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The British and The Khalifas - Changes in Bahrain

The Rise of the Al-Khalifa Family:

The Bani Utbah was a tribal confederation that had comprised of leading families in the Qatari and Eastern Arabian region. This included the clans of Al Binali, Al Khalifa (which presently rule Bahrain), Al Sabah (who presently rule Kuwait) and al Jalahima (well known for the pirate, Rahmah ibn Jabir al Jalahima!)
The location of Al Zubarah, now a ghost town

In the year 1782, a war erupted between the Bani Utbah tribal-confederation (based in Zubarah, Qatar) and the Madhukirs (آل مذكور) , who were at the time the rulers of Bahrain, they were also believed to have been Huwala (Again, Sunni Persians in Arabia and vice versa). This war had occurred because the prosperity and emerging position of  a flourishing pearling centre and trading centre at Zubarah, which had brought it to the attention of the two main regional powers at that time, Persia and Oman. Zubarah offered great potential wealth because of the extensive pearls found in its waters. At the time, it was believed there was a shortage of pearls (you’d think after 3 millenniums, it would run out!).

 An interesting thing is that the Bani Utbah tribe were believed to have been (or related)called the Bin Ali tribe (آل بن علي) of Bahrain, which already showed the influence they had in the region. The governor of Bahrain at the time, Nasr Al-Madhkur, led an army to Zubarah to fend off the invading tribe, which proved in vain as his army had collapsed (some suggest desertion) and a victory ensued for the Bani Utbah tribe

. By 1783, the Islands of Bahrain were lost to the Bani Utbah tribe for good, and a mass migration towards the island was reported , this was believed to have caused the extravagant growth of Date-Palm farms throughout the island.
A portrait of Ahmed the Conqueror

The clan that was placed in charge of Bahrain was, as you might guess, the Al Khalifa family. In fact, the commander of the Bani Utbah invasion was Ahmed ibn Mohammed al Khalifa, now commonly referred to as Ahmed al Fateh (Ahmed the Conqueror). The main mosque of Bahrain was built in his honour. He was also the first ruler of the Khalifa Dynasty.

 It is said that the Al Khalifa clan were supported by a naval fleet from Kuwait and several Bedouin clans based in Zubara in its invasion of Bahrain. These clans included Al Mannai, Al Jalahima, Al Bin Ali, Al Bu Romaih, Al Hajri, Al Muhannadi, Al Nuaim, Al Buainain, Al Bukuwarah and Al Thawawida. The Khalifas were thought to have originally been based in Jaww  (a village on the east coast of Bahrain) along with the Al Bu Romaih tribe. Later, they had moved to Riffa, the de facto power-house of Bahrain.

For a brief period of two years, 1800-1802, Oman had invaded Bahrain for unclear reasons, where it was believed that a 12 year old child was installed as the ruler of the land, then based in Arad Fort.

British De Facto Control:

The Khalifa Dynasty’s control over Bahrain was reinforced when, in 1820, it signed a treaty  with Britain where, according to Historians, the British recognized the Khalifas as the legitimate Rulers of Bahrain. The reason why Bahrain sought British recognition was because it was the regional powerhouse in the region , at the time. This treaty, alongside with dozen others that was signed in 1861, was called the Perpetual Truce of Peace and Friendship treaty. 

According to its terms, the United Kingdom would provide protection from naval assault and assistance for land assaults in return for pledges from Bahrain to only dispose of land to the United Kingdom (if to anyone) and not to enter relationships with other foreign governments without British consent. The treaty was modified in 1892 and 1951. 

Between the years 1869 to 1872, Ottoman influence in the region was apparent, Ottoman naval ships had periodically appeared by the coasts , it was unclear if any hostilities had occurred (but due to the defense pack with Britain, I doubt it). Perhaps the most important part of that treaty was that he British promised to support the rule of the Al Khalifa in Bahrain, securing its unstable position as rulers of the country. 

Wikipedia sums it nicely
- According to School of Oriental and African Studies academic, Nelida Fuccaro, this treaty relationship with Britain was one aspect of an evolving polity: From this perspective state building under the Al Khalifa shayks should not be considered exclusively as the result of Britain's informal empire in the Persian Gulf. In fact, it was a long process of strategic negotiation with different sections of the local population in order to establish a pre-eminence of their particularly artistic Sunni/Bedouin tradition of family rule.

The Cosmopolitan Society of Bahrain:
Generally speaking ,the period after 1850 was a peaceful and prosperous one. In this time, Bahrain had somewhat lowered its dependency on Pearls and had invested again into becoming a trading hub (as it once was , in ages past). This was achieved when it had overtaken Basra, Kuwait and Muscat as the trading centre of the Gulf.

At around the same time, Bahrain was believed to have undergone a socio-economic revamp. The tribal system was being called for abandonment and the adoption of a Modern state was called for. Of course, this booming period led to mass immigration to Bahrain from Persian , Arab and Indian merchants . 

According to one contemporary account; 
 Mixed with the indigenous population [of Manamah] are numerous strangers and settlers, some of whom have been established here for many generations back, attracted from other lands by the profits of either commerce or the pearl fishery, and still retaining more or less the physiognomy and garb of their native countries. Thus the gray-coloured dress of the southern Persian, the saffron-stained vest of Oman, the white robe of Nejed, and the striped gown of Bagdad, are often to be seen mingling with the light garments of Bahreyn, its blue and red turban, its white silk-fringed cloth worn Banian fashion round the waist, and its frock-like overall; while a small but unmistakable colony of Indians, merchants by profession, and mainly from Guzerat, Cutch, and their vicinity, keep up here all their peculiarities of costume and manner, and live among the motley crowd, ‘among them, but not of them’.
 From: WG Palgrave, Narrative of a Year's Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia (1862-3)

Bahrain was described as a cosmopolitan society at the time, in Palgrave’s book, he describes the people as having an open – even urbane – outlook: "Of religious controversy I have never heard one word. In short, instead of Zelators and fanatics, camel-drivers and Bedouins, we have at Bahrain [Manama] something like ‘men of the world, who know the world like men’ a great relief to the mind; certainly it was so to mine”.
The Ahmed al Fateh Mosque, built in the capital Manama

The trading families of this period could even be equivalent to the Borgias and Medicis of Italy, or even greater.

And this wealth  gave them extensive power, and among the most prominent were the Persian Al Safar family, who held the position of Native Agents of Britain in 19th Century.

The Al Safar enjoyed an 'exceptionally close' relationship with the Al Khalifa clan from 1869.

Once again, all comments are welcome and appreciate you reading this.


  1. Certainly, history doesn't change no matter how many times we looked at it.
    I did not copy nor pasted anything here, but merely posted and wrote all these from research I made.

  2. I'm sorry but Huwala are not really persian-persians, they are Arabs of Fares. They are persian with original Bahraini roots.

  3. You'd be surprised at how many claim the opposite.


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