THE MIDDLE EAST: Arab Federation?

Seven flags fluttered gaily atop theslate-grey Egyptian Foreign Ministry in Cairo. In an ornate salon onthe main floor, delegates from six of the seven Arab states sat on thebrittle insecurity of Louis Quinze chairs, stalked haughtily acrosspriceless Iranian rugs. They had met to draw up a constitution for afederation of all Arab lands, from the Nile to the Euphrates.

For the Middle East the occasion was momentous. Egypt’s King Farouk washost. The delegates were Foreign Ministers or their equivalent.Trans-Jordan’s Premier Samir el Refai Pasha underlined the Arabiccharacter of the meeting. Though he wears European clothes in hisnative desert, he wore stunning Arab robes in Cairo. Most important,Saudi Arabia, keystone of any Pan-Arab federation and outstandingabsentee at last autumn’s Alexandria conference of Arab nations (TIME,Oct. 16), would attend the meeting in the person of Al Sheikh YussefYassin, personal secretary of King Ibn Saud. Yemen, the little state bythe Red Sea, was not represented, but a delegate was also hopefullyexpected.

If the Cairo conference succeeded, it would put into effect theAlexandria resolution for unified educational, financial, commercial,legal and foreign policies by all Arab nations. It would change thebalance of power in the Middle East, might affect Britain, France,Russia, the U.S. But there were difficult, immediate problems:

¶ Syria and Lebanon, whose Foreign Ministers were both present, weredeep in conflict with France. They wanted complete liquidation of theFrench mandate, partially abrogated in 1943. They had sent a demand tothis effect to the Big Three at Yalta, were still awaiting a reply.Meanwhile Britain, formerly opposed to continued French rule in Syriaand Lebanon, was said to have switched to support of France. Arabsolidarity in Cairo might mean full independence for the two states,but France and Britain would have to be reckoned with. The stake of theBritish Empire was emphasized when Prime Minister Winston Churchill andForeign Secretary Anthony Eden, en route home from Yalta, spent threedays in Cairo.

¶ Palestine, since it is not an independent state, hadonly an “auditor” in Cairo. But the bitter question of Jewish-Arabconflicts in Palestine was high on the agenda—and here again Britishinterests were vitally concerned.

Arab independence of foreign rule had foundered once before, after WorldWar I, when Britain withdrew her support of the Arabs after they hadhelped her to defeat Turkey. This time, there was greater power behindPan-Arab aspirations. The rest of the world eagerly watched and waited.

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