Today the modern economies and socio-political structures of the Arab Gulf states are so dominated by oil that it is difficult to conceive that it was only just over half a century ago that their Rulers, the British Government and the major oil companies were negotiating the exploration concessions for the then nascent political entities lying on the Gulf´s western shores. Today Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman (the five states focussed upon in this publication) are closely integrated politically and economically (along with Saudi Arabia) through their membership of the Gulf Co-operation Council.
In the pre-oil days of the early twentieth century these coastal city-states shared many characteristics, but most significantly a collective position of weakness. Of the five only Muscat and Oman did not fall directly under British sovereignty or protection, though Britain continued by custom to exercise a considerable degree of influence over the external affairs of the Sultanate. Of the five only Kuwait possessed defined land boundaries with Saudi Arabia though the settlement responsible for these territorial limits - the Uqair Conference of late 1922 - had also resulted in that curious feature on the territorial landscape - the Neutral Zone - a feature which was greatly to complicate the issue of oil concessions in the decades ahead. Before oil the income of each Ruler derived principally from the economic activities of his subjects - he was totally dependent on the sparse revenues provided by pearling, trading or fishing. This relationship between Ruler and ´ruled´ was to change with the onset of oil wealth for the generation of the Ruler´s income was no longer dependent on the economic activity of the local population.
The framework for the initial agreements
Between 1913 and 1923 the Rulers of the various shaikhdoms and states under review in this publication signed undertakings not to grant oil concessions except to companies appointed by the British Government: the Ruler of Kuwait´s signature was obtained in 1913; the Ruler of Bahrain´s in 1914; the Ruler of Qatar´s in 1916; the Rulers of the Trucial Coast states´ in 1922 and the Sultan of Muscat and Oman´s in 1923.
Major Frank Holmes and the Eastern and General Syndicate
In May 1923 Ibn Saud granted the first oil concession (Hasa) in the Gulf area to the little-known Eastern and General Syndicate who had been in direct competition for the award with the British oil giant, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Registered in Britain in 1920, the Eastern and General Syndicate were represented in eastern Arabia by Major Frank Holmes, a controversial character who was constantly to worry the suspicious India Office authorities over the next decade until his appointment in late 1935 as Trucial Coast representative of Petroleum Concessions Limited. Eastern and General Syndicate also fleetingly held a concession for Bahrain though this, like the Hasa concession, was never effectively worked by the company itself. Rightly or wrongly, the British authorities regarded Holmes and his company to be interested solely in obtaining concessions and trafficking them to other parties. Having approached the Anglo-Persian Oil Company without success on a number of occasions the Eastern and General Syndicate transferred its interests in Bahrain, Hasa, Kuwait and the Kuwait– Nejd Neutral Zone to the Gulf Oil Corporation of the United States in the late 1920s. After the Red Line Agreement of July 1928, however, the Gulf Oil Corporation was obliged to offload its interests in all regions of eastern Arabia save for Kuwait. The options it had inherited from Eastern and General Syndicate for Bahrain and Hasa respectively were acquired by the Standard Oil Company of California (SOCAL).
The geopoliticisation of oil concessions
SOCAL was awarded the concession for oil rights in Hasa province by Ibn Saud in May 1933, after which eastern Arabian oil concessions were effectively geopoliticised into two blocs - a British sphere of influence along the southern and northern shores of the Gulf and an American sphere of influence dominated by the newly emergent state of Saudi Arabia. This collection of documents concerns itself only with those Gulf states in the British sphere of influence. The records maintained by the Persian Gulf Residency cannot satisfactorily document the history of the Saudi Arabian oil concession, for to do justice to this subject reference would have to be made to sources based largely in Saudi Arabia and the United States.
The Red Line Agreement of July 1928 had the effect of formally conceding American oil companies a role in the Gulf region after years in which the Colonial Office and particularly the India Office had actively sought their exclusion. Nevertheless, the agreement imposed stringent conditions for any American oil company desirous of obtaining a concession in any territory under British protection except Kuwait. As a result, in order for SOCAL to maintain its option in Bahrain, the company had first to create a British subsidiary, the Bahrain Petroleum Company (BAPCO), register it in Canada, ensure that one of its five directors would at all times be a British subject and ensure that as many as possible of its employees were British or Bahrainis. Naturally the whole of the share capital was subscribed to SOCAL. Though Saudi Arabia was intended to be covered by the Red Line Agreement, Britain was hardly in a position to hold American oil companies operating there to the same conditions as she held no exclusive treaty relations with Ibn Saud. As a result, there was nothing to prevent Saudi Arabia granting the 1933 concession to SOCAL.
ARRANGEMENT OF VOLUMES