The Arab Revolt

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The Amir of Mecca was an important position within the Ottoman Empire. The Amir oversaw the holy cities of Medina and Mecca, was entrusted with preserving the religious sanctity of the cities, and ensuring that the annual pilgrimage to Mecca was safely conducted. Only men of families descending from the Prophet Muhammad could be considered for the position.[1]

In 1908, Sultan Abdulhamid II appointed Husayn ibn Ali to the position. Following the removal of Sultan Abdulhamid II from office by the Young Turks and the Committee of Union and Progress, Husayn began establishing secret networks of alliances between himself and Arabic tribes. Following the proclamation of Jihad in November of 1914 by the (figurehead) Ottoman Sultan, the CUP pushed Husayn to support the Ottoman’s fight against the Allied European forces.[2]

In July of 1915, Husayn sent a letter to the British high commissioner serving in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon. In the letter, Husayn suggested an alliance with Britain in order to launch a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The correspondence between Husayn and McMahon continued from 1915 into 1916 and consisted of ten letters. Husayn believed the British and their allies would recognize him as king of an independent Arab nation at the end of the war if he would lead a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Husayn claimed to represent all Arabic peoples and believed the new Arabic state would include the Arabian Peninsula, all of the provinces of Iraq, and all of the provinces of Syria.[3]

McMahon refused to agree to the Syrian provinces because Britain was at the time also negotiating with France over the area. Agreeing to hash out the exact terms after the War, Britain supplied Husayn with supplies, weapons, and funds for his Arab revolt against the Ottomans.[4]

Arab Soldiers part of the Revolt

Husayn denounced the Ottoman Empire as an enemy of the Islamic faith and poured his attentions and resources into the armed revolt.[5] The Arab Revolt began on June 10, 1916, with Husayn’s allied tribal forces attacking Ottoman soldiers stationed at Mecca. By September of 1916, Husayn’s forces many of the main towns of the Hijaz. Husayn chose to portray his revolt as a duty to Islam. He spoke out against the Committee of Union and Progress and called on all Muslims living under the Ottoman Empire to fight against their leadership.[6] The response to this claim was mixed, with many major Muslim leaders of treachery and of dividing the Empire at a time when it needed desperately to be unified.

In 1917, Husayn’s son Amir Faysal, with assistance from British advisers including the famous T.E. Lawrence as well as ex-Ottoman officers, led his    troops into Damascus. Faysal and his men captured the city on October 1, 1918, and began setting up an administration to lead the Arab state promised to Husayn by the British.[7]

(Image Credit: Soldiers of the Arab Army from


[1] William L. Cleveland and Martin Bunton, A History of The Modern Middle East,4th ed. (Boulder, CO : Westview Press, 2009), 157

[2] Ibid., 157.

[3] Ibid., 158.

[4] Ibid., 160.

[5] Ibid., 160.

[6] Ibid., 161.

[7] Ibid., 160-161.