Ibrahim Hananu and a False Start for the Franco-Syrian Treaty

Upon his return to Syria in October 1932, ten days after Iraq became a member of the League of Nations, High Commissioner Ponsot proclaimed his intention to negotiate a treaty “more liberal” than that of Iraq.51 Ibrahim Hananu and Hashim al-Atasi meant to hold him to his word, and hammered out a consensus among all the Bloc member deputies to demand Ponsot define his terms in writing before they would return to parliament. The session was scheduled to begin a week later, and the parliament opened without Ponsot’s terms and without the Bloc deputies. A few days later, after acrimonious discussions, the Bloc members decided to return to the chambers and trust the High Commissioner.52 Their hopes were soon dashed.

High Commissioner Ponsot spent as little time as possible in Beirut and Damascus, and a few weeks after his arrival, he left for Geneva without revealing the outlines of the treaty. Ponsot unveiled his plans for the treaty before the Mandates Commission in Geneva in December, and Syrians learned of it from the Mandate Commission minutes published in January 193 4.53 He proposed the Syrian Republic would be governed by treaty and separated from Greater Lebanon, the State of the Alawites, and Jabal Druze, which would each be governed differently. The Syrian Republic would thus have no seaport. It would pay 17 billion Francs in reparations for French military expenses since 1920. Each government department would include French advisors, and the Syrian Republic could not issue government contracts to any foreign entity without French consent. After a successful three-year probation, France would support Syrian entry into the League of Nations.

Petitions protesting Ponsot’s proposal arrived quickly in Geneva. The petitions focused on the partition of Syria, and the question of “Syrian unity.” The mandate authority had learned the lesson of 1925 7, however, and a number of petitions had been submitted to the Mandate Commission through French offices in Syria and Lebanon. In earlier years, French authorities had prevented the submission of petitions to Geneva, but now they had learned to solicit petitions supporting their policies on the one hand, and submit petitions attacking their policies with critical commentary on the other. In this way the accredited representative at the Mandates Commission was able to demonstrate support for mandate actions, and discredit indigenous critics in advance. Twenty-two petitions, some with hundreds of signatories, came from the major cities of Syria and Lebanon. Fourteen of the petitions, including one from Tripoli with over 600 signatures, protested in favor of “Syrian unity.” Eight petitions came from Christians, Alawites, and Ismailis of the region around Latakia, mostly in favor of full independence for their autonomous statelets, and thus in favor of partition.54

William Rappard prepared a report that the Mandates Commission endorsed after some discussion. He noted the mandate authority had long favored a policy of minority autonomy, but had taken no definite position, leaving the negotiation to the High Commissioner. He opined that the Mandate Charter called for autonomous regions, and the protection of minorities, consequently the wishes of petitioners for a unitary Syrian state was “contrary to the fundamental charter of the mandate.” He noted that the different rates of “political maturity” could call for different schedules for independence. Yet clearly the chief measure of “political maturity” was a favorable disposition toward French colonialism. The Mandates Commission, without irony, wished the mandatory power good luck in reconciling aspirations for independence with its obligation to guarantee the rights and interests of minorities.55

In 1933, Ibrahim Hananu was 63 years old and ailing from tuberculosis. He spent his waning energy maintaining discipline among the Bloc ranks. Hananu’s position was simple: no treaty without Syrian unity. And no discussion of the treaty until the High Commissioner guaranteed the unity of the Syrian Republic. Discussions among the non-Bloc members of parliament continued through 1933 but without the Bloc members, the discussions went nowhere. High Commissioner Ponsot left for his summer holidays in France in July and was reassigned to Morocco. His tenure of seven years would be the longest of any High Commissioner, but his accomplishments were modest by any standard. The new High Commissioner would arrive in October 1933.56

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