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Perspective: David Fromkin on the Cairo Conference

Excerpt from David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, 2009.

“Before he took office as Colonial Secretary, Churchill had taken advantage of the close relationship between T.E. Lawrence and Feisal to sound out Feisal’s views. Lawrence had reported to Churchill’s Private Secretary in mid-January that Feisal was prepared to enter into discussions with Britain without any reference to French-occupied Syria; and that Feisal also agreed to abandon all his father’s claims to Palestine. Lawrence wrote that ‘The advantage of his taking this new ground of discussion is that all questions of pledges & promises, fulfilled or broken, are set aside. You begin a new discussion on the actual positions today and the best way of doing something constructive with them.’

At the Cairo Conference, Lawrence, [Sir Percy] Cox, Gertrude Bell and others in the Political Committee had established a timetable for Feisal’s candidacy for the throne of Iraq. Their plan was for Feisal to travel to Mecca, and from there to send telegrams to leading personalities in Iraq. In his cable Feisal was to say he had been urged by some friends to come to Iraq and that, after discussing the matter with his father and brothers, he had decided to offer his services to the people of Iraq.

When the Cairo Conference disbanded, Lawrence sent an urgent message to Feisal, who was in London. ‘Things have gone exactly as hoped. Please start for Mecca at once by quickest possible route…I will meet you on the way and explain the details.’”