Bookmark and Share

Open the online Arabic language course

Arab Revolt

Sharif Husayn of Mecca.

Faisal, who would claim kingship of Syria in 1920.

British captain, T. E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia.

British General Allenby.

The gigantic flag pole in Aqaba commemorating the revolt.
ZOOM - Open a large version of this image

Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in its territories in the Levant, 1916-1918. The revolt was led by Arab chieftains of Mecca, and aided by British and Commonwealth forces.

Arab nationalism
At the time when the revolt began, only Najd in the interior of Arabia was independent. Egypt had on its side gradually lost its independence, and had become a British protectorate in 1914.
The concept of Arab nationalism was well established, but poorly or little organized. It was with an alliance proposed by the British to Grand Sharif of Mecca, Husayn, that the Arabs took up arms and then against the Ottomans.
At the point the revolt began, the Ottoman Empire was weakened by having waged war for a couple of years, and found itself largely outstretched.

Goals of the revolt
For the chieftains, the revolt aimed at enlarging their territory; for Arabs in general it aimed at liberation from Turkish supremacy and the possible formation of an Arab state. For the British, the revolt created a new ally in the larger World War 1, in which the Ottoman Empire was a declared enemy of the British.
From the Arab point of view, motivations were purely nationalistic. There was no religious dimension to the war, even if it began with chieftains of Mecca.
The were two states that the Arab leaders wished to create. The Kingdom of Hijaz did very much come alive, while the Arab Kingdom of Syria only came into existence a few months in 1920. The latter was at first declared to become the lands corresponding with modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan. Hijaz was the lands of western Saudi Arabia.
Promises had been given, and secret agreements had been made. In short, the Arabs and Faisal believed that Arab participation in driving the Ottomans out would lead directly to the creation of a large Arab state. But within two years, the lands were divided into French and British mandates, and a policy allowing fast Jewish immigration into many regions of Palestine began. Faisal would become king of Iraq, not over the lands with Damascus in its midst, as he first set out for (see article on Arab Kingdom of Syria). Still, from the Arab revolt the modern states of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan were defined. The revolt also allowed the creation of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia just a few years later.

The armies
The first army of Husayn had about 50,000 soldiers, but there were only 10,000 rifles between them.
The Arabs made full use of the advantages that the camel represented. Arab raiding parties had effective radius of up to 1,500 km thanks to this animal. From the British, the Arabs received both officers as well as rifles, explosives, mortars and machine guns.
The last stretch of the revolt was more of a British campaign than an Arab. The decisive battle of Megiddo was largely a British victory.

Some 4 months after the Arab resistance began, the British sent captain T. E. Lawrence to help in military strategies. Lawrence made them focus upon attacking the weakest part of Ottoman infrastructure, the Hijaz railway. Opened just a few years back, it came under repeated attacks, forcing the Ottomans to use a great part of their force on its defense and repairs.
The railway was destroyed for the stretch between modern Jordan and Madina in 1917.
Parallel to this, the armies advanced northbound, taking one coastal stronghold after another.

1913: Arab intellectuals and politicians meet in Paris, demanding greater autonomy in the Ottoman Empire.
1916 June: Grand Sharif Husayn of Mecca enters an alliance with the United Kingdom and France against the Ottomans.
Jeddah is attacked by Arab troops, and the Ottoman garrison taken after 6 days.
June-September: Arab troops take Rabigh, Yanbu and Qunfida along the Red Sea coast.
October: British captain, Thomas Edward Lawrence is sent from Egypt to cooperate with the Arab troops.
1917 January: The Arabs take the strategically important coastal town and garrison of Wejh. Prince Faisal, son of Husayn, makes this his base.
— Arab guerilla with British aid blows up the Hijaz railway south of Ma'an, effectively cutting the lone Ottoman garrison in Madina off from its main supply route.
July: Arabs troops led by Auda ibn Tayi and T. E. Lawrence takes Aqaba, the only remaining Ottoman port on the Red Sea.
December: British troops under the command of General Allenby, in cooperation with Arab troops, take Jerusalem.
1918 February: One of the largest battle of the revolt is fought at Tafilah (modern Jordan), in which the Ottomans lose 1,000 men.
September 27: A joint army of Ottomans and Germans are crushed at Mezerib.
October 1: In one of the most important, and last, battles fought at Megiddo (modern, coastal Israel), the Ottoman military is completely crushed. The battle was again led by General Allenby, but Faisal and his troops played a central role.
October 1: At same day that Megiddo falls, Auda ibn Tayi and T. E. Lawrence marches into Damascus, which had been pacified the previous day.
1919 January: The only remaining Ottoman stronghold, Madina, surrenders.

By Tore Kjeilen