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France, Syrie et Liban 1918-1946

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Nadine Méouchy

Troisième partie. Les mobilisations populaires : acteurs, enjeux

An investigation into the local origins of the great revolt

Michael Provence

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1In the summer of 1925 Syria erupted in revolt against French mandatory rule. Contrary to all the expectations of the mandatory power, the revolt began in an apparently remote and supposedly backward rural region. The revolt quickly spread to the capital, Damascus, and came to include most regions and social strata of mandatory Syria, rural and urban. The mandatory power had intentionally separated the rural regions from the cities by the creation of internal borders and autonomous “statelets”. It sought to isolate the countryside from the urban contagion of nationalist agitation. No one expected nationalist agitation to move in the opposite direction. How did the agrarian society of inland central Syria provide the spark for widespread nationalist revolt? Whose nationalism was it?

  • 3 Général Charles Andréa, La révolte druze et l’insurrection de Damas, 1925-1926, Paris, 1937, p. 39 (...)
  • 4 Some scholars, most recently Birgit Schaebler, have argued forcefully for a hierarchical Druze soc (...)

2Mandate authorities failed to comprehend the depth and significance of the connections between regions, classes, and sectarian groups in Syria. They sought to divide and govern mandatory Syria along a series of supposedly timeless sectarian and geographical divisions. They identified all of Syrian rural society as feudal and exploitative with resulting deep, but ill-defined, class cleavages.3 The notion of feudal domination fails to account for the rise of rebel solidarity between supposed lords and serfs, and likewise fails to explain the revolt’s urban appeal. How and why did people whom the French viewed as exploited and exploiter join together to resist their self-appointed liberators?4 Social and economic relations that the mandate authorities, and many subsequent scholars, believed separated rural people from one another and from urban populations, seem actually to have brought them together. What were these relations and how did they work?

3This paper is a small part of a larger work in progress. It does not seek to re-represent the story of the revolt from the elite perspective of the urban nationalists or the French authorities, but to understand the perspective of the rural masses who made up the majority of the rebels. Accordingly, it is an investigation of elementary aspects of rural society in the region south of Damascus. This study consists of two interrelated inquiries and offers two interrelated central points. First, I will examine economic and social relations in the rural centers of the revolt. Second, I will examine the initial mobilization of the inhabitants of the Jabal Druze and the role of political leadership and nationalist politics in their mobilization.

4Each inquiry is dependent upon the other. The investigation into economic and social relations centers around landholding, labor, and agricultural production. This section argues that feudalism, however defined, played no role in the uprising. Economic and social relations in the Jabal Druze were not characterized by anything resembling feudalism, and the pervasive recourse to timeless essentialisms like feudalism, tribalism, and sectarianism as operative agents in the revolt serve only to obscure and render incomprehensible the many clear, and comprehensible motivations behind the uprising. Indeed, the very lack of systematic indigenous oppression and the relatively secure position of the peasants of the region provided a basic condition for solidarity in rebellion.

5The second inquiry centers around domination, submission, community solidarity, and the role of leadership. It focuses on the mobilization of rural society, and is thus intimately bound up with questions of land and economic independence treated in the first inquiry. The role of leadership in the uprising is important. This section will examine the role of Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, who led the Revolt and mobilized the Jabal Druze. The principal argument of this section is that the often-repeated rigid divide between local and national uprising serves to obscure the political consciousness and motivations of at least some of the rebels. Sultan al-Atrash and some of the people aligned with him were thinking in supra-local, nationalist terms long before 1925. While the Great Revolt began with the Druze, it also began with more than local independence and local power struggles at stake.

6It is also appropriate to mention what this paper will not do. This paper does not focus on tribal or sectarian social organization or the power struggles often claimed to be inherent in such systems. It is not principally concerned with local sectarian politics or local power struggles, though admittedly this is part of the story of the revolt. Numerous books and articles, starting with the memoirs and correspondence of the French military officers involved, have explained events in 1925 by recourse to feudalism, tribalism, and sectarianism. This study seeks the roots of rebel consciousness in other more quantifiable, and perhaps less essentialist, elements of rural society.

  • 5 Birgit Shaebler has published a critical review of some of the Arabic secondary works dealing with (...)
  • 6 Philip S. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, Princeton, 1987. (...)
  • 7 Hanna Batatu, Syria’s Peasantry, the Descendants of its Lesser Rural Notables, and their Politics, (...)
  • 8 See his al-’Ammiyya wa al-intifadat al-fallahiyya (1850-1918) fi Jabal Hawran, Damascus, 1990, and(...)

7There is no shortage of books about the Great Revolt. It was a seminal, albeit contested, event in the Syrian national narrative, and secondary works in Arabic are numerous, although with the exception of Hasan Amin al-Bi’ayni, few have appeared in the past thirty years.5 Works in other languages have dealt with the Revolt in some detail as well. With few exceptions, however, these works deal with the uprising from the perspective of elite politics. Philip Khoury has treated some issues of social history in his comprehensive history of mandate Syria between 1920 and 1945.6 Hanna Batatu has published an illuminating history of post-independence Syrian politics. His book treats in detail the socio-economic conditions of the peasantry and the emergence of peasant politics. He provides a model, not utilized in this study, for explaining some aspects of peasant resistance. Other scholars have made important contributions also.7 Still, with the notable exception of ‘Abdallah Hanna,8 the confluence of agrarian social history and rebellion has received little attention compared with South Asia and Europe.

  • 9 Ranajit Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, Delhi, 1983, p. 14.
  • 10 See for example Engin Deniz Akarli, Some Ottoman Documents on Jordan: Ottoman Criteria for the Cho (...)

8There is likewise no shortage of primary source materials on which to draw, though they are mostly elite sources. Witnesses to the events wrote numerous memoirs and the French and British diplomatic and military archives and the League of Nations archives are vast. As Ranajit Guha has written of the British in India, “this was a measure of their concern to watch and record every hostile gesture among the rural masses. They simply had too much to lose, and fear which haunts all authority based on force made careful archivists of them.”9 There are other valuable sources that this study will not utilize. The press, land tenure records, and archival sources have been used by other scholars to yield extraordinarily suggestive results.10 As this project progresses these sources will move to the forefront of my inquiries. At this stage, however, the study relies mostly upon diplomatic sources, published documents, memoirs, and published economic statistics.

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RELATIONS IN RURAL SOUTHERN SYRIA

  • 11 Albert Khuri, “Agriculture”, in Said B. Himadeh, (ed.), The Economic Organization of Syria, Beirut (...)

9The revolt began in mid-summer 1925 in the Jabal Druze in the southeastern corner of the country. The economy of the region was based entirely on agriculture and the harvest that summer was extraordinarily poor. The principal crops in the Jabal Druze were olives and grapes on the hillsides, and wheat and barley on terraced plots and on the flat lands. Wheat was and is the most important crop throughout Syria. In the Hawran, the fertile plain from which the Jabal Druze rises, and where much of the revolt was fought, wheat was crucial. Countrywide, wheat accounted for half the land under cultivation.11

  • 12 Hanna Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, Cairo, 1925, reprinted Beirut, 1961, p. 35-37.
  • 13 Khuri, “Agriculture”, Tables II and III, p. 78. The years 1914 through 1921 are not reported and t (...)

10The Hawran and Jabal Druze is a region of rain-fed agriculture and surface and ground water is scarce.12 Agricultural statistics show that though the cultivated area remained constant, crop yields declined steadily from the beginning of the mandate in 1921 until 1925.13 Several factors help explain the decline. First and most important is agricultural mismanagement and excessive taxation by the mandate authorities. The mandate was intended to be self-supporting and the authorities were under constant pressure to maximize agricultural tax revenues. There is little doubt that, at least in the twenties, peasants were squeezed harder and more effectively by the French than they had been by the Ottomans.

  • 14 FO 684/19/135. Smart to Chamberlain, 1 August 1925. In connection with the early stages of the rev (...)

11Drought was also important, but only explains the crop decline in 1924 and 1925. Although diplomatic sources repeatedly referred to severe drought in 1924-25, the recorded yields had dropped each year of the mandate.14 There was no drought in 1921, 1922, or 1923, and yet crop yields continued to fall. Clearly, drought exacerbated an already bleak situation. The agricultural situation was desperate and had been getting worse each year since the beginning of the mandate.

  • 15 PMC, Minutes of the eighth session, Van Rees to session, p. 125-6, and Weulersse, Paysans, p. 113- (...)

12Other evidence shows that the mandate authorities gravely misunderstood rural conditions in Syria. They constantly described the agrarian organization of the Jabal Druze as feudal, primitive, and retrograde, as demonstrated by testimony to the Permanent Mandates Commission after the revolt.15 The assumption, obvious in the actions of Capitaine Gabriel Carbillet, governor of the Jabal Druze, was that feudal lords controlled the land and virtually enslaved the Druze peasantry.

  • 16 Norman Lewis, Nomads and Settlers in Syria and Jordan, 1800-1980, Cambridge, 1987, p. 80-81. And S (...)
  • 17 FO 78/2985 "Report of a Journey made by Vice-Consul Jago, of Damascus, during May and June 1879", (...)
  • 18 Bi‘ayni, Jabal al-’arab, p. 65.
  • 19 Bi‘ayni, Jabal al-’arab, p. 65.

13The Jabal Druze was a frontier region of relatively recent settlement. Most of the Druze immigrants came during or after the civil war in Lebanon in 1860.16 At least until the turn of the century there was abundant land. A diplomatic report of 1879 claimed that only a quarter of the fertile land was settled and farmed in the Hawran. The rest served as pasture.17 Immigrants to the region and their descendants had hereditary rights to village shares on the plots they claimed. Peasants who had shares in land were called fallahin, while those without land shares were called falatiyya.18 Peasants without land worked as wage labor or sharecropped under a system called murabi’, in which they received one quarter of the yield in return for their labor without tenure rights of any kind. They were called murab’in. Sources claim that falatiyya peasants were a minority and because of their insecure social and economic position, were rarely involved in the periodic rebellions that characterized the area.19

  • 20 Mundy, “Shareholders and the State,” p. 230-1. Ya’kov Firestone, “The Land-Equalizing Musha’ Villa (...)
  • 21 Bi‘ayni, Jabal al-’arab, p. 34.

14Communal landholding, known as musha’, was widespread in southern Syria. The Ottoman authorities attempted to abolish this institution in the late nineteenth century, but it persisted and was most durable in the mountainous regions. Research on musha’ in what is today Jordan and Palestine shows that villagers were shareholders in the village agricultural land.20 Villagers held rights to the land communally, but they owned different numbers of shares, based on area, and shares could be traded, bought, and sold. Periodically, triennially in the case of the Jabal Druze, the land was redistributed, but the number of shares was constant. Land was usually distributed by lots and taxes were the collective responsibility of the village. After the uprising, or ‘amiyya of 1890, the village shaykh received 12.5 % of the communal land.21 The village shaykh generally worked his own land and hired wage labor to assist him. Villagers were not obligated to work his land by ties of servitude. As elsewhere, some land was held privately and not subject to distribution, but this was primarily land adjacent to the built up areas, otherwise known as mulk.

  • 22 Gerber, the Social Origins, p. 96.
  • 23 These statistics seem to originate from a report commissioned by the Syrian government and complet (...)

15The Ottoman Land Law of 1858 helped to encourage the formation of larger estates than had existed previously in Syria. This trend of larger estate formation at the expense of small holders continued relentlessly until the Ba’th regime’s land reforms of the early 1960s.22 And yet, data on landholding in the Jabal Druze and the nearby Hawran from the mid 1940s show that small holdings there were more prevalent than in any other area of Syria. Fully thirty-percent of the agricultural holdings in the Jabal Druze were under ten hectares. Eighty-eight percent of holdings were under one hundred hectares. It is likely that these holdings actually represented shares in co-owned land. These figures represent a time twenty years after the revolt. But the trend over this twenty-year period is clear: in all areas it was a time of consolidation of land holdings. Holdings in land got bigger, not smaller, throughout Syria. Thus there is little danger that extrapolating landholding figures from a later time will exaggerate the extent of smallholding in 1925. If anything, these figures understate the prevailing patterns at the time of the revolt. Twenty years after the revolt small holdings still vastly predominated in the Jabal.23

  • 24 Khoury, Syria and the French, p. 193.

16Without question there were big landlords in Syria. But they were not in the Jabal Druze and they did not generally live in villages adjoining their lands. The mandate authorities actively cultivated relationships with the big landlords that did exist. In this they were notably successful. Khoury writes that the big rural landlords and mukhtars (village heads) “willingly collaborated with the political agents of the Service des Renseignements because their economic and political interests so dictated. Both recognized a real need to suppress the revolt before it upset their bases of power in the countryside.”24

17The same landholding figures cited above from the mid-1940s show a majority, or near majority, percentage of holdings over one hundred hectares in Hama and Aleppo. Percentages of around thirty-five to forty - five prevailed in all other regions - with the exception of the Jabal Druze and the Hawran. The Hawran had an even larger percentage of small holdings than the Jabal Druze; fully ninety-three percent of holdings were under one hundred hectares. Rain-fed farming and a lack of surface or sub-surface water characterized both the Jabal Druze and the Hawran. Peasants planted at most two crops per year and were completely dependent on rainfall. It follows that a farm of ten hectares of rocky rain-fed land in the Jabal Druze was in no way equivalent in potential output to ten hectares of irrigated fields in the Ghuta near Damascus or in the Orontes river basin near Hama.

  • 25 Lincia Schatkowski Schilcher, “The Grain Economy of Late Ottoman Syria and the Issue of Large-Scal (...)
  • 26 Schilcher, “Violence in Rural Syria in the 1880s and 1890s: State Centralization, Rural Integratio (...)

18Farms in southern Syria were small, but this was because effective tenure rights were in the hands of the cultivators themselves. Linda Schilcher has argued that the commercial grain economy of southern Syria was based not on the private ownership of large estates, but on managerial consolidation. Damascene merchants consolidated and coordinated independent peasant production in villages near Damascus. The merchants acted as all-purpose commercial agents. “Commercial investors found it more profitable to invest in the peasants’ labor than in to invest in land.”25 Her research confirms that there was no landlord class in the Jabal Druze and Hawran, but it also shows that the triangle of commercial relations between urban merchant-contractors, rural shaykhs, and cultivators, was full of tension as each sought advantage through a series of armed revolts and shifting alliances.26 In time, this triangle of alliances and connections served as the conduit for nationalist ideas and for the spread of resistance between the countryside and the city.

19Contestation between rural and urban elements was constant throughout the 1870s, 80s and 90s, but by the end of the century the rural population had secured some measure of latitude in their relations with both urban commercial interests and the central government. Rural cultivators and their local leaders established durable trade relations with urban merchants. These new commercial ties transcended traditional alliances of sect and tribe and helped foster an independent and commercially oriented peasantry in the Hawran and the nearby Jabal Druze. These areas were the location of frequent revolt precisely because the people who lived there were not the most degraded and poverty-stricken among Syrian peasants. In part they revolted because they had an interest in their land and their livelihood that they sought to preserve or improve. They rebelled to protect their material and psychological investment in what was in reality, their land. Ultimately, they were willing to fight for their rights to other forms of self-determination as well.

20The Mandate authorities failed to comprehend the social system of rural southern Syria. They characterized Druze society as feudal and exploitative and sought to play off one segment of society against another. These efforts were doomed to failure because of a fundamental misidentification of class cleavages that did not exist. The mandate officers, influenced perhaps by French history and their understanding of European feudalism, found what they expected to find in Syria. They identified the consensual leaders of the Jabal Druze community, the so-called lords, as an oppressive landlord class, rather than as local intermediaries between the villagers and the urban merchants and government.

  • 27 See note 1 above.

21The feudal relationship cannot explain the coherence and ferociousness with which the Druze revolted. The contention that ignorant peasants failed to appreciate their true interests and merely followed their leaders, whose interests were threatened, denies all agency to the peasant-rebels. The irony is especially heavy when one considers that the same people who were “without aspirations for a system of greater social justice or a better communal life” were in a state of armed rebellion against the occupying power.27

COMMUNITY, SOLIDARITY AND LEADERSHIP

  • 28 FO 78/2985. “The Journey of Vice-Consul Jago,” p. 4.

“The peasantry, while apparently possessing an abundance of the simple necessities of life as raised by themselves from their fields and flocks, presented by their independent bearing, healthy and contented appearance, and the self-respect shown by their clean, homespun, but durable apparel, a marked contrast with the squalid and poverty-stricken villages of the plains... The mode of living of the chiefs presents but little difference to that of majority of the people, their riches and power being chiefly manifested by a superior quality of raiment, by the possession of fine horses, and by the retainers by whom they are surrounded.”28

  • 29 Bi‘ayni, Jabal al-’arab, p. 65.

22The peasants of the Jabal Druze lived better than peasants elsewhere in Syria. The majority of the inhabitants owned their own land.29 Diplomatic reports from the late nineteenth century claim that the cultivators of the Jabal Druze enjoyed a standard of living superior to that of peasants in the other regions surrounding Damascus. Certainly much changed between 1879 and 1925, but this report remains instructive for the social contrast between peasants and notables and between peasants elsewhere.

  • 30 FO 684/7/116. Smart to Chamberlain, 10 July 1925. British Consul Smart claimed that the majlis not (...)
  • 31 This was the liberal interpretation. Some blamed Carbillet for not explaining his reforms, while m (...)

23The common economic interests among the agrarian inhabitants of the Jabal Druze are clear. The prevalence of small landholdings demonstrates both the absence of a discrete absentee landowning class and the prevalence of interest in land among the bulk of the inhabitants. Few among the Druze benefited from mandate reforms such as the imposition of new taxes in the form of forced labor levees. Conversely, all had benefited from the customary Druze independence from central government and from the absence of taxes. Thus, the imposition of direct French control, taxation by forced labor, and subversion of traditional consensus government irritated all segments of Druze society, with the exception of a small segment of formerly marginalized collaborationist notables who made up the majlis under Carbillet.30 French reforms failed not because they were not explained to their natural constituency but precisely because they had no natural constituency.31 The inhabitants of the Jabal Druze had solidarity in opposition to mandatory rule.

  • 32 Guha, Aspects, p. 14, and Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcoloni (...)
  • 33 See FO 684/16 and 684/18/130,133. Smart to Chamberlain, 27 and 29 July 1925.

24Ranajit Guha wrote an entire book devoted to the topic of peasant consciousness in opposition to oppression in colonial India. He calls consciousness of solidarity in opposition “negative consciousness”.32 Guha claims that rebel consciousness is constituted in direct negative relation to the consciousness of the oppressor, in this case, the French. Elements identified by Guha are clearly visible and include the destruction of symbols of power and difference by the rebels. This may be found at the very beginning of the rebellion in the form of destruction of French garrisons, the pillage and burning of a few Christian villages, the destruction of new roadways, and the July 28th attack on the Hijaz railway.33 All of these actions are tactically logical quite apart from any theoretically symbolic explanation, and consequently they do not entirely justify theoretical arguments. Of course, they were probably both tactically logical and symbolically meaningful.

25Also useful is the notion of solidarity and community, emphasized by both Ranajit Guha and Partha Chatterjee.

  • 34 Chatterjee, Fragments, p. 163. He offers an explanation of how solidarity and community arises amo (...)

“Solidarities in bourgeois politics are built up through an aggregative process by which individuals come together into alliances on the basis of common interests. The process is quite the opposite in the consciousness of a rebellious peasantry. There solidarities do not grow because individuals feel they can come together with others on the basis of their common individual interests: on the contrary, individuals are enjoined to act within a collectivity because...bonds of solidarity that tie them together already exist. Collective action does not flow from a contract among individuals; rather individual identities themselves are derived from membership in the group.”34

26For the purposes of the Great Revolt, mandate policy mobilized an already coherent community solidarity. Community in the Jabal Druze flowed from several elements. Religion, kinship, and traditional ties of leadership were crucial in the early stages of the uprising. Additionally, there was a general commonality of economic interests since landholding was widespread and there was no landlord class. The region was a geographically unified separate entity with a tradition of independence that had been subverted by direct mandatory control. It was these bonds, intermixed with common desperation due to bad harvests, and frustration with mandate misrule, which made the inhabitants of southern Syria receptive to the idea of rebellion and receptive to new broader forms of communal, and national consciousness.

  • 35 See for example Juan R.I. Cole, Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East: Social and Cultural (...)

27Sultan al-Atrash led the revolt, but how did he become the leader and how important was his leadership? Social historians are sometimes more comfortable with social classes than with charismatic leadership. The impulse is often to view class coalitions and class solidarities as the operative agents in uprisings.35 Still, leadership is important. Sultan al-Atrash clearly led the revolt. He was able to mobilize the uprising in part because of bonds of community based on traditional Druze politics and social life. But other elements were important too. He embodied traditional warrior prestige and a new nationalist ideology.

28He had a semi-legendary record of success and heroism in struggles against the French and the Ottomans before them. He led the uprising by appealing directly to the cultivators of the Jabal and he seems to have attempted to preempt the opposition of other notables by mobilizing large numbers of peasants. His appeal was based on traditional symbols intermixed with the new language of nationalism.

  • 36 Salama ‘Ubayd, Al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra: 1925-1927 ‘ala daw’ watha’iq lam tunshar, Beirut, 19 (...)

29He had tried to raise a rebellion against the mandate before, only to have it fail for lack of support among the other Druze notables. In 1922 his appeal had gone mostly unheeded and his grievance had no bearing on Druze politics, though it had serious nationalist relevance. In June 1921, pro-Hashimite guerillas unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Governor-General Gouraud near Qunaytra. Among the conspirators was a guerilla band (‘isaba) leader and follower of Amir’ Abdallah named Adham Khanjar. He was a Shi’i from Jabal Amil in Lebanon and after the assassination attempt he fled to Transjordan. In July 1922 Adham was on his way with his band to blow up the electrical generating station in Damascus. They had trouble at the border and separated.36 Adham was arrested by French military troops in the al-Atrash village of Qrayya and taken to Suwayda’.

  • 37 Hanna Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, p. 180-181. He claims to have reproduced word for word “(bil-har (...)

30Adham never made it to Sultan’s house. But he claimed his protection and managed to dispatch a note to him. Sultan was absent when the message arrived. According to Druze custom, a visitor need only ask for asylum for his host to be obligated to protect the guest. Sultan returned the following morning and received the written message from Adham. “Now my life is in the hands of the French government. There is no hope for me without your help...»37

  • 38 Kais Firro, A History of the Druzes, Leiden, 1992, p. 266-7.

31Sultan al-Atrash wrote several letters to the French authorities and received negative replies. He sought to have Adham placed in his custody. The authorities were understandably unimpressed with his claim to Druze honor and tradition and asserted the primacy of law. They saw his defense of Adham as a gesture to Amir ‘Abdallah, who they claimed Adham worked for. Sultan attempted to use the matter of “honor breached” to rally the Jabal Druze behind him.38 The other notables refused to back him, and they may well have wondered why they should rise against the French when the issue had little to do with the Jabal Druze.

  • 39 Bi‘ayni, Jabal al-’arab, p. 302.

32Why would the Jabal Druze have been involved in a matter of pro-Hashimite Arab nationalism in a deliberate provocation of the French? It should not be a surprise that most of the other notables refused to support him. Sultan and perhaps those who followed him were thinking in nationalist terms. Even the most sympathetic chronicles confirm that he was searching for an excuse to rally the Druze against the French in 1922.39 It is likely that he and some of those who joined him were motivated by nationalist anti-imperialism.

  • 40 Bi‘ayni, drawing on Abi Rashid. identifies the place as Tal Hadid on the road to Damascus and says (...)
  • 41 Elizabeth MacCallum, The Nationalist Crusade in Syria, New York, 1928, p. 108. Neither Bi’ayni nor (...)

33After several days, Sultan gave up on appeals to the mandate authorities on behalf of Adham. Upon learning that Adham was about to be transported to Damascus, he and some village men took up positions blocking the road west of Suwayda’.40 They attacked a convoy of three armored cars. The commanding officer, a Lieutenant Bouxin, and three French soldiers were killed. One car was destroyed and two were disabled. Several other men were captured. According to the most fiery account, and the one which was supposedly in widest circulation in the Jabal Druze, Sultan Pasha “had attacked one of the cars single-handedly [and] finding its top open, dispatched the two officers inside with his sword.”41 They did not find Adham, who had been transported to Damascus by airplane and was not in the convoy.

34The next day five villages, including Sultan’s village of Qrayya, were bombed from the air. Sultan and some of his men escaped over the Jordanian border where they kept up guerilla warfare for eight months. In April of 1923 he was pardoned and came back to the Jabal Druze. He returned to a hero’s welcome, and the perhaps exaggerated, and ultimately unsuccessful, circumstances of his battle with the armored cars were widely recounted. By his exploits, he had insured that his next effort to rally the Jabal Druze would not be ignored.

  • 42 ‘Ubayd, Al-thawra al-suriyya, p. 124-5.
  • 43 FO 684/14/128. Smart to Chamberlain, 25 July, 1925.

35Tensions between the inhabitants and the French authorities continued to fester over the next two years. The arrest of three Druze notables in Damascus on 12 July 1925 finally sparked the revolt. They had been invited by the French delegation to come and discuss their grievances and the possible replacement of Carbillet. Instead, the notables were arrested and immediately transported to prison at Tadmur. Sultan Pasha had refused the invitation, and received the news from Hasan al-Atrash, who rushed by car from Damascus as soon as his relatives were seized. Sultan Pasha immediately began recruiting rebels from among the villages of the Jabal Druze. He and his men went from village to village singing traditional war songs.42 Along with the traditional appeal to arms however, was a new call in unambiguously nationalist terms. In Damascus and throughout the country the first dramatic victories became common knowledge overnight. The suqs were abuzz with excited rumors of battles won.43

  • 44 See note 2.

36But more than rumors came from the Jabal Druze. Leaflets soon came from the rebels addressed to the people of Syria in unmistakably nationalist terms. “To arms, To arms, Oh sons of the glorious Arabs,” begins the first leaflet, issued barely a month after the fighting began on 23 August 1925.44 It urges Syrians to rise and “eliminate the tyranny of foreign rule.” It is addressed to Syrian Arabs and there is no mention of any other form of identification. “Remember your ancestors, your history, your martyrs, and the glory of your nation.” The manifesto concludes with a list of demands: the complete independence of Arab Syria; the institution of a national government and election for an assembly to frame a basic law; the evacuation of the foreign occupiers and the establishment of an army for the preservation of security; and finally, the application of the principles of the French Revolution and the Rights of Man, in freedom, equality, and brotherhood.

37Within the text however, is a reference that indicates that there were two languages and two types of politics taking place simultaneously. In the body of the fourth paragraph, just before the list of demands, is a clear reference to the various Druze delegations sent to request the removal of Capitaine Carbillet. “We have been pursued by tyranny and insult into our homes. We have asked only that an inhuman governor be replaced by another. Not only has our request not been granted, but our delegation has been driven away as if they were sheep”. It is signed, “General Commander of the Syrian Revolutionary Armies, Sultan al-Atrash.”

  • 45 Other more general proclamations without the reference to Carbillet were in circulation too. See f (...)

38This document raises more questions than it answers. Who was it intended for? In slightly different form, this document found its way into the French, British, and League of Nations archives. By publicizing their demands and grievances widely, the rebels were considerably more sophisticated than their reputation has allowed. On the other hand, was the manifesto intended for domestic consumption at all? Several elements indicate that it was. The reference to a matter of purely local politics shows that the manifesto’s first intended audience was the Jabal Druze community. The matter of local Druze politics is only two sentences, although they are the only reference to actual events, however vague, in the whole document. Other evidence suggests it was intended for a truly national audience.45

39The veiled reference to specific local grievances would have been incomprehensible to most people outside the Jabal Druze or the French High Commission. But if the document were intended only for those audiences, there would be no reason for the vagueness and brevity of the reference, and indeed, no reason for the nationalist appeal at all. On the other hand the writer of the text must have expected purely nationalist appeals to resonate not only among the Syrian population at large, but among the Druze community as well. Perhaps the reference to specific Druze grievances was intended for the cautious notables of the Druze community, while the nationalist call was intended for everyone else. Whoever the writer was, he was correct in his expectation of wide nationalist support. Men from all over the country heeded the call to arms expressed in this manifesto.

CONCLUSION

40This paper has presented a preliminary investigation into the origins of the Great Revolt. It has sought to present some basic elements of the rural society of southern Syria in order to map the social and economic roots of rebel consciousness and the popular development of national consciousness. Through a two-part inquiry, I have traced the formation of community solidarity in a local setting, and suggested how a rebellious local consciousness fostered a nationalist uprising and the emergence of broad-based nationalism.

41I have argued that mandate authorities gravely misunderstood the rural society of southern Syria. They characterized the Jabal Druze as a region dominated by feudal lords and populated by impoverished serfs bound to them by a timeless and impenetrable mix of sectarian and tribal superstition.

42Numerous scholarly works have repeated this story. In stark contrast, I have demonstrated that it was the very absence of feudal social conditions and the relative independence and commercial prosperity of the rural inhabitants of the region that provided a basic condition for the uprising. Though traditional loyalties served to foster community solidarity, there were additional, material bases for collective action as well.

43The uprising had wide and immediate nationalist appeal. I have shown that its nationalist appeal was not an accident and that nationalism was part of popular mobilization in the countryside from the beginning. The local and sectarian origins of the Great Revolt have often obscured the supra-local issues at stake from the earliest stages of the uprising. The origins of the revolt present an intriguing and complex weave of local concerns and anti-imperialist Syrian nationalism. This paper has attempted to disentangle some of these threads towards a richer, fuller understanding of this seminal event in the realization of the Syrian nation.

27. Alep : Mudjhim b. Muhayd, chaykh de la tribu des Fed'an, est décoré de la Légion d'honneur par le général Gouraud en septembre 1920.

28. Syrie, Abou Kémal : des hommes de la tribu des Chammar au début des années vingt

29. Un campement des cavaliers druzes en Syrie au début des années vingt.

30. Un jardin dans la Ghouta de Damas.

31. Un groupe de combattants de la Grande révolte : 1- Chaykh Mohammad al-Achmar. 2- Hassan al-Charbaji. 3- Issa Hnein. 4- Khayro Chukayr. 5- Salih Ayach. 6- Mohammad Ali.

32. 1- Chaykh Mohammad al-Achmar. 3- Issa Hnein. 6- Mohammad Ali.

33. Le Docteur Abderrahman Chahbandar emprisonné à l'île d'Arouad entre avril 1922 et octobre 1923.

34. Sultan Pacha al-Atrach à l'époque de la Grande révolte syrienne.

35. Villageoise de la région de Homs au début des années vingt.

36. Villageoise de la région de Homs au début des années vingt.

37. Un vendeur de légumes au début des années vingt.

38. Antioche, 1922 : une scène de rue.

39. Vue d'un souk à Alep dans les années vingt.

40. L'école italienne d'Alep au début des années trente.

41. Alep dans les années vingt, Ibrahim Hanano entouré de personnalités locales.

42. Alep, Jardin al-Qamar, 1936 : Les « chemises d'acier » de la Garde Nationale accuillent des membres de la délégation syrienne de retour des négociations de Paris. A noter le cérémonial d'inspiration fasciste : casques coloniaux - la « fayçaliyya » - et salut fasciste.

Notes

3 Général Charles Andréa, La révolte druze et l’insurrection de Damas, 1925-1926, Paris, 1937, p. 39-42. Another relevant text, still influential, is Jacques Weulersse, Paysans de Syrie et du Proche-Orient, Paris, 1946. He argued that all Syria, and by extension the Arab East, was dominated by large estates and feudal exploitation. See Haim Gerber, The Social Origins of the Modern Middle East, London, 1987, p. 95-101, for a concise critique.

4 Some scholars, most recently Birgit Schaebler, have argued forcefully for a hierarchical Druze society bound together, especially in times of strife, by sectarian solidarity. See her “State(s) Power and the Druzes: Integration and the Struggle for Social Control (1838-1949),” in Thomas Philipp and Birgit Schaebler, (Eds.), The Syrian Land: Processes of Integration and Fragmentation, Stuttgart, 1998, p. 331-335. And Bi’ayni, Jabal al-’arah, Beirut, 1985, p. 51-55.

5 Birgit Shaebler has published a critical review of some of the Arabic secondary works dealing with the Revolt. See “Coming to Terms with Failed Revolutions: Historiography in Syria, Germany, and France”, MES, vol. 35, no. 1, January 1999, p. 17-44.

6 Philip S. Khoury, Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, Princeton, 1987. And his “A Reinterpretation of the Origins and Aims of the Great Syrian Revolt, 1925-1927,” in Georges N. Atiyeh and Ibrahim M. Oweiss (eds.) Arab Civilization: Challenges and Responses: Studies in Honor of Constantine K. Zurayk, Albany, 1988, p. 241 -271.

7 Hanna Batatu, Syria’s Peasantry, the Descendants of its Lesser Rural Notables, and their Politics, Princeton, 1999. And Birgit Schaebler, Aufstände im Drusenbergland. Ethnizität und Integration einer ländlichen Gesellschaft Syriens vom Ende des Osmanischen Reiches bis zur staatlichen Unabhängigkeit, 1850-1949, Gotha, 1996. She concentrates on tribal and integrationist politics among the Druze elite.

8 See his al-’Ammiyya wa al-intifadat al-fallahiyya (1850-1918) fi Jabal Hawran, Damascus, 1990, and al-Qadiyya al-zira ‘iyya wa al-harakat al-fallahiyya fl Suriyya wa Lubnan (1820-1945), Vols. I-II, Beirut, 1975 and 1978.

9 Ranajit Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India, Delhi, 1983, p. 14.

10 See for example Engin Deniz Akarli, Some Ottoman Documents on Jordan: Ottoman Criteria for the Choice of an Administrative Center in the Light of Documents on Hauran, 1909-1910, Amman, 1989, for the views of Ottoman officials in Damascus and Istanbul on events in the Hawran. And Samir M. SEIKALY, “Pacification of the Hawran (1910): The View From Within,” paper presented at the Proceedings of the XII Congress of CIEPO, n.d. Seikaly draws on the rich periodical collection of AUB for local views of the Hawran. And Martha Mundy, “Shareholders and the State: Representing the Village in the Late 19TH Century Land Registers of the Southern Hawran,” in Thomas Philipp, (ed.), The Syrian Land in the 18th and 19th Century, Stuttgart, 1992, p. 217-31. Mundy draws upon archival resources in Jordan. Her work indicated that land tenure records for the southern Hawran in Jordan were “restricted documentation.” These sources are not publicly accessible in Syria.

11 Albert Khuri, “Agriculture”, in Said B. Himadeh, (ed.), The Economic Organization of Syria, Beirut, 1936, p. 75.

12 Hanna Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, Cairo, 1925, reprinted Beirut, 1961, p. 35-37.

13 Khuri, “Agriculture”, Tables II and III, p. 78. The years 1914 through 1921 are not reported and the nominal pre-war harvest is expressed simply by the words «pre-wan» with no reference to specific years. This figure is the most suspect, but its validity is not significant because the later, and presumably more accurate, or at least more specific figures, clearly illustrate a trend of increasingly bad harvests leading up to 1925. By mid-summer 1925, the meager harvest would have been in from the fields.

14 FO 684/19/135. Smart to Chamberlain, 1 August 1925. In connection with the early stages of the revolt, Smart wrote that a “severe winter, drought, and poor harvest had resulted in much economic suffering in Southern Syria”. Elsewhere Smart wrote that drought had dried up springs all over the Jabal Druze and the Hawran FO 684/21/138. 5 August, 1925.

15 PMC, Minutes of the eighth session, Van Rees to session, p. 125-6, and Weulersse, Paysans, p. 113-114.

16 Norman Lewis, Nomads and Settlers in Syria and Jordan, 1800-1980, Cambridge, 1987, p. 80-81. And Schaebler, “State(s) Power,” p. 332.

17 FO 78/2985 "Report of a Journey made by Vice-Consul Jago, of Damascus, during May and June 1879", 16 August 1879.I am grateful to Engin Akarli for a copy of this document.

18 Bi‘ayni, Jabal al-’arab, p. 65.

19 Bi‘ayni, Jabal al-’arab, p. 65.

20 Mundy, “Shareholders and the State,” p. 230-1. Ya’kov Firestone, “The Land-Equalizing Musha’ Village: A Reassessment”, in Gad G. Gilbar. (Ed.), Ottoman Palestine, 1800-1914: Studies in Economic and Social History, Leiden, 1990, p. 92. See also Beshara Doumani, Rediscovering Palestine: Merchants and Peasants in Jabal Nablus, 1700-1900, Berkeley, 1995, p. 157-58.

21 Bi‘ayni, Jabal al-’arab, p. 34.

22 Gerber, the Social Origins, p. 96.

23 These statistics seem to originate from a report commissioned by the Syrian government and completed in 1947. See Republic of Syria (Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners, Consulting Engineers), The Economic Development of Syria, London, 1947, p. 20. Table 10. They have been reproduced many times, though usually without citing the source. Gerber, The Social Origins, p. 96. Table 6.1, p. 97, adapted from Warriner, Land Reform, p. 83. Also ‘Abdallah Hanna, al-Qadiyya, Vol. II, p. 44-48. They are impossible to authenticate since I have found no mention of the original source or survey method. Still they are certainly illustrative of general trends. Warriner indicated that the first Syrian cadastral survey was begun in 1923. My research to date has indicated that it was probably never finished. See Weulersse, Paysans, p. 189-190.

24 Khoury, Syria and the French, p. 193.

25 Lincia Schatkowski Schilcher, “The Grain Economy of Late Ottoman Syria and the Issue of Large-Scale Commercialization,” in C. Keyder and F. Tabak, (eds), Landholding and Commercial Agriculture in the Middle East, New York, 1991, p. 192.

26 Schilcher, “Violence in Rural Syria in the 1880s and 1890s: State Centralization, Rural Integration, and the World Market,” in Farhad Kazemi and John Waterbury, (eds), Peasants and Politics in the Modern Middle East, Miami, 1991, p. 50-84.

27 See note 1 above.

28 FO 78/2985. “The Journey of Vice-Consul Jago,” p. 4.

29 Bi‘ayni, Jabal al-’arab, p. 65.

30 FO 684/7/116. Smart to Chamberlain, 10 July 1925. British Consul Smart claimed that the majlis notables were less representative of Druze aspirations than the Atrash notables opposed to Carbillet.

31 This was the liberal interpretation. Some blamed Carbillet for not explaining his reforms, while many simply blamed the ignorant peasants for not knowing what was good for them.

32 Guha, Aspects, p. 14, and Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, Princeton, 1993, p. 163. The notion of negative consciousness originates with Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, New York, 1971, p. 272-273.

33 See FO 684/16 and 684/18/130,133. Smart to Chamberlain, 27 and 29 July 1925.

34 Chatterjee, Fragments, p. 163. He offers an explanation of how solidarity and community arises among a rebellious peasantry, and how they differ from bourgeois solidarity. Chatterjee’s book is probably the most subtle and thoughtful exposition of the process by which subaltern groups like peasants and women contribute to and are incorporated into the nation during and after its anti-colonial struggle. His section on the peasantry is drawn largely from Guha’s Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency, but it serves as a much more readable and understandable summary of Guha’s ideas.

35 See for example Juan R.I. Cole, Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East: Social and Cultural Origins of Egypt’s ‘Urabi Movement, Princeton, 1993. In an otherwise fine book, Colonel Ahmad Urabi is conspicuous by his absence in Cole’s treatment of the revolt that bore his name.

36 Salama ‘Ubayd, Al-Thawra al-suriyya al-kubra: 1925-1927 ‘ala daw’ watha’iq lam tunshar, Beirut, 1971, p. 92.

37 Hanna Abi Rashid, Jabal al-duruz, p. 180-181. He claims to have reproduced word for word “(bil-harf al-wahid),” the entire correspondence. Also BI’AYNI, p. 301.

38 Kais Firro, A History of the Druzes, Leiden, 1992, p. 266-7.

39 Bi‘ayni, Jabal al-’arab, p. 302.

40 Bi‘ayni, drawing on Abi Rashid. identifies the place as Tal Hadid on the road to Damascus and says Sultan went with his brothers and some of his men, Jabal al-’arab, p. 302. While ‘Ubayd, without naming a source, says it was the village of al-Th’ala, on the road from Dar’a and he went with about 25 men, p. 94. They both agree it was west of Suwayda’.

41 Elizabeth MacCallum, The Nationalist Crusade in Syria, New York, 1928, p. 108. Neither Bi’ayni nor ‘Ubayd mention anything about Sultan al-Atrash personally killing anyone. Mansur al-Atrash, Sultan’s son, told me that Adham was not even in the convoy, a detail missing from the accounts.

42 ‘Ubayd, Al-thawra al-suriyya, p. 124-5.

43 FO 684/14/128. Smart to Chamberlain, 25 July, 1925.

44 See note 2.

45 Other more general proclamations without the reference to Carbillet were in circulation too. See for example FO 684/2, vol. 11622-F92-96-97, Enclosure 172, Damascus to FO, 11 September 1925. Cited in Nadine Méouchy, Les formes de conscience politique et communautaire au Liban et en Syrie à l’époque du mandat français 1920-1939, Ph.D. Dissertation, Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 1989, App. 2, p. 413-417.

List of illustrations

Caption 27. Alep : Mudjhim b. Muhayd, chaykh de la tribu des Fed'an, est décoré de la Légion d'honneur par le général Gouraud en septembre 1920.
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Caption 28. Syrie, Abou Kémal : des hommes de la tribu des Chammar au début des années vingt
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Caption 29. Un campement des cavaliers druzes en Syrie au début des années vingt.
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Caption 30. Un jardin dans la Ghouta de Damas.
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Caption 31. Un groupe de combattants de la Grande révolte : 1- Chaykh Mohammad al-Achmar. 2- Hassan al-Charbaji. 3- Issa Hnein. 4- Khayro Chukayr. 5- Salih Ayach. 6- Mohammad Ali.
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Caption 32. 1- Chaykh Mohammad al-Achmar. 3- Issa Hnein. 6- Mohammad Ali.
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Caption 33. Le Docteur Abderrahman Chahbandar emprisonné à l'île d'Arouad entre avril 1922 et octobre 1923.
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Caption 34. Sultan Pacha al-Atrach à l'époque de la Grande révolte syrienne.
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Caption 35. Villageoise de la région de Homs au début des années vingt.
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Caption 36. Villageoise de la région de Homs au début des années vingt.
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Caption 37. Un vendeur de légumes au début des années vingt.
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Caption 38. Antioche, 1922 : une scène de rue.
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Caption 39. Vue d'un souk à Alep dans les années vingt.
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Caption 40. L'école italienne d'Alep au début des années trente.
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Caption 41. Alep dans les années vingt, Ibrahim Hanano entouré de personnalités locales.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/3202/img-15.jpg
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Caption 42. Alep, Jardin al-Qamar, 1936 : Les « chemises d'acier » de la Garde Nationale accuillent des membres de la délégation syrienne de retour des négociations de Paris. A noter le cérémonial d'inspiration fasciste : casques coloniaux - la « fayçaliyya » - et salut fasciste.
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/3202/img-16.jpg
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Author

Southern Methodist University, Texas, USA / 1FEAD

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