Jamil Mardam Bey

Jamil Mardam Bey
جميل مردم بك
Prime Minister
In office
December 21, 1936  February 18, 1939
Preceded by Ata Bay al-Ayyubi
Succeeded by Lutfi al-Haffar
In office
December 29, 1946  December 17, 1948
Preceded by Khalid al-Azm
Succeeded by Khalid al-Azm
Personal details
Born 1894
Damascus, Ottoman Syria
Died March 30, 1960
Cairo, Egypt
Political party National Bloc
Spouse(s) Safwat Sami Pasha Mardam Bey
Religion Sunni Islam

Jamil Mardam Bey (Arabic: جميل مردم بك; 1894–1960), was a Syrian politician. He was born in Damascus to a prominent aristocratic Sunni Muslim family. He is descended from Ottoman's general, statesman and Grand Vizier Lala Mustafa Pasha. He studied at the school of Political Science in Paris and was a founder of Al-Fatat, the leading opposition party in Ottoman Syria.

Early life

Mardam Bey was born in Damascus in 1893 to one of the most prominent Syrian families of Turkish ancestry.[1]

Al-Fatat was founded by five Arab students living in Paris in 1911. The organization called on Arab and Turkish citizens to remain united within the Ottoman framework, but claimed that the Arabs should have equal rights and obligations as their Ottoman counterparts. In 1913, Al-Fatat moved its offices to Beirut. In 1914, its founders opened an office in Damascus to coordinate nationalist activity.

In the summer of 1913, the Al-Fatat founders called for the Arab Congress of 1913 in Paris to discuss the deteriorating living standards in the Ottoman Empire. Not wishing to create a permanent break up with authorities in Constantinople, the founders did not call for complete Arab liberation, but tried to sort out its relations with the Ottomans. When that failed, they publicly headed the separatist movement demanding a complete break with the Ottomans.

In 1916, Jamil Mardam Bey joined the Arab revolt of Sharif Hussein ibn Ali, a military uprising demanding full independence for the Arab provinces in the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans sentenced him to death in absentia and he fled to Europe where he coordinated nationalists activity between the politicians in exile and the underground in Syria. His comrades were hanged in public in Damascus and Beirut on May 6, 1916.

Political life

When the Ottoman Empire was defeated in 1918, Mardam Bey returned to Syria. In 1919, he accompanied King Faisal I to the Paris Peace Conference and became Deputy to the Foreign Minister Abdul Rahman Shahbandar. Mardam Bey took part in the diplomatic talks between Syria and the French aimed at preventing the implementation of the French Mandate in the Middle East. Along with Shahbandar, Mardam Bey met with French General Henri Gouraud and tried to reach a compromise, but the talks ended in failure.

On July 24, 1920, Jamil Mardam Bey was sentenced to death by the French army after they had dethroned King Faisal. Mardam Bey fled to Jerusalem and remained there until the mandate authority issued an amnesty and allowed him back to Damascus in 1921. He became a member in the Iron Hand Society, an underground movement headed by Shahbandar. In May 1922, the French accused both him and Shahbandar of meeting in secret with envoys of the US government and striving to topple the French Mandate in Syria. Mandated authorities sentenced Shahbandar to twenty years in prison and banished Mardam Bey to Europe, where he remained until the French issued another amnesty in 1924. Upon his return to Damascus, Jamil Mardam Bey joined the People's Party, the first modern party in French Mandate Syria. It was headed by Shahbandar and funded by King Faisal I, who by then had become the King of Iraq. The party worked to terminate the mandate and establish an Arab kingdom headed by a member of the Hashemite family – either Faisal or his brother, King Abdullah of Jordan.

In July 1925, the chieftain, Sultan al-Atrash, launched a military uprising against the French from Arab mountains. Shahbandar served as the revolt's mastermind and delegated Mardam Bey to channel funds from Amman and to recruit members into the rebel army from Damascus. He also smuggled weapons from Palestine and offered sanctuary to the Druze warriors in the Ghouta orchards that surrounded Damascus. Mardam Bey's orchards in Ghouta, known as Hosh al-Maban, became storehouses for arms and ammunition. In 1927, the revolt was crushed by the French Army and its leaders were sentenced to death, but all of them evaded arrest and fled into exile. Atrash and Shahbandar fled to Amman while Mardam Bey went to Jaffa, but he was arrested by British authorities, and extradited to the mandate authority in Syria. For one year, Mardam Bey was imprisoned in Arwad Island on the Syrian coast, but he was released by a general amnesty in 1928.

Mardam Bey then returned to Damascus and helped co-found the National Bloc in October 1927, the leading anti-French movement in Syria. The Bloc was to contest the leadership of Shahbandar and his People's Party in future years. The party was composed of politicians landowners, merchants, and lawyers who wanted to terminate the mandate through diplomatic means rather than armed resistance. Hashim Al-Atassi, a former prime minister under Faisal, became its president and appointed Mardam Bey to a permanent member of its executive council. Mardam Bey nominated himself on a Bloc ticket for parliament in 1928, 1932, 1936, and 1943, winning in every round. In 1932, he became minister of Finance in the cabinet of Prime Minister Haqqi Al-Azm. In 1936, Jamil Mardam Bey helped orchestrate a sixty-day strike in Syria where the whole of Syrian society closed down in protest to French policies. The strike turned violent, claimed lives on both sides, and forced the French to acknowledge the National Bloc leaders as the true representation of the Syrian people. A senior Bloc delegation was invited to Paris for independence talks in March–September 1936. Mardam Bey accompanied Hashim al-Atassi to France and was the principal architect of an agreement that guaranteed independence for Syria over a 25-year period. In exchange for independence, the National Bloc agreed to give France numerous political, economic, and military privileges in Syria and support her in the Middle East if another deadly war were to break out in Europe. The Bloc returned to Syria in triumph and Atassi was elected president of the republic. In turn, Atassi called Jamil Mardam Bey to form a government on December 21, 1936.

The National Bloc signing the Franco-Syrian Treaty with Blum in Paris in 1936. From left to right, a French statesman, Mustapha al-Shihabi, Saadallah al-Jabiri, Jamil Mardam Bey, Hashim al-Atassi signing, and Léon Blum.

The Atassi-Mardam Bey alliance was fraught with problems from the outset. Among other things, they faced disturbances in the Jazeera district of northeast Syria, where locals refused to submit to the new regime and demanded the autonomy that France had granted them in the 1920s. Other problems grew out of domestic opposition to Mardam Bey's former patron, Dr Abdul Rahman Shahbandar.

After spending twelve years in exile, the veteran nationalist Shahbandar returned to Syria in 1937 and expected to receive a government post in the new administration. Fearing that Shahbandar's popularity would sideline him, Mardam Bey refused to give him a position in the government and tried to control the activities of his former patron. When Shahbandar requested permission to open a political party, Mardam Bey also refused. Shahbandar criticized him, claiming that he was leading a dictatorship in Syria. Mardam Bey responded by placing Shahbandar under house arrest at his summer resort in Bludan. When a bomb exploded in Mardam Bey's car, he immediately accused Shahbandar of the attempt of assassination, and ordered the arrest of Shahbandar's right-hand man, Nasuh Babil, owner and publisher of the Damascus daily Al-Ayyam.

Adding to Mardam Bey's worries was an evolving crisis with France, where the French reneged on the promised treaty, claiming that if war were to break out in Europe they would need to use their Middle Eastern colonies as strategic out-posts. Shahbandar criticized Mardam Bey's inability to get the French to honor the Treaty of 1936. Unable to implement this promised treaty, and facing mounting pressure from Shahbandar and the public, Jamil Mardam Bey resigned from office on February 23, 1939.

In July 1940, Adbdulrahman Shahbandar was murdered in Damascus, and his family accused Jamil Mardam Bey and the two Bloc leaders, Lutfi al-Haffar and Saadallah al-Jabiri, of the assassination. The accusations were backed by Bahij Bey Al-Khatib, the new head of state. Ex-Prime Minister Mardam Bey fled to Iraq, where Prime Minister Nuri as-Said gave him political asylum. Mardam Bey was tried in absentia, but was declared innocent of the charges and returned to Syria in 1941.

A banquet held by King Farouk of Egypt at Abdeen Palace in Cairo in 1945.

In 1943, Mardam Bey allied himself with the National Bloc leader, Shukri al-Quwatli, and they ran on a joint list for parliament. When al-Quwatli was elected president in August 1943, he appointed Mardam Bey as minister of foreign affairs in the National Bloc cabinet of Prime Minister Saadallah al-Jabiri. al-Quwatli co-authored the constitution of the Arab League and laid out its infrastructure with the league's secretary-general, Abdulrahman Azzam. In November 1944, Jamil Mardam Bey became minister of foreign affairs, economy, defense, and deputy to Prime Minister Fares Al-Khoury. Mardam Bey held all four positions until August 1945. He led diplomatic talks with the French and tried to secure a treaty, similar to the one of 1936 that guaranteed independence for Syria. This time, however, he refused to grant any privileges to the French in Syria.

On May 29, 1945, French General Charles de Gaulle ordered an air raid on Damascus and demanded the arrest of al-Quwatli, Acting Prime Minister Jamil Mardam Bey, and Saadallah Al-Jabiri, the speaker of parliament. All three of them were charged with obstructing French interest in the Middle East. In the Damascus air raid, the French destroyed the Syrian parliament and the ministry of defense. French troops raided Mardam Bey's private office, confiscated all official documents, and burned the office down. When Syria achieved independence on April 17, 1946, Jamil Mardam Bey began grooming himself for the upcoming elections and had his eyes set on the presidency. In a bid at curbing his influence, al-Quwatli appointed him ambassador to Egypt and then Saudi Arabia. In 1947, however, Prime Minister Saadallah Al-Jabiri died and left a vacuum at the premiership. Unable to find a suitable substitute, al-Quwatli called on Mardam Bey to form a government on October 5, 1947. Mardam Bey created his second cabinet from former members of the National Bloc who has transformed the Bloc into the National Party. He appointed Munir al-Ajlani Minister of Education. Mardam Bey appointed himself minister of foreign affairs and health. When, on May 26, 1948, Defense Minister Ahmad Al-Sharabati resigned from office, Mardam Bey took over the Ministry of Defense as well.

Arab-Israeli War

General Husni al-Za'im, the Chief of Staff, at the warfront in Palestine with Defense Minister Jamil Mardam Bey in 1948.

Mardam Bey ruled Syria with president al-Quwatli during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. The war defeat damaged Mardam Bey's credibility among conservatives who accused him of poor leadership at the war front. Accusations were fired at him from different opposition parties, including the Baath Party of Michel Aflaq, which claimed that Mardam Bey had profiteered at the army's expense. Mardam Bey was also accused, along with ex-Defense Minister Ahmad Al-Sharabati and Finance Minister Wehbe al-Harriri, of having purchased arms at inflated prices and then pocketing the difference. Mardam Bey also clashed with the officers, accusing Chief of Staff Husni al-Za'im of inefficiency in battle and calling for his dismissal from office. When anti-Mardam Bey riots took over Syria, the prime minister responded with force, declaring martial law, appointing himself military governor, and arresting prominent critics like Michel Aflaq. He then ordered the army to keep order on the streets and had many demonstrators arrested in Damascus and Aleppo. Under advice from al-Quwatli, however, Mardam Bey resigned from office on August 22, 1948. He then announced his resignation from political life and warned that ruling Syria would be difficult in the face of the army-civilian divide at home and the Israeli threat on Syria's border.

Later life

Jamil Mardam Bey, second from right with Ibn Saud, King of Saudi Arabia near Taif in 1934

Jamil Mardam Bey spent the remainder of his years between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, living in self-imposed exile. He was an honored guest of the courts of King Farouk and King Abdulaziz. He made friends with the officers who came to power in Cairo in July 1952, as well as senior members of the Saudi Royal family. in 1955, President Gamal Abdel Nasser asked Mardam Bey to run for presidential office in Syria, claiming that Cairo would support his candidacy, but the ex-prime minister declined the offer for health reasons. Jamil Mardam Bey died in Cairo in 1960 and was buried in Damascus.


  1. Moubayed, Sami M. (2000), Damascus between democracy and dictatorship, University Press of America, p. xxiv, ISBN 0761817441
Preceded by
Ata Bay al-Ayyubi
Prime Minister of Syria
Succeeded by
Lutfi al-Haffar
Preceded by
Khalid al-Azm
Prime Minister of Syria
Succeeded by
Khalid al-Azm
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