and resistance that remains potent in the Middle East today. Each subsequent Arab uprising against foreign rule has repeated the language and tactics of the Great Syrian Revolt. In this work, Michael Provence uses newly released secret colonial intelligence sources, neglected memoirs, and popular memory to tell the story of the revolt from the perspective of its participants. He shows how Ottoman-subsidized military education created a generation of leaders of modest background who came to rebel against both the French Mandate rulers of Syria and the Syrian intellectuals and landowners who helped the colonial regime to function. This new popular nationalism was unprecedented in the Arab world. Provence shows compellingly that the Great Syrian Revolt was a formative event in shaping the modern Middle East.


The Jebel Druse is a country of great feudal chiefs, whose efforts are directed to preserving the powers by which they live. What we call progress means in their eyes the loss of their privileges and later on perhaps the partition of their lands. With regard to the inhabitants, who are ignorant or unmindful of any better fate, they are deeply rooted in their serfdom and are as conservative as their masters. They have no aspirations for a system of greater social justice nor [sic] for a better communal life.

Testimony to the League of Nations Permanent Mandates Commission investigating the Syrian Revolt, Geneva, 1926

Syrians, remember your forefathers, your history, your heroes, your martyrs, and your national honor. Remember that the hand of God is with us and that the will of the people is the will of God. Remember that civilized nations that are united cannot be destroyed.

The imperialists have stolen what is yours. They have laid hands on the very sources of your wealth and raised barriers and divided your indivisible homeland. They have separated the nation into religious sects and states. They have strangled freedom of religion, thought, conscience, speech, and action. We are no longer even allowed to move about freely in our own country.

To arms! Let us realize our national aspirations and sacred hopes.

To arms! Confirm the supremacy of the people and the freedom of the nation.

To arms! Let us free our country from bondage.

Excerpt from a rebel manifesto signed by Sulṭân al-Aṭrash and issued on 23 August 1925

In late July 1922 a small group of men waited in the shade of a tree alongside a lonely road in rural southern Syria. Syria was a new country in 1922. The victorious European powers had carved it out of the defeated Ottoman Empire in the wake of the First World War in 1918. Less than two years . . .

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