Husayn–McMahon Correspondence (1915–
HUSAYN–MCMAHON CORRESPONDENCE (1915–1916)
Ten letters, written between 14 July 1915 and 30 March 1916 but unpublished until 1939, constitute an understanding of the terms by which the sharif would ally himself to Britain and revolt against the Ottoman Turks in return for Britain's support of Arab independence. Sharif Husayn ibn Ali of Mecca asked Sir Henry McMahon, the British high commissioner in Egypt, to support independence of the Arab countries in an area that included the Arabian Peninsula (except Aden), and all of Iraq, Palestine, Transjordan, and Syria up to Turkey in the north and Persia in the east. He also asked Britain to support the restoration of the caliphate.
McMahon's reply on 24 October 1915 accepted these principles but excluded certain areas in the sharif's proposed boundaries: coastal regions along the Perisan Gulf area of Arabia; the Iraqi province of Baghdad, which would be placed under British supervision; areas "where Britain is free to act without detriment to the interests of her ally France"; and, in Syria, "the districts of Mersina and Alexandretta and portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo." The Arabs assumed that at least Arabia, northern Iraq, central Syria, and Palestine—which was regarded as southern, not western, Syria—were part of the area that was to be independent. They started the Arab Revolt of 1916, which helped the British to defeat the Turks and to occupy the region. After the war, Arabs felt betrayed because Britain conceded Syria to France and promised to help in the establishment of the Jewish national home in Palestine. The British claimed that they intended to exclude Palestine from McMahon's pledges.
The interpretations of the letters have been disputed ever since, in part because of official oversight, and because of deliberate vagueness by the British who—to obtain French, Arab, and Jewish support during the war—made conflicting promises they could not keep. Contributing to the confusion are partisan scholars who read into the correspondence interpretations that fit their ideological positions.
See also arab revolt (1916); husayn ibn ali; mcmahon, henry.
Antonius, George. The Arab Awakening. New York: Capricorn Books, 1946.
Kedourie, Elie. In the Anglo-Arab Labyrinth: The McMahon-Husayn Correspondence and Its Interpretations, 1914–1939. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
Smith, Charles D. "The Invention of a Tradition: The Question of Arab Acceptance of the Zionist Right to Palestine during World War I." Journal of Palestine Studies 22, no. 2 (1993): 48–63.