Between 1919 and 1922 dramatic changes took place in the Middle East. Economic and political penetration in ethnically diverse areas of strategic importance for the positioning of global actors, on the basis of the interests of the British and French victors of World War One led, a few years after the end of the war to the constitution of the states in the Middle East. The division of the territory based on the interests of the victorious forces of the Great War, and the emergence of new states in the Middle East, very soon caused "the Middle East question" with unresolved political issues and an endless military conflict with all accompanying it political and economic problems.
Interestingly, however, the guerrilla wars in Iraq and Iran, the endless Israeli-Palestinian and Turkish-Kurdish conflict, the unresolved Cyprus issue, the strained Greek-Turkish relations, the dire situation in Lebanon, the uprisings and overthrow of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, the civil war in Syria, which transfer the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean a dangerous inflammable zones, all have their roots in the aforementioned period.
Obviously, the Middle East even nowadays remains a constant theatre of war. Consequently the recent escalation of violence in Gaza, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories has been on the table of European Foreign Ministers to discuss how the EU can best assist in escalating tensions and ending the current violence. However, the Egypt`s initiative for further talks between Palestinians and Israelis was crucial in mediating a deal between the two sides. Although much still hangs on turning the tenuous cease-fire into a more permanent truce, it became clear that the Egypt is the key to security in the Middle East and that Cairo-brokered reconciliations talks once more decide the future of the Middle East.
The WWI consequences
During the First World War (1914–1918), an Arab uprising against Ottoman rule and the British Empire's Egyptian Expeditionary Force under General Edmund Allenby drove the Turks out of the Levant during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. The United Kingdom had agreed in the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence that it would honour Arab independence if they revolted against the Ottomans, but the two sides had different interpretations of this agreement, and in the end, the UK and France divided up the area under the Sykes–Picot Agreement – an act of betrayal in the eyes of the Arabs. Further complicating the issue was the Balfour Declaration of 1917, promising British support for a Jewish "national home" in Palestine. At the end of war the British and French set up a joint "Occupied Enemy Territory Administration" in what had been Ottoman Syria. The British achieved legitimacy for their continued control by obtaining a mandate from the League of Nations which formal objective was to administer parts of the defunct Ottoman Empire.
The Sharifian solution as first put forward by T.E. Lawrence in 1918, was a plan to install three of Sharif Hussein's four sons as heads of state in newly created countries across the Middle East: his second son Abdullah ruling Baghdad and Lower Mesopotamia, his third son Faisal in Syria, and his fourth son Zeid in Upper Mesopotamia. The Sharif himself would not wield any political power in these places, and his first son, Ali would be his successor in Hejaz. Given the need to rein in expenditure and factors outside British control, including France's removing of Faisal from Syria in July 1920, and Abdullah's entry into Transjordan (which had been the southern part of Faisal's Syria) in November 1920, the eventual Sharifian solution was somewhat different, the informal name for a British policy put into effect by Secretary of State for the Colonies Winston Churchill following the 1921 Cairo conference.
The situation in the post-war Middle East was deplorable. The uprisings against the British at the command of Mesopotamia bound large military forces there and created enormous costs for the British treasury. The British army had suffered hundreds of casualties and sections of the British press were calling for the ending of British control. T.E. Lawrence, whose wartime activities were beginning to capture the public imagination and who had strong attachments to the Husain dynasty based in the Hejaz, was lobbying the British Government on behalf of Emir Feisal. The Emir's attempt to establish a kingdom with Damascus as its capital had been thwarted by the French army. In November 1920 Feisal's older brother Abdullah appeared with several hundred followers in the town of Ma'an and announced his intention of attacking the French occupation in modern-day Syria and Lebanon and restoring his brother to power there. Churchill's task as the new Colonial Secretary with special responsibility for the Middle East, was to find a solution to the unrest in Iraq and satisfy the aspirations of the Hussein’s. The British as allies on both sides had to find a political way out. All that Lawrence had fought for seemed to have been lost in the game of superpower games. But the Arab affair was not entirely lost. In January 1921, Winston Churchill as the newly appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies in the Lloyd George government invited Lawrence to take up the post of political adviser on Arab affairs in the Ministry of the Colonies and then instructed him to prepare the agenda for a meeting of experts. He appointed Lawrence as his special advisor. This meeting should have focused on the issue of Britain’s mandates granted to it by the League of Nations, Palestine and Mesopotamia, the issue of Syria and Lebanon, and the fulfillment of Mecca’s expectations. It should also dealt with the question of the Persian Gulf states and the protectorate of Aden.
They held a series of meetings with Feisal in London prior to the conference. Most of the decisions about the future of Iraq had been already taken in London; Feisal should become king of a new Kingdom of Iraq, to be approved by a plebiscite of the local population. Once installed, the King would sign a friendship treaty or Alliance with Great Britain. In a major policy change, with Lawrence arguing strongly in favor, it was decided that security in the area should be transferred from the army to the Royal Air Force. By the time the conference started the British army had managed to crush the revolt in Mesopotamia, at a cost of £40–50 million, with over 400 British soldiers and over 10,000 Iraqis killed. It was anticipated that the new policy would make significant financial savings.
The 1921 Cairo Conference, as Middle East Conference held in Cairo and Jerusalem, March 12 to 30, 1921, was a series of meetings by British officials for examining and discussing Middle Eastern problems, and to frame a common policy. The secret conference of British experts created the blueprint for British control in both Iraq and Transjordan. Thus, in March 1921 Winston Churchill, drawing on advice from TE Lawrence and Gertrude Bell presided over the creation of modern day Iraq and Jordan and supported the expansion of the Jewish presence in Palestine. The conference was followed by a visit to several places in Palestine including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Particular concerns of the conference were to resolve the conflicting policies defined in the McMahon letters (1915), the Sykes-Picot agreement (1916) and the Balfour Declaration (1917). Winston Churchill, the newly appointed Colonial Secretary, called all the British Military Leaders and civil administrators in the Middle East to a conference at the Semiramis hotel in Cairo to discuss these issues. The conference's most significant outcome was the decision to implement the Sharifian Solution: Abdullah bin Hussein was to administer the territory east of the Jordan River, Transjordan, and his brother Faisal was to become king of a newly created Kingdom of Iraq; both were to continue to receive direction and financial support from Great Britain. It was also agreed that Lebanon and Syria should remain under French control, Britain should maintain the mandate over Palestine and continue to support the establishment of a Jewish Homeland there, Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca, was to be recognized as King of the Hejaz and Abdul Aziz ibn Saud left in control of the Nejd in the heart of the Arabian Desert.
The agenda consisted of three sections: Iraq, Palestine (including Transjordan), Aden and the Persian Gulf. The Judiciary, Finance, the size of the British Army garrison and the proposed Legislative Council were all on the agenda. The issue of Trans-Jordania was complicated by the arrival of Abdullah's army in Amman, with an influx of rebels and refugees from Syria and the fact that the Zionists regarded Transjordan as part of the promised Jewish Homeland. Churchill held a series of meetings with Abdullah in Jerusalem on his way back to London.
The only public announcement on the decisions made during the conference, was a report made by Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on 14 June 1921. It drew little comment from the press and the conference is barely mentioned in the published letters and autobiographies of the main participants. Lawrence concluded that Churchill had "made straight all the tangle" and that Britain had fulfilled "our promises in letter and spirit ... without sacrificing any interest of our Empire or any interest of the people concerned." Nevertheless, one of Lawrence's biographers comments that the conference "heralded a period of unrest in the Middle East which had scarcely been surpassed even under Ottoman rule."
The post WWI geopolitical reshuffle of the Middle East
The Emirate of Transjordan was a British protectorate established on 11 April 1921. It was agreed that Abdullah bin Hussein would administer the territory under the auspices of the British Mandate for Palestine with a fully autonomous governing system. The Hashemite dynasty ruled the protectorate, as well as the neighboring Mandatory Iraq and, until 1925, the Kingdom of Hejaz to the south. On 25 May 1946, the emirate became the "Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan", achieving full independence on 17 June 1946 when in accordance with the Treaty of London ratifications were exchanged in Amman. In 1949, it was constitutionally renamed the "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan", commonly referred to as Jordan.
The Kingdom of Iraq under British Administration, or Mandatory Iraq was created in 1921, following the 1920 Iraqi Revolt against the proposed British Mandate of Mesopotamia, and enacted via the 1922 Anglo-Iraqi Treaty and a 1924 undertaking by the United Kingdom to the League of Nations to fulfil the role as Mandatory Power. Faisal ibn Hussen, who had been proclaimed King of Syria by a Syrian National Congress in Damascus in March 1920, was ejected by the French in July of the same year. Faisal was then granted by the British the territory of Iraq, to rule it as a kingdom, with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) retaining certain military control, but de facto, the territory remained under British administration until 1932.The civil government of postwar Iraq was headed originally by the High Commissioner, Sir Percy Cox, and his deputy, Colonel Arnold Wilson. The most striking problem facing the British was the growing anger of the nationalists, who continued to fight against the imposition of British authority.
Mandatory Palestine was a geopolitical entity established between 1920 and 1948 in the region of Palestine under the terms of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. During the Mandate, the area saw the rise of nationalist movements in both the Jewish and Arab communities. Competing interests of the two populations led to the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine and the 1944–1948 Jewish insurgency in Mandatory Palestine. After the failure of the Arab population to accept the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, the 1947–1949 Palestine war ended with the territory of Mandatory Palestine divided among the State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which annexed territory on the West Bank of the Jordan River, and the Kingdom of Egypt, which established the "All-Palestine Protectorate" in the Gaza Strip until Egypt's defeat in the Six-Day War of 1967, after which the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip began. Egyptian rule in Gaza before the Six-Day War had been continuous with the exception of a brief period from October 1956 to March 1957, when Israel invaded and occupied Gaza for a short time during the Suez Canal Crisis. From September 1948, until its dissolution by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1959, the Gaza Strip was officially administered by the All-Palestine Government.
Clearly, the current challenges emphasize the need for analyzing the contemporary problems and strategies concerning their historical background, where the Cairo Conference 1921 appears as the key of understanding the roots of the Middle East conflict. Moreover, Egypt’s intensive diplomatic efforts to stabilize the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip, where the Egyptian foreign ministry, FM Sameh Shoukry called his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Al-Safadi to discuss developments in the latest Palestinian crisis, perhaps is just a confirmation that the solution to the acute problems of the region could emanate only from the nations involved in everlasting Middle East issue and only by a deeper insight into the historical heritage of the region.
Breidel Hadjidemetriou, T., War and Diplomacy in the Middle East, The Activities of Lawrence of Arabia, Athens 2015.
Pećinar Aleksandra, The Paris Peace Conference and the Balkan Geopolitical Realities, LAP 2020.