Norman Stone

A Line in the Sand

The Man Who Created the Middle East: A Story of Empire, Conflict and the Sykes-Picot Agreement

By

William Collins 368pp £25 order from our bookshop

We learn from this splendid and rather moving book that the original flag of what was to be Saudi Arabia was designed by none other than the British diplomat Sir Mark Sykes. Its four colours – red, white, green and black – now appear on the flags of the Arab states with whose creation he had something, directly or indirectly, to do: Iraq, Syria and Jordan (they also occur on the Palestinian flag). These colours originally stood for Arab unity, which in 1916 the British vaguely supported, whereas the French did not. The two powers eventually came to an agreement, named after its negotiators, Sykes and François Georges-Picot, a French diplomat, in May 1916. This is now much reviled as a symbol of Western meddling in the Middle East and, right enough, it appears to have been yet another of those fantasies that arose out of the First World War. When negotiations began in November 1915, the Gallipoli campaign was still going and the British expected to take Baghdad. It was presumed that the Ottomans would not survive and imperialist feet tapped. Picot wanted ‘nothing short of a French annexation of Syria’, a territory then understood to include Lebanon and Palestine. The British were agitating for the creation of a large, independent Arab state, to which Picot said, ‘You cannot transform a myriad of tribes into a viable whole.’ ‘Zones’ were eventually agreed. Sykes said, ‘I should like to draw a line from the “e” in Acre to the last “k” in Kerkúk.’ The French were to get Mosul as well as Syria; their zone of control was to extend well into central Anatolia. The Italians, as a reward for entering the war, were to get some of the rest. Later, the Russians demanded their share and were allotted northeastern Anatolia, then called Armenia.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • sorry I can’t spell fluttering. I was agitated.,
    • Probably try and get an announcement out later, for all these male writers who think of fluttering inner muscle sheaths...,
    • He felt the muscles far inside her flutteriung around him,
    • Next week sees return, and we've got discounted tickets on offer, right here: ,
    • We're rarely topical - tricky as a monthly magazine - but we've an article this month all about Laurence Binyon, po… ,
    • "We will remember them" - who wrote those words, and why have them become our terms of memorial? ,
    • RT : Wow. We're over the moon with this stunning piece on My Cat Yugoslavia, 'a truly extraordinary novel.'… ,