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Volume :8 Issue : 31 1982      Add To Cart                                                                    Download

THE BRITISH CAMPAIGN AGAINST RAS-AL-KHAIMAH(1819–1820) AND THE BEGINNING OF “PAX-BRITANICA”

Auther : By: Ahmed Ubaidly

The battle of Ras-al-Khaimah which took place in the twenties of the last century was an important and a decisive battle in the modern history of the Arabian Gulf. The British victory and the Arabian defeat marked beginning of the real British total hold on the western coasts of the Gulf. Furthermore, it was the beginning of the creation of the detailed British policy and the direct British intervention in the affairs of the area. In this battle, the Arabian armed forces received a fatal blow which put an end to their virtual influence which covered great areas of Indian Ocean. Following this battle, Britain and the Western countries found necessity to undertake similar great naval campaigns to destroy the Arabian forces in the Gulf. This article aims to cover in detail the battles which took place and the circumstances surrounding them.

Since the Vasco da Gama came discovering the naval route between India and Europe in 1497, different European forces never ceased to wage naval wars against the Arabian fleet, aiming at defeating it with a view to establish economic supremacy over the area. The Ya’arub dynasty in Oman (1624-1741) was able to defeat the Portuguese and to form an Afro-Asian Empire; it was also able to establish a modern force. A new dynasty called Al-Abu-Said came to rule Oman in 1741, but it failed to establish control of Oman coast on the Arabian Gulf, which was to become the mainstay force led by the generally known as Al-Qawasim.

Al-Qawasim started unsuccessful campaigns against the European powers, which paralysed the Arabian forces in the Gulf and replace them in handling the commercial routes which were controlled by the Arabs for Thousands of years. The feel of bitter defeat was mingled with Wahhabi enthusiasm when Al-Qawasim adopted the new sect, and the wars now were going on under religious flags. The British ships became under strong attacks and Britain could no longer afford to disregard the activities of Al-Qawasim. The British government of India began to collect intelligence reports in preparation of a campaign against them. William Grant Kerr was appointed as commander of the campaign and was given orders to inflict severe punishment on Qawasim of Ras-al-Khaimah and to destroy their entire forces. Furthermore, he was to destroy all military equipments which might be found in any other port suspected to be extending assistance to their activities which were considered “Piracy” by the British authorities (a term more suited to describe the action of European naval forces against Arabs).

Britain prepared for the campaign with an attempt to isolate the Qawasim from their probable allies and from any central Arab or force. Further attempts were made to contract Ibrahim Pasha who started a campaign against the Wahhabs and their capital of Al-Dar’iyyah. It also contacted Sayyid Said bin Sultan making use of the long enmity feud between the two forces and playing on the old desires of Said to reunite the territories of Oman. The third force the British authorities, contacted were the Persians, with the aim to neutralizing them during any actions which might take place on the Persian coast against ports held by the Qawasim there.

The campaign was formed of the British naval ships, twelve ships owned by the East India Company, and several troop-carrier vessels. The total number of the force amounted to 3069 men. The Qawasim on the other hand owned 63 ships and 813 boats, along with troops ranging from 4000 to 7000 men. The first landing took place on December 3rd, 1819, operations continued till January 22nd, 1820.

The campaign resulted in signing a series of treaties with the majority of the Sheikhs governing the Emirates on the coast. The direct aims of these treaties were to “Surrender all ships, gunds and jowers in the piracy ports, on the basis of a promise to continue on pearl diving and fishing and to let hold of the Indian prisoners”. The treaties contained, among others, the two following clauses: A frank statement that the British Government had no political or regional aims in the Gulf area and that it would not interfere in the internal and local quarrels. While the other point stated that the Sheikhs signatory to the treaties will stop the slave trade, in the trucial Arab Emirates totally.

But in reality, the treaties formed the beginning of a new era of British and European influence on the area.

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