The Bahrain Collections Exhibition

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Showcase:

The Bahrain Collections Exhibtion

Bahrain is a borderless island country in the Persian Gulf. Although Bahrain became an independent country in 1971, the history of these islands starts from ancient times. Bahrain’s strategic location in the Persian Gulf has brought rule and influence from the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Portuguese, the Arabs, and the British.

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Ancient history

Bahrain has been speculated as the possible site of Dilmun, a land mentioned by Ancient Iraqi civilizations as a trade partner, source of raw material, copper, and entrepot of the Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley Civilization trade route. However, the exact location of Dilmun is unclear, it might be associated with the islands of Bahrain, Eastern Province, Qatar and nearby Iranian coast in the Persian Gulf.[1] One of the early settles discovered in Bahrain suggests that Sennacherib, king of Assyria (707-681 BC) attacked northeast Arabia and captured Bahrain islands.[2]

From the 6th century BC to 3rd century BC Bahrain was included in Persian Empire by Achaemenians, an Iranian dynasty.[2] Bahrain was referred to by the Greeks as “Tylos“, the centre of pearl trading, when Nearchus came to discover it serving under Alexander the Great.[3] From the 3rd century BC to arrival of Islam in the 7th century AD, Bahrain was controlled by two other Iranian dynasties of Parthians and Sassanids. By about 250 BC, Parthian dynasty brought the Persian Gulf under their control and extended their influence as far as Oman. Because they needed to control the Persian Gulf trade route, the Parthians established garrisons in the southern coast of Persian Gulf.[4]

Asia in 600 CE, showing the Sassanid Empire before the Arab conquest.

In the 3rd century AD, the Sassanids succeeded the Parthians and held area until the arrival of Islam four centuries later.[4] Ardashir, the first ruler of Iranian Sassanid dynasty marched forward Oman and Bahrain and defeat Sanatruq[5] (or Satiran[2]), probably the Parthian governor of Bahrain.[6] He appointed his son Shapur I as governor of Bahrain. Shapur constructed a new city there and named it Batan Ardashir after his father.[2] At this time, Bahrain incorporated in the southern Sassanid province covering over the Persian Gulf’s southern shore plus the archipelago of Bahrain.[6] The southern province of Sassanids was subdivided into three districts of Haggar (Now al-Hafuf province, Saudi Arabia), Batan Ardashir(Now al-Qatif province, Saudi Arabia), and Mishmahig (Now Bahrain Island)[2] (In Middle-Persian/Pahlavi means “ewe-fish”).[7]

Islam

From the time when Islam emerged in the 7th century until the early 16th century, the name Bahrain referred to the wider historical region of Bahrain stretching from Basrah to the Strait of Hormuz along the Persian Gulf coast. This was Iqlīm al-Baḥrayn, i.e. the Province of Bahrain, and the Arab inhabitants of the province were descendants of the Arab tribe Bani Abd al-Qais. This larger Bahrain comprised three regions: Hajar (present day Al-Hasa in Saudi Arabia), Al-Khatt (present day Al-Qatif in Saudi Arabia) and Awal (present day Bahrain). The name Awal remained in use, probably, for eight centuries. Awal was derived from the name of an idol that used to be worshipped before Islam by the inhabitants of the islands. The center of the Awal cult was Muharraq.

Bahrainis were amongst the first to embrace Islam. The prophet Mohammed ruled Bahrain through one of his representatives, Al-Ala’a Al-Hadhrami. Bahrain embraced Islam in 629 (the seventh year of hijra). During the time of Umar I the famous companion of the Prophet Abu Hurayrah was the governor of Bahrain. Umar I also appointed Uthman bin Abi Al Aas as governor of the area as well. Al Khamis Mosque, founded in 692, was one of the earliest mosques built in Bahrain, in the era of Umayyad caliph Umar II.

The expansion of Islam did not affect Bahrain’s reliance on trade, and its prosperity continued to be dependent on markets in Mesopotamia. After Baghdad emerged as the seat of the caliph in 750 and the main centre of Islamic civilization, Bahrain greatly benefited from the city’s increased demand for foreign goods especially from China and South Asia.

Bahrain became a principal centre of knowledge for hundreds of years stretching from the early days of Islam in the 6th century to the 18th century. Philosophers of Bahrain were highly esteemed, such as the 13th Century mystic, Sheikh Maitham Al Bahrani (died in 1299). (The mosque of Sheikh Maitham together with his tomb can be visited in the outskirts of the capital, Manama, near the district of Mahooz).

The Qarmatian Republic

In the end of the 3rd Hijri century, Abu Sa’id al-Hasan al-Janaby led the Revolution of al-Qaramita, a rebellion by a messianic Ismaili sect originating in Kufa in present day Iraq. Al-Janaby took over the city of Hajr, Bahrain’s capital at that time, in addition to al-Hasa, which he made the capital of his republic and once in control of the state he sought to create a utopian society.

The Qarmatians’ goal was to build a society based on reason and equality. The state was governed by a council of six with a chief who was a first among equals.[8] All property within the community was distributed evenly among all initiates. The Qarmatians were organized as an esoteric society but not as a secret one; their activities were public and openly propagated, but new members had to undergo an initiation ceremony involving seven stages. The Qarmatian world view was one where every phenomenon repeated itself in cycles, where every incident was replayed over and over again.

Even before taking over Bahrain, the Qarmatians had instigated what some scholars have termed a ‘century of terrorism’ in Kufa.[9] From Bahrain they launched raids along the pilgrim routes crossing Arabia: in 906 they ambushed the pilgrim caravan returning from Mecca and massacred 20,000 pilgrims.[10] Under Abu Tahir Al-Jannabi they came close to capturing Baghdad in 923 and sacked Mecca in 930. The assault on Islam’s holiest sites saw the Qarmatians desecrate the Well of Zamzam with corpses of Hajj pilgrims and take the Black Stone from Mecca to Bahrain.[11] The sack of Mecca followed millenarian excitement among the Qarmatians (as well as in Persia) over the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 928. Bahrain became the seat of the Qarmatian Mahdi-Caliph from Isfahan who abolished Sharīa law. The new Mahdi also changed the qibla of prayer from Mecca to that of fire, a specifically Zoroastrian practice. Some scholars take the view that “they may not have been Isamailis at all at the outset, and their conduct and customs gave plausibility to the belief that they were not merely heretics but bitter enemies of Islam.”.[12]

For much of the 10th century the Qarmatians were the most powerful force in the Persian Gulf and Middle East, controlling the coast of Oman and collected tribute from the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad as well as from the rival Ismaili Fatimid caliph in Cairo, whom they did not recognize. The land they ruled over was extremely wealthy with a huge slave based economy according to academic Yitzhak Nakash:

The Qarmatian state had vast fruit and grain estates both on the islands and in Hasa and Qatif. Nasiri Khusru, who visited Hasa in 1051, recounted that these estates were cultivated by some thirty thousand Ethiopian slaves. He mentions that the people of Hasa were exempt from taxes. Those impoverished or in debt could obtain a loan until they put their affairs in order. No interest was taken on loans, and token lead money was used for all local transactions. The Qarmathian state had a powerful and long-lasting legacy. This is evidenced by a coin known as Tawila, minted around 920 by one of the Qarmathian rulers, and which was still in circulation in Hasa early in the twentieth century[13]

 10th-16th centuries

The Qarmatians were defeated in battle in 976 by the Abbasids, which encouraged them to look inward to build their utilitarian society, but around 1058, a revolt on the island of Bahrain led by two Shi’a members of the Abd al-Qays tribe, Abul-Bahlul al-‘Awwam and Abu’l-Walid Muslim,[14] precipitated the waning of Qarmatian power and eventually the ascendancy to power of the Uyunids, an Arab dynasty belonging to the Abdul Qays tribe.[15] The Uyunids ruled from 1076 to 1235, when the islands were briefly occupied by the Turkic Salgharid Atabeg of Fars. Supported by the Seljuk rulers of Iraq, the Uyunids relied on the power of the Banu ‘Amir tribes such as the Banu Uqayl.

In 1253, the Bahrani dynasty of the Usfurids of Banu Uqayl -– named after its founder, Usfur ibn Rashid—gained control over eastern Arabia, including the islands of Bahrain. The late Middle Ages were a time of chronic instability with local disputes allowing various Persian-based Arab Kingdoms based in Qais, Qishm and Hormuz to involve themselves in Bahrain’s affairs.[16] In 1330, the islands became tributary to the rulers of Hormuz.[17]

According to historian Juan Cole it was under Sunni rule that Twelver Shiaism became established in Bahraini, as Shia Bahrainis gradually moved away from the radical, egalitarian Ismaili Qarmatian sect to the more quietist Twelver or Imami branch, a process which the Sunni rulers encouraged.[18] But even in the 14th century, the North African traveler Ibn Battuta visiting Qatif around 1331, found it inhabited by Arabs whom he described as “extremist Shi`is” (rafidiyya ghulat), which Cole presumes is how a 14th century Sunni would describe Ismailis. Ibn Battuta also noted the great wealth of the area thanks to the pearling industry.[19]

Until the late Middle Ages, “Bahrain” referred to the larger historical region of Bahrain. Ibn Battuta’s 14th century account contains an early use of the term “Bahrain” to refer solely to the Awal islands. However, the exact date at which the term “Bahrain” began to refer solely to the Awal archipelago is unknown.[20]

In the mid-15th century, another branch of the Banu Uqayl, led by Zamil ibn Jabir, wrested control of Bahrain, founding the dynasty of the Bedouin Jabrids. Based in al-Ahsa, the Jarbids ruled most of eastern Arabia and followed the Sunni Maliki rite, which they actively promoted within their domain.[20][21]

Portuguese invasions and Persian influence

Portuguese expansion into the Indian Ocean in the early 16th century following Vasco da Gama‘s voyages of exploration saw them battle the Ottomans up the coast of the Persian Gulf. Reputedly, the first Portuguese traveller to visit Bahrain was Duarte Barbosa in 1485.

The Arabian navigator, Ahmad Bin Majid, visited Bahrain in 1489 and gave a contemporary account of the country that the first Portuguese would have seen: “In Awal (Bahrain) there are 360 villages and sweet water can be found in a number of places. A most wonderful al-Qasasir, where a man can dive into the salt sea with a skin and can fill it with fresh water while he is submerged in the salt water. Around Bahrain are pearl fisheries and a number of islands all of which have pearl fisheries and connected with this trade are 1,000 ships”.

In 1521, a Portuguese force led by commander António Correia invaded Bahrain to take control of the wealth created by its pearl industry. The defeated King Muqrin was beheaded after Correia defeated his forces near present day Karbabad and took control of the fort “Qala’at Al-Bahrain”. The bleeding head of King Muqrin was later depicted on the Coat of Arms of António Correia.

The Portuguese ruled through force against the inhabitants for eighty years, until they were driven out of the island in 1602, when an uprising was sparked by the governor’s order of the execution of the island’s richest traders. The uprising coincided with regional disputes between the Portuguese and rival European powers. The power vacuum that resulted was almost immediately filled by the Persian ruler, Shah Abbas I, who invaded the island and subsumed it within the Safavid Empire.

The Utub tribe attacks Bahrain in 1700

The Utub had been present in the banks of Bahrain in the 17th century.[22] One of the Documents which belongs to Shaikh Salama Bin Saif Al-Utbi one of the Shaikhs of the Al Bin Ali backs this statement about the presence of the Utub in Bahrain in the 17th century. It states that Mariam Bint Ahmed Al Sindi, a shia women has sold a Palm Garden in the Island Of Sitra at Bahrain to Shaikh Salama Bin Saif Al Utbi dating to 1699 – 1111 Hijri before the arrival of Al-Khalifa to Bahrain by more than 90 years.[23]

The ruler of Basra mentioned in an Ottoman document that the tribes of the Utub and Al-Khalayfat attacked Bahrain, which was under Persian rule, out of revenge due to their quarrel with the Howala Arabs; the Utub (Utub and Al-Khalayfat) had been attacked by the Howala Arabs while living in Bahrain. The Utub and Al-Khalayfat arrived at Basra with “150 ships and on each ship 2-3 cannons and 30-40 men carrying rifles.”[24]

Safavid hegemony and the Beglarbegi of Kuhgilu

Under Persian Safavid rule (1602–1717), Bahrain fell under the administrative jurisdiction of the Beglarbegi of Kuhgilu centered at Behbahan in southern Iran. In fact, the Safavids ruled Bahrain from a distance, seeking to control the islands not by force, but through ideology and the manipulation of local rivalries. Safavid rule was a period of intellectual flowering among the Shia theological elite, with Bahrain’s seminaries producing such theorists as Sheikh Yusuf Al Bahrani. The Safavid’s used the clergy to buttress their rule, hoping that by firmly implanting Imami Shiaism they could secure the islands of Bahrain, with their centrality to trade routes and pearl wealth.[25]

However, the Safavids’ strategy was in many ways too successful: the power and influence of the religious class meant that they had a great deal of autonomy, and it was the subsequent tension between Safavid state and the clergy that drove Bahrain’s theological vitality. Part of this flourishing was borne of the Bahraini clerics’ adherence to conservative Akhbari Shiaism, while the Safavids encouraged the more state-centric, Usulism. Attempts by the Persians to reign in the Bahraini ulema were often counterproductive, and ended up strengthening the clerics against their local land-owning Bahraini rivals who challenged the clerics’ control over the lucrative pearl trade. Cleric-landowner conflict was usually contained within very limited parameters given that the senior ulema were usually the sons of the land-owning class.[26]

While Portuguese rule favoured Sunnis over Shias, according to historian Juan Cole under Iranian influence this situation was reversed, with the Sunnis persecuted.[27]

An Afghan invasion of Iran at the beginning of the 18th century resulted in the near collapse of the Safavid state, and the resultant power vacuum saw Oman invade Bahrain in 1717, ending over a hundred years of Persian hegemony. The Omani invasion began a period of political instability that saw a quick succession of outside rulers take power with consequent destruction. According to a contemporary account by theologian, Sheikh Yusuf Al Bahrani, an unsuccessful attempt by the Persians and their Bedouin allies to take back Bahrain from the Kharijite Omanis saw much of the country burnt to the ground.[28] Bahrain was eventually sold back to the Persians by the Omanis, but the weakness of the Safavid empire saw Huwala tribes seize control. The Autobiography of Yūsuf al-Bahrānī (1696–1772) from Lu’lu’at al-Baḥrayn, from the final chapter An Account of the Life of the Author and the Events That Have Befallen Him featured in Interpreting the Self, Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition, Edited by Dwight F. Reynolds, University of California Press Berkeley 2001 p221</ref> In 1730, the new Shah of Persia, Nadir Shah, sought to re-assert Persian sovereignty in Bahrain, bring the island back under central rule and also challenge Oman in the Persian Gulf, for which he sought help from the British and Dutch, and he eventually recaptured Bahrain in 1736.[29] In 1753, Bahrain was then occupied by the Arabs of Abu Shahr of the Bushire-based Al Madhkur family[30] , who ruled Bahrain in the name of Persia and paid allegiance to Karim Khan Zand. The years of almost constant warfare and instability in the period led to a demographic collapse – German geographer Carsten Niebuhr found in 1763 that Bahrain’s 360 towns and villages had through warfare and economic distress been reduced to only 60.[31]

The influence of Iran was further undermined at the end of the 18th century when the ideological power struggle between the Akhbari-Usuli strands culminated in victory for the Akhbaris in Bahrain.[32]

Origin of the Bani Utbah tribe

The Al Bin Ali tribe are the original descendants of Bani Utbah tribe being that they are the only tribe to carry the last name Al-Utbi in their Ownership’s documents of Palm gardens in Bahrain as early as 1699 – 1111 Hijri.[33] They are specifically descendants of their great grand father Ali Al-Utbi who is a descendant of their great grandfather Utbah hence the name Bani Utbah which means sons of Utbah. Utbah is the great grandfather of the Bani Utbah which is a section of Khafaf from Bani Sulaim bin Mansoor from Mudhar from Adnan. The plural word for Al-Utbi is Utub and the name of the tribe is Bani Utbah.

Al Khalifa’s defeat of Nasr Al Madhkur at Zubarah in 1782

The prosperity of Zubarah, which is now in modern Qatar, had also brought it to the attention of the two main powers at the time, Persia and the Oman,[34] which were presumably sympathetic to Sheikh Nasr’s ambitions. Zubara’s emerging position as a flourished as a pearling centre and trading port had brought it to the attention of the two main regional powers, Persia and Oman,.[34] Bahrain offered great potential wealth because of the extensive pearls found in its waters, however, in 1782, war broke out between the Zubarah-based Al Khalifa Ruling Family of the Bani Utbah tribe and the Madhkurs. Al Khalifa were occupying Zubarah [35] The battle of Zubarah took place in 1782 between the Al Bin Ali from the Bani Utbah tribe and the army of Nasr Al-Madhkur Ruler of Bahrain and Bushire. It is well known that the strategist of this battle was Shaikh Nasr Al-Madhkur, his sword fell into the hands of Salama Bin Saif Al Bin Ali after his army collapsed and his forces were defeated.[36]

A view of Arad Fort

 Bani Utbah invasion of Bahrain in 1783

In 1783, Nasr Al-Madhkur lost the islands of Bahrain to Bani Utbah tribe whom which Shaikh Isa Bin Tarif, Chief of Al Bin Ali belongs to. Shaikh Isa Bin Tarif was a descendant of the original uttoobee conquerors of Bahrain [37] This took place after the defeat of Nasr Al-Madhkur to the Bani Utbah in the battle of Zubarah that took place in 1782 between the Al Bin Ali from the Bani Utbah tribe and the army of Nasr Al Madhkur Ruler of Bahrain and Bushire. The Al Bin Ali were the Arabs that were occupying Zubarah,[38] they were the original dominant group of Zubarah.[39]

In 1783, the Utub conquered the Island of Bahrain from the Ruler of Bushihr.[22] The Islands of Bahrain wasn’t something new to the Bani Utbah, they were always connected to this Island, whether by settling in it during summer season or by purchasing date palm gardens. The Al Bin Ali were a politically important group that moved backwards and forwards between Qatar and Bahrain.[39] The Bani Utbah had been present in the banks of Bahrain in the 17th century.[22] During that time, they started purchasing date palm gardens in Bahrain. One of the Documents which belongs to Shaikh Salama Bin Saif Al Utbi one of the Shaikh’s of the Al Bin Ali backs this statement about the presence of the Bani Utbah in Bahrain in the 17th century. It states that Mariam Bint Ahmed Al Sindi, a shia women has sold a Palm Garden in the Island Of Sitra at Bahrain to Shaikh Salama Bin Saif Al Utbi dating to 1699 – 1111 Hijri before the arrival of Al-Khalifa to Bahrain by 84 years.[23]

After the Bani Utbah invasion of Bahrain in 1783, the Al Bin Ali were a practically independent status in Bahrain as a self-governed tribe. They carried a distinguished flag with four red stripes with three white stripes called the Al-Sulami flag [40] as they call it in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Eastern province in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.It was raised on their ships during wartime and in the pearl season and on special occasions such as weddings and during Eid and in the “Ardha of war”.[41] Al Bin Ali were known for their ferocity, persistence, and abundant wealth.[42] Later, different Arab families and tribes mostly from Qatar moved to Bahrain to settle there since the Persians have been expelled from the Island. These families and tribes were Al Khalifa, Al-Ma’awdah, Al-Fadhil, Al-Mannai, Al-Noaimi, Al-Sulaiti, Al-Sadah, Al-Thawadi, and other families and tribes. Most of these tribes settled in Muharraq, the capital of Bahrain and the center of power at that time since the Al Bin Ali lived there. There is a neighourhood in Muharraq city named Al Bin Ali and it is the oldest and biggest neighborhood in Muharraq, members of this tribe lived in this area for more than three centuries.

 Al Khalifa ascendancy to Bahrain and their treaties with the British

Fourteen years later, after the invasion of Bahrain by the Bani Utbah, Al Khalifa family moved to Bahrain in 1797 as settlers, in which they settled in Jaw and later moved to Riffa. They were originally from Kuwait and have left it in 1766. According to a tradition preserved by the Al-Sabah family, the reason why the ancestors of their section and those of the Al Khalifa section came to Kuwait was that they had been expelled by the Turks from Umm Qasr upon Khor Zubair, an earlier seat from which they had been accustomed to prey as brigands upon the caravans of Basra and as pirates upon the shipping of the Shatt Al Arab.[43]

Riffa Fort at night

Inside Riffa Fort

In the early 19th centuriy, Bahrain was invaded by both the Omanis and the Al Sauds, and in 1802 it was governed by a twelve year old child, when the Omani ruler Sayyid Sultan installed his son, Salim, as Governor in the Arad Fort.[44]

In 1820, the Al Khalifa rule to Bahrain became active, but it was buttressed when it entered into a treaty relationship with Britain, which was by then the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf. This treaty granted the Al Khalifa the title of Rulers of Bahrain. It was the first of several treaties including the 1861 Perpetual Truce of Peace and Friendship, which was further revised in 1892 and 1951. In the 19th century, the Al-Khalifas controlled the main archipelago of Bahrain, the Hawar Islands and the section of the Qatar peninsula around Zubarah called the Zubarah Bloc. The Al Bin Ali played an effective part in helping the Al Khalifa to retain possession of their new territory in the early days.[42] Between 1869 and 1872 Midhat Pasha brought the islands nominally under the authority of the Ottoman Empire with coordination with the British. Ottoman ships starting appearing in the area as well. This treaty was similar to those entered into by the British Government with the other Persian Gulf principalities. It specified that the ruler could not dispose of any of his territory except to the United Kingdom and could not enter into relationships with any foreign government without British consent. In return the British promised to protect Bahrain from all aggression by sea and to lend support in case of land attack. More importantly the British promised to support the rule of the Al Khalifa in Bahrain, securing its unstable position as rulers of the country. According to SOAS 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.[45]

Peace and trade brought a new prosperity. Bahrain was no longer dependent upon pearling, and by the mid-19th Century it became the pre-eminent trading centre in the Persian Gulf, overtaking rivals Basra, Kuwait, and finally in the 1870s, Muscat.[46] At the same time, Bahrain’s socio-economic development began to diverge from the rest of the Persian Gulf: it transformed itself from a tribal trading centre in to a modern state.[47] This process was spurred by the attraction of large numbers of Persian, Huwala, and Indian merchant families who set up businesses on the island, making it the nexus of a vast web of trade routes across the Persian Gulf, Persia and the Indian sub-continent. A contemporary account of Manama in 1862 found:

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 gay-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’.WG Palgrave, Narrative of a Year’s Journey through Central and Eastern Arabia (1862-3)[48]

Palgrave’s description of Manama’s coffee houses in the mid-19th Century portrays them as cosmopolitan venues in contrast to what he describes as the ‘closely knit and bigoted universe of central Arabia’.[49] Palgrave describes a people with 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.”[50]

The great trading families that emerged during this period have been compared to the Borgias and Medicis[51] and their great wealth – long before the oil wealth for which the region would later be renowned – 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.[52] The Al Safar enjoyed an ‘exceptionally close’[53] relationship with the Al Khalifa clan from 1869, although the al-Khalifa never intermarried with them – it has been speculated that this could be related to political reasons (to limit the Safars’ influence with the ruling family) and possibly for religious reasons (because the Safars were Shia).

Bahrain’s trade with India saw the cultural influence of the subcontinent grow dramatically, with styles of dress, cuisine, and education all showing a marked Indian influence. According to Exeter University’s James Onley “In these and countless other ways, eastern Arabia’s ports and people were as much a part of the Indian Ocean world as they were a part of the Arab world.”[54]

Bahrain underwent a period of major social reform between 1926 and 1957, under the de facto rule of Charles Belgrave, the British advisor to Shaikh Hamad ibn Isa Al-Khalifa (1872-1942). The country’s first modern school was established in 1919, with the opening of the Al-Hiddaya Boys School, while the Persian Gulf’s first girls school opened in 1928. The American Mission Hospital, established by the Dutch Reform Church, began work in 1903. Other reforms include the abolition of slavery, while the pearl diving industry developed at a rapid pace.

These reforms were often opposed vigorously by powerful groups within Bahrain including sections within the ruling family, tribal forces, the religious authorities and merchants. In order to counter conservatives, the British removed the Emir, Isa bin Ali Al Khalifa, replacing him with his son in 1923. Some Sunni tribes such as the al Dossari were forcibly removed from Bahrain and sent to mainland Arabia, while clerical opponents of social reforms were exiled to Saudi and Iran, and the heads of some merchant and notable families were likewise exiled. The Britain’s interest in pushing Bahrain’s development was motivated by concerns about Saudi-Wahabbi and Iranian ambitions.

Discovery of oil and the Leftist movement

The discovery of oil in 1932 made Bahrain the first location in the Persian Gulf to have oil wells sunk. Oil production required thousands of workers, attracting peasants as well as enfranchised slaves who had become free men thanks to the end of slavery and debt bondage. As the first oil wells were being drilled, the pearl diving industry, hitherto the main source of income for the country, collapsed because of competition from cultured pearls produced in Japan. This provided a further pool of labour needed by the new oil industry. It was the bringing together of all these disperate groups that prompted the emergence of an indigenous working class and the Leftist politics they adopted was to have important repercussions for the development of Bahraini society over the next fifty years.

During the Second World War, Bahrain fought on the side of the Allies, declaring war on Germany on September 10, 1939. It was a key base for the allies to safeguard oil supplies in the Persian Gulf and was the subject of Italian air raids on its oil refineries on October 20, 1940 from bases in East Africa. The Bahraini provided two divisions to join the war in North Africa just before the Second Battle of El Alamein they were The First Cavalry lead by General Benjamin Segal and The Second Infantry lead by General Aaron Landberg. They are all mentioned in dispatches in late 1942.

The National Union Committee members in 1954

The National Union Committee (NUC), a Leftist Nationalist movement associated with the labor unions, was formed in 1954 calling for the end of British interference and political reforms. Work sites were plagued with frequent strikes and occasional riots (including several fatalities) during this period. Following riots in support of Egypt defending itself against the tripartite invasion during 1956 Suez Crisis, the British decided to put an end to the NUC challenge to their presence in Bahrain. The NUC and its offshoots were declared illegal. Its leaders were arrested, tried and imprisoned. Some fled the country while others were forcibly deported.[55][56]

For more details on this topic, see National Union Committee.

Strikes and riots continued during the 1960s, now under the leadership of underground cells of the NUC, namely the Communist National Liberation Front and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, the Bahraini section of the Arab Nationalist Movement.

In March 1965, an uprising broke out, called the March Intifada, against the British presence in Bahrain. The spark of the riots was the laying off of hundreds of Bahraini workers at the Bahrain Petroleum Company. Several people died in the sometimes violent clashes between protesters and police.

Independence and the constitutional experiment

After World War II, Bahrain became the centre for British administration of the lower Persian Gulf. In 1968, when the British Government announced its decision to end the treaty relationships with the Persian Gulf sheikdoms, Bahrain joined with Qatar and the seven Trucial States (which now form the United Arab Emirates) under British protection in an effort to form a union of Arab emirates. By mid-1971, however, the nine sheikhdoms still had not agreed on the terms of union. Accordingly, Bahrain sought independence as a separate entity declaring independence on August 15, 1971, and becoming formally independent as the State of Bahrain on December 16, 1971.[57]

The emirate emerged just as the price of oil sky rocketed after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war; while Bahrain’s own reserves were being depleted the high oil price meant there was massive capitalisation in the Kingdom’s neighbours. The Kingdom was able to exploit this new to attract massive inward investment thanks to another war in the Levant in 1975: the Lebanese Civil War. Beirut had long been the financial centre of the Arab world, but the outbreak of hostilities in the country had an immediate impact on the banking industry. Bahrain offered a new location at the centre of the booming Persian Gulf with a large educated indigenous workforce and sound fiscal regulations. Exploiting this opportunity saw a massive growth in the industry in the country, and bolstered the development of the middle class, and thus giving Bahrain a very different class structure to its tribal dominated neighbours.

Although there had long been a large Indian presence in Bahrain, it was at this time that mass migration to the Kingdom began to take off with massive subsequent consequences for the Kingdom’s demographics, as large numbers of third world immigrants from countries such as the Philippines, Pakistan, Egypt and Iran were attracted by better salaries than at home.

Based on its new constitution, Bahraini men elected its first National Assembly in 1973 (although Article 43 of the 1973 Constitution states that the Assembly is to be elected by “universal suffrage“, the conditional clause “in accordance with the provisions of the electoral law” allowed the regime to prevent women from participating). Although the Assembly and the then emir Isa ibn Salman al-Khalifa quarreled over a number of issues: foreign policy; the U.S. naval presence, and the budget, the biggest clash came over the State Security Law (SSL). The Assembly refused to ratify the government-sponsored law, which allowed, among other things, the arrest and detention of people for up to three years, (renewable) without a trial. The legislative stalemate over this act created a public crisis, and on August 25, 1975, the emir dissolved the Assembly. The emir then ratified the State Security Law by decree, and suspended those articles in the constitution dealing with the legislative powers of the Assembly. In that same year, the emir established the State Security Court, whose judgments were not subject to appeal.

Iranian Revolution and social and political change

The tide of political Islam that swept the Middle East in the 1970s culminating in the Iranian Revolution in 1979 was to have profound implications for Bahrain’s social and political development.

There were a number of factors that had caused Bahrain to be more liberal than its neighbours, but all of these were challenged by the zeitgeist of religious fundamentalism. Bahrain’s pluralist traditions were to a large extent a result of the complex confessional and demographic make up of the state, which required Shias, Sunnis, Southern Persians (i.e. Huwala and Ajams) and a plethora of minority faiths to live and work together; this tolerance had been buttressed by the prominence of Arab nationalism and Marxism as the main modes of dissent, both of which were socially progressive and downplayed religious affiliations; while the country’s traditional dependence on trade further encouraged openness.

Even before Iran’s Revolution in 1979, there was a noticeable conservative trend growing, with the traditional abaya being donned by women in preference to the then popular mini-skirt. But it was the political earthquake represented by the Shah‘s fall that changed the dynamics of Bahrain’s politics. The prelude and aftermath of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 encouraged Shia Islamist dissent across the Middle East. Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran immediately saw their co-religionists in Bahrain, who had grown more conscious of their own religious identity during this period, as prime agents to export the revolution. The failure of the Left to offer a political or philosophical challenge to the Islamists allowed them quickly to dominate the avenues of dissent.

In 1981, an Iranian front organisation, the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Bahrain attempted a coup d’état with the plan involving the assassination of Bahrain’s leadership and an Islamist uprsing. The aim was to install a clerical leadership with Iraqi cleric Hādī al-Mudarrisī as supreme leader, but the coup was detected after a tip off from a friendly intelligence source.

The failed coup along with the outbreak of the Iran–Iraq War led to the formation of the Gulf Cooperation Council which Bahrain joined with Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The sense of regional uncertainty was further heightened when Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq invaded Kuwait followed by the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Years of political stasis combined with the collapse of the price of oil, saw growing frustration at the lack of democracy explode into an uprising in 1994. While previous advocacy of reforms had been secular in character, the uprising was specifically Islamist beginning with the stoning of female competitors in a marathon race for wearing ‘inappropriate’ clothing. Until 1998, Bahrain was hit by riots and bomb attacks, while the police responded with heavy handed tactics. In all over forty people were killed. (For more details see Adel Darwish in the Middle East Review of International Affairs).

 1990s to 2000s

The Islamic Front was later to carry out a series of bomb attacks in the Kingdom during the 1990s as part of an Islamist uprising against the government.[3] However, it would be a mistake to consider the Islamist violence to be purely foreign instigated: due to perceived discrimination against the majority Shia population of Bahrain by the Al Khalifa rulers, there was a strong sense of grievance.

In 1990’s, a group consisting mainly of clerics and businessmen led by Islamist leader Abdul Amir Al Jamri, drew up two petition that was then signed by Shia, Sunni and secular nationalist individuals. They asked for reforms such as restoration of the National Assembly and the constitution of 1975, and participation by the population in decision making. To pre-empt the delivery of the petition to the emir, the regime arrested several of the leading Shia clerics who were organising the petition, including Ali Salman.

The political impasse continued over the next few years during which time the regime dealt with its opponents using severe repression. Bomb attacks and police brutality marked this period in which over forty people were killed in violence between the two sides. Although the violence was never entirely stopped by the security measures it was contained and continued as low-level intermittent disturbances.

In 1999 Shaykh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa became Amir after the death of his father, Shaykh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, and carried out some social and political reforms. King Hamad tried to end the political repression that had defined the 1990s by scrapping security laws, releasing all[citation needed] political prisoners, instituting elections, giving women the vote and promising a return to constitutional rule. The move brought an end to political violence, but did not initially bring about a reconciliation between the government and most of[citation needed] the opposition groups, because the changes are seen as largely superficial and do not address the true issues facing Bahraini’s today.

Following the political liberalization Bahrain negotiated a Free Trade Agreement with the United States in 2004. The country participated in military action against the Taliban in 2001 with its ships patrolling the Arabian Sea searching for vessels, but opposed the invasion of Iraq. Relations improved with neighbouring Qatar after the border dispute over the Hawar Islands was resolved by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2001. The two are now building the Qatar-Bahrain Friendship Bridge to link the countries across the Persian Gulf, which will be the longest fixed-link bridge in the world when completed

the end @ Copyright Dr Iwan suwandy 2010

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