The British ensured their Middle Eastern position by means of indirect rule. In the other hand, the French employed a different policy.
There were many differences between how England and France administered their respective mandated territories.
The mandate system granted a limited amount of independence to the countries. On the surface, it allowed a large measure of self-determination by the Arab territories. But in fact, the mandate territories were colonies of their European administrators and bosses. For example, Egypt and Iraq were free to conduct their internal affairs but the British military had to have military bases on their soil and they were compelled to conduct foreign policy according to British command. According to Cleveland (2009), the British let them free to conduct their internal affairs because it brought many advantages to them. He wrote, “By this means, Britain secured its essential strategic needs without incurring the expenses of directly governing the territories” (193).
When the General Gouraud forces drove Faysal from Damascus in 1920, French control of Syria and Lebanon was completely different from the British control of other colonies. The French had a large military contingent and a complex hierarchy of French civilian administrators in Syria.
France administered their mandated territories differently from the British. France used direct rule and they placed all the command and authority in the hands of the high commissioner and they “provided little scope for local politicians to practice self-government” (217). The French did not encourage the formation of indigenous administrative institutions to prepare their colonized countries for independence but instead they created “conditions that would prolong their rule” (218). They adopted a policy of divide and rule that developed.
France had a policy of direct rule so the high commissioner had all the authority to make decisions according to his ideas and of course the local politicians and the population had no chance to participate in the political debate.
Before World War I, the notion of Arab unity was in the mind of many Arab rulers and their population but the frontiers that Britain and France had drawn on the map of the Arab Middle East had destroyed all the hope of the Arabs.
French mandate in Syria and Lebanon was catastrophic for the region and the population is still suffering from their policy of divide and rule. The French took Damascus in 1919 and they imposed twenty-five years of mandate authority on its inhabitants. France had religious, economic, and strategic interests in Syria and Lebanon. France proclaimed themselves the protector of Christian communities, especially the Catholic Maronites of Mount Lebanon.
According to Cleveland (2009), “such a religious justification for imperial intervention only served to intensify the alienation the Muslim majority felt toward France.”
France did not want to encourage the formation of indigenous administrative institutions to prepare Syria or their North African empire for independence. They did not want independence for their colonies so they adopted the policy of divide and rule that developed religious, ethnic, and regional differences within Syria and Lebanon.
The first political division which had been created by France was the creation of Greater Lebanon in 1920. To the old mutasarrifiyyah of Mount Lebanon, France added the coastal cities of Tripoli, Tyre, Sidon, and Beirut. In addition, France removed the fertile Biqa Valley from Syrian jurisdiction and placed it within the frontiers of the Lebanese state. France created this political division in order to place the Maronite Christians in this region. Therefore, France had separated the Christians and the Muslim in order to rule: divide and rule policy!
When General Gouraud proclaimed the creation of Greater Lebanon in 1920, his objective was to protect the Maronite community by making sure that the Syrian Muslim state would not absorb them.
In Syria, the French divided Damascus and Aleppo into two separated states with its own governor and their own French advisors in order to continue their divide and rule policy. The French also did their best to separate between the Alawites (adherents to a form of Twelver Shi’ism) and the Druze by giving each of them a separate state.
French policies in Syria were dominated by a heavy bureaucracy and by an intelligence service and an imposing garrison. Therefore, it was impossible for the local population to hold important posts in the government.
Finally, Syria and Lebanon were formally recognized as independent in 1941 but De Gaulle did not want to recognize their independence. France with its divide and rule policy did not prepare these countries to self-govern themselves. Therefore, they were not prepared to face the challenges that lay ahead!
Cleveland, W. (2009). A history of the modern Middle East. Boulder, CO: Westview