I visited Azraq castle yesterday, the castle in eastern Jordan where Lawrence of Arabia was based with his Arab forces in 1917. From here Lawrence led the successful assault on Damascus effectively ending the Turkish occupation of Arab lands and precipitating their defeat in the First World War. The victory should have been a happy ending for the Arab Revolt but unfortunately it wasn’t.
To encourage an Arab revolt the British government had promised full independence and self determination to the Arabs if they were victorious against the Turks. However, they were at the same time concluding the secret Sykes Picot agreement with the French providing for the sharing of Arab lands between the British and French once the war was won; the complete opposite of what they had promised the Arabs.
Lawrence, of course, was absolutely furious and dismayed when he learned of his country’s duplicity, not least because he, in good faith, had personally encouraged the Arabs to rise up with the promise of independence at the war’s end. Lawrence, a great and inspirational leader and a true friend of the Arabs, worked hard to try to overturn the Sykes-Picot agreement but what could one man do, even a man such as he, against the collective will of two powerful governments?
Although his efforts assisted in the creation of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1921, albeit under a British mandate (which ended in 1946), his pleas fell largely on deaf ears. Tired and embittered by his exertions Lawrence returned to England to write his autobiography (The Seven Pillars of Wisdom) and later joined the RAF as an ordinary serviceman using the alias of T.E. Shaw.
He was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1935 though some people, particularly his many Arab friends, suspected the hand of the British government. Maybe they were right for who knows fully what goes on in the dark corridors of power? One thing is for sure though, the name of Lawrence of Arabia is still loved and revered in Arab lands and it is a tragedy that his country’s promises were broken. If they had been kept perhaps the Middle East would be a safer place today.