Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A People's History of Syria--Part 6: 1922 to 1925 Period

After being imprisoned in 1922 by French imperialist authorities in Syria for 17 months on Arwad Island, the now-defunct Iron Hand Society’s former leader, Dr. Abdal-Rahman Shahbandar, was then sent into exile by French General Weygand, who was in charge of the French occupation troops in Syria. But by the early Summer of 1924, French authorities apparently felt that Shahbandar no longer represented an anti-imperialist Syrian nationalist political threat to continued French rule in Syria, and so they allowed Shahbandar to return to Syria from exile at that time. As Michael Provence’s The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism observed, “by 1925 the occupation and pacification of Syria was presumed complete,” and “few imagined that nationalist resistance would emerge in the countryside and spread to the cities—yet this is precisely what happened.”

According to Philip Khoury’s Syria and The French Mandate, after the French government reformed Syria’s judicial system so that “any foreign national involved in a commercial or civil dispute” in Syria could “have his case tried in a court presided over by a French judge” and not by a Syrian judge (and in which “the majority of judges were to be French”), Syrian nationalist lawyers of the Union of Lawyers in Damascus organized protests in 1925. In addition, by 1925, “the stark reality of life in a garrison state in which the French arrested and jailed or exiled scores of their political opponents, using specially constituted military tribunals headed by Frenchmen” also sparked protests in 1925, according to the same book.  The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism also noted that under French imperialist control of Syria during the first half of the Roaring Twenties, “inflation squeezed people’s income and savings” in Syria, “drought had gripped southern Syria for 3 or 4 years,” the “tax burden on cultivators had risen,” and “heavy-handed direct military rule nurtured nationalist and anti-imperialist feeling among the mandate population.” 

Syria and the French Mandate also observed that discontent with French colonial rule in Syria increased among Muslims in Syria after French authorities transferred “the Syrian section of the Muslim-owned Hejaz Railway to a French railroad company in 1924” because the Hejaz Railway had been “the only railway in Syria not built and owned by Europeans.” In addition, because “the French treated Syria as an imperialist possession to be exploited in the `old’ colonial manner” and “their economic policies” just “promoted French economic interests,” in 1924 “in Aleppo…a French group received the electricity and tramways concession” and were “guaranteed revenues of 8 percent of the invested capital” by French authorities, according to the same book.

So when the nationalist Syrian People’s Party--that the formerly jailed and exiled Iron-Hand Society leader Shahbandar now led--called for a protest in Damascus against the visit of Lord Balfour (the UK imperialist politician whose declaration during World War I had expressed UK government support for the Zionist movement’s establishment of settlements in UK imperialist-controlled Palestine during the 1920s) on Apr. 8, 1925, according to Syria and The French Mandate, the following happened:

“Huge demonstrations in the town were organized against him. Some 10,000 protesters, including hundreds of high school students, gathered at the Umayyad Mosque. While police and gendarmes tried to break up the crowd, Balfour made a hurried exodus to Beirut, escorted by French troops and airplanes. Twenty-six casualties were reported.”

By June 1925, “some 1,000 persons in Damascus” had joined the secular nationalist People’s Party that Dr. Shahbandar led; although, “in spite of its popular support” the urban-based People’s Party was still “essentially an elitist organization” controlled by absentee Syrian landowners, Syrian merchants and Syrian intellectuals, according to the same book. But even without the Damascus-based elitist People’s Party having any organized link to the mass of Syrians who lived in rural areas, French imperialist rule was so unpopular in Syria that in the Summer of 1925 another revolt of people in Syria against the military occupation of their country by French imperialist troops erupted.

(end of part 6) 

No comments: