THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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12 posts categorized "Gulf"

25 August 2017

New Online Resources on the History of Kuwait

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A series of archival documents that contain a wealth of information about Kuwait during the 1930s and 1940s have recently been digitized and uploaded on to the Qatar Digital Library. These documents are preserved in a file from the archive of the British Political Agency in Kuwait (now a part of the India Office Records) and consist of several reports covering a broad range of topics including Kuwait’s geography, history, flora and fauna, climate, leading personalities and political structure. In addition to what the files themselves discuss, as colonial records, they also illustrate the extent of British influence in Kuwait at this time, as well as provide a rich illustration of how Kuwait was conceptualised and recorded by British officials that were based in the country

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'File 4/1 General Information regarding Kuwait and Hinterland'
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The majority of the reports in the file are written by Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Richard Patrick Dickson (1881-1959), who served as Britain’s Political Agent in Kuwait from 1929 until 1936. Dickson continued living in Kuwait after serving as Political Agent (a role he held again temporarily in 1941) and stayed in the country until his death in 1959. During this time, Dickson wrote two books about Kuwait and the surrounding area, the encyclopaedic – if shamelessly Orientalist – work The Arab of the Desert: a Glimpse into Badawin [Bedouin] Life in Kuwait and Sau'di Arabia (George Allen & Unwin, 1949) and the later Kuwait & Her Neighbours (George Allen & Unwin, 1956) that was edited by the writer Clifford Witting. Both books, notably the former, reveal Dickson’s near obsessive interest in the minutiae of the history, culture and everyday life of the people of Kuwait and Gulf region, with a particular interest in the customs and traditions of the Bedouin.

Dickson’s wife, Violet Dickson (1896-1991), commonly known as Umm Saud (Mother of Saud) in Kuwait, shared many of her husband’s interests and also wrote about Kuwait, authoring both The Wild Flowers of Kuwait and Bahrain (George Allen & Unwin, 1955) and Forty Years in Kuwait (George Allen & Unwin, 1971). She stayed in the country after Dickson’s death, living in the couple’s long-term residence (that formerly served as Britain’s Political Agency) for many decades until she was forced to leave due to the Iraqi invasion of 1990. The building is now open to the public as the Dickson House Cultural Centre in Kuwait City. The couple’s daughter, Zahra Freeth (1925-2015), also wrote a number of books on Kuwait including Kuwait Was My Home (George Allen & Unwin, 1956) and A New Look at Kuwait (George Allen & Unwin, 1972).

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Dickson House Cultural Centre, Kuwait City
© Louis Allday, 2015

The reports written by Dickson in 1933 contain a diverse range of detailed information including descriptions of car routes between Kuwait and various other settlements in the region (including Basrah, Riyadh, Hasa and Qatif), insightful and frequently scathing character assessments of prominent figures in the country, as well as sketches of the different types of boat used in the country and lists of the species of fish in its waters. It is likely that the information contained in these notes was used by Dickson at a later date to compile his published works. For instance, The Arab of the Desert contains drawings of the different types of sailing vessel in Kuwait that are very similar to the aforementioned sketches contained in Dickson’s notes from almost two decades before.

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Examples of boats used in Kuwait, 1933
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In addition to Dickson’s reports, the recently digitised file contains a secret report on Kuwait that the Australian explorer, Alan Villiers – author of the well-known study of Arab sailors, Sons of Sinbad – was commissioned by the British authorities to write in 1939 (folios 160-183). The file also contains reports written by two of Dickson’s successors as Political Agent in Kuwait in the 1940s, Major Tom Hickinbotham (folios 187-198) and Major Maurice O’Connor Tandy (folios 226-228) as well as a Who’s Who of the leading personalities in Muscat (Oman) written by Captain J B Howes, the Political Agent in Muscat in 1942 (folios 199-209).

The full contents of this fascinating file – all written by Dickson unless stated otherwise – are as follows:

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist
@Louis_Allday
 ccownwork

22 June 2017

The Flotilla Tour of 1933: a Demonstration of British Naval Power in the Gulf

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On 29 August 1933 the acting Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Percy Gordon Loch, received a letter from the Political Agent at Kuwait, Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Dickson, informing him that there were strong rumours circulating in Kuwait that a Persian naval officer had hauled down the British flag at Basidu, the naval station for the British Persian Gulf Naval Squadron.

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‘The Coast from Bushire to Basadore, in the Persian Gulf, Surveyed by Lieuts. G.B. Brucks & S.B. Haines, H.C. Marine 1828. Engraved by R. Bateman 43 Hart St. Bloomsbury’ (IOR/X/3630/27)
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On 7 September 1933 Loch sent a circular telegram – addressed to the Senior Naval Officer in the Persian Gulf and the British Political Agents at Bahrain, Kuwait and Muscat – confirming that the British flag had been hauled down by a Persian officer, but that only a few days later, as soon as it was made aware of the incident, HMS Bideford had landed an armed party at Basidu and the flag had been rehoisted. Loch’s telegram further stated that His Majesty’s Chargé d'Affaires to Persia had been informed by the Persian Government that the officer had acted without authority, and that it had issued stringent instructions to its Navy to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

In a second circular telegram, issued on the same day, Loch requested that his previous message be translated into Arabic and distributed to the Arabian coast rulers, ‘who should be requested to give copies to all their notables, and by all other possible means to make it public.’ Loch concluded this telegram by stating – for the Political Agents’ personal information only – that the Royal Navy’s First Destroyer Flotilla was expected to arrive at Henjam on 15 September, for the purpose of displaying the British flag along the Arabian coast of the Gulf. An amended version of the message intended for circulation was issued the following day. In further correspondence with Dickson, Loch stressed that care should be taken to avoid linking the arrival of the flotilla with the incident at Basidu, and to avoid any suggestion of it being a threat to Persia.

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Message issued by acting Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Percy Gordon Loch, for public distribution, 7 September 1933 (IOR/R/15/5/173, f 52)
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The fact that the swiftly announced flotilla tour was a direct response by the British to the Basidu incident was tacitly acknowledged in a telegram from Dickson to Loch, dated 19 September 1933, which reported that the circular, followed by news of the flotilla, had had the ‘best possible effect’ on public opinion in Kuwait. The flotilla, consisting of one flotilla leader, HMS Duncan, and eight destroyers from the Mediterranean Fleet, spent nearly a month in the Gulf, visiting Basidu, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar along the way.

It was at Dubai, on 23 September 1933, where the rulers of the Trucial states were invited to a durbar (a public audience held by a British colonial ruler, deriving from the Persian and Urdu word for court), that the purpose of the flotilla’s tour was made very clear. In his address, Loch – alluding to a statement made at another durbar by George Curzon almost exactly thirty years earlier, during a tour of the Gulf as Viceroy of India – told the rulers that the British Navy’s intervention in the Gulf had ‘compelled peace and created order on the [s]eas’ and had saved them from extinction at the hands of their enemies. He reminded his audience that the various treaties between the British Government and the Trucial rulers (beginning with the General Maritime Treaty of 1820) had made the former the overlord and protector of the latter.

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Extract from speech delivered by acting Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, Percy Gordon Loch, 23 September 1933 (IOR/R/15/5/173, f 70)
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Curzon’s tour of the Gulf in November 1903 (as discussed in an earlier blog post) was comprised of visits to Muscat, Sharjah, Bandar Abbas, Bahrain, Kuwait and Bushire, and was intended as a demonstration of British naval supremacy, in anticipation of perceived threats in the region from France, Russia and Germany. A photograph of the durbar that took place on board RIMS Argonaut, off the coast of Sharjah, on 21 November 1903, shows the Viceroy elevated on a stage while the Arab dignitaries sit or kneel to his right.

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Lord Curzon’s Durbar aboard RIMS Argonaut, Sharjah (British Library, Photo 49/1(7))
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Thirty years later, the British took a relatively minor act of dissent at Basidu as an opportunity to make a very public display of their continuing naval dominance in the Gulf, in order to make it clear to the Persian Navy and to the Arab rulers that the British Government would not ignore even the slightest affront to its reputation. Loch’s remarks at Dubai were intended to remind the Trucial rulers of their relationship with the British Government and of their treaty obligations, as he warned them that ‘[t]hese engagements are binding on every one of you’.

The flotilla tour and the durbar appeared to have the desired effect. In his intelligence summary for September 1933, dated 28 September 1933, Dickson informed Loch that in Kuwait ‘[t]he general attitude of His Majesty’s Government has been most favourably commented on.’ Dickson went on to report that ‘[t]he hope is now generally expressed that the flotilla will not be withdrawn too soon, and that once for all the Persian Navy will be given to understand that it must behave itself.’ In an express letter to the Government of India’s Foreign Department, dated 19 October 1933, Loch concluded that confidence in the British had returned following the sight of the flotilla and the use of an armed party at Basidu ‘and will remain so just so long as we show ourselves determined.’

Primary sources:
British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, 'File 3/3 Persian Navy', IOR/R/15/5/173
British Library: India Office Select Materials, Dane Collection: ‘Photographs of Lord Curzon’s tour in the Persian Gulf, November, 1903’, India Office Records and Private Papers Photo 49/1

Secondary sources:
John F. Riddick, The History of British India: A Chronology (London: Westport, 2006)
Kristopher Radford, ‘Curzon’s Cruise: The Pomp and Circumstances of Indian Indirect Rule of the Persian Gulf’, The International History Review, 35 (2013), 884-904

David Fitzpatrick, Content Specialist, Archivist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
 ccownwork

08 August 2016

Rivals past and present: Global powers converge on the Gulf of Aden

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While media attention has focussed on the thousands of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe, a similar crisis has been taking place in the Gulf of Aden. Almost 90,000 Yemeni refugees have crossed the Gulf to the Horn of Africa in the past eighteen months, after a Saudi-led coalition of Arab air forces began strikes against rebel forces in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s neighbour to the south. British-made cruise missiles and French-built Leclerc tanks have been deployed in the war effort, continuing a long history of involvement in the region for both countries.

A British political memorandum of 1897 (IOR/L/PS/18/B110), from the Political & Secret series of the India Office Records, documents British and French rivalry for influence over this part of the world over one hundred years ago.

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A satellite image showing the Bab el Mandeb Strait, which separates the Gulf of Aden from the Red Sea. Source: NASA, through Wikimedia Commons

The Gulf of Aden first acquired global strategic significance in 1869, when the newly-opened Suez Canal created a fast shipping route that ran through the Gulf and connected Europe with the East. In anticipation of the Gulf’s new role, the European Powers took up strategic positions close to its narrowest point at the Bab el Mandeb Strait: in 1857 Great Britain occupied Perim Island, near the Arabian coast of the strait, and shortly afterwards France and Italy claimed territory on the African coast nearby.

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IOR/L/PS/20/60, f. 25v (detail)

In 1868 the French also acquired land from a local ruler on the Arabian side of the strait at Sheikh Said, a promontory lying immediately behind Perim Island. The purchase was repudiated a year later by the Ottoman Government, who considered that the territory was theirs, but the matter was taken up again in 1893 when a French politician urged his government ‘to press their never abandoned claim to this position’.

The renewed French interest in the place prompted Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Vincent Stace, First Assistant to the Resident at Aden, to visit Sheikh Said later that year, and his report and sketch map are reproduced in the memorandum along with a summary history of subsequent events.

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IOR/L/PS/18/B110, f. 6 (detail)

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IOR/L/PS/18/B110, f. 7

Stace investigated a rumour that the French planned to dredge the lagoon that lay behind the tip of the promontory and dig a canal from there to the opposite side: ‘Thus a basin would be formed in which vessels of war could lie, having two entrances, one from the Red Sea and the other from the Gulf of Aden’. Stace confirmed that the works had not begun, but warned that, if completed, they would create ‘a very formidable position’.

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IOR/L/PS/18/B110, f. 7 (detail)

The matter was taken seriously at the highest levels. Both the Secretary of State for India and the Director of Military Intelligence agreed that the French should be warned off, expressing concern for the security of coaling facilities on Perim Island, and fearing that once established, the French might supply ‘modern arms to the rebellious Arab tribes’, destabilising the region and gaining influence close to the British port and coaling station at Aden.

The British solution lay in confidentially alerting the Ottoman Government to this threat, and assurances were soon received that the French would not be allowed to take over any part of the Arabian coast.

However, the French continued to assert the ‘rights of France’, and refused to give formal recognition that Sheikh Said formed part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1885 they made an abortive attempt to land a gunboat on the promontory, and in 1897 they sought clarification on their side whether or not Sheikh Said, ‘the veritable Gibraltar of the Red Sea’, was occupied by the British – a rumour that Her Majesty’s Government was happy to deny, as it was to Britain’s advantage that the promontory remained in Ottoman hands.

Before closing, the memorandum reveals a new concern that Russia too might seek a foothold in the region, after a Russian gunboat was spotted on the African shores of the Red Sea, and the document ends with the suggestion to watch further movements there by both France and Russia.

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IOR/L/PS/18/B110, f. 10 (detail)

Today around eight percent of global trade passes through the Bab el Mandeb Strait on its way to or from the Suez Canal, and the major powers continue to have a strong presence in the region. France maintains a large military base in Djibouti, on the African coast of the strait, in the company of the United States, Japan, and soon China, and Russia too has recently negotiated rights to deploy its navy there. After the recent outbreak of war in Yemen, Houthi rebels captured Sheikh Said and Perim Island, from where they commanded the Bab el Mandeb Strait with missiles and long-range cannon, but they were ousted by the British, French and US-backed Arab coalition six months later .

Further reading:

UNHCR. Yemen: Regional refugee and migrant response plan.

David Styan, Djibouti: changing influence in the Horn's strategic hub. Chatham House briefing paper, April 2013.

Nicholas Dykes  Ccownwork
Cataloguer, Gulf History, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership

17 May 2016

Online Historical Resources for the Study of the Modern History of Bahrain and the Persian Gulf

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The Qatar Digital Library (QDL), launched by the British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership in October 2014, contains a huge – and growing – number of British colonial documents related to the history of the Persian Gulf and broader Middle East from the 18th to 20th Century, all of which are now freely available to search and download. This post will introduce two series of documents on the QDL that are useful for those interested in the history of Bahrain and the surrounding region in the first half of the twentieth century; namely the Intelligence Summaries of the British Political Agency in Bahrain and the Government of Bahrain’s Annual Administrative Reports.

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1361 (Feb. 1942 - Jan. 1943). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/7
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Bahrain Intelligence Summaries (1934-1949)

These summaries consist of fortnightly intelligence reports that were composed by the British Political Agent in Bahrain and distributed to a number of British officials in London, India and throughout the Middle East. They were subsequently grouped by year and filed in the archive of the Political Agency. These previously confidential records constitute a remarkable historical resource regarding a fascinating time in Bahrain’s history. Throughout this period, Bahrain was at the centre of Britain’s Informal Empire in the Gulf and Charles Belgrave, the British adviser of the country’s rulers, was a hugely influential figure in the country. From the mid-1930s onwards, Bahrain’s oil industry began to rapidly develop, leading to substantial changes in Bahraini society and this transformation is documented in detail in these reports. They are also a useful resource concerning the history of the Persian Gulf region more broadly, since events in Kuwait, Qatar, the Trucial Coast (modern-day UAE), Oman, Saudi Arabia and occasionally Iraq and Iran, are all mentioned too.
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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1358 (February 1939 - February 1940). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/4
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The summaries constitute an important historical record related to a wide range of topics including slave trafficking and smuggling, the development of the oil industry, labour movements, international shipping and trade, British colonial history, the Gulf’s relationship with the Arab World (notably the Palestinian cause), power struggles between – and within – the region’s ruling families, the impact of the Second World War and the local reaction to international events (such as the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the partition of Palestine). The records also contain details of every visit made to Bahrain by British and foreign notables during this period, as well as weather and meteorological data.

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1357 (March 1938 - February 1939). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/3
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Alongside serious intelligence reporting related to political, military and economic developments in the region, the summaries also contain dozens of surreal and humorous vignettes concerning everyday life in Bahrain, such as the wide-spread popularity of a restaurant that served alcoholic cider, as well as several stories regarding the misdemeanours of members of Bahrain’s ruling family. A number of tragic tales are also mentioned in the reports including the death of a Bahraini fisherman after he was impaled by a sword fish and the drowning of forty pilgrims in the so-called ‘Nebi Saleh Tragedy’.


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Government of Bahrain Administrative Report for the Years 1926-1937. British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750
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Changes in the social and cultural life of the region are also documented in the summaries. Incidents recorded include a football match between a Bahraini team and a team of Sudanese and Italian ARAMCO workers in Saudi Arabia that had to be abandoned after members of the Bahraini team attacked the referee, and the first boxing tournament ever held by a Bahraini sporting club. The growing popularity of cinema in the country is also frequently mentioned.

The summaries can be accessed at the following links: 1934, 1935-37, 1938-40, 1941-42, 1943-44, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949


Government of Bahrain Annual Administrative Reports (1926-1944)

The Government of Bahrain’s Annual Reports that were compiled by the aforementioned Charles Belgrave from another significant historical resource for the study of the modern history of Bahrain. These reports document the significant expansion in government services that occurred during this period and contain detailed information related to Bahrain’s finances, oil industry, education, health and judicial systems, municipal projects, police force, pearl diving industry and several other topics.
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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1358 (February 1939 - February 1940)
. British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/4
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The reports are illustrated throughout including photographs that depict the visits of dignitaries such as Ibn Sa’ud, the King of Saudi Arabia and show the numerous municipal buildings that were constructed during a period of frenetic expansion including hospitals, law courts and schools. They also contain a number of tables, graphs and other statistical information.

A detailed administrative report for the years 1926-1937 can be found here and individual annual reports (that use the Islamic hijri calendar) at the following links: 1348-49 (June 1929 – May 1930), 1350 (May 1931 – May 1932), 1351 (May 1932 – April 1933), 1356 (March 1937 - February 1938), 1357 (March 1938 - February 1939), 1358 (February 1939 - February 1940), 1359 (February 1940 - February 1941), 1360 (January 1941 - February 1942), 1361 (February 1942 - January 1943), 1362 (January 1943 - December 1943), 1363 (January 1944 - December 1944)

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1356 (March 1937 - February 1938). British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/2  noc

The two series profiled in this article are merely an example of the wealth of rich archival resources now available on the QDL. Among a vast array of other materials the site also now holds copies of the Annual Administrative Reports of the Persian Gulf Political Residency and the Muscat Political Agency from 1873 until 1947 (1873-74, 1874-75, 1875-76, 1876-77, 1877-78, 1878-79, 1879-1880, 1880-81, 1881-82, 1882-83, 1883-84, 1884-85, 1885-86, 1886-87, 1887-88, 1888-89, 1889-90, 1890-91, 1891-92, 1892-93, 1893-94 1894-95, 1895-96, 1896-97, 1897-98, 1898-99, 1899-1900, 1900-01, 1901-02, 1902-03, 1903-04, 1904-05, 1905-10, 1911-14, 1915-19, 1920-24, 1925-30, 1931-35 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939-44, 1945-46, 1947) and the Annual Administration Reports of the Political Agency in Bahrain from 1921 until 1949 (1921-1930, 1931-34, 1935-39, 1940-43, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949).

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Government of Bahrain Annual Report for Year 1361 (February 1942 - January 1943)
. British Library, IOR/R/15/1/750/7  noc

Together, all of these documents form an invaluable historical resource, both for researchers who were previously unable to visit the British Library in London and for students keen to gain experience using primary documents. New material is regularly uploaded to the QDL site and will continue to be added until at least the end of 2018.


Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist
@Louis_Allday
 ccownwork


28 April 2016

An A-Z of Arabic Propaganda

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The British Government’s Arabic-Language Output during WWII

Throughout the Second World War, Britain’s Ministry of Information (MOI) produced and disseminated a remarkable assortment of propaganda material in Arabic. The material that it produced was intended to counter pro-Axis sentiment in the Arab World and bolster support for Britain and its allies. This propaganda effort arose largely in response to the German and Italian Governments’ own large scale propaganda campaigns that, with some success (more so Germany than Italy), targeted the Middle East and North Africa from the 1930s onwards.

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Abjad al-ḥarb ʻThe alphabet of warʼ (British Library, COI Archive, ‘Arabic A.B.C.’ PP/1/28L).
© British Library, 2016

The German Government broadcast Arabic language radio programmes to the region seven days a week before and throughout the duration of the war. These broadcasts portrayed the Nazis as friends of Islam and staunch supporters of anti-imperialist movements, especially those that were opposed to the British Empire. Unsurprisingly, they found a receptive ear amongst some individuals then under the control of British colonial authorities; notably so after the fall of France in May 1940, when the prospect of Britain losing the war appeared a likely outcome to many. Pro-German sentiment in Iraq and other areas has been well-documented, but the broadcasts also had an impact on the periphery of the region. For example, in Sharjah on the British controlled Trucial Coast (present day UAE), pro-German graffiti was written on walls and large crowds gathered around the palace of its ruler, Shaikh Sultan bin Saqr al-Qasimi, to listen to the German radio broadcasts.

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Ministry of Information poster (British Library IOR/R/15/1/35). © British Library, 2016

A wide selection of this MOI material is preserved in the archive of its successor organisation, the Central Office of Information (COI) that since 2000 has been held at the British Library. The contents of the MOI archive – hundreds of pamphlets and posters produced in Arabic, Persian, French, Italian, Russian, Dutch, Spanish and many other languages – demonstrate the large scale and broad scope of the MOI’s propaganda activities during the war. The Arabic language propaganda material produced by the MOI is interesting for the diversity of its form as well as its content. This material includes posters (copies of which have been preserved by chance in the British Library’s India Office Records), pamphlets, satirical cartoons and even lavishly illustrated short stories for children.

One of the most fascinating examples of this propaganda is a pamphlet entitled Alphabet of the War (Abjad al-ḥarb) that contains an illustrated entry for each of the letters of the Arabic alphabet. The entries are a curious assortment of geographical locations (England, USA, Iraq, Egypt and London), people (Churchill, Roosevelt and Hitler), armaments (Battle Ships, Tanks and Fighter Jets) and concepts (including Freedom, Bravery, Corruption and Honesty) that project an image of Britain as the last ‘bastion of freedom’ that is on the path to victory against the Nazi regime and its allies. Unlike many of the MOI’s other publications that were written for a general audience and then simply translated into different languages, this particular pamphlet was clearly written specifically for the Arab world.

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Inkiltirā: England – a bastion of freedom and the focal point of the war against injustice and aggression.
Ḥurrīyah: freedom – what Britain fights to defend and secure for all the peoples of the world.
Khiyānah: treachery – Hitler’s favourite weapon with which he tries to enslave the world.

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ʻIrāq – an independent Arab state with total independence that is allied to its friend, England and refused to ‘enjoy the privileges’ of the new Nazi regime because it holds fast to its freedom and independence’.
Fasād: Corruption – the primary characteristic of the Nazi Government and what Hitler wants to spread around the world.
Qūwah: force – the only thing that is understood and feared by the Nazis.

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Miṣr: Egypt – a completely sovereign and independent state that is Britain’s sincere ally in war and peace.
Hitlar – he is the arch-enemy of God and humanity’s greatest enemy.
Ya’s: despair – the feeling in Hitler’s heart whenever he sees Britain and her allies increasing their force and power, when it is clear to him that the decisive victory will be on the side of the Democracies.

In the entry for Hitler, the Nazi leader is described as the ‘arch-enemy’ of God, and the entry for treachery (khiyānah) states that he is trying to ‘enslave the world’. In another entry (corruption/fasād) the Nazi regime is portrayed as morally degenerate; its soldiers depicted drinking alcohol and dancing with scantily clad women, an image presumably intended as an affront to the religious beliefs and perceived social conservatism of the Arab world.

The pamphlet appears to have been produced after Britain’s mass aerial bombardment of German cities had commenced, as the entry for planes (ṭā’irāt) describes British bombers as ‘messengers of wrath raining down woe and destruction on the heart of Germany’. This is a sentiment remarkably reminiscent of the official aims of Britain’s bombing campaign on Germany that stated:

The ultimate aim of the attack on a town area is to break the morale of the population which occupies it. To ensure this we must achieve two things: first, we must make the town physically uninhabitable and, secondly, we must make the people conscious of constant personal danger. The immediate aim, is therefore, twofold, namely, to produce (i) destruction, and (ii) the fear of death.

This violent tone is also contained in the entry for force (qūwah), which is described as the only thing that the Nazis understand and fear. The final entry in the pamphlet, despair (ya’s), leaves the reader with little doubt that Hitler will eventually be defeated and that Britain and its allies will be victorious.

The MOI also produced cruder, humorous style propaganda, notably a series of satirical cartoons entitled Adolf and his Donkey Benito which depict Hitler as a bumbling fool riding his unfortunate donkey, Benito (an obvious anthropomorphic representation of Mussolini). As well as being distributed as pamphlets, these cartoons were also inserted into local newspapers in the Arab World, including the Bahraini newspaper, al-Baḥrayn which was controlled by the British authorities at this time. The MOI’s Director of Middle East Propaganda, Professor L. F. Rushbrook Williams, had previously demonstrated that he was not averse to propaganda of this kind when he had encouraged the British Embassy in Baghdad to disseminate material that depicted Hitler and Mussolini as a pig and a jackal respectively.

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Adolf and His Donkey by Kem (British Library, COI Archive, PP/1/20). © British Library, 2016

The Adolf and Benito cartoons were drawn by Kimon Evan Marengo (1907-1998), better known by his pen name, Kem, who was an Egyptian–born British cartoonist whose work appeared in the Daily Herald and the Daily Telegraph. Kem was heavily involved in the work of the MOI and produced hundreds of cartoons in Arabic as well as in Persian - for example the famous Shahnamah cartoons described in a previous blog. One of the cartoons in the series depicts Mussolini as afraid of confronting a tiny mouse (labelled the Greek mouse), a not too subtle reference to the Italian military’s unsuccessful invasion of Greece in the Greco-Italian War of 1940-41.

In a clear attempt to target children, the MOI also produced of a series of short stories named Ahmad and Johnny. These stories were illustrated by William Lindsay Cable, an illustrator most widely known for his work in the books of the famous children’s author, Enid Blyton.

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‘Ahmed and Johnny’ (British Library, COI Archive, PP/1/8 and 7). © British Library, 2016

In a manner reminiscent of Blyton’s work, Ahmad and Johnny follows the adventures of Ahmad, a Sudanese boy living in England with Johnny and his family. In one issue of the series, it is explained that Johnny’s father had worked in Sudan and brought Ahmad (presumably an orphan) back with him to Britain. In the same issue, Ahmad and Johnny go for a walk in the Kent countryside where they bump into a farmer whose son is said to be serving with the British military in Sudan. Britain is described as the ‘home of freedom’ and the ‘source of hope of the future’. Ahmad and the peasant compare life in England and Sudan and the ostensibly friendly relations between the two nations are stressed.

In 1938, as a response to the aforementioned Arabic-language radio broadcasts of the German and Italian Governments, Britain established the BBC Arabic radio station. Subsequently, the MOI produced a pamphlet entitled ‘This is London’ that promoted the new station and its radio broadcasts.

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‘This is London’ (British Library, COI Archive, PP/12/27A). © British Library, 2016

The pamphlet gives details of the station’s broadcasts including its lineup of announcers and its first ever news broadcast. It also contains details and photos of the official opening of Cardiff Mosque in 1943. An event that was attended by Hafiz Wahba (then Saudi Arabia’s representative in London) and was broadcast by BBC Arabic.

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Official opening of Cardiff Mosque in 1943 (British Library, COI Archive, PP/12/27A). © British Library, 2016

Ultimately, the diverse MOI materials now held at the British Library are testament to the multi-faceted propaganda effort that was carried out by the ministry, one which utilised the skills and expertise of British academics, cartoonists, authors and many other skilled professionals. It was a campaign which sought to belittle Britain’s enemies and project an image of the country as a righteous, commanding military power that was close to victory against the forces of evil. In the context of the Middle East, this entailed a wholly cynical attempt to portray Britain’s military occupation and colonial domination of the region as merely ‘brotherly’ friendships between allies.

Ironically, in 1948, a British official in the Persian Gulf bemoaned the manner in which the MOI had popularised self-expression as a counter to Nazism as a ‘weapon of war’. He argued that this effort had served to increase the Gulf’s inhabitants knowledge of the world’s problems, ‘particularly of the rights of small nations and the independence of Arab nations’ and was causing them to question Britain’s dominant position in the region.[1]

Those interested to learn more about the MOI will be pleased to hear that in September 2016, the British Library is releasing a publication entitled Persuading the People, in which the renowned expert on Propaganda, Professor David Welch of the University of Kent, explores the role of the MOI and its propaganda output in closer detail.

 

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist
@Louis_Allday
 ccownwork

[1] National Archives, FO 924/695, ‘Education problems in the Middle East and Persian Gulf’

27 March 2015

Britain’s ‘Interest’ in Bahrain

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In 1783, the Al Khalifa family – originally from the Nejd region of what is now Saudi Arabia – captured the islands of Bahrain from Shaikh Nasr Al Madhkur, who had ruled them on behalf of the Qajar dynasty of Persia. In 1926, over one hundred and fifty years later, the status of Bahrain’s sovereignty remained a contentious issue. In December of that year, G. R. Warner, a British diplomat in London, wrote to a colleague in India stating that ‘on political grounds it is of great importance to avoid any action which would result in the re-awakening of the controversy as to the sovereignty of Bahrein’.

Although Bahrain was nominally independent at this time, it was a British-protected state and Britain had controlled its foreign relations since the nineteenth century. The cause of Warner’s concern was the fact that the Persian Government refused to recognise Bahrain’s independence and instead claimed it as a province of Persia. The manner in which British officials in the region responded to this tension provides a revealing insight into the character of Britain’s role in Bahrain at this time.

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'Mohammerah' [‎20-b] (1/1), present-day Khorramshahr, photographed in May 1917 by the Rev. Edwin Aubrey Storrs-Fox (British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, Photo 496/6/40) in Qatar Digital Library

Avoiding Re-Awakening the Controversy
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Bahraini nationals resident in the city of Mohammerah (Khorramshahr) in Persia were subjected to harassment and intimidation by the local authorities. Many of these Bahrainis – the majority of whom were Baharna (the indigenous Shia Arab community of Bahrain) – were being forced to adopt Persian nationality. If they did not comply, the Baharna faced arrest, expulsion from the country and, in some cases, serious violence and even death. In response, the community appealed for help to the ruler of Bahrain, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and to the various British officials who served as Political Agent in Bahrain during this era. The British – wary of increasing tensions with Persia over Bahrain – were hesitant in their response to the Persian Government’s actions.

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First page of a letter to the India Office from G. R. Warner at the Foreign Office, 31 December 1926 (IOR/R/15/1/321, f. 97)
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‘Alleviating the lot of the Baharnah’
Despite their repeated petitions calling for assistance, the harassment of Bahraini nationals in Persia continued and Britain’s inability or unwillingness to offer more substantial help to citizens of a country ostensibly under its protection began to cause some consternation amongst the Baharna.

In 1923, the British had forced Bahrain’s ruler, Shaikh Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa, to abdicate and replaced him with his son, Shaikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Following this, the Political Agent in Bahrain, Clive Kirkpatrick Daly, enacted a series of wide-reaching reforms in the country. In this context, Cyril Charles Johnson Barrett, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, made a frank observation in a letter to the British Legation in Tehran in August 1929:

[I]t strikes the residents of Bahrain as remarkable that while Britain’s protection of their island runs to dethroning their ruler, carrying out a series of reforms and arranging to establish flying boat and aeroplane bases for herself, it is not of the least value in alleviating the lot of the Baharnah in Persia.

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Letter from Cyril Charles Johnson Barrett, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, to the British Legation in Tehran, 21 August 1929 (IOR/R/15/1/216/321, f. 259)
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Legal Fiction
In September 1929, Charles Geoffrey Prior, Britain’s Political Agent in Bahrain elaborated on this contradiction. In an extraordinarily frank passage in a letter to Barrett, his superior based in Bushire, Prior described the notion that Bahrain was an independent state as a ‘legal fiction’ and stated that he did not believe that ‘any Arab is deceived for a minute by a policy which, while manipulating the resources of Bahrain in our interests, declines to protect its subjects, to allow them to protect themselves or to ally themselves with other states who might do so’.

Prior suggested that if the British had intervened in any Indian state over the previous decade to the extent they had done so in Bahrain, it would have caused a ‘storm of protest’, observing that:

[W]e have deposed the Ruler, deported his relations, fixed the customs tariff to suit our interests, forced the state against its will to grant a customs rebate to our ally Bin Saud […] deprived the Ruler of jurisdiction over all foreigners, and decided what Europeans he may or may not employ.

Prior went on to state that ‘we have refused the state a free hand with their mineral resources, and have been guided in the matter almost entirely by our own interests’ and pointed out that the ruler of Bahrain was forbidden to correspond with the oil company working on his concession except through the intermediary of the Political Agent.

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Second page of a letter from Charles Geoffrey Prior, the Political Agent in Bahrain, to Cyril Charles Johnson Barrett, the British Political Resident in the Persian Gulf, 27 September 1929 (IOR/R/15/1/322, f. 47)
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Prior also made the astonishing admission that aside from a small contribution to charity, ‘which has political value’, the British Government had incurred no expenditure in Bahrain whatsoever.

Duty to Grant Protection
In this damning assessment of British policy in Bahrain, Prior asserted his belief that Britain should be fulfilling its obligations by doing more to assist the Baharna. Prior argued that ‘in no sense’ was Bahrain an independent state, and for the sake of Britain’s reputation for ‘fair dealing’ it should not default in its liabilities to its inhabitants. This argument was reiterated by Prior in a letter two years later in 1931.

In this letter, Prior outlined the extent of Britain’s involvement and explained how the British manipulated an oil company to suit their ‘Imperial interests’. He argued that since ‘we have interfered in the affairs of Bahrain to an extent unparalleled in British India [then] we should grant these people the same support and protection that we extend to inhabitants of British Indian States’.

Three years later however, the harassment of Bahrainis in Persia had not abated. In 1934, Charles Belgrave, Adviser to the Government of Bahrain, wrote that ‘the Persians destroy their [Bahraini] nationality papers, make them sign Persian papers yet the Baharna would rather die than become Persian subjects’.

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Extract of letter from Charles Geoffrey Prior, the Political Agent in Bahrain, 10 December 1931 (IOR/R/15/1/323, f. 115)
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Imperial Context
Prior’s remarkable candour when assessing the British Government’s activities in Bahrain starkly demonstrates the nature of its role in the country, a role that, according to his own account, was motivated by the logic of empire and – in his own words – Britain’s self-interest. The welfare of the country’s citizens was a concern of secondary importance, at best.

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'His Excellency The Right Honourable George Nathaniel Baron Curzon, P. C., G. M. S. I., G. M. I. E. Viceroy and Governor-General of India.' Photographer: Bourne and Shepherd [‎10r] (1/1) (British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, Photo 430/78/3) in Qatar Digital Library


In 1898, George Curzon, then the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, infamously wrote:

Turkestan, Afghanistan, Transcaspia, Persia – to many these names breathe only a sense of utter remoteness or a memory of strange vicissitudes and or moribund romance. To me, I confess, they are pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game for the dominion of the world.

Regardless of Prior’s own personal misgivings, Bahrain was no exception to Curzon’s imperial worldview, it was merely another piece on the ‘chessboard’, a means to safeguard Britain’s position in India and further the interests of its global empire.

Primary sources:
London, British Library, ‘File 19/109 IV (C 28) Shaikh's Relations with other Foreign Powers’ IOR/R/15/1/321
London, British Library, ‘File 19/109 V (C 32) Bahrain Relations with other Foreign Powers’ IOR/R/15/1/322
London, British Library, ‘File 19/109 VI (C 45) Bahrain Relations with Foreign Powers’ IOR/R/15/1/323
London, British Library, ‘File 12/2 Treatment of Bahraini subjects in Persia’ IOR/R/15/2/486

Secondary sources:
George Nathaniel Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question (London, New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1892)

Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Specialist, British Library/Qatar Foundation Partnership
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30 December 2014

Curzon’s Durbars and the Alqabnamah: The Persian Gulf as part of the Indian Empire

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On the 21 November 1903, George Curzon, the Viceroy of Britain’s Indian Empire, held an ostentatious ceremony aboard the Argonaut while anchored of the coast of Sharjah in the Persian Gulf. In attendance were all the rulers of the Trucial Coast (now the United Arab Emirates) along with other guests from the region. The Durbar (Persian darbār 'court'), as such performances were known, was part of a tour of the Gulf that was conceived by Curzon as a way of shoring up the frontiers of the Indian Empire against the threat of the other European powers.
 
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Lord Curzon’s Durbar aboard RIMS Argonaut, Sharjah (British Library, Photo 49/1(7))
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This kind of ritual was a feature of rule borrowed by the British from the Mughal emperors they had replaced in India. It was an act of royal incorporation, designed to establish, legitimise, and entrench the hierarchies of empire. A photograph from the Dane collection at the British Library shows Curzon, enthroned at centre stage, surrounded by the symbols of Indian (the carpets, the guard of men behind) and British monarchical (the crowns in the roof of the tent, the Christian cross) authority. To the Viceroy’s right sit the Arab dignitaries. Some, deprived of chairs, are kneeling or sitting on the floor.

Curzon had held a much grander version of the durbar in Delhi earlier that year to mark the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra as Emperor and Empress of India. The ‘Official Directory of the Delhi Coronation Durbar ’ tells us that, from the Gulf region, only the Sultan of Muscat’s son and some of the tribal leaders of the Aden Protectorate attended this lavish expression of imperial rule; a reflection of where the Gulf and its rulers stood within the colonial order.

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Shah Jahan, Mughal Emperor, in durbar in the Diwan-i-Am at Delhi (British Library, Add.Or.3853)
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Several years later, the Government of India wrote to the Political Residency at Bushire requesting that they revise the ‘extracts from the Alqabnamah’ that relate to the Gulf. The Alqabnamah (Persian alqābnāmah 'book of titles'), first compiled in 1865, was a register of Indian princes containing information on the correct title and form of address to be used for each. It included such details as the number of guns in a ruler’s salute and the material used for the bag that carried their correspondence.

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The 1935 edition of the Alqabnamah (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/734)
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Between 1912 and the end of British rule in India in 1947, numerous revisions of the Alqabnamah were made. The discussion over these revisions reveals how the British viewed the political landscape in the Gulf. The evolution of the list shows the shifts in that landscape. From early on there is a clear hierarchy that is reflected in the distinctions accorded to each ruler, such as the terms of address used and with whom they could correspond with.

In 1912, Muscat was the only authority that could receive a letter from the Viceroy himself. This honour was granted to Bahrain and Kuwait five years later. The highest ranking officer that Qatar and the Trucial shaikhs would ever receive letters from was the Political Resident.

The wording used when addressing these rulers was also a matter that warranted much attention. During a clean-up of the register in 1925, Francis Prideaux, the Political Resident, initiated a discussion over the use of the term sa‘ādah, equivalent to ‘excellency’ or ‘grace’. Mirza ‘Ali, a Residency assistant, suggested that the word be used for Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar. However, James More, the Political Agent at Kuwait, questioned whether Qatar qualified as an ‘excellency’. The Agent at Bahrain, Clive Daly, balked at the idea that the term be used for the Trucial shaikhs, arguing that their ‘position and political importance’ was ‘considerably less’ than that of the rulers of Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar, and that it would be ‘unnecessarily flattering’. By 1935 Bahrain and Kuwait were being addressed as ‘Your Highness’ while Qatar remained ‘Your Excellency’.

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Extract from a letter from James More, Political Agent at Kuwait, outlining his suggestions for the correct forms of address for the rulers of Najd, Muscat, and Kuwait, 21 February 1926 (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/237, f. 80)
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This order of importance can be explained by the political situation in the Gulf at the time. Bahrain was of economic significance to the British and its position made it an important transit point and base for naval operations. Up until the end of the First World War, Kuwait had an ambiguous relationship with Ottoman Turkey and it remained a potential entry point into the Gulf for other powers that the British wished to exclude. The promise of oil in all three countries was also a major factor.

The number of guns in a ruler’s salute reflects this same order. The Sultan of Muscat enjoyed the rare privilege of a twenty-one gun salute, putting him on a par with the most senior of Indian princes. Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar were each given seven guns. The Trucial Shaikhs, safely bound by century-old treaties and not deemed powerful enough to either be a problem or to offer any sort of advantage, were given the lowest salute of three guns each (except Abu Dhabi, which received five guns).

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Extract from the 1935 edition of the Alqabnamah, showing the Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar entries (British Library, IOR/R/15/1/734)
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Political changes in the region can also be detected in changes to the register. The Shaikh of Mohammerah (now Khorramshahr), for example, appears early on. At a time when Britain was seeking to maintain their economic dominance of south-western Persia, the Shaikh was given honours equivalent to those of Bahrain and Kuwait, sometimes higher. In 1926, however, following political centralisation under Reza Shah, the Shaikh lost most his power and the British lost their foothold in the area. Mohammerah was subsequently removed from the list.

Curzon’s tour of the region and the inclusion of its rulers in the Alqabnamah were both part of a process of locating the Gulf within Britain’s Indian empire. They are incidences of the Gulf’s incorporation into a system of ‘indirect rule’ that was born after the Great Rebellion of 1857 and was based upon more ‘traditional’ and ‘ancient’ articulations of authority. They placed each ‘princely state’ of the Persian Gulf within the colonial hierarchy, and helped to establish and normalise a regional order that reflected the political changes that occurred.

Many of the documents and photographs mentioned here, including copies and extracts from the Alqabnamah, are being digitised as part of the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership and will be available online through the Qatar Digital Library.


Primary Sources
British Library: India Office Select Materials, Dane Collection: ‘Photographs of Lord Curzon’s tour in the Persian Gulf, November, 1903’, India Office Records and Private Papers Photo 49/1
British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, ‘File 13/166 Forms of addresses while corresponding with native chiefs in the Gulf’, IOR/R/15/1/237
British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, ‘List Showing the Names, Titles and Modes of Address of the More Important Sovereigns, Ruling Princes, Chiefs, Nobles etc., Having Relations with the Indian Governmen, Alqabnamah’, IOR/R/15/1/734
British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, ‘Official directory of the Delhi Coronation Durbar: 3 copies’, Mss Eur F112/466

Further Reading
David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire, (London, 2001)
Bernard Cohn, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India, (Princeton, 1996)
Encyclodædia Iranica, ‘ALQĀB VA ʿANĀWĪN: titles and forms of address, employed in Iran from pre-Islamic times
Thomas Metcalf, Ideologies of the Raj (The New Cambridge History of India), (Cambridge, 1995)
Kristopher Radford, ‘Curzon’s Cruise: The Pomp and Circumstances of Indian Indirect Rule of the Persian Gulf’, The International History Review, Vol. 35, Iss. 4, (Jul 2013)
John M. Willis, ‘Making Yemen Indian: Rewriting the Boundaries of Imperial Arabia’, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 41 (2009), pp. 23-38

 

John Hayhurst, Project Officer – Gulf History Specialist, BL/QF Partnership
john.hayhurst@bl.uk
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23 December 2014

Christmas and New Year in the Persian Gulf: Protocol and Ceremony

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In the British administered Persian Gulf, the festive period was a time of celebration for colonial officers and their families, yet it still required the imperial protocol and ceremony that helped to solidify hierarchies of power.

On Christmas and New Year's Day, as on the two major Islamic festivals and the monarch’s birthday, local rulers and notables paid personal calls to colonial officers, and the Residency or Agency building’s flagstaff was ceremonially dressed and decorated. Archival files dealing with general etiquette and procedures observed for the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha contain interesting details about how Christmas and New Year were observed in the Persian Gulf.

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'Entrance to Bushire Residency' (Photo 355/1/34)
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Christmas Greetings from the Persian Gulf
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the Political Agent at Bahrain would receive personal visits from the ruling Al Khalifah sheikhs of Bahrain and local merchants on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

However, calls in person were not possible for the sheikhs of the Trucial Coast (modern-day United Arab Emirates) and Qatar with whom the Political Agent also corresponded, either personally or through a native agent. Therefore, letters and greetings cards were sent instead. Shown here are a few examples sent from Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi, ruler of Sharjah between 1924-1951.

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Two cards from Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi to the Political Agent, Bahrain (IOR/R/15/2/1942, f. 129v)
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With a letter, dated 21 Shawwal 1356 [24 December 1937], offering belated thanks for the Political Agent’s Eid al-Fitr greetings, the Sheikh sent two cards. The first card offers thanks to the Political Agent for his Eid greetings [nashkurukum ‘alá tahni’atikum lanā bihādhā al-‘īd al-sa‘īd] while the second card wishes him a Happy Christmas [‘īd al-milād al-sa‘īd].

Another letter in Arabic, dated 11 Shawwal 1355 [25 December 1936] to the Political Agent contains the following: ‘On the occasion of Christmas [ḥulūl al-‘īd al-masīḥī] I offer you my heartfelt greetings praying to God to give you a long life full of prosperity’.

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Letter from Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi to the Political Agent, Bahrain (IOR/R/15/2/1942, f. 58)
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As well as sending his greetings to the Political Agent at Bahrain, Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr would also write to the Political Resident at Bushire, for example his letter of 5 Dhu al-Hijjah 1360 [29 December 1942] wishing him a merry Christmas and hoping that he should ‘enjoy good health and prosperity [kamāl al-ṣiḥḥah wa al-rafāh]’. The Political Resident responded with a letter dated 18 January 1943: ‘I thank you for your wishes for Christmas [‘īd milād sayyidinā al-masīḥ], and hope that you will enjoy good health and prosperity’.

It was also common for Political Agents to receive Christmas greetings from local merchants and notables as well as rulers. An example from Yusuf bin Ahmad Kanoo appears on headed stationary decorated with a star and crescent moon over a palm tree. The Political Agent responded with a quick line to thank him for his ‘kind note of greetings for Christmas and New Year’, and for a delivery of  ‘delicious fruit’ that was sent to mark the occasion.

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Card from Yusuf bin Ahmad Kanoo to the Political Agent, Bahrain (IOR/R/15/2/646, f. 26)
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A further example is a letter, dated 24 December 1936, received from a prominent Qatari merchant, Salih bin Sulayman al-Man‘i: ‘On the occasion of Christmas [‘īd al-krismas], I write to offer you my heartiest congratulations and pray God to let you have many returns of the day in good health and full happiness’.

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Letter from Salih bin Sulayman al-Man‘i to the Political Agent, Bahrain (IOR/R/15/2/1942, f. 48)
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Expats and Missionaries
Protestant missionaries of the Dutch Reformed Church in America, known interchangeably as the American or Arabian Mission, were active in the Persian Gulf from the turn of the twentieth century. As well as their (not very successful) proselytizing to the indigenous population, they provided a religious framework for expats and the British colonial establishment residing in the region.

On 23 December 1936, Reverend Gerrit Van Peurseum, a missionary stationed at Bahrain, invited the Political Agent and his wife to a ‘Divine Service’ on Christmas Day at the American Mission. The Political Agent took part in the service by undertaking to read Biblical passages, which included Isaiah 9:2-8 and 11:1-10, and Luke 2:1-22.

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Order of Service, Christmas 1936 (IOR/R/15/2/646, f. 128)
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However, relations with the missionaries were not always straightforward. Dr Rev Louis P. Dame, another missionary stationed at Bahrain, wrote an annoyed letter to the Political Agent on Easter Sunday 1934 complaining that the Agency flags had been raised earlier that week for a ‘Moslem holiday’ (Eid al-Adha), but, as he wrote, ‘To-day is a Christian holiday, shouldn’t they be displayed also!’ The Political Agent wrote back with a one line response that ‘the flags of this Agency are displayed on the Christian holiday of Christmas.’

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Letter from L. P. Dame to the Political Agent, Bahrain (IOR/R/15/2/646, f. 40)
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Indeed, the missionaries were viewed with some scorn since their practices and hymns were different from those to which some were accustomed. In his diaries, Charles Dalrymple Belgrave, the Adviser to the Government of Bahrain, describes the missionaries as ‘frigid’ and ‘tiresome’. In several entries on Christmas, he notes how they ‘annoyed everyone by singing some tiresome American hymns with no words or tune that anyone had ever heard before’ and how they provided ‘a very dull uninspiring service and unchristmassy hymns’.

The reality was that Belgrave, and most likely the British colonial establishment in the Persian Gulf, viewed the Mission’s Americaness with a degree of cultural snobbery. In addition, this was tinged with recurring suspicions that they were representing American geopolitical interests in the region, or, worse, they harboured secret loyalties to Germany due to their Germanic origins (see earlier post on American propaganda in post-war Bahrain). In another diary entry in 1926, Belgrave remarks: ‘[…] a long solo sung by a female with a dreadful voice and a German accent, and a sermon in broadest American which lasted half an hour’. We can only imagine what Belgrave would make of the prevalence today of ʻO Christmas Treeʼ based on the German song ʻO Tannenbaumʼ or the quintessentially ‘Christmassy’ and American ʻAll I Want for Christmas Is Youʼ by Mariah Carey.

Primary Sources
British Library, ‘File 27/2 I Etiquette’ IOR/R/15/2/646
British Library, ‘File G/7 I ʻId calls, letters and notices’ IOR/R/15/2/1942
British Library, ‘File G/7 II ʻId calls, letters and notices’ IOR/R/15/2/1943
University of Exeter, Special Collections, ‘Belgrave Diaries’, Papers of Charles Dalrymple Belgrave, 1926-1957

Daniel A. Lowe, Arabic Language and Gulf History Specialist (@dan_a_lowe)
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