During the First World War, Allied forces invaded the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire and occupied those lands. This raised the question of what to do with these territories after the war. Would they be returned to the Ottoman Empire? Would they be simply added to the colonial empires of Britain and France? Or would they become independent Arab states?
The following documents illustrate the diversity of opinions among various groups planning the postwar settlement: Great Britain concerned with maintaining its empire; the United States, basing its policies on Wilson’s lofty principles; and the League of Nations and its efforts to create a post-war world; and Arab representatives from the Middle East seeking self-determination.
Instructions: Read each of the following documents. Answer the single question that follows each document. Answer the final question at the end of the document.
Document 1: Hussein-McMahon correspondence
During World War 1, Great Britain wanted to enlist the support of Arab colonies of the Ottoman Empire, encouraging them to revolt against their Turkish rulers (the Ottoman Empire was based in Turkey at this time). Beginning in the summer of 1915, Sir Henry McMahon (1862-1949), British High Commissioner in Cairo, exchanged letters with Hussein Ibn Ali (1853/54-1931), the Sherif of Mecca. These letters became known as “The Hussein-McMahon Correspondence.” After several months of exchanges about the borders of the proposed Arab state, McMahon agreed to support Hussein’s request for Arab independence in exchange for Arab support against the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
NOTE: The maps that accompany this document were not part of the original correspondence; they represent the request that Hussein made and the response that McMahon provided. What precisely was promised later became the subject of great debate.
From Sir Henry McMahon, 24 October 1915
I have received your letter of the 29th Shawal, 1333 [September 29, 1915 in the Islamic calendar], with much pleasure and your expressions of friendliness and sincerity have given me the greatest satisfaction…
I am empowered in the name of the Government of Great Britain to give the following assurances and make the following reply to your letter:
- Subject to the above modifications, Great Britain is prepared to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs in all the regions within the limits demanded by the Sherif of Mecca.
- When the situation admits, Great Britain will give to the Arabs her advice and will assist them to establish what may appear to be the most suitable forms of government in those various territories.
- On the other hand, it is understood that the Arabs have decided to seek the advice and guidance of Great Britain only, and that such European advisers and officials as may be required for the formation of a sound form of administration will be British….
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