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  • Haile Sellassie and the Arabs, 1935-1936
  • Haggai Erlich
Haggai Erlich
Tel Aviv University


The research was supported by the United States Institute of Peace. I am most grateful for their generous help.


1. For background see J. S. Trimingham, Islam in Ethiopia (London, 1965); Sergew Hable Selassie, Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian History to 1270 (Addis Ababa, 1972); Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East (Oxford University Press, 1990); P. M. Holt, The Mahdist State of the Sudan (Oxford, 1970).

2. See Bulus Mas'ad, Al-Habasha aw Ithyubya, fi munqalab minta'rikhiaha (Cairo, 1935).

3. Three such missions, consisting of dozens of medical doctors and staff, were sent to Ethiopia (after the beginning of hostilities) by The Committee for the Defence of Ethiopia established in Cairo in early 1935. Syrian and Sudanese officers volunteered to fight for Ethiopia. Some, like the Syrian Muhammad Tariq Bey were involved in decisive battles (see Al-Ayyam, Damascus, 10 and 15 July 1936).

4. Italian reports on Arab Middle Eastern countries during the Abyssinian crisis, their policies and public opinion, can be found in Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Archivio Storico, Etiopia, Fondo di Guerra, Etiopia, Affari Politici 1935, 1936, Buste 6-167.

5. Yusuf Ahmad, Al-Islam fi al-Habasha (Cairo, 1935).

6. Mas'ad, Al-Habasha aw Ithyubya, fi munqalab minta'rikhiaha.

7. Ahdallah Husayn, Al-mas'ala al-habashiyya min al-ta'rikh al-qadimila'am 1935 (Cairo, 1935).

8. Muhammad Lutfi Jum'a, Bayna al-asad al-Ifriqi wal-nimr al-Itali (Cairo, 1935).

9. Ibid., 8.

10. Al-Qabas, Damascus, 1 December 1935.

11. Al-Ahram, 22 July 1935.

12. On their argument over Ethiopia, see Shakib Arslan's biography of Rashid Rida: Shakib Arslan, Al-Sayyid Rashid Rida aw ikha' arba'insanah (Beirut, 1937), 760-91. On Arslan's career and role in Arab-Islamic modern history, see William L. Cleveland, Islam Against the West, Shakib Arslan and the Campaign for Islamic Nationalism (Austin, Texas, 1985).

13. For example, in Al-Jami'a al-Islamiyya, Jerusalem, 31 March, 1935; Al-Ayyam, Damascus, 10 November 1935; and Al-Ayyam, Damascus, 24 January, 1936.

14. Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq, "Articles in Arab press," Berhanena Salam 22 Genbot 1927 EC, 30 May 1935. "Some Arab Journalist wrote about Ethiopia's need for help. But others, those who understand nothing about this country. . . say that the Muslims here are discriminated against. . . . Such allegations are painful. . . . Mussolini's men want to separate and divide between the Muslims and Ethiopia. My people! Let us not fall into this trap. Let us prove that we are all members of the same nation. Let us forget the [old Amharic] saying: "Skies have no pillars, Muslims have no country." It is no longer the case in Ethiopia that people are selected for govermental Jobs by their religion. This is my message to anyone who wants Ethiopia free."

15. Arslan, Rashid Rida, 791.

16. See Haggai Erlich, Students and University in 20th Century Egyptian Politics (London, 1989), chapter 3.

17. Middle Eastern policies and attitudes were of central importance to Ethiopian history of the 1950s and 1960s—the so called "Nasserite period." Nasser himself referred to 1935-36 as a formative period in that respect. In his introduction to a book on Ethiopia by Amin Shakir, Said al-'Iryan and Mustafa Amin, Adwa' 'ala al-habasha (Light on Ethiopia), Nasser referred to Ethiopia as "a sister state," a term usually attributed to an Arab neighbor. He then analyzed the general ignorance of Ethiopia "both by the far-off European imperialists and by close neighbors and loving brothers" as stemming from Ethiopian self-imposed isolation. This ignoring of Ethiopia), wrote Nasser, ended in 1935: "Without Mussolini's aggressive attack on Ethiopia twenty years ago the Ethiopians would have possibly remained to this very day strangers to the general life of the modern world."

The above-mentioned book is a part of a governmental official series called Ikhtarna laka (We Chose It for You), and was published in Cairo in around 1960. (No date is mentioned, the book is number 6 in the series.) It is however a straight and shameless translation into Arabic (sometimes compressed)—with...


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