Modern History of the Arab Countries. Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky 1969

The Arabian Countries During 1840 to 1870

Arabia After 1840.

After the Egyptians had withdrawn from the Arabian Peninsula, the country was again split up into a number of regions. These, however, were not city-states (such a degree of disunity existed only in Hadhramaut and in some parts of the Persian Gulf), but comparatively large feudal formations such as the Hejaz and the Yemen on the Red Sea and Wahhabi Nejd, Kasim and Shammar in Inner Arabia and Oman on the Persian Gulf. All these regions, with the exception of Oman and southern Arabia, were formally under Turkish control. Turkey, however, stationed garrisons only in the chief towns of the Hejaz and the port of Tihama, and the Turkish pashas’ authority was restricted to these towns. Actually, the Arabian feudal estates were independent of the Porte.

In the Hejaz, power belonged to the Meccan sherifs, as it had been in ancient times. In the Yemen the Zaydite Imams held the reins of power. Turkey’s attempt (in 1849) to place the Yemen under her direct control fell through. The Wahhabi state was restored in Nejd and embraced almost all Inner Arabia, including El-Hasa. Only the feudal lords and the merchants of Kasim strove to uphold their independence. Meanwhile, in the north of Nejd the new emirate of Shammar was formed and, gradually gaining strength, began to compete with Nejd for hegemony in northern Arabia.

Oman was divided into two parts. One came under the control of the Muscat seyyid Said (1807–1856), who also retained his hold on a number of islands in the Indian Ocean (Zanzibar and others), and other territories on the coast of Iran and East Africa. The other part, Trucial Oman, was split up into a number of small “pirate” sheikhdoms. Both parts were under the control of the British resident and the guns of the British squadron stationed in the area ensured British domination all along the coast. The British resident used force to put down popular uprisings, appointed and dismissed governors and continued to impose new agreements on the coastal sheikhs. Southern Arabia was a conglomeration of small sultanates and sheikhdoms. England possessed the colony of Aden, which was a breeding ground of strife and uprisings in the southern part of the peninsula.

Wahhabi Nejd.

After twenty years of Egyptian rule, the Wahhabis had restored their state in Nejd. In 1843, Emir Faisal became the head of state. Since 1838, he had been a war prisoner in Egypt, but had then fled to Damascus, where he masqueraded as a theological student. When the Egyptians withdrew, he returned to Riyadh and with popular support regained power.

Within a comparatively short time, Faisal restored the emirate, which had virtually begun to disintegrate. True, it was still far from being as powerful as it had been in the past. In 1846, it even acknowledged Turkish suzerainty and undertook to pay an annual tribute of 10,000 thalers. Nor were the former boundaries of the Wahhabi state restored. The Riyadh Emir controlled only Nejd and El-Hasa.

The attempt of the Saudi dynasty to regain power in Kasim led to a protracted struggle with the Hejaz. The prospect of Wahhabi domination in this important trade centre of Arabia did not appeal to the Meccan sherifs. The merchants of Kasim were also opposed to Wahhabi power. They had gained control of a significant portion of the increasing trade between various regions of Arabia and the neighbouring Arab countries, and were rapidly enriching themselves. Kasim’s “commerce with Medina and Mecca on the one hand, and with Nejd, nay, even with Damascus and Baghdad, on the other hand,” wrote the distinguished British traveller Palgrave, who visited Inner Arabia in 1862–63, “has gathered in its warehouses stores of traffic unknown to any other locality of Inner Arabia, and its hardy merchants were met alike on the shores of the Red Sea and of the Euphrates, or by the waters of Damascus.” [Palgrave, Personal Narrative of a Year’s Journey Through Central and Eastern Arabia, London 1869, p. 117.]

The merchants of Kasim were oppressed by feudal extortions and the rigorous customs of the Wahhabi state, and wanted their city-states to be independent. With the help of the Meccan sherifs the inhabitants of Kasim successful] repulsed all the Wahhabi campaigns. In 1855, Faisal even acknowledged the independence of Anaiza and Buraida. Further attempts by the Saudi dynasty to conquer the towns of Kasim achieved almost nothing. Only occasionally were they able to exact a certain amount of tribute.

In eastern Arabia, the Wahhabis met with British opposition. Twice they attempted to regain their former position on the Persian Gulf (1851–52 – western Oman; 1859 – Qatar), and twice they were repelled by the British fleet. After the conclusion of the Anglo-Nejd Treaty in 1866, the Saudi family abandoned its attempts to extend its power to Trucial Oman and Bahrain and restricted its activities in these areas to tribute gathering.

An atmosphere of bellicose fanaticism pervaded the Wahhabi state. Religious intolerance had reached its highest pitch. A special tribunal of zealots was set up in the middle of the 19th century in Nejd to mete out strict punishment upon all who violated religious laws. The guilty were fined and subjected to severe corporal punishment.

The new Wahhabi state lacked internal cohesion; the central power was weak. The tribes fought not only against one another, but also against the Emir. After Faisal’s death in 1865, feudal and tribal separatism was aggravated still further by the continuous strife between the dynasties. Faisal had divided Nejd among his three eldest sons and on his death a fierce struggle ensued between them for supreme power.

The struggle for the throne and internecine strifes further weakened the already tottering foundations of the Wahhabi state. The emirs of Shammar, who were competing with the Saudi family for supremacy in northern Arabia, did not fail to take advantage of the critical situation. The Turks followed their example by seizing El-Hasa.

The Growth of the Shammar Emirate.

The Shammar emirate acquired especial significance among the Arabian feudal states after the withdrawal of the Egyptians. Hail was its capital. The new Rashid dynasty, which had firmly established itself in the emirate as far back as the thirties of the 19th century, used Nejd’s decline to consolidate its power. The Rashids had been the vassals of Nejd, but in the middle of the 19th century their dependence became purely nominal. Shammar, like Nejd, was a Wahhabi state. But unlike Nejd, the rulers of Shammar pursued a policy of religious tolerance.

The emirs of Shammar, Abdullah (1834–47) and especially his son Talal (1847–68), did much to develop trade and the crafts. Talal built markets and workshops in Hail. He invited merchants and artisans both from the neighbouring Arabian regions and from Iraq. He granted them various privileges. Religious tolerance attracted the merchants and pilgrims. Caravans from Iraq changed, their usual routes and began passing to Mecca via Hail, steering clear of fanatical Nejd. Talal ensured their safety. He completely stamped out highway robbery, subdued the Bedouin tribes and forced them to pay taxes. He also conquered a number of oases (Khaibar, Jauf and others), removed rebellious feudal lords and everywhere appointed his own governors. The growth of trade and the policy of Emir Talal led to the centralisation and strengthening of Shammar.

The Riyadh emirs watched with anxiety the growing might of their vassal. In 1868, Talal was summoned to Riyadh, where he was poisoned. His state, however, continued to exist and with the help of the Turks entered the struggle against Riyadh for supremacy in Inner Arabia.

British Colonies in Arabia (1840–70).

After the withdrawal of the Egyptians from Arabia, the British became the absolute rulers of the Persian Gulf coast and Aden. Apart from Oman, which had lost its independence in 1798, seven sheikhdoms of Trucial Oman and Bahrain had been under British control since 1820. England left power in these tiny states in the hands of the local rulers and restricted herself to establishing what was known as relations of alliance with them.

These relations, which tied the sheikhs of Trucial Oman and Bahrain hand and foot, were constantly ratified and renewed. Thus, with each treaty (1839, 1847, 1853, 1856) on the surface claiming peace and concord “for all time,” the “rights” of the British political resident in Bender-Bushir, who was the virtual ruler over all these territories, were extended. The local rulers were deprived of the opportunity to pursue an independent foreign policy. England always managed to find an excuse for interfering in the internal affairs of Trucial Oman and Bahrain. The British merchants received various rights and privileges.

In 1861, England imposed a new convention on Bahrain, by which she undertook to “defend” Bahrain from foreign attacks and became entitled to send her troops there whenever she wished. The convention actually meant the establishment of a British protectorate over Bahrain.

The British expansion in the Persian Gulf met with the open resistance of Turkey and Iran, who laid claim to a number of territories. In 1868, England came near to establishing “relations of alliance” with Qatar, but three years later was compelled to yield the sheikhdom to Turkey.

France threatened British positions in Oman. England’s most reliable “ally” in Arabia was the Muscat seyyid, whom the British political agent had well in hand. Under the pretext of joint suppression of piracy and the slave trade, England imposed on him a number of new unequal agreements (1839 and 1845), which strengthened the “relations of alliance” between England and Oman. As far back as 1834, the British had forced the Muscat seyyid Said to surrender to them the Kuria Muria Islands. In 1857, they seized Perim Island which was annexed to the colony of Aden.

In 1856, Said, the governor of Muscat, died. The British intervened in the ensuing dynastic conflict and in 1861, at the proposal of the viceroy of India, Lord Canning, they divided the huge domains of the Muscat seyyid between his two sons. Oman [Oman gradually lost its domains on the coast of Iran. In 1868, Bender-Abbas with the adjoining coastal strip went to the Persians.] went to the eldest son Thuwaini and the coast of East Africa and Zanzibar, which had been a part of Muscat ever since the end of the 18th century, went to the youngest son, Mejid. This division weakened Oman and later facilitated the British seizure of Zanzibar and control over Oman.

In the middle of the 19th century, Oman became the object of Anglo-French rivalry. In 1846, France concluded a commercial agreement with Oman, similar to the Anglo-Oman Trade Treaty of 1839. In 1861, she objected to the partition of Oman into two parts. The Anglo-French conflict ended in a compromise. On March 10, 1862, in Paris, England and France signed a joint declaration, granting “independence” to Muscat and Zanzibar. Thus France had reconciled herself to the factual partition of Oman. England acknowledged the illusory “independence,” but her actions belied her words. In the space of ten years (1862–71) a wave of uprisings swept Oman. The great mass of the people were rebelling against the new Muscat Sultan Thuwaini (1858–66), whom they regarded as a British protégé. They were supported by the Wahhabis, who strove to restore their former power in Oman and even collected a regular tribute from many towns and districts of Oman. England openly interfered in Oman’s affairs despite the Declaration of 1862. She supplied Thuwaini with guns and ships to deploy against the people and her fleet shelled the hostile towns. She ordered the sheikhs under her control to support the Sultan and, when Thuwaini was killed, she rendered the same assistance to his son. When Thuwaini’s son was banished from the country, she helped his younger brother to suppress the popular uprisings and install himself at Muscat.

The British troops in Aden lived almost in a state of siege. A series of uprisings flared up in southern Arabia against the interference of the British authorities. In 1840, an uprising, backed by the Lahej Sultan, took place in Aden. It was put down, but in 1846, the Arabs attacked again. Upon his accession to power in 1849 in Lahej, Sultan Ali demanded the return of Aden. In 1858, he sent his troops to fight the British, but was defeated in a battle near Sheikh-Othman and compelled to acknowledge British rule in Aden. In 1867, the British undertook another expedition against the rebellious tribes of southern Arabia, who refused to acknowledge the seizure of Aden.


Last updated: 29 July 2020