A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

January 1916:The Rise of the Arab Bureau

One of the most famous institutions in the Middle East in World War I, though its work was largely secret at the time, was the famous Arab Bureau. This small but growing section of the British Military Intelligence section  in Cairo would eventually count among its members T.E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell, David Hogarth, Aubrey Herbert, Herbert Garland, George Lloyd (later Lord Lloyd), Stewart Newcombe, Leonard Woolley, and others.

You may want to review my posts of a little over a year ago on the British Intelligence Section in Cairo and the complicated chain of command, as well as the new men assigned there. Most of the intelligence section discussed there would either join or work closely with the Arab Bureau; some in Cairo, others with the Arab Revolt which the Arab Bureau would strongly support.

The Bureau's creation was the brainchild of Sir Mark Sykes (later of Sykes-Picot fame) who, after a tour of the Middle East from Egypt to India had ben impressed by the facts that Germany and the Ottomans were doing a better job than Britain in propaganda to the Muslim world outside of India.

In my earlier posts on the Cairo Intelligence Section, we discussed the rivalries between the Indian Government in Delhi and Simla and India Office in London on the one hand, and the Foreign Office and War Office on the other. India was resistant to putting the Arab Bureau in Cairo, since India wanted to maintain control of the Mesopotamia Campaign and its influence on the Arab tribes in the Gulf.

After bureaucratic maneuvering, a compromise was reached: Gilbert Clayton would have direct responsibility for the Bureau bu i would report not to the British military leadership (Archibald Murray) alone, but directly to the Foreign Office (via the High Commissioner for Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon), and he Governor General of the Sudan/Sirdar of he Egyptian Army, Reginald Wingate. The confusing chain of command masked the fact that Clayton's intelligence section had direct control. David Hogarth, the archaeologist, an occasional spy, became Director,  with Kinahan Cornwallis as Deputy Director

The Bureau and its secret intelligence publication The Arab Bulletin would be major players in the remaining years of the Great War.

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