Rida Pasha al-Rikabi

Rida Pasha al-Rikabi
رضا باشا الركابي
Prime Minister of Jordan
In office
3 March 1924  26 June 1926
Monarch Abdullah I
Preceded by Hasan Khalid Abu al-Huda
Succeeded by Hasan Khalid Abu al-Huda
In office
10 March 1922  1 February 1923
Monarch Abdullah I
Preceded by Mazhar Raslan
Succeeded by Mazhar Raslan
Prime Minister and Military Governor of Syria
In office
1 October 1918  14 December 1920
Monarch Faisal I
Preceded by Office Establishment
Succeeded by Hashim al-Atassi
Personal details
Born 1864
Damascus, Syria
Died 25 May 1943
Damascus, Syria
Religion Islam

Ali Rida Pasha al-Rikabi (1864 – 25 May 1943), was the First Prime Minister in modern Syria, also Prime Minister of Jordan.


During the last phase of Ottoman rule in the Middle East, al-Rikabi occupied prominent positions. After the Ottoman Turks departed from Arab lands in 1918 he formed the first cabinet in the history of Syria under Prince Faisal, third son Sharif Hussain of Mecca. Later, during two periods (1922 and 1924-1926) as Prime Minister in Jordan, al-Rikabi established Jordan’s administrative and financial system. He supported the Syrian revolt of 1925 against the French Mandate while he was Prime Minister of Jordan.

During Ottoman Rule

Ali Rida Pasha al-Rikabi came from a Damascene family whose ancestor had migrated from al-Rifa’i in southern Iraq during the seventeenth century. Al-Rikabi obtained his primary education at the Rushdiya Military School and completed Secondary school in Damascus also. His extraordinary performance at school earned him recommendations to be sent to the Military College in Istanbul, where he studied military engineering and graduated as the youngest in his class with the rank of Staff Major. He was later appointed military commander of the Ottoman army and deputy governor in Jerusalem. When the Ottoman Constitution was proclaimed in 1908 he was appointed Head of Special Branch in Istanbul. From there he was transferred to al-Medina al-Munawara where he was appointed Governor and Military Commander after being promoted to the rank of Major General. He then went on to Iraq as Military Commander in Baghdad and Governor of Basra.

On the eve of the First World the Ottoman Government consulted him, among other army commanders, about his opinion of Turkey’s participation in the war along the side of its German ally. Al-Rikabi advised the Ottoman Government to remain neutral in this European conflict because he was well aware of the poor condition of the Ottoman Army, its outdated weapons, insufficient ammunition and weak training. This advice led the ruling Triumvirate (Enver, Talat & Jamal), leaders of the Young Turks, to consider al-Rikabi a defeatist; so, he was dismissed into retirement from the army. Other officers and members of the Young Turks were enthusiastic in their drive to enter the war on the side of Germany, their friend and ally. When al-Rikabi returned to Damascus after his dismissal, Jamal Pasha appointed him Mayor of Damascus and Chief of Defences in order to utilise his knowledge and experience, while keeping him under close surveillance. Al-Rikabi preferred to accept these two positions to ward off suspicions, as he was in fact one of the founders of the first two secret organisations that planted the seeds of Arab Nationalism under Ottoman rule, namely ‘The Young Arab Society’ and ‘The Covenant Society’.

First Syrian Cabinet

After the Arab Revolt (1916) and the Ottoman defeat by the British army, the Arab Army entered Damascus on October 1, 1918. Ali Rida al-Rikabi was appointed Military Governor and Chief of the Council of Directors (i.e. prime minister) of Syria under Prince Faisal son of King Hussain of Mecca. On 8 March 1920 the First Syrian Conference (representative body) announced Syria’s independence and proclaimed Faisal as King. Al-Rikabi became the first Prime Minister of Syria. From a base in Lebanon, the French Army under General Gouraud attacked the small Syrian volunteer force assembled in Maysaloon, defeated them, entered Damascus, proclaimed the French Mandate over Syria and Lebanon and forced King Faisal to leave Syria immediately.

Al-Rikabi in Jordan

When al-Rikabi felt he could no longer participate in Syrian politics under the French Mandate, he travelled from Damascus to Egypt, where he left his family and went on to Mecca to meet King Hussain of Hejaz. The latter directed him to proceed to Jordan and assist his second son, Prince Abdullah, in the administration of the Principality of Transjordan, newly formed under the British Mandate.

In Amman Prince Abdullah commissioned Rida al-Rikabi to form his first Jordanian cabinet in March 1922. So, he took up the task of setting suitable laws and regulations for the new State, particularly in administration and financial management. In October of that year he accompanied Prince Abdullah to London for conducting a treaty between Britain and Jordan and discussions of Arab Affairs thereat.

After Prince Abdullah left, al-Rikabi remained in London to reach an agreement with the British authorities on the formulation of the Government of Transjordan. Al-Rikabi succeeded in obtaining Britain’s approval for parliamentary independence of the State, and in excluding Jordan from the Balfour Declaration (by which Britain promised to establish a Jewish state in Palestine). After al-Rikabi returned to Jordan, Prince Abdullah objected to some terms of this agreement prompting al-Rikabi to resign.

In early 1924, Prince Abdullah invited Ali Rida al-Rikabi to form a new Jordanian cabinet, this time on the advice of King Faisal of Iraq, Abdullah’s younger brother who had ruled briefly in Syria. Al-Rikabi declared his cabinet’s program for promoting justice among all citizens, economic reform, employing competent civil servants, eradicating corruption and ensuring security. Whilst such a program may seem rudimentary nowadays, it was a novelty when new Arab states were being established in the aftermath of four dark centuries under Ottoman oppression that only ended after World War 1.

During al-Rikabi’s second term as Prime Minister of Jordan, he secretly supported the Syrian Revolt against French rule. This was strongly backed by King Faisal of Iraq, overruling his elder brother Prince Abdullah on matters concerning the policies of his Prime Minister al-Rikabi, who set tactical plans for the Syrian Revolt, received Syrian casualties in Jordan and channelled Iraqi assistance to Syrian fighters.

After the Syrian Revolt was crushed by the French al-Rikabi resigned from the prime ministership of Jordan because it became once more impossible for him to work with Prince Abdullah.

Final Years

When al-Rikabi left Jordan in 1926 he lived as a private citizen for a few years in Jerusalem and Haifa because the French banned him from entry to Syria for a few years before he could return to Damascus. In 1932 he coordinated efforts with King Faisal of Iraq, established the Royal Party and ran for President of Syria. The French heavily supported his rival and al-Rikabi lost the elections.

He spent the last ten years of his life in seclusion at home, under constant harassment from the French and their agents. His health soon began failing and he died a destitute man in May 1942.

See also

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