The Buraimi Memorials 1955

ISBN:  978-1-85207-070-0  Extent: 5 volumes, 2,100 pages, including 1 map box
Editor: N/A [Advisor: Dr Robin Bidwell, Middle East Centre, University of Cambridge]
Published: 1987
Paper: Printed on acid free paper
Binding: Library bindings with gilt finish
See sample pages: not available


The Buraimi dispute touches upon the historic sensitivities and national interest of the three adjoining domains of Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Oman, and combines an ancient territorial dispute over a strategic oasis on key cross-country caravan routes, with the modern concern to control territory with oil-bearing possibilities. This publication provides the complete arguments submitted to arbitration by the Government of Saudi Arabia and by the British Government. The text of the memorials contains claims and counterclaims of tribal allegiance and the payment of tax as proof of sovereignty.


In the 1930s there was an attempt by the British Government, acting on behalf of Oman and the Trucial Shaikhs, to negotiate agreed boundaries with the newly-united Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Various ´lines´ were discussed and, although the matter lapsed, the Saudis remained dissatisfied. In three particular areas they came to consider that they had justifiable claims for further territory.
One of these was Buraimi, an oasis covering about 13,000 sq. miles strategically placed at the crossing of the roads from Najd and Abu Dhabi to Muscat and from the northern Shaikhdoms to inner Oman. The Buraimi oasis consisted, in 1949, of eight villages with a population of some 25,000, many from the Na´im tribe.
It seems that the Na´im gave allegiance to the Imam of Oman until c.1800 when the conquest inspired by Shaikh Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab brought the Najdis to the area. They collected zakat (religious tax) and installed a Governor who had much influence in Oman, then torn by dynastic disputes. In 1819 Buraimi came again under the control of a powerful Sultan of Muscat, although the two strong personalities of the Northern coast, the Shaikhs of Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, exercised considerable influence. By 1830 the Najdis again interested themselves in the oasis, collected zakat for the government in Riyadh, and established an administration. But in 1869 they were expelled by an alliance of the Sultan of Muscat and Shaikh Zaid ´the Great´ of Abu Dhabi. Zaid gradually established a paramount position in six of the eight Buraimi villages. In the frontier negotiations of 1935 Buraimi was not claimed by the Saudis, and at the end of the 1940s Zaid bin Sultan (famous President of the United Arab Emirates) was, as Governor of the six Abu Dhabi villages on behalf of his brother the Shaikh, the leading figure in the Oasis.
The second disputed area was al-Liwa, a group of villages in the desert about 100 miles south-west of Abu Dhabi. Liwa was always of particular interest to the Trucial Shaikhs as it was the ancestral home of the Bani Yas tribe which provided the ruling families of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Liwa, with a population of perhaps 3000 in the date-picking season, had, like Buraimi, a history of periodic Najdi (i.e. Saudi) tax collecting and was also not claimed in 1935.
The third area of concern was Khor al-´Udayd, a marshy coastal region with some nearby islands at the base of the Qatar peninsula. Again the history is of changing tribal allegiance; in 1935 Udayd, unlike Buraimi and Liwa, was claimed as Saudi territory, but this was refused by the British. Just before the Second World War the Foreign Office suggested that Udayd be ceded or leased by the Shaikh of Abu Dhabi to the Saudis in return for payment, but this proposal was rejected by the India Office, then still responsible for British relations in the Gulf.

The Buraimi Crisis
In 1949, after protests that a party of American oilmen had travelled in Abu Dhabi territory without the authorisation of the Shaikh, the Saudis put forward a claim to much of the territory of the Shaikdoms, including Buraimi, Liwa and Udayd. The claim was rejected by the British and discussions took place in Dammam which did not resolve the dispute. In August 1952 a small Saudi force established itself in Hamasa, one of the two Omani villages of Buraimi. The Sultan of Muscat collected levies to expel them but was dissuaded by the British, themselves under American pressure. The British did, however, put men of the Trucial Oman Scouts into the Abu Dhabi part of the oasis to prevent further encroachments. An uneasy confrontation followed until the signature on 30 July 1954 of the Jeddah Agreement to refer the whole question to an impartial international tribunal headed by a Belgian judge of the International Court. The Saudis and the British, who also represented Abu Dhabi and Oman, submitted elaborate Memorials of their cases for consideration.

Territorial tradition in Arabia
In traditional Islamic legal theory, sovereignty was exercised not over a specific territory but over people. A Muslim acknowledged the sovereignty of his ruler by paying the religious tax (zakat) enjoined by the Prophet, which ranked with ritual prayer and the pilgrimage to Mecca as one of the Pillars of Islam. Sovereignty could not be shaken off by moving to another place beyond the practical reach of the ruler - a point of particular importance in Arabia where many of the great tribes were Bedouin. Rulers in adjacent regions found it unnecessary to draw exact frontiers between them. Sovereignty was claimed over a tribe or the oasis in which it lived and there was little concern about ownership of the areas of useless and usually featureless sand which lay between one settlement and another. It was not until the twentieth century had shown that any dune might cover a deposit of oil that delimitation of precise boundaries assumed extreme importance.


From the outline by Dr Robin Bidwell, Middle East Centre, University of Cambridge
 In view of the extreme importance of the case, on which might turn the ownership of huge oilfields, each side assembled the best possible team of lawyers and historians to assemble its Memorial. The legal issues of sovereignty, the payment of zakat and other points of the Islamic law, and the practical results of the exercise of jurisdiction by traditional Arab rulers were set out by experts. International and academic lawyers will find much of value in these papers. Historians will, perhaps, find even more. Each side dug deep into its archives to print material never before made available. Exchanges of correspondence between Chiefs throw new light upon the relations of tribes with central governments; we see, for example, how for the sake of peace, agriculturists sometimes paid taxes to two competing authorities. Each side set out the diplomatic exchanges between them with differing glosses.
 Both Memorials drew heavily upon the most authoritative sources such as Lorimer´s Gazetteer, the Persian Gulf Administration Reports and the Naval Intelligence Division Handbooks to present histories of Saudi Arabia, Oman and the Trucial Coast from their conflicting viewpoints. The result is a fascinating survey of 150 years of Arabian history. Each side made exhaustive local enquiries amongst the tribes, and social anthropologists will learn much of the actual workings of traditional loyalties. There is detailed information about the relationship between the nomadic and the settled peoples, about economic conditions and about trade, providing a comprehensive picture of Arab life in the final years before it was transformed by the advent of oil wealth.


This edition is reprinted from original volumes in the Cambridge University Library and the library of the Middle East Centre, Cambridge. The Memorials are published for the first time as a single collection in the standard library format of 248mm x 160mm. The British Memorial has been reduced from its original foolscap page size without loss of legibility. The large folding maps have been retained and colour printing has been deployed where essential to differentiate boundaries, etc. The new edition is presented in 4 volumes plus map box.
The Saudi Memorial: Volume I; Volume II; Volume III ; The British Memorial [two volumes bound in one]. Map box containing maps outlined below.

 Volume I (Text) includes:
I     Introduction.
II   The geographical setting; The Western areas in dispute; The Buraimi zone; Abu Dhabi and Muscat.
III   The People and the tribes; General concepts; Al Murrah; Manasir; Bani Yas; Mazari; ´Awamir; Manahil; Al Rashid; ´Ifar; Nu´aim; Dhawahir; Bani Qitab; The Baluchis; Bani Ka´b.
IV   Historical background relating to the disputed areas, 1765-1955; A historical review of the reigns of Saudi rulers from Abd al-Aziz al-Sa´ud 1765-1803 to Sa´ud ibn Abd al-Aziz, 1953; with conclusions.
V     The diplomatic background, 1911-1954: The Anglo-Turkish negotiations of 1911-14; Negotiations of 1934-38; Events of 1939-1951; London Conference of 1951; Dammam Conference of 1952; The Buraimi question and the Standstill Agreement, March October, 1952; Events of November 1952-July 1954; Conclusions.
VI   Legal submissions of Saudi Arabia General principles; Contentions of Saudi Arabia; Evidence of effective possession: the nineteenth century background; the presence of Saudi tribes the collection of taxes, the preservation of public security, other evidence; The question of lapse; Conclusions.
VII Other considerations: The British system in the Persian Gulf; The desires of the people; The concept of unity.
VIII Submissions with respect to the award.
Volume II (Annexes - Appendices - Maps*) includes:
Annexes: Arbitration Agreement, 30 July 1954; A selection of records of diplomatic messages and exchanges, e.g.: The Ruler of Abu Dhabi to HM King Abd al-Aziz c. 19 December 1917; Conversation between HM King Abd al-Aziz and the British Minister at Jiddah, c . 14 July 1934, etc.
Appendices: The Islamic calendar; The zakat: a legal opinion; Tax collecting in Saudi Arabia; Proclamation of 20 Safar 1344 (9 September 1925); Table of Rulers of the House of Sa´ud; Note on sources.
*Maps originally appeared in this Memorial but have been separated out into a map box the contents of which appear below under the MAPS heading.
Volume III (Tax records) includes:
Tax registers for certain tribes from 1935 to 1951.

 Volume I (Text) includes:
I     Nature of the dispute submitted to the Tribunal: Position of British Government; The disputed territory; The states claiming the disputed territory; The inhabitants of the disputed territory; Factors relevant to determining sovereignty; sources of evidence.
II   Topographical description of the areas in dispute.
III  Historical basis of the claims of the Rulers of Abu Dhabi and the Sultan of Muscat to the areas in dispute.
IV   Economy of the disputed areas: Pearling; Fishing and guano; Economy of Liwa and its contiguous deserts; Economy of the Buraimi zone.
V   The tribes Bani Yas; Manasir; ´Awamir; Dhawahir; Na´im.
VI  The exercise of jurisdiction
VII Saudi pretensions to an ancestral claim to territories in eastern Arabia.
VIII Revival of the Saudi dynasty after 1900, and the subsequent development of the dispute
IX   Contentions of the British government in regard to the principles of law, etc.
X   Contentions of the British government in regard to: Rights of HM The King of Saudi Arabia and rights of other Rulers; Traditional loyalties of inhabitants of the disputed areas; Tribal organisationand way of life; Jurisdiction of Rulers.
XI   Final submissions of the British Government acting on behalf of the Ruler of Abu Dhabi and HH the Sultan Said bin Taimur
VOLUME II (Annexes) includes:
Texts of relevant treaties; Extracts from archives and historical works; Correspondence and documents; Information about the disputed areas and the tribes; Genealogical tables of the Rulers of Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Oman, and Najd.
*Maps originally appeared in this Memorial but have been separated out into a map box the contents of which appear below under the MAPS heading.


British Memorial
MAP " A " - A general map of the Trucial Coast showing the disputed area.
MAP " B " - A map showing the Blue Line of the Anglo-Turkish Convention of 1913 and other frontier lines suggested by the two parties in subsequent negotiations.
MAP " C1 " - A map issued by the Saudi Arabian government for use in schools - withdrawn from use in November, 1949.
MAP " C2 " - Map published in ´Amin Raihani´s book The New Najd and its dependencies in 1951.
MAP " C3 " - Copy of ´Amin Raihani´s map published in the Encyclopaedia of Islam.
MAP " C4 " - Map published in The United States and the Near East by Professor E. A. Speiser; Harvard, 1947.
MAP " C5 " - Map prepared by ARAMCO for their " Summary of Middle East Oil Development," 1948.
MAP " D " - The settlements in the Liwa Oasis.
MAP " E " - The Dhafrah, Lima and Buraimi.
MAP " F " - Buraimi.
Saudi Memorial
I. Central and Southern Arabia, 1 : 2,100,000
II. Al-Dhannah [Western Sheet], 1 : 500 000
III. Al-Buraimi [Eastern Sheet], 1 : 500,000
IV. Tribal Map of Arabia [reproduced from the British Admiralty handbook of Arabia, 1916]