File No. 763.72119/1740

Report of the Special Agent at Cairo ( Yale)

Report No. 17

The Growing Discontent among the Arabs; Reasons for this Discontent

In 1915 Emir Faisal, the son of the King of the Hedjaz who is now leading the Arab forces at Akabah, was in Damascus. He was in constant communication with the Moslem Arab leaders in Damascus, who were bitterly opposed to the Turks and wished to free themselves from the Ottoman yoke. Arab leaders and sheikhs from the important tribes and groups in Syria from the East Jordan, Hauran and other regions secretly visited Emir Faisal and the Damascus leaders, and pledged themselves to aid and support an Arab revolt, if such should be started by the Cherif of Mecca.

[Page 242]

At this time the Arabs affirm that they received a telegram (a copy and translation of which it is hoped will later be obtained) from Cherif Houssain stating that he had received the requisite supply of rifles, cannon, ammunition, provisions and gold and that the Arabs had been promised their independence if they joined in with the Allies. On the strength of this telegram the Arab leaders in Syria were pledged to the cause of the Cherif; and Emir Faisal with several of the Damascus leaders fled to the Hedjaz. On June 5, 1916, the revolt of the Arabs against the Turks began under the leadership of the Cherif of Mecca and his four sons.

Many of the Arabian sheikhs were won over to the cause of the Cherif, Syrian officers and soldiers offered their services to the King of the Hedjaz, and through prisoners of the British taken from the Turks they were organized and trained to cooperate with the forces of the Cherif and his four sons. A propaganda in favor of the Arabs was spread among the Arab tribes in the East Jordan regions, in the Hauran, in the Irak and among the Arabs of Syria.

Up to this time no public announcement was made of the policy of the Allies towards the Arabs; but the Arabs were fighting for the deliverance of their people from the Turks and with the hope [of] independence, partial or entire, in their hearts.

During the summer of 1917 the secret treaties between England, Russia and France were found and published at Petrogad.1 And it became known that by these agreements France was to be given Syria, Palestine was to be made international, and Great Britain was to have Mesopotamia and the Irak and to hold the Syrian ports of Haifa and Acre.

British and French statesmen made no definite statements about the future of Syria, Mesopotamia and the Arabs; but public declarations were made to the effect that neither Great Britain nor France was waging a war of conquest and annexation, and that they endorsed the principle of the right of small nationalities to an existence of their own.

The Turks began to change their policy; Djemal Pasha visited Berlin and returned to Syria, Abbas Hilmi, ex-Khedive of Egypt, was brought to Syria, and a pro-Arab, Pan-Islamic propaganda was inaugurated. (See Report No. 11 of January 21.2)

On November 11, 1917, Mr. Balfour made his now famous declaration to the Zionists, and shortly afterwards the southern part of Palestine and the city of Jerusalem fell into the hands of the British. This supplied the Turks with more material for their propaganda, by which they are trying to stir up the Arabs in Mesopotamia, in the Irak, in Syria, the Hauran and East Jordan regions, and even [Page 243] in Arabia. (See Report No. 11: Letters of Djemal Pasha to Emir Faisal and Cherif Houssain.1) The Turks point out that the first step taken by the Allies after conquering southern Palestine was to give it, an Arab country, to the Jews; and they, the Turks, insist that England and France are fighting Turkey only to seize Mesopotamia and Syria for themselves and not for the Arabs.

On December 23, 1917, Sir Mark Sykes, a special delegate of the British Government (whose activities have been mentioned in several previous reports), made the following statements in a speech delivered before the Central Syrian Committee at Paris:

Great Britain and France are at one in their politics in regard to all that concerns the non-Turkish elements of the Ottoman Empire.
There exists no divergence or dispute between the two countries.
Jerusalem, Bagdad, Bassorah have been delivered from the Turks, and if the Turks are unable to retake them by force of arms they shall never have them by treaty.
The Arabs have brought to a successful conclusion the independence of the Hedjaz, and the least that can be said is that they are able to maintain their position. …2
Point 4, the independence of the Hedjaz, is also of real importance; the accomplished fact of the independence of the Hedjaz renders it almost impossible that an effective and real autonomy should be refused to Syria. …2

The Turks are still the masters of Syria.
The Syrians are not united. Make no mistake, Europe will not continue the war for the sole purpose of giving Syria her independence. And by this I wish to say that if when the war ends the Turks are still in Damascus and Beyrouth and you Syrians being still divided among yourselves into many parties following your ancient races and religions, I would despair of obtaining for you more than reforms on paper. …2
Get together, unite, and you will become a powerful political force and if you desire a program, I would not know how to dictate it to you, it is the circumstances which will write it.
First of all it is necessary to do away absolutely with the negative Turkish regime: that which by unanimous opinion is intolerable in Armenia, is equally intolerable in Syria.
You must desire that France give you her indispensable assistance, which a people for long time oppressed has need of before it can walk alone; you must demand guarantees of the civilized powers of the world that you be not again submitted to Turkish domination, which has reduced you to poverty and discord.

A translation from the French of the entire speech1 of Sir Mark Sykes is attached to this report.

M. Jean Gout, Minister Plenipotentiary, representing the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, made a speech after Sir Mark Sykes, from which the following is quoted: [Page 244]

Putting aside all idea of colonial domination, the two Allies are resolved, each in its sphere of action, to guide the population which speaks Arabic, and those who speak all other languages, who inhabit the region which extends from the Anatolian mountains to the Indian Ocean (the sea of the Indies) towards a regime of autonomy and civilized development, in a mutual respect of the religious beliefs and nationalities. A guide towards a better future, an arbitrator between religious and ethnical groups, a friendly advisor of civilization; such is the role that France and Great Britain are ready to assume, one in the north, the other in the south.

The entire text of the speech of M. Jean Gout1 is attached to this report.

Not only are the Syrian Arabs in Egypt greatly upset by this news and declare that it means the division of the Arab provinces between France and Great Britain, but they claim that the Arabs of Syria, east of the Jordan, in the Hauran and throughout Syria, worked upon by the Turks, who it is reported have promised the Arab provinces autonomy and are returning Arab exiles to Syria, are losing faith in the Allies and are unwilling to cooperate with them.

They claim that, unless a clearer, less ambiguous statement be made by the Allies in regard to the future of Syria and Mesopotamia, the Arab tribes of the Irak and the Arabs of Syria as well as many of the tribes in Arabia will be lost to the cause of the Allies and of the King of the Hedjaz.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

William Yale
  1. See Foreign Relations, 1917, Supplement 2, vol. I, pp. 493507.
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  4. Punctuation as in the original.
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