Afghanistan’s Moment of Risk and Opportunity
A Path to Peace for the Country and the Region
THE capture of Algiers in 1830 marked a significant departure in the expansionist policy of France, for North Africa was quite unlike older French colonial possessions in the Caribbean Sea and the Indian Ocean. The French soon discovered that North Africa -- or the Maghreb, as the Arabs called it -- did not produce tropical goods and that the native population could neither be destroyed to make way for European colonists nor enslaved to work for them. They also found that Islam provided the natives with a religious and a cultural ideal which they would stubbornly defend. France had not been fitted by experience to understand and govern an Islamic and essentially Oriental people. In the years that followed the fall of Algiers she therefore had to fumble her way. Gradually she acquired in Algeria the reservoir of experience which she was to utilize after 1881 in Tunisia and after 1912 in Morocco. But even today France possesses neither a colonial administration nor a body of doctrine sufficiently well developed to enable her to coördinate her Moslem policy effectively.
Contrary to general belief, North Africa is not inhabited by Arabs but by Berbers who in the course of time have become Arabized. Actually, it took the Arab invaders no less than five centuries to Mohammedanize the Berbers and to impose on the more sedentary tribes among them a thin veneer of Arabic culture. Throughout their history the Berbers have shown a remarkable power to resist cultural absorption by invading peoples. They have appeared to submit to the superior military strength of the Phœnicians, the Romans, the Vandals, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Turks and the French. Yet through all these vicissitudes they have preserved their civilization almost intact. They maintain their intense particularism and their hatred for all outsiders. However, their resistance to outside control, which once took the form of social revolt, now finds its outlet through nationalist agitation.
For several centuries the centers of resistance to foreign influences -- Moslem or Christian, Turkish or French -- have been the religious fraternities and the local saints (marabouts) which sprang up in North Africa in defiance of the Prophet's injunctions against sects and holy men. The French administration, consequently, has sought to neutralize, or even utilize, their influence by granting them subsidies and pensions. The result of this policy has been to lessen the prestige of the fraternities and the marabouts, for the Berber looks askance at collusion between his religious leaders and the foreigner. But today, instead of seeking redress in a religious schism as he once did, he is turning to nationalism and Pan Arabism.
Before the French conquest there was no such thing as nationalism in North Africa, except perhaps in Morocco. The only permanent political and social organization of the Berbers was the tribe. From time to time various tribes coalesced to form larger groups; but these were in no sense nations, being rather unstable federations held together by the prestige of a particular leader. Even after the French conquest North Africa remained divided into three parts by political and customs barriers. Algeria is today under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior; while Tunisia and Morocco, being protectorates where native sovereigns still hold nominal sway, are governed from the Foreign Ministry at the Quai d'Orsay. The two administrations, jealous of their authority, have applied different methods and criteria of government, and this has accentuated the peculiar characteristics of each region. In time Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco thus acquired separate individualities. In a sense, then, the French, by amalgamating formerly independent regions into clearly differentiated and unified countries, gave birth to a nationalism which was superimposed on tribal loyalties without eliminating them. Influences from the Moslem East also gave impetus to the growth of nationalist sentiment. The spirit of the Islamic Renaissance permeated the more educated classes in the Maghreb, and brought as its concomitant the doctrine that all people speaking the Arab tongue should be united in one nation.
The movement for Arab unity which got under way in the nineteenth century was primarily the work of two men, Jemal ed Din el-Afghani and the Sheik Mohammed Abdo. El-Afghani made two demands: that the Arab countries should become independent
in order to insure their progress under liberal institutions, and that they be grouped in a vast empire under a single Caliph in order to resist European imperialism. His Egyptian disciple, Sheik Abdo, sought to reconcile the Moslem faith with science so that Islam might adopt Western ways, particularly Western weapons, without renouncing its religious traditions. The teachings of these two men led to the founding of the "League of the Arab Fatherland" at Paris at the turn of the century and were elaborated by the Arab Congresses which met from 1913 onwards. They took for their foundations the three concepts of language, race and history.
The traditional Arab language has been rejuvenated and adapted to modern necessities by various learned academies (principally that at Cairo) with the aid of the young intellectuals. The new language, supple enough to express modern philosophical, social and political problems, is tending to become, under the influence of the Egyptian press, a lingua franca for the Moslem world and may eventually eliminate the local dialects. It thus represents a political instrument, a language of empire. Its triumph would constitute a step towards the ideal of unity.
The idea that the Moslem world forms an ethnic unit is, of course, scientific heresy. The racial diversities in the mélange of tribes and peoples who have been converted to Islam are so great that there cannot possibly be any ethnic unity among them. Nevertheless, the myth of such unity has been widely inculcated among non-Arab peoples. The converted Berbers, for instance, have sought to gain prestige by inventing complicated genealogies showing their direct lineage from the Arab conquerors. Today this racial illusion tends to unite the Moslems of Africa with those of Asia in a common opposition to European penetration. Every Moslem belongs to a great fatherland -- Islam. He is taught from infancy that the decadence of the Arab countries began with their loss of freedom and that the return of the glorious days of the Ommiads and Abbassids awaits but the winning of Arab independence. The teaching of history in this dual form -- nationalist and Pan Arab -- thus confirms the Moslem's pride in the past and his confidence in the future.
Hopes for Arab unity received a severe setback after the World War. Feisal's kingdom failed to materialize; the Zionists were installed in Palestine; the French and British were given mandates over Iraq, Syria, the Lebanon, Trans Jordan and Palestine; and Ibn Saud expanded the Wahhabi power in Arabia proper. Yet in spite of these checks Pan Arabism has continued to gain mass support. During the last two decades the Arab world, from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic, has become growingly conscious of the unity of its faith and culture, and of the need for solidarity vis-à-vis Europe. At the same time each Arab country has sought with increasing ardor to attain its own national liberation. Pan Arabism and nationalism, apparently incompatible, thus have developed simultaneously as a twofold expression of the East's resistance to the West.
The spirit of the Arab revival was brought to North Africa by books and newspapers, by returning pilgrims and by students who attended Egyptian and Syrian universities. The Moslem world claimed the Maghreb for part of its own, and the Islamic congresses, beginning with that of Jerusalem in 1931, were attended by North African delegates. Among those who pushed the Pan Arab movement in North Africa the most active was a Lebanese feudal lord, the Emir Shekib Arslan. This remarkable personality has had a long and varied political career. He was a deputy representing Beirut in the Turkish Parliament at Constantinople, and served on Turkish missions to Germany during the World War. For many years he was actively engaged in the struggle to preserve Moslem predominance in the Balkans and Tripolitania. But it is as propagandist that his activities have been most marked. For his mastery of the Arab tongue he has been called the "Prince of Eloquence" and in 1938 was elected to the presidency of the Arab Academy in Damascus. His wide culture, his indefatigable political activity and his dominating personality have made him a natural leader.
After the World War the Syro-Palestinian Committee was set up at Cairo and the Emir became its permanent representative at Geneva, where his task was to bring Arab influence to bear on the League of Nations. This mission afforded an excellent base of operations for an ambitious and astute man like Shekib Arslan, and he soon transformed his office into a clearing-house for information and propaganda concerning the entire Moslem world. Indeed, the activities of his organization were so far-reaching that his house in Geneva became the nerve center of Islam. He entered into relations not only with Mohammedan leaders but with European statesmen, notably Mussolini, whose incensebearer he became. He issued instructions and programs to the heads of local Arab parties, and he settled disputes between various Moslem groups and leaders. He also sponsored publications, among them La Nation Arabe, distributed widely from Java to Morocco. In September 1939 he went to Berlin and put his influence at the service of Germany.
The North African nationalists drank deep at this never-failing well of Pan Arabism. Shekib Arslan had long understood the political importance of North Africa and in Geneva he surrounded himself with Tunisian and Moroccan collaborators. He became the spiritual guide for the young intellectuals and the leaders of the religious awakening in the Maghreb. Nor did he confine himself to encouraging the local nationalisms; more than anyone else he sought to popularize the idea that Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco were but parts of the great Moslem community.
The Jerusalem Conference had voted the "Arab Pact" which proclaimed the "complete and indivisible unity" of the Arab countries, the duty of each to strive for "a common goal," and the necessity of combatting colonialism with every available force -- and this call to action had served as an inspiration to the leaders of the nationalist parties in North Africa. Yet such a program, if put into effect, would naturally have brought the nationalist movement into collision with the French Government. A compromise formula was therefore worked out, probably under the prompting of Shekib Arslan. At any rate it was after exchanging views with the Emir that the North African leaders issued declarations -- simultaneously at Tunis and at Fez, and couched in like terms -- to the effect that North Africa must march towards independence with the aid of France, and that by giving this aid France would win the undying friendship of the liberated peoples of North Africa by binding them to her with ties of gratitude and common interests. This was a very astute declaration, for it sought to reconcile the nationalists' aspirations with a theoretical loyalty to France. They asked the French Government, as an act of generosity, to grant an autonomy which they knew perfectly well it could not possibly concede.
Meanwhile, out of the regional loyalties developed a larger nationalism encompassing North Africa as a whole. A student congress in 1935 called for instruction in the schools that would "give birth to the consciousness of our unity in North Africa, a unity founded on a unified intellectual outlook, a single religion and common sentiments. And let no one say that we are creating a fictitious unity. No, a thousand times no! We are only reviving an ancient unity which history is here to witness and to guarantee." The nationalist parties adopted joint programs and created working alliances. A Tunisian militant wrote in 1937 that "Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, united by the bonds of a common colonial domination, are tending towards the formation of a solidly cemented bloc"; while the head of the Algerian nationalist movement declared: "For the struggle against the imperialist front we are building our own common front of Tunisians, Algerians and Moroccans."
This ideal -- which we may call "Pan Maghrebism" -- is a nationalist stage on the road to Pan Arabism. It has failed so far, not only because it has been officially repressed, but because regional loyalties have persisted. No matter how burning their desire for unity, the nationalist groups in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are obliged, because they live under different administrative régimes, to organize regionally and to formulate their own regional demands.
Algeria differs markedly from her two neighbors in several respects. The French Government, instead of exercising indirect rule through native monarchs and Residents, as in Tunisia and Morocco, has divided Algeria into departments, arrondissements and communes which, like those in the mother country, send deputies and senators to the parliament in Paris. There is a relatively high proportion of European colonists: 987,252 out of a population of 7,234,684 (1936 figures). The educated natives have long confined themselves to protesting against the lois d'exception and to demanding that their status be made equal to that of Frenchmen. Algerian intellectuals, instead of preaching separatism as have the educated classes in Tunisia and Morocco, have demanded that they be given French citizenship -- retaining, however, their personal status as Moslems, with all the rights (for instance as to marriage and inheritance) which that status presupposed. Thus there has developed a movement, unique in North Africa, towards assimilation. This movement might have become much more extensive if the authorities had not done their best to obstruct it by discouraging the naturalization of Moslems. Among those who supported the policy of assimilation were most of the natives who held elective office. But their campaign, carried on in the assemblies and among the masses, clashed with the activities of the Ulemas and the North African Star, an organization of which more shortly.
The Ulemas are the authorities on Moslem law who have made it their business to rescue Islam from the marabouts and religious charlatans on one hand and from Europeanization on the other. Their association, formed in 1931, became a potent influence in Algeria under the leadership of Sheik Ben Badis of Constantine, the most forceful personality among North African Moslems and one of the most learned men of Islam. On the one hand he has succeeded in disorganizing the party of the marabouts; and on the other he has refused to work with any of the French parties who would like to ally with him. Instead, he has confined himself to activities which fall within the Ulemas' reform program. He distrusts assimilation, for he believes that if the native becomes a French citizen he will lose his Moslem faith.
Assimilation has also been opposed by the North African Star, a nationalist and revolutionary group founded in 1929 and directed by an eloquent tribune, Messali Haj, a former associate of Shekib Arslan. Among other things, Messali demanded that Algeria be independent. In its early years the activities of the North African Star were carried on almost exclusively among Algerians working in the factories of Paris. Dissolved in 1929 and reduced to clandestine activity, it reappeared in 1933, only to be condemned again the following year. Messali, who in the meantime had taken refuge in Geneva, returned to Paris in 1936 when the Blum government was formed. After a short stay in France he went to Algeria, where he founded local cells which he grouped in departmental federations. His success continued to grow until cut short in November 1937 by his sentence to two years' imprisonment and the loss of civil and political rights for "excitation to acts of disorder against the sovereignty of the state." Yet he retained his prestige among the masses, who regarded him as the victim of an arbitrary government.
The fact of the matter is that France cannot arrest the progress of political and religious nationalism except by audaciously embarking on the program of assimilation demanded by the intellectuals and office-holders. M. Léon Blum understood this perfectly and therefore, in conjunction with M. Viollette, Minister of State without Portfolio, placed a bill before the Chamber on December 30, 1936, in which the electoral rights of French citizens were to be granted to some 22,000 natives chosen from certain specified categories.[i] These voters were to retain their personal status under Moslem law, as their co-religionists had done in Jugoslavia, French India and Senegal.
The Moslem masses in Algeria received the Blum-Viollette project with enthusiasm. For the first time in history they showed a desire to be integrated in the great French Fatherland, and it is to the credit of M. Blum that he grasped the opportunity presented by this fact. But the French colonists in Algeria opposed this proposal with such violence that Blum's successors did not dare let his bill be discussed in the Chambers. The disappointment which ensued naturally profited the nationalist party of Messali, who had always proclaimed the futility of relying on French promises. The Government sought to compensate its political timidity with more active economic measures; but the Algerians, like other peoples, are moved more by their loyalties than by their interests, and their egalitarian aspirations do not seem to have been diminished by the rising standard of living now noticeable among the rural and urban proletariat.
The problem is quite different in Tunisia and Morocco, which are nominally governed by a Bey and a Sultan, respectively, under French "protection." The inventors of this system of government thought that it would assure the protecting Power all the advantages of annexation without saddling it with any of the obligations. In Tunisia, however, the higher French officials have gradually substituted their own authority for that of the Tunisian ministers, while the controleurs civils have absorbed the power of the caïds and the French gendarmerie has replaced the native spahis.
As a result, many Tunisians educated in the French juridical tradition have come to question very seriously the legality of the Protectorate. They assert that the treaties of Bardo and La Marsa imposed on France certain duties vis-à-vis her protégé, and they have asked that she prepare Tunisia for its political majority by extending the practice of self-government and by expanding the educational system. Instead of the existing régime of disguised annexation they propose a sort of benevolent tutelage which, by successive stages, would lead to an independence in which Tunisia would be tied to France by nothing more than a loose federalism. This position is juridically strong, but it clashes with France's will to rule. The ideal of emancipation which has inspired the mass of the Tunisian people has usually been summarily dismissed by French statesmen as merely a subversive idea. But though the Residents have alternated authority with benevolence, now giving ear to the appeals of the Tunisians, now acting with rigor when those appeals became too insistent, they have not succeeded in stopping the upsurge of nationalism.
Immediately after the World War a campaign began in Tunisia for a constitution, or a destour. The leaders of this movement sent a petition to President Wilson in April 1919 and published an anonymous pamphlet entitled "Martyred Tunisia," of which the actual author was an intellectual, Sheik Thaalbi, who had imbibed the doctrines of Moslem reform in the East and who wanted Tunisia to return to the "liberal régime" prevailing before the installation of "French tyranny" in 1881. The year 1920 saw the foundation of the Destour Party with a program calling for the "emancipation of the Tunisian people from the bonds of slavery" and for a constitution under which the reins of government would be given back to the Bey and his dynasty. There followed anti-French press campaigns, street demonstrations, delegations to Paris and attempts at economic boycott. The Government replied not only with repression, but by the creation (in 1922) of representative assemblies which satisfied, at least in part, the moderate elements.
In 1930 the Destour split in two: the New Destour, a liberal constitutionalist party led by young intellectuals with modernist tendencies; and the Old Destour, immovably attached to tradition. The program of the New Destour called for closer participation by the Tunisian people in their own government. Its political techniques were borrowed partly from France, and even more from Fascist Italy: parades in uniform, Arab scouts organized and trained to act as cadres, local cells under the direct orders of the central committee, "spontaneous" demonstrations carefully organized beforehand, etc. Under the guidance of its ardent leader, a lawyer named Habib Bourghiba, the propaganda of the New Destour won almost unanimous support from Tunisian public opinion. The weakness of the New Destour lay in the tacit assumption, inherent in its program and tactics, that reforms could be won by wringing concessions from the protecting Power. In other words, it inferentially recognized the legality of the treaties binding Tunisia to France. This, many felt, was a false position for a supposedly nationalist movement.
The Old Destour was under no such handicap. Primarily aristocratic and grand bourgeois in its outlook, it had refused to admit the principle of the Protectorate or to collaborate in any way with the Resident. Though the Old Destour, like the association of the Ulemas in Algeria, favored Pan Arabism and a return to the pure principles of Islam, it disdained to formulate its demands in a precise program. It thereby avoided subordinating its tactics to the ups and downs of French party politics. Consequently, it was the New Destour that bore the weight of the severely repressive measures carried out by the government between 1933 and 1936.
However, the advent of the Popular Front Government in France in 1936 opened prison gates, recalled exiles from internment in the Sahara and permitted them to express their views freely. In the Foreign Office, an intelligent young Under-Secretary, M. Pierre Viénot, one-time collaborator of Lyautey in Morocco, was put in charge of Tunisia and Morocco. Measures were taken to reëstablish the freedom of the press and of assembly, and the social legislation of France, adapted to local conditions, was extended to Tunisia. But this was not enough, for more fundamental reforms were required in the structure of the government itself. M. Viénot therefore went to Tunisia early in 1937 to investigate on the spot. He convinced himself that the country needed a thorough political, administrative and economic reorganization. He nevertheless disillusioned the Destourians by declaring that the Protectorate was "definitive in character" and that he was fully determined "to insure respect, by all legal means, for the limits which the law imposes on hostile agitation and lying propaganda."
After the fall of the Blum ministry agitation grew rapidly. Disorders began throughout North Africa as if by a single command -- perhaps that of Shekib Arslan. The more advanced elements in the New Destour proclaimed the vanity of the Popular Front's promises and called for more energetic action to obtain reforms. Their influence grew as a result of the conflict which broke out between the Old and the New Destour following the return of Sheik Thaalbi from a fifteen-year exile.
During his absence the Sheik had become intimately associated with the Moslem Renaissance in the Near East. He now proposed that there be a fusion between the Old and the New Destour. But since Thaalbi's sympathies were opposed to the democratic and strictly national program of the latter, it was obvious that fusion under him would mean a victory for the traditionalist policy of the Old Destour. The New Destour therefore opposed Thaalbi, sometimes going as far as to engage in bloody riots to prevent him from speaking in public. Nevertheless the Sheik, with the encouragement of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, continued his active personal campaign on behalf of Moslem unity. In time the New Destour began to fear that its opportunist program would no longer attract followers in competition with Thaalbi's primarily religious appeal. Habib Bourghiba therefore in November 1937 had his party jettison its policy of tolerance towards the government. He also called a general strike to protest against the repressive measures taken in Algeria and Morocco. Moslem solidarity thus became a cardinal point in the New Destour program. At the same time it rapidly lost sympathy among French Leftist and trade union circles. In order to outdo the Old Destour, Bourghiba recommended that the Protectorate be opposed "by all means, including insurrection," and he sought to arouse a spirit of martyrdom among his followers by getting them to refuse to pay taxes or do military service, and by fomenting mass demonstrations.
On April 9, 1938, a mob organized by leaders of the New Destour, who had become convinced of French impotence following the German seizure of Austria, attacked the police. The throat of a gendarme was cut, the police then fired, and there were a score of dead. But order was quickly restored and punishment was immediate. Within a few hours Habib Bourghiba and the other leaders of the New Destour were imprisoned and three days later the party was dissolved. Though the Government later released a number of suspects, it abrogated practically all of Blum's social legislation.
As a matter of fact, the Nazi menace and Italy's demands did more to bring peace in Tunisia than the imposition of prison sentences. The Munich crisis of September 1938 found Tunisia quite calm and the population more clearly conscious than before of the usefulness of the ties which bound them to France. This evolution in public opinion was speeded up by the Italian repudiation (December 1938) of the Laval-Mussolini Agreement of January 7, 1935, and by the Fascist press campaign for the annexation of Tunisia. The Tunisian people have never had a high opinion of Fascism, and their proximity to Libya has given them opportunities to understand the real nature of Il Duce's Moslem policy. Libya's incorporation into the Italian national territory and its division into four provinces, the despatch of 20,000 Italian colonists to settle on Arab lands there in 1938, and the announcement that many more were to follow, provoked a feeling of hostility throughout Islam which even Shekib Arslan, in spite of his "high opinion" of Mussolini,[ii] had to take into account.
The Tunisian nation has left no doubt as to where its sympathies and interests lie. In a choice between French and Italian colonialism, not even a Destourian extremist would hesitate. The native reaction after the November 30 demonstration in the Fascist Chamber -- when deputies had cried "Tunisì, Gibuti, Corsica!" -- was immediate and profound. The popular enthusiasm engendered by Premier Daladier's visit in Tunisia about a month later was in every sense spontaneous and sincere. It would be a mistake, however, to consider Tunisia's universal rejection of the Italian claims as approval of French policy. The New Destour has maintained its demands, while those more prudent circles accustomed to work with the French have made it clear that their coöperation must not be taken for granted and that after the war they expect a thorough transformation of the Protectorate.
In Morocco the nationalist movement evolved much as it did in Tunisia. Many of the sons of the Moroccan bourgeoisie were sent to study in Paris, where they absorbed the democratic and anticapitalist ideology of the French Left parties. Upon their return they organized the movement for Moroccan independence, basing their demands on the ideas and slogans they had picked up in France. Though this élite was numerically very small, it was active; and in the end it imposed its leadership even on those who held to the old beliefs. The most decisive event in arousing Moroccan nationalism was the revolt of Abd-el- Krim in 1925. His advance nearly to the gates of Fez showed the nationalists that only lack of modern arms prevented Morocco from achieving independence.
With the end of the Riff War open agitation ceased in Morocco, though among the educated youth the desire to play a political rôle burned as fiercely as ever. The latent conflict broke into the open again with the publication of the now famous "Berber Dahir" on May 16, 1930. Under the provisions of this inopportune and ill-advised decree, legal disputes which hitherto had come before Koranic courts in certain Berber tribes were transferred to tribunals in which the customary tribal law was enforced. The young Moroccan intellectuals, organized in a group called the Moroccan Action and inspired by Shekib Arslan, carried on a vigorous campaign of protest against this measure. They bitterly opposed it (even after its terms had been attenuated) because, they declared, it deprived the faithful of Allah's justice. They thus posed as the champions of Islam before the older generation, whom their Western culture had alienated; and their action was praised by the Conference of Jerusalem.
This was very important, because these young intellectuals, in formulating their nationalist program, had to take account of the strong Moslem traditions and conservative tendencies of their elders as well as of the democratic and revolutionary doctrines of their Parisian patrons. To an Occidental mind these two sets of aims were clearly contradictory. But the young men in the Moroccan Action did not find them irreconcilable, as was clearly shown in the "Plan for Moroccan Reforms" which they published in November 1934 at Paris under the sponsorship of a group of Frenchmen prominent in politics, journalism, the law and academic life. It is significant that the "Plan" was also published at Cairo. This manifesto, which was a catalogue of demands and complaints rather than an articulated scheme of reforms, became the official program of the movement.
The Action counted many friends among the Leftists who were victorious in the French elections in the spring of 1936, and it naturally assumed therefore that its demands would be granted forthwith. But after a few months it began to realize that the Blum Ministry was not going to accept them. The Action thereupon launched forth on a violent agitation, which on March 18, 1937, led to its dissolution by the Sultan. The nationalists then decided that force alone would prevail, and proceeded to prepare the country, even the outlying rural districts, to redeem itself in a frenzy of sacrifice. In August 1937 carefully prepared outbreaks began occurring. Blood was shed, and in October the authorities were led to make mass arrests. General Noguès, the Résident, adopted a very wise policy: he quieted the suspicions of the younger Moroccans by granting a part of their demands and by liberating most of those who had been imprisoned. The majority of the nationalists by this time had learned that the Protectorate could not be overthrown by force; the Munich crisis therefore passed with no untoward repercussions in Morocco.
Taking North Africa as a whole, we are now in a position to make certain broad generalizations about French policy. In the beginning the authorities failed to grasp the real nature and importance of the various influences filtering in from the Near East. They were inclined to scoff at the efforts of the Destour, the Ulemas, the North African Star and the Moroccan Action as in no way representative of the mass of the natives. Then suddenly events revealed that the spirit of nationalism was making progress even among the tribes in the country districts. Easy-going confidence suddenly gave way to boundless anxiety. All the demands put forward by the nationalists, even those of a purely cultural nature, seemed to take on an anti-French color. This was particularly the case in Algeria, where the subsequent repression was sometimes indiscriminate. In Tunisia, a state of siege was declared after the disturbances in April 1938; and with this arbitrary power in their hands the authorities did not always seek to make the punishment fit the crime. Only in Morocco was repression followed by such skilful opportunism that native opinion was appeased, even though not won over entirely.
The French Government, unable to adapt itself to rapidly changing conditions in North Africa, was equally unprepared to cope with difficulties that arose in its mandated territories in the Levant -- Syria and the Lebanon. In Syria it encountered a cultured bourgeoisie accustomed to holding high offices under the Turkish régime; while in the Lebanon, where the majority of the inhabitants belonged to one of numerous Christian sects, education had already reduced the proportion of illiterates to 16 percent. The French colonial officials, whose training had been largely confined to governing the colonies in Africa, lacked the experience necessary to administer areas in which the process of political and social evolution had reached an advanced stage.
Furthermore, neither the French Government at Paris nor its officials on the spot had a clear idea of what was involved in ruling an area under mandate. Some held that France was dutybound to prepare these Levantine states for complete independence as rapidly as possible; others -- for political, military or financial reasons -- favored prolonging the provisional régime indefinitely. The dangers inherent in France's uncertain and contradictory policy in Syria were revealed in July 1925 when a revolt broke out in the Jebel Druse and spread to Damascus, Mount Hermon and the South Lebanon. Following the suppression of this insurrection the Government failed to pursue a clearcut policy. Negotiations with the Syrian nationalists would be undertaken, then broken off; reforms would be instituted, only to have their effect arbitrarily annulled. By the end of the twenties the French Government had demonstrated its inability to solve the problems arising from (1) the age-old conflict between Syria and the Lebanon, and (2) the contradictory claims of the Christian minority in Syria and of the Moslem minority in the Lebanon.
In June 1931 the French representative on the Permanent Mandates Commission declared that "the present process of evolution points to the termination of the mandate for Syria and the Lebanon at a not very distant date." Fortified with this promise, and encouraged by the emancipation of 'Iraq in 1932, the Syrian nationalists stubbornly refused every compromise offered them. On January 10, 1936, they decided to pass from words to action. The market places were closed (January 18-February 14), there was a boycott of foreign companies, and disorders took place at Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Deir-ez-Zor in which sixty were killed and hundreds wounded. The Government thereupon promised, on March 1, to grant Syria rights equal to those accorded by Britain to 'Iraq.
In June 1936 M. Blum inherited these promises from M. Flandin, together with the conduct of pourparlers which had been going on in Paris since March. M. Viénot, who was resolved to bring negotiations to a quick and successful conclusion, on September 3 signed a protocol with the head of the Syrian delegation, Hashem Bey el-Attassi. This was followed by the signature of a treaty with the Lebanon on November 13 and one with Syria on December 22. The Lebanon was separated from Syria and each was given its own government. The independence of Syria was recognized, to take effect in three years. In return it accepted a 25-year alliance with France, and gave certain military, economic and cultural guarantees.
Peace seemed restored. There was loyal collaboration at Damascus between the High Commissioner and the nationalists, as was shown when the latter accepted alterations in the treaty and resigned themselves, albeit reluctantly, to the cession of the Sanjak of Alexandretta to Turkey. But the Government's delay in presenting the treaty to Parliament and the encouragement which was given to the separatist demands of the minorities, in particular by certain French officers, convinced Syrian opinion that France wished to kill, or at least mutilate, the treaty. The extremist elements, led by Dr. Shahbendar, chief of the "nationalist bloc," spread the idea that a jihad -- a holy war -- was necessary to compel France to honor her promises.
It was in this feverish atmosphere that the Syrian Prime Minister, Jemil Mardam Bey, left Damascus in August 1938 for Paris to negotiate with Foreign Minister Bonnet. The two men came to a complete understanding. In a joint declaration signed on November 14 they expressed the hope "that the Syrian Parliament will give its approval" to the treaty of December 22, 1936, "not later than January 20, 1939, and that the French Parliament, to which the report of the relevant committees will be presented before December 10, will authorize the ratification of that document before January 31, 1939. Under these conditions the transfer of functions from the mandatory Power to the Syrian administrator will occur during next February." Furthermore, the date set for Syria's admission to the League of Nations was put ahead from December 31 to September 30, 1939.
These reciprocal promises were quite explicit. Yet Jemil Mardam Bey had not yet returned to Damascus when M. Bonnet, under the pressure of intrigues in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, declared (December 14) that for the moment he would not bring the treaty before the Chamber for ratification. This violation of a solemn promise less than a month after it had been given naturally had serious consequences in Syria. Jemil Mardam Bey left office on February 18, and was followed by two cabinets, one nationalist and the other neutral, which lasted only a few weeks. The situation became so grave that the High Commissioner took over the police power and in March occupied Damascus with troops. The situation was further aggravated on July 2 when the Government decided to extend a certain amount of autonomy to the minorities. As a result, Hashem Bey el-Attassi resigned from his office as President of the Republic.
To put an end to the crisis, the High Commissioner was obliged to suspend the constitution, dismiss the Chamber and entrust power to a directorate subject to his own supervision. He also declared that the country should harbor "no illusions as to the permanence of French rule in Syria," and that he himself was in favor of prolonging the mandatory régime and direct French rule in defiance of the promises which the French Government had been making ever since March 1, 1936. The energetic purge of the administration and the penalties which were inflicted on the nationalists following this announcement showed in a very practical way the new direction which French policy in Syria was to take.
In Syria, then, as in North Africa, there has been a reaction during the last two years against the liberal measures of the Blum government and a return to an authoritarian régime. The outbreak of the war presented the nationalist parties with a favorable opportunity for revolt. Instead of seizing it, they spontaneously adhered to the Allied cause. Everywhere -- Damascus, Tunis, Algiers and Fez -- native opinion was unanimous against Hitler's racist régime, and this despite the German propaganda actively disseminated from Berlin by Shekib Arslan.
But if the nationalist leaders, especially in Syria, have shelved their demands for the moment, they have made it clear that they intend to push them with renewed vigor at the end of the war. Jemil Mardam Bey, when proclaiming that "Syria will always remain the ally of France and will maintain a faithful attachment to her," nevertheless expressed the hope that the French Government would return to its traditional policy of assisting the Arab countries to fulfill their national aspirations. Dr. Shahbendar was even more explicit. "During the last war," he said, "the Arabs took up arms and fought for the Allied countries. Now, twenty years later, the Arabs again stand shoulder to shoulder with their old comrades, because their destiny is irrevocably tied to that of the democracies. From victory they expect liberty and independence."
France would betray her own genius were she to fail courageously to revise her Moslem policy when the war is over. In the Levant she must make good her plighted word by granting independence to the Syrian and Lebanese Republics. In the North African Protectorates, Tunisia and Morocco, she must effect thorough-going constitutional changes: the whole concept of a protectorate must be reexamined and its juridical bases defined coherently and definitively. In Algeria the gates of French citizenship must be opened widely to the Moslems. This is simple justice. It is also to the interest of France, for it will erect an insurmountable barrier to the wave of Pan Arabism that is sweeping North Africa from the East. In all these countries the land must be given to the fellahin, and an outlet for the ambitions of the educated youth must be found in the government services. The nationalists' cultural demands, even if imported from the Near East, must not be regarded in the same light as the political programs of individual parties. And lastly, the Government must improve its services for obtaining information and for unifying Moslem policy. The creation of the Haut-comité Méditerranéen, attached to the Prime Minister's office, and of the ministry for coördinating the different administrations in North Africa are the first steps in this direction. But there must be others.
During the debate on the 1940 budget in December 1939, M. Sarraut, Minister of the Interior, M. Herriot, President of the Chamber, and M. Mandel, Minister of Colonies, promised that France would not forget the services rendered by her colonial populations during the present war. Throughout her overseas possessions France has carried out a great civilizing mission. Now in her hour of peril she is being repaid by their almost unanimous loyalty. If the peace of tomorrow is to be what all Frenchmen hope it is, a peace of justice, it can be no less just to natives than to Europeans.
The Arab problem is bound to play an increasingly larger part in Mediterranean affairs. Not only France and Britain, but Italy and Spain are vitally concerned with the course of events in the Arab world. Take the case of Spain. When General Beigbeder was High Commissioner in the Spanish Zone of Morocco, he enrolled large numbers of natives as mercenaries to fight for Franco in Spain. He also encouraged nationalist disaffection in the French Zone. Now that he is Franco's Minister of Foreign Affairs, he may very likely try to expand that policy in coöperation with the other totalitarian Powers.
In the case of Italy, it is clear that Mussolini's Moslem policy has been merely a phase of his foreign policy. Italy's only Moslem subjects are four million backward souls in Ethiopia and 700,000 leaderless Libyans, about whose welfare the Fascist state is little concerned. Mussolini's aim, like that of Franco, is negative -- namely, to cause trouble in the possessions of France and Britain by inflammatory broadcasts in Arabic from the Bari radio station, by disseminating seditious pamphlets, and by encouraging agitators like Shekib Arslan. In 1937 Il Duce went so far as to proclaim himself "Protector of Islam" at a spectacular ceremony in Tripoli.
Fascist propaganda might have been more successful if Rome had not decreed a series of drastic laws aimed at preserving the "racial" purity and superiority of the Italian colonists in Libya and Ethiopia. A "special Italian citizenship" has been created in Libya, giving natives certain rights valid exclusively in Africa and entitling them to hold certain minor civil and military posts. In other words, a sort of second-class citizenship has been invented for the more faithful and better educated Moslems.
The same contempt for the rights of the natives is manifest in the Fascist conception of colonization as an instrument for gaining control of the Mediterranean and for strengthening Italian autarchy. In order to make place for the soldier-colonists installed along the coasts of Libya, the Fascist Government has expropriated the best lands of the natives. These facts are well-known to the Moslem world; and should Italy actively enter the war on the side of Germany, she may find that her Moslem policy has earned her the bitter enmity of Islam.
[i] Holders of university diplomas, commissioned and non-commissioned officers, certain dignitaries holding the Légion d'Honneur and the Médaille Militaire, and farmers and merchants chosen to represent their economic groups.
[ii] Nation Arabe, September-December, 1938, p. 1197.