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View series: The Middle East since the beginning of the 20th century

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France and Great Britain in the Middle East 1920-1945

This map is part of a series of 18 animated maps showing the history of The Middle East since the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1920, France and Great Britain began administering the Mandates conferred on them by the League of Nations and defining the map of the Middle East as we know it today.

Worried about the influence of Arab nationalism on their possessions in North Africa, the French opted for a policy of “divide and conquer” by supporting minority groups. After undermining Faisal’s Arab kingdom in Damascus, they created the State of Great Lebanon, as demanded by Lebanese nationalists, but, facing strong Turkish resistance, renounced their claim to Cilicia. In 1925, they finally succeeded, after several attempts, in creating a Syrian State. Alexandrette was given a certain amount of independence, and the Alawite Territory and the Mount of the Druze were separated.

Later the same year, Syria was rocked by a violent rebellion against France’s influence, in the name of Arab unity and nationalism.

Meanwhile, the English were more interested in reducing the cost of occupation and continued their policy of supporting the Arabs. In 1921, they placed Faisal, after his exile from Syria, in charge of the Kingdom of Iraq, though they continued to control the government and the country’s petrol resources. They then created the Emirate of Transjordan for Faisal’s brother, Abdallah. In 1924, following the defeat of Sharif Hussein of Mecca by Ibn Saud in the Arabian Peninsula, part of the territory north of Akaba was transferred to his son, Abdallah.

In Palestine, the creation of a Jewish Homeland met with strong opposition from the Arabs, forcing the English to adopt a policy of appeasement. The creation of Transjordan dampened the Zionists’ territorial ambitions, forcing them to accept limitations on the number of Jewish immigrants. But without political representation or access to executive power, the Arabs maintained their hostility to Anglo-Zionist plans for the area.

During the 1930s, calls for independence increased. England decided to give in to these demands in order to protect their strategic interests. Independence treaties were signed with Iraq in 1930 and Egypt in 1936 but, in Palestine, persistent conflicts between Jews and Arabs gave the English good reasons for maintaining their mandate.

France was forced to follow suit and acknowledge Syrian unity. In 1936, it signed treaties with Syria and the Lebanon, on the same lines as the Iraq treaty, which the French Parliament, facing war in Europe, refused to ratify. In return for support from Turkey, France had to return the Sandjak of Alexandrette to Ankara, a concession never accepted by Syria.

In 1939, the outbreak of the Second World War put an end to the Mandates. Syria and the Lebanon, administered by the Vichy government after June 1940, were captured by the Allies the following year. After Pearl Harbour, the Americans, increasingly aware of the Middle East’s economic importance, moved into the Gulf to organize and protect petrol supplies for the Allied forces.

Following the decisive campaign at El-Alamein from June to November 1942 and the American landings in Morocco around the same time, military operations were brought to an end in the Eastern territories by 1943.