chapter  18
14 Pages

The Decentralization Party

By late 1912 the Ottoman Empire had signed an agreement ceding Libya to Italy and was losing the Balkan War. The Syrian community in Cairo was of the unanimous opinion that the Empire would lose additional territories and that Syria would be taken over by a European power. As to the question of which power was preferable, there were differences of opinion. The Syrian emigres in Cairo held discussions and debates, generally in secret, to decide this question, and it became clear that the Muslims tended towards Britain, perhaps through the annexation of Syria to Egypt, then under British occupation, while the Christians favoured France. Damascene notables such as the brothers Rafiq and 'Uthman al-'Azm and their cousin Haqqi al-'Azm stressed that they preferred the Empire, but if circumstances forced them to choose between British and French occupation, they would opt for the former. They believed that France's attitude towards the Algerians demonstrated that it was the enemy of Islam. At a certain stage a delegation was being organized to approach Lord Kitchener (consul-general in Egypt, 1911-14) and ask him for a British protectorate over Syria. But the idea fell through after Kitchener himself let them know that he would not accept such a delegation. At the head of the Christian propaganda effort in favour of France stood the Protestant Najib Shakur Pasha. Although he had an English mother, had been educated in Britain and worked in the British administration, he believed that only France could grant Syria its fulfilment, as the British would lord it over the Syrians while the French would be their friends.1