Al-Qahtaniya (1909)

(named after Qahtan, one of the legendary ancestors of the Arab race)

From The Arab Awakening, George Antonius, G P Putnam's Sons, 1946.

Al-Qahtaniya was a secret society established towards the end of 1919, not long after al-Muntada al-Adabi. Its founders were bold men, and its objects were to promote a new and daring project – that of turning the Ottoman empire into a dual monarchy. This was yet another attempt to grapple with the problem created by the Committee of Union and Progress's centralizing policy.

The Arab provinces were to form a single kingdom with its own parliament and local government and with Arabic as the language of its institutions. The kingdom was to be part of a Turco-Arab empire, similar in architecture to the Austro-Hungarian edifice. The Ottoman sultan in Constantinople would wear, in addition to his own turkish crown, the crown of the Arab kingdom, as the Hapsburg emperor in Vienna wore the crown of Hungary. Thus unity would be reached through separation.

Here was a concrete plan with a definite idea behind it, and its authors were a band of practical and determined men who saw the  impossibility of carrying through by public advocacy. They were led by Aziz Ali al-Masri, an officer in the Turkish army. The members of al-Qahtaniya were chosen with care, only those whose patriotism was above question and who could be trusted to guard a secret were admitted.  They included several Arab officers of high rank in the Turkish army, and two of the founders of al-Muntada al-Adabi. Among those were the Amirs Adel and Amin Arslan (Druze from Mt Lebanon), Amin Kazma (Christian from Homs) , Safwat al Awwa ( army officer, Muslim from Damascus), Salim Jazairi (army officer, Muslim from Damascus),  Ali Nashashibi (army officer, Muslim from Jerusalem), Shukri al Asali (Muslim from Damascus). The last three were hanged by the Turks during World War I on a charge of treasonable nationalistic activities

The society had a password and a signal for identification, and branches were established in five centers besides Constantinople. It derived its strength from the personalities of some of its members, and its importance in the history of the movement was that it made the first known attempt to win the Arab officers serving in the Turkish army over to active cooperation in the national movement.

The society was very active in the first year of its existence until the founders were given cause to fear a betrayal. Despite the care with which members were chosen, one member – not one of those named above – was found to have betrayed confidences, and the rest of the company became uneasy. The society was not actually dissolved,  but its leaders found it impossible to continue with a presumed traitor in their midst, and it died of willful neglect.