Fawzi Al-Qawuqji: summary of book launch with Laila Parsons

Posted by Caabu on 12 May 2017

On 2 May, Caabu hosted an event, chaired by Board Member, John McHugo in which Laila Parsons spoke about her book, The Commander: Fawzi Al-Qawuqji and the Fight for Arab Independence 1914-1948. Parsons’ work details the 1914-1948 period told through the life of one man, Fawzi Al-Qawuqji, a well-known armed rebel fighting against colonial powers such as Britain across the Arab lands in Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Jordan.

Al-Qawuqji has been cast through history as a controversial figure, vilified by all sides after the 1948 war. Much of the literature on Qawuqji has been solely reliant on British and Israeli sources which for Parsons held responsible for an ‘ignorant’ portrayal of the man’. Parsons therefore sought to write a history of Qawuqji based on Arab sources and after a chance encounter with Qawuqji’s granddaughter had access to his personal writings in Beirut, as well as making use of the Centre for Historical Studies in Damascus.

The result is a detailed and complex look at the actions of Qawuqji that gives a rich account of life in the region between the two wars.  Parsons draws on wider developments in the region during the time period, examining the effects of Sykes-Picot and the bearing colonial borders have had on conflicts in the region today.  

Parsons demonstrates how, despite all the histories of the Arab revilt of 1916 involving Lawrence of Arabia, that far more Arabs like Qawuqji viewed themselves as Ottomans and served in their army.   After the war, Qawuqji realised that the Arabs had to seek independence on their own and to fight the French and the British.  He played a leading role in the Syrian uprising of 1925 against the French.  Afterwards Qawuqji was bitterly critical of those Syrian elites who did not back the revolt. 

His role in the 1936 Palestinian uprising is more controversial not least because of the subsequent falling out he had with the Mufti.  The latter tried to label Qawuqji a British spy and collaborator, something that Parsons finds no evidence for.  Rather it appears that this was a common tactic of the Mufti against his opponents. Qawuqji saw the Palestinian uprising differently, more of a southern Syrian front than a single Palestinian cause. He was a ‘Greater Syrianist.’

Qawuqji was made head of the Arab Libration army (Jaysh Al Inqadh) in December 1947. In this role he was to continue his clashes with the Mufti.  Parsons outlines how the Mufti was suspicious of Arab state intentions and rivalries.  Moreover, the Arab Liberation army was not as modern as many presumed, nor did Qawuqji enjoy either the full control necessary nor the resources required to take on the Zionist forces. It was an army put together in haste and with little to no training.  In addition, Qawuqji like many others on the Arab side underestimated the Jewish forces.

Parsons concludes that Qawuqji was genuinely committed to the liberation of Palestine and was always sincere in his desire to liberate Arab lands from colonial rule.   He was an ardent supporter of Arab unity.  But he was in the end a solider, a military man who always felt uncomrtable in the world of politics, and it was politicians who he blamed for the loss of Palestine.

The book is published by Saqi Books.