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Bahrain: Key British Documents

Bahrain: Key British Documents

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Further Examination of Key British Documents through Belgrave's Diaries in Exeter University
Further Examination of Key British Documents through Belgrave's Diaries in Exeter University

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05/25/2012

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Further Examination of Key British Documents throughBelgrave's Diaries in Exeter
By Issa Amin, translated by Mariam AbdulRahman
 
It was initially envisaged that I should present you with a study of the history of theNational Union Committee (NUC) through an examination of the British chroniclesand archives which are now available to researchers. Nonetheless, I noted that theprevious lecture in the Democratic Forum has already exhausted all the key personaldocuments pertaining to the British officials who were stationed here in Bahrain inthe period from 1950 to 1956.Accordingly, I have endeavored in this paper to focus my attentions to the fourthpartner who was a prominent character in the event of the 1950s, or as we can referto such a partner as the silent partner amongst the three others. The three partnersI refer to are the NUC in its capacity as the people's representative, the Governmentas represented by the Ruler and the British influence as represented by theGovernment House, Agency and Residency House. Whom I am referring to as thefourth partner is advisor to the Government of Bahrain, Charles Belgrave. His secretpersonal diary which was written over the span of three decades is currentlyavailable at the University of Exeter in Great Britain. This diary will be the primarysource in my journey through the key British documents and will provide me with areference to assess and compare Belgrave's point of view on the one end and theposition of the Government and Residency Houses on the other, as those three werethe true representations of the British presence in Bahrain at the time.In the summer of 1925, Charles Belgrave responded to a classified advert in theLondon Times newspaper advertising an offer from the Government of Bahrainseeking a young British individual of the age between 22 and 28, with a high schoolor university degree, to work in one of the Eastern countries.Belgrave responded to the advert whilst on vacation in London at the time from histwo year service in the British colonial administrations in Tanganyika and East Africa.Belgrave was an Oxford University graduate and had worked in Sudan, Palestine andEgypt, later settling in the Oasis of Siwah for several years prior to moving to EastAfrica. Belgrave's interview was conducted by Major Daly and Colonel Prideaux, thePolitical Resident in the Gulf, both of whom were on their annual leave in London atthe time as well.Belgrave's arrival in Bahrain on 31 March 1926 marks the start of his personal diaryand heralds the commencement of the new administrative era, by which I mean theone-man management of all areas of the country and total control over all itsmatters. His total domination resulted in the request for his removal becoming oneof the key demands of the Higher Executive Committee (HEC) in 1954 (what laterbecame the National Union Committee or NUC). Additionally, Belgrave was the mainfocus of the correspondence exchanged between the Political Resident, WilliamRobert Hay, and the Indian office in London on 10 July 1946, in which Hay requested
 
Belgrave's removal, encouraging him into retirement or even utilizing his assistanceelsewhere seeing as the two decades of service in Bahrain have turned him into anArab in logic and manner.Through the examination of these documents and correspondence, I accordinglyconsider Belgrave an independent party during the events of the 1950s and thus, itbecomes imperative for us to examine his diary and chronicles to extrapolatesignificant indications and markers of this crucial time period.
Who was Belgrave and what was his role?Saturday 30 October 1954
In his secret diary, Belgrave stipulates that a group of people submitted a petition of demands for reforms to the Ruler. Accordingly, the Ruler and Sheikh Abdulla bin Isaapproached the Secretariat to discuss the contents of this letter, a letter he referredto as trivial written by a simple tobacco tradesman, a bankrupt ship owner amongstother people who in his view did not conjure up any interest. Their demandsincluded participation in power with the Ruler, who in turn was worried that suchdemands would escalate into violent confrontations. Belgrave did not mention theHEC by name.Notwithstanding the above, it seems that the demands Belgrave referred to werethe same seven demands that were submitted by the NUC on 3 July 1954, a copy of which was also forwarded to the Political Resident, Political Agent and Belgravehimself at the time. These demands included the following:1.
 
The formation of a legislative council elected by the people.2.
 
The formation of committees comprised of jurists to enact a public law in thecountry and conduct reforms to the judiciary.3.
 
Holding free elections for the municipal, health and banking sectors.4.
 
The reform of police force.5.
 
The compensation of the relatives of prisoners and exiles and offeringgeneral amnesty to the latter.6.
 
The punishment of those responsible for the Fort shooting (Fort Incident).
Wednesday 3 November 1954
Belgrave notes that the Ruler rejects the abovementioned demands and issues adeclaration confirming this rejection. This declaration was indeed issued and a copyof the same was posted on the doors of the signatories to the demands petition byorders from Belgrave.This declaration was followed by an order to stop the activities of Sawt Al Bahrain(Voice of Bahrain) Newspaper, with Belgrave claiming that the journalists workingunder its ambit are banal and without merit, but nonetheless, he credited them withbeing the representatives of the majority of people and seem to be the only oneswho possess democratic principles.
 
The Political Resident, on the other hand, took the situation more seriously andaccordingly, wrote to the Ruler on 1 December 1954 suggesting the formation of acommittee of individuals to be appointed by the latter to address the reformdemands and attempt to find appropriate solutions for the same. He furtheriterated that the Her Majesty's Government will wholly support the Ruler should hewish to embark on this step.
Tuesday 23 November 1954
Belgrave states that the Ruler of Bahrain had paid him a visit to discuss the potentialstrike and the respective plan that should be put into motion should this strike occur.The Ruler also informed him that he refused to meet the representatives of thepeople and accused Abdulla Fakhro of exciting unrest.
Thursday 28 October 1954
The HEC sent another request letter to the Ruler for the following demands:1.
 
The formation of a legislative council elected by the people.2.
 
Enforcement of laws for civil and criminal courts.3.
 
Allowing the establishment of professional and trade union and approvingby-laws of the same by the legislative council.4.
 
The establishment of a Higher Court of Cassation to consider disputes arisingbetween the legislative and executive branches.The letter re-iterates that the purpose of these demands is not to interfere in theaffairs of the ruling family, nor affect their position or offer disrespect to their status.Furthermore, these demands are also not intended to jeopardize the friendlyrelations that tie the Government of Bahrain and Her Majesty's Government. Theyare merely fair demands through which the HEC wishes to enforce justice and applythe proper democratic channels to the ultimate benefit of the people of Bahrain.The signatories to this request petition were Abdulrahman Al Baker, Ebrahim binMoosa, Sayed Ali Sayed Ebrahim, Abdulaziz Al Shamlan, Ebrahim Mohamed HassanFakhro, Haj Abdulla Abu Theeb and Abdulali Al Alaiwat.The HEC forwarded a copy of this petition to the Political Resident in Bahrain,Bernard Burrows, who consequently requested from the Ruler of Bahrain in hisresponse dated 1 December 1954 that a small committee is formed to discuss thepeople's demands, convey the views of the public and the reformists to the Rulerand provide them with a forum to be heard.The Political Resident follows this letter with secret correspondence to the ForeignOffice in London on 2 December 1954, re-iterating the contents of his letter to theRuler and bringing to their attention the possibility that a general strike was likely tocommence on 4 December and last until 10 December. This strike is the same onereferred to in Belgrave's diary on 23 November 1954, where he failed to mention thedetails of the demands and the names of the members of the HEC.

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