Interregnum (Transjordan)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Interregnum (between rulers) period in Transjordan, following the ending of the Franco-Syrian War on 25 July 1920 until Abdullah's entry into Transjordan between November 1920 and March 1921, was a short period during which Transjordan had no established ruler or occupying power.[1] Transjordan then became a no man's land[2] or, as Sir Herbert Samuel put it, "left politically derelict";[3][4] the region was extremely poor, sparsely populated and widely considered ungovernable.[5]

The British in the neighbouring Mandatory Palestine chose to avoid "any definite connection between it and Palestine", and the British "Sharifian Solution" for the area began to be developed.[6] The Zionist Organization tried and failed to have the area added to Mandatory Palestine. The efforts of the High Commissioner for Palestine and Zionist, Herbert Samuel, were overruled by the British Foreign Minister Lord Curzon.[7][8][9][10]

British decision not to impose direct occupation[edit]

Herbert Samuel's proclamation in Salt, on 21 August 1920 in the courtyard of the Assumption of Our Lady Catholic Church. Samuel was admonished a few days later by Curzon, who instructed that: "There must be no question of setting up any British administration in that area".[11][12][13]

Development of policy[edit]

In early 1920, two principles emerged within the British government: the first was that the Palestine government would not extend east of the Jordan, and the second was the government's chosen – albeit disputed – interpretation of the 1915 McMahon-Hussein Correspondence which proposed that Transjordan had been included in the area of "Arab independence" whilst Palestine had been excluded.[14][i]

At the beginning of the interregnum in Transjordan, the British suddenly wanted to know 'what is the "Syria" for which the French received a mandate at San Remo?' and "does it include Transjordania?".[a] British Foreign Minister Curzon ultimately decided that it did not and that Transjordan would remain independent, but in the closest relation with Palestine.[ii]

Zionist efforts to add Transjordan to the Palestine administration[edit]

On 6 August 1920, British Foreign Secretary Earl Curzon wrote to newly appointed High Commissioner Herbert Samuel regarding Transjordan, stating: "I suggest that you should let it be known forthwith that in the area south of the Sykes-Picot line, we will not admit French authority and that our policy for this area to be independent but in closest relations with Palestine."[17][18] Samuel replied to Curzon, "After the fall of Damascus a fortnight ago...Sheiks and tribes east of Jordan utterly dissatisfied with Shareefian Government most unlikely would accept revival,"[19][20] and asked to put parts of Transjordan directly under his administrative control.[iii] Two weeks later, on 21 August, Samuel then visited Transjordan without authority from London; at a meeting with 600 leaders in Salt, he announced the independence of the area from Damascus and its absorption into the mandate, quadrupling the area under his control by tacit capitulation. Samuel assured his audience that Transjordan would not be merged with Palestine.[21][iv] Curzon was in the process of reducing British military expenditures and was unwilling to commit any significant resources to an area considered to be of marginal strategic value.[8] Curzon immediately repudiated Samuel's action; on 26 August he sent, via the Foreign Office, a restatement of his instructions to minimize the scope of British involvement in the area – in particular stating that "There must be no question of setting up any British administration in that area".[11][b] At the end of September 1920, Curzon instructed Vansittart to leave the eastern boundary of Palestine undefined, and to avoid "any definite connection" between Transjordan and Palestine, in order to leave the way open for an Arab government in Transjordan.[c]

Curzon wrote in February 1921: "I am very concerned about Transjordania... Sir H.Samuel wants it as an annex of Palestine and an outlet for the Jews. Here I am against him."[26]

Local governments[edit]

Following Samuel's speech in August 1920, the British began to encourage the setting up of local autonomous governments in the following regions. Six junior political officers were sent to the region to advise on the creation of self-government; no military support was provided, they were given limited financial support, and some of the officers could not speak Arabic.[27] The arrangement lasted until April 1921, although by early February 1921 the British had concluded that "[Abdullah's] influence has now completely replaced that of the local governments and of the British advisers in Trans-Jordania".[28]

Ajlun region[edit]

Major FitzRoy Somerset and Captain Reginald Monckton were the assigned British political officers.[29][30]

The area was the most densely populated in the country[31] and was subsequently split into four governments: Jabal Ajlun, Kura, Irbid, and Jerash.[30] The Jerash Local Government was led by Muhammad Ali Al-Mughrabi.[32]

Balqa region[edit]


Major J. N. Camp and Captain Chisholm Dunbar Brunton were the assigned British political officers,[29] later handing over to Captain Frederick Peake, who took overall control of the gendarmerie.[33][29]


Captain Alan Kirkbride (younger brother of Alec) was the assigned British political officer.[34]

Kerak region[edit]

Captain Alec Kirkbride was the assigned British political officer.[29]

Named by Kirkbride as the "National Government of Moab".[35]

Considered the most successful of the governments.[36]


  1. ^ Paris writes: "Of course, the uncertainty surrounding Transjordan's status pre-dated Abdullah's appearance on the scene. While it had long been clear that British control of the area south of the Sykes-Picot line and extending from Palestine to Persia would be divided into two political regions, the Palestine and Mesopotamian Mandates were assumed to be coterminous: no provision was made for any intervening territory. Whether it was part of Palestine or Mesopotamia, however, there was never any doubt that Transjordan would come under the British Mandate. But recognition of that fact did not resolve the status of Transjordan vis-à-vis its neighbours in any definitive way. Moreover, two principles that emerged in 1920 and were calculated to further define the nature of the new state, served only to further confuse matters and to generate the uncertainty of which Abdullah, Samuel and Philby later complained. The first was that the administrative authority of the Palestine government would not be extended east of the Jordan, a principle laid down as early as July 1920. The second sprang from Young's interpretation of the 'McMahon pledge'. Since McMahon had excluded from the area of promised Arab independence territory lying west of the 'district of Damascus', he argued that in areas to the east of that district—that is, east of the River Jordan—Britain was obligated to 'recognise and support' such independence. The interpretation seemed logical enough to those who had not examined carefully the text of McMahon's letters…"[15]
  2. ^ Wilson writes: "Since the end of the war the territory north of Ma'an had been ruled by Damascus as a province of Faysal's Kingdom of Syria. Although it fell within the British zone according to the Sykes-Picot agreement, Britain was content with the arrangement because it favoured Arab rule in the interior and Faysal was, after all, British protege. However, when France occupied Damascus the picture changed dramatically. Britain did not want to see France extend its control southward to the borders of Palestine and closer to the Suez Canal ... It suddenly became important to know 'what is the "Syria" for which the French received a mandate at San Remo?' and 'does it include Transjordania?' ... The British foreign secretary, Lord Curzon, decided that it did not and that Britain henceforth would regard the area as independent, but in 'closest relation' with Palestine."[16]
  3. ^ Sicker wrote: "On August 7, 1920, Herbert Samuel, the recently appointed high commissioner in Palestine, cabled London requesting permission to include Trans-Jordan directly under his administrative control, thereby allowing him to take the necessary steps to restore order in the territory. This would eliminate the threat of a French attempt to control the region from Damascus."[8]
  4. ^ Wilson writes: "Samuel then organised a meeting of Transjordanian leaders at Salt on 21 August, at which he would announce British plans... On 20 August Samuel and a few political officers left Jerusalem by car, headed for the Jordan river, the frontier of British territory at that time. 'It is an entirely irregular proceeding,' he noted, 'my going outside my own jurisdiction into a country which was Faisal's, and is still being administered by the Damascus Government, now under French influence. But it is equally irregular for a government under French influence to be exercising functions in territory which is agreed to be within the British sphere: and of the two irregularities I prefer mine.'... The meeting, held in the courtyard of the Catholic church, was attended by about 600 people ... Sentence by sentence his speech describing British policy was translated into Arabic: political officers would be stationed in towns to help organise local governments; Transjordan would not come under Palestinian administration; there would be no conscription and no disarmament ... On balance, Samuel's statement of policy was unobjectionable. Three things feared by the Arabs of Transjordan – conscription, disarmament, and annexation by Palestine – were abjured ... The presence of a few British agents, unsupported by troops, seemed a small concession in return for the protection Britain's presence would afford against the French, who, it was feared, might press their occupation southward ... Samuel returned to Jerusalem well pleased with the success of his mission. He left behind several officers to see to the administration of Transjordan and the maintenance of British influence."[10]
  1. ^ Hubert Young to Ambassador Hardinge (Paris), 27 July 1920, FO 371/5254, cited by Wilson.[16]
  2. ^ Curzon's 26 August 1920 telegram stated that: "His Majesty's Government have no desire to extend their responsibilities in Arab districts and must insist on strict adherence to the very limited assistance which we can offer to a native administration in Trans-jordania as stated in my telegram No. 80 of August 11th. There must be no question of setting up any British administration in that area and all that may be done at present is to send a maximum of four or five political officers with instructions on the lines laid down in my above mentioned telegram." [12][13][22]
  3. ^ Curzon wrote: "His Majesty's Government are already treating 'Trans-Jordania' as separate from the Damascus State, while at the same time avoiding any definite connection between it and Palestine, thus leaving the way open for the establishment there, should it become advisable, of some form of independent Arab government, perhaps by arrangement with King Hussein or other Arab chiefs concerned."[23][24][25]


  1. ^ Dann, U. (1969). The Beginnings of the Arab Legion. Middle Eastern Studies,5(3), 181-191. Retrieved from Archived 2019-06-07 at the Wayback Machine "...the interregnum between Faysal's departure from Syria and 'Abdallah's installation at 'Amman."
  2. ^ Norman Bentwich, England in Palestine, p51, "The High Commissioner had ... only been in office a few days when Emir Faisal ... had to flee his kingdom" and "The departure of Faisal and the breaking up of the Emirate of Syria left the territory on the east side of Jordan in a puzzling state of detachment. It was for a time no-man's-land. In the Ottoman regime the territory was attached to the Vilayet of Damascus; under the Military Administration it had been treated a part of the eastern occupied territory which was governed from Damascus; but it was now impossible that that subordination should continue, and its natural attachment was with Palestine. The territory was, indeed, included in the Mandated territory of Palestine, but difficult issues were involved as to application there of the clauses of the Mandate concerning the Jewish National Home. The undertakings given to the Arabs as to the autonomous Arab region included the territory. Lastly, His Majesty's Government were unwilling to embark on any definite commitment, and vetoed any entry into the territory by the troops. The Arabs were therefore left to work out their destiny."
  3. ^ Pipes, Daniel (26 March 1992). Greater Syria: The History of an Ambition. Oxford University Press. pp. 28–. ISBN 978-0-19-536304-3.
  4. ^ Edward W. Said; Christopher Hitchens (2001). Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question. Verso. pp. 197–. ISBN 978-1-85984-340-6.
  5. ^ Salibi 1998, p. 91 and blurb.
  6. ^ Lord Curzon in August 1921: "His Majesty's Government are already treating 'Trans-Jordania' as separate from the Damascus State, while at the same time avoiding any definite connection between it and Palestine, thus leaving the way open for the establishment there, should it become advisable, of some form of independent Arab government, perhaps by arrangement with King Hussein or other Arab chiefs concerned.": quote from: Empires of the sand: the struggle for mastery in the Middle East, 1789–1923, By Efraim Karsh, Inari Karsh Archived 2017-02-22 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Paris 2003, p. 155.
  8. ^ a b c Sicker 1999, pp. 158.
  9. ^ Aruri 1972, p. 17-19.
  10. ^ a b Wilson 1990, p. 46–48.
  11. ^ a b Paris 2003, p. 156.
  12. ^ a b Friedman 2011, p. 325.
  13. ^ a b Woodward 1963, p. 344.
  14. ^ Paris 2003, p. 154.
  15. ^ Paris 2003, p. 202–203.
  16. ^ a b Wilson 1990, p. 44.
  17. ^ Aruri 1972, p. 17; cites: Telegram from Earl Curzon to Sir Herbert Samuel, dated 6 August 1920.
  18. ^ Woodward 1963, p. 331.
  19. ^ Aruri 1972, p. 18; cites: Telegram 7 August 1920.
  20. ^ Woodward 1963, p. 334.
  21. ^ Aruri 1972, p. 18.
  22. ^ Alsberg 1973, p. 235.
  23. ^ Karsh & Karsh 2001, p. 317.
  24. ^ Woodward 1963, p. 351.
  25. ^ Alsberg 1973, p. 236.
  26. ^ Paris 2003, p. 155; cites Curzon note to Lindsay, 12 February 1921, FO 371/6371, p. 128.
  27. ^ Alon 2009, p. 55.
  28. ^ Rudd 1993, p. 309.
  29. ^ a b c d Alon 2007, p. 25.
  30. ^ a b Rogan 2002, p. 249.
  31. ^ Alon 2007, p. 26.
  32. ^ "رئاسة الوزراء - عن الاردن". Archived from the original on 2019-04-10.
  33. ^ Rogan 2002, p. 250.
  34. ^ Rogan 2002, pp. 246, 250.
  35. ^ Roger Hardy (8 March 2018). The Poisoned Well: Empire and Its Legacy in the Middle East. Oxford University Press. pp. 89–. ISBN 978-1-84904-954-2.
  36. ^ Rogan 2002, p. 251.