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Few, if any, remember the Great Arab Revolt on its 100th anniversary.

Summary: Modern day Turkey has made strenuous efforts to improve the image of Ottomanism in the Arab world

Sami Moubayed, Correspondent

On June 8 one hundred years ago, a military revolt was declared from the Arabian Desert aimed at ending 400-years of Ottoman rule.

Led by Sharif Hussain, the emir of Makkah, it has popularily been called "The Great Arab Revolt" and has been endlessly debated by three generations of Arab and Western historians. It lasted until 1918 and ended with the strategic capture of Damascus by a joint contingent of Arab rebels and British soldiers despatched from Europe to help defeat the Ottoman Empire.

Today, 100 years later, it is all but forgotten, thanks to a systematic campaign that started thirteen years ago by then-Turkish premiere and now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

For many years after 1918, veterans of the Great Arab Revolt reigned throughout the Arab world, as politicians, poets, essayists, and military officers. Having the words "took part in the Great Arab Revolt" on anybody's resume was enough to guarantee automatic access to fame, power, and homage throughout the Middle East. This applied to the early prime ministers of Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and the kings of Jordan and Iraq being children and grandchildren of Sharif Hussein. For the Turkish Republic, the Arab revolt reeked of treason, espionage, and back-stabbing by the Arabs and Great Britain. As far as Turkish leaders were concerned, the revolt's heroes were nothing but traitors, its leaders "spies" on the payroll of European intelligence services.

During the heyday of Arab nationalism of the 1950s and 1960s, Nasserist media trumpeted the Great Arab Revolt to belittle Turkey's Cold War alliance with the United States. This started to change, however, shortly after Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged in 2003, with a vision and plan on how to re-write Ottoman-Arab relations, devised by his brilliant adviser back-then, Ahmet Davutoglu. Clearly from the "no mention" of the Great Arab Revolt today, Erdogan has succeeded in his task rather brilliantly.

Erdogan is very proud of his Ottoman past and makes no attempt at hiding this. He insisted that Ottoman-Arab relations were never as bad as Arab history claimed them to be after World War I. To re-write that history, he needed Arab fans to believe in what was then-called, "neo-Ottomanism."

Championing Palestinian rights to win the hearts of ordinary Arabs, Erdogan ripped through the Arab World like forest fire in 2003-2012, becoming an overnight hero, famously telling one economic forum in Damascus: "Work with us and hand-in-hand, we will extract milk, even from the male goat!" He used this newfound status to re-invent Ottoman influence, economically, politically, culturally, and socially among the Arabs. Turkey's trade volume with the Arab World jumped from $5 billion in 2002 to $55 billion in 2012. Turkey also lifted visa requirements with six Arab countries (Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria) facilitating the flow of human resources, money, and ideas, from Istanbul to all four corners of the Arab World.

Shows critical of the Ottoman legacy in the Middle East were muzzled, and those praising the "Great Arab Revolt" were taken off air, notably a 1992 Syrian classic called "Ukhwet Al Turab." Produced in very different times about the Great Revolt, it focused on famine, hunger, torture, and executions in Ottoman Syria. Instead, Turkish soap operas invaded Arabic satellite television, breaking the stereotype of Turkey in the psyche of Arab masses. A 30-episode epic came next, co-produced by an assortment of Iraqis, Saudis, Egyptians, and Syrians, about the life and times of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, one of Erdogan's Ottoman icons. It showed Abdul Hamid as a charming and warm visionary, and a seasoned statesman committed to the Muslim identity of Palestine, which he refused to sell to the Zionists. Only a few years back, Arab programs treated him as a ruthless autocrat and merciless criminal, worthy of hate and curse in Arabian history.

Since outbreak of the Syria War in 2011, government authorities in Damascus have been trying to "undo" this fascination with Erdogan and Turkey's Ottoman past. It is however already too late as millions have already crossed the borders into Turkey, and are being embraced by the Turkish leader, who has been backing the Syrian Opposition for five years. Thanks to him, they are finding shelter, jobs, and a political platform for their views, making them "Erdoganists" and therefore Ottomanists to the bone. Erdogan's success in brainwashing an entire generation of Arab youth manifested itself in the stream of comments on a Facebook page promoting, an online museum operated from Damascus. Photos of Djemal Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Damascus during World War I, now receive Syrian-authored remarks like, "May God have mercy on his soul" or "He was a Great Man!" Just a few years ago, he was popularily called "the Butcher" by many Syrians.

Thanks to this revisionist history campaign, planned and carried out with meticulous attention, the Great Arab Revolt received no mention in the Arab press or Arab television on its one hundredth birthday this June. It took the Turks less than one hundred years to return to the Arab World, through Erdoganism, and to take revenge from an Arab military uprising that once sent shivers down the spine of their sultans.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Jun 9, 2016
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