Modern History of the Arab Countries. Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky 1969
At the close of the 19th century, Syria, Palestine and Iraq were still provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Unlike Egypt or the Sudan, their connections with the Porte were by no means a matter of formality. During this period, the history of the Arab countries of Asia Minor was closely bound up with Turkish history and cannot be analysed separately from the general history of the Ottoman Empire.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the development of capitalism in Europe and North America brought capitalism into its final stage-imperialism. On the other hand, the first rudiments of capitalism were only just beginning to appear in Turkey and her Arab domains, where the decline of feudal society was extremely slow. The transition from feudalism to capitalism had begun, but it was proceeding in extremely contradictory circumstances.
Turkey was turned first into a sales market and then into a semi-colony of the European capitalist Powers. The second period of the tanzimat, introduced by the hatti-humayun of 1856, which by virtue of the Paris Peace Treaty acquired the form of an international obligation, paved the way for foreign capital. Turkey undertook to issue railway, bank, mining and other concessions to foreign investors; she gave them the right to buy land in the Ottoman Empire and granted their local agents (Armenian, Greek and Christian Arab merchants) a number of privileges. The Paris Peace Treaty of 1856 thus initiated the conversion of Turkey and her Arab domains into a semi-colony controlled by foreign capital.
The Eastern War of 1853-56, which was concluded by the Paris Peace Treaty, laid the foundation for Turkey’s financial enslavement. During the war, in 1854, Turkey concluded her first foreign loan to cover military expenditure. The loan was granted on the most onerous terms. Out of the nominal sum of 75,000,000 francs, the Turks received only 60,000,000 francs, the tribute paid by Egypt being offered as a guarantee for a loan. A second loan was contracted in 1855 for a sum of 125,000,000 francs, which was also meant to cover military expenditure and was guaranteed by the customs revenues of Smyrna (Izmir) and Syria. This was followed by the loan of 1858 for a sum of 125,000,000 francs, out of which Turkey actually received only 95,000,000 francs. This loan was guaranteed by the revenues of the Istanbul customs houses. Then came eleven more loans in 1860, 1862, 1863, 1865 (two loans), 1869, 1870, 1871, 1872, 1873 and 1874. Thus we observe the same process that took place in Egypt only on a broader scale. By 1874, the total sum of the loans had reached 5,300,000,000 francs, out of which Turkey received only 3,012,000,000 francs or 56.8 per cent of the nominal sum. The banks (chiefly French and partly British) retained over 2,000,000,000 francs or 43.2 per cent of the nominal sum as interest, commission and the like.
The Ottoman Bank, which was founded in 1856 as a British Bank and was turned into an Anglo-French Bank in 1863, played an important part in Turkey’s financial enslavement. The bank itself granted ruinous loans and mediated in the receipt of loans from other banks. It also founded a number of branch companies which received highly remunerative concessions on the territories of the Ottoman Empire.
Why did Turkey contract a series of new loans after the first military loans? The reasons were the same as in Egypt. The only difference was that in Egypt the money was used chiefly for the construction of the Suez Canal, while in Turkey it was used for railways which were built on the basis of kilometric guarantees. This meant that when the Porte distributed concessions on railway construction, it guaranteed the concessionaires fixed revenues from each kilometre of the line. The difference between the actual sum received and the guaranteed sum of the revenues was met by the Treasury. These kilometric guarantees became one of the chief means for the usurious plunder of Turkey and her Arab domains by foreign capital.
To pay for the kilometric guarantees colossal sums were needed, which the Turkish Government sought by contracting foreign loans. The state revenues had to be mortgaged as security for the loans. First the Egyptian tribute and the revenues from the customs houses were mortgaged, then the proceeds from the agnam tax (tax on sheep), the re-venues from the salt and tobacco monopolies and the. like. The more revenue Turkey had to spend to pay off the interest on the loans, the more she needed new loans. Despite the fact that the taxes in the empire were raised, the peasant economy was completely ruined and the petty officials, officers and clergy failed to receive their salaries.
In 1875, Turkey’s total revenues came to 380,000,000 francs, out of which 300,000,000 francs alone had to be used to meet the payments on the loans. Under these conditions, on October 6, 1875, the Porte declared itself bankrupt and announced that only half of the obligations on the loans would be paid in cash; the other half would be paid in bonds.
As in the case of Egypt, Turkey’s bankruptcy put the Ottoman Empire into difficulties both at home and abroad. Even before Turkey had declared herself bankrupt, the yoke of the European bankers and the Turkish State, which had become a servant of the foreign money-lenders, had evoked deep discontent among broad sections of the population. A peasant movement, which was especially powerful in the Balkan provinces of Bosnia, Herzegovina and Bulgaria, developed in the Ottoman Empire.
In the summer of 1875, the peasants of Bosnia and Herzegovina rose in rebellion against the Moslem feudalists and demanded agrarian reforms. The uprising tended towards national liberation and had Serbia’s and Russia’s backing. The insurgents demanded Bosnia’s and Herzegovina’s secession from Turkey and their incorporation in Serbia. In July 1876, Serbia and Montenegro started a war and inflicted a number of defeats on the Turks, which again aggravated the situation in Turkey. Everywhere there were marked signs of discontent with the line of action taken by Sultan Abdul Aziz, who was accused of betraying Turkey’s interests to the foreigners.
In May 1876, popular demonstrations broke out in Constantinople. On May 22, a crowd of several thousand sufists (members of the collegiate mosques) marched to the Sul-tan’s palace, where they were joined by artisans, traders and minor officials. The frightened Sultan promised to pay the salaries that had been withheld and to introduce a constitution. Several days later, however, it was discovered that the Sultan had entered into secret negotiations with the foreigners. A group of officers then brought out the troops and on the night of May 29, 1876, arrested Abdul Aziz and announced his deposal. Abdul Aziz’s feeble-minded brother, Murad V, was placed on the throne.
The active participants of the coup were a group of Turkish officers, liberal officials and intellectuals who called themselves “yeni-osmanlar,” i.e., the “new Ottomans,” a group that had been formed back in the sixties. The “new Ottomans” were dissatisfied with the situation in the Otto-man Empire, with the miserable results of the tanzimat, and with the penetration of foreign capital. Their programme may be summed up under three headings:
1) The development of national capitalism. “Let the Ottomans themselves be the ones to set up all the commercial and industrial companies in Turkey; let them build the new railways,” one of the documents read.
2) The establishment of a constitutional and parliamentary system.
3) The development of a bourgeois culture and opposition to the medieval Turkish way of life and customs.
At first the “new Ottomans” restricted themselves wholly to enlightenment. In 1860, they founded Dar El-Funun, a kind of lecture bureau, which arranged talks by writers, scholars and public men. In 1865, they founded a secret political society, but it had two serious drawbacks.
In the first place, as representatives of the dominant nationality in the Ottoman Empire, the “new Ottomans” regarded the entire Ottoman Empire as a market for the Turkish bourgeoisie. They maintained that the Ottoman Empire should continue to rule over its subject peoples, and they adopted a hostile attitude towards movements which aimed at freeing these oppressed peoples from the Ottoman yoke. To justify this chauvinist policy, they invented the absurd theory of the existence of a “single Ottoman nation,” which denied all national distinctions between the peoples of the Ottoman Empire, including the Turks themselves. This theory is known in Europe as “Pan-Osmanism.”
Secondly, the “new Ottomans” were isolated from the masses of the people. Consequently, they advocated palace revolution tactics. In 1867, the “new Ottomans” made their first attempt at a palace revolution. But the plot was uncovered by the police and members of the secret society were arrested, Some of them managed to escape abroad. in 1873, they returned to their native land, but were immediately banished to various regions of Turkey.
Midhat Pasha, a staunch advocate of constitution and reform and the Governor of Iraq between 1869 and 1871, was closely linked with the “new Ottomans.” In 1872, he was appointed Great Vizir, but soon resigned because of his differences with the Sultan. in 1876, he took an active part in the May revolution as one of the leaders of the “new Ottoman” movement.
Upon their succession to power, the “new Ottomans” continued to act by means of high-level intrigue. Three days after the revolution, they did away with Sultan Abdul Aziz, who was murdered on the night of June 1. The official version of his death read: “His Highness, the padishah, in a fit of insanity lay hands on himself to the great sorrow of his loyal subjects.”
In August 1876, the sultan was changed again. Murad V, who suffered from persecution mania, was too far gone to remain on the throne any longer. Midhat Pasha and his supporters made arrangements with Murad V’s brother-Abdul Hamid-and on August 31, they proclaimed him Sultan. Abdul Hamid II, who represented the interests of the most reactionary sections of the Turkish feudal class, temporarily supported the “new Ottomans.” He appointed Midhat Pasha Great Vizir and entrusted him with the task of drawing up a new constitution.
Midhat Pasha’s constitution, which was slightly altered by Abdul Hamid, allowed the Sultan to retain considerable rights. He had the power to appoint and dismiss ministers, declare war and conclude peace, dissolve Parliament, annul civil laws and banish politically unreliable persons without trial. The Parliament was divided into two Houses: the Senate, which was appointed by the Sultan, and the Chamber of Deputies, which was elected on the basis of property and age qualifications. All the Sultan’s subjects, irrespective of language and religious differences, were declared “Otto-mans” and had equal rights and obligations. The Turkish language, however, was made the official language of the Ottoman Empire and Islam, the official religion.
The promulgation of the constitution coincided with the opening of the International Conference at Constantinople on the reforms in Turkey’s Balkan provinces. On December 23, 1876, when the delegates were assembling in conference, they heard a cannonade. The Turkish delegate explained to the gatherers that the salute was in honour of the constitution. “I feel,” he said, “that in view of this great event our labours are unnecessary.”
This manoeuvre, however, did not achieve its aim. Moreover, the Porte’s refusal to show any willingness to meet the Balkan peoples’ demands aggravated Russo-Turkish relations and led to the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78.
The situation which had arisen both at home and abroad in connection with the Russo-Turkish War made it possible for Abdul Hamid II to get rid of the constitution and the new Ottomans.” The existing constitution did not suit him at all. He had used it in the diplomatic game and had no further use for it.
In February 1877, he dismissed and banished Midhat Pasha from the capital (first to Syria, then to Hejaz, where he was killed in 1883). On February 13, 1878, he even suspended indefinitely the feeble Parliament elected at the beginning of 1877, which had obeyed him without demur. Formally, the constitution was not abolished. Throughout Abdul Hamid II’s reign it was published annually in the official Turkish calendar as the chief law of the state.
After the Parliament and the constitution had been suspended, the Sultan introduced a strict autocratic regime known as Zulum (Hamdanian despotism). Abdul Hamid II became the absolute ruler of the Ottoman Empire.
Lenin made an important contribution to the under-standing of Zulum in his article “A New Chapter of World History,” in which he wrote: “In Eastern Europe (Austria, the Balkans, Russia), the powerful survivals of medievalism, which terribly hamper social development and the growth of the proletariat, still have not yet been abolished. These survivals are absolutism (the unlimited autocratic power), feudalism (landlordism and feudal privileges) and the suppression of nationalities.” [Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 18, p. 368.]
These three points characterise the Ottoman Empire’s social and political system during the period of Zulum. Landlordism still formed the basis of society. The big feudalists were Abdul Hamid II’s main supporters and occupied all the leading posts in the Turkish Government. The period of Zulum was a time of brutal national oppression and mass pogroms. Abdul Hamid drowned in blood the national liberation movement of the Armenians in East Anatolia in 1894-96, made short work of the Greek uprising on the island of Crete in 1896 and suppressed the Macedonian Christians’ aspirations to freedom.
During the period of Zulum, the country was run not so much by the government, but by the Sultan’s court. Abdul Hamid had surrounded himself with feudalists from the most backward provinces-Arabia and Kurdistan. The Kurds under the command of reactionary Arab and Circassian officers constituted the backbone of the irregular cavalry, the hamdieh, which instilled terror in the Christian population of the Empire. The Circassian, Albanian, Kurdish and Arab feudalists played the leading role in the court. They constituted the country’s real government. Any of the Sultan’s odalisques exercised greater influence than his ministers. The whole court camarilla was thoroughly corrupt and foreign capitalists could not only buy any Turkish dignitary, but even the Sultan himself.
Denunciation and mutual espionage thrived in the Otto-man Empire in the period of Zulum. The Sultan’s dignitaries kept close watch over and informed against each other. The entire social life of the Ottoman Empire was supervised by the vigilant eye of the police and their numerous agents.
Abdul Hamid II even banned electricity and telephones in his palace for fear that someone might kill him with the wires.
Pan-Islamism was the official ideology of Zulum in a reactionary interpretation. Abdul Hamid II adopted Jamal ed-Din el-Afghani’s teachings on the unity of the Moslem peoples to his own ends. His ideal was an all-Moslem state with himself as the ruler, the sovereign of the faithful. Abdul Hamid II wanted to extend his power to all the Moslems of Egypt (who were under British control), the Moslems of North Africa, who were under French rule, the Moslems of British India and the Moslems of the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Volga, which were part of Russia. These wild imperialist plans were backed by Kaiser Wilhelm II, who wished to use Turkey in the struggle against the Entente Powers.
The regime of Zulum was the most convenient form of statehood for the penetration of foreign capital into Turkey and the Arab countries and for their economic enslavement. During the period of Zulum, the semi-colonial exploitation of Abdul Hamid II’s domains was effected in two ways. On the one hand, Turkey and her Arab vilayets were utilised as a sales market and a source of raw materials. On the other hand, they were plundered by means of onerous loans and kilometric guarantees during railway construction.
At the end of the 19th century, Turkey’s importance as a sales market and raw material supplier increased, as can be seen from the growth of the Ottoman Empire’s foreign trade turnover. Turkish foreign trade rose more than two-fold within the thirty years preceding World War I. The following table shows Turkey’s imports and exports (annual average in million lires):
Syria, Iraq and Palestine accounted for about a quarter of the Ottoman Empire’s imports and about a fifth of its exports.
The increase of foreign trade drew Turkey and her Arab domains into the world capitalist economy not as equal members, but as an agrarian and raw material appendage of the European capitalist economy. Turkish trade was based on unequal exchange and bore a specific colonial character. Cloth and yarn were Turkey’s main import items while her main export items were raw wool and silk as well as hides, tobacco and all sorts of subtropical fruits.
British capital still played the major role in Turkish trade. In the eighties and nineties of the 19th century, however, the situation began to change. Although Britain continued to dominate the Turkish market, she was beginning to be forced out by the Germans, who had considerably increased their exports to Turkey. In 1882, Germany exported 6,000,000 marks’ worth of goods to Turkey, whereas in 1895, the value of her exports rose to 35,000,000 marks.
The growing export of capital was the main feature of the imperialist era. This did not promote the Ottoman Empire’s economic development. Foreign capital investments were not used for industry, but for state loans and railway construction. During the reign of Zulum, in 1890-1908, to be more exact, Turkey received twelve new loans of 45,000,000 lires. All told, by the outbreak of World War I, the Porte’s foreign debts had reached 152,300,000 lires. The public debt was the main foreign capital investment sphere in Turkey. Other foreign capital investment spheres were banking and railway construction. By 1914, foreign investments in Turkey, apart from loans, were estimated at £63,400,000. Of these, £39,100,000 were ac-counted for by railway construction and £10,200,000 by banks. Industrial investments comprised £5,500,000, i.e., only about 8 per cent of foreign capital investment (excluding the public debt).
Turkey’s usurious exploitation by foreign capital exhausted her finances and led to her complete financial collapse. The first bankruptcy of 1875 was followed by another one in 1879. At the Powers’ demands, in 1881, the Sultan issued the decree of muharrem, establishing foreign control over the Ottoman Empire’s finances. It was called the decree of muharrem because it bore the date, Turkish style, of the 28th of muharrem (December 20, 1881, according to the Moslem calendar). The decree of muharrem consolidated the Ottoman Empire’s general debt, which was fixed at 2,400,000,000 francs. The debt was reduced bymore than half, but it still exceeded the Porte’s actual debt by 300,000,000 francs.
A special Administration was formed to supervise the Ottoman public debt. Formally, it was regarded as a Turkish institution. Actually, the Administration of the Ottoman Public Debt was in the hands of foreigners who represented the French, British, Italian, German and Austria-Hungarian banks. Russia was not represented on the Council of the Administration of the Ottoman Debt, but the payment of 300,000,000 rubles (802,000,000 francs) of war indemnities to Russia was executed through the Administration of the Debt. As for Turkey, her representative on the Council of the Administration of the Ottoman Debt merely had the right to a deliberative vote.
The Administration of the Ottoman Debt became the second Finance Ministry of the Ottoman Empire. It had over 5,000 officials, who operated parallel to the Turkish state machinery and were entrusted with greater powers.
The most important items of the Ottoman Empire’s state revenues passed under the Administration’s control. The revenues from the tobacco and salt monopolies, from stamps, spirits, the tithe from specified vilayets and also the Bulgarian tribute, the revenues from Eastern Rumelia and Cyprus, the surplus from the customs (in event of their increase) and the like, all flowed into the Administration’s treasury.
The Administration’s extortions and its perfected methods of plunder only intensified the tax oppression in the Otto-man Empire. A number of branch societies, which also engaged in usurious plunder and were controlled by the same group of foreign capital, germinated from the Ottoman Debt Administration. In 1883, the highly profitable tobacco monopoly was made into an independent concession Regie cointeressée des tabacs Ottoman, which was known as Regie. The concession received the exclusive right to manufacture, purchase and sell tobacco. The Regie’s tyranny seriously affected the tobacco growers’ position, especially in Syria.
At the end of the 19th century, railway construction, which the foreign capitalists used as a means of extracting fabulous profits, acquired an outright political character. It became one of the means of political penetration into the Ottoman Empire and the object of intense rivalry between the imperialists. Count Moltke, one of the biggest theoreticians and practicians of German militarism, was one of the first to realise the new significance of railway construction. In an article written in the middle of the 19th century, he had proposed laying a railway across the whole Ottoman Empire. He wrote that the shoulder from which this iron arm would stretch should be a United German Empire. This arm would then cut across Asia Minor and extend its fingers to the borders of the Caucasus, Iraq and India.
By the sixties of the 19th century, German economists and sociologists were regarding the Ottoman Empire as their future colony. The German economist Rodbertus wrote that he hoped to live to see the day when the Turkish inheritance would pass to Germany and regiments of German soldiers would be stationed on the shores of the Bosporus.
After Germany’s reunification, the German junkers and capitalists set about carrying out these expansionist plans. The Ottoman Empire was to be turned into a region of German colonisation, while Iraq was to become the German Empire’s granary and cotton plantation. German diplomacy counted on Turkey’s coming completely under Germany’s control and flatly refused to have anything to do with the various plans for the partition of the Ottoman Empire.
German penetration proceeded through military, economic and political canals.
In 1882, Baron von der Goltz’s military mission was invited to Turkey, where it spent fourteen years. Colonel von der Goltz became a Turkish pasha and reorganised the army. The Turkish military schools were placed under the mission’s supervision. German military traditions were introduced in the Sultan’s army. Many Turkish officers were sent to Germany for training and to complete their military education.
Simultaneously, the Germans began putting von Moltke’s railway plans into practice. On October 4, 1888, the German capitalist Alfred Kaulla, acting on instructions from the Deutsche Bank and the Wurtemberg Bank, received aconcession for the construction of a railway from the Bosporus to Ankara. The line was to begin at Haidar-Pasha Station in Scutari, a district of Constantinople situated on the Asian shores of the Bosporus. Part of the line up to Izmir had already been built by an Anglo-Greek company. The Turkish Government bought this line from the British and handed it over to the Germans. Alfred Kaulla took over the task of continuing the line. As yet there were no plans for extending it to Baghdad, but the foundation for the construction of the Baghdad Railway, which played an important part in the history of international relations during the era of imperialism, had been laid.
To strengthen German influence, Kaiser Wilhelm II paid two spectacular visits to the Orient. The first took place in November 1889, soon after Wilhelm II’s accession to the throne. The whole affair was arranged with great pomp. The Sultan himself welcomed the Kaiser with an artillery salute on the embankment in front of his palace. On the Sultan’s orders, a special medal was stamped in the Kaiser’s honour. In a telegram to Bismarck, Wilhelm wrote: “My sojourn in Constantinople is a heavenly dream.”
The German diplomats made skilful use of the differences between the Porte and the other European Powers, always stressing the hostility of the great European Powers towards Turkey. Britain had seized Egypt and Cyprus, France had seized Algeria and Tunisia, and Russia had annexed Kars and Ardagan and freed the Balkans. German diplomats alleged that only Germany was not interested in territorial seizures and in weakening Turkey, while frightening the Sultan in every possible way with talk of the Powers’ real and imaginary plans for aggression.
This policy played a definite role in the German-Turkish rapprochement, in establishing German political control over Turkey. In the eighties and nineties of the 19th century, there was a shift from the former pro-British orientation to a new pro-German orientation. Germany became the Porte’s “friend and ally.”
Kaiser Wilhelm II’s second visit to the Orient in October-November 1898 ensured German diplomacy’s success. This visit was arranged with even greater pomp than the first. The Kaiser toured not only Constantinople, but also Jerusalem and Damascus. Claiming to be the Moslems’ defender and protector, he made a pilgrimage to the burial place of the Moslem saints and laid a wreath on the tomb of Saladin. “His Majesty the Sultan and the three hundred million Moslems who revere him as the Caliph may rest assured that they will always have a friend in the German Emperor,” [George Antonius, The Arab Awakening, I. p. 77.] he declared at Saladin’s tomb.
The Kaiser’s second visit coincided with an intensification of the struggle over railway concessions. In 1892, after the line to Ankara had been completed, the Germans asked for a concession to continue the line. Before reaching Ankara, the line was to branch off to the south and then turn to the east in the direction of Konya. This concession evoked protests from Britain, Russia and France. The Germans insisted on the concession and threatened to oppose Britain in the Egyptian question. Britain was forced to change her position and the German company received the concession.
When the railway was extended to Konya in 1894, the question arose whether to continue the line to Baghdad. An intense diplomatic struggle ensued. Since Turkey intended to grant kilometric guarantees, but lacked the money to do so, the Germans proposed she should increase import duties from 8 per cent to 11 per cent ad valorem. This, however, meant securing Britain’s, France’s and Russia’s sanction, with whom Turkey was connected by commercial treaties.
Britain agreed to the duty increase, but demanded by way of compensation that British capital be invited to participate in the construction of the Baghdad railway. France took the same stand and the question arose of internationalising the Baghdad railway. Russia categorically objected to its construction.
In 1899, the German capitalists agreed to make the construction an international undertaking. French and British capital would be invited to participate but the Germans would keep the controlling shares and the whole management of the railway in their own hands. A lengthy argument then arose over the distribution of shares and the managerial and administrative posts. The upshot was that the French Government was unable to reach an understanding with the Germans and refused to take part in the railway’s construction.
Having failed to reach agreement with the Powers, the Germans decided to build the first 200 kilometres of the line. In 1903, a final concession for the construction was contracted, but it was only in 1911 that the Germans won the Powers’ approval for the increase of duties and the extension of the railway.
Despite Germany’s intensified penetration, British and French capitalists continued to hold important positions in the Ottoman Empire, especially in the far-flung Arab provinces. Syria and the Lebanon were the main spheres of French influence and Iraq and, to some extent, Palestine were influenced by the British.
France turned Syria and the Lebanon into a source of cheap agricultural produce. By the opening of the 20th century, she had captured approximately a third of Syria’s exports. French investors virtually controlled the manufacture and sale of Syrian raw silk and used nearly all of it for the textile mills of Lyons. The primary processing of silk was monopolised by French capital and its compradore agents. The Syrian tobacco growers depended wholly on the Regie, where French capital had the upper hand.
To speed up the process of pumping out raw material, the French fitted out a large port in Beirut and laid a number of railway lines (from Jaffa to Jerusalem and from Beirut to Damascus) connecting the interior with the coast. Branches of French banks such as the Credit Lyonnais, which played a leading role in the country’s economic enslavement, were opened in the chief towns of Syria and Palestine.
British capital had the dominating influence in Iraq, which had become a market for British goods and a supplier of agricultural products. At the outset of the 20th century, Britain accounted for approximately two-thirds of Iraq’s imports. About a third of Iraq’s exports went to Britain and to Britain’s domains in India. The manufacture and sale of Iraq’s agricultural products depended wholly on the British exporters in Basra and Baghdad. Ever since 1861, the British had controlled the concession for the organisation of river transport along the Tigris and Euphrates.
It must be noted, however, that the British and French capitalists were not the sole bosses in the Porte’s Arab provinces. They had to compete with the Belgian, Austria-Hungarian and Italian capitalists, but, as everywhere else in the Ottoman Empire, their main rival was German capital. The German Deutsche Orient Bank and the Deutsche Palestina Bank had branches in many Syrian and Palestinian towns. Paul Rohrbach, a theoretician of German imperialism, wrote that Germany’s future in the Orient lay in Asia Minor, Syria, Mesopotamia and Palestine. “One of the richest oil sources in the world is to be found right next to Nineveh, where the Baghdad railway runs. There are huge deposits of copper and other metals in the heart of the Taurus Mountains. The plains of Babylon could become the greatest supplier of wheat and cotton in the world. In Mesopotamia there are pastures for millions of sheep. Here we have most of the raw material we need. Moreover, it is all concentrated in one place.”
The penetration of foreign capital and the harsh police regime of Zulum evoked widespread discontent. The peoples of the Ottoman Empire suffered dual oppression-that of the foreign capitalists and that of the Turkish pashas. The people, however, regarded the regime of Zulum, its oppressive feudal-bureaucratic and tax-paying system as the main cause of their troubles. This, they felt, was what was chiefly to blame for their foreign enslavement.
The growing dissatisfaction with the regime spread to the representatives of the national bourgeoisie and intelligentsia and likewise to the broad masses of the people-peasants, artisans and the emergent working class. The discontent was reflected in the diffusion of anti-government feelings among the Arab intellectuals and in the people’s spontaneous outbursts.
In 1886, a peasant uprising headed by Shibli Atrash, a representative of one of the noble Druse clans, flared upin the Jebel Druse (the Druse Mountains). Shibli Atrash was called the friend of the fellaheen and in the struggle against the Turks he gained the Druse peasants’ whole-hearted support. The uprising waned only when the Turkish authorities agreed to a compromise and appointed Shibli Atrash Emir of the Druses.
In 1896, in reply to the Turks’ attempt to introduce compulsory military service, a fresh uprising flared up in the Jebel Druse. It was renewed in 1899, when the Turkish authorities began building barracks in Suweida, an administrative post in the centre of the Jebel Druse. The Turks lost about 500 men in subduing the uprising. But in 1906 fresh disturbances broke out in this area.
The major disorders and disturbances among the urban population took place in Aleppo (1895) and Beirut (1903). They were of a spontaneous and local character, however, and offered no serious threat to the Turkish authorities, who had no trouble in suppressing the masses’ uncoordinated activities.
In 1875, the same deep-rooted feeling of discontent led to the formation of a secret society of Arab intellectuals in Beirut. It was headed by Ibrahim Yazeji and Faris Nimr and had branches in Damascus, Tripoli and Suweida. The society circulated leaflets advertising its tasks and aims. Its programme, drawn up in 1880, called for Syria’s and the Lebanon’s independence, the acknowledgement of Arabic as the official language, the abolition of censorship and other restrictions on freedom of speech, and a ban on the use of local military contingents beyond the Syrian and Lebanese borders. Gradually, however, the society’s activities, isolated from the masses, began to abate and somewhere around 1885 it virtually broke up.
Brutal police repressions and the large-scale spying hampered the formation and diffusion of national liberation ideas. Many representatives of the Arab intelligentsia fled to Egypt, Europe and North America, seeking refuge from Abdul Hamid II’s persecutions. They could express their views, their compatriots’ hopes, more freely in exile. Faris Nimr, Abd ar-Rahman el-Kawakebi and others continued their activities in Egypt.
Many Arab Nationalists relied on the Turkish revolutionaries’ (the Young Turks) support in the struggle against the despotic regime of Zulum. In alliance with the Young Turks they planned to depose Abdul Hamid n and realise the Arabs’ national aspirations within the framework of the Ottoman Empire. Others favoured the Arab countries’ secession and complete independence. To achieve this they looked to the European Powers for aid.
In 1904, the Christian Arab Najib Azuri founded the Ligue de la Patrie Arabe in Paris. He was almost the only member of the organisation, but he was extremely active, and published several appeals on the League’s behalf. In 1905, he published a book in French called The Awakening of the Arab Nation (Le Revell de la Nation Arabe) and in 1907, he began the publication of a monthly review entitled L’Independence Arabe. His slogan was “the Arab countries for the Arabs.” In his appeals he called on the Arabs to rise in revolt and form their own state from the Porte’s Arab provinces. Egypt and the North African countries were not included in his plans for a united Arab state. Azuri did not wish to spoil his relations with the Powers. Moreover, his scheme reflected the Syrian bourgeoisie’s aspirations to Arab leadership. Azuri promised to respect the interests of foreigners and counted on their co-operation in the struggle against the Turks. Najib Azuri’s programme fell short of the demands of the bourgeois-democratic revolution; his Arab League was isolated from the masses and had no faith in the forces of the mass popular movement.
This isolation from the people and the absence of all contact with them was a characteristic feature of Arab nationalism at the turn of the 19th century, and one of the main reasons for its weakness. Most of the Arab nationalists lived abroad and restricted their activities to the propagation of nationalist ideas. Despite their weakness and shortcomings, however, their activities paved the way for the Arabs’ national awakening and were one of the factors which brought about the upsurge of the national liberation movement in the Arab countries in the period of the general awakening of Asia.