The Effect of the French Mandate of Syria on the Political State of Syria Today The French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon was established by the League of Nations after World War One during the partition of the Ottoman Empire. This mandate, which was created in 1920, divided greater Syria along lines that the French claimed were determined by what the population of greater Syria desired. In reality, these lines often supported French aspirations and prevented nationalist rebellions. Many large states such as Jabal Druze, Aleppo, Latakia, Damascus, and Alexandretta were created by France during this period (see map).
These boundaries that were drawn by the French created problems during the attempted creation of a stable national government, due to the uneven distribution of religious majorities across the Syrian region. Many of the current political problems in present day Syria are a result of the political boundaries drawn by the French during the time of their mandate. Origins of the Mandate System
A mandate is a legal status certain countries and territories were given after World War One. The mandate system that was created by the League of Nations was a system in which a “more advanced” country would attempt to teach a “less advanced” country how to rule itself. The terms of the mandate were discussed by both the principal allied powers, France, Britain and Italy, and the Council of the League of Nations.
After the terms were discussed, they were imposed upon the mandatee. There were three levels of mandates, A, which were considered sufficiently advanced that their tentative independence was recognized, though they were still subject to Allied control until they were fully able to stand rule themselves, B, which were completely under the administrative control of the allied powers, but had certain rules in place to protect the rights of the people, and C, which were under complete and total control of the allied powers. The Mandate in Syria and Lebanon
When the mandate of Syria, a level A mandate, was first being discussed during an allied meeting in Paris, Amir Faysal, a Hashemite, and one of the commanders of the Syrian revolt against the Ottoman empire, was attempting to form an independent government in Syria. He was made King of Syria, and for a few months ruled Syria. However, an ultimatum of five demands from the French, one of which ordered Syria to reduce the size of its army, was shortly sent to Faysal. Faysal attempted to negotiate with the French commander-in-chief (Fildis). When his venture was rejected the French began a takeover of Syria. On July 26, 1920 the French armies overthrew Faysal and the national government he had created (Fildis).
The French used the mandate to further their political standings in Syria. They also furthered their economical standings in the area, by enabling the exportation of French goods to Syria, and by bringing a source of oil under their control. They treated these mandates like colonies and Alexandre Millerand, a French politician, is quoted saying, “In assuming the mandate in Syria…….. she wishes to ensure [France’s] influence there…” (qtd. in Fildis).
The creation of the French Mandate was shortly followed by the weakening of Arab nationalist groups. It was the intention of the French to divide the region into segments. These separate states made up Greater Syria and were ruled by the French. For the first time ever, Lebanon was made into its own state. Many of the Christians that were in this area felt a sense of safety under the rule of the French, while the Muslims felt threatened (Fildis). The Division of Syria
As the French divided Syria they practiced similar tactics as in Lebanon, dividing the area into separate states, and ruling those areas through a higher command. They divided along ethnic boundaries that they claimed to be in favor of the majority of the population, but which actually weakened nationalist Islamic groups which made up the majority of the population.
The lines that they drew also tended to be in favor of minorities that they hoped would be pro-French, and support their rule. Later in 1920, the French proceeded to create a group of separate systems of government for the different sections of Syria. This action was taken to prevent the creation of a unified Syrian state. In today’s civil war in Syria these old dividing lines have caused intergroup fighting among the forces in opposition to Assad’s rule (Peter). In order to keep the Syrian government from becoming stable the French decided to split the country along the boundaries of two of Syria’s most concentrated minority groups, the Alawites and the Druze. In 1922, the French decided the Jabal al-Druze region would be an area of its own, with a separate governmental system, including an elected congress and governor (BBC).
Also, in a region near Latakia, which had a large Alawite population, the French created a special administrative system of government, heavily monitored by the French (Fildis). This was a strong aid in the weakening of nationalist forces which were not in favor of the French. There were several other groups also forced to become separate governmental systems. During the time of the mandate in Syria, Damascus was made it’s own separate state with many small regions within, including Homs and Hama (see map). Although the French allowed some areas to maintain an older type of government, in more modern areas they imposed a new system, with a French influence on the rule.
This caused separation to grow between groups even in this small area. When the region of Aleppo was occupied it was cut off from its main area of trade and therefore the economy of the area became stagnant and in poor condition (Khoury, 104). This lead to a stressed economic situation that carried many years into the future, interfering with attempts to make a stable government.
The regions of Homs and Hama were also made into separate states under the control of Damascus due to their higher Alawite populations of 10.4% and 9.5%, respectively (Khoury, 15). These are much higher numbers than in most other regions. These regions of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo were eventually unified in 1924 under one system of government, due to the pressure the French were receiving both from economic stress and nationalist groups. Although the French decided to combine the groups, they worked to prevent the spread of Islamic nationalism. Final Steps of the Mandate
The responsibilities of the mandate that was given to France meant little to them compared to their own economic gains and control over Syria They failed to create a new “organic law for Syria and Lebanon” (Fildis). They also neglected to follow the true feelings of the native and nationalist authorities. They did however impose their own monetary system on the people of Syria, with disregard to the feelings of the population. They also created a new constitution for Syria, shortly after a much more lenient one was proposed by the people of Syria which favored releasing Syria from the mandate (Fildis). This new constitution provided France with the power to veto any bill that Syria attempted to pass, and reaffirmed France’s power in the mandate (Khoury, 348). The Effect of the Mandate on Present Syria
Today Syria is in a condition similar to the state it was in during the period of French rule. There is a powerful group in charge, and it is not treating its citizens fairly. The group in charge is a mainly Alawite group, and the leader of the country, Bashar al-Assad is an Alawite. This shows that the divisions made by the French have had an effect on the civil war in Syria.
The uprising that sparked the war is not the first uprising since the mandate; there were uprisings in both 1925 and 1982. One of the main questions in today’s news is: Why has this Syrian conflict lasted so much longer than uprisings in other countries in present day? Many of the reasons stem from the political boundaries drawn, and governmental systems imposed on the people of Syria by the French. During the mandate the French policy of divide and rule was the main system used. Even before the creation of the mandate the French had a great presence in Syria.
They were not there to fulfill the terms of the mandate or help the officials of Syria learn to run a country. The French intervened in Syria to boost their own economy and protect their oil interests. They sought to gain more control as time went on and most often disregarded the views of the people of Syria. French involvement in Syria benefited only the pro-French minorities, and often resulted in the division of religious majorities. The division of religious majorities created many of the problems Syria faces today. France is also responsible for the poor state of the Syrian economy, which was a factor in the start of the anti-regime protests. This process of great political change instigated by the French played a large role in the political instability Syria faces today.
Fildis, Ayse T. “Middle East Policy Council.” Middle East Policy Council. Middle East Policy Council, Winter 2010. Web. 19 May 2013. Khoury, Philip S. Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 1920-1945. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1987. Print. BBC. “Syria Profile.” BBC News. BBC, 05 Mar. 2013. Web. 24 Mar. 2013. Peter, Tom A. “Two Years into Syria’s Civil War, No End in Sight.” USA Today. Gannett, 22 Mar. 2013. Web. 24 Mar. 2013 Chopra, Swati. “Mandate (League of Nations).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 09 June 2013. File:French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon Map En.svg. 2013. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. – Wikimedia Commons. By Don-kun. Wikimedia, 26 Jan. 2013. Web. 09 June 2013.