The Commander: Fawzi al-Qawuqji and the Fight for Arab Independence, 1914-1948

Written by Laila Parsons
Review by Waheed Rabbani

An Iron Cross recipient for service in WWI, Fawzi al-Qawuqji was born in Tripoli, Lebanon, and trained by the Ottomans in the early 1900s at their military academy in Istanbul. However, between 1920 and 1936 he led several unsuccessful Arab revolts against the French and the British. Injured, al-Qawuqji was transported to Germany for treatment. He stayed on, having married Anneliese Müller. During WWII he remained in Berlin, fending off innuendoes of being a British spy. In 1947, following an adventurous escape from Berlin, he arrived, via Paris and Cairo, back home in Tripoli. In his renowned final role, he commanded the Arab Liberation Army in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, to disastrous consequences.

Parsons has penned an unbiased “definitive biography” of a controversial figure in the Arab world. Although he initially served the Ottoman Empire, he fought against colonialism and Arab independence for most of his life. While a skilled soldier and leader in numerous battles, victory somehow eluded him. Parsons has presented not only evocative descriptions of al-Qawuqji’s life and times, but also compelling arguments to dispel some prevailing myths, such as the romanticizing of T.E. Lawrence. The complexities in unifying the factional Arab armies, leading to their failure, are well elucidated. An informative account.