Protected States and the British Empire in the Persian Gulf: Rethinking Decolonisation

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Other Title
  • ペルシャ湾保護国とイギリス帝国
  • ペルシャ湾保護国とイギリス帝国--脱植民地化の再検討
  • ペルシャワン ホゴコク ト イギリス テイコク ダツショクミンチカ ノ サイケントウ
  • 脱植民地化の再検討

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This paper examines the evolution of the relationship between the territories on the southern shore of the Persian Gulf and the British Empire, from the nineteenth century up to the full independence of Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 1971. Looking closely into the history of the Gulf region, using declassified British and American documents together with Arabic primary sources and interviews, I aim to critically re-examine the phenomenon and idea of decolonisation. Given that the territories concerned were never colonised in the constitutional sense (hence they were called ‘Protected States’) this may not be the most intuitive example of decolonisation, but most of the existing narratives are implicitly aligned with this notion.<br>Decolonisation has been studied broadly from two perspectives. One highlights the call from the dependent territories for self-determination as a driving force behind the whole process, whereas the other emphasises the changes in the imperial metropole. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive, but they have contrasting normative connotations. The former gives more credit to the nationalist movements, whereas the latter reflects the European side in a better light. This distinction is problematic partly because it overstates the division between the West and the rest. More importantly, the debate between the two schools of thought, driven by a hidden normative agenda, obscures the centrality of sovereignty in the process of decolonisation.<br>Since the nineteenth century Britain had exercised significant influence over the southern coast of the Persian Gulf. For centuries local rulers' legitimacy in the southern Gulf had largely depended on their ability to secure military protection from external powers, and Britain provided precisely that. By signing treaties with the rulers, it created polities whose legitimacy from the outset was dependent on an outside patron. The oil concessions negotiated in the mid-twentieth century further advanced the shadow of sovereignty onto the region by bringing in a new idea of territoriality. Yet, in 1968, Britain unilaterally announced its intention to withdraw from the region and the rulers of nine Protected States were left to decide their own fate.<br>The findings of this paper suggest that decolonisation of this region did not take place as a response to the demands of the local societies for self-determination. Instead, it was initiated by the metropole in the face of the opposition from the Protected States, and it was only finalised by a process of haphazard compromise and reconciliation between all the actors involved, including both the local rulers and the British officers.


  • International Relations

    International Relations 2011 (164), 164_143-154, 2011



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