hussein bin ali

October 16, 1916 - T.E. Lawrence Lands in Arabia

Pictured - A photo of Lawrence in 1915. He arrived at Jeddah with a British mission from Cairo on October 16, 1916. 

The Arab Revolt’s promising start in June 1916 had faltered by October. The Arab nationalist rebels, led by Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca and now the self-proclaimed King of the Hejaz, and his three sons, Ali, Abdullah and Faisal, had stormed most of the ports on the Red Sea, a large Ottoman garrison still held out in Medina, and had bloodily repulsed all Arab assaults. The first, brief victories had been to the liking of Ali’s irregular Bedouin tribesmen, but they did not have the heart for a long, drawn-out regular campaign.

Having helped to stir up the revolt, the British now decided to send help. Money, guns, and airplanes arrived to assist the Arab rebels, and on October 1916 so did a mission of military officers from Cairo. Among them was a young intelligence officer named Captain Thomas Edward Lawrence.

T.E. Lawrence was a Welsh-born archaeologist who had studied at Oxford and worked on several digs in the Middle East before the war. Thanks to his language skills and local knowledge, he was assigned to the Intelligence office in Cairo during the war. Along with a handful of other officers he landed in Jeddah on October 1916 as a aiding mission to the Arabs. Along with mortars and machine guns, the British sent a number of Ottoman POWs who were eager to join the revolt and would form the nucleus of a small, regular Arab army.

Lawrence met with Ali’s sons to help command their forces around Medina. Immediately he struck up a friendship with one of the sons, Feisal Ibn Hussein, who he judged to be “the leader with the necessary fire.” Their close friendship would have a great effect on the war in the desert and the post-war Middle East.

October 30, 1916 - Hussein bin Ali Proclaims himself King of the Hejaz

Pictured - Hussein bin Ali, Shariff of Mecca and now King of the Hejaz, was the nominal leader of the Arab Revolt, although his sons led his forces.

There were now over 30,000 Bedouin tribesmen and rebel Arab soldiers in open revolt against the Ottoman Empire. They had stormed Mecca, Taif, and the port of Jeddah that autumn, securing the region called the Hejaz, today the western portion of Saudi Arabia that borders the Red Sea. The leader of the revolt, the Sharif of Mecca Hussein bin Ali, now proclaimed himself King of the Hejaz on October 30, 1916.

Hussein’s rebellion had roots in a decade of Arab resentment after the Young Turks had come to power in the Ottoman Empire, proclaiming Turkish nationalism at the expense of the empire’s second-biggest population, the Arabs. With British and French collusion, Hussein’s sons had launched the revolt, but after their initial successes Arab enthusiasm started to wane and the more professional Ottoman troops succeeded in driving them south of the Medina, where both sides battled over control of the railroad. The arrival of a British advisory mission in October helped. The British, including a young captain named T.E. Lawrence, worked with Hussein’s sons and supplied cash, airplanes, and machine guns.

Hussein initially proclaimed himself King of the Arab countries in November, which embarrassed Britain, since it had secretly promised France that they could divide up parts of Arabia after the war. With some moderation and diplomacy, they convinced Hussein to limit his title to King of the Hejaz in October.