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As I write this, I am in Cairo working on a festival project for the year 2000. Everybody is really excited by the recent accord signed between Israel and Palestine. The great credit goes to President Clinton and King Hussein. Let us hope that this latest step is a move towards a permanent peace. The people living in the Middle East certainly deserve some respite from the relentless passions of the fundamentalists on all sides.

I remember when I was last here in 1958/59 while working in the Middle East for INTRAFI and Butler Overseas. These companies were a joint-venture of Axel Wenner-Gren, the Swedish industrialist and the Butler Company. We traded, sold commodities and did projects such as building coal washeries in India. I was also Advisor to Senator John F. Kennedy on various matters in the Middle East. My work took me to Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Robin, my wife and I had a villa in Beylerbei on the Asia side of the Bosphorus, just across from The Golden Horn, Istanbul. During this time, I worked with King Hussein of Jordan, King Faisal of Iraq, and The Shah of Iran. This story is mostly about King Hussein.

I need to tell some history. We are all familiar with the story of Lawrence of Arabia. What about the background of his exploits? Well, before World War I, The Sultan of Turkey had collected millions of pennies from Moslems all over the world. This money was used to build a railroad -- ostensibly to take pilgrims on the Hejaz (a holy pilgrimage) from Constantinople to Mecca. But it never reached Mecca. It went as far as Medina, another holy city. While it was called the Hejaz RR, it was really a secret military railroad used by the Ottoman Empire to control the restless Arabs.

At the outbreak of the World War, the Sultan joined with the Kaiser of Germany. The Allies wanted to destroy the Hejaz RR. which they considered the key military threat in the region. They promised the Arab Sheiks their independence if they would assist. Lawrence was trusted by the Arabs. He became the leader of this campaign. He was supported by members of the Hashemite family -- namely Abdullah and Faisal. They were successful. A famous story of perfidiousness began.

Lurking behind the scenes was a most infamous betrayal of trust by the Allies. Instead of giving the Arabs their independence, they carved up the region into areas of influence. The British took Iraq and Palestine, the French controlled Syria, and the Americans dominated Arabia. A shameful business which has had long lasting implications.

One of the Hashemites, Abdullah, was made ruler of Palestine by the British. He was assassinated in a mosque, in front of his grandson Hussein, by a Moslem fanatic for his support of the desires of the Jewish people to have a homeland. The other member of the oldest ruling family, Faisal was made King of Iraq.

While fighting WW II, on 14 February 1945, King Abdul Aziz Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Saud (called Ibn Saud), of Saudi Arabia met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the battleship USS Quincy, on tour in the Red Sea. His Majesty made a major request for the rebuilding of the Hejaz RR to move the Moslem pilgrims from the then-city of Istanbul to Mecca. Roosevelt promised he would.

In the winter of '58/'59, I was in Teheran, Baghdad and Amman on our commercial business. We were asked by the US to make an upset bid for the engineering of the reconstruction of the Hejaz RR. It turned that the Poles had made a bid - a bid that was going to be accepted. They requested visas for a very large number of engineers -- far more than anyone felt was necessary. The Pentagon was deeply worried. The area to be mapped was a comparatively unknown section of northern Arabia -- an area which had military significance.

I was introduced to members of the Jordanian Government and His Majesty, King Hussein. We made our bid in association with an eminent engineering firm and the Poles (i.e., the Russians) were knocked out.

The end to the story was all-too-typical of American dealings with the Arabs. The US Government did not give the promised funds to make this work possible. Right away, I warned Jack Kennedy that the Palestine question was the breeding ground for WW III and the Hejaz RR bad dealings were just another example of our not keeping faith.

Through this period, I kept up my friendship with King Hussein. He decided to make his first state visit to the USA. During that trip, he, with his entourage, spent several days with me at Oak Brook. We entertained him with a pheasant shoot and a Hunt Ball. We also took him sight-seeing in nearby Chicago. We then went to New York City together, where Henry R. Luce, of Time/Life and I gave a dinner for the King and several important industrialists whole might be able to assist Jordan.

This is a story from which an important lesson may be learned: Beware of putting your trust in Governments.

Entry added November 24th, 1998

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Copyright 1998, Michael Butler Presents