The JCPOA is dead, long live the JCPOA: Understanding Iranian foreign policy thinking

By Mahshad Badii*

Abstract: In her article, Mahshad Badii seeks to criticize the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy vis-à-vis Iran. She explores the tenants of the JCPOA and addresses the current US administration’s criticism and justifications for withdrawal. Because the Trump administration’s policy on Iran demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of Iranian political thinking, she argues, it fails in its objectives to curtail Iranian influence. The current US policy erroneously frames American-Iranian relations as a zero-sum game, and therefore both feeds the Iranian siege mentality and strengthens hardliners at the expense of moderates.


The United States’ souring relationship with Iran is one of the core foreign policy issues facing the US today. From the 1980 Tehran embassy crisis to President Bush’s condemnation of Iran as a member of the ‘Axis of Evil’, American-Iranian relations have been tumultuous since the 1979 revolution. After seven years of on-and-off negotiations, the tide seemed to turn in 2015 as Iran and the P5+1 consolidated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which provided sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for nuclear restrictions and monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Nevertheless, since taking office in 2017, the Trump administration has regularly rebuked the deal for its ineffectiveness and  supposed financial bolstering of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism. The final nail in the coffin came on May 8, 2018, when the US withdrew from the JCPOA and re-imposed sanctions.

The American decision to withdraw from the JCPOA and pursue a ‘maximum pressure’ policy with Iran demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of Iranian political thinking. To the Trump administration, economic pressure on Iran will force the state to curb its regional activities and force new, broader negotiations that address not only Iran’s nuclear program, but also its ballistic missile program and aid to Hizbollah and Houthi rebels. However, such an outlook ignores that Iran’s nuclear and security policies are not solely motivated by a desire for regional influence, but also by a fear for national security which stems from the Iran-Iraq War. The international community’s silence after Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion, usage of chemical weapons, and targeting of civilian centres have shaped the Iranian belief that protecting itself from future attacks necessitates a vigilant national defence apparatus. Thus began the development of its nuclear, ballistic missile, and drone programmes.[1] The internalisation and instrumentalisation of this collective trauma is best expressed by chief-nuclear negotiator and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in a 2016 op-ed defending Iran’s recent ballistic missile test:

“Our people understand that we need to be prepared to prevent that illegal and absurd threat from ever becoming a reality […] It is against this backdrop that we develop and test our indigenous defensive capabilities.”[2]

Over thirty years later, it is easy to dismiss the argument that wartime trauma drives Iran’s defence apparatus as outdated. However, an ongoing Iranian fear of attack is not without merit: a US congressional report on arms transfers to developing countries revealed that between 2008 and 2015 the Gulf Cooperation Council ordered over $162 billion USD worth of weapons, nearly 180 times Iran’s $900 million worth of arms imports over the same period .[3] This difference in weapons quantity is exacerbated by a difference in quality. Current Iranian ballistic missile technology lacks precision-strike capability, increasing its vulnerability to air-delivered counterstrikes by Gulf and Israeli air forces equipped with precise long-range missiles. In addition to a massive disadvantage in arms, Iran is also inhibited by severely inferior airpower compared to its neighbors. As of 2018, Iran had no fully modern combat aircraft, compared to Israel’s 322 and Saudi Arabia’s 266.[4] Considering the need and desire for Iranian self-sufficiency, rather than cornering Iran into negotiations, Washington’s strategy is more likely to result in Iran doubling down on military activities out of fear for national security.

In fact, an analysis of the past forty years of Iran’s behavior demonstrates that, regardless of economic pressure, Iran has always continued to pursue activities it deems necessary for its survival. While the US withdrawal from the JCPOA was intended to restrain the activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s IRGC budget has increased over the past three years, with a budget of 154 trillion rials for the fiscal year 2017-2018 to 254 trillion rials for the past fiscal year, 2018-2019.[5] It is important to note that this continual increase in funding is offset by cuts to other items in the Iranian budget. The Ministry of Defence, for example, experienced a 51% budget cut over the last two years while the Artesh (Iranian Army) now receives less than half the funding of the IRGC. Even when one considers the impact of rampant inflation, the IRGC and its affiliates have consistently captured 50% of the official military budget over the past three years. Such official budgets fail to capture the IRGC’s other sources of funding; experts estimate that the IRGC controls somewhere between 20% to 40% of the Iranian economy via front companies in defence, oil, and construction.[6] Ultimately, while sanctions have squeezed Iran and led to an overall decline in the defence budget, the Iranian government continues to prioritise and fund the very activities that US foreign policy aims to curb, calling into question the efficacy of sanctions in the first place.

Furthermore, US abandonment of JCPOA in pursuit of a hard-line policy strengthens the position of Iranian hardliners at the expense of moderates. Since the election of President Rouhani in 2013, there has been an ongoing power struggle between the moderate Rouhani administration, including Zarif, and hardliners, including the IRGC and its elite Quds Force, led until recently by General Qasem Soleimani. With the rial losing nearly 70% of its value since the reimposition of US sanctions on Iran, much of the blame for the current economic crisis has been directed at the Rouhani administration. In October 2019, IranPoll found that Rouhani’s approval rate had fallen below 50% for the first time in his presidency, while Soleimani remained the most popular Iranian political figure among those surveyed. Soleimani’s almost cult-like status in Iran is especially important following his assassination by an American drone strike in Baghdad on January 3, 2020. With Soleimani as his martyr, Khamenei has been able to rally the nation around the flag, justify military actions abroad, and elect hardliners to office on the promise of protecting Iranians from American belligerence. This past February, Iranian parliamentary elections yielded a landslide victory for Iran’s conservatives, with a 76% increase in seats held. Meanwhile, as public approval falls for the moderates, the IRGC is predicted to profit and grow in power from the resulting expansion of the black market, which it dominates.[7] By placing the formal Iranian economy in a chokehold, US foreign policy inadvertently strengthens the IRGC, the body responsible for much of the operations that concern the US, and fails to curtail Iranian influence.

Ultimately, if policymakers wish to limit Iran’s regional and nuclear activities, they must do so with a pragmatic outlook: it is unreasonable to expect Iran, whose foreign policy draws strongly from a survivalist mentality, to agree to any deal that curtails all military activities. Instead, policymakers should seek compromises acceptable to both sides. Herein lies the difference in how the Obama and Trump administrations each defined their relationship with Iran. The Obama administration, choosing to initiate nuclear negotiations without preconditions, framed the US-Iran relationship as an arena for win-win possibilities. The Trump administration, by contrast, views the Iran relationship as zero-sum: one side’s gains are the other’s losses, and therefore the only approach to Iran is one of maximum pressure.

But such a pessimistic outlook from the Trump administration overlooks that the US-Iran relationship has always been what administrations make of it. For example, in the aftermath of 9/11, Bush administration officials met discreetly with a group of Iranian diplomats to discuss attacks on their mutual enemy, the Taliban. The two countries cooperated extraordinarily well until January 2002, when President Bush included Iran in the ‘Axis of Evil.’ The impact was immediate: Soleimani blasted his American counterparts for the turn-around, reformers in the Iranian government were silenced, and the US-Iran relationship deteriorated even further.[8] From this case we can draw a greater lesson on American-Iranian relations: to label and treat Iran as an international pariah is to feed the siege mentality and give a platform to hardliners. To address Iran as a state like any other is to invite negotiations, compromise, and a path forward.

The JCPOA can and should be renegotiated. In fact, despite hostile rhetoric from the Trump administration, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified Iran’s JCPOA compliance on thirteen separate occasions since its ratification.[9] Even with Iran’s January 5th announcement that it will no longer abide by the JCPOA’s uranium enrichment limitations, Iranian officials have emphasized that all rollbacks are reversible and that they will continue to cooperate fully with the IAEA.[10] From the deal’s inception to the aftermath of the US withdrawal, Iran has demonstrated that it is willing to compromise.

Still, a new deal must also go beyond the scope of the pre-existing nuclear agreement. The JCPOA failed to tackle Iranian backing of terrorist groups and proxy groups, while American banking regulations under terrorism legislation have nullified much of the economic  relief expected from the original deal. Iran’s influence in war-torn states like Syria and Yemen means any peace settlements will require Iranian cooperation to be sustainable Furthermore, Iran’s substantial level of influence over Iraqi affairs, meticulously cultivated through ties to Iraq’s foremost political officials, suggests recognition that any escalation of US-Iranian tensions will most likely play out in Iraq — whether in the form of more strikes or public protests by Iraqis against American and Iranian influence in their country. For the US, the next battle will include bringing Iran back to the negotiating table. However, any negotiations will be impossible as long as the international community, led by the United States, continues to isolate Iran.


*Mahshad Badii is about to conclude her B.A. in Political Science and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. After her graduation in May 2020, she will be pursuing Middle Eastern policy research in Washington, DC.


[1]Ariane Tabatabai and Annie Tracy Samuel, “Managing U.S.-Iran Relations: Critical Lessons from the Iran-Iraq War” (Cambridge, Mass.: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, November 2017),

[2] Mohammad Javad Zarif, “Zarif: Why Iran Is Building up Its Defenses,” The Washington Post, April 20, 2016.

[3] Catherine A. Theohary, Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2008-2015, CRS Report No. R44716 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2016),

[4] Anthony H Cordesman, The Iranian Missile Challenge (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2019),

[5] Plan and Budget Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Budget Bill for 1398 (Tehran, Iran: 2019)

Plan and Budget Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Budget Bill for 1397 (Tehran, Iran: 2018)

[6] editors, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Washington, DC: Council on Foreign Relations, 2019),

[7] Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, “Tougher U.S. Sanctions Will Enrich Iran’s Revolutionary Guards,” Foreign Policy, October 4, 2018,

[8] Dexter Filkins, “The Shadow Commander,” The New Yorker, September 23, 2013,

[9] On Thin Ice: The Iran Nuclear Deal at Three, (Washington, DC: International Crisis Group, 2019),

[10]  Javad Zarif (@JZarif), “As 5th % final REMEDIAL step under paragraph 36 of JCPOA,” Twitter, January 5, 2020, 11:10a.m.,

#Masaktach: Social Media and Sexual Violence Against Women in Morocco

By Ella Williams*

Abstract: This article addresses the issue of sexual violence against women in Morocco, including the legal, social, and cultural barriers facing women victims of sexual violence and the role of the media in perpetuating discourses of blame and shame. Drawing on fieldwork carried out in Rabat, she provides an in-depth exploration of #Masaktach, a Moroccan civil society movement that aims to break the silence surrounding sexual violence against women. An examination of the movement permits a broader discussion of the themes of social activism and social change, and the article aims to advocate for a more holistic approach to measuring social change in North Africa within the field of gender issues.


“Il faut que la honte change de camps”

Majdouline Lyazidi, Co-founder of Women-Shoufouch Movement, Morocco


1 – Masaktach: Setting the Scene

1.1 Scholarly interest in sexual violence against women in North Africa

Although Sanja Kelly, co-author of Freedom House’s Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance, argues that “gender-based violence remains one of the most serious obstacles in women’s lives” in North Africa, and despite an abundance of reports from international, national, and non-governmental organisations that promote women’s rights and gender equality through exploring gender-based violence in North Africa, there is a lack of scholarly work concerning sexual VAW in the Maghreb.[1] An interest in sexual harassment in the public sphere started to emerge during the Arab uprisings of 2011, particularly in Egypt where sexual assaults and rapes took place during protests, leading to increased scholarly activity around the topic. Despite this, the majority of information available about sexual harassment of women in Morocco remains limited to personal experiences and testimonies from women, shared via blogs, online newspapers, and social media. Amongst the few studies, Sadiqi and Ennaji (2006) examine the dichotomous relationship between private and public space in Morocco, arguing that women are frequently subjected to sexual harassment in public places that remain hostile to them.[2] El Ghazouani (2015) examines the issue of street harassment in Morocco by exploring women’s testimonies, the role of their dress as a possible reason for harassment, and the potential solutions to this phenomenon.[3] Chafai (2017) contextualizes street harassment in Morocco by exploring the relationship between the discriminatory, stereotypical images of Moroccan girls and women, and the violence that is committed against them.[4] Other research has investigated the enforcement of laws and the absence of legislation to prevent sexual VAW. Ennaji (2011) explores the legal framework regarding gender-based violence, with reference to sexual harassment in the workplace as criminalized for the first time by the 2004 labour code, arguing that although the laws are not discriminatory as such, they become so through their application.[5]

My research aims to add to this small, but growing, body of studies on sexual VAW in the Maghreb, as well as fill a gap in academic knowledge, by exploring in-depth one of the numerous civil society campaigns that have emerged in post-Arab Spring Morocco targeting violence against women. Apart from journalistic reports, these civil society movements have not been subject to academic study, with the exception of Skalli (2014) who gives an overview of social media-based anti-sexual harassment initiatives in post-Arab Spring in Egypt and Morocco.[6]


Images taken with permission from the Masaktach Instagram account.

1.2 Statistics: sexual violence against women in Morocco

“If you haven’t been stalked all the way to your front door at least seven times in your life as a girl, you must’ve been the lone survivor of some kind of apocalypse that hit North Africa.”[7]

18- year-old Libyan Danya Hajjaji

Before beginning my exploration of the Masaktach movement, it is essential to provide a background to the historical and social context in which the movement operates. Sexual violence falls within the broader framework of gender-based violence. The 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW) defines VAW as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”[8] Sexual violence can take many forms, including domestic violence, early marriage, forced marriage, honour killings, female genital mutilation, sex trafficking, forced prostitution, rape, and sexual harassment, taking place in both the private and public sphere. The 2011 Moroccan Constitution declares all Moroccans as equal under the law by promoting equality of opportunity and social justice and officially prohibiting any gender-based discrimination. In addition, Morocco has signed three key international documents regarding gender-based violence: the Beijing Platform for Action, the UN DEVAW, and the Millennium Development Goals, one of which involves the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women. Despite this, sexual VAW continues to be a widespread, recurrent issue in Moroccan society.

The first and only national survey carried out by the Moroccan High Commission for Planning on VAW found that nearly two thirds (62.8%) of women had experienced physical, psychological, sexual, or economic violence in the one-year period preceding the survey, and the 2018 USAID Gender Analysis for Morocco reported that nearly one quarter (24%) of women had experienced sexual violence during their lifetime.[9]  Street harassment is a prolific problem in Moroccan society. In 2008, the ADFM published the results of their second study, which showed that one third of male interviewees considered sexual harassment to be ‘normal’ behaviour.[10] Chafai argues that “frequent harassment of women by strangers in public and semi-public areas is a harsh reality facing women daily in Morocco.”[11]

1.3 Legal Framework and the 2018 Violence against Women Law

Since 2011, Morocco has made a number of legislative steps towards tackling sexual VAW. In 2013, the articles of the Penal Code that forbade the “kidnapping, hijacking and displacement of a married woman” were repealed (Penal Code of Morocco 1962, arts. 494–496). These articles had effectively criminalized shelters for female victims of violence and put those fleeing them at risk of  prosecution. In 2014, article 475 of the Penal Code (art. 475.2) was repealed, which had allowed a rapist to marry his underage victim in order to escape criminal prosecution.

The most highly anticipated legislative reform was Law 103-13 on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which came into effect on 12 September 2018. Brought about after more than twelve years of diverse governmental and civil society efforts, the law was promoted as a progressive step forward for women. Analyses from legal experts, international human rights organisations, and Moroccan NGOs, however, have detailed numerous shortcomings and deficiencies. Stephanie Bordat, international human rights lawyer working across the Magheb, believes that “what the law basically did is create a couple of new crimes or it increased the prison time for the crimes that already existed.”[12] The law does not criminalize marital rape and provides no definition of domestic violence. In addition, it does not put in place systems and services for victims of sexual violence, such as mechanisms regarding reporting, investigation, and prosecution, or shelter, healthcare, and legal aid provisions. There are also a number of obstacles which prevent women from coming forward to make a complaint. For example, civil protection cannot be provided until after a penal complaint has been formally registered, a lengthy process during which women are left very vulnerable. Women also have to provide a medical certificate of incapacity for more than 20 days in order to start the penal process. Furthermore, charges can be dropped if a victim decides to drop them, which puts women under pressure and open to threats. Public actors such as judges and police are also under no obligation to carry out their role in taking the matter seriously and conducting a full investigation. Nouzha Skalli, ex-Minister of Solidarity, Women, Family, and Social Development and founder of the ADFM, has described the law as “a missed opportunity to achieve unanimity around the protection of women from violence,” proclaiming that “Morocco deserves better than the new VAW law.”[13]

Currently, only 3% of women who are victims of violence report it to the authorities and only 1.3% of complaints of VAW result in arrest.[14] In addition, a 2007 ADFM report revealed that the vast majority of women who had at first filed a complaint of gender-based violence with the judicial and police authorities later turned to counselling and NGO legal assistance centres due to a failure to implement laws. As a result of the vast shortcomings of the much-anticipated Law 103-03, those working within the civil society sector are not optimistic that the new law will change this current reality.

1.4 Social issues: discourses of blame and shame

“[Sexual harassment] was so prevalent that complaining about it was like complaining about bad weather. Besides, even if I had spoken about this, I would have been the one blamed, not him.”[15]

Moroccan writer Laila Lalami

Lawrence Rosen, in his numerous studies of the impact of custom on law, with an emphasis on Morocco, concluded that “custom and law are not discrete categories, but are in many instances conceptually merged,” not only in people’s minds but also in judges’ interpretation of the law.[16] In Morocco, despite the progress made within civil society and the legal framework in the last decade, a number of cultural and social norms allow for the continued presence of sexual VAW. Such norms also prevent effective reporting of VAW and support for female victims.

Moroccan society remains patriarchal; women are subject to the blame/shame logic, which in Morocco is often expressed through the concept of hchouma, a complex social phenomenon claimed to regulate social conduct for both men and women in the community. The implications of hchouma control the attitudes, activities, and reasoning of girls and women and set the limits designated by social and cultural norms. Sanday (1990) explains the myth of patriarchal societies in terms of “sexual subjectivity.”[17] In societies of male dominance, the responsibility for the desires, fantasies, and subsequent violent actions of males are projected onto the female, a process central to entitlement, a key aspect of the subjective engenderment of men in male-dominant cultures. Men are presented as the object of women’s sexual power, so that their response to that perceived power cannot be considered the action of an agent, but rather the victim of female sexuality. Conway-Long describes this as a society where “men are at the center, women are the problem […] men are freed from responsibility for their own behavior, women are burdened by their ultimate culpability for anything that men do to women. It is an odd sort of subjectification in that men are constructed to be the acting subjects of their world, yet are not responsible for their actions, or for the impact of their actions upon others.”[18] This failure to empathize with the recipient of one’s violence is a key feature of sexist masculine subjectivity. As a result, cases of sexual violence in Morocco are often accompanied with attempts to blame female victims and women as a whole, rather than the perpetrator.

Patriarchal concepts of blame and shame in Moroccan society also manifest themselves in the elaboration of gender roles via a traditional gender paradigm, with the centrality of the family, rather than the individual, as the main unit of society. Social behaviour and interaction are moderated by a ‘code of modesty,’ in which family honour and dignity rest on the reputation and good behaviour of girls and women. Skalli writes that “in societies where women’s bodies and mobility are controlled through strictly prescribed codes of ‘purity’ and honour, any violation of the women’s body is taken as a dishonour of the entire family or community for which women, and not their aggressor(s) are held responsible.”[19] Furthermore, the dichotomous relationship between public and private space in Morocco “establishes a problematic dimension that unconsciously obliges women to recognize that public space is male territory, an attitude which inculcates feelings of fear or guilt when women experience assault or rape by strangers,” leading women to accept daily acts of violence as the inevitable price for entering the public space.[20] As a result of these cultural and societal norms, social stigmas often pertain to female victims rather than male perpetrators, and many women victims of sexual violence feel that they cannot come forward without damaging their family honour and their own reputation.

Given the outspoken nature of civil society movements such as Masaktach, it is also important to emphasize that sexual violence still remains a taboo topic in Moroccan society. Žvan Elliott argues that “gendered discrimination, or indeed violence is perceived as a private matter.”[21] This has created a culture of silence around sexual violence. Skalli argues that “blaming the victim of sexual harassment, which is pervasive in North African societies as in all patriarchal societies, has condemned women to silence and, in the process, condoned violence, normalised it, and trivialised it.”[22] Laila Lalami, Moroccan author, writes that silence “is what binds all these men together. Silence is what they count on, what allows them to continue.”[23]

In conclusion, Chafai sums up the current reality regarding sexual VAW in Morocco, writing that “more than a decade later, despite the significant reforms towards gender equality and the improvement of the situation of women in the family and in employment, ignorance, patriarchal values and conservative mentalities of both Moroccan citizens and those who implement the law – such as police, judges and authority figures in general – continue to be the practical obstacles to law enforcement and to women’s justice and emancipation.”[24]

1.5 The role of the media: Saad Lamjarred and Khadija

The representation of women in the Moroccan media has been subject to numerous academic studies.[25] Morocco’s state-owned media plays a pivotal role in perpetuating discourses of blame and shame with regards to sexual VAW, and it was two high-profile media cases that provided the spark that ignited the Masaktach campaign in late summer 2018.

1.5.1 Saad Lamjarred:

Saad Lamjarred is a Moroccan pop singer-songwriter, dancer, actor, and record producer. His song, “Lm3allem” is the highest viewed Arabic song on YouTube with over 800 million views. In February 2010, while visiting the United States, Saad Lamjarred was accused of beating and raping a woman in New York. Lamjarred fled the U.S. after posting bail and the case was dropped in 2016. Lamjarred was arrested again in Paris in October 2016 on charges of alleged sexual assault against a French woman. He was released in 2017, but still faced charges. In 2017, a French-Moroccan woman accused him of sexual misconduct and abuse at an apartment in Casablanca in 2015. She later withdrew the complaint. On 26th August 2018, Lamjarred was arrested again in France on a new rape allegation. He was imprisoned in France, but on 20th November 2018, it was announced that he had been cleared of rape charges and would be tried for ‘crimes of sexual assault and wilful violence.’ In December, after spending more than two months in a French prison, Lamjarred was released on parole.

Despite three rape charges, Lamjarred remains a hugely popular, yet controversial, figure in Morocco and received substantial public support during his legal trials. When the singer was arrested in 2016, for example, the Moroccan king himself intervened to cover the singer’s legal fees. Many fans maintained that the singer was the victim of a “plot” by neighbouring Algeria, and Moroccan media even showed footage of small protests “in solidarity” with the singer during his detention. The women who came forward with accusations against Lamjarred faced insults, death threats, and a lack of public support from Moroccan society, with fans claiming that the alleged victims were seeking to benefit from his fame. Additionally, in August 2018, Lamjarred was prominently featured in a video of artists put out for the birthday of King Mohammed VI, and the first song he released one year after the alleged incident, which was dedicated to the king, gained over 140 million views, demonstrating his enduring popularity. Moroccan psychologist Sanaa El Aji explained the mentality behind the support for Lamjarred: “he’s famous, good looking, so we support him… it’s an emblematic case of sympathy for the aggressor in a society where we always find excuses for men.”[26]

The media debate around Saad Lamjarred provided the initial fuel to the fire that ignited Masaktach, and Laila Slassi, one of the campaign’s initiators, believes that “the case of Saad Lamjarred is a symbol that brings together everything connected to rape culture and impunity.”[27] Lamjarred’s case propelled sexual VAW and the way it is dealt within Moroccan society into public debate, thus providing the opportunity to launch the Masaktach campaign; however it was the case of Khadija which ultimately triggered the Masaktach movement.

1.5.2 Khadija:

In August 2018, the story of Khadija, a seventeen year old girl from Oulad Ayad, a small village near Beni Mellal, hit national and international headlines. Khadija came forward claiming that she had been abducted from her village by a gang in June and held for two months, during which she was raped, starved, drugged, burnt with cigarettes, and tattooed with swastikas. After an initial outpouring of shock and sympathy, where the family received “thousands of phone calls,” media coverage of the case in the Moroccan media turned predominantly negative, and Khadija was accused of lying, having a ‘bad reputation,’ and largely accorded the blame for the horrific ordeal that she had undergone.[28] Airtime was given by the national media to those who sought to destroy Khadija’s reputation. ChoufTV aired an interview with the mother of two of the male suspects who claimed that “she has a bad reputation in Oulad Ayad, everyone knows that she drinks, she smokes, and she even burns herself with her cigarettes.” She further claimed that “she [Khadija] wanted this, she was always knocking on my door asking if my son was home.”[29] In addition to media coverage blaming and shaming Khadija, the image below, created by Casablanca-based artist Nada Hriouil, which she claims aimed to “raise awareness of this sad reality that we’re living,” demonstrates the extent of the problem regarding media coverage of sexual violence cases in Morocco.[30] Even coverage produced by women in solidarity with Khadija, aimed at empowering the victim, ended up presenting Khadija in a sexualized and disturbing manner, to some extent glamourising her horrendous ordeal.


@artbynada_, Instagram.

The treatment of Khadija and her case by the media sparked a public outcry. On social media, a campaign in support of Khadija was launched through the hashtag #JusticePourKhadija, and an online petition asking King Mohammed VI and the authorities to give Khadija justice and to help her family with financial costs and medical care gathered over 28,000 signatures.[31] This was an outrage shared by the group of women who initiated the Masaktach campaign. Laila Slassi explained in a roundtable conference how she was scrolling through Facebook when she discovered the story of Khadija and the way in which she had been treated by the media and the public. She immediately called her friend and fellow social activist Maria Karim, asking her: “what can we do?”[32] Shortly afterwards, the pair obtained Khadija’s mobile phone number from her father and the next day went to visit her in her hometown and listened to her story. Following this visit, Leila and Maria shared positive articles about Khadija online to fight the overwhelmingly negative coverage and also helped Khadija’s family to identify international journalists who would “cover the case in the right way.” Two other women involved in the movement, Aida Alami and Zineb Belmkaddem, also became involved as a direct response to the Khadija case. Although she is a feature reporter and doesn’t usually cover news stories, Aida decided to cover Khadija’s case when she saw the “horrific way the media covered this case, which brutalized this teenager a second time.”[33] In an effort to combat journalists that were writing about Khadija without any “due diligence,” repeating “truths and counter truths” and quoting anonymous sources without any substantiation, Aida read the full police report and aimed to give an unfiltered voice to Khadija, whilst Zineb translated the police report into English. For the founders of Masaktach, Khadija’s case made them realise that “the problem was much bigger than Khadija. In Morocco, the problem is that we accepted this because it is in our daily behaviour to just keep things silent. This silence allows rapists and aggressors to continue what they do, because nobody says their name.”[34]


2 – #Masaktach: the campaign begins

Chapters Two and Three are largely informed by fieldwork that I undertook in Rabat, Morocco. I have chosen in this chapter to document Masaktach predominantly through the voices of the activists behind the movement and the media reports covering the campaign. Even though giving the main stage to the activists risks presenting a biased picture of the value and impact of the Masaktach campaign, since I was not in Morocco during Masaktach’s main activity, my principal sources of information were limited to the activists themselves and media reports, many of which contained misinformation or were written by foreign journalists who had neither been on the ground nor spoken to the campaign’s founders. I attempt to mitigate this risk in Chapter Three, through an in-depth discussion of the criticisms of Masaktach.

Before examining Masaktach, it is important to underline that this is not the first social media-based civil society movement in Morocco with the aim of combatting sexual VAW. Since 2011, there have been a number of such movements as increasing numbers of female activists have employed digital technologies and online social spaces to expand upon the traditional methods of activism used by earlier generations of feminists (marches, petitions and lobbying). Significant campaigns include Women-Shoufouch, which was launched as a Facebook page by twenty-year-old Majdoline Lyazidi in August 2011.[35] Inspired by the Canadian SlutWalk campaign, the movement aimed to raise awareness about sexual harassment in Moroccan society. In March 2013, another Facebook page was launched called ‘’Denounce your Harasser,’ which appealed to women in its page description: “if you cannot knock out your harasser, if you cannot disarm him, take a picture of him and shame him.”[36] Despite the numerous civil society movements tackling sexual VAW that came before Masaktach and also used social media as a tool for activism, Masaktach, without a doubt, has gained the most attention in Moroccan society.

2.1 #Masaktach: what is it all about?

The Masaktach movement started as a hashtag launched on Twitter in August 2018. ‘Masaktach’ translates as ‘I will not be silent’ in Moroccan Arabic and is a civil society movement that aims to break the silence surrounding sexual violence in Morocco, as well as encouraging women to talk about their experiences of sexual violence and open a dialogue about sexual violence on social media and in Moroccan society. Zineb Belmkaddem describes the aim of Masaktach as “flipping the script where it should be flipped.” She believes that “women have been carrying the weight and shame of horrendous actions that are triggered by male violence. This isn’t fair. Enough is enough. We want to symbolically and literally make our voices heard.”[37] Although Loubna described the women behind Masaktach as “unapologetic feminists,” Leila Slassi was keen to point out that Masaktach is not about “women fighting men,” but rather “fighting against ideas” that are spread by both men and women, in order to educate people that this behaviour “is not normal or acceptable and it is punishable by law.”[38] Masaktach is a “spontaneous, grassroots movement,” rather than an NGO or organisation. In fact, Loubna believes that one of the main reasons why Masaktach spread is because it is a grassroots movement— “it’s not an organisation, it’s not an NGO, it’s not state-driven, it’s not affiliated, it’s not a political party, it’s just like-minded people complaining about stuff, and it’s a citizen movement.[39]

The movement started with organised Tweet sessions around predetermined topics, coordinated between the movement’s members. After the launch of Masaktach’s first ‘action’ against Saad Lamjarred, the campaign began to spread via Twitter and other social media platforms.

2.2 #Masaktach: the women behind the hashtag

The Masaktach campaign was initiated by four women, but later grew into a group of twelve people. There is no central leadership or fixed group involved in the behind-the-scenes of the campaign, and numerous people have come and gone or contributed on an ad hoc basis. The principal women behind the movement include: human rights lawyer Leila Slassi, who studied in Paris but is now based in Casablanca, and Aida Alami, a freelance journalist covering North Africa who has worked for the New York Times, Middle East Eye, and Al Jazeera English. Aida grew up in Marrakesh but moved to New York aged 18, and now lives between Rabat and France. Social activists Maria Karim, Zineb Belmkaddem, now based in Washington DC, and Loubna Rais also make significant contributions to the movement.

Three men were also highly involved in the Masakatach campaign in the initial stages, but two were forced to leave due to the harassment and abuse they received online for being involved in a feminist movement.[40]

2.3 #Masaktach: what has been achieved?

2.3.1 Saad Lamjarred

The first ‘action’ undertaken by Masaktach was targeting the music of Saad Lamjarred. Leila Slassi described how she was “shocked” to hear about the charges against the singer and that nobody had decided to “collectively say ‘enough is enough.’”[41] The women decided that “it was not appropriate for radio stations to continue broadcasting his music knowing what had happened,” and on 19 September 2018, the collective launched a coordinated Twitter campaign using the hashtags #LamjarredOut and #Masaktach.[42] Within one day, public opinion pressure led Moroccan radio station 2M to announce on Twitter that it would no longer be airing Lamjarred’s music, shortly followed by Hit Radio. Leila describes how the movement received “very positive feedback” from its first action; people expressed online that they agreed with the aims of Masaktach but had “never felt that there was an environment where they could say this.”[43] Bringing about the ban on Lamjarred’s music not only succeeded in generating an open discourse online around the way that sexual violence is treated in Moroccan society, but public opinion pressure generated by the hashtag also brought about a tangible change. After this initial victory, the Masaktach collective moved on to launch its largest campaign under the hashtag #ila_dsser_seffri.

2.3.2 #ila_dsser_seffri

Following the introduction of Law 103-13 on 12 September, Masaktach launched an awareness campaign under the hashtag #ila_dsser_seffri, which roughly translates as ‘if he harasses you, whistle.’ This campaign involved the Masaktach women going out onto the streets of Casablanca, Rabat, and Marrakesh, handing out free whistles and pamphlets explaining Law 103-13. Loubna explained that the main aim of the whistle campaign was to spread awareness, since “a whole law had passed, but when we were talking to people on the street, they were not aware that there was a law.”[44] According to Loubna, when “laws involving behaviour change are passed, when it’s a society problem like drink-driving, there’s usually a PSA [public service announcement]. You have PSAs and the state is everywhere bombarding you with messages.” With Law 103-13, however, “there was nothing. The law was passed, and we didn’t hear about it.”[45] The aim of the campaign was therefore to give momentum to the law by immediately spreadingawareness that harassment was now criminalised. Leila described how they wanted to give women whistles to “make a lot of noise” and show that “we should not be ashamed; they should be ashamed.”[46] The whistles symbolised that sexual violence should not be internalized, in a declaration that: ‘I will react to this violence publicly and loudly.’ Aida believes that the whistles were particularly powerful because “men would be ashamed and afraid if you use them.”[47]

According to Zineb, who flew to Casablanca from her home in Washington DC to take part in the street campaign, on the streets the activists received an “overwhelmingly positive reaction,” and she described the campaign as “an amazing experience, nothing short of wonderful.”[48] She explained how, as a pro-democracy activist, “people used to throw stones,” but this was an “entirely different experience, we did not feel the level of danger we felt as activists when preaching pro-democracy; we felt then that we were touching a red line.” The Masaktach women also claimed to have received a positive reaction from men who they approached on the street. Loubna told me that some men approached her asking for whistles, telling her “I’m going to give them to my sister and my mother.”[49] One particular man delighted her by asking for some whistles, only to inform her that he was going to pose as pro-feminist and offer them to women as a new pick up line. Although told as a humorous anecdote, this story highlights one of the aims of the whistle campaign, which was to address the issue with men by approaching the topic with humour and a lack of aggression. The women believe that this would be an effective model for men to follow in intervening to denounce inappropriate behaviour of other men on the streets.

Although the reactions on the street were predominantly positive, the online reactions to the campaign were entirely different. The Masaktach activists, women, and girls pictured on the campaign’s Instagram account with the whistles received a lot of abuse, trolling, and threats. A large number of girls who had agreed to have their pictures taken with the whistles or who had tagged their pictures to the Instagram account contacted the page asking for their photos to be taken down to stop the abuse they were receiving.[50] After a period of time, when the women wanted the public to be able to read the type of comments they were receiving online, they made the decision to turn the comment function off on their Instagram page.[51] Despite this, the controversy the campaign created can also be viewed in a positive light, since it helped to create a buzz and send the campaign viral in Morocco. Zineb told me that she didn’t mind the negative comments since, “that’s how everything starts. Any change starts with people questioning these breakthrough ideas, it’s a part of the process.” She saw this as “a very positive sign” that “this society is ripe for these discussions.”[52]

The ila_dsser_seffri campaign became the most well-known aspect of the Masaktach campaign. Videos and memes that were created to mock the whistle campaign paradoxically helped to spread awareness of the campaign around the country. Consequently, the whistles are more known than the Masaktach hashtag or the campaigning done around Lamjarred and Khadija.[53] Travelling as far north as Tangier and Tetouan, Loubna asked people on the street if they had heard of Masaktach, and many of them replied to her: “oh, you mean the whistles?”[54] She also told me the story of a housekeeper, who was on a bus to work when a man boarded and announced to the bus: “hey women, stay away, I don’t want no whistles, and I don’t want no problems here. Just don’t get too close to me.”[55] In addition, when Aida was carrying out journalist work in a “very working-class neighbourhood of Casablanca,” she wore one of the whistles and had people recognise the symbol, including men on the street.[56] These personal anecdotes, however micro-level, indicate the possibility that awareness of the campaign may have spread beyond the central urban areas and across gender and class boundaries.

2.3.4 WhatsApp campaign

Running in parallel to the high-profile social media and street campaigns, the Masaktach collective also launched a lesser-known WhatsApp campaign which aimed to target women from lower social classes and from underserved regions. This involved spreading awareness about the new law and encouraging women to talk about the issue of sexual violence through the creation of WhatApp groups. Leila, for example, created a WhatsApp group for domestic workers in Casablanca, which started with 60 members and has since become much larger. To overcome the issue of illiteracy, she communicates mainly via voice-memos. Women in these groups also share memes, jokes, and empowering quotes translated into darija that challenge patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes. This campaign was more grassroots and more popular but didn’t receive any media attention. Despite this, Zineb believes that the WhatsApp groups were one of the main ways that Masaktach went viral, since “everyone has WhatsApp, even your housekeeper.”[57] The difficulty with attempting to evaluate the reach of these WhatsApp groups or substantiate claims that Masaktach has spread to “many millions through Whatsapp” is that WhatsApp groups are both private and encrypted, so it was not possible to gather any data regarding this aspect of the campaign.[58]


3 – Criticisms of Masaktach

Aside from online abuse and trolling, the Masaktach movement has received a number of criticisms regarding the way in which it goes about achieving its aims, both from the public as well as from local NGOs and advocacy groups.

3.1 Targeting the wrong segment of society

The Masaktach campaign has been criticised for targeting the wrong segment of society, since its use of social media platforms like Instagram appeals mainly to young girls. Girls and women in Morocco are defined as part of a wider family network; parents, male family members, and older relatives play an important role in cases of sexual VAW, and the whole family, not just the female victim, are victims in the case of sexual violence. Khadija’s family, for example, felt unable to leave their home, and Khadija expressed that “my father is no longer the same. His life has changed. He no longer works; he no longer goes out. We all never leave the house. They are all hurting.”[59] It is therefore possible to question whether Masaktach can bring about effective change if the campaign only targets young girls. When I discussed this with the activists, Zineb pointed out that it was inevitable that Masaktach received the most engagement from young girls, since they are the most affected and, therefore, naturally care more about the issue.[60] However, the women do not believe that Masaktach exclusively targets young girls. Although young girls are the ones who predominantly share images and posts related to Masaktach online, when out on the street, the activists claimed they talked to and engaged with both women and men across all age ranges. Loubna also believed that Masaktach was starting to have a ‘trickle down’ effect in society: young girls had contacted Masaktach’s Instagram and Facebook page, as well as spoken to activists in person, to tell them that after engaging with Masaktach themselves, they had decided to talk about the issue of sexual violence with their families, such as during family meals. Loubna expressed that “if this happens, that’s all we want.”[61] Although a ‘trickle down’ effect could theoretically result in Masaktach having a positive impact at the wider family-unit level, given the taboo and shame still associated with sexual violence, the expectation that this would begin with young girls taking the responsibility to initiate the change is perhaps overly optimistic.

3.2 A middle class, urban movement only

The most common criticism that Masaktach has received is that it is limited to a middle class, urban movement, thus ignoring segments of society that are most in need of sexual violence advocacy and awareness initiatives. This accusation is a recurrent one directed at women’s advocacy and NGO work in Morocco. Women’s organisations in Morocco have often been criticised for being elitist structures for the middle-to-upper-class urban few.[62] Žvan Elliott argues that after the NGO-ization of women’s rights issues in the mid-1980s, which saw the establishment of organisations such as the ADFM and UAF, the number of women’s rights organisations continued to flourish to the extent that in 2011, “one Moroccan activist quite rightly concluded that establishing a women’s rights association has become a form of (family) business enterprise for middle to upper class women.”[63] The proliferation of women’s organisations, however, “doesn’t always translate into the movement’s wider recognition among the Moroccan general public, particularly by women, their supposed subjects.”[64] The majority of women’s organisations operate from the main urban centres (in the 1990s, 80% of officially recognized NGOs and women’s organizations in Morocco operated from Rabat) and often do not prioritize outreach to rural areas or grassroots level mobilization as part of their strategies.[65]

In her chapter on women’s NGOs in Morocco, Fatima Sadiqi argues that the information and knowledge produced by women’s organisations usually remains locked within closed circles and does not reach the grassroots level such organisations are supposed to address, benefit, or represent.[66] She criticises women’s organisations in Morocco for not being able to “penetrate the lower social strata to explicate to them their organization’s vision and mission in the appropriate medium.”[67] Rabat and Casablanca based NGOs and associations often do not establish regular connections with women from lower social classes or women living in rural and underserved areas, and poor, working-class, and rural women are not often invited to participate in urban-based conferences and roundtable discussions.[68] Sadiqi concludes that women’s organisations often “fall into the trap” of reproducing mechanisms of exclusion whereby only the educated and the initiated participate in debates and actions for gender equality.[69] The shortcomings of Moroccan women’s associations and NGOSs has led Bohdana Dimitrovova to argue that Moroccan civil society is elitist and as such has a weak social impact.[70]

In many ways, Masaktach could be seen to perpetuate the rural vs. urban and class divide already inherent within Moroccan women’s activism. The movement’s founders are all urban-based, foreign-educated, upper-middle-class women, and outside of the social media campaigns, all the action that the collective has undertaken has been in Rabat, Casablanca, or Marrakesh. Although Zineb described this criticism as “legitimate,” both Aida and Zineb underlined that Masaktach is not an NGO or organisation, but rather a collective of women running a campaign on very limited resources, whilst at the same time having full-time jobs. Zineb explained that the idea was to “put the idea out there,” so that NGOs and women’s associations operating throughout Morocco could take advantage of the momentum generated by Masaktach to “take the idea and run.” This sentiment was echoed by Aida, who pointed out that “the idea was only to get the media and people talking about the issue, not to solve sexual violence in Morocco.”[71] Additionallys, Loubna believed that Masaktach received an unfair amount of criticism for being “bourgeois,” since many people were not aware of the grassroots work that the women were carrying out behind the scenes that specifically targets women from more underserved segments of society, work which is not covered by the media or publicized online. She explained that “online, we have to keep it short and sweet, so that it’s controversial and it goes viral.”[72]

The issue with refuting this criticism is that there is no concrete way to measure the impact of Masaktach across class and geographic boundaries. Since Masaktach is not an NGO or organisation, no impact surveys have been carried out. Although the organizers  could analyse the data related to the age, gender, and geographic location of engaged users on their Facebook and Twitter posts, this would not be possible with WhatsApp, which the activists claim is the platform that has most successfully engaged with women outside of the urban, middle-class environment. In July 2019, whilst travelling back to Rabat from Tangier, I ended up sitting in the first-class compartment of the new Al-Boraq bullet train. It is perhaps quite revealing, or maybe just a coincidence, that this is the only time I have heard the Masaktach movement being discussed in public.


4 – #Masaktach and Social Change

4.1 Social change and non-change

Social change: “changes or variations in the structure of social relationships and organisation of a society that leads to social transformations.”[73]

Social non-change: “‘changes’ that are applauded by international and national actors but which in fact are non-changes, such as long-announced but not enacted laws related to women’s rights.” Can also cover change that appears “‘good’ on the surface, but that, on closer inspection, represents a non-change.”[74]

Morocco has a reputation in the Middle East of being relatively modernized, moderate, progressive, and liberal. The Moroccan state is praised on the international stage for its self-professed, model legal reforms and its reformist King Mohammed VI, particularly in the realm of women’s rights. This is a discourse promoted in state-controlled domestic media and the international press. This image of Morocco, however, stands in stark contrast to the reality facing many women in Morocco and Žvan Elliott argues that “Morocco fails to live up to its reputation as a progressive and liberalizing state and society.”[75] In reality, Morocco’s seemingly progressive legal reforms in the sphere of gender equality largely remain “ink on paper,” and fail to achieve genuine reform. Gagliardi argues that such legal reforms have had “little to no impact on the daily lives of women.”[76] As discussed earlier, this is due to persisting social and cultural barriers in addition to ineffective laws, which are often explained by the lack of real commitment by the state. Young Evrard argues that legal reform in the domain of women’s rights is a “symbolic gesture” only and that the state employs a “double strategy regarding women’s status and women’s rights: extending symbolic support of women’s rights while making few concrete changes at the political level.”[77] Likewise, Gagliardi sees empty legal reforms regarding women’s rights as a “rhetoric used to thwart international criticism and domestic opposition.”[78]As a result of the disparity between Morocco’s self-professed progressive reforms in women’s rights and the stark reality facing many women, many researchers working on gender issues in Morocco conclude that despite nominally progressive legal reforms, social change is not occurring in society.

In the absence of studies of recent 2018 legal reforms regarding sexual violence, the large body of scholarly work examining the impact of the 2004 Mudawwana (Personal Status Code) reforms serves as an example of this. In her study of gender law reform in Morocco, Žvan Elliott argues that despite the seeming progressive nature of the Mudawwana reforms, which were promoted as a great step forward for women by the Moroccan state, the legal framework does not represent the social reality for women.[79] She examines Article 25, which grants women of legal majority the right to get married without their wali, as an example of this. Despite the legislative reform, official statistics from the Ministry of Justice show that less than a quarter of all brides of legal age conclude their marriage contracts by themselves.[80] In addition, these statistics do not disaggregate data to show how many of these brides did not have a legal guardian, either because they were orphans or because their father was deceased or absent. Žvan Elliott found that although, traditionally, the inability of legal reforms to bring about social change has been attributed to widespread illiteracy amongst women and a lack of awareness of legal change, women in her rural field site were aware of the reforms, but persisting traditional and conservative attitudes inherent at the societal and judiciary level inhibited social change.

Studies which only measure social change taking place in the legal sphere, for example through using statistics related to women utilising Article 25 in the case of the Mudawwana reforms, often reveal a lack of significant change. This leads academics to conclude that social non-change is occurring in Morocco with regards to women’s rights and gender issues. Although legal advocacy groups and NGOs are still in the process of gathering, monitoring, and documenting statistics regarding state and local actor performance, such as police, hospital, and justice systems, with regards to the reforms enacted by Law 103-03, it very likely that such statistics will also signal a social non-change due to a combination of social and cultural barriers as well as shortcomings within the law that prevent women from bringing forward cases of sexual violence. Such conclusions are based upon a focus on social change solely within the legal sphere and potentially overlook social change occurring in other spheres.

That social change is most commonly measured in terms of change within the legal sphere can be explained by the fact that such changes are most easily and concretely measured, for example using data from court proceedings. In addition, national and international funders demand ‘results’ from their grantees and subsequently place pressure on NGOs and women’s organisations “to demonstrate indicators of progress towards change.”[81] NGOs financed by grants are required to submit regular reports to donors justifying the use of funds, requiring quantitative data at the output level or statistics related to outcomes, such as the number of women who have filed a court case. In an effort to fit donor formats and meet demand for instant results within the limited timeframes of the one- or two-year life of a standard project grant cycle, NGOs “assess change by reporting outputs, that is, the immediate and countable products of their activities, rather than looking for more subtle but foundational changes in conditions of people’s lives.”[82]

Challenging this traditional and limited analysis of progress is essential to obtaining a more holistic and accurate picture of social change occurring with regard to gender issues in Moroccan society. In their edited collection, Women and Social Change in North Africa, Doris Gray and Nadia Sonneveld attempt to challenge this view of social change by lending “legitimacy to alternative methods for understanding social changes that defy standardized assessments.”[83] They believe that through detailed ethnographic and micro-level analysis of the aspirations and everyday realities of women, we can better understand and capture “subtle, yet sustained transformations that occur in human behaviour and relationships” and the “dimension of real life transformation that is often missed when discussing legal and policy changes.”[84] Stephanie Bordat and Saida Kouzzi, co-presidents of MRA, are putting this vision into practice by measuring social change within their organisation and promoting a multifaceted approach in measuring social change in four outcome areas. Although MRA focuses especially on legal advocacy, this holistic approach is guided by a broader vision of the law “beyond just legislation and court decisions.”[85] Bordat and Kouzzi advocate for measuring social change within four outcome areas: content outcomes, including changes in written laws and policies; structure outcomes, such as change in local actors’, NGOs’, and public institutions’ procedures, operations, systems, resources, knowledge, skills, capacities to effectively implement written law and policies; culture outcomes which involves changes in public knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, practices, and behaviours; and finally relationship outcomes, or changes in current hierarchical power relationships among people and institutions based on gender, age, socioeconomic status, education, ethnicity, and geography, consistent with human rights principles.[86] Furthermore, “these four domains do not necessarily change at the same pace, or even in a similar direction.”[87] Recent studies have revealed the value of this holistic model. O’Donnell (2018), for example, through her focus on social change in relationship outcomes, challenges the progressive image of domestic violence shelters in Morocco, revealing that the purpose of these shelters, to protect and empower women, is rarely achieved due to the reproduction of hierarchical power relationships within the shelters by the very actors supposed to be challenging these power relationships; a stay in the shelter reinforced women’s dependence on women running the establishments. Through employing a holistic model of measuring social change, O’Donnell revealed a social non-change that might otherwise have been overlooked, and has the potential to shape future NGO and government policies regarding the creation, operation, and funding of shelters.[88]

4.2  Masaktach and cultural change

Although the outlook of key legal advocacy groups and international human rights organisations on social change related to sexual VAW in Morocco within the legal domain is bleak, evaluating social change regarding sexual violence through this holistic model indicates that potentially overlooked social change may in fact be occurring in Moroccan society. The achievements of Masaktach, however limited in their scope, serve as proof of social change within the ‘culture outcomes’ area outlined by Bordat and Kouzzi. Cultural changes can include: “increased public dialogue on previously sensitive or taboo subjects, greater articulation by women of their problems, active solicitation of information and advice and challenges to previous gender-biased behaviours and practices within communities.”[89] There is no doubt that Masaktach has created an increased dialogue around the subject of sexual VAW, even if only in restricted sectors of society. Masaktach has opened up a discourse around the issue of sexual violence on social media, through the campaign’s response to the Saad Lamjarred and Khadija cases, the negative controversy that Masaktach has generated, in national and international media thanks to coverage of the movement itself, and the street campaigns carried out by the Masaktach collective and projects inspired by the Masaktach campaign, such as the day of street art, which forced people on the street to confront the issue of sexual violence. Skalli argues that “despite the persistent social silence around sexual harassment and in spite of the resilient logic of blaming the victim, the innovative anti-harassment initiatives that are emerging across North Africa seek to specifically interrupt these trends whilst creating broader societal debates about the issues,” adding that “questions that were unheard of only a few years ago, are now debated within homes, on radio stations, television programmes and increasingly in public gatherings.”[90] One profound example of this came from Zineb, who encountered a group of thirty to thirty-five older women who worked in a textile collective, and who, as a result of Masaktach, had decided to incorporate discussions around the questions Masaktach raised in their twice-weekly Quranic studies group.[91]

It could also be argued that Masaktach has also brought about changes in previously unquestioned “gender-biased behaviours.” One tangible result of this was the ban enforced on Saad Lamjarred’s music as a direct result of public opinion pressure generated by the Masaktach campaign. The issue of promoting the music of a public figure embroiled in multiple sexual violence claims had not previously been questioned on the public stage. Furthermore, Loubna believes that she is seeing changes in previously unquestioned male behaviours via “small things that I can see on the street” and that more and more people, both women and men, are intervening when they see aggressive behaviour.[92] She claimed that the awareness-spreading campaigns carried out in Rabat around the law criminalising harassment have brought about a change in male behaviour, adding that sexually aggressive behaviour “was just accepted before, but now they [men] know that it’s wrong. Just that is a great advancement.”[93] Cultural outcome changes, such as those brought about by Masaktach, can go undetected unless the possibility of social change outside of the legal sphere is both acknowledged and evaluated.

Through this research, the problems associated with promoting a more holistic approach to measuring social change, particularly within the ‘culture outcomes,’ becomes clear: cultural change outcomes are difficult to measure. Apart from large-scale public opinion surveys, which are in themselves problematic methods of measuring cultural and attitude change, there is no quantitative way of measuring cultural change, and ‘results’ tend to take the form of ethnographic or micro-level analysis, such as the anecdotes that the women activists told me about cultural changes they were witnessing. These “micro-level achievements” are not likely to satisfy donor expectations, which still demand quantitative results.[94] In addition, it is important to acknowledge that even the founders of Masaktach themselves are aware that the scope of cultural change brought about by the movement is still very limited. For example, despite everything achieved in sensitising public opinion to Saad Lamjarred’s case, a day before my interview with Loubna Rais, Moroccan model, actress, and TV presenter Leila Hadioui posted a video on Instagram with Saad Lamjarred, which Loubna described as receiving a “predominantly positive reaction,” rather than outrage that Hadioui, who had previously come forward expressing support for the Masaktach movement, could be promoting a figure who is so symbolic in the battle against sexual violence. In addition, during my 10-day stay in Rabat, two cases of rape appeared in the national headlines: on 14 July, Moroccan police arrested a man suspected of raping and murdering a ten-year-old child in Meknes, and on 18 July, police arrested eight suspects regarding a video documenting the murder and violent rape of a thirty-four-year-old woman in Rabat in June, which had gone viral on social media. These three incidents, occurring during my short stay, very much put the progress achieved by Masaktach into perspective against the monumental struggle that women in Morocco still face in the battle against sexual violence. The women behind the Masaktach campaign are realistic about this but remain positive; Loubna told me that “we will just go on and try to change one mentality at a time.”


5 – Conclusions

In conclusion, this article has provided an in-depth examination of Masaktash, one of the numerous civil society movements combatting sexual VAW that have emerged since 2011, an area that has not previously been subject to academic study. Exploring Masaktach has permitted a broader discussion of the context of sexual VAW in which the movement operates, including the legal, social, and cultural barriers facing women victims of sexual violence and the role of the media in perpetuating discourses of blame and shame. An evaluation of the criticisms of Masaktach revealed that, in many ways, these criticisms reflect common criticisms and issues inherent within Moroccan women’s organisations and NGOs, most notably the elitist nature of women’s advocacy work in Morocco.

Overall, this research aimed to advocate for a more holistic approach to measuring social change, both within academic studies and NGO work, by adding micro-level data that supports the four-outcome area model of measuring social change outlined by Bordat and Kouzzi, in particular with regards to the cultural outcome area. In doing so, the challenges of measuring social change as a cultural outcome became apparent, specifically in relation to the difficulties of obtaining concrete, measurable indicators of cultural change within society that would satisfy both academic studies and donor-driven NGO reports. Given the lack of studies concerning civil society movements tackling VAW in Morocco, further research into movements like Masaktach could provide additional evidence to support the adoption of a more holistic approach. The implications of adopting a more holistic approach to understanding and measuring social change with regards to gender issues could have wide reaching consequences, both for international funding allocations, local NGO priorities, and scholarly conclusions regarding the existence, or non-existence, of social change in North Africa.


*Ella Williams completed her MSc in Modern Middle Eastern Studies at Wolfson College in 2019 and has since been living in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. In October, she will start an AHRC funded DPhil, focussing on girls’ education in the High Atlas region.


[1] Sanja Kelly and Julia Breslin, Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance (Washington DC: Freedom House / Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010), 3.

[2] Fatima Sadiqi and Moha Ennaji, “The Feminization of Public Space: Women’s Activism, the Family Law and Social Change in Morocco,” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 2, no.2 (2006): 86-114.

[3] Abdellah El Ghazouani, Les Femmes dans L’espace Public: le Harcèlement sexuel (Casablanca: Afrique Orient, 2015).

[4] Habiba Chafai, “Contextualising street sexual harassment in Morocco: a discriminatory sociocultural representation of women,” The Journal of North African Studies 22, no.5 (2017): 821-840.

[5] Moha Ennaji, “Violence Against Women in Morocco: Advances, Contentions, and Strategies to Combat it,” Gender and Violence in the Middle East, ed. Moha Ennaji and Fatima Sadiqi (London: Routledge, 2011), 200-217.

[6] Loubna Hanna Skalli, “Young Women and Social Media Against Sexual Harassment in North Africa,” The Journal of North African Studies 19, no.2 (2014): 244-258.

[7] Danya Hajjaji, “Addressing Harassment Now,” Libyan Youth Voices (6 April 2013) Available at

[8] UN General Assembly, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (20 December 1993) A/RES/48/104. Available at

[9] Haut Commissariat au Plan, La femme marocaine en chiffres: Evolution des caractéristiques démographiques et socioprofessionnelles 2018 (Rabat: Haut-Commissariat au Plan, 2018), 119;

United States Agency for International Development, USAID/Morocco Gender Analysis 2018 (Washington DC: Banyan Global, 2018), 29.

[10] Skalli,”Young Women,” 253.

[11] Chafai, “Contextualising,” 822.

[12] Safaa Kasraoui, “Historic Law on Violence Against Women Goes into Effect September 12,” Morocco World News (12 September 2018). Available at

[13] Nouzha Skalli, “Le Maroc mérite mieux que la nouvelle loi contre la violence envers les femmes,” Middle East Eye (27 February 2018). Available at

[14] Mobilising for Rights Associates, Pourquoi faut-il amender le projet de loi 103-13? (19 January 2018). Available at

[15] Laila Lalami, “On sexual harassment,” Available at

[16] Lawrence Rosen, “Law and Custom in the Popular Legal Culture of North Africa,” Islamic Law and Society 2, no. 2 (1995): 206

[17] Peggy Reeves Sanday, Fraternity gang rape: Sex, brotherhood, and privilege on campus (New York: New York University Press, 1990).

[18] “Sexism and Rape Culture in Moroccan Social Discourse,” The Journal of Men’s Studies, 10.3 (April 2002): 366.

[19] Skalli, “Young Women,” 245.

[20] Chafai, “Contextualising,” 828.

[21] Katja Žvan Elliott, Modernizing Patriarchy: The Politics of Women’s Rights in Morocco (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015), 177.

[22] Skalli, “Young Women,” 245.

[23] Laila Lalami, “On sexual harassment. Available at

[24] Chafai, “Contextualising,” 827.

[25] Sadiqi, “The Feminization of Public Space”; Skalli “Young Women and Social Media Against Sexual Harassment in North Africa”; Khadija, Mohsen-Finan, L’image de la femme au Maghreb (Paris: Barzakh/Actes Sud, 2008), Žvan Elliott, Modernizing Patriarchy; Chafai, “Contextualising”; Mohammed Debbagh, “Discourse Analysis of the Representations of Women in Moroccan Broadcast News,” The Journal of North African Studies 17.4 (2012): pp.653–670.

[26] Quoted in “Saad Lamjarred’s case reopens Morocco violence against women debate,” The National (23 September 2018). Available at

[27] Ibid.

[28] Leila Slassi, Empowering Voices, round table held at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane (7 November 2019).

[29] Quoted in Zoubida Senoussi, “‘Khadija Wanted This’: Suspects’ Parents Speak about Rape Charges,” Morocco World News (28 August 2018). Available at

[30] Nada Hriouil, _artbynada_ Instragram page (24 August 2018). Available at

[31] Ruqaya Izzidien, “Support for Moroccan teen intensifies as alleged captors deny wrongdoing,” The National (29 August 2018). Available at

[32] Leila Slassi, Empowering Voices.

[33] Aida Alami, Empowering Voices.

[34] Leila Slassi, Empowering Voices.

[35] ‘SlutWalk Morocco.’ Available at

[36]Efda7 Mota7resh.’ Available at

[37] Zineb Belmkaddem, Empowering Voices.

[38] Interview with Loubna Rais (Rabat, 23 July 2019); Leila Slassi, Empowering Voices.

[39] Interview with Loubna Rais.

[40] Interview with Loubna Rais.

[41] Leila Slassi, Empowering Voices.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Interview with Loubna Rais.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Leila Slassi, Empowering Voices.

[47] Interview with Aida Alami (Rabat: 27 March 2019).

[48] Interview with Zineb Belmkaddem.

[49] Interview with Loubna Rais.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Interview with Zineb Belmkaddem.

[53] Interview with Loubna Rais.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Interview with Aida Alami.

[57] Interview with Zineb Belmkaddem.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Quoted in Anais Bremond and Rebecca Ratcliffe, “Morocco rape victim urges women: never remain silent,” The Guardian (26 November 2018). Available at

[60] Interview with Zineb Belmkaddem.

[61] Interview with Loubna Rais.

[62] Daoud, Féminisme et politique au Maghreb; Deneoux and Gateau, L’essor des associations au Maroc.

[63] Žvan Elliott, Modernizing Patriarchy, 3.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Loubna Hanna Skalli, “Women, Communications and Democratization in Morocco,” in From Patriarchy to Empowerment: Women’s Participation, Movements, and Rights in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, ed. Valentine M. Moghadam (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2007), 123.

[66] Skalli, “Democratization in Morocco,” 134.

[67] Fatima Sadiqi, “Morocco,” in Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance, ed. Sanja Kelly et al. (Washington DC: Freedom House / Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010), 135.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Bohdana Dimitrovova, “Reshaping Civil Society in Morocco: Boundary Setting, Integration and Consolidation,” CEPS Working Document No. 323 (15 December 2009). Available

[71] Interview with Aida Alami.

[72] Interview with Loubna Rais.

[73] Doris H. Gray and Nadia Sonneveld, Women and Social Change in North Africa: What Counts as Revolutionary? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 3.

[74] Gray and Sonneveld, Women and Social Change, 6.

[75] Katja Žvan Elliott, “Morocco and Its Women’s Rights Struggle: A Failure to Live up to Its Progressive Image,” Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies 10, no.2 (2014): 3.

[76] Silvia Gagliardi, “Violence against women: the stark reality behind Morocco’s human rights progress,” The Journal of North African Studies 23, no.4 (2018): 576.

[77] Amy Young Evrard, The Moroccan Women’s Rights Movement (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2014), 114-115.

[78] Gagliardi, “Violence against women,” 575.

[79] Žvan Elliott, Modernizing Patriarchy.

[80] Ministry of Justice 2010, 2011.

[81] Stephanie Willman Bordat and Saida Kouzzi, “Capturing Change in Legal Empowerment Programs in Morocco and Tunisia,” in Women and Social Change in North Africa: What Counts as Revolutionary? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 22.

[82]  Ibid., 24.

[83] Gray and Sonneveld, “Women and Social Change,” 2.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Bordat and Kouzzi, “Capturing Change,” 21.

[86] Bordat and Kouzzi, “Capturing Change,” 26.

[87] Ibid.

[88] Megan O’Donnell, “Safe Havens and Social Embeddedness: An Examination of Domestic Violence Shelters in Morocco,” in Women and Social Change in North Africa: What Counts as Revolutionary? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 45-68.

[89] Bordat and Kouzzi, “Capturing Change, 30.

[90] Skalli, “Young Women,” 245.

[91] Interview with Zineb Belmkaddem.

[92] Interview with Loubna Rais.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Bordat and Kouzzi, “Capturing Change,” 39.


VAW – Violence against women

ADFM – Association démocratique des femmes du Maroc

UAF – Union de l’Action Féminine

LDDF – La Ligue Démocratique Pour Les Droits De La Femme

MRA – Mobilising for Rights Associates

FLDDF – La Fédération des ligues des droits des femmes

Remembered One Hundred Years Later: Al-Salt, Transjordan, and the First World War

by Mathew Madain*

Abstract: On Easter Sunday, 1918, the townspeople of al-Salt in Transjordan, watched with horror as British forces retreated through their city: the Allied attempt to conquer Transjordan was repulsed by the Ottomans. Days earlier, they had welcomed the British as “liberators” and facilitated the invasion. Fearing retribution, six thousand civilians, preponderantly Christians, retreated with the British army to Palestine, an event recorded in military accounts. The present study elaborates on the wartime years, particularly the flight and its aftermath, from the vantage point of the Arab civilians whose lives were drastically affected during the Transjordan Raids of 1918. Drawing upon oral histories and poetry preserved by contemporary Saltis and local archives, the study characterises the wartime experience of Transjordan’s Christians as one of state-harassment and communal hardship. Through a micro-sociohistorical lens, it explores the particular experiences of the communities of al-Salt, while revealing that the region’s Muslim families—tribal allies and neighbours—demonstrated profound solidarities to local Christians, thereby mitigating the worst effects of harassment.


Memory of the First World War is alive in the Middle East. From 1914 to 1918, the region was an important battlefield and the site of immense human suffering.[1] At the centennial anniversary of the War, numerous works have emerged chronicling the tragic experiences of Ottoman minorities in Anatolia. Scholarly inquiry, to a lesser extent, has also examined the hardships of communities in Ottoman Syria. Investigating these events, also, is a crucial step towards developing a more coherent understanding of the experiences of civilians and minorities during the Great War, at the break-up of the Ottoman Empire.

Transjordan[2] was a battleground of the Arab Revolt and of three campaigns waged in 1918 by the British army against a joint Ottoman-German force. For locals of al-Salt,[3] the former administrative centre in Ottoman Transjordan, communal memory recalls the hardships of Sanat al-Hijra (c. 1918) — the ‘Year of the Exodus’ — when six thousand civilians, a vast majority of whom were Christian, fled the region in the aftermath the First Transjordan Raid (25 March – 1 April 1918). The townspeople of al-Salt had welcomed British entry, and upon British retreat, they feared violent retribution by the Ottomans. A majority of civilians retreated with the British army to Jerusalem. At the close of the War, the Christian refugees returned to al-Salt and found their homes and churches vandalised and pillaged. A century later, the ‘Exodus of 1918’ evokes painful memories for the region’s families.

The “Easter Sunday Flight of 1918”, as it has been remembered in scholarship, features in both military and social histories of the Great War, primarily through the diaries and correspondences of the British military and humanitarian personnel who witnessed the retreat to Palestine. This article builds upon earlier scholarship by incorporating Arabic sources gathered in Jordan in 2018. The memoirs and poems of the Salti townsmen who lived through the crisis have been preserved in family papers and local archives. Local newspapers and charity appeals attest to the physical destruction of homes, shops, and churches in 1918. Interviews with twenty-one Jordanian academics also influenced my work, as did visits to Great War collections in Amman at the Centre for Manuscripts and Archives, the National Library of Jordan, the Council for British Research in the Levant, the American Center for Oriental Research, and the Institut Français du Proche-Orient. Some of the most vivid accounts of this flight have been passed down orally. This work analyses over thirty oral history accounts related to me from May-August 2018 by the children and grandchildren of Salti Christians who fled in 1918, henceforth referred to as “elders”. Narratives from local Muslim “elders” are also included. Oral narratives are among the few local sources available that elaborate on the wartime experience from the point of view of the civilians who experienced its hardships. In agreement with Andrew Shryock (1997), author of an influential ethnography on the tribal communities of al-Balqa’, I recognise that the passage of time and socio-political concerns affect the presentation of tribal oral histories. Nonetheless, they are promulgations of a received historical tradition, exhibiting remarkable veracity and confluence with written documentation.[4]

The elders of al-Salt spoke not only of the hardships endured by their forebears under the repressive wartime administration of Ottoman governor Jemal Pasha, but also of resistance to the harsh wartime dictates. Lucid tales also illuminate how they affected the course of war during the Spring of 1918.

Further, these narratives provide insight into interreligious relations during the wartime years. Scholarship has recognized that Transjordan was once home to a culture of religious toleration, where relations between Muslims and Christians were relatively more comradely and peaceful than those found in other regions of Ottoman Syria. However, the advent of European missionaries in the late-nineteenth century precipitated a period of inter-confessional tension, which at times threatened to erupt into violence. By the end of the century, Transjordan is believed to have become a land divided by sectarian tensions. The sources examined in this article, however, testify to the presence of interreligious solidarities into the Great War period and more specifically during the turbulence of 1918. Muslims are remembered as having been the first to warn Christians of the changing military balance and that they should flee an approaching and vengeful Turkish army. Neighbours provided refuge to Christians who were unable to retreat with the British army to Palestine. Other tribesmen stewarded over the belongings of Christians in their exile. Further, poems relay the lamentation of Salti Muslim notables in the aftermath of the flight from the region and convey an ardent desire for their return.

Inspection of these accounts reveals an additional facet: The Muslims who warned and acted in solidarity with vulnerable Christians in 1918 were largely members of tribes with whom Christian clans had shared long-standing alliances. Oral histories relay that these alliances were formed in the centuries preceding direct Ottoman administration (c. 1867), when the region was an unincorporated frontier, an era dubbed the “Age of Shaykhs.[5] This article highlights that these alliances endured well into the later decades of Ottoman rule, even into the Great War Period. They were visible through the acts of solidarity by Muslim tribesmen towards the region’s Christian clans, the targets of an official policy of harassment during the wartime years.

Relations between the Muslim and Christian clans of al-Salt during, and in the aftermath, of the Great War could thus be characterised as one in which tribal and interreligious solidarities played a defining role. The region’s Christians indeed endured the hardships of a wartime ‘fifth column,’[6] an experience to be elaborated upon in this study. However, as I aim to show, the neighbourly solidarities of the region’s Muslim tribes mitigated some of the worst effects of government harassment.

To demonstrate this, the article begins with an overview of wartime conditions of communities across Ottoman Syria, with a focused summary of civilian experiences in Transjordan and the military background to the First Transjordan Raid. It then utilises oral history and memoir accounts to augment our understanding of socio-economic conditions in al-Salt and its neighbouring villages during the Great War. The Flight of 1918 is examined at length through preserved oral histories. The article then describes the wartime ravaging of al-Salt and the village of al-Fuhays, and chronicles the return of refugee communities to the region in early1919. Moreover, it engages in literary analysis of poetry exchanged by eminent Muslim and Christian shaykhs during 1918-19 to demonstrate the robustness of tribal solidarities. In concluding, the article discusses the complexities of commemoration of the flight in an era of heightened extremist threat.


By the centennial anniversary of the Great War, scholars have made remarkable strides into narrating the wartime experiences of civilian communities. Historians of the Middle East have recently concentrated on the experiences of ethno-religious minority communities at the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. The Armenian Genocide, the largest civilian catastrophe of the Great War in the Middle East, has received renewed attention, alongside the mass atrocities against Greek and Assyrian minority communities in Asia Minor. Until recently, historiography on the Arabic-speaking provinces has largely presented military and diplomatic histories, rather than social histories. Historians have, of recent, produced social histories of the Great War, through Western and local archival sources and Arabic “popular sources” (including oral histories, diaries, memoirs, and poems). Salim Tamari’s Year of the Locust (2011) provides insight into the Ottoman Arab soldier experience, with commentary on the experiences of Jerusalemites.[7] Talha Çiçek’s War and State Formation in Syria (2016) provides an account of the wartime policies pursued by the provisional government of Djemal Pasha.[8] Leila Fawaz’s A Land of Aching Hearts (2014) details the experiences of soldiers and civilians throughout Syria, with a focus on the communities of Mount Lebanon.[9] Melanie Tanelian’s The Charity of War (2018) provides an insightful account of famine that affected the communities of Mount Lebanon and Beirut. [10] Collectively, these narratives describe a period of “Safarbarlik” (taken from the Ottoman Turkish Seferberlik, meaning ‘general mobilization’), in which the inhabitants of Ottoman Syria contributed to the war effort through both military and economic service (i.e. conscription, requisition, and rationing). The Safarbarlik period was also a time of widespread communal suffering — of famines, pestilence, and violence that decimated populations throughout Ottoman Syria.[11] Scholars have long recognized that the Christian communities of Ottoman Syria experienced additional pressures, as perceived sympathizers with the Allies and potential ‘enemies of the state.’[12]

Transjordan, though a critical battleground between Turkish-German and Arab-British forces and a site of communal tragedy, figures rather infrequently in Syrian Safarbarlik accounts. Nonetheless, Eugene Rogan’s acclaimed Frontiers of the State (1999) features an exceptional overview of socio-economic conditions in Transjordan during the War through analysis of Ottoman administrative records, British military correspondences, and European missionary histories. Rogan’s study, further, richly incorporates local narratives: The memoirs of ‘Awda Qussus (1877-1943), a Christian lawyer from Karak, and Salih Tall (1897-1949), a Muslim grain clerk of ‘Ajlun, highlight the particular experiences of communities in Karak, Madaba, and Irbid. It remains, twenty years later, the definite starting point for further inquiry into the wartime experience in Transjordan.

The Great War in Transjordan: Requisition, Rationing, and a ‘Christian Fifth Column’

The communities of Transjordan were largely subject to economic, rather than military service. In all but the northern ‘Ajlun district, conscription was not pursued. Economic service took the forms of rationing, to offset the impact of the 1915 French naval blockade of Ottoman Mediterranean ports, and requisitioning of grain, livestock, foodstuffs, and gold liras, in return for banknotes. The government maximized requisitioning from the Christians of Madaba, which reduced the town to a state of penury.[13]

The outbreak of the Arab Revolt on 5 June 1916 in the Hijaz sought to complement the British army’s designs to conquer Palestine from the Ottomans. Transjordan, the strategic buffer zone between Palestine, Damascus, and the Hijaz, took on new strategic importance to the Ottomans. Government officials went to great lengths to preserve the loyalties of Bedouin tribesmen and Muslim town notables through the award of honours and stipends. However, local Christians were singled out for their former reliance on European diplomatic protection. They were suspected for their sympathies to Russia, France, and Britain, and treated as a ‘fifth column’ for much of the war. Christian notables across Madaba and Karak were arrested, sent to detention centres in Damascus, and later exiled to Anatolia. The period also witnessed repression against Christian missionary churches and schools. Though some tribes did answer the call to revolt, on the whole, the Bedouins remained firmly in the Ottoman camp. In al-Balqa’, an armed Circassian regiment was tasked with gathering intelligence and arresting those suspected of aiding the Arab rebels or the Allies.[14]

Following the capture of ‘Aqaba by Amir Faysal ibn Husayn in July 1917, Transjordan became the main theatre of the Arab Revolt. General Edmund Allenby conceived of the Arab Army as the ‘eastern flank’ of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF), which by November 1917 had captured Jerusalem. By February 1918, Jericho was in Allied hands. Allenby then sought to secure the strategic Jericho–Amman axis, which would cut the Hijaz Railway supplying the Ottoman garrison in Medina, divide the Ottoman lines of communication, and unite forces with the Arab Army. The German Otto Liman von Sanders, commander of the Ottoman Fourth Army, was determined to prevent this.[15]

On 25 March 1918, the EEF entered al-Salt unopposed. Local townsmen welcomed British forces, fired on the retreating Ottoman forces, and proceeded to loot government offices. The EEF Cavalry then proceeded to Amman, where they conducted raids along the Hijaz Railway. Ottoman and German forces repulsed the EEF attack for three days from the strategic heights of the Amman Citadel. Ottoman reinforcements crossed over from Palestine, and German airplanes bombed the EEF supply depot. Both armies were at risk of collapse. Otto Liman von Sanders gave orders for “resistance to the last,” and with Ottoman soldiers rushing to the front, Allenby gave orders for withdrawal.[16]

The failure of the First Transjordan campaign endangered those who had facilitated British entry. Salti townspeople who had fired on retreating Ottoman soldiers, sacked government buildings, or voluntarily served with the EEF now feared certain retribution. Rogan narrates that the Christians of al-Salt felt particularly vulnerable and saw no choice but to retreat with the British Army on 31 March, 1918, which fell on Easter Sunday. British military accounts relay that 3,871 Christians and 278 Muslims fled Salt and were resettled in Jerusalem to sit out the rest of the war. Hundreds more sought refuge among relatives in Bethlehem and Hebron within the British-occupied zone. Approximately 1,600 Armenians also fled to Jerusalem. This would suggest that over 6,000 civilians fled al-Salt during the course of the First Transjordan campaign.[17]

The diaries of British military personnel describe the dire situation of the refugees of Salt during their flight:

“One young man is carrying his grandfather on his back… He carries him 13 miles!!! Women and men and children are bent nearly double under the tremendous bundles and they cap the lot with a saucepan or washing bowl…on their heads. Bullocks get in the way of armoured cars, camels stumble over over-loaded donkeys.”[18]

Beatrice Erskine’s 1924 recounting of the flight details that the refugees of al-Salt retreated largely on foot with the British army to Jericho, from where they were transported to Jerusalem by lorries and housed in tents until the Armistice of November 1918.[19] Such sources capture British vulnerability after a formidable Ottoman repulsion and convey the following: the security of al-Salt’s families was endangered due to the British army’s withdrawal, and in a zone of safety, namely British-occupied Palestine, the refugees were administered to by Allied humanitarians.

The pages that follow elaborate on the wartime years through narratives recounted in 2018 by Salti elders. None directly experienced the war years, but have preserved testimonies from their parents and grandparents who did, in fact, experience the hardships of the First World War. Further, the 1935 memoir of Khalil Samawi, a native of al-Fuhays, reflects on the author’s experience as a youth during the war. Contemporaneous poems by tribal shaykhs, preserved both orally and textually, vividly represent the pain of the wartime years and provide insight into friendships between Muslim and Christian allies during the turmoil.

The Great War Era: ‘Economic Safarbarlik’ and ‘Turkumān Oppression’

The oral histories collected for this project describe a regional persecution, largely at the hands of the local agents of Turkish administration, the migrant Circassian and Chechen communities who began settling al-Balqa’ in the 1880s.

Elders of al-Fuhays describe their advent as the start of a ghazwih (“a raiding war”), conceptually linking the presence of such migrants to communal memories of territorial dispossession of earlier centuries.[20] Fierce Bedouin raiding in the eighteenth century upon agricultural villages forced several communities, including the families of al-Fuhays, to migrate to al-Salt.[21] This migration lasted until the Ottomans administered the region, bringing territorial security. Yet, within one generation of resettling of al-Fuhays, Circassian communities settled on arable lands that local Saltis claimed as part of their tribal domains.[22] When the Circassians were armed and endowed with policing powers over the local Arabs through service in the Jandarma, the power imbalance gradually acquired the dynamic of ghazu, or raids, against the Arab villagers.

The numerous hardships experienced during the Great War – exile, requisitioning, and assaults on local churches – are often recalled with reference to such migrant communities — the “agents of Turkish oppression.”[23] Like in Madaba, Christian elders from al-Salt recall requisitioning of agricultural products and livestock. Elders of al-Fuhays speak of ghazawat (plural, raids) upon their grain fields. An elder from al-Rumaymin relates that homes were searched to enforce rationing. It is likely that government policies of agricultural requisitioning were more intensely directed towards the region’s Christian families who often stewarded over landed estates. While Muslim clans were, at times, exempted from paying taxes, demands on Christians remained throughout the war.[24] Elders recall this period as one which “unjustly” depleted their wealth in grain and livestock. Memories of wartime depletion abound: “You could never eat with satiety during Turkish times.” Some even recall intense hunger: “We, who were once well-fed, during the war were desperate, and used to search for grain in the dung for our bread.”[25]

Memories of sukhra (conscription) were frequently recounted by Christian elders. One form of conscripted labour was the gathering of locusts into pails to offset the 1915 Locust plague.[26] Another was the command to chop down the region’s treasured malūl oak trees to fuel trains running on the Hijaz railway. Such memories implicate the Ottomans with bringing environmental destruction upon al-Balqa’, a land imagined as once covered with malūl (though few trees remain today).[27]

Elders recall the repression inflicted upon the men of al-Salt and al-Fuhays whose loyalties to the Ottomans were suspected, especially following the outbreak of the Arab Revolt in June 1916.[28] These narratives, too, involve the migrant communities, who, after June 1916, patrolled al-Balqa for suspected collaborators with the Arab Rebels or the Allies. In narratives, armed militiamen were commonly referred to as “Turkuman.” As in Madaba, Salti Christian notables were exiled to Anatolia due to what is remembered as “pro-Arab activity.”[29] Elders from al-Fuhays recall that over a dozen of the town’s young men were imprisoned and exiled.[30] However, the late Dr Raouf Abujaber (b. 1925-2020), whose uncle, Sa’id, was arrested in 1917, relates that Mashar b. Fayiz, shaykh of the Bani Sakhir tribe, forcefully negotiated and demanded his release, threatening to join the Arab Revolt if his ally remained imprisoned: “If one hair of Sa’id is dropped, I will revolt from Mada’in Salih [in the Hijaz] to Bab Salih [Damascus].” The Ottoman commander sought to prevent an escalation of the ‘Arab Revolt’ and complied with his demands.[31] This instance suggests that Muslim tribesmen were able to harness their privileges vis-à-vis the Ottoman state to assist Christian notables suspected for collaborating with the Allies.

While some elders recalled the period as one of “regional persecution”[32] by Ottoman authorities, others recalled a virulent “Christian persecution,” due to “Turkish ‘fanaticism.’” Catholic churches were converted into stables and missionary schools were shut down. Orthodox churches were forbidden from holding services.[33]  

Narratives suggest also that “Turkuman” assault of local women was not uncommon. Yet, these are often remembered through heroic instances of resistance to the militias. A female elder from al-Fuhays relates:

“My grandmother was filling water at ‘Ayn al-Rahib (a well adjacent to the Catholic church of al-Fuhays). An armed Turkuman approached and was forcing himself upon her. She tied him up, threw him a few meters, killed him, and led his body to Rus al-Bayadir [the village’s central high point] for all the Fuhaysis to see.”[34]

Narratives relate the brutal treatment that militiamen inflicted upon several local families—“our men were always whipped.”[35] Elders recalled an infamous commander of the Circassian unit remembered as Muhammad Ghadhab (“Muhammad the Wrathful”), who tortured and killed many of the townsmen.[36] His “tyranny,” though, was eventually challenged by young men from al-Fuhays in early 1918. As related by an elder:

 “One day, my late uncle said: ‘Shall this man continue oppressing the Fuhaysiya? I will go to confront him!’ Muhammad Ghadab immediately sought to kill him. But my uncle was strong and ambitious. He hit the ‘Turkuman’ with a stone, which caused him to fall from his horse and there my uncle killed him. Of course, the Turks sought to avenge them.”[37]

Instances like these portray the bitter state of relations between the people of al-Salt and the Ottoman district militia during the War. The ‘Muhammad Ghadab Affair’ occurred days before the EEF journeyed across the Jordan River. The memoirs of Khalil Samawi recall that the zu’ama (eminent elders) of Muslim and Christian clans in Salt had met and dispatched a letter to General Allenby asking for “protection” in March 1918.[38] Soon enough, they were to receive sign of the British army’s arrival.

The British Transjordan Raid of March 1918 and the Flight to Jerusalem

The arrival of the EEF on 25 March 1918 signalled the end of Ottoman rule to many in al-Salt. Young men proceeded to raid centres of Ottoman power, including the government hall. Men from al-Fuhays joined in and raided the district militia outpost in al-Hummar, along the road that connects al-Salt to al-Fuhays, and proceeded to attack the Circassian settlement at Suwaylih. The Salti rebels inflicted sizeable casualties on militiamen, as well as on Caucasian civilians. The arrival of the British was for them an opportunity to settle old scores. Elders interviewed mentioned the desire to return ancestral lands to local tribal ownership, by ridding them of the settler communities, as the main motivation for launching these attacks.[39] These attacks were crucial in clearing the town of Ottoman defenders and enabling the EEF to proceed to Amman unopposed.

Days later, news of British retreat came with a terrifying jolt, prompting panic. Elders commonly related the fear that a massacre against the region’s Christians was imminent. Oral histories augment our understanding of how Salti families experienced the flight. Travel was largely on foot or on pack-animals.[40] Saltis carried numerous articles, like blankets, grain, pans, and foodstuffs, though a majority of household goods were not brought along. The flight was carried out in the dark of night by the people of Salt and in the morning by the villagers of al-Fuhays, who took hidden and dangerous routes to avoid being spotted by the Germans or the approaching Ottoman army. Some elderly members of the community were unable to make the journey and stayed behind.[41]

The flight is recalled with scenes of desperation, which convey the apocalyptic aura with which it is remembered. One such scene is the aerial bombardment of the fleeing refugees, which evidently led to casualties:

“German planes were shooting at those fleeing. Among them was a newlywed couple from al-Salt. The groom was riding his donkey when a small bomb hit him, and he perished. His bride stood there, paralyzed. Those near his wife said: ‘He’s gone, what can you do. Let’s keep walking.’ And they grabbed her by the hand.”[42]

Many of the elders interviewed in 2018 provided stories of their parents who were children during the flight of 1918, reflecting on particular challenges that children faced:

“My mother, Jamilah Salim al-Autallah was born in 1912. She was alive at the time of the Hijra (Exodus), she was six years old. When they fled, she and her cousin weren’t able to walk. My grandfather could not carry them both so he tucked them in saddle bags, each one in a corner for balance [of the donkey]. When they were to cross the River, it was very difficult for them.”[43]

Other parents, under these drastic circumstances, felt pressured to leave their children behind:

“My eldest uncle, Farhan, had five children. When they had reached Wadi Shu’aib, Farhan shouted to his wife, who was carrying their 40-day-old son, Salih: ‘I have enough kids – leave this one behind. Let someone else take him!’ She was afraid, so she wrapped the child and left him near the bushes.”[44]

Torrential rains made the journey through al-Balqa’s mountainous terrain even more difficult. Crossing the flooded banks of the Jordan River also proved challenging:

“The English had made portable bridges out of rubber (cowshuk) to help the people cross over. [My uncle] and was hovering over people as they crossed and said: ‘Oh Fuhaysis, beware! If your foot slips you shall surely perish.’”[45]

In this climate of anxiety, survival was not perceived as guaranteed, especially for children, the most vulnerable of those who fled:

 “I recall my grandmother […] who fled when she was eight years old. She was carrying her sister, a forty day-old infant. […] When they reached the Jordan River, all of them said: ‘Throw her! Throw her in the River. Do you really believe she’ll survive to reach Jerusalem?’ But she insisted – ‘I won’t throw my sister’ – and kept carrying her, walking barefoot, until they reached Jerusalem.”[46]

Besides the very elderly and the handicapped, the entire Christian population of al-Salt fled in 1918. Over two-hundred Muslims fled as well. It is estimated that over 6,000 civilians fled. Those who journeyed with the British army to Jericho were later resettled in Jerusalem.

Salti elders speak more prominently of “British protection” of Christians during the Transjordan campaign.[47] In this, it is suggested that Christians residing in al-Salt witnessed the army retreat through the town on 31 March, witnessing the drastically-altered military balance.[48] Elders of  al-Fuhays, a town separated from al-Salt by six kilometres, do not mention witnessing the British army retreat. Rather, they overwhelmingly convey that Muslims from al-Salt came to bring warning to their ancestors of the impending danger:

“Salti Muslims were the ones to warn the Christians that the Turks were returning – “flee!”. They sent one running in the middle of the night saying: ‘Flee, because they will come to kill you all.’” [49]

Elders identify the eminent Muhammad al-Hussein al-‘Awamlih (b. 1880-1941),  shaykh of the ‘Awamlih pact, as the first to give the warning.[50] Another source suggests that a leading tribesman of the ‘Adwan, encamped near the battlegrounds in Amman, witnessed the changing military dynamic and came to warn the Christians of al-Fuhays.[51]

The ‘Adwan and ‘Awamlih tribes had developed alliances with the clans of al-Fuhays in the centuries preceding direct Ottoman administration over Transjordan (c. 1867). Of these accords, the one with the ‘Adwan tribe is the oldest, dating to the mid-seventeenth century. The khuwa ila-al-abad (‘eternal alliance’) between the two communities was a result of a joint effort to overthrow Amir Al-Mahdawi, a local leader who was perceived as an oppressor and a transgressor of social norms. The ‘Mahdawi Affair’ ushered in ‘Adwan-hegemony over the Balqa’ which lasted until the 1860s.[52] The accord with the ‘Awamlih pact dates to the eighteenth century. Fierce raiding by desert Bedouins had reduced settlement in al-Balqa’ to the town of al-Salt.[53] The clans of al-Fuhays sought refuge in the ‘Awamlih quarter of al-Salt, providing valiant horsemen to its neighbourhood pact. Even upon the resettling of al-Fuhays in 1870, ‘Awamlih pact solidarity still united the two communities.[54] It was, as well, an interreligious solidarity. An elder from al-Fuhays commented, “I don’t say ‘Muslims’ and ‘Christians’, because the ‘Awamlih were Salti Muslims and Fuhaysi Christians—they were one tribe.[55]

These longstanding Muslim tribal allies sought to protect the families of al-Fuhays from violent retribution by the Ottoman Fourth Army. While revealing the steadfastness of tribal allies, these warnings further indicate that Muslims took personal responsibility for ensuring the security of the region’s Christians. The tribesmen’s warnings of the changing military situation were the first signal of the imminent threat of Ottoman vengeance, which would soon ensue.

The Memoir of Khalil Samawi describes the journey of a young man who hastily ran from al-Fuhays to al-Salt at dawn break and encountered an evacuated town. Yet, finding a British commander still in the city who told him his people should also flee, he ran back in haste and notified his community.[56] Sources further recall that the flight of villagers from al-Fuhays happened late-morning Easter Monday, what would appear a half-day later than the night-time flight of Salti families.[57]

Oral history narratives corroborate military diaries which record that 278 Salti Muslims also retreated with the British army.[58] Oral histories suggest that these were largely members of the ‘Awamlih pact, who took part in the looting of government buildings and attacked a military post and a Chechen settlement together with Christians. Christian elders recall that they fled “with them,” evoking the sense of unity that is believed to have characterised the relationship of their ancestors to the larger ‘Awamlih neighbourhood pact.[59]

Similarly, several narratives attest to the trust that the villagers of al-Fuhays had in the Muslim families of the neighbouring village of Mahis. It contained a shrine to al-Khadir (St George), which the Christians of al-Fuhays frequented for devotion. They developed amiable relations with the Muslims of Mahis who also used the shrine for worship.[60] En route to Jerusalem, dozens of Christians first passed by the homes of neighbours in Mahis and deposited valuable belongings there for safekeeping.[61]

Moreover, narratives suggest the Christians of al-Salt actively resisted the attempts of ‘foreigners’ to cast the flight in sectarian terms. A narrative relates that a missionary Catholic priest who served in al-Salt was preaching along the route of flight to console the wearied villagers. When the speech shifted to deriding the Turks and local Muslims, he was aggressively interrupted: “It’s not your time, Father! Shut up, shut up!”[62] Muslim tribal allies were active in mitigating danger to the region’s Christians. Al-Balqa’ during the war was not a “coexistent paradise,” but tribal alliances, neighbourly relations, and friendships were to prove durable and resilient during this turbulent period.

‘The Year of Exile’ 

“All along the way we passed the poor unfortunate refugees, trecking [sic], walking, dragging themselves along. Men, boys, girls, old men, babies, all sorts and ages. Poor beggars. Some got a lift in limbers. I took one or two of the kiddies on my saddle … Howard had one and many of the boys had kiddies on their camels.”[63]

Scholarship on the flight of al-Salt’s Christians communicates the notion of “retreat” with the British army to Palestine, portraying the Saltis as refugees and recipients of Allied humanitarian aid. Numerous elders recall that their ancestors resided in the hospices of the Russian Compound after their arrival to Jerusalem, where they were attended to by Allied humanitarian organizations.[64] While there is no doubt as to the prominence of British humanitarian care, oral histories allude to several alternative locations of refuge during the eight-month-long sojourn in Palestine.

Refuge was also provided by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, to which the majority of the Christians belonged. Elders of the Smairat clan recall that their forefathers visited the Patriarchate in early April 1918 seeking support. Families were settled in Jerusalem monasteries and were given food and clothing.[65] Refuge was also provided by the families of Jerusalem, who took-in several Salti women and children.

There were, in 1918, several men from al-Salt who were employed in Jerusalem and other parts of Palestine. These, too, took in family members.[66] In this poem, the young Salīm al-Smaīrat (b. 1880) welcomes the za’īm of his clan, Ya’qūb, enchanting him in a gesture of hospitality:

Delight has abounded on this day of your arrival.
Welcome to him, who the whole city enchants.
Welcome to him who departed from the pursuers.
A crisis brought upon your arrival,

But for us it is a reason for gladness.
Behold the house which normally receives wayfarers (Ibn al-Sabil)-
Never has the host closed its doors to a guest – a guest faring in distress.
Reside here delightfully, with the grace that your presence brings.
You, the most eminent shall surely, after sojourning, return

It is also recalled that families sought refuge among Palestinian clans with whom they shared distant ancestry. Palestinian villages – al-‘Izariyeh, Bait Sahoūr, Bīrzeīt, and ‘Ayn ‘Arīq – received hundreds of Salti Christians.[68] Among those who sheltered Christians in Palestine were Muslim families. Members of al-Salt’s wealthy Christian merchant families were generously received in the homes of Muslim merchants of the ‘Eriqāt family in Abū Dīs.[69] The memory of receiving the hospitality of Palestinian families in 1918 played a role in solidifying ties with the families of al-Salt in later decades. One elder remarked: “We came to them as refugees in 1918—and we received them as refugees in 1948,”[70] suggesting that memories of the flight to Palestine may have indeed encouraged the families of al-Salt to respond to Palestinians fleeing the Nakba with open arms. A young man whose family settled in al-Fuhays after fleeing Palestine in 1948 conveyed that the Exodus of 1918 signifies to him a critical linkage of his family history—both past and present.[71]

Numerous Christians in al-Salt, however, were unable to make the journey to safety in British-occupied Palestine. Nonetheless, several found refuge in the Balqa’ region, in the homes of their Muslim neighbours and traditional allies. Salim Samawi, brother of the aforementioned memoirist, sought refuge in the encampments of the neighbouring (Muslim) Ziud tribe, as his mother was an elderly woman who could not make the journey to Palestine—and they were received warmly.[72] The Christian villagers of al-Rumaymin also sensed danger to their town in April 1918 and fled, but not to Jerusalem. Nearly half sought refuge in the encampments of the ‘Abbad tribe, and another half were sheltered by the ‘Adwan tribe.[73] Even the Muslim tribes surrounding Madaba, who once had antagonistic relations with Christians who settled the town in the 1880s, received several Christian and Muslim families from al-Salt in this hour of need. The poems of Zidan al-Suways speak with fondness of the bonds between the Muslim and Christian families that fled to Madaba in 1918.[74]

These instances nuance the notion of retreat with the British army. Though Allied assistance played a significant role in ministering to Christian Salti refugees, refuge was also a matter of kinship and tribal alliances. Christians received the hospitality of neighbouring Muslims, even after working to undermine Ottoman “Muslim” authority in the region.     

The endurance of interreligious solidarity is apparent in the responses of Muslim tribesmen to the absence of the Christians from the region. Some provided refuge to Christians seeking shelter, and others poetically lamented their absence. Narratives recall that, from time to time, the families of al-Salt would send out young men to secretly inspect their lands across the Jordan.[75] One “inspector” encountered Sulaiman al-Kayid of al-Salt, an eminent shaykh of the ‘Awamlih clan, who, in grief, recited this poem, dated to the summer of 1918:

Oh Spring of the ‘Alali, what has befallen you?
Your appearance has changed and your beauty has faded.
Your ruins are so many, why is this your state?
You were once flowing in jubilation.
By God, tell me what has befallen you?
Truth was the clear fire that lighted your lantern.

It answered me, saying:

‘My bosom friends have left me as exiles.
The times have changed on them.
They have left me and departed.
I have become after them a city of ghosts.
Wonders have I seen, and in perplexity am I.
Tears gush forth upon my cheek.

I clap the palms of my hands:[76]
Where are my protectors?
My defenders have left me,
And in my fear I scream:
Where are the Samawiyyah?
Bring unto me men of their liking.
Sulaiman and Issa, and ‘Awais al-Juhjahi;
Tu’aimah, abu-Sulaiman,
The valiant horseman.
So many times have their spears fought for me.

Oh God the worshipped, I implore you:
Oh God, unite them here to me, that in them I may rejoice’.[77],

In the context of Transjordan’s tribal culture, a water spring was understood as a metonym for the community that retrieved water from it. For centuries, ’Ayn al-‘Alali was the most prominent water spring that flowed in al-Fuhays. Metaphorically (and perhaps, literally), approaching the water spring to recount these mournful verses, Suleiman al-Kayed speaks unto the exiled community of al-Fuhays, lamenting both their absence and the pillaging against their town. In a personified reply, the water spring laments the loss of her protectors, the valiant men of al-Fuhays, specifically those of the Samawiyya clan, and implores God to return them. The qasida reveals an intimate and authentic solidarity shown to the exiled Christians of al-Fuhays by a member of their neighbourhood pact who longed for their return and restoration.

The return to al-Salt

 “When the Saltese had returned to their homes they found that the Turks and Germans had not only looted all their possessions, they had even taken away all the wood used in the houses, including the roofs, door-posts and window fittings. The town was in a desperate condition, thronged with idle men. The fields were laying fallow, but there were no ploughs or tools and the blacksmiths had no metal to make new ones.”[78]

On 21 September 1918, General Allenby led a third and final raid into al-Balqa’, and four days later Amman was firmly in Allied hands. The Ottoman Army retreated through Syria and Anatolia.[79] The exiled families of al-Salt returned to a distressing scene. Yet narratives affirm the stewardship of Muslim neighbours and the enduring forms of community that linked them to the tribes of al-Salt.

Narratives recall returning to vandalized and pillaged towns, the violent deaths of elders who were not able to flee, and the destruction of a local church. The homes of Christians were found to be looted of furniture, linens, planting and harvesting tools, kitchen items, foodstuffs, and jewellery.[80] Granaries and mills were vandalized. The families of al-Fuhays similarly returned to find physical destruction; narratives further recall the deaths of as many as fourteen elderly men and women who were unable to seek refuge outside of the town. They were found with desecrated corpses. The killings are remembered as the ‘Massacre of al-Fuhays,’ and some regard those who died as ‘martyrs.’[81] Several elders discussed the pillaging enacted upon the church of St George in al-Fuhays. A letter published by the Orthodox Benevolent Society of Madaba (1919) attests to the destruction, describing the looting of its icons, liturgical vessels, and furniture, burning of the internal sanctuary, and the wrecking of the external cross adorning the roof of the church. The letter laments the condition of al-Fuhays, al-balad al-mankuba (“the town befallen by catastrophe”). [82] Of all the scenes, the destruction of the church’s cross provides the greatest indication of anti-Christian intent in the pillaging. Though it has since been restored, an elder remarked that he wishes it was left in its damaged state, so that the community would not forget the “persecution” they endured.[83]

Beatrice Erskine explicitly inculpates the enemy Turks and Germans for this destruction, yet oral histories speculate as to who was responsible. While a majority suggest the Ottoman Fourth Army and the militiamen as culprits, others hint at desert Bedouins sharing a part.[84] Germans, fellow Christians, were not perceived as those who would have destroyed Christian property and lives. The pillaging and destruction were likely enacted by a combination of Ottoman soldiers, militiamen, and desert Bedouins – and at different times between April-September 1918.

Narratives assert, however, that tribal allies did not participate in the pillaging of Christian homes. In contrast, they acknowledge the role of Muslim neighbours who stewarded over the belongings of Christians. It was previously mentioned that several Christian families, who departed al-Fuhays in April 1918, deposited some of their belongings in homes of their trusted neighbours in Mahis. Narratives suggest, further, that after flight, men from Mahis took initiative to protect additional Christian property:

“As England was defeating Turkey, the ‘Urbān [desert nomads] raided al-Fuhays – even taking the doors of al-Fuhays – and stealing them. But Ahl-Mahis (the clans of Mahis) were protectors for the Fuhaysiya. They picked up the valuable belongings of the Fuhaysis and preserved them until they returned.”[85]

An elder from Mahis describes, “After the Fuhaysis had departed, we went to some homes to collect what had remained so that the Turks wouldn’t steal them.”[86] In his ethnography, Shryock discusses a similar narrative relayed by ‘Abbad tribesmen, who allegedly stewarded over the Bisharat estate in al-Salt against threatened raids by desert Bedouins.[87] That such instances are related by both Muslim and Christian elders lends credibility to the notion that some Muslim tribal allies and neighbours actively worked to mitigate the extent of plunder for Christian families.

Following months of war, the region was in a desperate state. The Damascus-based al-‘Asimah (the official newspaper of the Faysali Hashemite State) issued a column in early 1919 which discusses the relief and rebuilding efforts of the American Red Cross and the British government in al-Salt. These activities included distributing wood for rebuilding homes and shops, seeds for replanting fields, and livestock for reconstituting herds. The column also suggests that the Faysali government partnered in rebuilding al-Salt (though the scope of such aid was probably limited).[88] Within years, homes and shops were rebuilt, fields were again cultivated, and herds of livestock grew to their pre-war extent. Attempts were also underway to reconstruct the Orthodox church in al-Fuhays. The aforementioned appeal by the Madaba Society sought to solicit donations for rebuilding from “fellow Syrians in the homeland” and those working “abroad in the Americas.”[89] Exile, though traumatic, connected previously isolated villagers to urban communities across Palestine and, among them, migrants who journeyed abroad seeking better economic fortunes. The refugees’ time in Jerusalem is also credited with enhancing the cultural development of the town, exposing them to modern technologies and improved education. Some women are remembered as returning from Jerusalem “wearing berets.”[90] Further, this appeal is one indication of changing political identifications within al-Balqa’. The appeal is to “fellow Syrians,” al-Fuhays is described as among the Palestinian cities of Syria, and it references the “Arab fatherland.”[91]

The withdrawal of the Ottoman army signalled the dawn of a new era. Ottoman political administration and presence, which began in earnest only seven decades earlier, had been ousted by the British and Faysal’s forces. In the immediate aftermath of the Great War, that which would replace the Ottomans was uncertain. Transjordan entered an interregnum period of administration by regional governments.[92]

In this era of political uncertainty, the remarkable constancy of tribal alliances within al-Salt is evident. The following qasida composed by Jiries Sulaiman Samawi, a Christian of al-Fuhays, in mid-1919 replies explicitly to the earlier lamentation of Sulaiman al-Kayid al-‘Awamlih of al-Salt:

Tell Abu ‘Arif his word reached us.
Long live the message and he who sent it.

The Spring of the ‘Alali is today exceedingly radiant,
Like a young girl jubilant with blush.
This is our land, though we endured harshness for its sake.
We are for it defenders, in groups and in a multitude of fighters.
Victory from the hand of God unto men is given.

On this day al-Samawi[93] came back to fulfil her desire.
He is like an Arabian horse in battle.
His fathers before him, likewise, were victorious.
Shakir also, the generous host, returned with his men.

It [the water spring] rejoiced and shouted:
‘Welcome to all those who had departed!
Oh, how I longed for the ‘Sons of the Horse’[94],
Each of them brings solace to my soul.”

The shaykhs recall our actions,
Of the giving of bountiful feasts,
Of brave men who thwart the enemies’ plot.

The eminent of al-Salt declare:
‘Al-Fuhays is the jewel of our land and its splendour!’[95]

The poem speaks of an unwavering connection to the land and its defence. The author asserts ownership of the town: “This is our land, though we endured harshness for its sake.” He further exclaims joint-responsibility for defence of the clans of al-Fuhays and the ‘Awamlih of al-Salt when he says, “We are for it defenders, in groups and in a multitude of fighters.” Divine providence is acknowledged in returning Ahl al-Fuhays. The poem can further be considered a madh (panegyric) with its verses that unabashedly praise the nobility and valour of the author’s tribe. Other verses convey the acknowledgement of al-Fuhays’ nobility and generosity by the leading tribes of al-Salt and exclaim the eminent role of the town within the lands of al-Balqa’. One can also note the frequent allusions to unity of the tribes. Put together, it speaks of a tried and true friendship — of the sons of al-Fuhays and the ‘Awamlih tribe, an alliance enduring for nearly three hundred years.

Today, we may read this piece as an accolade of a Christian tribesman, extolling his Christian clan and asserting their rank among the Muslim clans of al-Salt. Yet, what is perhaps most remarkable about this piece is the absence of religious markers. In this post-War era, the Arab inhabitants of al-Salt continued to be identified through their tribal and village affiliation, and historical epithets for their communities (i.e. the ‘Sons of the Horse’). A land assumed to have been marred by sectarian divisions markedly lacked sectarian identifiers. The Christians of al-Salt, decades after the first missionaries entered the villages east of the Jordan, remained integral members of tribal alliances, which were cross-confessional and remarkably dependable.


Studies of society in Ottoman Transjordan have drawn attention to the shift in interreligious relations that occurred in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. During the centuries in which it was an unincorporated frontier, Transjordan was observed to be home to a culture of religious tolerance, marked by the absence of restrictions on Christians commonly observed in Syrian cities, the close intermingling of Muslims and Christians in public spaces, and joint-veneration of local saints at shared shrines.[96] It was also an era in which tribal alliances formed between different segments of the population, including members of the differing religious communities.  In the second-half of the nineteenth century, following the establishment of Ottoman administration and application of Tanzimat reforms for local representation, and the introduction of missionaries, which bestowed new Great Power protections on Christians, scholars recognize an improvement of social status of the region’s Christians vis-à-vis its Muslim tribes. During the 1870’s-80’s, as recorded in missionary histories, several instances of interconfessional strife arose, which at times threatened to erupt into violence. Missionaries, overall, are recognized as having transformed Transjordan into a land of sectarian discord.[97]

Yet, these oral and poetic sources suggest that interreligious solidarities endured well into the Ottoman period, surviving even the distress of the Great War. The Christians of al-Salt, suspected of their Allied-sympathies, endured the harshness of a wartime fifth column. Yet they found protectors, stewards, and intimate friends in their traditional Salti and Balgawi allies. These pacts and tribal accords, originating in an era of disconnect from the Ottoman state, outlived the entrance of Ottoman administrators and European missionaries alike. The culture of religious toleration found in Transjordan appears to be a factor of such formidable tribal bonds between the region’s Muslims and Christians. Where these tribal accords endured, religious toleration likewise survived. These tribal alliances apparently survived even into  the Mandate period. The Christian clans of al-Salt were among those who participated in the 1923 ‘Adwan Revolt, which challenged the authority of the newly-enthroned Amir Abdullah over Transjordan.

Epilogue: The Centennial Anniversary and the Politics of Commemoration

 On 2 April 2018, a solemn procession was held to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the 1918 Exodus of the families of al-Salt. It was attended by over four dozen notables from al-Salt, al-Fuhays, and Mahis. The procession recalled the path of flight taken by panicked villagers in 1918. It began at Rus al-Bayadir, the traditional city centre of al-Fuhays, passed through the gates of the city’s oldest church, St George’s, and ended at the town’s highest hill  overlooking al-Salt and Wadi Shu’aib, the valley crossed a century ago by British soldiers and Salti Christians en route to Jerusalem.

At the commemoration, the Mayor of al-Fuhays, Jamal Hattar, gave a speech where he spoke of the oppression his town endured under Ottoman rule and the ‘heroic assistance’ of the people of al-Salt and al-Fuhays to the ‘cause of the Great Arab Revolt.’[98] A communal and wartime tragedy has, in the course of time, taken on nationalistic meanings. Such framings often overlook the historical reality of the flight of Christians who, after welcoming an invading British force and sabotaging local Ottoman defence, saw no choice but to flee to avoid vengeance, the vast majority retreating with the British army to Palestine.

The town’s young scout troops led the procession with sorrowful bagpipe tunes and drum beats. Upon reaching the town’s highest hill, some recited poetry in passionate exclamations of the bravery of their ancestors. The scouts, who I interviewed in July 2018, conveyed an ardent desire to commemorate the Exodus annually. The events of 1918 carry for these youths a range of meanings, not least the sense of unity shared by the region’s Muslim and Christian families during the tragic events of 1918. One young girl reflected: “It means we are one. The sons and daughters of al-Salt and al-Fuhays were one in this tragedy and will be one forever.”[99]

The Exodus of 1918 is remembered by a majority of elders as a painful event, marking the climax of years of ‘Turkish oppression.’ Some regard the Exodus, and the pillaging which subsequently occurred, as a nakba (‘ultimate catastrophe’) in the history of al-Salt and its neighbouring villages.[100] Elders frequently expressed a desire to pass on the narratives they received of the flight to younger generations.

Yet, some criticize recent efforts to eulogize and publicly commemorate the Flight. The contrasting opinion of the current Mayor of al-Fuhays, who solemnly led the centennial procession, to that of its former mayor relays the controversial nature of commemoration:

“To celebrate something, it should engender a positive effect. What are the positive effects of ‘celebrating’ our Exodus? That we were weak and in peril? And that we sojourned in Palestine? We migrated out of weakness. […] We took refuge in ‘Protectors’ [Great Britain]. If it was up to me, I would not mention it at all.”[101]

Aversion to commemoration on the part of some is in no small part linked to contemporary security concerns. Elders have witnessed the growth of Islamic extremism in Jordan, and some of them fear for the future of Christians in the region. The oral histories and poems collected for this project convey not only scenes from the past, but also speak volumes on present-day relations between Muslims and Christians. In my view, many elders shared narratives that illustrated the vibrancy of historical interreligious bonds with nostalgia for these older and more tolerant forms of community. While Muslim-Christian solidarities certainly exist today, the forces that seek to disrupt these have increased drastically. Sharing these narratives of interreligious cohesion and solidarity from the not-too-distant past is a powerful tool for combatting extremism— and strengthening community —in contemporary Jordan.

Two days after completing this fieldwork, I was startled to hear of an attempted attack by Islamic State affiliates on the cities of al-Salt and al-Fuhays during an annual cultural festival. Tragedy was averted, though, because of a heroic defence by the security forces, who hailed from al-Salt’s traditional tribal families. Valiant gendarmes thwarted the terror plot as it was unfolding and were themselves the victims of extremism.[102] The security of Jordan’s Christians – both in 2018, from the threat of the Islamic State, and in 1918, from the vengeance of the Ottoman Fourth Army – owes much to the presence of these Muslim allies.


*Mathew Madain (Somerville College, Oxford) studied History, Near Eastern Studies, and Global Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 2019. In 2018, he received the Robert and Coleen Haas Scholarship to conduct fieldwork in Jordan. His research focuses on the social history of Late Ottoman communities in the Levant, broadly, with specific interest in intercommunal and interreligious relations. A recipient of the Qatar-Thatcher Scholarship, he currently reads for the MSc Modern Middle Eastern Studies and is supervised by Professor Eugene Rogan.


[1] I wish to thank the Robert and Coleen Haas Scholarship Program, the Sultan Fellowship for Arab Studies, and the History Department at the University of California, Berkeley, for generously funding my research. I thank Professors Maria Mavroudi, Benjamin Porter, Christine Philliou, John Hayes, Haitham Salah, and Daniel Zoughbie for supervising my work, and two anonymous editors for their invaluable feedback. This article is written with immense gratitude to the elders and academics of Jordan who shared their stories, time, and wisdom.

[2] ‘Ottoman Transjordan’ is used throughout this paper to represent the districts of al-Salt, Jabal ‘Ajlun, Karak, and Ma’an which later became part of the Emirate of Transjordan in 1923.

[3] Al-Salt is a city located in central Jordan, 25 kilometres west of Amman.

[4] Andrew Shryock, Nationalism and the Genealogical Imagination (Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 23.

[5] Shryock, Nationalism, 65.

[6] Eugene Rogan, Frontiers of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire: Transjordan, 1850-1923 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 219.

[7] Salim Tamari, Year of the Locust: A Soldier’s Diary and the Erasure of Palestine’s Ottoman Past (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011).

[8] M. Talha Çiçek, War and State Formation in Syria: Cemal Pasha’s governorate during World War I, 1914-17 (London and New York: Routledge, 2014). View also: M. Talha Çiçek ed. Syria in World War I: Politics, Economy, and Society (Routledge, 2016).

[9] Leila Fawaz, A Land of Aching Hearts: The Middle East in the Great War (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2014).

[10] Melanie Tanelian, The Charity of War: Famine, Humanitarian Aid, and World War I in the Middle East (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018). View also: Keith Watenpaugh, Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015), for a detailed account of Western intervention to the humanitarian crises of the War.

[11] Najwa al-Qattan, “Safarbarlik: Ottoman Syria and the Great War”, in T. Philipp and C. Schumann eds., From the Syrian Land to the States of Syria and Lebanon (Beirut: Orient-Institut, 2004), 163-69.

[12] Robert B. Betts, Christians in the Arab East: A Political Study (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1978).

[13] Eugene Rogan, Frontiers, 220-24.

[14] Ibid., 219, 222-24.

[15] Ibid., 232-234.

[16] Ibid., 228-236.

[17] Rogan, Frontiers, 236; View also: Matthew Hughes, Allenby and British Strategy (London and Portland: Frank Cass, 2002), 81-82.

[18] Calcutt Papers (Monday, 1 April 1918), In Rogan, Frontiers, 236-37.

[19] Beatrice Erskine, Transjordan (London: Ernst Benn Ltd., 1924), 35.

[20] Interview with Sakhir Smairat (Retired Lt. General and elder from al-Fuhays), Al-Fuhays, 25 June 2018.

[21] View: John Lewis Burchardt, Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, (London: John Murray, 1822; Reprint 1983), 349; and Eugene Rogan, “Bringing the State Back: The Limits of Ottoman Rule in Jordan, 1840-1910” in Village, Steppe and State: The Social Origins of Modern Jordan, eds. Eugene Rogan and Tariq Tell, (London: British Academic Press, 1994), 38.

[22] View: Rogan, Frontiers, 72-76; Eugene Rogan, “The Turkuman of al-Ruman: An Ottoman Settlement in South-Eastern Syria,” Arabic Historical Review for Ottoman Studies 1–2 (1990): 91–106; and Vladimir Hamed-Troyansky, “Circassian Refugees and the Making of Amman, 1878-1914.” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 49 (2017): 605-623.

[23] Interview with Salti Sayigh (Elder from al-Rumaymin), al-Rumaymin (Diwan al-Sayigh), 11 July 2018.

[24] Rogan, Frontiers, 227.

[25] Interviews with Salti Sayigh.

[26] View: Salim Tamari, Year of the Locust, 66.

[27] Interview with Adib ‘Adely (Elder from al-Fuhays), Al-Fuhays, 30 June 2018.

[28] Interview with Mun’im Suways (President of Fuhays Cultural Association), al-Fuhays, 17 June 2018.

[29] Interviews with Salti Sayigh; and Mamdouh Bisharat (‘Duke of Mukhaibeh’), Amman (Diwan al-Bisharat Museum), 12 July 2018.

[30] Interview with Sakhir Smairat.

[31] Interview with Dr Ra’ouf Abujaber (Historian of Late-Ottoman Transjordan, DPhil Oxon), Amman. 2 July 2018.

[32] Interviews with H. E. Jiries Samawi, (Former Minister of Culture, first interview), al-Fuhays, 13 June 2018; and Ra’id al-Nassir (Elder from al-Fuhays), Al Fuhays, 7 July 7 2018.

[33] Interviews with ‘Adib Adely; and Salti Sayigh.

[34] Interviews with Salti Sayigh; and Suhad ‘Akroush (Elder from al-Fuhays), Al-Fuhays. July 14, 2018.

[35] Interview with Hiyam Mada’in.

[36] Interview with Ra’id al-Nassir.

[37] Interview with Suhad ’Akroush.

[38] Hind Abu al-Sha’ar, ed. Mudhakirat Khalil Samawi, 1901-1935 (Amman: Jordan Press Foundation, 2011), 45-6.

[39] Interviews with Jiries Samawi (first), 13 June 2018; Ra’id Nassir; and Jamal Mada’in (Lt. General of Jordanian Army and former head of the Secret Intelligence Services), al-Fuhays, 7 July 2018.

[40] Interview with Mamduh Bisharat.

[41] Interview with Suhad ‘Akroush.

[42] Interview with Jiries Samawi (second), 7 July 2018.

[43] Interview with ‘Afaf Mada’in (City-council deputy), al-Fuhays, 30 June 2018.

[44]This story ends with a fortunate twist. The child was found by another fleeing relative who was brought safely to Jerusalem and reunited with his parents. Interview with Jiries Jraisat (Elder from al-Fuhays), Al-Fuhays, 9 July 2018.

[45] Interview with Jiries Samawi (second), 7 July 2018.

[46] Interviews with Jamil Mada’in (Elder from al-Fuhays), al-Fuhays, 11 June 2018; and Hiyam Mada’in (Female elder from al-Fuhays), al-Fuhays, 25 June 2018.

[47] Interview with Barham Mu’asher (Author of works on Arab Christian history, elder from al-Salt), Amman. June 28, 2018.

[48] Interviews with Mamduh Bisharat; and ‘Alia Qawar (Daughter of former Deputy of al-Salt, and widow of former Lt. Gen.), al-Fuhays, 16 July 2018.

[49] Interview with Jamil Mada’in.

[50] Interview with Jiries Jraisat.

[51] Interview with Adib Adely.

[52] Interviews with Sakhir Smairat; Adib ‘Adely; and Jiries Jraisat. For an account of the tale as told by elders of the ‘Adwan tribe, view: Shryock, Nationalism, 203-4.

[53] John Lewis Burchardt, Travels in Syria and the Holy Land (London: John Murray, 1822; Reprint 1983), 349; and Eugene Rogan, “Bringing the State Back,” 38.

[54] Interview with Dr Majida Dayyat (Academic), Sakher Smairat (Retired Lt. General, Airforce, and elder from al-Fuhays), and Anton Dayyat (Former Mayor of al-Fuhays), Al-Fuhays, 26 June 2018.

[55] Interview with Jamil Mada’in.

[56] Abu al-Shar, Mudhakirat Khalil Samawi, 36-39.

[57] Interview with Jiries Samawi (second), 7 July 2018.

[58] View: Rogan, Frontiers, 236.

[59] Interviews with Suhad Akrush; Adib ‘Adely; and Jiries Jraisat.

[60] The presence of shared sacred sites are shown to promote interreligious concord. View: Elazar Barkan and Karen Barkey, Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 50 ; and Jens Kreinath, “Virtual encounters with Hizir and other Muslim saints”, In Anthropology of the Contemporary Middle East and Central Eurasia, 2015, 2(1): 25-66.

[61] Interview with Mun’im Suways.

[62] Interview with Jiries Samawi (third), 11 July 2018.

[63] Diary of Lieutenant-Coloniel A.J. Mills of the Imperial Camel Corps. “Mills papers, 1DRL/501, part 2, diary 1, 1 April 1918” In Matthew Hughes, Allenby and British Strategy, 82.

[64] The Russian Compound (“Muscofiyya”), was built to house Russian pilgrims to Jerusalem. Following the Communist Revolution and the British occupation of Jerusalem in November 1917, it became a station for the British army. It included a mission, hospital, and hostels. Adar Arnon, “The Quarters of Jerusalem in the Ottoman Period.” Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 28, no.1, (1992): 30-31.

[65] Interviews with Jamil Mada’in; and Adib ‘Adely.

[66] Interviews with Sakhir Smairat; and Mary Hattar Suways (Female activist and elder from al-Fuhays), al-Fuhays, 29 June 2018.

[67] “Qasīdat Salīm al-‘Autalah Smairat”, preserved by Sakhir Smairat, and recited in interview with author, al-Fuhays, 25 June 2018.

[68] Interviews with Ra’id Nassir; and Barham Mu’asher.

[69] Interviews with Mamdouh Bisharat; and Alia Qawar. Not coincidentally, the ‘Eriqat belonged to the Huwaytat tribe, from which ‘Auda Abu Tayeh, and other early supporters of the Great Arab Revolt emerged. View: Yoav Alon, The Making of Jordan: Tribes, Colonialism and the Modern State (I.B. Tauris, 2007), 162.

[70] Interview with Jamil Mada’in.

[71] Interview with Tony Hanania (Leader of St George Scout Troops), al-Fuhays. 22 July 2018.

[72] Interview with Jiries Samawi (third), 11 July 2018. .

[73] Interview with Salti Sayigh.

[74] Mun’im Zidan Suways, Zidan S’aifan Suways: Hiyatuhu wa Sh’aruhu (Amman: Al-Safir Press, 2012).

[75] Interview with Mary Hattar Suways.

[76] Certain forms of clapping in Semitic cultures are gestures of mourning and anguish.

[77] The qasida of Sulaiman al-Kayed, “Qult ya ‘Ayn al-‘Alali Malik”, recounted by Jeries Samawi, who heard it from his grandfather in the 1980s, interview with author. Amman. August 5, 2018. A version of this poem was published in Diwan ‘Asha’ir al-Salt (Amman, 1982).

[78] Erskine, Transjordan: Some Impressions, 35.

[79] View: Hughes, Allenby and British Strategy, 71-112; and Eugene Rogan, The Fall of the Ottomans (New York: Basic Books, 2016), 355-406.

[80] Interviews with Jamil Mada’in; Adib ‘Adely; and ‘Alia Qawar.

[81] Interview with Mary Hattar. But outside of al-Fuhays, this is not so. The elderly folks mentioned here are not regarded as part of those “martyred” during the Great Arab Revolt. The “honour” of national martyrdom is largely reserved for Muslims.

[82] Orthodox Benevolent Society, Madaba Chapter. “Appeal to the eminent Syrians abroad.”, 1919.

[83] Interview with Jiries Samawi (third), 11 July 2018.

[84] Interview with Jamily Mada’in.

[85] Interview with ‘Adely, Adib.

[86] Interview with Hussayn Shiyyab (Elder from Mahis), Mahis, 3 August 2018.

[87] Shryock, Nationalism, 171-3.

[88] “Akhbar Dakhiliya” in Al-‘Asimah, 17 February, 1919.

[89] “Appeal to the eminent Syrians abroad,” 1919.

[90] Interview with Mary Hattar.

[91] “Appeal to the eminent Syrians abroad,” 1919.

[92] Rogan, Frontiers, 241-52. View also: James Gelvin, Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

[93] Here, the author of the poem is speaking of himself and his clan.

[94] ‘The Sons of the Horse’, the traditional epithet of al-Fuhays within al-Balqa’s tribal communities is here invoked, conveying valour and strength.

[95] “Qasidat Jiries al-Samawi li-Abu ‘Arif”, as related by his grandson, Jiries Samawi (Former Minister of Culture), in fourth interview with author,  Amman, 5 August 2018. A version of this poem was published in Diwan ‘Asha’ir al-Salt (Amman, 1982).

[96] View: Rogan, Frontiers, 37; and James Silk Buckingham, Travels among the Arab Tribes, (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1825), 51.

[97] View: Paolo Maggiolini, “Religious communities and tribal culture in Ottoman Transjordan: the Overlap of two different cultural horizons”, Chronos Revue d’Histoire de l’Université de Balamand 26 (2012): 44; and Paolo Maggiolini, “Transjordan During the Nineteenth Century: Reconsidering the Relation Between Arab Tribes and Christian Religious Communities,” Digest of Middle East Studies 20, no. 1, (2011); Geraldine Chatelard, Briser la mosaïque: Les tribus Chrétiennes de Madaba, Jordanie, XIXe-XXe siècle, (Paris: CNRS Édition, 2004); and Rogan, Frontiers, 159.




[98] Jamal Hattar, “Speech given on the Centennial Anniversary of the Exodus of the Families of al-Salt and al-Fuhays.” April 2, 2018; Interview with Jamal Hattar (Mayor of al-Fuhays), al-Fuhays, 16 July 2018.

[99] Interview with St George Church Scouts (Youth organization), all-Fuhays, 22 July 2018.

[100] Interview with Mary Hattar. In fact, connotation of the Exodus as a “Nakba” predates the term’s later, and more widely-known, association with the 1948 Palestinian Nakba.

[101] Interview with Huwayshal ‘Akroush (Former Mayor), al-Fuhays. 5 August 2018.

[102] Suleiman Khalidi, “Four security personnel, at least three militants, killed in Jordan shoot-out”, Reuters, August 12, 2018.