War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East
Author: Scott Anderson
Publisher: Atlantic Books Ltd
The Arab Revolt against the Turks in World War One was, in the words of T.E. Lawrence, 'a sideshow of a sideshow'. Amidst the slaughter in European trenches, the Western combatants paid scant attention to the Middle Eastern theatre. As a result, the conflict was shaped to a remarkable degree by a small handful of adventurers and low-level officers far removed from the corridors of power. At the centre of it all was Lawrence. In early 1914 he was an archaeologist excavating ruins in the sands of Syria; by 1917 he was battling both the enemy and his own government to bring about the vision he had for the Arab people. Operating in the Middle East at the same time, but to wildly different ends, were three other important players: a German attaché, an American oilman and a committed Zionist. The intertwined paths of these four young men - the schemes they put in place, the battles they fought, the betrayals they endured and committed - mirror the grandeur, intrigue and tragedy of the war in the desert.
T. E. Lawrence became world-famous as 'Lawrence of Arabia', after helping Sherif Hussein of Mecca gain independence from Turkey during the Arab Revolt of 1916-18. His achievements, however, would have been impossible without the unsung efforts of a forgotten band of fellow officers and spies. This groundbreaking account by Philip Walker interweaves the compelling stories of Colonel Cyril Wilson and a colourful supporting cast with the narrative of Lawrence and the desert campaign. These men's lost tales provide a remarkable and fresh perspective on Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. While Lawrence and others blew up trains in the desert, Wilson and his men carried out their shadowy intelligence and diplomatic work. His deputies rooted out anti-British jihadists who were trying to sabotage the revolt. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Lionel Gray, a cipher officer, provided a gateway into unknown aspects of the revolt through his previously unpublished photographs and eyewitness writings. Wilson's crucial influence underpinned all these missions and steadied the revolt on a number of occasions when it could have collapsed. Without Wilson and his circle there would have been no 'Lawrence of Arabia'. Yet Wilson's band mostly fell through the cracks of history into obscurity. "Behind the Lawrence Legend" reveals their vital impact and puts Lawrence's efforts into context, thus helping to set the record straight for one of the most beguiling and iconic characters of the twentieth century.
Traditionally, in general studies of the First World War, the Middle East is an arena of combat that has been portrayed in romanticised terms, in stark contrast to the mud, blood, and presumed futility of the Western Front. Battles fought in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Arabia offered a different narrative on the Great War, one in which the agency of individual figures was less neutered by heavy artillery. As with the historiography of the Western Front, which has been the focus of sustained inquiry since the mid-1960s, such assumptions about the Middle East have come under revision in the last two decades – a reflection of an emerging ‘global turn’ in the history of the First World War. The ‘sideshow’ theatres of the Great War – Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the Pacific – have come under much greater scrutiny from historians. The fifteen chapters in this volume cover a broad range of perspectives on the First World War in the Middle East, from strategic planning issues wrestled with by statesmen through to the experience of religious communities trying to survive in war zones. The chapter authors look at their specific topics through a global lens, relating their areas of research to wider arguments on the history of the First World War.
The First World War in the Middle East swept away five hundred years of Ottoman domination. It ushered in new ideologies and radicalised old ones - from Arab nationalism and revolutionary socialism to impassioned forms of atavistic Islamism. It created heroic icons, like the enigmatic Lawrence of Arabia or the modernizing Atatürk, and destroyed others. And it completely re-drew the map of the region, forging a host of new nation states, including Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia - all of them (with the exception of Turkey) under the 'protection' of the victor powers, Britain and France. For many, the self-serving intervention of these powers in the region between 1914 and 1919 is the major reason for the conflicts that have raged there on and off ever since. Yet many of the most commonly accepted assertions about the First World War in the Middle East are more often stated than they are truly tested. Rob Johnson, military historian and former soldier, now seeks to put this right by examining in detail the strategic and operational course of the war in the Middle East. Johnson argues that, far from being a sideshow to the war in Europe, the Middle Eastern conflict was in fact the centre of gravity in a war for imperial domination and prestige. Moreover, contrary to another persistent myth of the First World War in the Middle East, local leaders and their forces were not simply the puppets of the Great Powers in any straightforward sense. The way in which these local forces embraced, resisted, succumbed to, disrupted, or on occasion overturned the plans of the imperialist powers for their own interests in fact played an important role in shaping the immediate aftermath of the conflict - and in laying the foundations for the troubled Middle East that we know today.
Award-winning journalist Thanassis Cambanis tells the “wonderfully readable and insightful” (Booklist, starred review) inside story of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. Cambanis brings to life the noble dreamers who brought Egypt to the brink of freedom, and the dark powerful forces that—for the time being—stopped them short. But he also tells a universal story of inspirational people willing to transform themselves in order to transform their society. He focuses on two pivotal leaders: One is Basem, an apolitical middle-class architect who puts his entire family in danger when he seizes the chance to improve his country. The other is Moaz, a contrarian Muslim Brother who defies his own organization to join the opposition. These revolutionaries had little more than their idealism with which to battle the secret police, the old oligarchs, and a power-hungry military determined to keep control. Basem wanted to change the system from within and became one of the only revolutionaries to win a seat in parliament. Moaz took a different course, convinced that only street pressure from youth movements could dismantle the old order. Their courageous and imperfect decisions produced an uprising with one enduring outcome: No Arab leader ever again can take the population’s consent for granted. Once Upon a Revolution is “a welcome addition to the literature on Egypt’s uprising” (Library Journal). Featuring exclusive and distinctive reporting, Thanassis Cambanis’s “fluent, intelligent, and highly informed book…convincingly explains what happened in Egypt over the last four years” (The New York Times Book Review).