- During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Syria comprised the area that today contains the modern states of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan. For the Ottoman Empire the area was divided into four provinces: Aleppo, Damascus, Tripoli, and Sidon. Religion was the oldest source of European interest in the region and derived from the existence of the Holy Places in Palestine, which had never ceased to attract a flow of pilgrims, and from the presence of various communities of Eastern Christians to which different European powers gave protection. The Russians claimed to speak for the Greek Orthodox and the French for the Catholics.The Damascus uprising in July 1860, in which between 5,000 and 10,000 Christians were massacred, turned the scale in favor of European intervention in the form of a French army. Napoleon III was obliged to appease outraged French Catholic opinion. France insisted on major governmental reforms in Lebanon. Under the new system, introduced in 1861, and revised in 1864, Mount Lebanon - not including Beirut, the Biqa’, Tripoli, or Sidon - was to be autonomous under international guarantee with a Christian governor assisted by an elected council on which all communities were represented. The strategic position of Syria was another source of European interest in the region. From the late eighteenth century the European powers manifested a greater interest in the Levant, and, with the enlargement of her Indian empire, Britain became concerned about the safety of communications through the Levant. To sever these communication lines, Napoleon landed at Alexandria on July 1, 1798, defeated the Mamluks on July 21, and occupied Cairo. Then Bonaparte set off into Syria, but was checked at Acre in May 1799 and returned to Egypt where he abandoned his army and sailed back to France.Thereafter, the European powers did as they could to retain the integrity of the Ottoman Empire. Muhammad Ali of Egypt was determined to conquer Syria, which he had been promised for his assistance in suppressing the Greek uprising. In November 1831, Ibrahim Pasha invaded the region. The Ottomans resisted and on December 27, 1832, were beaten at Konya. There appeared to be nothing to prevent the Egyptian forces from advancing to Istanbul. The Ottomans appealed to other states for assistance, and received it from Russia, which sent troops to the Bosporus and signed a defensive alliance with the Ottomans on July 8, 1833, called Inkiar Skelessi. Russian policy was in line with her 1829 decision to preserve the Ottoman Empire, but to the other European powers, it seemed as though Russia had acquired a protectorate over the Ottoman Empire.The object of British policy was to undo the effects of Inkiar Skelessi and to support the independence and integrity of the Ottoman Empire against all threats. The opportunity to undo the 1833 arrangement arose in 1839. In April 1839, the Ottomans attacked Muhammad Ali, hoping to expel him from Syria by force. Instead, the Egyptians defeated the Ottoman army at Nazib on June 24, and shortly afterwards the Ottoman fleet deserted to Egypt. The new sultan, Abd al-Majid, appeared helpless and his empire likely to collapse. To prevent this, the European powers decided on joint mediation between the sultan and Muhammad Ali. They took action to force Muhammad Ali out of Syria and leave him with only the hereditary possession of Egypt still within the bonds of the Ottoman Empire. During World War I France and Britain divided Syria between themselves: Syria and Lebanon under French mandate and Transjordan and Palestine under British mandate.See also <
>; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Karsh, Efraim, and Inari Karsh. Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East 1789– 1923. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001;McCarthy, Justin. The Ottoman Peoples and the End of Empire. London: Arnold, 2001;Yapp, M. E. The Making of the Modern Near East: 1792–1923. London: Longman, 1987.MOSHE TERDMAN
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.