Saturday, June 2, 2012

French Mandate Redux?

"A curious memory of those days [1920] is a violent quarrel between two Syrians in a hotel in Beyrout. One came from the British and one from the French mandatory area, and they quarrelled about the conditions of their areas. Each insisted that his own was in the more deplorable state under foreign government. Was it worse to be slain and tyrannized over by French soldiers, or to be made comfortable but disinherited by the more subtle British? The two were yelling and trying to settle the point by fisticuffs when I departed." (Front Everywhere: The Reminiscences of the Famous Special Correspondent, JMN Jeffries, 1935, p 280)

It seems that, like Nature, French President Francois Hollonde abhors a vacuum. No sooner has he flagged the end of one French foreign adventure, promising to pull French troops out of Afghanistan by year's end, than he's casting around for another:

"French President Francois Hollande says the use of armed force could be possible in Syria following the Houla massacre, but that it had to be carried out under UN auspices. 'An armed intervention is not excluded on the condition that it is carried out with respect to international law, meaning after deliberation by the United Nations Security Council', Hollande said in a television interview." (Hollande won't rule out force in Syria,, 30/5/12)

I guess it's no coincidence that the land that gave us plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose and deja vu is eyeing a re-run (though of course spun this time as a rescue mission) of their brutal post WWI Syrian invasion and occupation (1920-46).

With a Mandate over Lebanon & Syria conferred by the Allied Supreme Council at San Remo in April 1920 as their fig leaf, and in defiance of the expressed desire of the Syrian people for independence (manifested in the formation of a Syrian National Congress in 1919 and a formal declaration of independence in March 1920, with Emir Faisal, as constitutional monarch) the French army moved to crush all centres of resistance:

"The French at this time built up a strong military force on the coast and crushed with great harshness large-scale rebellions in the Nusayriyah mountains and among the Shi'a population of southern Lebanon. Even the Maronites of Lebanon became disaffected with French rule. Early in July 1920, the Maronite-dominated Administrative Council of the Lebanon, meeting secretly, decided to proclaim Lebanon's independence from French tutelage and its fraternal co-operation with Syria. French rule in the Levant was clearly threatened, and France acted swiftly. A French ultimatum to Faisal demanded in effect his unconditional acceptance of French authority throughout internal Syria. Faisal ultimately bowed to this demand and, when the National Congress refused to ratify his decision, he dissolved it.

"As French forces advanced towards Damascus, furious demonstrations demanded resistance to the death; some hundred or more demonstrators were killed by Faisal's police. The poorly armed Arab forces decided to fight. Badly-equipped volunteers under the leadership of War Minister Yusuf Al-Azmah joined regular troops in an effort to hold the Maysalun pass near Damascus. This brave if hopeless resistance, in which Al-Azmah was killed, held up the advance of overwhelmingly superior French forces for a few hours. For Syrians the resistance at Maysalun remains one of the great moments in their modern history and Al-Azmah one of their most honoured national heroes." (Syria: A Modern History, Tabitha Petran, 1972, pp 59-60)

Syria today? Algeria tomorrow? Vietnam the day after? Do we really want to go back there?

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