Further Examination of Key British Documents through Belgrave'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 the National Union Committee (NUC) through an examination of the British chronicles and archives which are now available to researchers. Nonetheless, I noted that the previous lecture in the Democratic Forum has already exhausted all the key personal documents pertaining to the British officials who were stationed here in Bahrain in the period from 1950 to 1956. Accordingly, I have endeavored in this paper to focus my attentions to the fourth partner who was a prominent character in the event of the 1950s, or as we can refer to such a partner as the silent partner amongst the three others. The three partners I refer to are the NUC in its capacity as the people's representative, the Government as represented by the Ruler and the British influence as represented by the Government House, Agency and Residency House. Whom I am referring to as the fourth partner is advisor to the Government of Bahrain, Charles Belgrave. His secret personal diary which was written over the span of three decades is currently available at the University of Exeter in Great Britain. This diary will be the primary source in my journey through the key British documents and will provide me with a reference to assess and compare Belgrave's point of view on the one end and the position of the Government and Residency Houses on the other, as those three were the true representations of the British presence in Bahrain at the time. In the summer of 1925, Charles Belgrave responded to a classified advert in the London Times newspaper advertising an offer from the Government of Bahrain seeking a young British individual of the age between 22 and 28, with a high school or university degree, to work in one of the Eastern countries. Belgrave responded to the advert whilst on vacation in London at the time from his two year service in the British colonial administrations in Tanganyika and East Africa. Belgrave was an Oxford University graduate and had worked in Sudan, Palestine and Egypt, later settling in the Oasis of Siwah for several years prior to moving to East Africa. Belgrave's interview was conducted by Major Daly and Colonel Prideaux, the Political Resident in the Gulf, both of whom were on their annual leave in London at the time as well. Belgrave's arrival in Bahrain on 31 March 1926 marks the start of his personal diary and heralds the commencement of the new administrative era, by which I mean the one-man management of all areas of the country and total control over all its matters. His total domination resulted in the request for his removal becoming one of the key demands of the Higher Executive Committee (HEC) in 1954 (what later became the National Union Committee or NUC). Additionally, Belgrave was the main focus of the correspondence exchanged between the Political Resident, William Robert 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 assistance elsewhere seeing as the two decades of service in Bahrain have turned him into an Arab in logic and manner. Through the examination of these documents and correspondence, I accordingly consider Belgrave an independent party during the events of the 1950s and thus, it becomes imperative for us to examine his diary and chronicles to extrapolate significant 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 Isa approached the Secretariat to discuss the contents of this letter, a letter he referred to as trivial written by a simple tobacco tradesman, a bankrupt ship owner amongst other people who in his view did not conjure up any interest. Their demands included participation in power with the Ruler, who in turn was worried that such demands would escalate into violent confrontations. Belgrave did not mention the HEC by name. Notwithstanding the above, it seems that the demands Belgrave referred to were the 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 Belgrave himself 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 the country 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 offering general 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 a declaration confirming this rejection. This declaration was indeed issued and a copy of the same was posted on the doors of the signatories to the demands petition by orders 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 working under its ambit are banal and without merit, but nonetheless, he credited them with being the representatives of the majority of people and seem to be the only ones who possess democratic principles.

The Political Resident, on the other hand, took the situation more seriously and accordingly, wrote to the Ruler on 1 December 1954 suggesting the formation of a committee of individuals to be appointed by the latter to address the reform demands and attempt to find appropriate solutions for the same. He further iterated that the Her Majesty's Government will wholly support the Ruler should he wish to embark on this step. Tuesday 23 November 1954 Belgrave states that the Ruler of Bahrain had paid him a visit to discuss the potential strike 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 the people 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 approving by-laws of the same by the legislative council. 4. The establishment of a Higher Court of Cassation to consider disputes arising between the legislative and executive branches. The letter re-iterates that the purpose of these demands is not to interfere in the affairs of the ruling family, nor affect their position or offer disrespect to their status. Furthermore, these demands are also not intended to jeopardize the friendly relations that tie the Government of Bahrain and Her Majesty's Government. They are merely fair demands through which the HEC wishes to enforce justice and apply the proper democratic channels to the ultimate benefit of the people of Bahrain. The signatories to this request petition were Abdulrahman Al Baker, Ebrahim bin Moosa, Sayed Ali Sayed Ebrahim, Abdulaziz Al Shamlan, Ebrahim Mohamed Hassan Fakhro, 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 his response dated 1 December 1954 that a small committee is formed to discuss the people's demands, convey the views of the public and the reformists to the Ruler and provide them with a forum to be heard. The Political Resident follows this letter with secret correspondence to the Foreign Office in London on 2 December 1954, re-iterating the contents of his letter to the Ruler and bringing to their attention the possibility that a general strike was likely to commence on 4 December and last until 10 December. This strike is the same one referred to in Belgrave's diary on 23 November 1954, where he failed to mention the details of the demands and the names of the members of the HEC.

Thursday 2 December 1954 Belgrave mentions that he met the Political Resident who in turn confirmed to him that he met with Sayed Ali and Al Baker, both of whom informed him of the HEC's intention to go forward with the abovementioned strike and their dissatisfaction with the Ruler's declaration of rejection. Al Baker cites this incident in his book, From Bahrain to Exile, whereby he affirms his meeting with the Political Resident and confirms that they made their intention to go on a general strike known. The Political Resident in turn informed Al Baker that this matter is an internal affair, nonetheless, if any security breaches are committed by the HEC, Britain will intervene to support the Ruler of Bahrain. In light of this meeting and as a reflection of the significance of this general strike being the first of its kind in the history of Bahrain, an urgent telegram was sent by the Political Resident to Foreign Office in London, Beirut, Jeddah, Baghdad, Basra, Tehran and Cairo. In a subsequent telegram on 4 December, the Political Resident confirms that the general strike was a peaceful one with a 90% success rate. On Tuesday 3 December, Belgrave states that he attended a meeting with the Ruler, Mansoor Al Arrayed, and Ahmed Fakhro where all agreed on the announcement to be issued by the Ruler once the strike was over. Belgrave, however, remained pessimistic about the end of the strike. On 8 December, Belgrave notes that Al Arrayed and Ahmed Fakhro fail in their attempts to convince the HEC to end the strike and reconfirms his position and that of the Ruler rejecting the appointment of elected members in the council. The council Belgrave referred to was the one appointed by the Ruler on 11 December 1954 comprising of the following members: Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa Al Khalifa. Mr. Smith, Director of Customs Department. Sheikh Mubarak bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Sheikh Ebrahim bin Mohamed Al Khalifa. Haj Ahmed bin Yousif Fakhro. Mr. Salem Al Arrayed.

The responsibilities of this council were to consider and oversee matters relating to health, education, the judicial system and the police force. Belgrave confirms in his diary his participation in the appointment of the said council on Friday 10 December, 1954. Monday 20 December 1954 Belgrave confirms the failure of the council appointed by the Ruler due to the lack of recognition it received from the people and the absence of those invited to participate in the member discussions. 1 January 1955

The Political Resident awards Ahmed Fakhro and Mansoor Al Arrayed with the Order of the British Empire as per Belgrave's diary entry on that date. 15 January 1955 Belgrave writes about the Municipal elections and emphasizes the Ruler's insistence on preventing Al Baker and the other HEC members from participating in the elections. Additionally, he writes about the Ruler's refusal to allow a visit by Sawt Al Arab (Voice of the Arabs) radio station to Bahrain. After the first strike, the English started communicating with the HEC via the Third Secretary in the British Residency House. This dialogue resulted in gaining the Ruler's approval to meet with Sayed Ali Sayed Ebrahim and Abdulaziz Al Shamlan as individuals, and the meeting took place in the presence of the late Yousif Al Shirawi, Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa and Sir Charles Belgrave to discuss the following matters: 1. The appointment of a legal expert or jurist to lay down civil and criminal laws. 2. The appointment and election of a committee to assist the abovementioned expert in matters relating to traditions and events in Bahrain. 3. The appointment of an additional judge for each court to work alongside local judges. 4. Organizing the police force in accordance with the adopted global systems and standards. 5. Discussing the establishment of a knowledge committee. 6. The formation of a committee comprised of four individuals to examine the election of the health and knowledge committees in collaboration with the director of public relations. 7. The status of prisons and the necessity of instigating their reforms. Nonetheless, work on this accord did not go forward and the Ruler insisted on reverting back to the council appointed by him on 11 December 1954. Accordingly, the HEC response to this development was the establishment of the first workers' union in Bahrain. Wednesday 6 April 1955 A meeting was held in Al Siqaya between the Political Resident, Political Agent and the president of the Bahrain Petroleum Company, Edward Skees, where they discussed the status of the labour law, workers and the HEC's response to the letter received from the British Foreign Minister, Eden. Belgrave comments that this response was meant to undermine his personal character and defame it. On 10 February 1955, the new Political Agent, Charles Gault, sends a secret letter to the Political Resident summarizing the situation in Bahrain and requesting approval for meeting with Belgrave to further discuss the same. In another secret letter forwarded to the Political Resident on 19 February 1955, the Political Agent informs Belgrave that the Ruler of Bahrain, to date, has failed to take

the necessary steps to address the demands of the reformists. In his view, these reformists will continue to demand reforms and the situation will escalate until the Ruler is forced to surrender to greater demands than the ones at hand. He further stipulates in his letter that Belgrave is well aware of the seriousness of the situation now having been the one to inform him of the Ruler's refusal to acknowledge the HEC or meet any of its representatives. Belgrave's comments on 6 April 1955 on Anthony Eden's response were in reference to the letter written by the HEC to the Foreign Office Secretary in London dated 21 February 1955, in which the HEC highlighted its position with respect to Britain, the Government of Bahrain and the appalling role played by Belgrave in Bahrain. This detailed letter ended by stating that Britain ultimately does not want to introduce reforms to Bahrain as a result of its need to pacify the Gulf's Sheikhdoms and its reluctance to provide Bahrain with a proper constitutional life that befits its people. Belgrave mentions on Tuesday 13 February that the Egyptian newspapers have started attacking him and that the Ruler discussed this issue with the Political Agent and expressed his frustration. Belgrave stops writing about the HEC in his diary until Thursday 6 October, where he states that he and the Political Resident were shocked by the Ruler's decision to approve the appointment of the health and education councils, a decision Belgrave viewed as a disappointment and a failure of the Government, as he insisted on participating in the appointment of the members of the said councils. Belgrave continued to display his objections with respect to the elections in his diary entry for Tuesday 11 October. On Wednesday 12 October, and after a meeting with the Ruler, Belgrave confirms that if he was in Bahrain, he would have prevented the Ruler's compromise to the HEC and stood against the elections of the health and education councils. On 28 November 1955, the Political Resident comments in his letter to the Foreign Minister Harold McMillan about the situation referred to in Belgrave's diary entries for October, and states that the Ruler's meeting with the members of the HEC has elevated the threat of unrest. Nonetheless, he confirmed that the reformist members of the HEC view themselves as revolutionaries (as further confirmed through the Egyptian's communication with them) and they believed that revolutions do not stop halfway. At the end of this letter, the Political Resident sides with Belgrave and iterates that they cannot and must not push the wheel of legislative and constitutional reform as they believe that they have come far enough for the time being. It was time for a reflective stance where each party examines what it has accomplished. On March 1956, with the occurrence of the tripartite aggression on Egypt and the kidnapping of the leaders of the Algerian Revolution, events of unrest, riots and vandalism unraveled in Bahrain ultimately branding the situation critical.

Consequently, Belgrave seized the opportunity he was waiting for and declared that it was time to arrest the members of the HEC on charges of inciting people to revolt against the system. The Ruler, however, agreed to meet with the HEC under the condition that the HEC is renamed to the NUC going forward. On the other hand, the Political Resident summoned two English frigates to Bahrain in anticipation of upcoming events. On Friday 8 March, the HEC requested the permission from the Political Resident to allow its representatives to meet with the British Foreign Minister, Selwyn Lloyd, who was due to arrive in Bahrain on the same day. The Political Resident rejected this request, and consequently, Selwyn Lloyd's motorcade was pelted with rocks in Muharraq on the day of the visit. Belgrave notes that this attack was encouraged by Abdulaziz Al Shamlan, but the HEC denied responsibility for the incident and waived its request to remove Belgrave in an attempt to placate the Government. However, the Ruler appointed a new council headed by Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa, and included Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa, Sheikh Khalifa bin Mohammed, Sheikh Duaij bin Hamad, Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed, Mr. Smith, Mr. Ahmed Al Omran, Mr. Salem Al Arrayed and Mr. Yousif Al Shirawi as Secretary. The HEC was supposed to negotiate with this appointed council with respect to all pertinent matters. On 27 March, the HEC expressed its reservations with respect to the appointed administrative council, along with the other appointed councils relating to health, education, newspapers and publications. It seemed that the new council was a front for other hidden decisions and agendas that were prepared in collaboration with Belgrave and the British authorities in Bahrain. On 5 March 1956, Belgrave notes that a meeting was convened in Riffa to discuss the HEC and how to put an end to its activities and, ultimately, its existence. Recommendations ranging between negotiations and opening fire on the members of the HEC were also discussed. The Political Resident was in negotiations with Abdulrahman Al Baker at the time with respect to the possibility of changing the name of the HEC and the acknowledgement of the Ruler of the new name in return for Al Baker leaving Bahrain. On Sunday 11 March, the Municipality incident and the general strike take place. Belgrave anticipates the arrest of the HEC members. Thursday 15 March 1956 Belgrave commences logging his preparations for facing the critical events and names the crucial characters who must make the final decisions.

On Saturday 17 March, Belgrave notes in his diary that the HEC believes it was capable of getting rid of him in the same manner that Globe was removed in Jordan. Nonetheless, he confirms that he will not relinquish his position. In September 1956, the Political Resident sent Mr. Ahmed Fakhro and Haj Mansoor Al Arrayed to meet with Abdulaziz Al Shamlan, Acting Secretary of the HEC, to demand that the HEC changes its approach and manner in which it deals with the Government. The Political Resident was in turn reiterating to the Government the importance of separating the extremists and the moderates amongst the members of the HEC. Monday 5 November 1956 Belgrave contacted his son in the late hours with regards to the decision to arrest the NUC members, a decision James was against. Al Baker, Al Shamlan and Al Alaiwat were arrested. On Tuesday 6 November, Bin Moosa from Hidd was also arrested. They were all taken to Jeddah Island, where they were subjected to curfews and were under the joint security watch of the British army and the police. On Sunday 11 November, Belgrave notes that the Ruler intended to exile the NUC members to Aden. On the same date, Belgrave also admits that all the events that have transpired in Bahrain were caused by the Political Resident, Bernard Burrows, who had sought to get rid of Belgrave as a result of his hatred for him. It seems that Belgrave believed, as we can observe from his diary, that the people of Bahrain supported him and in turn disliked the Political Resident for the abovementioned reasons. In conclusion, through my examination of Belgrave's diaries, I can lay down two key suppositions for the reasons behind Belgrave's disinterest in the NUC or the significant events at the time. The first supposition is based on the authoritarian mentality of Belgrave, who considered himself the authority on all matters and hence, he viewed the NUC, its rise and its demands as a mere series of events with no significance. This view was fortified by the fact that he had experienced such similar conditions over the past three decades of his life which ultimately never compromised his position of power, but in effect, managed to increase his staying power. Therefore, we can clearly see this confident belief materialize throughout his diaries, and especially in the 1950s, where he expresses a sense of belittlement and cynicism towards the NUC and also disbelief at what he viewed as preposterous demands for his removal. The second supposition, as extrapolated from his diaries and the Residency House correspondence, is based on the conflicts that existed within the British presence in Bahrain. Belgrave's incessant refusal to relinquish his position and his insistence on maintaining his position of authority can be seen as a direct result of his ongoing conflict with the Political Resident, Bernard Burrows, who he believed was envious of his accomplished authoritarian position in Bahrain.

From these two key suppositions, it is safe to say that Belgrave has hit the mark with his unwavering belief that the NUC's will inevitably see its demise. It, therefore, imperative for us to earnestly revisit that period of time and closely examine the contributing factors that have lead to those results. We must analyze the routes and efforts that lead to success, and also pinpoint the failures of these nationalist movements in order for us to benefit from these crucial experiences in our present and, ultimately, our future.

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