Hijaz in the World War


Le Hedjaz dans la guerre mondiale (Hijaz in the World War) is an account by French general Édouard Brémond of the French army’s part in the defeat of Ottoman forces by British, Arab, and French allies. Brémond describes his role as chief of the French military and political mission in Hijaz, the aim of which was to defeat the Ottomans and place the sharif of Mecca, Husayn ibn ‘Ali (circa 1853‒1931), on the throne of the new Kingdom of Hijaz. Brémond was ordered to Arabia in 1916 at the head of a force of mostly Muslim African troops. During his assignment he coordinated military engagements with the British army and air force, engaged in negotiations with tribes, and conducted peace operations in and around the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. He writes his story in the third person. Combined with his account are chronologies of military and diplomatic events in the western Arabian theater in 1916 and 1917 as well as transcriptions of key correspondence with his British and Arab counterparts and with the French Ministry of War in Paris. Brémond makes little effort to hide his prickly relations with the ministry or with the British Army, both of which he claims were obstructionist at many points in the campaign. He thought that the French command in Paris considered the Arabian theater of secondary importance to the war’s progress in Europe. In describing the British, he contrasts his own treatment of Arab and African troops with the hauteur of the British. He refers especially to T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia, 1888‒1935), claiming that Captain Lawrence spoke of Muslim officers and soldiers in “unflattering terms,” and notes that African and Muslim soldiers in the French force even had access to the officers’ mess. Brémond took pride in delegating the planning and execution of military and civil operations to the African officers, some of whom he trained during prior service, particularly in Morocco. The book is rich in detail about post-conflict military, security, and economic development operations, which included securing the Hajj (pilgrimage) in 1917, establishing a central bank, and enforcing the strictures against brewing beer and carrying on prostitution in Mecca. The book chronicles events in Arabia and the Levant through 1920, even though by then Brémond had left the region. It contains five sketch maps of the western Arabian theater marking political borders, transport routes, and approximate tribal territories.

Last updated: April 29, 2016