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Bahrain History - Al Khalifa ascendancy to Bahrain and their treaties with the British

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Fourteen years later after gaining power of Bani Utbah, the Al Khalifa family moved to Bahrain in 1797 as settlers in Jaww, and later moved to Riffa. They were originally from Kuwait but had 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.

In the early nineteenth 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.

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 a part in helping the Al Khalifa to retain possession of their new territory in the early days. Between 1869 and 1872 Midhat Pasha brought the islands nominally under the authority of the Ottoman Empire with coordination with the British and Ottoman ships starting appearing in the area.

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:
“ 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.

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. 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. 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 hub of a 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 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

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’. 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 something like ‘men of the world, who know the world like men’ a great relief to the mind; certainly it was so to mine."

The great trading families that emerged during this period have been compared to the Borgias and Medicis and their great wealth - long before the oil wealth the region would later be renown for - 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. The Al Safar enjoyed an 'exceptionally close' 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 and possibly for religious reasons.

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.”

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. The country's first modern school was established in 1919, with the opening of the Al-Hiddaya Boys School, while the Arab 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.

 


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1783: rising power of Bani Utbah - Al Khalifa ascendancy to Bahrain and their treaties with the British
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