The Middle East & World War One


While the Ottoman Empire enters the war on Germany’s side, the Arabs (led by Sherif Hussein of Mecca) agree to side with the Allies (Britain, France, and Russia). They do so because of an agreement known as the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence in which Britain promises independence to what is now Syria, Palestine (Israel), Jordan, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula should the Allies win the war. Unbeknownst to the Arabs, however, Britain also signs the Sykes-Picot Agreement with France later in 1916. This pact, which directly contradicts Hussein-McMahon, details a plan to split up most of the Middle East region between Britain and France should they defeat the Axis powers. Britain makes a third conflicting agreement, the Balfour Declaration. After ousting the Ottomans from both Jerusalem and Baghdad, they promise to support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.



Ottomans enter the war to fight with the central powers



Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I Britain, France, and Russia carve up the Ottoman Empire in the ‘Sykes-Picot Agreement’.  Britain wins control over Palestine…France has authority over the areas that are now known as the nations of Lebanon and Syria.


Arab revolt against the Ottomans in Hijaz; Sherif Hussein of Mecca had agreed to enter World War One on the side of the Allies, in return for British promises of independence of what is now Syria, Palestine/Israel, Jordan, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula; Britain signs a secret pact (the Sykes-Picot Agreement) with France dividing the Arab regions of the Ottoman Empire between them.


Sykes-Picot Agreement

The Sykes-Picot agreement was a secret understanding concluded in May 1916, during World War I, between Great Britain and France, with the assent of Russia, for the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.

The agreement led to the division of Turkish-held Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine into various French and British-administered areas. The agreement took its name from its negotiators, Sir Mark Sykes of Britain and Georges Picot of France.


The British Foreign Secretary, Arthur J. Balfour, issues the Balfour Declaration.  This document endorses the idea of establishing a ‘homeland’ for the Jewish people in Palestine.


The British oust the Ottomans from Jerusalem and Baghdad; in the Balfour Declaration, Britain declares its support for the establishment of a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine.



End of Ottoman rule in Arab lands.



The League of Nations awards mandates for Syria and Lebanon to France and for Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq to Britain.


1918-1922: A nationalist movement in Egypt leads to Egyptian independence.


Saad Zaghlul leads a delegation to meet with the ruling British High Commissioner and demand independence for Egypt. He is refused, and his subsequent arrest and deportation spark anti-British riots. The growing popular support of the nationalistic Wafd Party — “wafd” is Arabic for “delegation” — prompts Britain to grant Egypt limited independence in February 1922 and install a king as head of state. Britain, which has served as Egypt’s protectorate since 1914, retains control over essential government institutions, including the parliament; finances; education; and the Sudan. It also keeps troops in the Suez Canal zone. Egypt will gain full independence after World War II.


April 25, 1920: Former Ottoman-controlled territories in the Middle East are assigned as mandates to Allied powers.


At the post-World War I San Remo Conference in Italy, former Ottoman-controlled territories are allotted as “mandates” among the victorious Allies. Established as part of the Treaty of Versailles, the mandate system entrusts Britain and France with the task of governing the territories until it is determined that they are ready for independence. Syria and Lebanon are assigned to France, Palestine and Iraq to Britain. Transjordan is created from the Palestine Mandate in 1921.


July 1920: Arabs in Iraq rebel against British rule.


Riots break out in what becomes known as the Great Iraqi Revolution. Iraq is placed under British mandate.