When the Hashemite rulers of the Hijaz rose up against their Turkish overlords in the First World War with the help of Britain, they imagined they would lead a great Arab kingdom encompassing Mecca, Damascus and Baghdad. This notion of Arab emancipation, however, collided brutally with the realities of European imperialism. Over the decades, the Hashemites’ ambitions were reduced by trickery, violence and their own errors.
The Arab provinces of the Ottoman empire were carved up: Palestine and Lebanon came under direct rule by the British and the French respectively. One Hashemite prince, Faisal, was evicted from Syria by the French, but then placed on the new throne of Iraq by the British. His brother, Abdallah, was given a consolation prize, the emirate of Transjordan, conjured up by the stroke of Winston Churchill’s pen out of the eastern half of the mandate of Palestine.
The princes’ father, Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, had styled himself the King of the Arabs and at one point even Caliph (after Atatürk decided to abolish the Caliphate in Istanbul). But he lost his kingdom in the Hijaz to the Wahhabist-inspired warriors of Ibn Saud (who created