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Arab Bureau

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The Arab Bureau was a section of the Cairo Intelligence Department during the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. According to a Committee of Imperial Defence
Committee of Imperial Defence
The Committee of Imperial Defence was an important ad hoc part of the government of the United Kingdom and the British Empire from just after the Second Boer War until the start of World War II...

 paper from January 7, 1916 the Arab Bureau was established to "harmonise British political activity in the Near East
Near East
The Near East is a geographical term that covers different countries for geographers, archeologists, and historians, on the one hand, and for political scientists, economists, and journalists, on the other...

...[and] keep the Foreign Office, the India Office
India Office
The India Office was a British government department created in 1858 to oversee the colonial administration of India, i.e. the modern-day nations of Bangladesh, Burma, India, and Pakistan, as well as territories in South-east and Central Asia, the Middle East, and parts of the east coast of Africa...

, the Committee of Defence, the War Office
War Office
The War Office was a department of the British Government, responsible for the administration of the British Army between the 17th century and 1964, when its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Defence...

, the Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

, and Government of India
British Raj
British Raj was the British rule in the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947; The term can also refer to the period of dominion...

 simultaneously informed of the general tendency of Germano-Turkish Policy."


It was constituted on the initiative of Mark Sykes who, in December 1915, reported to London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 that, in a recent tour of the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

 from Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 to India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, he had discovered that the German and Turkish governments were widely distributing anti-British wartime propaganda
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

. Sykes was concerned because British command posts in the Middle East were generally unco-operative and thus far unable to successfully produce counter-propaganda. Sykes proposed the creation of a London office under his auspices to gather, filter, and distribute intelligence on the German and Turkish Middle East policy and "co-ordinate propaganda in favour of Great Britain
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 among non-Indian Moslems."


Sykes' proposal was welcomed by Gilbert Clayton
Gilbert Clayton
Brigadier-General Sir Gilbert Falkingham Clayton, KCMG, KBE, CB , was a British army intelligence officer and colonial administrator, who worked in several countries in the Middle East in the early 20th century. In Egypt, during World War I as an intelligence officer, he supervised those who worked...

, the director of civilian and military intelligence in Egypt and Sudan Agent. Clayton believed that such an office might not only discover and counter enemy propaganda but be capable of overseeing a wider collection of political and military information regarding the Middle East and in turn produce easily understood reports to inform policy-making in Cairo
Cairo , is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world and Africa, and the 16th largest metropolitan area in the world. Nicknamed "The City of a Thousand Minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life...

 and London towards the Ottoman
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 Arab territories
Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula is a land mass situated north-east of Africa. Also known as Arabia or the Arabian subcontinent, it is the world's largest peninsula and covers 3,237,500 km2...



Clayton's preference for locating the Arab Bureau in Cairo met with resistance from the Government of India (Charles Hardinge) and the India Office (Austen Chamberlain
Austen Chamberlain
Sir Joseph Austen Chamberlain, KG was a British statesman, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and half-brother of Neville Chamberlain.- Early life and career :...

) who did not want interference in their control of territories around the Persian Gulf
Persian Gulf
The Persian Gulf, in Southwest Asia, is an extension of the Indian Ocean located between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.The Persian Gulf was the focus of the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War, in which each side attacked the other's oil tankers...

 and particularly the Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

 provinces which they planned to occupy and cultivate for grain
GRAIN is a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems. Our support takes the form of independent research and analysis, networking at local, regional and...

 production for India. Newly discovered oil deposits
Oil field
An oil field is a region with an abundance of oil wells extracting petroleum from below ground. Because the oil reservoirs typically extend over a large area, possibly several hundred kilometres across, full exploitation entails multiple wells scattered across the area...

 located around the North Gulf brought further attention to the region. But the Director of Naval Intelligence
Naval Intelligence Division
The Naval Intelligence Division was the intelligence arm of the British Admiralty before the establishment of a unified Defence Staff in 1965. It dealt with matters concerning British naval plans, with the collection of naval intelligence...

 in Britain, Captain Reginald 'Blinker' Hall
William Reginald Hall
Admiral Sir William Reginald Hall, KCMG, CB, RN was the British Director of Naval Intelligence from 1914 to 1919...

, supported Clayton's concept and urged government approval.


The result was a compromise and in January 1916 the Arab Bureau was established as a section of Sudan Intelligence in Cairo, under the authority of the High Commissioner of Egypt (Henry McMahon
Henry McMahon
Henry McMahon may refer to:* Henry McMahon , diplomat known for the McMahon Line and the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence* Henry McMahon , member of the band Big Tom and The Mainliners...

) and the Foreign Office, and staffed by Middle East experts from Military Intelligence, Egyptforce who shared Clayton's outlook.


Gilbert Clayton was named head or "Chief" of the Arab Bureau. David Hogarth
David George Hogarth
David George Hogarth was a British archaeologist and scholar associated with T. E. Lawrence and Arthur Evans.-Archaeological career:...

, a Naval Intelligence officer, was Acting Director of the Arab Bureau and Kinahan Cornwallis
Kinahan Cornwallis
Sir Kirnahan Cornwallis, GCMG, CBE, DSO was a British administrator and diplomat best known for being an advisor to King Faisal and for being the British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Iraq during the Anglo-Iraqi War.-Biography:...

 his deputy. George Ambrose Lloyd, George Stewart Symes
George Stewart Symes
Lieutenant Colonel Sir George Stewart Symes GCB, GCMG, DSO was a British Army officer and colonial governor.Symes served in the South African War in 1902 and in the Aden Hinterland, 1903-1904...

, Philip Graves
Philip Graves
Philip Perceval Graves was an Irish journalist and writer. While working as a foreign correspondent of The Times in Constantinople, he exposed The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as an antisemitic plagiarism, fraud, and hoax.-Life:Graves, eldest son of the writer Alfred Perceval Graves , was born...

, Gertrude Bell
Gertrude Bell
Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, CBE was an English writer, traveller, political officer, administrator, and archaeologist who explored, mapped, and became highly influential to British imperial policy-making due to her extensive travels in Greater Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Arabia. Along...

, Aubrey Herbert
Aubrey Herbert
Aubrey Nigel Henry Molyneux Herbert was a British diplomat, traveller and intelligence officer associated with Albanian independence. Twice he was offered the throne of Albania...

 and Thomas Edward Lawrence were also part of the Arab Bureau.


  • A Peace To End All Peace , David Fromkin, Avon Books, New York, 1990
  • Arabian Personalities of the Early Twentieth Century with a new Introduction by Robin Bidwell (reprints from Bureau's Handbooks ) The Oleander Press 1986 ISBN 0-906672-39-2
  • Military Intelligence and the Arab Revolt: The First Modern Intelligence War , Polly Mohs, Routledge, New York, 2008
  • The Arab Bureau, Bruce Westrate, Penn State Press, 1992