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Factionalism Among Syrian Nationalists During the French Mandate

  • Philip S. Khoury (a1)

It is ironic and perhaps telling that the one national independence movement largely ignored by historians of the Arab Middle East is the Syrian nationalist movement. The irony, of course, is that the birthplace of Arab nationalism was Syria; it was to Damascus that Arab nationalists in Palestine, Iraq and elsewhere looked for inspiration, guidance, and moral support in the interwar period; and out of the Syrian movement sprang the radical nationalism of the Ba'thists. Intellectual histories of the precursors, birth, and content of Arab nationalism abound, and, insofar as these histories deal with the birthplace of Arab nationalism, they must discuss Damascus and Syria just prior to and during World War I. But once the intellectual birth of Arab nationalism has been discussed, interest in the history of Syria wanes to be revived only after World War II, with the emergence of Ba'thism and the military in politics. What follows is by no means a comprehensive analysis of the nature and organization of the Syrian national independence movement; rather, it is a preliminary investigation of some salient characteristics of the politics of Syrian-Arab nationalism in the early years of the French Mandate.

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Author's note: This article is a revised version of Chapter VII of my unpublished doctoral dissertation, “The Politics of Nationalism: Syria and the French Mandate, 1920–1936” (Harvard University, 1980), II, 585–631. I wish to express my thanks to Albert Hourani and Mary Christina Wilson for their helpful suggestions at different stages in its preparation.

1 For a discussion of these tendencies, see my “Politics of Nationalism,” I, 121–125.

2 Hourani, Albert, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798–1939 (London, 1962), p. 293.

3 Most notably, Rustum Ḥaidar, a Sorbonne-educated member of a leading Arab ShĪ'Ī family of Ba'labakk. See Batatu, Hanna, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq (Princeton, 1978), p. 319.

4 Among those Syrians who held high posts in 'Abdullah's government or diwān were 'AlĪ Riḍā al-RikābĪ, NabĪh al-'Aẓma, 'ādil Arslān, Maẓhar Raslān, RashĪd TalĪ'a, and Ḥasan Pāshā Abū'l Hudā.

5 Conversation with FarĪd, Zain al-DĪn (Damascus, 14 04 1976);Muḥammad, 'Izzat Darwaza, Ḥawla al-Ḥaraka al-'arabiyya al-ḥadĪtha (Sidon, 1950), I, 30, 7778.

6 Porath, Y., The Emergence of the Palestinian—Arab National Movement, 1918–1929 (London, 1974), 1, 116.

7 For the activities of the Syrian-Palestinian Congress in Geneva, see Marie-Renáe, Mouton, “Le congrès syrio-palestinien de Genève,” Relations Internationales, 19 (Autumn 1979), 313328. The announcement of the establishment of the Congress met with negative reaction in Lebanese Maronite circles. Meanwhile the French authorities forced local government officials in Damascus to protest the existence of the Congress by sending a telegram to Geneva. However, a second telegram was also sent to Geneva supporting the Congress; this was done secretly and with the knowledge of the Directors-General of the Damascus State and most members of the Consultative Council. See PRO, FO 371/11977, vol. 6457, Palmer to FO, 12 October 1921.

8 Besides Michel Luṭfāllah, the Congress Executive included Shaikh RashĪd Riḍḍā (Vice-President); NajĪb Shuqair (Secretary), a Druze from Mt. Lebanon; As'ad al-BakrĪ, son of FawzĪ and nephew of NasĪb; Dr. KhalĪl Mishāqa, a Damascene Protestant, members of whose family had served as American Consul and as Dragomans of the British Consulate in Damascus in the nineteenth century; al-ḥājj AdĪb Khair, a wealthy merchant of Damascus; Sa'Īd ṬalĪ'a, a Druze from Mt. Lebanon and cousin of RashĪd Bey; ShukrĪ al-QuwatlĪ As'ad Dāghir, a Lebanese Greek Catholic writer; and Khair al-DĪn al-ZiriklĪ, a Damascene writer of Kurdish extraction. See France, Ministère des Affaires átrangères (hereafter MAE), Levant, 1918–1929, Syrie-Liban, “Note,” 10 12 1926, vol. 211, p. 22;Salname: süriye vilayeti, 1302/1885, pp. 9899.

9 Porath, , The Emergence, pp. 121122.

10 Kedourie, Elie, England and the Middle East (London, 1956), p. 153.

11 See my “Politics of Nationalism,” I, 122.

12 Porath, , The Emergence, pp. 112114. Porath's account and analysis of the meetings and of the reactions of Palestinian leaders to the maneuvers of their Syrian comrades is revealing.

13 MAE, Syrie-Liban, “Renseignement,” 24 10 1922, p. 68.

14 George Luṭfāllah personally contributed £S (Syrian lira) 30,000 (600,000 French francs) to the Congress's permanent delegation in Geneva in 1922 (MAE, Syrie-Liban, “Note,” 20 07 1925, vol. 211, pp. 9497).

15 Shahbandar married into one of the most prominent absentee landowning families of Damascus, the Mu'ayyad al-'Aẓm family. He derived an income from his wife's lands and from property he inherited from his paternal grandmother. Markaz al-Wathā'iq al-ta'rĪkhiyya (Damascus, Syria), alQism al-khāṣṣ, NazĪh Mu'ayyad al-'Aẓm Papers, 'Abd al-Raḥmān Shahbandar (Paris) to Mu'ayyad al-'Aẓm, 27 December 1923, no. 51. For information on the Shahbandar family see Muḥammad AdĪb TaqĪ al-DĪn al-Ḥuṣni, Kitāb muntakhabāt al-tawārĪkh li-dimashq (Damascus, 1928), II, 901.

16 Ḥasan al-ḤakĪm, “Mūjaz tarjama ḥayāt al-za'Īm al-khālid al-maghfür lahu al-duktūr 'Abd al-Raḥmān al-Shahbandar” (unpublished biographical sketch of Shahbandar given to me by the author), p. 1; Vacca, Virginia, “Notizie Biografiche su Uomini Politici Ministri e Deputati Siriani,” Oriente Moderno, 17 (1937), 473474; The American University of Beirut, Directory of Alumni 1870–1952 (Beirut, 1953), p. 42; PRO, FO 684/7/1, vol. 2257.

17 Including David Hogarth, at the time the Director of the Arab Bureau and a noted Oxford archaeologist. In a letter to the British Foreign Office dated 22 June 1924 Hogarth wrote that Shahbandar was a “Syrian Patriot,” and “honourable and cultivated man,” and a “very loyal admirer of ourselves” (PRO, FO 371/5774, vol. 10164). Shahbandar was also one of seven nationalists who on 11 June 1917 met Sir Mark Sykes in Cairo and received from him a British pledge (known as the Declaration to the Seven) which supposedly contained “assurances” that the Arab provinces liberated by the military actions of their inhabitants during the War would become completely independent. See Lawrence, T. E. in The Times, 11 09 1919, p. 11.

18 Vacca, , “Notizie,” pp. 474475;al, ḤakĪm, Mūjaz tarjama, p. 3.

19 PRO, FO 371/2043, vol. 10164, 19 September 1923.

20 Ḥasan, al-HakĪm, MudhakkirātĪ ṣafaḥāt min ta'rĪkh sūrĪyya al-ḥadĪtha (Beirut, 1966), II, 151.

21 Oriente Moderno, 17 (1937), 32; PRO, FO 371/2043, vol. 10164.

22 Shahbandar, who was assassinated in 1940, was accused by some of his enemies of being an atheist.

23 MAE, Syrie-Liban, “Note,” 20 07 1925, vol. 211, pp. 222223; PRO, FO 371/7847, vol. 7578, 28 07 1922.

24 This quarter also contained a large Greek Orthodox community of merchants.

25 Adham, al-JundĪ, A'lām al-adab wa al-fann (Damascus, 1958), II, 373375.

26 Hourani, , Arabic Thought, pp. 303304.

27 MAE, Syrie-Liban, “Renseignement,” 24 10 1922, vol. 208, p. 68.

29 ibid., Hourani, , Arabic Thought, pp. 298307.

30 ibid., pp. 222–224; al, -JundĪ, A'lām, II, p. 374. Arslān was also Riḍā's biographer. See ShakĪb, Arslān, RashĪd Riḍā aw ikha' arbā'in sana (Cairo, 1932).

31 Riḍā was president of the General Syrian Congress in Damascus in 1919, though this position was largely ceremonial (PRO, FO 371/3149, vol. 6453, 10 March 1921).

32 MAE, Syrie-Liban, “La Propagande,” 19 04 1923, vol. 208. Both al-JābirĪ and Arslān used Turkey as a base to make propaganda against the French in the early 1920s. Also see MAE,Syrie-Liban, “Sarraut Telegram,” 18 11 1925, vol. 210, p. 18.

33 PRO, FO 371/600, vol. 210, 12 January 1923.

34 Jurj, Fāris, Man huwa fĪ Sūriyya 1949 (Damascus, 1950), p. 78;Markaz, al-Watha'iq al-ta'rĪkhiyya, al-Qism al-khass, 'Abd al-Raḥmān Shahbandar Papers, Shahbandar (Baghdad) to Ḥasan al-ḤakĪm, 15 03 1927, no. 7/23;ibid., 28 March 1927, no. 9/25.

35 The Arab Club had branches in Damascus and Jerusalem. Until April 1920, the Jerusalem branch was headed by al-Ḥājj AmĪn al-ḤusainĪ. See Porath, , The Emergence, p. 78.

36 Other members of the Istiqlāl Party included Khair al-DĪn al-ZiriklĪ, As'ad Dāghir, RĪādh Ṣulh, RashĪd al-ḤusāmĪ, AmĪr Muṣṭafā al-ShihābĪ, Waṣfi al-AtāsĪ, Aḥmad Muraiwid, Aḥmad QadrĪ, a'Īd ṬalĪ'a, TawfĪq al-YāzijĪ, Khālid al-ḤakĪm, 'Izzat Darwaza, Mu'in al-MāḍĪ, ShukrĪ al-QuwatlĪ, and 'AwnĪ 'Abd al-HādĪ. Two members who dropped out of the informal organization early on were Sa'dāllah al-JābirĪ and 'Afif Ṣulḥ. See al-Musāwwar (Damascus weekly youth magazine), 14 (9 09 1936), 20.

37 Adham, al-Jundi, Ta'rĪkh al-thawrāt al-sūriyya (Damascus, 1961), pp. 240241, 541.

38 MAE, Syrie-Liban, “Renseignement,” 24 10 1922, vol. 208, p. 68.

39 PRO, FO 684/111/98, Smart (Damascus), to FO, 15 March 1923.

40 lnformation on support in Syria for Husain's claim comes from the following sources: PRO, FO 684/111/98, Smart to FO, 15 March 1923; FO 371/2761, vol. 1003, Satow (Beirut) to FO, 15 March 1924; FO 371/4141, vol. 10164, Damascus Consul to FO, 28 April 1924; FO 684/111/121, Smart to FO, 20 March 1924; FO 684/111/208, Smart to FO, 22 April 1924; Alif, Bā' (Damascus daily newspaper), 15, 16 March 1924; Oriente Moderno, 4 (1924), 236237; MAE, Syrie-Liban, “Telegram,” 2 09 1922, vol. 274, p. 11.

41 PRO, Air Ministry/23405, “Note on Pan-Islamisin,” High Commissioner (Baghdad) to Reed, 14 November 1931.

42 Muḥammad, RashĪd Riḍā, al-Khilāfa (Cairo, 1341/19221923), pp. 73 ff., cited in Hourani, , Arabic Thought, p. 305. Another prominent critic of the Hashemites was the Damascus religious leader, Shaikh Kāmil al-Qaṣṣāb, who in 1924 was in exile in the Hijaz. He had opposed Hashemite dealings with the British since Faiṣal's days in Damascus. See,al, -JundĪ, A'lām, II, 7778.

43 The Caliphate question was finally set aside in May 1926, when a Caliphate Congress was held in Cairo, attended by delegates from Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, the East Indies, British India, the Yemen, the Hijaz, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq, but with no representatives from Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, the Najd, or the Muslim communities in the Soviet Union. Although the Congress confirmed a continuing need for such an institution, it concluded that conditions were not ripe for its reestablishment. The Caliphate question remained dormant with intermittent agitation for its revival in times of trouble or at future Islamic Congresses. See PRO, Air Ministry/23/405, High Commissioner (Baghdad) to Reed, 14 November 1931; Sákaly, A, “Les deux Congrès Musulmans de 1926,” Revue du Monde Musulman, 64 (1926), 3219;Hourani, , Arabic Thought, p. 184.

44 Actually, Ibn Sa'ūd's two governments in the Najd and Hijaz were soon to receive large British subsidies. See Khaldun, S. Husry, “King Faysal I and Arab Unity, 1930–19,” Journal of Contemporary History, 10 (1975), 328329.

45 Hourani, , Arabic Thought, p. 305.

46 According to one keen observer of political life in Damascus after the War, when Iḥsān al-JābirĪ was Faiṣal's Chamberlain, he instructed the AmĪr in all forms of protocol. “He told him what to say and whether or not to stand when greeting someone in his office” (Muḥammad, Kurd 'AlĪ, al-Mudhakkirāt [Damascus, 19481951], II, 327).

47 Batatu, , The Old Social Classes, p. 25.

48 MAE, Syrie-Liban, “Interview with Edmond Rabbath, 12 July 1927,” vol. 213, pp. 1624.

49 Owing to their traditional connections to Turkey, Aleppine nationalists depended much more on external assistance from Turkey than from the Hashemites or Ibn Sa'ūd. See my “Politics of Nationalism,” 1, 315–335.

50 On the general causes of the Great Revolt of 1925–1927 see ibid., II, 527–553. For an excellent analysis of the influence of French Moroccan policies on Mandate policy in Syria, see Burke, Edmund III, “A Comparative View of French Native Policy in Morocco and Syria, 1912–1925,” Middle Eastern Studies, 9 (05 1973), 175186.

51 The following analysis of the People's Party (Ḥizb al-Sha'b) leadership is drawn from my “Politics of Nationalism,” II, 414–427.

52 The following analysis is drawn from ibid., pp. 445–453.

53 Henry de Jouvenel was born in Paris in 1876. He began his rise to prominence after the turn of the twentieth century, becoming editor of the Paris daily, Le Maim. In 1921 he was elected Senator from Corrèze, joining the Groupe de la Gauche democratique, and briefly served as Minister of Public Instruction in March 1924. See PRO, FO 371/6954, vol. 10852, Crewe to Chamberlain, to November 1925.

54 Rabbath, Edmond, “Courte Histoire du Mandat en Syrie et au Liban” (Part I, untitled), pp.812, unpublished manuscript lent to me by the author who was a Syrian student in Paris at the time of the Arslān-de Jouvenel rendezvous.

55 ibid., pp. 13–16. Before de Jouvenel left Cairo for Beirut, the Syrian-Palestinian Congress set forth its demands: the formation of a unified Syrian state, and a plebiscite in Lebanon to decide whether it would join the Syrian state; the immediate establishment of a national government and an organic law based on the principles of national sovereignty; elections for a Constituent Assembly by direct universal suffrage; the abolition of the Mandate and a Franco—Syrian accord of limited duration safeguarding the principles of national sovereignty; and the evacuation of the army of occupation. Dc Jouvenel responded with the assertion that these proposals were “perfectly unacceptable” and that France was unable “to forget the obligations she assumed before fifty nations of the League.”

56 Conversation with ṢabrĪ FarĪd al-BidaiwĪ (Damascus, 9 July 1977).

57 The Sursuks were also Greek Orthodox merchants. See Porath, Y., The Palestinian Arab National Movement 1929–1939: From Riots to Rebellion (London, 1977), II, 83.

58 MAE, Syrie-Liban, “Interview with Edmond Rabbath, 12 July 1927,” vol. 213, pp. 1624;ibid., “Bulletin d'lnformation de la Direction du Service des Renseignements,” Beirut, 16 January 1927, vol. 201, p. 182; ibid., “Note,” 20 July 1926, vol. 211, pp. 94–96; PRO, FO, 371/4744, vol.12303, Henderson (Cairo) to Chamberlain, 29 December 1927.

59 I have tried to trace the development of this attitude in my “Politics of Nationalism,” I, 209y210, 282–283; III, 985–987.

60 Rabbath, , Courre Histoire, p. 10.

61 MAE, Syrie-Liban, Beirut. 16 01 1927, vol. 201, p. 182;PRO, FO 371/2142, vol. 20849, 6 May 1937. To complicate matters, the Druze clans of Arsiān and al-Aṭrash had been on bad terms for some time. See, MAE. Syrie-Liban, “Interview with Edmond Rabbath, 12 07 1927.”

62 ibid., “Note.” 20 July 1926, vol. 211, pp. 94–96.

63 ibid., 1922, vol. 40, pp. 48–49. The French claimed that one of the British “secretaries” at the League of Nations— a former Professor in Cairo, received money for distribution to the Syrian—Palestinian Congress from the British Consul in Geneva on Lloyd's Bank of Geneva checks.See ibid., “Note,” 10 December 1926, vol. 211, pp. 222–224.

64 Although accurate figures for the amount of money raised outside Syria for the Great Revolt are unavailable, French sources (ibid., 16 August 1927, vol. 213, pp. 85–86) estimated that at least £E 100,000 was sent to Syria from the following:

65 In fact when Michel Luṭfāllah, who had served SharĪf Ḥusain as his banker and adviser, proposed to Ibn Sa'ūd that he open a bank in the Hijaz after its conquest, he was flatly turned down. See ibid., 27 January 1926, vol. 210, p. 105.

66 H. Sr. John Philby Papers, Rosita (McGrath) Forbes to Philby 23 05 1927, Box XIV, File 3, Middle East Centre, St. Antony's College, Oxford.

67 Al-ḤuṣnĪ, , Kitāb muntakhabāt, II, 861862Salname: süriye vilayeti, 1288/1871–1872, p. 72;ibid., 1308–1309/1890–1891, p. 66; ibid., 1309–1310/1892–1893, pp. 102, 124; ibid., 1312/1894–1895, p. 71.

68 Fāris, , Man huwa, pp. 68;Vacca, , “Notizie,” p. 490.

69 MAE, Syrie-Liban, 10 12 1925, vol. 210, pp. 3840.

70 Patrick Seale claims that YasĪn was one of several Syrians al-QuwatlĪ sent to Ibn Sa'“d as aides and advisers (The Struggle for Syria: A Study in Post-War Arab Politics [London, 1965”, p. 26).

71 MAE, Syrie-Liban, Cairo to Briand, 21 01 1926, vol. 210, p. 93;ibid., Cairo, 24 August 1927, vol. 213, pp. 82–83.

72 ādil al-'Aẓma had been a member of the Istiqlāl Party in Damascus. Imprisoned by the French on occupation, he was soon exiled to Transjordan where he assisted his brother NabĪh and “ādil Arslān in forming a branch of the Istiqlāl Party. For biographical sketches of the 'Aẓma brothers, see al, -JundĪ, Ta'rĪkh, pp. 539541.

73 Shahbandar Papers, Shahbandar to Ḥasan al-ḤakĪm, 22 04 1927, no. 10/26. Al-QuwatlĪ was assisted by two other Istiqlālists: al-Ḥājj AdĪb Khair, a wealthy Damascene merchant, and Khālid al-ḤakĪm, an Istanbul-trained engineer from Homs, who was also instrumental in getting Ibn Sa'ūd to support the Syrian independence struggle.

74 MAE, Syrie-Liban, Cairo, 24 08 1927, vol. 213, p. 159;Shahbandar Papers, Shahbandar to Ḥasan al-Ḥakim, 22 04 1927, no. 10/26. “ādil al-'Aẓma was also accused of pilfering a large sum of money as was the Mufti, al-Hājj AmĪn al-ḤusainĪ. See MAE, Syrie-Liban, 16 08 1927 vol. 213, pp. 8586;Porath, , The Emergence, I, 203.

75 MAE, Syrie-Liban, French Consulate (Jaffa) to Consul-General (Jerusalem), 10 10 1927, vol. 23, pp. 202205.

76 See my “Politics of Nationalism,” II, 520–527, 550–553.

77 Shahbandar Papers, Shahbandar to Ḥasan al-ḤakĪm, 15 03 1927, no. 7/23. The Shahbandar group claimed that when the Jerusalem Committee did send money for the Revolt, it went to rebels operating in the gardens (known as the Ghūṭa) around Damascus, and not to the Jabal Druze because it considered the Jabal to be much less critical to the success of the Revolt. See MAE, Syrie-Liban, 16 08, vol. 213, pp. 8586.

78 Markaz al-Wathā'iq al-ta'rĪkhiyya, al-Qism al-khāṣṣ, NazĪh Mu'ayyad al-'Aẓm Papers, “Petition of Zu'āma of Ghūṭa and Damascus,” 11 August 1927; ibid., NasĪb al-BakrĪ Papers, NasĪb al-BakrĪ to Michel Luṭfāllah, 12 03 1927, no. 30.

79 MAE, Syrie-Liban, Muḥammad TrabulsĪ to “ādil Arslān and NabĪh Bey (most likely al-'Aẓma), 29 12 1925, vol. 211, pp. 142150.

80 Ibid., “Notice par Enkiri,” 25 October 1927, vol. 214, pp. 18–21; Oriente Moderno, 7 (1927), 564566. In the early 1920s the Luṭfāllahs and their in-laws the Sursuks, who were among the wealthiest members of the Lebanese comprador bourgeoisie with branches in Beirut and Cairo, had already begun to engage in joint ventures with French capitalists in Lebanon. For the Luṭfāllahs, whose activities on the Syrian–Palestinian Congress made them personae non gratae with the French High Commission, there was a growing need to mend their fences in order to pursue their various financial ventures unencumbered by travel restrictions and other obstacles which the High Commission may have imposed. See PRO, FO 371/9712, vol. 10162, Lord Alleriby (Cairo) to Beirut Consulate, 8 November 1924. As for other Luṭfāllah-Sursuk financial links, together the families owned the Cairo Agriculture Company, which had a capital of £E 250,865 at the end of 1928. Michel Luṭrāllah was its president and Nicholas and Victor Sursuk were members of the Board. See MAE, Syrie-Liban, “Bulletin of the Cairo Agriculture Company,” 1929, vol. 216, no. 10.

81 PRO, FO 371/4744, vol. 12303, Henderson (Cairo) to Chamberlain; Oriente Moderno, 7 (1927), 564566, and 8 (1928), 56; Conversation with Ḥasan al-ḤakĪm (Damascus, 12 March 1976); Conversation with Naṣūḥ BābĪl (Damascus, 20 February 1976);NazĪh Mu'ayyad al-'Aẓm Papers, “Diary (1927),” no. 15. Other members of the “'AbdĪn Committee” included Ḥasan al-ḤakĪm, TawfĪq al-YāzijĪ, Khālid al-KhāṭĪb, TawfĪq Ḥaidar, and Niqūlā Ḥaddād. The Istiqlālist-dominated “Committee” included Khair al-DĪn al-ZiriklĪ, As'ad Dāghir, 'Abd al-LaṭĪf al-'AsalĪ, al-Ḥājj AdĪb Khair, NabĪh al-'Aẓma, Sa'Īd Awda, and Sa'Īd TarmānĪnĪ.

82 Hourani, Albert, “Revolution in the Arab Middle East,” in Vatikiotis, P. J., ed., Revolution in the Middle East and Other Case Studies (London, 1972), p. 70.

83 Markaz al-Wathā'iq al-ta'rĪkhiyya, al-Intidāb al-faransĪ, 80/943/1864, 14 03 1928, which includes a copy of Arrêgá no. 1817 of 14 03 1928. Among those nationalists linked to Dr. Shahbandar on the blacklist were Ḥasan al-ḤakĪm, NazĪh Mu′ayyad al-'Aẓm, Sa'Īd Ḥaidar, and ′Uthmān al-SharabātĪ. Members of the Istiqlāl Party refused amnesty by the French were ShukrĪ al-QuwatlĪ, NabĪh al-'Aẓma, 'ādil al-'Aẓma, āmĪ Sarrāj, and 'ādil Arslān. Other blacklisted notables and Revolt leaders included Muṣṭafā Waṣfi, Yaḥyā al-ḤayātĪ, Shaikh Kāmil al-Qaṣṣāb, Sa'Īd al-'ās, Muḥammad 'Izz al-DĪn al-Ḥa abĪ, FawzĪ al-QāwūqjĪ, and Jḥsān al-JābirĪ. The total number of Syrians and Lebanese denied amnesty at this time was sixty-four.

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