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Durham e-Theses
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The myth of independence: British Bahraini relations in the nineteenth century

Bunney, Richard (1997) The myth of independence: British Bahraini relations in the nineteenth century. Masters thesis, Durham University.



This thesis considers the period from the establishment of regular contact between Britain and Bahrain in 1806 until the deposition and criminalisation of Muhammed bin Khalifah, the incumbent Sheikh of Bahrain, in 1869. During this period Britain attempted to supervise regional affairs through a mediating layer of independent Arab Chieftains who it recognised by concluding a General Treaty with them in 1820. This system, however, identified here as a distinct paradigm, had several fundamental weaknesses. The practical organisation of this system was not only unable to effect the ambitions of peace, stability and the preservation of a dominant British influence, it acted negatively against the fulfilment of these ambitions and inhibited the very aims that it had been designed to secure. In sitting the General Treaty, the Al Khalifah were formally recognised as sovereign rulers, but they did not have the means and the resources to exercise this right, and were still subject to aggressions from their neighbours. Britain was thus obliged to guarantee the tenure of the Al Khalifah as rulers of Bahrain, or accept the overthrow and destruction of the system of independent rulers. If the Al Khalifah were to avoid attack from hostile parties, they were obliged to offer submission, and repeatedly did so, although such acts compromised their independence and Britain’s position in the Persian Gulf Under the terms of the General Treaty, however, the British had forfeited their opportunity actively defend their interests by restraining the Sheikh. In recognising the Al Khalifah as independent chiefs, Britain was committed to non-intervention in the affairs of the Persian Gulf This withdrawal from the internal affairs of Bahrain transformed the independent sheikhs into agents for instability that compromised Britain's authority in the Gulf It also allowed the Al Khalifah to indulge in oppressions that not only destabilised the tranquillity of the Persian Gulf but destroyed the internal cohesion of the ruling tribe and precipitated Civil War. As the nineteenth century progressed, Britain was obliged in response to these reoccurring and irresolvable tensions to increasingly ignore its own paradigm and disregard the independence of the Al Khalifah in order to preserve its essential interests. Incrementally, starting with discussions in 1839, Britain considered alternative options for the organisation of the Gulf and began to refashion its relationship outside of the nineteenth century paradigm. This process culminated in the assumption under an Order-in-Council of protectorate status, although the abandonment of this unworkable paradigm was indicated by the deposition and criminalisation of the Sheikh of Bahrain in 1869. Bahrain's independence was ultimately sacrificed to the exigencies of British policy. In point of fact, however, it had been conceived as a mask for British domination of the region. This thesis examines the ambiguity implicit in the General Treaty and the reasons behind the failure of British attempts at domination in the Persian Gulf in the nineteenth century. The diktats of the General Treaty precluded intervention in regional affairs while due attention to British strategic interests demanded the exercise of a degree of control.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:1997
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:13 Sep 2012 15:52

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