President Erdoğan slams modern 'Lawrences of Arabia' in Middle East

President Erdoğan slams modern 'Lawrences of Arabia' in Middle East

ISTANBUL - Agence France-Presse
President Erdoğan slams modern Lawrences of Arabia in Middle East

Erdoğan speaks at the opening of the academic year at Marmara University in Istanbul, Oct. 13. AA Photo

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Oct. 13 launched an angry tirade at modern day "Lawrence of Arabias" who he said were bent on causing trouble in the Middle East.

British officer T. E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, helped Arab leaders fight a guerrilla insurgency against the forces of the Ottoman Empire in the desert during World War I.

Especially after the hugely successful 1960s film, Lawrence is still regarded as a hero in Britain and many Arab countries. But Erdoğan made clear he saw the iconic British officer - who famously adopted customs of Arab dress - as a symbol of unwanted outside meddling in a region where Turkish influence should count.

"Lawrence was an English spy disguised as an Arab," Erdoğan said in a televised speech at a university in Istanbul. "There are new voluntary Lawrences, disguised as journalists, religious men, writers and terrorists," he added.

"It is our duty to explain to the world that there are modern Lawrences who were fooled by a terror organization," he added, without specifying which organization.

Elsewhere in his speech, he also slammed the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as well as his former ally turned foe, the exiled Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

"They are making Sykes-Picot agreements hiding behind freedom of press, a war of independence or jihad," he said, referring to the agreement between Britain and France that sought to divide up the Ottoman Empire into spheres of influence.

Lawrence, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1935, acted as liason between British forces and Arab leaders during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule.

His status as an iconic figure of modern history was cemented by the 1962 film directed by David Lean starring Peter O'Toole in the title role. Erdoğan's comments on Lawrence come as Turkey seeks to preserve regional stability amid the advance of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants who are now fighting Kurds for the Syrian town of Kobane on its border.

"Each conflict in this region has been designed a century ago" when the borders of the Middle East were redrawn after World War I, said Erdoğan. "It is our duty to stop this," he said.