From Revolt to Mandate: Locating the Arab Nationalist Project in Transjordan 1916-1925

By Sami Sweis
Submitted to Session P4417 (Centennial of What? (Re)Acknowledging the Relationship Between the 1916 Arab Revolt and Mandate Politics, 2016 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries; Arab Studies; Colonialism; Middle East/Near East Studies; Modernization; State Formation; Transnationalism;
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This paper argues that the earliest administrations in the Mandate of Transjordan, the colonial predecessor to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, were an extension of the Arab nationalist project that culminated in the 1916 Arab Revolt. The connection, which lasted several years into the Mandate, was embodied by the presence of nationalist figures who played an instrumental role in the administration of the Mandate during its formative years until 1925. Despite the brief connection, however, in its founding mythology, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan often portrays itself as the result of the 1916 Arab Revolt. Symbols and allusions to the Revolt play a prominent role in tracing the foundation of the Kingdom because its dynastic founder, Amir Abdullah, was the middle son of Sharif Husayn of Mecca who publicly launched the Revolt. The rhetorical or public displays of this connection have rightly attracted the attention of critical scholars who have examined their manipulation to bolster a state ideology for the Jordanian Monarch. While the memory of the 1916 Arab Revolt has undoubtedly been a legitimating tool, to entirely discount its actual legacy in forming Transjordan, dismisses the real connections between the two. The ideological underpinnings that led Arabs to support the 1916 Revolt did not simply just end once the Europeans stopped fighting the Ottoman Empire; it evolved to confront European imperialist plans for the post-Ottoman Middle East.

Because its formation in 1921 was particularly wrought with ambiguity, Transjordan serves as an important tableau from which to examine the development of the Hashemite-centric Arab nationalist project as it emerged from the Arab Revolt and entered a post-Ottoman Middle East where local and international actors still struggled to determine the fate of the region. By looking at memoirs and personal production of key figures like Amir Abdullah, the tribesmen living in Transjordan, and the Arab nationalist exiles in Transjordan after 1920, we uncover the dramatic collusion and conflict that took place in their struggle to define the future of the region as the European-imposed Mandate system slowly crystallized into the 1920s. By studying this period, we gain a better appreciation of the actual ambiguities of the moment and the possibilities it presented. We look past the European dicta and examine the making of the post-Ottoman states by persons guided by their own ideologies and desires.