Arab Bureau (Cairo)

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Intelligence and propaganda agency operated by the British in Cairo from 1916 to 1920.

From 1916 through 1920, to counter Muslim opposition arising from their war against the Turks, the British sought to ally themselves with the Arabs within and north of the Arabian peninsula. In 1916, when he returned to London from his tour of the area for Lord Kitchener, Mark Sykes established the Arab Bureau in Cairo. The Arab Bureau reported to the Foreign Office in London, and most of its expenses were met by Egyptian taxpayers. The Arab Bureau was housed in Cairo's Savoy-Continental Hotel, and its work included collecting intelligence, finding collaborators, and producing propaganda. With its officers posted in different parts of the Arabic-speaking world, this wartime improvisation produced the Arab Bulletin, which disseminated intelligence to British officialdom.

The Arab Bureau was more influential during World War I than T. E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt, whose exploits were heroically depicted by post-war legend makers. Among the colorful British personalities involved with the bureau were Gertrude Bell, a wealthy spinster who believed that she cut a more imposing figure in the East than in the West; Gilbert Clayton, a tough-minded army intelligence officer who ran often ruthless operations; and Reginald Wingate, the chief British soldier in Sudan who continued his proconsular posturing in Cairo. The Arab Bureau saw collaboration with Sharif Husayn ibn Ali and his sons as a way of avoiding all the expensive trappings and personnel associated with the government of India and the British army. Because of its hostility to Zionist settlement in Palestine, those who ran the Arab Bureau have been depicted as romantic partisans of Sharif Husayn and his family, the Hashimites, but the Arab Bureau simply used the Arabs for its own ends, just as the British used the Zionists, the Armenians, and others in the Middle East during and immediately after World War I.

see also bell, gertrude; clayton, gilbert; hashimite house (house of hashim); kitchener, horatio herbert; sykes, mark; wingate, reginald.


Adelson, Roger. London and the Invention of the Middle East: Money, Power, and War, 19021922. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995.

Westrate, Bruce. The Arab Bureau: British Policy in the Middle East, 19161920. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992.

Roger Adelson

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Arab Bureau (Cairo)

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