King Hamad recently rocked up at the first Windsor International Endurance Festival, where he gave a speech in which he described Bahrain’s historic relationship with Britain as one of ‘cooperation and friendship’. Hamad then expressed sadness at Britain’s withdrawal from Bahrain in 1971, quoting his father as saying;
“Why? – No one asked you to go!”
King Hamad’s desire to surround himself in the UK with other people who love horses does not detract from the fact that Bahrain’s relationship with Britain has been one of mutual convenience as opposed to true friendship. Indeed, despite this so-called ‘friendship’, the attitude of many British officials to the ruling Al Khalifa family was one of disgust and frustration. A selection of quotes attributed to various British officials on the subject of the Al Khalifa is included below. Before I am accused of historic muck raking, I should point out that such comments are important in contextualizing Britain’s relationship with Bahrain, and erode the veneer of legitimacy that horse-based events and other efforts at ‘High Society Diplomacy’ attempt to confer upon this so-called friendship. Also, sometimes these things are just plain interesting.
This blog post is focused more on the historic attitude of British officials towards the ruling family in general as opposed to specific cases. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights have documented scandals perpetrated by the Ruling Family by collating all the examples mentioned in the papers of Charles Belgrave – financial adviser to the Ruler of Bahrain between 1926 and 1957 . Similarly, I have blogged or written about various other acts of oppression or political crime performed by members of the Ruling Family, so often aided and abetted by the British. Some of these are listed at the end of this blog.
Attitudes of Some British Officials to the Bahrain Ruling Family between 1920 and 1956.
In 1923, Political Resident Lieutenant Colonel A.P. Trevor wrote about Salman bin Hamad – Bahrain’s ruler between between 1942 and 1961:
Selman bin Hamad has all the worst qualities of the Al Khalifa family. He is totally uneducated, vain, lazy, and inclined to oppress and tyrannize over anyone who is powerless to resist. Selman is absolutely unfit to succeed is father as ruler.
Colonel Knox (who seemed to entertain an equal disdain of all Bahrain’s communities) wrote in 1923:
Gentlemen of the Al Khalifa: I am afraid that looking to the past is my duty to warn you that you must not expect that because you have taken the trouble to be born you ave therefore a right to live on the rest of the community , whether by allowances from the revenues of these Islands or by preying on the poor and helpless
C.C.J. Barrett, the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf wrote in 1929:
The family – the Al Khalifa – were uneducated savages with a veneer of town manners
Charles Belgrave wrote in 1926 (21 August):
The Khalifa family is the Royal Family of Bahrain, & very much so. They are paid allowances by the Govt & do nothing apparently considering it infra dig to do any work, they are lazy conceited oppressive people for the most part, living on being royalty.
Charles Belgrave wrote in 1929:
With a few exceptions the Khalifa family are lazy, almost illiterate, and entirely without public spirit.
Bahrain’s Political Agent Captain C. G. Prior wrote in 1929:
…apart from these all adult Al Khalifa are nonentities, incapable or vicious or all three.
Charles Belgrave wrote in his diary in 1954.
…now nobody has any opinion of the Khalifah, they are drunken, dotty & dishonest & have entirely lost the little prestige that they once had. The only one of them who people in any way respect is HH & they are rapidly losing their respect for him.
Acting Political Agent J.E.R. Little wrote in 1955:
…the ruler has donated a quarter of a million rupees to education, health and public protection. Other members of Al Khalifa apparently are impervious to the promptings of conscience.