A Tale of Two Rebellions: The Rif and Syrian Revolts in 1925

By Reem Bailony
Submitted to Session P4903 (Colonial Regimes and Anti-Colonial Revolts between Maghrib and Mashriq, 1920-1950, 2017 Annual Meeting
In 1925, the French Empire simultaneously battled two anti-colonial rebellions in Morocco and Syria. Both the Rif Rebellion (1921-1926), which started in Spanish Morocco but spread to the French Protectorate, as well the Great Syrian Revolt (1925-1927), can both be thought of as responses to the failures of the postwar international system to deliver upon the promises of self-determination and sovereignty. Both events called attention to the failings of colonial rule--French in particular--spurring critique among a spectrum of European leftists, as well as activists belonging to the region. Moreover, the League of Nations often assessed French rule in light of both events, and in tandem with one another.

Whereas the literature has discussed these instances of revolt separately, this paper considers the ways in which the contemporaries of the time viewed their activities as part of a broader and more global anti-colonial moment. Using sources of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as Syrian journals and periodicals, this paper will examine the ways in which Syrians wrote about the Rif Rebellion in light of their own ongoing anti-colonial struggle. It analyzes the modes of nationalist discourse—Islamic or otherwise—that intellectuals and activists used to describe the events underway. At the heart of many of these debates was the legitimacy of not only French Empire, but also the Eurocentrism of the postwar system of nation-states. The paper argues that nationalist imaginations were formed not only vis-à-vis the colonial other but also in relationship to such cross-border solidarities as present in the Arab press. By employing a transnational lens, this paper seeks to better understand the ways in which the Rif Revolt fueled nationalist imaginaries across the Arab world.