The Arab Awakening

The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement
Author George Antonius
Country Israel
Language English
Genre History
Published 1938 (Hamish Hamilton)
Media type Print
Pages 470 pp

The Arab Awakening was a 1938 book by George Antonius, published in London by Hamish Hamilton. It is viewed as the foundation of modern Arab nationalist history. According to Martin Kramer, The Arab Awakening "became the preferred textbook for successive generations of British and American historians and their students".[1]

It generated an ongoing debate over such issues as the origins of Arab nationalism, the significance of the Arab Revolt of 1916, and the machinations behind the post-World War I political settlement in the Middle East.


Antonius traced Arab nationalism to the reign of Muhammad Ali Pasha in Egypt. He argued that the Arab nation (which consists of racial and cultural-linguistic elements) has been "dormant" for centuries, and that Protestant missionaries from United States had a specific role in the renewal and "awakening" of the Arabic as a national language. He saw the role of the American University of Beirut (originally the Syrian Protestant College) as central to this development, although he notes that later on, by the end of the 19th century, that role has diminished, since the college initiated instruction in English. By then the torch of the movement had been passed to Arab intellectuals (residing in Greater Syria and in Europe) and to Arab officers in the Ottoman army that formed a secret society to ultimately promote Arab nationalist interests. These officers proved particularly useful later during World War I after the leadership of the movement openly shifted allegiance to support the Entente. Other than tracing the birth of the Arab national movement, Antonius also argues that it was Great Britain that dishonoured its prior commitments to the Arabs, and instead pursued its own colonial interests at the expense of what Antonius calls the "true will of the people," namely unity and independence of the would-be Arab state.

The book was only the second time that an authoritative translation of the McMahon letters had been published. This correspondence between the British High Commissioner in Egypt and the Sherif of Mecca occurred between October 1915 and January 1916 and was not officially released until the London Conference (1939).[2] Antonius concluded that Sherif Hussein understood these documents to mean that the British Government was offering him an independent state - if he joined the British side in the war against the Ottoman regime. This state would include Palestine. It was with these assurances that, on June 10 1916, the Sherif ordered his army to attack the garrison in Mecca.[3]

According to Antonius, the foundation of educational and cultural institutions by American Christian missionaries and educators played a critical part in the development of American soft power in the Edwardian era and after World War I.


  1. Kramer, Martin (1996). "Ambition, Arabism, and George Antonius" in Arab Awakening and Islamic Revival: The Politics of Ideas in the Middle East, ed. Martin Kramer (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1996), 112–23.
  2. Sykes, Christopher (1965) Cross Roads to Israel: Palestine from Balfour to Bevin. New English Library Edition (pb) 1967. p.205. An accurate translation had been printed in Antonius' "The Arab Awaking", 1938, as well as extracts in the Daily Mail in 1922
  3. Cohen, Aharon (1970) Israel and the Arab World. W.H. Allen. ISBN 0-491-00003-0. pp.135,136
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