The MacMahon Letter (October 1915)

Cairo, October 15, 1915


From The Arab Awakening, George Antonius, Capricorn Books Edition,1965. 


Sir Henry McMahon (1862-1949), British High Commissioner in Cairo, negotiated in 1915-16 with Husain Ibn Ali, the Sherif of Mecca. The British government promised to support his bid for the restoration of the Caliphate (and leadership in the Arab world). This is his second note to the Sharif Husain. 


Complimentary titles.


                I have, with gratification and pleasure, received your note of the 29th Shawal, 1333, and its tokens of sincere friendship have filled me with satisfaction and contentment.


I regret to find hat you inferred from my last note that my attitude  towards the question of frontiers and boundaries was one of  hesitancy and lukewarmth. Such is in no wise the intention of my note. All I meant was that I considered that the time had not yet come in which that question  could be discussed in a conclusive manner.


                But  having realised from your last note that you considered  the question important, vital and urgent, I hastened to communicate to the Government of Great Britain the purport of your note.  It gives me  the greatest pleasure to convey to you, on their behalf, the   following declarations which,  I have no doubt, you will receive with satisfaction and acceptance.


                The two districts of Mersin and Alexandretta, and portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo, cannot be said to be purely Arab, and must on that account be excepted from the proposed delimitation.


                Subject to that modification, and without prejudice to the treaties concluded between us and certain  Arab Chiefs, we accept that delimitation.


                As for the regions lying within the proposed frontiers, in which  Great Britain is free  to  act without detriment to the interests of her ally, France I am authorised to give you the following pledges on behalf of the Government of Great Britain, and to reply as follows to your note:


                (1) That, subject to the modifications stated above, Great Britain is prepared to recognise and uphold the independence of the Arabs in all  regions lying within the frontiers proposed by the Sherif of Mecca;


                (2)  That Great Britain will guarantee the Holy Places against all external aggression, and will recognise the obligation of preserving them form aggression;


                (3) That, when circumstance permit, Great Britain will help  the Arabs with her advice and will assist them in the establishment of  governments to suit those diverse regions;


                (4)  That it is understood that the Arabs have already decided to seek the counsels and advice of Great Britain exclusively; and that such European advisers and officials as may be needed to establish a    sound system of administration shall be British;


                (5) That, as regards the vilayets of Bagdad and of Basra, the Arabs will recognise that the fact of Great Britain's established position and interests there will call for the setting up of  special administrative arrangements to protect those regions from foreign aggression, to promote the welfare of their inhabitants, and to safeguard our mutual economic interests.


                I am confident that this declaration will convince you, beyond all  doubt, of Great Britain's sympathy with the aspirations of her friends the Arabs; and that it will result in a lasting and solid alliance with them, of which one of the immediate consequences  will be the expulsion of the Turks from the Arab countries and the liberation of the Arab peoples from the Turkish yoke which all these long years.


                I have confined myself in this note to vital questions of primary importance. If there are any other matters in your notes, which have been overlooked, we can revert  to them at some suitable time  in the future.


                I have heard with very great satisfaction and pleasure that the Sacred Kiswa (1) and  the charitable gifts which have gone with it, had arrived safely and that, thanks to your wise directions and arrangements, they were landed without trouble or damage in spite of the risks and difficulties created by the present deplorable war. We pray Almighty God that He may bring lasting peace and freedom to mankind.


                I am sending this note with your faithful messenger, Shaikh Mohammed ibn Arif ibn Uraifan, who will lay before you certain interesting matters, which, as they are  of secondary importance,  I have abstained from mentioning in this note.  






(1) The embroidered pall which is sent annually from Egypt to mecca to be used as a covering for the ka'ba.