The 5th Chapter of “History of West Asia and North Africa in the Twentieth Century” Lecture Series | Syria and Lebanon: 1920-1944

On the afternoon of May 4th, 2021, Prof. Eugene Rogan, Member of the Academic Committee of Institute for International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU), and Professor of Middle East History at the University of Oxford, gave an online lecture on the theme of “Syria and Lebanon: 1920-1944” to the audience, including students from IIAS and other leading academic institutions home and abroad. This lecture is the fifth chapter in a series of lectures on “History of West Asia and North Africa in the Twentieth Century” and was hosted by Wang Tingyi, Assistant Professor at IIAS.

Prof. Rogan started with France’s strategic transitions in the Middle East before and after World War I, focusing on Syria and Lebanon from 1920 to 1944.

First of all, Prof. Rogan pointed out that France had been coveting the territory in the eastern Mediterranean since the mid-19th century, so it had been seeking to annex the territories of Syria and Lebanon during WWI, after which France was determined to strive for these requests at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. In contrast, Amir Faisal of the Hashemite family submitted a memorandum to the Conference Committee, stating the independence wishes of the Arabs, but the report was eventually undisclosed.

In 1919, Britain announced its withdrawal from Syria and Lebanon and handed over power to French troops in Damascus. The French concentrated on suppressing urban nationalists, and its violent suppression triggered massive demonstrations, which were also suppressed by French troops. The Syrian Uprising between 1925 and 1927 forced France to suppress the rebellion throughout Syria, deploying a large number of soldiers and paying a high price. After that, Syrian nationalists negotiated with the French to seek independence and territorial integrity.

In the second part of the lecture, Prof. Rogan explained that after World War II, the Allied forces won, and Syrians and Lebanese thought that the French mandates were coming to an end and began to prepare for independence. Lebanese political leaders reached a power-sharing agreement among different religious groups in the country, retaining the sectarian governance system established by the French. In 1943, Lebanon held a new parliamentary election. The newly elected parliament amended the Lebanese Constitution, but France still retained certain powers in many provisions of the Lebanese Constitution. In 1945, anti-French protests broke out across Syria. The French once again tried to suppress the opposition by force, but it finally admitted defeat in July 1945 and agreed to transfer the control of the army and security forces to the independent Syrian and Lebanese governments.

After the lecture, Prof. Rogan had heated interaction and discussions with the audience and provided insightful answers to a number of questions raised by the audience, including the role of Alawites in the army during the French Mandate, the differences between France and Britain in their policies towards colonial rule, why the French decided to separate Lebanon from Syria, how the nationalist movement spread in different parts of the Arab world, and how Arab Christians in Lebanon viewed the role of Islam in Arab nationalism.

Professor Eugene Rogan
BA Columbia, MA PhD Harvard, MA Oxford
Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History
Director, St Antony’s College Middle East Centre

Eugene Rogan is Director of the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. He has a B.A. in economics from Columbia, and an M.A. and PhD in Middle Eastern history from Harvard. He taught at Boston College and Sarah Lawrence College before taking up his post in Oxford in 1991, where he teaches the modern history of the Middle East to both undergraduates and graduates as well as providing DPhil supervision. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2017.

He is author of The Arabs: A History (Penguin, 2009, 3rd edition 2018), which has been translated in 18 languages and was named one of the best books of 2009 by The Economist, The Financial Times, and The Atlantic Monthly. His earlier works include Frontiers of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire (Cambridge University Press, 1999), for which he received the Albert Hourani Book Award of the Middle East Studies Association of North America and the Fuad Köprülü Prize of the Turkish Studies Association; The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948 (Cambridge University Press, 2001, second edition 2007, with Avi Shlaim), which has been published in Arabic, French, Turkish and Italian editions; and Outside In: On the Margins of the Modern Middle East (I.B. Tauris, 2002).

His new book, The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East, 1914-1920, was published in February 2015.

Text by: Wang Zijing
Typesetting by: Wang Zijing
Reviewed by: Wang Tingyi & Zhang Yuan