Imperial Britain wrote three documents during World War I as part of a desperate attempt to distract Germany from the Western Front battle. It didn't work as planned but was responsible for sparking an ongoing war that has plagued the world for the better part of three-quarters of a century.
In 1915, the Sharif of Mecca wrote a letter to the British High Commissioner of Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, asking if the British would support an independent Arab state if the Arabs rebelled against the Ottoman Empire.
The Sharif, Hussein bin Ali, proposed a single Arab state consisting of what is now Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. McMahon counter-offered to exclude Lebanon and the coastal areas of Syria from the proposed Arab state. Some have claimed that Palestine was not included in this Arab state but the proposed boundary (Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea) suggests the then eastern border of Egypt which happens to be the current border between Egypt and Israel. There was nothing special about Palestine at the time, it was a lightly populated backwater of the Ottoman Empire, to suggest it would deserve special treatment.
A series of letter were exchanged between the two men confirming an agreement. These letters began the Arab Revolt that made Lawrence of Arabia famous.
The French had different plans and wanted to carve up the Ottoman Empire gaining new colonies. A year later, 1916, the British and French drew up a completely different map of the Middle East. The Sykes-Picot map (Sykes and Picot were just a couple of diplomats) was not drawn with any tribal or geographic thoughts in mine.
This is the famous one. In 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote a short letter to the Baron Rothschild. This letter promised British support for a "national homeland" for the Jewish people in Palestine. It is by far the shortest of the three documents.
The united Arab state promised Hussein bin Ali never happened. France formed colonies out of Lebanon and Syria. Britain took Jordan, Iraq, and Palestine as colonies.
Hussein bin Ali was reduced to declaring himself king of the Arabian Peninsula a throne he lost a few years later to the rival Saud family. One son, Faisal, tried to take control of Syria but he was exiled by the French. The British, feeling sorry for him, set him up on a puppet throne in Iraq. A second son, Abdullah, was the puppet ruler of Jordan; his family still rules Jordan today.
Lebanon didn't gain its independence until 1943, Syria in 1944. Both countries were liberated by the British from the Vichy French.
Iraq was granted nominal independence in 1932 although, as with the United States today, the British maintained a military presence in the country. In 1941, when a coup overthrew the British backed king, Britain declared war to reinstall the monarchy. The last British troops were withdrawn in 1947. Jordan remained under British control until 1946.
T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia) drew his own map of how the Middle East should have ended up after WWI. It makes more sense than what actually happened.
|The Lawrence of Arabia map.|