Childhood & Early Life
Faisal I bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashemi was born on May 20, 1885, in Mecca, Ottoman Empire, to Hussein bin Ali and Abdiyah bint Abdullah. Faisal’s father was the Grand Sharif of Mecca who later proclaimed himself to be the King of the Hejaz after the revolt against Ottoman Empire.
Faisal I grew up with his brothers in Istanbul where he learned a great deal about leadership and administration from his father. At the age of 28, Faisal I was made the representative for the city of Jeddah at the Ottoman parliament.
In December 1914, he was sent to Constantinople by his father to discuss the possibility of Arabs participating in the First World War. The Arabs wanted to fight for the Ottoman Empire against the Allies in the war.
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Post World War & Faisalï¿½
Faisal’s interest in collaborating with the Ottomans made him more ambitious. Despite fighting for his father’s interests, Faisal always had an eye for his own kingdom which led him to Captain T. E. Lawrence.
Faisal I met with the British intelligence officer who planned to create an independent Arab State after World War I eventually came to an end. He negotiated a deal with the Ottomans in order to rule the vilayets of Syria and Mosul.
Faisal I and General Djemal Pasha, an Ottoman military leader, met to reach an agreement for the former to be able to rule an empire in exchange of extending a helping hand towards the Ottomans.
During World War I, Faisal I worked with the Allies and helped them conquer Greater Syria and eventually Damascus in 1918. He became a member of the Arab Government at Damascus under the protection of the British. A year later, elections were held in the Arab-controlled Greater Syria.
In 1919, Faisal I signed an agreement with the Zionist leader and Israeli statesman, Chaim Azriel Weizmann. The agreement, which was named the Faisal–Weizmann Agreement, brought about Arab-Jewish cooperation.
Faisal I also signed the Balfour Declaration which promised that the British would help to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. These agreements brought autonomy to the Arab nations, but the help to form the Jewish Homeland in Palestine didn’t arrive.
Faisal I could not stop the French from interfering in Syria despite having the Zionists on his side. His idea to form a Jewish Homeland in Palestine also didn’t please the elite Arab leaders.
Accession & Reign
The Syrian National Congress chose Faisal I as the King of the Arab Kingdom of Syria in March 1920 after Hashim al-Atassi won the elections. However, the French threat was always hanging like a sword over Syria, and within a month of Faisal I becoming the king, the Franco-Syrian War broke out.
The Syrians couldn’t survive the war and as a result, Faisal was expelled by the French from Syria. The British then chose to put him in charge of the Kingdom of Iraq under British administration despite the majority population having no idea of him.
Faisal won over the people with a little support from the British. There was a great deal of unrest in the colony which left the masses longing for a monarchy in Iraq to restore parity.
He became the King of Iraq in August 1921 and encouraged pan-Arab nationalism. His primary aim was to unite the British mandate of Palestine with the French mandates Syria and Lebanon.
Faisal I tried to reform the domestic structure in Iraq by recruiting the exiled Syrian people in different posts of civil services. This move didn’t go well with the Iraqis.
There were protests and constant disagreements among the officials and the elite leaders. Faisal I was very tolerant towards the Shia Muslims and Jews, but the rising unrest forced him to withdraw a few reformations brought in the education system.
Faisal I built motor routes and connected Baghdad, Damascus, and Amman. He also planned on building an oil pipeline in Iraq which would strengthen the country economically.
During the riot in Jerusalem between the Jews and the Arabs, Faisal I supported the Arabs and didn’t approve of forming a Jewish state. He, however, opined that the British grant the Palestine Mandate of a ‘Jewish National Home’.
Family & Personal Life
Faisal I married Huzaima bint Nasser and together they had four children, including their only son, Ghazi bin Faisal, who became king after the death of Faisal I.
Faisal I died on September 8, 1933, at the age of 48, possibly due to heart disease. However, the exact circumstance of his death is shrouded in mystery as he was under medical supervision in Switzerland where his doctors had claimed he was in good health conditions. The nurses pointed out a possibility of poisoning and his body was also examined properly.