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23TH February 2011

A Line In the Sand - Entrepreneur - Geopolitical - Timeless - Timely

If T.E. Lawrence was on Twitter… would the Middle East be any easier?

Tad and Alleyanne. Wadi Rumm.

I once rode a camel across the desert, with a local named Saba and a TE Lawrence look-alike, Tad Jones. We concluded that the Middle East would be more fun if Lawrence had had access to Facebook and Twitter. If he had, some of his posts might have looked like this:

  1. WTH #Versailles we can’t mix #Sunni rulers with #Shiite peeps. They don’t abide!
  2. Not a drop of water in this damn desert! Black goopy stuff all over. Burns good though… other uses???
  3. #Libya, using bombers on (your) people in the streets? see #Baghdad. Eventually, they do start to hate.
  4. How is everyone spelling #Khadaffi?# Gadaffi? #Quadaffi? In the name of the holy one, please choose!

Lawrence wrote the seminal work on the Middle East in a notebook . Since then, Seven Pillars of Wisdom has never been out of print, and never far from the bedstands of every despot, marine and guerilla with even a passing interest in the region. Here’s the Cliff Notes for the rest of us:

  1. It’s tribal. From Baghdad to Riyadh, there are hundreds of unique tribes and dozens of sects.  Sunnis and Shia are just two. The locals have been wandering, sniping and looting each other for a thousand years. Recent behavior has improved, but they don’t trust outsiders quickly.  Or much, for that matter.
  2. It’s slightly blessed with a black gooey natural resource, which has fallen into the control of a small elite class. The Western world (France, England and the US, for this discussion) has quite an appetite for said Black Stuff- so we’re willing to tolerate the stench of  the despots who control it. China is immune to this moral argument, (see prior post on China: How we roll).  In any event, we set up most of them in their cushy situations, but this “buddy deal” tends to upset the masses.  And then the leaders have to choose, because…
  3. The borders of these kingdoms are completely made up. It happened one afternoon in 1921 over tea at the Cairo Country Club when Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence, Gertrude Bell et al literally drew Lines in the Sand (check out the play by the same name in development by writer A.C. Grayling).

Cairo in 2011 has shown what can be accomplished by the people, when the people are informed.  What would the rest of the Middle East be like if TEL had been tweeting back then?  Here’s my take:

  1. Oil might have been priced higher if the locals knew how badly we wanted it in the 1920’s (by reading Facebook Updates instead of outdated, state controlled papers).
  2. The West may not have gotten away with simultaneous promises to a) give Syria to the French, b) give Palestine to the Jews, and c) arrange a pan-Arabian nation for the tribes. But we did, until the beans were spilt and all hell broke loose. Sorry!
  3. And the leaders of these countries might have been elected by the people instead of chosen by France and England, and consequently overthrown by despots who are quite good at exploiting the resources.

But, the way things are going, Facebook and Twitter are keeping things honest over there now. And we might be getting higher oil prices and elected officials soon enough!

Author note: I have friends in every one of these countries, and have visited most of them. I do not belittle the violence against them.

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