Desktop version

Home arrow History

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

State consolidation and state competition in Arabia and the Levant (1926-1953): the limits of ingroup identification

The first period of interstate relations began in earnest after the final expulsion of the Hashemite from Arabia, followed by the formation and entrenchment of two Hashemite dynasties in (Trans)Jordan and Iraq and the consolidation of the Saudi Kingdom. As long as rivaling claims to the same land and title (king of Hijaz) formed the center of a vaguely defined territory - much more a realm than a demarcated state - no ingroup identification could arise. Since both could not take the title at the same time, the dynasties were incompatible and an existential threat to each other, precluding any recognition of equal status, which would mark a first step toward ingroup identification. Once state borders and institutions hardened and the states recognized each other, the preconditions for ingroup identification were met and developed slowly. State building and the solidification of borders also dampened the effect of divisive ideology driven by irredentism.

Structural similarities

Although both powers shared similarities - being religiously legitimized, expansionary, tribally supported Sunni Arab dynasties hailing from the Arabian Peninsula and both being at some point supported by the British - these similarities were superficial.

While the Hashemites derived their legitimacy from their status as ashraf (plural of sharif), i.e. descendants of the Prophet, the Al Saud based their religious legitimacy on its bond with the Al Shaikh, the descendants of Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab. the founder of the muwahhidun, or the Wahhabi movement, and their adherence to Wahhabi doctrine.16 Although Hashemites were long-established urban elites in a culturally diverse region with a strong economic focus on the extraction of hajj taxes and rents, the Al Saud were basically tribal warriors who hailed from the much more conservative and homogeneous rural region of central Arabia. The structural and instimtional similarities thus provided a weak basis for ingroup identification to emerge in the first period of the case study.

Salience: constraints and catalysts to ingroup identification

As long as Sharif Hussein and especially Ibn Saud and other tribal chieftains were two among a plethora of pre-eminent shaikhs whose manner of succession always entailed a hereditary element but one that was not yet understood in the terms of a full-fledged monarchic state, the salience of the monarchy divide was low -especially since monarchy was then the norm rather than an exception. Before the regime change in Egypt, there were seven independent monarchies in the Middle East (Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran), in contrast to four republics - half of which were non-Arab (Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey). Thus, Arab identity and Muslim identity were more salient to most rulers.

The more elaborate the state apparatuses and institutional and organizational rales as well as state ceremonies were established and entrenched, the more the distinction of a specific “monarchic” element became present. The same developments also decreased the role of irredentism. the major divisive ideology between the Hashemites and the Al Saud, by cementing state borders and therefore also enabled a slow rise in the salience of monarchism.

A salient threat was posed by the Jewish national movement: since 1948. the newly formed Israel was seen as a challenge for the Arab or Islamic community but was irrelevant for any autocratic regime type distinction. Of far greater importance for the salience of the monarchy -republic distinction was the potential threat posed by the expansion of republican Arab nationalist ideology, which jumped to the forefront with the regime change in Egypt in 1952.

Its effects were therefore highly limited at first, restricted to bringing the Hashemite kingdoms closer together. This became possible only because their threat conception was shared: as of joint threats and not threats toward each other, collective defense rather than collective security. However, their “collective” was still rather small and did not yet extend toward other monarchies, least of all Saudi Arabia, the main regional rival.

The main candidate for an ideology sowing division and distrust between the potentially similar systems was irredentism, especially from the Hashemites. Wahhabi expansionism, a major source of conflict in early Saudi-Hashemite relations, was mostly pacified after the dismantlement of the Ikhwan (Al-Rasheed 2010, 63-67).

Hashemite irredentism was shaped by two main regional projects by the two Hashemite monarchies: "Greater Syria’’, a cornerstone of Abdallah’s regional ambitions, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said's Britain-coordinated policies enshrined in the Fertile Crescent Plan, effectively claiming the same territory alongside Iraq - both shaping Hashemite foreign policy in the 1940s and 1950s. These conceptions were divisive in that they presumed Hashemite leadership over other domains instead of an egalitarian club of monarchies. Neither of these plans ever gained a popular following. Rulers of other states, including monarchic Egypt, were wary of Hashemite ambitions (Weinberger 1986, 244-245).

Despite the Hashemite's common roots in their expulsion from the Hijaz, the Hashemite position on the Al Saud dynasty was all but monolithic, influencing the relationship to Saudi Arabia in different ways for Iraq and Jordan. Faisal I and his successors in Iraq hoped for the reunification of the territory under Hashemite sovereignty after the demise of its founder and were therefore willing to tentatively recognize its legitimacy (cf. Podeh 1995, 86). Abdallah, on the other hand, clung to Hashemite irredentism, focusing on the Hijaz longer than his brother did in Iraq. His Greater Syria Plan, presented to Britain in 1942, included political change in the Hijaz (Podeh 1995, 87). Like his father, Abdallah harbored expansionist pan-Arab leadership aspirations and wanted to unify "Greater Syria” under his rule and, when that failed. Mandatory Palestine. This was to be added to his artificially carved out territory as amir of Transjordan - later as king of Transjordan after independence in 1946. The name was changed to Kingdom of Jordan in 1949 after the annexation of the West Bank of the Jordan river - a move not recognized by any Arab state except fellow Hashemite Iraq. However, the expansion and grounding of the Hashemite state in the Levant that the control over Jerusalem signified also helped disentangle Jordan from the Arabian Peninsula (Partrick 2013, 3).

Despite the obstacles to monarchic ingroup identification that Hashemite irredentism brought with it, it was firmly tied to monarchism. During 1941-1947, when Abdallah's attempts to form a greater union including Syria reached an apex, one of the reasons for the policy’s failure was the Syrian government’s adamant insistence on retaining its republican state form rather than the idea of incorporation or unity itself. Under the Syrian nationalist president Shukri al-Quwatli, the burden of change was even reversed: he called on Transjordan to "let her people join the mother country [Syria] as a free republic” (cited in: Simon 1974, 317).

The Fertile Crescent Plan of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said went even further than Abdallah’s Syrian unity agenda in that it sought to unite Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine and Transjordan. These countries would then compose the Arab League along with Iraq, headed by a permanent council nominated by member states and presided over by their rulers chosen in a manner acceptable to the states concerned. It is no accident that this plan was designed by commoner al-Said rather than a member of the Hashemite family. The key difference was that al-Said’s plan prioritized Arab unity over dynastic Hashemite union and even left the question of the form of government open (Simon 1974, 317-318). His proposal to the Saudi Kingdom in early 1943 was, however, more agreeable for the Saudis, because it incorporated "Greater Syria” but no Hijazi territory (Podeh 1995, 86). In turn, Abd al-Ilah, the regent of Iraq and son of Abdallah's brother Ali (the successor of their father Sharif Hussein), attempted to convince Syrian politicians of Iraqi-Syrian unity until the plan collapsed with the establishment of the Syrian-Egyptian United Arab Republic (UAR) (Simon 1974, 318), but frequent changes of government through the then almost annual coups in Syria precluded a final agreement in the previous years as well (cf. Simon 1974, 319).

Social processes of ingroup identification

While Emir Abdallah, the son of the former Hashemite ruler over the Hijaz, Sharif Hussein, refused to recognize the Saudi Kingdom, Iraqi and Saudi representatives had already signed an agreement of mutual recognition of the independence of the two countries in February 1930. It dealt mainly with border issues. This marked the first step toward the consolidation of ingroup identification. It was followed by another symbolic concession. In 1936, Ghazi, son of Faisal I, signed the Arab Entente Cordiale among the monarchies of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, an essential hallmark in Iraqi-Saudi relations in that it implied a withdrawal of all Iraqi Hashemite claims on the Hijaz (Podeh 1995, 87).

Faisal I and his successors in Iraq believed the Saudi regime to be a flash in the pan and hoped for reunification of the territory under Hashemite sovereignty after the demise of its founder. They were therefore willing to tentatively recognize its legitimacy. His brother Abdallah, who vividly remembered his humiliating halfdressed flight from the Saudi victory at Turaba, denied its right to existence (cf. Podeh 1995, 86). The first signs of convergence were prompted by the losses of the First Arab-Israeli War of 1948/1949. As the threat from each other lessened while another loomed larger, cooperation could begin to merge into a common identity. The first step - the recognition as equals - was taken at this meeting: "One important aspect of the meeting was Ibn Saud's recognition of King Abdallah as an independent monarch, and his agreement to exchange diplomatic representatives” (Al-Rasheed 2001, 244)

Relations remained strained between the Iraqi Hashemites and the Saudi regime as well, but these steps later led to mutual recognition because “like polities” that were not present before borders were clearly delineated and because state building took a back seat to - often-shifting - tribal allegiances.

Although relations between the Hashemites and the Al Saud were distanced, first signs of rapprochement were shown in first visits. That the personalization of relations via visits is important for the forging of community is shown by changed attitudes of the elites after such visits, later leading to a rapprochement. Longstanding British efforts to reconcile the two dynasties led to first successes in the background of the Arab-Israeli War, when both monarchs began to see the advantages of cooperation for a common goal - avoiding imminent military defeat - and Ibn Saud and Abdallah met for a tentative rapprochement, eased by the shrunken military capabilities and entanglement of the Arab Legion. Some 16 years after the kingdom's formation, Ibn Saud relented and received Abdallah in Riyadh from 27 to 30 June 1948, without letting his son Faisal know. A Hijazi dissident described the visit as the opportunity to “end any separatist tendencies between the Hijaz and Nejd and would allow the country to develop on a proper basis of unity” (cited in: Al-Rasheed 2001,243). It was not a warm affair from the beginning, and King Abdallah consciously omitted the Hijaz, his homeland, from his itinerary (Maddy-Weitzman 1990, 69-70).

Nevertheless, while Abdallah previously openly voiced his hostility toward the Al Saud, his meeting with Ibn Saud (and his heir, Saud bin Abd al-Aziz) apparently influenced his stance toward him, as he described the Saudi ruler as a "pleasant companion” (hidwu l-ma ’ashshar) in his memoirs, toward whom he felt "heartfelt respect” (ihtiram qalbi) and was similarly inclined toward the crown prince (Abdallah I King of Jordan 1951, 66-67, 1954, 57-58).17

The difference in the personalization of bonds between monarchies and republics is well illustrated by the example of Syria. Meaningful personal relationships at the regime level could hardly be upheld with almost annual coups, furthermore, there were few similarities between the political systems that evoked familiarity and trust and the revolutionary rhetoric accompanying the coups was explicitly directed against the monarchies. Lacking any durable bonds, no options were off-limits per se: to circumvent Damascus's opposition to unification plans with Iraq, Baghdad even drafted an invasion plan in the early 1950s, known as Plan X (Simon 1974, 320) - which also indicates that monarchies are not necessarily less aggressive than are republics, per se.

During the reign of the sons of Sharif Hussein, there is no particular recognition of being part of larger "family” or even “club” with Saudi Arabia. There are, however, signs that Abdallah more regularly used fraternal addresses toward monarchs than he did toward Arab presidents, despite his claim to the vanguard of Arabism, which should not differentiate between different political systems.

His memoirs, where he relates official visits and communications to other heads of states, are instructive in this regard. In a letter reprinted there, he addresses King Famq of Egypt as his brother (which the latter reciprocates in his answer letter), but not Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatli or the Palestinian leader Amin al-Husseini. In addition, he also fraternally addresses non-Arabs, like the Berber Riffian anticolonial leader Abd al-Karim al-Khattab (while referencing Morocco as a “Hashimite state”, due to the Alaoui dynasty’s shared descent from the prophet) and the Persian shah of the "sister Muslim country” of Iran (Abdallah I King of Jordan 1954, 44, 47, 53, 57, 62-65). Even without trusting the memoirs at face value, the overlap of the friendship category overlap with monarchism is conspicuous.

Another major instance of centripetalism among monarchies are the royal unification attempts at the time that attempted to institutionalize community. While no broader union (including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) came about, both were approached and engaged in negotiations. More prominently, we see the beginning of the formation of the Arab Union (or Arab Federation, AFU), which united the Hashemite sister kingdoms shortly before the downfall of the Iraqi monarchy. In

April 1947, Iraq and Transjordan signed the Treaty of Brotherhood and Alliance, emphasizing the close bonds in its name (Maddy-Weitzman 1990, 66).

A few months before his assassination, Abdallah floated the idea of a confederation between the two Hashemite states on the basis of the broad autonomy of the states but a single foreign policy, mutual defense responsibilities, and a single flag, "the first Hashemite flag of the Hijaz” (Maddy-Weitzman 1990, 66—67) - a jab at the Al Saud but a further reification of the Hashemite bond. Iraqi politicians took over the initiative after Abdallah’s death (Gelber 2004, 225).

Foreign policy restraint

The abating of previously frequent raids and skirmishes indicate that constraints toward the use of force in the inter-dynastic relationships were in the process of being established. State consolidation increasingly restricted hostile interactions. Irredentist aspirations persisted on both sides, and military measures were common and normalized at least into the late 1920s and early 1930s, as the frequent Saudi raids into Transjordanian territory demonstrate. Nonetheless, border solidification was in process, exemplified by the (albeit begrudging) Saudi acquiescence to Abdallah’s incorporation of two provinces into his dominions after his victory over a Saudi Wahhabi raid by Bani Sakin- tribespeople into Transjordan in 1925. The southern borders remained in most parts unchanged in the future (Milton-Edwards and Hinchcliffe 2009, 20).

Of special importance is role of state building in the crushing of the Ikhwan rebellion of 1927-1930. Ibn Saud recognized the importance of reigning in the Ikhwan, who were challenging him on a number of grounds (including the political system) and whose raids into Jordanian, Iraqi, or Kuwait territory brought about interstate conflicts (Al-Rasheed 2010, 63-7). By crushing them (with British assistance), he strengthened the state monopoly on violence and implicitly declared his abandonment of an imperial expansionary logic for the benefit of a nation-state logic of fixed borders, the prerequisite of ingroup identification.

Despite balancing alliances of the Saudis against the Hashemites, especially marked during the First Arab-Israeli War and Hashemite attempts to, in Emir Abdallah's words, weaken "a dangerous Saudi-Syrian-Lebanese understanding” (Abdallah I King of Jordan 1950, 250), there was no active attempt to change the regime, no "Plan X” as toward Damascus. Still, mistrust defined the relationship at the time, witnessed by mutual attempts to delegitimize and weaken the other.

For Abdallah, the Saudi Kingdom was illegitimate. When his brother officially recognized it, he accused him of "treason to the Hashemite family” (Podeh 1995, 87). In his memoirs a few years later, he condemned the Saudis as a corrupt sect and responsible for Arab discord while denying their right to Arab leadership. In a "review of the present position of the Arab countries”, written in 1943-1944, Abdallah condemns the Al Saud as "the fanatic minority which now rules the Hejaz” and which "has done nothing for Islam, neither of old nor in modern times” (Abdallah I King of Jordan 1950, 250). Even when appearing conciliatory, as in a letter to Sir Harold McMichael, the high commissioner of Transjordan in April 1944, he uses his position as a "Hashimite [sic] Prince” to intervene in the matter of gold and petrol exploitation in the Hijaz, not under Hashemite control since two decades. While he grudgingly accepts Ibn Saud as the custodian of the two mosques, he also disparages him as ignorant because he is “new to his position” and as callous toward the sacred places that he claimed to protect: “Even if King Ibn Sa'ud has conquered and occupied this area, he has no right to disturb its sacred character, and to change its rites” (Abdallah I King of Jordan 1950, 258-259). The othering is pronounced at this point. The attempts at takfir (excommunication from the Muslim faith) of the Saudis mirror those of Ibn Saud in previous years.

Saudi Arabia reciprocated and refused to establish diplomatic relations with Transjordan while continuing to rival and sabotage Abdallah’s policies. Delegiti-mization was the rule rather than the exception. As so often before and since, Syria formed a main battleground. The Saudis rejected and countered attempts at establishing a Hashemite monarchy in Syria, fearing that it would bolster the basis for Hashemite irredentism. It is in opposition to the Hashemites that fervent Saudi support for independent Syria is best explained in the early period of the republic. Before the establishment of the Arab League, Ibn Saud opposed any plans to attach Syria, Lebanon, or Palestine to Egypt or Iraq and supported the League only after it became clear that Egypt did not harbor greater ambition to Arab unity but also saw the Hashemites as the primary threat, which formed the basis of a short-lived axis between King Ibn Saud, King Famq of Egypt, and President Shukri al-Quwatli of Syria (Podeh 1995, 87).

There is no evidence of any Jordanian Hashemite-Saudi alliance or even mutual support in this period, although there are hints of growing Iraqi-Saudi ties. On the other hand, there is close cooperation, up to the Treaty of Brotherhood and Alliance between the two sister Hashemite kingdoms of Jordan and Iraq, later leading to the institutionalization of alliance in the AFU.

Once his unification plans with Syria had failed, Abdallah turned his focus back on Iraq after failing to expand his control over Syria, within the framework of his "Greater Syria” scheme. In April 1947, he and his nephew Abd al-Ilah. the regent of Iraq and son of Sharif Hussein's heir and Abdallah's brother Ali, signed the Treaty of Brotherhood and Alliance. The treaty provided for consultation on defense measures against a third-party aggressor and permitted military intervention by one party to suppress disorders or a rebellion in the other. Abd al-Ilah took over the leadership of the alliance and Hashemite ambitions after Abdallah's death (Simon 1974, 317).

The cooperation of the two Hashemite dynasties became more evident during the Arab-Israeli War with Abdallah's appointment as supreme commander of the Arab Forces, with Iraqi Mahmud as his deputy (and ALA commander Qawuqji, also an Iraqi). After the war. the Iraqi prime minister acknowledged Transjordanian support for Iraqi’s military and economic strategies but blamed the other Arab states for rejecting them (cf. Tripp 2001, 135-136, 139).

Saudi relations with Iraq were not quite as abysmal. The text of the inter-Hash-emite Alliance and Brotherhood treaty followed a similar one of 1936 signed by Saudi Arabia and Iraq (Maddy-Weitzman 1990, 66).

Ingroup identification

The period of early state building in Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia shows a core ingroup of the Hashemite twin monarchies but only limited first signs of expanding this “monarchic club” toward Saudi Arabia. After all. the conditions for ingroup development were lacking in that both structural similarity and monarchic salience were low. Consequently, isolated raids and skirmishes indicate the absence of any nonviolence norm. Over the years, the solidification of borders and state institutions and the increasing personal interaction between the monarchs amid the backdrop of the looming threat of pan-Arab republicanism planted the seeds for monarchic cooperation and community.

In Abdallah's later years, he muted his (personal) opposition to the Saud dynasty. His visit to Saudi Arabia in the summer of 1948 made a partial rapprochement seem within reach. Still, it took his death in 1951 to remove the prime obstacle to reconciliation. Neither his son, the short-lived King Talal, nor his grandson Hussein raised any irredentist claims. The Saudi-Jordanian border finally solidified. Iraq had begun making overtures even earlier and the acknowledgment of mutual recognition softened relations with Saudi Arabia in the 1930s. While this growing closeness did not preclude rivalries and intrigues, the relationship of the dynasties was marked by a growing trust level that others, like the Syrian leadership, did not enjoy.

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics