The Kaiser in Arab Headdress

Senoussi Cigarettes

One snowy morning in World War I Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II was fed up with the cold and the seemingly-stalemated war. “Which of our allies has the warmest climate? Where does Mexico stand?”

“It seems,” replied his American Affairs adviser, “as though our negotiations with El Guapo fell through after Ned Nederlander shot one of our agents.”

“What!?! That shrimp from Hollywood… I didn’t know he was an American agent.”

“Nederlander’s friends, Lucky Day and Dusty Bottoms, also American agents from Hollywood, then proceeded to wipe out El Guapo’s forces and stole all the rifles and tequila we’d sent them.”

“We paid good money for those guns. Oh well, just like the Western Front. Who else has a warm climate?”

“Your highness’ friends among the Senoussi brotherhood are still fighting the Italians in the Libyan desert. A little dry, but warm.”

“Sounds delightful! We must visit them immediately.”

His advisers were all too happy to shed their winter uniforms, so they visited the Grand Senoussi. In diplomatic fashion, donned the flowing red-and-white capes and rimmed headdresses of their allies. For a final touch, they armed themselves with long Arab rifles and posed for a photo-op.

Senoussi Cigarettes

Years after the war collapsed and Hitler came and went, a lonely student of history in Berlin named Franz Kopfschmuck took a job as a graphic designer in a Berlin tobacco company. Charged with finding a cigarette brand name that recalled a happier era in German culture, he sifted through his textbooks until he stumbled upon the Senoussi revolt against the Italians in World War I.

Read about the Senoussi Campaign.

Intrigued, he couldn’t recall any notes about the Senoussi in General March’s lauded History of the World War. Reading further, he discovered that the Kaiser had encouraged the Senoussi – a political movement begun decades earlier as a Sufi brotherhood – to fight the Italians. On one of the Entente’s few Arab World achievements, the Senoussi revolt had helped keep untold numbers of British and French troops tied up in North Africa for much of the war. Some years later, the Senoussi even gained sovereignty over Libya! And to think Germany had helped them along the way.

Senussi going to fight English in Egypt (circa 1915).
Senussi going to fight English in Egypt (circa 1915). By Bain News Service, publisher [Public domain], Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.
At the end of the chapter, Franz stumbled across one of the photographs from the photo-op. With some artistic flair, he transformed the black-and-white photograph into a stunning cigarette cover, which graces the pack displayed above. Pleased by his work, the cigarette manufacturer gave Franz enough pay to complete his studies, though he soon disappeared into the thick of German academia.

Disclaimer: I like to write fiction occasionally, though the impact of the Senoussi Campaign in WWI is a matter of historical record. I’m grateful to the designer of this German pack – perhaps his name really was Franz – for encouraging me to learn more about the Libyan front in the war that was supposed to end all wars.

For further reading on the Senoussi campaign, check out:

(1) David Olusoga’s The World’s War (Head of Zeus, 1914).

(2) Hew Strachan’s The First World War: Volume 1: To Arms (OUP, Oxford, 2001).