The Arab Revolt

The allied forces were determined to weaken the Ottomans Empire for numerous reasons. The Ottomans supported the Germans; they promoted, in theory, a concept of pan-Islamism; and they held power in the very influential area that is the Middle East.

The King of Hejaz, Hussein bin Ali, was a supporter of the Ottomans, but in 1916, began negotiating in secret with the British and French in order to complete a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Hussein wanted an Arab nation spanning from Syria to Yemen that he could proclaim as a caliphate, with himself as the caliph.

After conflicts in Egypt around the Suez Canal, the revolt began when Hussein’s supporters attacked the Ottomans in Mecca in a battle that lasted over a month. Egyptian troops were sent to help the Hashemites, as well as British artillery. The attacks against the Ottomans would continue to Jeddah, where the Arabs attacked the Ottoman ports with the help of the British and French navies. For the next couple of years, with the help of British planning, such as that of Lawrence of Arabia, different Arab armies and tribes continued to attack Ottoman transport links and important sites until the Ottoman Empire was weakened severely. In late 1918, the allies – represented by the Egyptian Expeditionary Force they had created in 1916 – had taken over Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

Portrait of Hussein bin Ali

Portrait of Hussein bin Ali

The British and French had promised the Arabs independence if they helped them against the Ottomans, and a deal had been agreed with Hussein in 1916. However, this deal was secretly forsaken in the Sykes-Picot Agreement that Britain and France completed behind the Arabs’ backs, in which control of the Middle East would be split between the allied powers.

In the aftermath, while Hussein declared himself ‘King of the Arab Lands’, the Middle East came under the rule of the Britain and France. What is more, when, in 1924, the Ottoman Caliphate was abolished officially, and Hussein declared himself Caliph, the influential rivals clan, the House of Saud, was quick to respond. Led by Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, they attacked Hussein and his troops, ending 700 years of Hashemite rule. The British, who had supported Hussein, did not step in to help their ally who was exiled. In fact, Britain had actually started quiet diplomatic relations with Ibn Saud during the war. Britain would here begin its continuing support to the Saud House, who took over Mecca, Medina and Jeddah. Two years later, the e British government would sign a treaty giving Ibn Saud control of this region, leading to the birth of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Flag of the Arab Rvolt

Flag of the Arab Rvolt

 

Lawrence of Arabia

Thomas Edward Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, as he is known, was a British officer during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans in 1916-1918.

During the war, the British intelligence in Cairo included the Arab Bureau, which began to lead the revolt against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. It is to Cairo, to work for the intelligence staff, that Lawrence would first be sent in 1914. He was then moved to the Kingdom of Hejaz (now in Saudi Arabia) in 1916 to work with the Hashemites, including with Hussein bin Ali, then King of Hejaz. There, Lawrence would help plan tactics to weaken the Ottomans, such as targeting their transport links, and fighting them in specific areas. Indeed, Lawrence joined in the fighting regularly. His input helped take several regions from the Ottomans, such as Aqaba in Jordan and Damascus in Syria. Crucially, Lawrence played a significant part in convincing the Arabs that the British policy worked in their best interests.

Lawrence’s expeditions were sensationalised by an American reporter, Lowell Thomas, as well as by his own autobiographical accounts, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Most of all, in 1962, the acclaimed movie, Lawrence of Arabia, depicted his adventures and established his place in the British heritage of the First World War.

 

Sources

  • Murphy, David (2008) The Arab Revolt 1916–18 Lawrence sets Arabia Ablaze. Osprey: London
  • Robert Wilson and Zahra Freeth. The Arab of the Desert. London: Allen & Unwin, 1983.
  • http://telawrence.info/telawrenceinfo/life/chron_1914.shtml
  • Murphy, David (2008). The Arab Revolt 1916-1918, London: Osprey, 2008, p. 36.
  • Mack, John E. (1998). A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T. E. Lawrence. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 158, 161.