The Great Arab Revolt in Historical Fiction: Echoes of the Great War in Contemporary Jordan

in La rivista di Arablit, a. IX, n. 17-18, dicembre 2019, pp. 69-80.

The First World War represents the historical framework in which Transjordan was founded and the Hashemite family was given the power over it. The Jordanian “imagined community”, to put it with Benedict Anderson, finds its founding moment in the Great Arab Revolt (1916), which, according to some historians such as George Antonius, represented a sort of a birth certificate to the Arab movement of independence from the “evil” Ottoman domination. The contemporary Jordanian novel is a privileged field in order to analyse the way events that took place in the years of the Great War are today re-read and employed in order to underpin the official national narrative. From the very beginning of the Jordanian literary life, thanks to mechanisms of control which became more and more efficient over time, the Hashemite State has been shaping the nation also by means of literature, as the wave of historical novels published from the Eighties till today shows well. In my paper, I analyse one of these novels, namely al-Qurmiyyah (1999) by Samīḥah Ḫurays, which is based on the events of the Arab Revolt and depicts the founding act of the Transjordanian Emirate, while at the same time embracing a pan-Arab perspective.

A Brief Historical Sketch: How Hashemite Jordan Legitimises its Existence through the Great Arab Revolt (1916)

During the First World War, a major event occurred in the Arab East, inextricably linked to the war and capable of paving the way to a new set of internal dynamics inside the dying Ottoman Empire: the Great Arab Revolt (al-ṯawrah al-ʿarabiyyah al-kubrà), which apparently represented the meeting point between the interests of the Arabs and those of Western powers such as Great Britain, and, at that time, the sole practical expression of the historical effectiveness of Arabism, since then almost merely an elite ideology whose cradle was to be found in Damascus.
Announced on 10 June 1916 by the šarīf of Mecca Ḥusayn bin ʿAlī, the Great Arab Revolt represented the founding act of the Hashemite State of Transjordan, and the main source of its legitimacy: since then, in fact, the Arab rulers of the newborn Emirate were depicted as morally, religiously and politically superior to the unbearable Ottoman abusers – a description exploiting the pompous nationalist paradigm instead of sticking to a more realistic one, namely the conflict between central government and peripheral elites1.

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  1. M.C. Wilson, The Hashemites, the Arab Revolt, and Arab Nationalism, in The Origins of Arab Nationalism, Rashid Khalidi; Lisa Anderson; Muhammad Muslih; Reeva S. Simon (Eds.), Columbia University Press, New York 1991, pp. 204-221.

This is an Article from La Rivista di Arablit - Anno IX, numeri 17-18, dicembre 2019

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L’Autore

Fernanda Fischione | Laureata in Lingue e Civiltà Orientali presso la Facoltà di Filosofia, Lettere, Scienze Umanistiche e Studi Orientali (Sapienza Università di Roma), è iscritta al corso di laurea magistrale in Lingue e Civiltà Orientali della medesima facoltà.