On Nasser’s Fight for Arabic Independence and a Free Palestine

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Cynthia Chung

June 15, 2021

Nasser became the catalyst for an Arab Revolution for independence, a revolution that remains yet to be finished, Cynthia Chung writes.

In the 1950s the so-called enemy of the West was not only Moscow but the Third World’s emerging nationalists, from Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt to Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran. The United States and Britain staged a coup d’état against Mossadegh, and used the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist movement and the grandfather organization of the militant Islamic right, in an attempt to remove Nasser, the leader of the Arab nationalists.

In the 1960s, left wing nationalism and Arab socialism spread from Egypt to Algeria to Syria, Iraq and Palestine. This emergence presented a threat to the old imperialist game of Great Britain, to which the United States was a recent recruit of, and thus they decided to forge a working alliance with Saudi Arabia intent on using Wahhabi fundamentalism as their foreign policy arm in the Middle East, along with the Muslim Brotherhood.

This paper will go through the carving up of the Middle East under Sykes-Picot, the British creation of Saudi Arabia and Israel and the British occupation of Palestine, the origin of the Muslim Brotherhood and Nasser’s fight for Arab independence. In a follow-up paper, I will discuss the role of the City of London in facilitating the bankroll of the first Islamic fundamentalist state Saudi Arabia, along with the Muslim Brotherhood and its terrorist apparatus.

An “Arab Awakening” Made in Britain

The renunciation will not be easy. Jewish hopes have been raised to such a pitch that the non-fulfilment of the Zionist dream of a Jewish state in Palestine will cause intense disillusionment and bitterness. The manifold proofs of public spirit and of capacity to endure hardships and face danger in the building up of the national home are there to testify to the devotion with which a large section of the Jewish people cherish the Zionist ideal. And it would be an act of further cruelty to the Jews to disappoint those hopes if there existed some way of satisfying them, that did not involve cruelty to another people. But the logic of facts is inexorable. It shows that no room can be made in Palestine for a second nation except by dislodging or exterminating the nation in possession.”

– the concluding paragraph of George Antonius’ “The Arab Awakening” (1938)

Much of what is responsible for the war and havoc in the Middle East today has the British orchestrated so-called “Arab Awakening” to thank, led by characters such as E.G. Browne, St. John Philby, T.E. Lawrence of Arabia, and Gertrude Bell. Although its origins go as far back as the 19th century, it was only until the early 20th century, that the British were able to reap significant results from its long harvest.

The Arab Revolt of 1916-1918, had been, to the detriment of the Arab people, a British led rebellion. The British claimed that their sole interest in the affair was the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire and had given their word that these Arab territories would be freed and allowed independence if they agreed to rebel, in large part led and directed by the British.

It is a rather predictable feature of the British to lie and double cross and thus it should be of no surprise to anyone that their intentions were quite the opposite of what they had promised and thanks to the Sykes-Picot Russian leak, were revealed in their entire shameful glory.

If the Sultan of Turkey were to disappear, then the Caliphate by common consent of Islam would fall to the family of the prophet, Hussein ibn Ali the Sharif of Mecca, a candidate which was approved by the British Cairo office as suitable for British strings. T.E. Lawrence, who worked at the Cairo bureau is quoted as saying:

If the Sultan of Turkey were to disappear, then the Caliphate by common consent of Islam would fall to the family of the prophet, the present representative of which is Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca….If properly handled the Arab States would remain in a state of political mosaic, a tissue of jealous principalities incapable of cohesion…” (1)

Once the Arab Revolt was “won” against the Ottoman Empire, instead of the promised Arab independence, the Middle East was carved up into zones of influence under British and French colonial rule. Puppet monarchies were created in regions that were considered not under direct colonial subjugation in order to continue the illusion that Arabs remained in charge of sacred regions such as Mecca and Medina.

In central Arabia, Hussein, Sharif of Mecca, the puppet leader of the Arab Revolt laid claim to the title Caliph in 1924, which his rival Wahhabite Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud rejected and declared war, defeating the Hashemites. Hussein abdicated and ibn Saud, the favourite of the British India Office, was proclaimed King of Hejaz and Najd in 1926, which led to the founding of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Al Saud warriors of Wahhabism were a formidable strike force that the British believed would help London gain control of the western shores of the Persian Gulf.

Hussein ibn Ali’s son Faisal (under the heavy tutelage of T.E. Lawrence) was bestowed as King of Iraq and Hussein’s other son, Abdullah I was established as the Emir of Transjordan until a negotiated legal separation of Transjordan from Britain’s Palestine mandate occurred in 1946, whereupon he was crowned King of Jordan. (For more on this history refer to my paper.)

While the British were promising Arab independence they simultaneously were promising a homeland in Palestine to the Jews. The Balfour Declaration of November 2nd, 1917 states:

His majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object…

Palestine had been seized by the British during the so-called Arab Revolt on December 11th, 1917 when General Allenby marched into Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate and declared martial law over the city. Palestine has remained occupied ever since.

Britain would receive the mandate over Palestine from the League of Nations in July 1922.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s violent confrontations between Jews and Arabs took place in Palestine costing hundreds of lives. In 1936 a major Arab revolt occurred over 7 months, until diplomatic efforts involving other Arab countries led to a ceasefire. In 1937, a British Royal Commission of Inquiry headed by William Peel concluded that Palestine had two distinct societies with irreconcilable political demands, thus making it necessary to partition the land.

The Arab Higher Committee refused Peel’s “prescription” and the revolt broke out again. This time, Britain responded with a devastatingly heavy hand. Roughly 5,000 Arabs were killed by the British armed forces and police.

Following the riots, the British mandate government dissolved the Arab Higher Committee and declared it an illegal body.

In response to the revolt, the British government issued the White Paper of 1939, which stated that Palestine should be a bi-national state, inhabited by both Arabs and Jews. Due to the international unpopularity of the mandate including within Britain itself, it was organised such that the United Nations would take responsibility for the British initiative and adopted the resolution to partition Palestine on November 29th, 1947. Britain would announce its termination of its Mandate for Palestine on May 15th, 1948 after the State of Israel declared its independence on May 14th, 1948.

The Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood

In 1869, a man named Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, the intellectual founder of the Salafiyya movement, went to India where British led colonial authorities welcomed him with honors and graciously escorted him aboard a government owned vessel on an all expenses paid voyage to the Suez. (2)

In Cairo he was adopted by the Egyptian prime minister Riad Pasha, a notorious enemy of the emerging nationalist movement in Egypt. Pasha persuaded Afghani to stay in Egypt and allowed him to take up residence in Cairo’s 900 year old Al Azhar mosque considered the center of Islamic learning worldwide, where he received lodging and a monthly government stipend (paid for by the British). (3)

In 1879, Cairo nationalists in the Egyptian Army, led by the famous Egyptian hero Ahmed ‘Urabi, organised an uprising against the British role in Egypt. Afghani was expelled from Egypt by the Egyptian nationalists that same year.

Ahmed ‘Urabi served as prime minister of Egypt briefly, from July 1882 to Sept 1882, however, his movement for Egyptian independence was eventually crushed by the British with the shelling of Alexandria in July 1882 followed by an invasion which resulted in a direct British occupation of Egypt that would last until 1956. It would be Gamal Abdel Nasser who would finally end British colonial rule of Egypt during the Suez Crisis, whereupon the Suez canal was nationalised and the British military bases expelled.

While Egypt was fighting its nationalist fight from 1879-1882, Afghani and his chief disciple Muhammad Abduh travelled together first to Paris and then to Britain, it was in Britain that they would make a proposal for a pan-Islamic alliance among Egypt, Turkey, Persia and Afghanistan against Czarist Russia (4).

In addition, the crisis in Sudan, was in the middle of a tribal religious rebellion against the British led by a man named Mohammed Ahmad a Sudanese sheikh who proclaimed himself the Mahdi, or savior, and was leading a puritanical Islamic revolt. (5)

What Afghani was proposing to the British was that they provide aid and resources to support his formation of a militant Islam sect that would favour Britain’s interest in the Middle East, in other words, Afghani wished to fight Islam with Islam, having stated in one of his works “We do not cut the head of religion except by sword of religion.”(6)

Although it is said that the British refused this offer, this is not likely considering the support Afghani would receive in creating the intellectual foundation for a pan-Islamic movement with British patronage and the support of England’s leading orientalist E.G. Browne, the godfather of twentieth century Orientalism and teacher of St John Philby and T.E. Lawrence.

E.G. Browne would make sure the work of Afghani would continue long beyond his death by immortalising him in his 1910 “The Persian Revolution,” considered an authoritative history of the time.

In 1888, Abduh, the chief disciple of Afghani, would return to Egypt in triumph with the full support of the representatives of her Majesty’s imperial force and took the first of several positions in Cairo, openly casting his lot with Lord Cromer, who was the symbol of British imperialism in Egypt.

Abduh would found, with the hold of London’s Egyptian proconsul Evelyn Baring (aka Lord Cromer) who was the scion of the enormously powerful banking clan (Barings Bank) under the city of London, the Salafiyya movement. (7)

Abduh had attached himself to the British rulers of Egypt and created the cornerstone of the Muslim Brotherhood which dominated the militant Islamic right throughout the twentieth century.

In 1899, Abduh reached the pinnacle of his power and influence, and was named mufti of Egypt.

***

In 1902, Riyadh fell to Ibn Saud and it was during this period that Ibn Saud established the fearsome Ikhwan (translated as “brotherhood”). He collected fighters from Bedouin tribes firing them up with fanatical religious zeal and threw them into battle. By 1912 the Ikhwan numbered 11,000 and Ibn Saud had both central Arabia’s Nejd and Al-Ahsa in the east under his control.

From the 1920s onward, the new Saudi state merged its Wahhabi orthodoxy with the Salafiyya movement (which would be organised into the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928).

William Shakespear, a famed British agent, forged the first formal treaty between England and Saudi Arabia which was signed in 1915, which bound London and Arabia for years before Saudi Arabia became a country. “It formally recognized Ibn Saud as the independent ruler of the Nejd and its Dependencies under British protection. In return, Ibn Saud undertook to follow British advice.” (8)

Harry St. John Bridger Philby, a British operative schooled by E.G. Browne and father to the legendary triple agent Kim Philby, would succeed Shakespear as Great Britain’s liaison to Ibn Saud under the British India Office, the friendly rival of the Cairo Arab Bureau office which was sponsoring T.E. Lawrence of Arabia.

In Egypt 1928, Hassan al-Banna (a follower of Afghani and Abduh) founded the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimeen), the organization that would change the course of history in the twentieth century Middle East.

Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood was established with a grant from England’s Suez Canal Company (9) and from that point on, British diplomats and intelligence service, along with the British puppet King Farouq would use the Muslim Brotherhood as a truncheon against Egypt’s nationalists and later against Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

To get the Muslim Brotherhood off the ground, the Suez Canal Company helped Banna build the mosque in Ismailia that would serve as its headquarters and base of operation. (10) The fact that Banna created the organization in Ismailia is itself worthy of note. For England, the Suez Canal was the indispensable route to its prize possession, India and in 1928 the town Ismailia happened to house not only the company’s offices but a major British military base built during WWI. It was also, in the 1920s a center of pro-British sentiment in Egypt.

In the post-WWI world, England reigned supreme, the flag of the British empire was everywhere from the Mediterranean to India. A new generation of kings and potentates ruled over British dominated colonies, mandates, vassal states, and semi-independent fiefdoms in Egypt, Iraq, Transjordan, Arabia and Persia. To varying degrees those monarchies were beholden to London.

In the half century between 1875 and 1925 the building blocks of the militant Islamic right were cemented in place by the British Empire.

Nasser Leads the Fight for Arab Independence

In 1942, the Muslim Brotherhood would earn their well-deserved reputation for extremism and violence by establishing the “Secret Apparatus,” an intelligence service and secret terrorist unit. This clandestine unit functioned for over twelve years almost entirely unchecked, assassinating judges, police officers, government officials and engaging in goon squad attacks on labor unions and communists.

Throughout this period the Muslim Brotherhood worked for the most part in an alliance with King Farouq (and thus the British), using their clandestine forces on behalf of British interests. And throughout its entire existence it would receive political support and money from the Saudi royal family and the Wahhabi establishment (more on this in part 2 of this series).

The Secret Apparatus would be smashed into pieces by Nasser in 1954.

After WWII, the faltering Farouq regime lashed out against the left in an intense campaign of repression aimed at the communists. The Cold War was beginning. In 1946, prime minister Isma’il Sidqi of Egypt who was installed as head of the government with the support of Banna, openly funded the Muslim Brotherhood and provided training camps for its shock troops used in a sweeping anti-left campaign. Sidqi resigned in Dec 1946 after less than one year as PM due to massive unpopularity.

As King Farouq began to lose his grip on the Egyptian people, the Brotherhood distanced itself while maintaining shadowy ties to the army and to foreign intelligence agencies and always opposed to the left.

The Palestine War (1947-1949) resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel at the cost of 700,000 displaced Palestinian Arabs and the destruction of most of their urban areas.

The territory that was under British administration before the war was divided between the State of Israel (officially formed May 14th, 1948), which captured about 78% of it. In opposition to Israel, the Kingdom of Jordan captured and later annexed the West Bank, and Egypt captured the Gaza Strip, with the Arab League establishing the All-Palestine Government, which came to an end in June 1967 when the Gaza Strip, along with the West Bank, were captured by Israel in the Six-Day War.

The Egyptian people were furious over these developments, and the reign of British puppet King Farouq who had done nothing to prevent the dismantling of Palestine was on extremely shaky ground. In response to this, Farouq’s accord with the Muslim Brotherhood broke down, and in December 1948, the Egyptian government outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood. Weeks later a Brotherhood assassin murdered prime minister Mahmoud El Nokrashy.

Two months later, in Feb. 1949, Banna was assassinated in Cairo by the Egyptian secret police.

For Arab nationalists, Israel was a symbol of Arab weakness and semi-colonial subjugation, overseen by proxy kings in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

On the night of July 23, 1952, the Free Officers, led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser, staged a military coup that launched the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, overthrowing the British puppet monarch. The Free Officers, knowing that warrants had been issued for their arrest, launched the coup that night, storming the staff headquarters in Cairo.

Cairo was now, for the first time, under the control of the Arab people after over 70 years of British occupation.

The seizure of power by the Free Officers in Egypt came during an era when the entire Arab world from Morocco to Iraq was locked in the grip of imperialism. Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia were French colonies; Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, Oman and Yemen were British colonies. Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were kingdoms ruled by monarchies installed by London. And Egypt under King Farouq was the political and economic center of the Arab world.

A growing surge of Arab nationalism arose in response to the Free Officers’ actions in Egypt. The powerful Voice of the Arabs radio in Cairo was reporting to the entire Arab world that they had found their independence movement, and that Nasser was at its helm.

From 1956 to 1958 Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon underwent rebellions, Iraq’s king was toppled, and Syria united with Egypt in Nasser’s United Arab Republic, part of Nasser’s strategy to unify the Arab world.

In Algeria, moral and material support was given from Cairo towards the Algerian revolution that finally won them independence from French colonial rule in 1962.

That same year, Yemen underwent a Nasser-inspired revolt, triggering a proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia against Egypt, with Nasser stating in a 1962 speech, “Yemen’s fight is my fight. Yemen’s Revolution is our Revolution.”

Nasser’s leadership and the inspiration he stirred were so strong that even as late as 1969 the year before Nasser’s death, Libya’s king was overthrown and Sudan’s right-wing regime was eliminated by military leaders loyal to Nasser.

Nasser had managed to threaten the very heart of Anglo-America’s post-WWII strategy in the Middle East. Nasser understood, that if the vast oil fields in Saudi Arabia were under Arab control, the potential for an economic boom would be enormous for all Arab states, such that the old game of imperialism by Britain and France could no longer retain its chokehold on Arab independence.

Not only was Egypt a military rival to Saudi Arabia, not only did Cairo clash with Riyadh in a shooting war in Yemen, not only did Nasser inspire Arabs in Saudi Arabia with republican ideals but the Egyptian leader even won over some of Saudi Arabia’s royal family. This group was led by Prince Talal to form the ‘Free Princes’, which defected to Egypt demanding the establishment of a republic in Saudi Arabia!

What was really going on during the period of 1954 to 1970, under Nasser’s leadership, was a war between two competing visions for the future of the Middle East; an Arab world of independent but cooperative Arab republics utilising their natural resources to facilitate an economic boom in industrialisation vs a semi-feudal scattering of monarchies with their natural resources largely at the West’s disposal.

The real reason why the British and Anglo Americans wanted Nasser removed, was not because he was a communist or because he was susceptible to communist influence; it was because he refused to obey his would-be foreign controllers and was rather successful in this endeavour, bringing their shadowy actions uncomfortably close to the light and inspiring loyalty amongst Arabs outside of Egypt including those sitting on top of the oil.

What especially worried London and Washington was the idea that Nasser might succeed in his plan to unify Egypt and Saudi Arabia thus creating a major Arab power. Nasser believed that these oil wells were not only for the government of those territories to do with as they wished but belonged to all Arab people and thus should be used for the advancement of the Arab world. Afterall, most Arabs are aware that both the monarchies themselves and the artificial borders that demarcate their states, were designed by imperialists seeking to build fences around oil wells in the 1920s.

Nasser understood that if Cairo and Riyadh were to unite in a common cause for the uplifting of the Arab people, it would create a vastly important new Arab center of gravity with worldwide influence.

In 1954 Egypt and the United Kingdom had signed an agreement over the Suez Canal and British military basing rights. It was a short lived. By 1956 Great Britain, France and Israel concocted a plot against Egypt aimed at toppling Nasser and seizing control of the Suez Canal, a conspiracy that enlisted the Muslim Brotherhood.

In fact, the British went so far as to hold secret meetings with the Muslim Brotherhood in Geneva. According to author Stephen Dorrill, two British intelligence agents Col. Neil McLean and Julian Amery, helped MI6 organize a clandestine anti-Nasser opposition in the south of France and in Switzerland, (11) in his book he writes “They also went so far as to make contact in Geneva…with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, informing only MI6 of this demarche which they kept secret from the rest of the Suez Group [which was planning the military operation via its British bases by the Suez Canal]. Amery forwarded various names to [Selwyn] Lloyd, [the British foreign secretary].”

British prime minister Anthony Eden, Churchill’s handpicked successor, was violently anti-Nasser all along and considered a British coup d’état in Cairo as early as 1953. Other than such brash actions, the only political force that could mount a challenge to Nasser was the Muslim Brotherhood which had hundreds of thousands of followers.

Nasser’s long postponed showdown with the Muslim Brotherhood occurred in 1954, this was timed to add pressure during the rising frustration concerning the British-Egyptian negotiations over the transfer of the Suez Canal and its military bases to Egypt. The British, after over 70 years of direct occupation in Egypt, were not going to give up on one of their most prized jewels, their gateway to the Orient, so easily.

From 1954 on, Anthony Eden, the British prime minister was demanding Nasser’s head. According to Stephen Dorrill’s “MI6: Fifty Years of Special Operations”, Eden had ranted “What’s all this nonsense about isolating Nasser or ‘neutralising’ him, as you call it? I want him destroyed, can’t you understand? I want him murdered…And I don’t give a damn if there’s anarchy and chaos in Egypt.”

Nasser would not back down, and in the first few months of 1954 the Muslim Brotherhood and Nasser went to war, culminating in Nasser outlawing them as a terrorist group and a pawn of the British.

On Oct. 1954, a Muslim Brotherhood member Mahmoud Abdel-Latif attempted to assassinate Nasser while he was delivering a speech in Alexandria, which was live broadcasting to the Arab world by radio, to celebrate the British military withdrawal.

Panic broke out in the mass audience, but Nasser maintained his posture and raised his voice to appeal for calm, and with great emotion he exclaimed the following:

My countrymen, my blood spills for you and for Egypt. I will live for your sake and die for the sake of your freedom and honor. Let them kill me; it does not concern me so long as I have instilled pride, honor, and freedom in you.”

The crowd roared in approval and Arab audiences were electrified. The assassination attempt backfired, and quickly played back into Nasser’s hands. Upon returning to Cairo, he ordered one of the largest political crackdowns in the modern history of Egypt, with the arrests of thousands of dissenters, mostly members of the Brotherhood.

The decree banning the Muslim Brotherhood organization said “The revolution will never allow reactionary corruption to recur in the name of religion.” (12)

In 1967, there was a Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, which was started by Israel in a coordinated aerial attack on Egypt, eliminating roughly 90% of Egyptian air forces that were still on the ground, followed by an aerial attack on Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Israel then went on to conduct a ground attack with tanks and infantry, devastating whole Arab regions.

Despite the disastrous loss to Israel, the people of Egypt refused to accept Nasser’s resignation and took to the streets in a mass demonstration calling for Nasser’s return. Nasser accepted the call of the people and returned to his position as president where he remained as until his death in Sept 1970.

Five million people turned out on the streets of Egypt for Nasser’s funeral, and hundreds of millions more mourned his death throughout the world.

Although Nasser had devastatingly lost a battle, the Egyptian people along with their Arab compatriots understood that the fight for Arab independence was not lost. The dream of dignity and freedom, in forever opposition to the shackles of tyranny could not be buried now that it had been stirred to its very core. Nasser would be the catalyst for an Arab Revolution for independence, a revolution that remains yet to be finished.

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Cynthia CHUNG

Cynthia Chung is a lecturer, writer and co-founder and editor of the Rising Tide Foundation (Montreal, Canada).

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Palestine and the Other Philby

By Jeremy Salt

Source

Philby of Arabia 518d9

This reading of history is substantially but not wholly based on Elizabeth Monroe’s book Philby of Arabia (London: Quartet Books, 1973). With the exception of Kim Philby’s references to his wife, his father, and his once best friend, Nicholas Elliott, all the quoted material is taken from the book.

The young generation may never have heard of Kim Philby, so a few words by way of introduction are necessary. Philby was at Cambridge University in 1934 when he was recruited as a Soviet agent. He went to Spain to report the civil war before being recruited by M16 in 1940, rising to senior positions, including control of the Soviet desk, even as he handed Britain’s secrets to his Soviet controller. By 1949 he was head of intelligence at the British embassy in Washington, which, through his close friendship with James Jesus Angleton, the head of the CIA’s special operations section, gave him insights into American secrets as well, and perhaps the secrets themselves.

In 1951, Guy Burgess and Donald McLean, both friends of Philby and his colleagues in the British intelligence community in the US, and both Soviet agents, defected. Philby also came under suspicion and was compelled to resign, before being cleared of any wrongdoing by Prime Minister Harold MacMillan in 1955.

In 1956 Philby moved to Beirut as a correspondent for the London Observer. A Soviet defector having pointed the finger at him again, MI6 sent another old friend and colleague, Nicholas Elliott, to Lebanon in 1963 to question him. They had one meeting, during which Philby verbally confessed but refused to put anything down in writing. Before their planned second meeting, Philby made his way at night to the docks where a Soviet freighter took him to Odessa. Honored by the Soviet government, he lived in Moscow until his death in 1988.

Philby is ranked as the most successful of all cold war agents. The information he passed on led to the death of hundreds of people, including armed men sent into Albania to overthrow the Stalinist government of Enver Hoxha and a defector who tipped off the British consulate in Istanbul. Soviet agents got to him and once back in Moscow, he and his family disappeared forever.

Philby expressed no regret for any of this, on the basis that these victims of the spy game knew, like him, what they were letting themselves in for. He even provided information to the Soviet Union on his wife Aileen (“bourgeois and philistine”), his old friend Nicholas Elliott (“ugly and rather pig-like”) and even on his father, Harold St John Philby, which is where the central point of this article begins.

If Philby made his way into the intelligence community and then journalism with such ease it was because he was ‘one of us,’ the privileged elite which ran Britain. His father was also ‘one of us,’ even if generally out of tune with what his government was doing. Whereas Kim concealed who he really was, Harold spoke openly, critically and often angrily, irrespective of the effect on his listeners. He would never have been a good choice for the intelligence community, but he did serve the government after 1918, holding down numerous positions in Iraq, Transjordan (as it then was) and Saudi Arabia.

If he irritated senior figures wherever he went he was always respected for his knowledge, his explorations and his close and useful personal connection with the Saudi monarch, Abd al Aziz ibn Saud.

Even when serving the government Philby used his spare time to explore Arabia. He crossed the fearsome desert expanse known as the ‘empty quarter (ruba’ al khali), he looked for (and found) evidence of ancient cities and culture. He also amassed collections of rare specimens of butterflies and birdlife, many ending up in British museums.

Privately, Philby ran two families, one in England and one in Riyadh. At the age of 60, having become a Muslim, he accepted the ‘gift’ of a girl of 16 from the Saudi king and went on to have several children with her. He was still running his other home and wife, Dora, in England,   seeing her only when he visited or she visited him. As illegal and as abhorrent as it would be in England for a man of Philby’s age to take as a wife a girl of 16, it was probably unremarkable in Saudi culture.

His Cambridge background, his butterfly and bird collecting and his life-long love of cricket established Philby as a conventional upper-middle-class Englishman but there was this other maverick side, often intemperate and deeply critical of imperialism, in particular Britain’s policies in the Middle East, establishing him as another kind of conventional Englishman, strongly individual and eccentric by the standards of others. The two sides lived somewhat awkwardly with each other throughout his life.

Philby was immediately hostile to the post-1918 mandates system, which he regarded as a “fig leaf” for French and British imperialism. In Iraq and Syria, it was clear to him that both Britain and France had betrayed their promises of national governments to be established on the basis of the free choice of the indigenous people. The exception in this stream of thinking was Palestine.

Charged with going to the Hijaz to smooth over differences with the Sharif Husain of Mecca – now self-proclaimed king of the Hijaz as well – over British policy on Palestine and the rising power of Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, Philby got somewhere on the first issue, Husain seeming to understand “that the British wished to settle some Jews in Palestine,” but he was immovable on the second. Abdul Aziz ibn Saud was preparing to pounce on the Hijaz, driving Husain and his family into exile, and forbade Philby from making a side trip to the Saudi kingdom in Najd (central Arabia) before returning to Cairo.

On Palestine, Philby was inconsistent. If the Iraqi and Syrian people were to be given the right to their own government through the free choice of their people, why not the people of Palestine? From official quarters the answer was clear if usually muffled: because we intend to give Palestine to zionist settlers and until they reach a majority, independence has to be withheld.

In Britain Philby sat on a League of Nations Union committee alongside academics, politicians, and zionists charged with coming up with a model mandate for Palestine. Although the British government and the Zionist movement knew what they wanted in Palestine, a Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinians (as Balfour had made clear in public statements),   the Zionist intention from the start to get rid of the Palestinians through ‘transfer’ was concealed by the zionists and bypassed as a subject for polite conversation by the British government.

Far from speaking against the zionist colonization of Palestine, Philby and T.E. Lawrence, forever linked in British minds with the struggle for Arab independence, believed, as Elizabeth Monroe has written, that “an injection of Jewish brains and money into the Arab world would improve Arab chances of successful independence.”

Thus swayed by zionist thinking, Philby was supported by Chaim Weizmann, whom he later took tea with in London, when he applied for a position in Palestine, only to be turned down because of advice to the High Commissioner that he was argumentative and would prove to be a nuisance.

Philby’s views on Palestine were nothing if not inconsistent with each other and with his general support for Arab independence. He regarded the Balfour Declaration as “an act of betrayal for whose parallel, the shekels and the kiss and all the rest of it, we have to go back to the Garden of Gethsemane.”

At the same time, he thought British governments should reaffirm the declaration because Jews had a “perfect right” to settle in Palestine on “a basis of equality with the existing population.”   Transjordan, he thought, would only be too happy to accept Jewish investment and immigration into a territory that should never have been separated in the first place. He never budged from his belief that the Jews had it in them to benefit the Arab world as long as – the critical qualification – they dropped any wish to dominate. Of course, Weizmann and others in the Zionist leadership gave endless assurances that this was the last thing they had in mind.

Philby frequently tried to bring Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud around to his way of thinking on Palestine. The king shared the general Arab view that to take land from the indigenous population of Palestine and give it to Zionist settlers was unjust. He opposed partition when it was proposed in 1937 (the Peel plan) and said that even if all other Arab states recognized a Jewish state he never would, a statement of contemporary relevance given the recognition of Israel by the UAE and Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s scarcely concealed dealings with Israel.

In 1939 Philby showed how poorly he understood Abdul Aziz ibn Saud on the question of Palestine. During a meeting in London with Professor Lewis Namier, Jewish, and a zionist, he said the king would come on board with British policies in the Middle East (as against the growing influence of Germany and Italy) if he were given money and weapons.

Namier suggested a meeting with Weizmann to see what might be arranged. When Namier, Philby and Moshe Shertok (later Sharett), political secretary of the Jewish Agency, met Weizmann on October 8, Philby proposed that if the zionists could come up with a 20 million pound ‘subsidy’ for the king, they could be given western Palestine, with the exception of the ‘Vatican City’ in east Jerusalem. At the same time, they should commit themselves to help secure Arab unity and independence (outside Palestine of course), which in Philby’s view was only attainable under Abdul Aziz’s leadership.

According to Weizmann, the conversation included references to “considerable transfers of the Arab population”: hedging his position, he said there was not much the zionists could do to advance the situation politically, apart from which they were bound by their “loyalties” to Britain and France.

Forever chasing money, Philby no doubt saw some coming to him if this scheme could be pulled off. He presented it to Abdul Aziz on January 8, 1940, when, in his own understanding, the king did not turn it down, saying only that he would give an answer at the appropriate time. In truth, the king was probably taken by surprise and did not like what he was hearing. Philby misconstrued silence as consent, wrote to his wife about the king agreeing and was sufficiently indiscreet to mention it to Syrians in the king’s entourage.

In February 1940, Weizmann contacted him from Washington to see how things we going. “Slowly,” Philby had to respond, while remaining confident that the king was “quite favorably inclined towards the proposal and is just thinking about how it can be worked out without producing howls of anger among certain Arab elements.” While Weizmann worked on the Americans, the plan would have to wait for the king to work out how to overcome Arab objections.

In 1940 and 1942 Weizmann saw President Roosevelt and, in the second of these years, Churchill as well. In Weizmann’s account, Churchill talked of wanting to make Abdul Aziz the “boss of bosses” in the Middle East “provided he settles with you.” This was an opportunity for Weizmann to try and dovetail the Zionist-Philby plan with what the Americans and British were both thinking.

In August 1942, Roosevelt sent Colonel Harold B. Hoskins to the Middle East as the head of a mission to engender goodwill. At a time the Middle East was unanimously hostile to the zionist presence in Palestine, not much goodwill was going to be generated by the plan which came out of the Hoskins mission, which was to admit 500,000 Jews into Palestine and set up a binational state as part of a Levant Federation that would include all of historic Syria.

In 1943 Roosevelt sent a message to the Saudi king that both “Arabs and Jews” would be consulted over the future of Palestine.   In August Hoskins was sent to Saudi Arabia to see if the king would agree to meet Weizmann. When he made the suggestion the king blew up. In Elizabeth Monroe’s summary of the occasion, “he hated Weizmann personally because the latter had impugned his character by offering a bribe of 20 million pounds if he would accept Arab settlers from Palestine.”

Furthermore, the king had been told the payment would be guaranteed by Roosevelt, which was certainly due to Weizmann’s campaigning. The king was so incensed at the offer and the involvement of the US president “in such a shameful manner” that he never brought it up again in his discussions with Hoskins.   Hoskins went to London, where he “disabused” Weizmann and Namier of the idea that Philby’s views represented the Saudi king’s. Philby persisted in believing that if Hoskins had approached the king with a firm offer on behalf of the US and British governments it would have been accepted. Of course, with oil being drilled in commercial quantities since 1938, the money on offer would soon be eclipsed by the vast sums flowing into the kingdom.

With partition passed by the UN General Assembly and the situation in Palestine worsening, the king could not bring himself to listen to the radio. Tears would come to his eyes. He agreed to meet members of an Anglo-American Commission bent on linking “Jewish victims of Nazi persecution everywhere” to the zionist colonization of Palestine. The king distrusted Philby when it came to Palestine so he was not at the meeting, at which Abdul Aziz told his visitors that “if the immigration of Jews continues and their possessions in Palestine increase, they will become one of the most powerful governments, equipped with arms and wealth and everything else. They will be against the Arabs and at the same time [will be] difficult for them.”

With the British leaving Palestine, he said a continued British mandate would be better than a triumph for the Jews or an enlarged kingdom for King Abdullah of Jordan, then conspiring with the Zionist leadership.

With the Arab states under foreign domination, and the Arab League newly formed and ineffectual, Philby came to admire “the courage and fanaticism of the Jews as much as I deplore the futility of the Arabs.” It was no wonder that many in Saudi court circles regarded him as a zionist spy, a British intelligence agent or a communist. As Philby’s son Kim was a committed communist and at the time was handing secrets from inside MI6 to the Soviet Union, there was certainly irony in their suspicions.

Philby needed to be in Saudi Arabia for further desert explorations and to make money from his various commercial ventures. He must have known that if he pushed the king any further on the question of Palestine he would he putting his own interests at risk. He continued to argue for the right of the Arabs to run their own affairs, all the Arabs, that is, except the Palestinians.

– Jeremy Salt taught at the University of Melbourne, at Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara for many years, specializing in the modern history of the Middle East. Among his recent publications is his 2008 book, The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press). He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

History: The Zionist Origins of Saudi Arabia and Its Royals

Part I

By Rez Karim

Global Research, September 22, 2020

Recognizing the contentious nature of the subject, this two-part article relies only on official treatises, pacts and primary sourced evidence to compile a historically accurate account of the founding of Saudi Arabia and Al Saud family becoming ‘Royals’.

Growing up Muslim in a Muslim majority country, I spent most Friday afternoons at a mosque, attending the Jummah prayer. First part of a Jummah prayer calls for the Imam to perform a Khutbah – a weekly sermon of sorts. It was in one of those Khutbahs that I, as a very young boy, learnt about the plight of the Palestinians for the first time.

Indeed, it’s a common practice among Imams around the world to bring up the Palestinian issue at mosques, especially during Friday sermons, and pray for the Palestinian people. In those prayers and discussions, Israel’s name comes up inevitably. In fact, Israel’s oppression of Palestinians bears no ambiguity in Islamic thoughts. And condemnation of Israel, therefore, comes naturally to Muslims around the world.

However, what escapes awareness in almost all Muslims is the connection between Israel and Saudi Arabia. While zealously castigating Israel for its atrocities, Muslims often revere Saudi Arabia as the custodians of Islam’s holiest sites; completely ignoring the Kingdom’s role in founding the Zionist state in the first place.

Notwithstanding the existence of a deep-seated bias against Israel among Muslims, it’s important to recognize that the lack of criticism for Saudi Kingdom, alongside Israel, doesn’t come from bias. Indeed, this absence finds its roots not in bias, but in a complete lack of knowledge. Knowledge among current generation of Muslims, as well as among the world population, about how Saudi Arabia and its founding king, Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud, played a critical role in establishing the Zionist state of Israel.

Suffice it to say, this ignorance about one of the most critical periods in world history seems anything but normal. Amazingly, the world, especially the Muslim world, had been kept in darkness about this momentous chapter in Middle East history. Propaganda and omissions run rampant within the historical accounts of this period. Official Saudi sources like House of Saud website, for example, avoids any mention of British involvement in founding the KSA. Although this omission seems predictable to many, it’s worth noting that even mainstream media outlets like the BBC, and prominent historians such as Professor Eugene Rogan etc., routinely portray Ibn Saud as having acted independently during WWI, and not as an instrument for the British Empire.

Therefore, recognizing the contentious nature of the issue – and to avoid becoming yet another ‘perspective’ on the subject – this article relies only on primary sourced evidence and the following four official treatises and declarations to compile a historically accurate account of the events:

  1. The McMahon-Hussain Correspondence
  2. The Treaty of Darin
  3. The Sykes-Picot Agreement
  4. The Balfour Declaration

1. The McMahon-Hussain Correspondence

To properly understand the events that led to the creation of both Israel and Saudi Arabia, we must travel back to the early 1900s’ Middle East. At the outbreak of WWI in the region, Sir Henry McMahon, then British High Commissioner in Egypt, offered Hussain bin Ali, Sharif of Hijaz (or ruler of the Hijaz – the western Arabian region in which Mecca and Medina lie), an independent Arab state if he would help the British fight against the Ottoman Empire. Hussein’s interest in throwing off his Turkish overlords converged with Britain’s war aim of defeating the Ottomans. McMahon made this offer via a series of letters exchanged between him and Sharif Hussain, collectively known as the McMahon-Hussain Correspondence. On his 14 July 1915 letter to McMahon, Hussain stated, among other things, the following as one of his propositions:Palestine: Britain Should Apologise for the Balfour Declaration, Not ‘Celebrate’ It

“Firstly.- England will acknowledge the independence of the Arab countries, bounded on the north by Mersina and Adana up to the 37th degree of latitude, on which degree fall Birijik, Urfa, Mardin, Midiat, Jezirat (Ibn ‘Umar), Amadia, up to the border of Persia; on the east by the borders of Persia up to the Gulf of Basra; on the south by the Indian Ocean, with the exception of the position of Aden to remain as it is; on the west by the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea up to Mersina. England to approve the proclamation of an Arab Khalifate of Islam.”

In response, McMahon wrote on 24 October 1915:

“I regret that you should have received from my last letter the impression that I regarded the question of the limits and boundaries with coldness and hesitation; such was not the case, but it appeared to me that the time had not yet come when that question could be discussed in a conclusive manner.

“I have realized, however, from your last letter that you regard this question as one of vital and urgent importance. I have, therefore, lost no time in informing the Government of Great Britain of the contents of your letter, and it is with great pleasure that I communicate to you on their behalf the following statement, which I am confident you will receive with satisfaction:-

“The two districts of Mersina and Alexandretta and portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo cannot be said to be purely Arab, and should be excluded from the limits demanded.

“With the above modification, and without prejudice of our existing treaties with Arab chiefs, we accept those limits.”

Interestingly, throughout history, there has been much disagreement as to whether this promise included Palestine. However, as we can see above, the area promised to the Arabs in McMahon’s letter excluded only the territory to the west of a line from Damascus north to Aleppo. Palestine, far to the south, was, by implication, included. Nevertheless, the British subsequently denied that they included Palestine in the promise and refused to publish the correspondence until 1939.

At the time however, Sharif Hussain believed this official promise from the British Government. He went on to make the most significant contribution to the Ottoman Empire’s defeat. He switched allegiances and led the so-called ‘Arab Revolt’ in June of 1916, which removed the Turkish presence from Arabia.

The defeat of the Ottoman Empire by the British in WWI left three distinct authorities in the Arabian peninsula. Sharif of Hijaz Hussain bin Ali of Mecca (in the west); Ibn Rashid of Ha’il (in the north); and Emir Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud of Najd and his religiously fanatical followers, the Wahhabis (in the east).

2. The Treaty of Darin

On 26 December 1915, Sir Percy Cox, on behalf of the British Government, signed the Treaty of Darin with Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud. Also known as the Darn Pact, the treaty made the lands of the House of Saud a British protectorate. The British aim of the treaty was to guarantee the sovereignty of Kuwait, Qatar and the Trucial States (later UAE). Abdul-Aziz vowed not to attack these British protectorates. He also pledged to enter WWI in the Middle East against the Ottoman Empire as an ally of Britain.

Britain’s signing of Darin Pact in December went against their promises of mutual protection made to Sharif Hussain in October; because Britain’s treaty with Ibn Saud does not oblige him to not attack the Hijaz.

The treaty also saw Abdel Aziz receiving £5000 per month ‘tribute’ from the British Government. After World War I, he received further support from the British. Support included substantially more monetary rewards and a glut of surplus munitions.

3. The Sykes-Picot Agreement 

On May 19, 1916, representatives of Great Britain and France secretly reached an accord, known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The accord aimed at dividing most of Arab lands under the Ottoman rule between the British and the French at the end of WWI. In its designated sphere, it was agreed, each country shall be allowed to establish such direct or indirect administration or control as they desire and as they may think fit.

Two diplomats, a Briton and a Frenchman, divided the map of one of the most volatile regions in the world into states that cut through ethnic and religious communities. The secret agreement largely neglected to allow for the future growth of Arab nationalism; which at that same moment the British government was using to their advantage against the Turks.

A century on, the Middle East continues to bear the consequences of the treaty. Many Arabs across the region continue to blame the subsequent violence in the Middle East, from the occupation of Palestine to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), on the Sykes-Picot treaty.

Indeed, Britain’s signing of this treaty went directly against what it promised to the Sharif of Hijaz in October of previous year. As we will see in Part II of this article, Britain’s betrayal of their promises of an independent Arab state eventually led them to unleash their attack dog, Ibn Saud, on Sharif Hussain and topple him. This allowed the British to effectuate the Sykes-Picot accord, and subsequently establish the Zionist state of Israel.

Read Part II

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Author Rez Karim is an Electrical Engineer and Chief Editor at VitalColumns.com.

Featured image is from the authorThe original source of this article is Global ResearchCopyright © Rez Karim, Global Research, 2020

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