Arab uprising (1916-1920)

When Turkey went to war in October 1914 against the allied powers and following their repression of an uprising in Damascus that same year, an exchange of letters between the British Government and the Governor of Mecca, Sherif Hussein, descendent of the Prophet, took place between October 1914 and March 1916. The promise made by Great Britain was the creation of a great Arab Kingdom, a confederation of three independent states to be created (Hejaz, Syria and Iraq), if the people of the region revolted against Istanbul.

The revolt began on June 5, 1916 with the proclamation of the independent state of Hejaz (1) and Hussein its King on November 2nd. Hussein’s sons, Faysal and Abdallah (2) led Arab armies north. Faysal entered Damascus on October 3, 1918, and thus put an end to Turkish presence in the Arab countries of the Middle East. A Syrian National Council was convened in June 1919 and proclaimed him King of Syria in March 1920. In the meantime Great Britain, France and Russia had concluded secret agreements on May 16, 1916 (which were revealed and denounced by the Bolshevik powers in 1917) known later as the Sykes-Picot agreements laying down a partition of the region to be placed under separate European powers. The British government topped it all with its public promise on November 2nd, 1917 to create a Jewish homeland with the Balfour Declaration.

In March 1919, The San Remo conference confirmed the Sykes-Picot agreements assigning to France and Britain a mandate over the Middle East. On July 24, 1920 Faysal was forced out of Damascus by the French army led by General Gourand, who that same year proclaimed the independence of the Lebanon.

Faysal after seeking refuge in Baghdad, was later named king of Iraq under British mandate on August 23, 1921. He is buried in Jerusalem on Temple Mount.

The Arab revolt left its marks throughout the Arab World. One of these, albeit symbolic, is visible everywhere : the colours of its flag black, green, white and red. The flags of Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait and Palestine all use the colours in different arrays, with the Palestinian one resembling the original the most.


(1) In 1924, the Hejaz was invaded by Ibn Saud, king of the Nejd, another of Britain’s allies. In 1932 Ibn Saud created the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

(2) Abdallah is the grandfather of King Hussein of Jordan.