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Digital Archive International History Declassified

February 01, 1949

FROM A REPORT BY FRANCE'S MINISTER PLENIPOTENTIARY IN DAMASCUS TO BEIRUT AND EGYPT

This document was made possible with support from the Youmna and Tony Asseily

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    While, after 1945, Syria greatly favored the British Government, recent events in Palestine and Arab countries have changed Syria's outlook, and France decides to change its policy toward Syria and Lebanon.
    "From a Report by France's Minister Plenipotentiary in Damascus to Beirut and Egypt," February 01, 1949, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Emir Farid Chehab Collection, GB165-0384, Box 12, File 9/12, Middle East Centre Archive, St Antony’s College, Oxford. https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/176085
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From a report by France's Minister Plenipotentiary in Damascus to Beirut and Egypt

Syrian leanings towards France

As a result of the coups d’état of 1945, political opinion has overwhelmingly shifted, by some 81 percent, in favour of the British Government based on the belief that it had saved Syria from slavery and colonialism, and that the funds that flowed to Syria from the British Army have helped in this regard.

However, the situation changed in the aftermath of the events that took place in Palestine and of Britain's adoption of an unfitting position vis-a-vis the Arab countries. Britain always tended to implement its plans in conjunction with the Hashemite family, which is particularly hated by al-Kutla al-Wataniya (the National Bloc) currently in power in Syria (except for Jamil Mardambey who enjoyed good relations with General Clayton and Mr Smart and was in total agreement with them, since the beginning of the war, on a secret political plan. This plan, in short, commits Britain to stay always loyal to al-Kutla al-Wataniya; Mardambey, however, has lately failed, and is no longer able to turn public opinion in favour of Britain).

The recent political, administrative, and economic chaos in the country has helped a great deal in turning the people against Britain based on a conviction that it is indirectly behind the actions of those in power. The Syrian people have, however, realised that they cannot remain without any support from a strong foreign power and have thus turned towards France. Some prominent Syrian officials even wonder whether Britain had facilitated this shift and point to the monetary issue as proof. It is currently well-known in Syria that all die prominent politicians (Hassan Jebara, Khaled al-'.Azm, Haneen Sahnaoui) favour France from the political point of view. If the situation remains unchanged, a military and economic treaty is expected to be signed between France and Syria and, on 7/2/1949, instructions and funds were given to local journalists, loyal to the ruling elite (Najib al-Rayyes 2000, Babeel 1500), to change their newspapers' policy in favour of France.

France’s policies in Syria

Instructions to all movement presidents - France has lately decided to change the policy it has been pursuing in Syria since its withdrawal from the country. This policy aimed at non-interference in Syrian affairs and was limited to monitoring political developments from afar and gathering information. France has also decided to sever its ties with all its paid informers which it accuses of being behind many of the problems. From now on, it will get its information instead from friends (like Jamil al-Aichi, Yousef al-Hakeem, Hanin Sehnaoui, Mounir al-Ajlani, Nassib al-Bakri, As'ad al-Bakri, Sheikh abou al-Chamat, Omar Agha Chamdeen, Zaki Agha Sukkar, Adnan al-Atassi, Faydi al-Atassi, and Latif Ghuneimeh) and from the large number of provincial representatives who come to Beirut on a regular basis and are in constant contact with French representatives there. France has also replaced its current Minister Plenipotentiary and the new appointee will pursue a policy of mingling among the population to attract the people's sympathy towards France, letting the Syrians know that former French envoys have pursued erroneous policies, and that this does not mean that France hates Arabs and Muslims, but rather the contrary. The new Minister and his four assistants will come from the Islamic Interests Department and will be posted throughout Syria, each entrusted with a particular mission; one will be in charge of tribal affairs and the others for Kurdish and minority affairs.

As for Lebanon, new appointments are expected at the French Legation and a number of employees will be recalled home to reduce the budget; strict instructions have been issued to reduce spending and cut the salaries and benefits of all employees by 40 per cent. In order to gain the sympathy of the Arab population, instructions were given to all departments to let it be known that France recognised the Jewish State only on condition that it withdraws from the Lebanese villages, and that this development will definitely take place after the end of the negotiations in Rhodes. France will vehemently alert the Syrians about Turkish designs on Northern Syria and about the fact that the British are encouraging the Turks behind the scene in that regard. The Syrian Government’s attitude towards the Turkish delegation, which will soon arrive in the Arab countries, is expected to be negative as evidence by the Turkish Minister Plenipotentiary's visit to Khaled Beik al-Azm, on 15/1/1949, seeking his opinion about bringing up the issue of the Port of Iskandarun as an outlet for Syria, during the upcoming Turkish visit. Mr al-Azm’s reply was that the current political situation does not allow him to delve into such matters and that it would be better to leave it for a more suitable time. France is now harping on this issue and rousing the Syrians against the Turks.

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