During the centuries of Greek and Roman domination,
the gulf region was of limited interest to the major
powers, but the area's importance as a strategic and
trading center rose with the emergence of Islam in
the seventh century A.D.
The caliphate's military strength was concentrated
at Hormuz (The Strait of Hormuz). Strategically
sited at the mouth of the gulf, its authority
extended over ports and islands of the Arabian Sea
and the Persian Gulf.
The strategic importance of Hormuz, however, did not
survive the appearance of Western powers, initially
the Portuguese who came to the gulf in the late
fifteenth century after Vasco da Gama's discovery of
the route to India via the Cape of Good Hope. The
Ottomans and the Iranians also tried to dominate the
gulf but faced opposition from local tribes in
Bahrain and Muscat, reluctant to cede authority over
their territories, which by then were the most
important areas on the coast.
Increasing British involvement in India beginning in
the late eighteenth century quickened British
interest in the gulf region as a means of protecting
the sea routes to India. Before British
intervention, the area was notorious for its pirates
and slave trade and was called the Pirate Coast.
The principal challenge to Britain arose from the
'Al Qawasim' (Qasimi forces) a tribal confederation
originating in the area of the present-day United
Arab Emirates (UAE).
The 'Qawasim', who amassed a fleet of about 900
vessels, demanded tribute for the passage of
merchant vessels and were regarded as pirates by the
Europeans. Between 1809 and 1820, British sea power
gradually brought about the destruction of the 'Qawasim'
The British defeated the Qawasim' in 1819, burning
their ships and the town of Ras al Khaimah. This in
turn led to the signing of agreements with Britain
by the 'Qawasim' and other Sheikhs which suppressed
the piracy and slave trade in the gulf region.
In 1820 a peace treaty with the British government,
followed by other agreements such as the Perpetual
Maritime Truce of May 1853. Under the Exclusive
Agreement of March 1892, the Trucial sheikhs agreed
not to enter into any agreements or correspondence
with other powers, receive foreign agents, or cede,
sell, or give any part of their territory to another
government and to abstain from piracy.
In return, the British government assumed
responsibility for the foreign relations of the
emirates and promised to protect them from all
aggression by sea and to lend its support against
any land attacks. Before the end of the century,
Britain extended protection to Bahrain and Kuwait;
Qatar entered the system after it repudiated Ottoman
sovereignty in 1916.
The strategic importance of the Persian Gulf became
increasingly apparent as the oil industry developed
in the twentieth century. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and
Iran all claimed some of the territory of the gulf
states during the years between World War I and
World War II, but Britain's firm resistance to these
claims enabled the emirates to maintain their
territorial integrity without resort to arms.
Except for a small force of the British Indian Navy
to ensure observance of the treaty conditions and
maintain maritime peace in the gulf, Britain
abstained from direct military involvement. As the
wealth of the gulf's oil resources became clear, the
size of the British military establishment expanded.
By the end of the 1960s, Britain had about 9,000 men
in Oman, Sharjah (an emirate of the UAE), and
Bahrain, where British military headquarters was
located. The Trucial Oman Scouts, a mobile force of
mixed nationality that Britain supported and British
officers commanded, became a symbol of public order
in the UAE until Britain's withdrawal from the
Persian Gulf in 1971.
When Britain announced that it would withdraw from
the Persian Gulf, the Foreign Office assumed that
the UAE would include the Trucial Coast as well as
Qatar and Bahrain. Those later two emirates,
however, refused to join the UAE and became
independent states when Britain left in 1971.
Ras al-Khaimah also sought independence, but it
lacked the resources and the international support
to survive on its own. (Ras al-Khaimah joined a few
During 150 years of British rule, (After World War
II the British granted internal autonomy to the
sheikhdoms. Discussion of federation began in 1968
when Britain announced its intended withdrawal from
the Persian Gulf area by 1971.) the sheikhdoms of
Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain and
Fujairah merged to form the UAE on December 2, 1971,
under President Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of
Abu Dhabi, one day after Britain ended its military
presence in the area. Ras al-Khaimah joined the
federation in 1972.
Unlike any other Middle Eastern state, the United
Arab Emirates is a federation, consisting of seven
tribally-based (The UAE has six principal tribes
spread throughout the federation: the Bani Yas, the
Manasir, Al Qasimi, the Al Ali, the Sharqi-yin and
the Nu'aim. ) emirates that controls the
southeastern portion of the Arabian peninsula south
of Bahrain and Qatar.
Today the UAE is composed of Abu Dhabi, Dubai,
Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah, Fujairah, Umm al-Qaiwan and
Abu Dhabi History
Sharjah And Other Emirates
Zayed, the 'Anti-Hero'!
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan