McMahon-Hussein letter 1915
THE McMAHON-HUSSEIN LETTER, OCTOBER 24, 1915
Sherif Hussein as depicted on a Jordanian banknote
This letter is part of the correspondence between Sir Henry McMahon, the British Ambassador in Cairo, and the Sherif Hussein of Mecca. Hussein was the ruler of the Hejaz, the western part of the Arabian peninsula, which includes Mecca, Medina and Jedda, and his Hashemite dynasty claims descent from the Prophet Mohammed. King Abdullah of Jordan is the great-great-grandson of Hussein.
At the time this letter was written, the Allied assault on Gallipoli had failed, and the British were hoping to promote an Arab uprising against Turkish rule. That Arab revolt later began in the Hejaz, with the participation of T.E Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) as one of a number of British military advisers.
The description of the regions to be excluded from future Arab independence was ambiguous in its application to Palestine. Lebanon is clearly to the west of the “districts” of the Turkish Empire referred to, while Palestine is to the south-west of those districts.
©Martin Gilbert, from Atlas of the Arab-Israel Conflict
“I have received your letter of the 29th Shawal, 1333, with much pleasure and your expressions of friendliness and sincerity have given me the greatest satisfaction.
I regret that you should have received from my last letter the impression that I regarded the question of 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 realised, 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 to our existing treaties with Arab chiefs, we accept those limits.
As for those regions lying within those frontiers wherein Great Britain is free to act without detriment to the interests of her ally, France, I am empowered in the name of the Government of Great Britain to give the following assurances and make the following reply to your letter:
- Subject to the above modifications, Great Britain is prepared to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs in all the regions within the limits demanded by the Sherif of Mecca.
- Great Britain will guarantee the Holy Places against all external aggression and will recognise their inviolability.
- When the situation admits, Great Britain will give to the Arabs her advice and will assist them to establish what may appear to be the most suitable forms of government in those various territories.
- On the other hand, it is understood that the Arabs have decided to seek the advice and guidance of Great Britain only, and that such European advisers and officials as may be required for the formation of a sound form of administration will be British.
- With regard to the vilayets of Baghdad and Basra, the Arabs will recognise that the established position and interests of Great Britain necessitate special administrative arrangements in order to secure these territories from foreign aggression to promote the welfare of the local populations and to safeguard our mutual economic interests.
I am convinced that this declaration will assure you beyond all possible doubt of the sympathy of Great Britain towards the aspirations of her friends the Arabs and will result in a firm and lasting alliance, the immediate results of which will be the expulsion of the Turks from the Arab countries and the freeing of the Arab peoples from the Turkish yoke, which for so many years has pressed heavily upon them.
I have confined myself in this letter to the more vital and important questions, and if there are any other matters dealt with in your letters which 1 have omitted to mention, we may discuss them at some convenient date in the future.
It was with very great relief and satisfaction that I heard of the safe arrival of the Holy Carpet and the accompanying offerings which, thanks to the clearness of your directions and the excellence of your arrangements, were landed without trouble or mishap in spite of the dangers and difficulties occasioned by the present sad war. May God soon bring a lasting peace and freedom of all peoples.
I am sending this letter by the hand of your trusted and excellent messenger, Sheikh Mohammed ibn Arif ibn Uraifan, and he will inform you of the various matters of interest, but of less vital importance, which I have not mentioned in this letter.”