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THE pacts of amity between the British Government and Sultan Ibn Saud, recently concluded at Bahra through Sir Gilbert Clayton, and the treaties subsequently concluded with the Imam Yahia of the Yemen, will not fail to leave their impress upon the development of Great Britain's future policy in the Middle East. Until now that policy has undergone numerous transformations without ever assuming a definite conclusive shape. Superficially, the Bahra agreements represent nothing unusual in the diplomatic relations between England and Arabia. They have long been under consideration by the Arab experts of Downing Street, and Sir Gilbert Clayton, late Chief Secretary to the Government of Palestine, was only responsible for putting into technical shape and wording what had been achieved through a protracted negotiation. But having been concluded at an historic hour to the movement of Arab independence, as well as to the consolidation of the Middle Eastern policy of Great Britain, these agreements are a landmark of great consequence in a complex diplomatic chapter.
When Great Britain assumed responsibilities for the new Middle Eastern Empire, public opinion, as well as expert political opinion, was very much divided as to the merits of the fresh imperial burden. Two schools were predominant. On the one hand were the experts, most of them Tory in their political philosophy, whose most authoritative spokesmen were Colonel Lawrence and Miss Gertrude Bell. They maintained that a policy of annexation, whether disguised or outspoken, was not in accord either with the spirit of the Mandate or indeed with the dictates of British realpolitik. From the very outset they demanded a larger measure of true independence for the newly created Arab kingdoms and Emirates. They were most of them personally responsible for the new acquisitions and commitments, and, apart from the ethical issue involved in giving pledges solemnly and withdrawing them quietly, they foresaw a constant decline in British prestige in the East if the pledges were to be unconditionally violated. The other influential section of opinion, including many Liberals, deemed the grant of any protection without direct or indirect annexation an unjustified extravagance, an imperial burden which Britain could ill afford to undertake on the morrow of the World War.
It would not be incorrect to say that the comparatively rich bookshelf dealing with the Arab problem of Great Britain has failed to produce one complete, thorough and unbiased survey of the diplomatic transactions between England and Arabia. Much of the material pertaining to what is today and will probably continue to be for another few decades the most vital imperial problem of Great Britain is buried in secret archives in the Foreign and Colonial Offices and is not likely to be divulged to the public except perhaps at the hands of the historian a few generations hence. This mystery enshrouding Anglo-Arab relations may have its justification in the undependable character of most of those who were responsible for the conduct of the foreign policy on the Arab side. Time and again supposedly fully accredited representatives were found to be nothing of the sort, and the story of the recall of Dr. Nagi El Assil, a young Syrian politician who represented King Hussein at the Court of St. James, is still fresh in the memory of all interested. It is just this semi-Machiavellian character of the conduct of Arab policy which is responsible for much of the talk about breaches of promise and inconsistency on the English side. Thus when the dynasty of Sheriff Hussein was recognized as the only family authorized to speak for the Arab world, and Arab Emirs with large followings were literally ignored, there was an outcry that the British Government had laid its bets on the wrong horse. And when Feisal was selected as the most acceptable member of that family, when he was given the throne of Iraq, the Foreign Office was denounced as biased and shortsighted. When subsequently the aged and astute monarch, Hussein, was politely if firmly asked by Sir Austen Chamberlain to quit Arab territory and repair to Cyprus the usual accusation of inconsistency was again heard.
Let us look at the facts and see, if possible, whether the new combinations that have come into being represent a radical departure from the policies laid down by the draftsmen of the previous arrangements.
In 1921 the Lloyd George Cabinet decided to form a Cabinet Committee "to make recommendations for the formation of a new department under the Colonial Office to deal with Mandated and other territories in the Near East." That Committee, which was assisted by military, naval and air experts, had the advantage of studying the numerous administrative, political and strategical problems on the spot and of obtaining the advice of those responsible for the conduct of affairs in the various territories: the High Commissioners of Palestine and Iraq (then Sir Herbert Samuel and Sir Percy Cox) and the Residents of Aden and Bahrein. The Committee after prolonged consultations arrived at certain conclusions and embodied its recommendations in a report which to this day has not seen light, though it may safely be regarded as the most important document for the study of current tendencies in the Near East.
That Committee acted through several sub-committees and we are not here concerned with the sum total of its recommendations. However, there was one sub-committee (headed by the Colonial Secretary himself, then Winston S. Churchill, and comprising also Sir Percy Cox, Colonel Lawrence and Gen. Scott) whose main function it was to reconsider the political orientation of Great Britain towards the various Arab potentates in the Arab peninsula, with particular reference to the question of the political subsidies until then distributed in a most unsystematic, haphazard way.
This Commission arrived at the following conclusions: That Ibn Saud be paid £100,000 per annum; that Fahdad Bey be paid 240,000 rupees; that King Hussein be paid £100,000 per annum; that the Idrissi be paid £12,000 per annum. The following reasons were given:
Ibn Saud, the greatest factor in Arabian politics, owes his position entirely to his skill and personality. He has a treaty with the British Government and his attitude has always been friendly. His capacity for doing harm is great. From his central position he can invade south-west Mesopotamia, Koweit and Jebel Shammar when he pleases. The Akhwan, a militant sect of his subjects, are always urging to attack those of his neighbors who belong to the ordinary Moslem sects. Four such expeditions have lately taken place. Ibn Saud himself is a moderating influence. He remains at the head of the Akhwan movement in a position to restrain their excesses mainly by a wise use of the British subsidy, which will probably equal the total revenue of his government from other sources.
As conditions for the subsidy Ibn Saud had to promise to refrain: 1, from armed action against Iraq; 2, from armed action against Koweit; 3, from armed action against the Hejaz.
The original subsidy given Ibn Saud was only £60,000; it was increased to £100,000 a year in the hope that he would gain greater ascendancy over his followers and thus be in a position to comply with British wishes more exactly. Friendly relations between Ibn Saud and Feisal, and Ibn Saud and King Hussein, were urged by the Commissioners. Moreover they countenanced the assumption by Ibn Saud of the title of Sultan of Nejd and recommended his recognition as such.
Fahdad Bey is the Chief of the Ammarath Ganazeh on the Mesopotamian border west of Bagdad and Kerbeleh, west of the Euphrates. The Government of India used to pay him a compensation of 240,000 rupees in return for services to them. The air route from Palestine crosses his tribal territory for the last two hundred miles of its course, and his assistance is indispensable to its safe working. These reasons recommend the continuation of the subsidy.
King Hussein, though militarily less powerful than Ibn Saud, concerns Britain as the guardian of the Holy Places and because of his attitude towards the decision of the Allies regarding Arab areas. Unless he accepts these decisions in their newly modified form he will be a cause of unrest in the mandated territories and a nuisance in the Hedjaz. The Moslem world believes London created him and will blame Great Britain if, with the disappearance of the Turks from Arabia, pilgrimage conditions became worse. Hussein has not enough receipts today to afford to run a good pilgrimage, nor will he have until large numbers of pilgrims from overseas begin to arrive. Adverse reports on conditions in Mecca have unfortunately deterred them. To avoid jealousy between him and Ibn Saud, and to break the vicious circle, the Commission recommended an equal subsidy to King Hussein so as to enable him to put his house in order.
The grant of the subsidy to King Hussein was conditional upon his agreeing to: 1, ratify the Treaty of Versailles and sign and ratify the Turkish treaty; 2, recognize and respect British treaties with Ibn Saud and the Idrissi and refrain from all aggressions against them; 3, improve pilgrimage conditions, with especial reference to public safety, sanitation and protection of the rights of pilgrims; also to improve the water supply and hospitals and to reorganize the hospitals in Jedda; 4, recognize the rights and interests of British subjects in the Hejaz; 5, accept a British Consul and Agent at Jedda and, if necessary, a British Moslem Agent at Jedda; 6, prevent the Holy Places from becoming a focus for anti-British or Pan Islamic intrigue; 7, prevent the Sheriffian family from taking anti-French action and in particular restrain his followers and tribes in the Syrian area from all manifestations against the British and Allied governments.
It was anticipated that the institution of representative governments in Mesopotamia and Transjordan would satisfy King Hussein's expectations and persuade him to accept British advice as in the past. The amount was to reduced when the pilgrimage was restored and the Hejaz again became solvent.
The Idrissi was the first Arab ruler to join the British during the war. Under the treaty of 1917 the British were to help him with arms and ammunition both during the war and afterwards, and, if he was expelled, to provide him an asylum and to use every endeavor to restore him to his former position without any dimunition in his status. In return, the British acquired certain definite rights and excluded other Powers from exercising similar influence. He was on friendly terms with Ibn Saud, and at the same time there was some inconvenience in securing that friendship. He was the inevitable enemy of the Imam of Sanaa, an old-established, rich and powerful prince of Yemen, formerly a Turkish subject, but now independent. In order to persuade the Imam to follow British advice they had to offer him a satisfactory settlement of their frontier line and a subsidy of some £2000 a month. The Imam's private wealth made him less amenable to this sort of influence than Ibn Saud. The strongest factor in the hands of the British was the holding back of the Idrissi from further advances into Imam Yahia's territory. As the Idrissi was in pressing financial circumstances it was recommended that a subsidy of £1000 a month be paid him on condition that he maintain friendly relations with the British and grant no concessions to foreign parties in his territory.
These authoritative specifications of the reasons for the continuation or renewal of the grants-in-aid reveal the guiding principle of Anglo-Arab relations. The highly doubtful character of ex-King Hussein and his dynasty, whose glory has been chanted in Metropolitan journals for years, was fully recognized by those in whose hands the destinies of the Arab world was entrusted. Hussein had of course succeeded in playing the game for quite a while. Aided by British moral and financial support he exploited his traditional reputation for clannish purposes. For a time he not only regarded himself as the unchallenged spokesman of the Arab world, as Caliph of all the Faithful, but as the only important factor in the Moslem world in general. He tried to make everyone believe that his was a divine mission to be terminated only by divine decree.
The gloomy forecasts of the Commission with regard to the miserable conditions of Moslem pilgrims was unfortunately fulfilled to the letter and the conditions put to Hussein for the betterment of the pilgrims' welfare remained unheeded. He and his government, but especially he himself, treated Moslem pilgrims as personal chattels, to be disposed of at discretion -- an only too natural consequence of his treatment of the Moslem Holy Places as his sole personal property.
The reports of the maltreatment of Moslem pilgrims continually sent to the European chancelleries by their respective political agents in Jedda could not fail to induce the Christian Powers to take a more serious view of the situation, to have conditions thoroughly examined, and to take joint action for their betterment. The despatches of Mr. Bullard, the British Political Agent at Jedda, represented the feelings and protests of all European Powers, with the singular exception of Soviet Russia, whose envoy, being a Moslem from Bukhara, had his headquarters in Mecca and could therefore exert political influence direct. Nor was more respect shown the stipulation with regard to the exercise of greater care and discretion in the conduct of external affairs, especially with the Hejaz's neighbors to the north and south. Relying chiefly on his prestige as guardian of the Holy Moslem places and on his fabulous wealth (King Hussein is said to have amassed in personal taxes a fortune of over one million gold pounds, in addition to innumerable tracts of land on the African side of the Red Sea), Hussein assumed a more and more provocative attitude toward both France and Nejd. Towards France he cherished an historical enmity, dating from the sudden expulsion of his son Feisal from Damascus by General Gouraud's troops. And his attitude toward Ibn Saud could not fail to involve additional interests, especially British interests in Transjordan Palestine and Iraq.
On the other hand, Ibn Saud's régime was continually becoming more stabilized; a system of direct taxation and immediate collection of taxes was introduced by occasional French and English visitors who were asked to act as financial advisers, and the privy purse of the king himself was virtually the State's treasury -- not vice versa, as in the case of the Hashimite king. While following strictly the dictates of the Wahabi religion as regards such government reforms as would fall within the scope of religious innovations, the Wahabi chieftain tolerated a number of reforms, especially in the collection of the revenue of the state, which were conducive to the betterment of the public weal. This, together with the loss of popularity of Hussein, helped to enhance Ibn Saud's prestige with disinterested Moslem communities in distant lands.
But as the Wahabis increased in importance they became a menacing factor in the East which it was necessary to check if the whole structure of the mandates was to be left intact. In order to remove the danger of invasion from both Syria and Palestine, it was necessary to restrict the Wahabi influence promptly, to reduce their political significance to normal proportions, and to prevent the spread of the Wahabi insurgence to neighboring territories.
A factor contributing to the elimination of the Hashimite influence from the Arabian peninsula was no doubt the capture of the Holy Cities, Mecca and Medina, by Wahabi forces under Ibn Saud. It resulted moreover in the effort of the Wahabi administration to ameliorate the pilgrims' conditions as well as to settle the long-standing problem of the Caliphate -- the preparation of the All-Moslem Congress on the Caliphate. A number of important domestic problems left unsettled by the retiring Hedjaz government absorbed the whole attention of the new conquerors who had little leisure to devote to ambitions of expansion; they were therefore unconcerned as to the political status of any other Moslem or even Arab community beyond the confines of the desert. The rehabilitation of the ruins left by a two years' relentless war between Hedjazians and Nejadians precluded any possibility of provocative attacks on the part of the Wahabis against any other territory.
Thus much history was written in Arabia by Arabians themselves without the connivance of any European Power. Here was an historical enmity between two of the most influential tribes which culminated in the collapse of the one party--incidentally, that party which has admittedly abused the confidence reposed in it by millions of believers and by the most influential section of the civilized world. England, while making full allowance for its neutrality as a Moslem Power and by virtue of its treaties with both contending parties, nevertheless could not shut its eyes to the changing situation. It had endeavored to leave things in Arabia to take their normal course and tried to abide by its declared neutrality. But eventually, when Hussein's ambitious schemes for the spread of Hedjaz influence could no longer be looked upon without misgiving, it had no other alternative but to deport him from Arab territory.
The recent treaties between England and Ibn Saud are therefore an inevitable sequence of events in Arabia, as well as the result of the lesson learnt at great expense by diplomatic bartering between England and the Hejaz over a period of nine years. With an eye to the preservation of its vital interests, England sided with the party which broke the powers of misrule and corruption. Ibn Saud's régime will of course be judged by its achievements. It remains to be seen to what extent conditions in the Hedjaz will improve and how far he will go in introducing the much-needed reforms. But in the honesty of his purpose as well as in the perseverance he displayed in combating graft and injustice, no one has any reason to doubt -- always remembering that we are dealing with a country, or rather a world, which never in its history has known anything like a really stable and honest administration and that therefore everything has to be appraised by Arab criteria.
The international significance of the alliances is that the status of the Arab peninsula and the Moslem Holy Places has ceased to be only an imperial concern of the European Powers, and has been put to the whole Moslem world for open discussion. Britain, as the country with the greatest number of subjects professing the Moslem faith, is of course the one most directly concerned; hence its anxiety to act as moral or even political trustee of the whole of Arabia, whoever is in authority. The other European Powers (including Italy, which has interests in neighboring African lands) have too many colonial troubles of their own to indulge in any desire for new adventures. And the preparedness of England to exercise a shadow of political control over Arabia -- the affairs of which it knows so well -- has therefore been received by both the Moslem world and the rest of Europe without grudge, indeed with rejoicing.