Developed by British officer Robert Baden-Powell (1857-1941) in 1907, scouting was first introduced into the Middle East in 1912, a history analyzed in Jennifer Dueck’s The Claims of Culture at Empire End (2010). It became more known after World War I, with the largest groups first forming in Damascus and Beirut. In the latter, a Sunni, Muhyi al-Din Nusuli, in 1920 founded al-Kashshaf al-Muslim, which in 1922 was recognized by the International Scout Federation (ISF) as the Muslim Scouts of Syria. Earliest recruits were at the school of the American University of Beirut, though most enrolled at the Islamic College (Kulliya Islamiyya) and the schools of the Maqasid Islamic charity organization. During the 1925-1927 anticolonial Syrian Revolt, the French Mandate authorities disbanded the scouting groups, though they soon recovered. In 1927, too, the pro-French Catholic Scouts de France were founded, and small secular French and Jewish units came to life as well. Moreover, scouting picked up speed also outside the French Mandate, e.g. in Egypt and Palestine, as Arnon Degani’s “They were prepared: the Palestinian Arab Scout Movement 1920-1948” (2014) shows.
Back in the French Mandate, the Muslim Scouts of Syria and Lebanon joined ranks in 1931. In 1933, there were 45 troops involving 3,000 members. But in 1934 the French authorities clamped down on them, concerned about support for Syro-Lebanese unity. Lebanese and Syrian scouts split. If in the 1930s especially Muslim scouts formed part of a widening organizational involvement of youth in anticolonial nationalist politics, they had seen themselves as nation-building pioneers already in the 1920s. As the below text shows, in their eyes scouting allowed (male) youngsters to develop physical strength, be outdoors and get to know “their” nation’s natural habitat, and hone self-help, leadership skills, and team spirit, among other desirable traits. In this sense the below text, which was printed without a byline in the Beiruti journal al-Kashshaf (The Scout), was complex, not unlike Baden-Powell’s beliefs as expressed in his seminal Scouting for Boys (1908). It meant to strengthen individuals’ self-reliance while simultaneously serving a collective end, in Baden-Powell’s case the British Empire, here the Lebanese-Syrian nationalist cause.