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July 25, 1956

Report No. 7, 'Development of Arab Political Activities in Lebanon in relation to the Opposition to, and Support of the Turkish Alliance'

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


Report No. 7 (1) copy of a report to Damascus


Subject: Development of Arab political activities in Lebanon in relation to the opposition to, and support of the Turkish Alliance


Sheikh Abdel-'.Aziz al Kuhaimi, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Lebanon had raised a defamation case in court last week against Emil al-Hayek, owner and executive director of al-Khawater magazine. What is important, however, is that this case is the first of its kind; for not a single Saudi official, whether in Lebanon or elsewhere, had ever resorted to the courts in reaction to a newspaper campaign against him or his Government. It also puts Saudi policy in a position it usually never finds itself. In a series of articles that have been appearing regularly for a month, al-Khawater magazine has launched an attack against the Saudi Ambassador accusing him of pursuing a policy, regarding foreign pacts, contrary to his Government policy. It also accuses him of working secretly in favour of the Iraqi-Turkish Alliance; bringing the Alliance's supporters closer to him, and he to them; and distancing those who support the Kingdom's position against the Alliance and perform their duty to the fullest. You have no doubt seen the articles question serialised in the last five copies of the said magazine.


In fact, what the magazine has published is true to a certain extent. The Saudi Ambassador has so far pursued a moderate track in general vis-à-vis the Iraqi-Turkish Alliance and Western countries. Since he was entrusted with representing Saudi policy and funds by Haj Hussein al-Oueni, the Ambassador has also put an end to newspaper campaigns against Western countries, the Government, and in particular, against the Lebanese President of the Republic.


The newspaper's mistake, however, rests on the fact that the Saudi Ambassador is implementing faithfully and fairly his government's new policy of moderation in Lebanon, Syria, and the Kingdom of Jordan, after the wave of extremist nationalistic demonstrations provoked by the Baghdad Pact. Saudi Arabia was afraid that these demonstrations, and consequently Hashemite influence, might spread into Syria. This fear almost made King Saud recognise the People's Republic of China and resume diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.


Today, we can say that Saudi policy is still in a truce phase, a stage of rehabilitation in a period of transition from the policy that led it to cooperate with national, leftist, and communist elements in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, to a policy of realism. This transition into realism is imposed on it because it is a kingdom, maintains a feudal system, and has ties with the United States through ARAMCO and the nuclear military airport at Dhahran. This Saudi situation, as it is already well known, is diametrically opposed to Arab national aspirations, to socialism, and to cooperation with communist countries against the West. It is also worth noting that the Saudi King has never angered or challenged the United States, even when he launched his strongest attacks against the Iraqi Pact which is more a British than an American pact. He always stopped short of going to where President Nasser wanted to lead him: recognition of Communist China.


When King Saud, Nasser, and al-Kouatly met in Cairo, the plan was that Egypt would start by recognising the Government of the People's Republic of China followed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, then Syria.


However, when Egypt did just that and it was Saudi Arabia's turn to follow suit, strong pressure was brought to bear on King Saud, by the United States, through ARAMCO which pays the King his share of profits from Petroleum three years in advance to cover the Saudi budget resulting from waste.


When Nasser’s Government grew impatient with Saudi procrastination on China's recognition, it asked al-Ahram newspaper to test semi-officially the Saudi waters regarding this issue. The paper published a news item forecasting Saudi Arabia's recognition of China, and, as is well known, the Riyadh Government was compelled to issue an official denial, which, in effect, was the first nail in the coffin of the relationship between Nasser and Saud.


King Saud had a major objective behind his violent attack on British policy and the Turkish-Iraqi Alliance, namely his rivalry with the British over the petroleum reserves in the Buraimi Oasis that could perhaps surpass those of Dhahran in importance, quantity, and resource. Therefore, when the British occupied Buraimi by force, the Saudi Kingdom spent millions of pounds to destroy British influence in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and in Iraq itself. It used the Turkish-Iraqi Alliance as a departure point to force the British to back down and reach a settlement over the Buraimi issue. Needless to say that ARAMCO was itself encouraging and funding this Saudi policy because, in the end, it will be the one to exploit the Oasis' petroleum based on its agreements with Saudi Arabia which allows it to exploit petroleum in the entire Kingdom.


When the United States felt that King Saud's policies, which are opposed to the West and pro Egypt and Syria, have contributed to bringing communist weapons and friendship with the Soviets into the Middle East, it finally intervened openly and officially in settling the Buraimi issue. It put pressure on King Saud and forced him to stop his attacks against the Baghdad Pact and British policies, and assumed the role of intermediary between on the one hand, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and ARAMCO, and on the other, Britain, to find common grounds for a deal to be struck between the two sides. However, the American companies were unable to do anything in the face of British obstinacy but be lenient and retreat, and King Saud was forced to implicitly recognise Britain's right to Buraimi, after having seen it in the past as the hegemonic occupier of Saudi land that it really is.


Thus, and no sooner had negotiations between the Americans and British on the division of Buraimi's petrol resources started in Washington, than a truce was announced between the two sides. King Saud gave an order to stop the large amount of funds that went to Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan to combat the Baghdad Pact and the British, and the Kingdom started disengaging gradually from its commitments to Arab liberation agendas.


There are other fundamental reasons behind King Saud's retreat and compliance with American pressure, mainly his feeling that his own throne was under threat because propaganda in favour of the Egyptian Revolution had found fertile ground among a Saudi population disenchanted with the poor state of the country. President Nasser has become very popular and has special status in the eyes of the Saudi public as evidenced by the massive popular welcome afforded co him when he visited Jeddah. Tens of thousands of Saudis ignored their King's presence and shouted: 'Oh Nasser you saviour of Islam'; and: ‘there is no God but Allah, and Nasser is beloved by God ...'


Needless to say these slogans upset King Saud since he believes that he alone can save Islam and the Muslims and he started to feel exceedingly threatened by his continued cooperation with the Egyptian Government. Added to that is the fact that King Saud, according to what I was told by people close to him, had felt unhappy recently at seeing himself become a follower of Nasser, as far as Arab politics were concerned, when he was once a leader. Moreover, one of the articles in the new Egyptian constitution considers monarchies a crime punishable by death, since it states that all those who actively seek to restore the monarchy in Egypt will be sentenced to death.


Although it is clear that these measures only concern Egypt's domestic policies, no one, especially King Saud, can ignore their impact on a country such as his where the monarchy, represented in his person, is idolised to the point of adoration.


These factors, as well as others, are the reason why Saudi Arabia reconsidered its foreign policy an why it once went even so far as to cooperate with communism, which King Saud considers as a form of apostasy, godlessness, or worse , in the Arab countries. Thus, the large sums of Saudi money that were spent on combating the British and the Iraqi-Turkish Pact have been greatly reduced and a small part is being spent now on propaganda in favour of King Saud himself and in responding to some of the attacks by the press and the politicians that had become used to receiving money.


The sums of money that the Saudis spent before retreating were larger than could be counted; I mention for example the 4 million Syrian pounds paid to Mr Khaled al-‘Azm to finance his bid for the presidency of the Syrian Republic and the 3,000 pounds sterling paid monthly to Mr As'ad Haroun, the deputy in the Syrian National Assembly and a former prominent member of al-'Azm's bloc. (Now, the monthly sum paid to Mr As’ad Haroun has been reduced to 3,000 Syrian pounds remitted to him through the Embassy in Damascus).


As for Ahmad 'Assah, owner of al-Rai newspaper who had got to know Crown Prince Faisal at the Bandung Conference, a deal was struck directly with him and he received 80,000 pounds in four instalments, in addition to what he used to receive from the Embassy.


Here in Beirut, Haj Hussein al-Oueini used to receive the yearly sum of one million pounds, to dispense with as he pleased, of which the concerned press received between £1,000 and £5,000 per month.


The interruption of Saudi funding led naturally to a reaction by former beneficiaries in the press. There was al-Khawater magazine, which provided the opportunity for this report; the Syrian al-Rai al-‘Aam newspaper, the very same one which did not hesitate to criticise Saudi treatment of ARAMCO's striking workers; and Lebanon's al-Telegraph, which considers itself the instrument of the National Congress led by Haj al-Oueini himself.


The interruption or reduction of Saudi funding to the minimum also led to weakening the front against the Iraqi Pact in Lebanon, and other pacts in general, and the National Congress became almost entirely paralysed. At the same time, Iraqi political activities went from their low-key approach to working out in the open, and from a defence to an attack mode. Iraqi propaganda started having an impact on the press and on political circles, through the Arab World's News Agency, undoubtedly supported by foreign funds brought in and disbursed by this office, or by other means.


Dr Fadel al-Jamali took over responsibility for the establishment of this office, as is well known, and made his headquarters in Mohammad Chouqair's office, in al-Wattar Building located in al-Dabbas Square. You undoubtedly know that the Cohuqair Office deals on the surface with the distribution of publicity to newspapers. However, it has been for many years, and still is, an important centre of Iraqi political activity in Lebanon, and it is now openly working, under the administration of the Iraqi lawyer Adnan al-Qadi, in propaganda and issuing newsletters.


On the other hand, the Egyptians in Lebanon have taken the initiative over from the Saudis to steer and strengthen the foreign pacts' front under the guidance of the Egyptian military attaché at the Embassy in Beirut. So far, Saudi methods have proven more cost-effective because they relied on an abundance of funds, whereas the Egyptians, if they pay at all, would do so in rather limited amounts. The Egyptians prefer to rely on principles, on taking advantage of the people’s free nationalistic fervour, and on precise planning and organisation; although this produces delayed results, it is in the long run, a more deep-rooted and reliable approach.


Based on this, the Egyptians have lately been seeking to form Arab student and youth organisations in Lebanon, which they would themselves steer; develop Egyptian-Lebanese cultural relations; and establish Egyptian economic interests, and a number of companies, which would operate under various titles. All of these would work to promote Egyptian policies, first, and Arab liberation policies, second.


Mist Bank in Beirut could be considered the main centre for Egyptian political activities and responsible for financing a number of Egyptian companies in Lebanon. Some of these companies are fictitious, while others are real and trying to draw economic advantage out of their political activities. All the companies' employees have political roles to play whether in propaganda, intelligence, or in winning the sympathy of the masses.


Among these Egyptian companies for example are the River Fishing Company – Mine and Ore Company - Nile Publicity Company - Bridges and Road Building Company – Egyptian Real Estate Company, etc. …


Finally, we can understand from this report that the Saudi retreat has had a significant impact and has been to the advantage of those who support the Baghdad Pact among members of the press and within unofficial political circles in Lebanon.


However it is not possible to gauge its ultimate results from now, pending future developments.


Beirut, July 25, 1956

Account of Lebanese perspectives toward the Turkish Alliance, controversy over a Saudi Ambassador, US intervention, and several other matters of urgency.


Document Information


Emir Farid Chehab Collection, GB165-0384, Box 13, File 131/13, Middle East Centre Archive, St Antony’s College, Oxford.


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