Bahrain and Qatar Achieve Independence Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In 1968, following several waves of anti-British sentiment, Great Britain announced that it would withdraw from all Persian Gulf countries, including Bahrain and Qatar. In 1971, Qatar and Bahrain declared their independence and took control of their oil and diversified economies.

Summary of Event

Before the eighteenth century, Qatar was a land of nomadic bedouin with a few small fishing and pearling villages, while Bahrain had been inhabited since prehistoric times and was a great trading empire that had long been home to a thriving pearl-diving industry. English presence emerged in the region around 1635 through the East India Company, but it was not until the nineteenth century and the many problems of piracy that Britain sought more of a foothold. Because of concern for the security for their merchant vessels, the British compelled Persian Gulf sheikhdoms to sign peace treaties to end piracy, cease the traffic of slaves, curb the smuggling of arms and other goods, and promote peaceful trade. Beginning in the early 1800’s, Britain gained control over external and often internal affairs of Bahrain and Qatar, which later became British protectorates. This foreign administrative power was resented by locals at various times throughout the decades. Bahrain, independence Qatar, independence [kw]Bahrain and Qatar Achieve Independence (Aug. 15 and Sept. 3, 1971) [kw]Qatar Achieve Independence, Bahrain and (Aug. 15 and Sept. 3, 1971) [kw]Independence, Bahrain and Qatar Achieve (Aug. 15 and Sept. 3, 1971) Bahrain, independence Qatar, independence [g]Middle East;Aug. 15 and Sept. 3, 1971: Bahrain and Qatar Achieve Independence[00390] [g]Qatar;Aug. 15 and Sept. 3, 1971: Bahrain and Qatar Achieve Independence[00390] [g]Bahrain;Aug. 15 and Sept. 3, 1971: Bahrain and Qatar Achieve Independence[00390] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Aug. 15 and Sept. 3, 1971: Bahrain and Qatar Achieve Independence[00390] [c]Independence movements;Aug. 15 and Sept. 3, 1971: Bahrain and Qatar Achieve Independence[00390] Thani, Muhammad ibn Thani al- Khalifah, Ahmad ibn Khalifah al- Belgrave, Charles

Qatar is considered a little sister nation to Bahrain, as it is far younger and connected in the sense that it shares cultural ties. The country was once under Bahraini rule and has been involved in political and trade interactions with Bahrain for more than a century. Bahrain’s ruling family, the Al Khalifa, a prominent trading clan, came to Bahrain indirectly; that is, through Qatar. In 1766, the Al Khalifa left Kuwait, where they had helped their Kuwaiti cousins, the Al Sabah, establish rule. The Al Khalifa migrated to Zubarah, Qatar, on the northwestern coast of the Qatar Peninsula, and kept hold of Zubarah after they captured Bahrain in 1782. The leader of the family, Ahmad ibn Khalifah al-Khalifah, known as “the Conqueror,” ruled the Bahraini islands from Zubarah until his death in 1796. His sons, who later led from Bahrain, cosigned the critical 1820 treaty with Britain that recognized the Al Khalifa as the legitimate rulers of Bahrain.

By the early 1800’s, control of the Zubarah area was contested by the Al Thani tribe headed by Muhammad ibn Thani al-Thani, the founder of the clan, who was based in Bida, now Doha. In 1868, the Al Thani signed a treaty with Britain requesting that they provide protection and negotiate the termination of the Al Khalifa claim to Qatar. Previously, the British had viewed Qatar as belonging to Bahrain. The British had been ubiquitous in the region via trade for centuries, and they had signed other treaties with local sheikhs: In order to reduce piracy in 1835, they obliged Bahraini and Qatari rulers, among others, to sign a maritime peace treaty stating that the rulers would make every effort to stop pirates operating in the area. Not long after the 1868 Al Thani-Britain treaty, the Al Khalifa in Qatar largely retreated to Bahrain.

Muhammad ibn Thani al-Thani’s son Jasim assumed rule of Qatar the previous year in 1867 and proceeded to maintain control by leveraging the British against the Turks. Beginning in 1871, he permitted a Turkish garrison in Doha, but in 1916, Jasim’s successor, Abdullah, signed a treaty of protection with the British that oversaw the withdrawal of the Turks who had entered World War I on the side of Germany. This treaty united Britain with Qatar; Qatar became a British protectorate, and Britain gained a central role in Qatar’s foreign affairs. Another treaty in 1934 extended and modified the earlier treaty and fortified this tie with Britain that held until Qatar claimed independence in 1971.

In Bahrain, in 1782, the Ahmad ibn Khalifah al-Khalifah took possession of the main islands, expelling the Persians who had been ruling the archipelago. He thus established the Al Khalifa dynastic rule over Bahrain, which continued uninterrupted into the twenty-first century. In 1799, his sons were driven out by the Omanis; one son returned to Zubarah. However, by 1820, the Al Khalifa managed to reconquer the islands and signed treaties with the British in 1820 and 1835. In 1861, the Al Khalifa signed the Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship, in which they gained British protection in return for relinquishing control of their foreign affairs. Other treaties were signed with Britain in 1881 and 1891.

Politics and infighting among certain members of the Al Khalifa compelled the British to install a new sheikh after 1869, Isa ibn Ali al-Khalifa; but the day-to-day affairs of the country were administered by Isa’s son Hamad, who reigned until his death in 1942. In 1926, a new British adviser was installed, Charles Belgrave, who, during his thirty years in Bahrain and with the influx of oil revenues around 1935, played a major role in establishing Bahrain’s infrastructure.

Resentment of British influence had been brewing sporadically since the early days of the twentieth century, but after World War II and the emergence of pan-Arabism, it increased. The children of wealthy Bahrainis who began studying at various universities in the Middle East returned even more indignant about local British power. In 1956, tensions had grown to the extent that while visiting Bahrain, British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd was pelted with stones, and later that year, several British were killed in anti-British riots. Britain became concerned enough to send troops to guard oil fields. Eventually, Britain determined that it was no longer feasible to meet security needs; thus a move toward independence throughout the Gulf became inevitable. In 1968, Britain announced that it would begin plans to withdraw from the region. In 1970, it helped negotiate Iran’s renouncing of its long-standing claim to Bahrain, and in 1971 Bahrain and Qatar declared independence.

Western concern about British withdrawal was not intense in 1971, but by 1973 the move was seen in retrospect as being of great consequence. By 1971, Arab nations such as Bahrain and Qatar had primary control of the flow and cost of their oil reserves and could have an impact on Western politics and economies, given that Europe, the United States, and even Japan were so reliant on oil. The immediate manifestation of Arab oil control was seen days after the Yom Kippur War Yom Kippur War (1973) broke out on October 6, 1973. Kuwait called for an urgent conference of the Arab oil-producing states to discuss the role of oil in the campaign now raging. Arab nations, concerned that U.S. president Richard M. Nixon Nixon, Richard M. had authorized the dispatch of military supplies to Israel, wanted to use their influence as oil-rich countries to assert their position on the war. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia sent a letter to the U.S. government stating that if the supply of arms was not halted, an embargo would be placed on the shipment of oil to the United States. When the U.S. government announced that it would proceed with its support to Israel, all the members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) announced that they would reduce their oil production. According to the communiqué, however, there would be continued supply to states that adopted a measure against Israel to “persuade it to end its occupation of Arab territories.” Although the initiative was led by the Saudis, the lesser oil states were in agreement, and Bahrain and Qatar quickly banned oil shipment to the United States and cut production by 10 percent. Thus between 1972 and 1974 the price of oil quadrupled. Arab oil embargo (1973-1974)

After the 1973 oil embargo, Bahrain, whose oil reserves were quite small, far less than that of Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, diversified its economy and established itself as one of the region’s main banking and finance centers. Politically, intermittent periods of unrest surfaced, such as riots in 1994 that were initiated by public requests for greater democracy and broader distribution of wealth.

Qatar, which had more oil wealth than Bahrain, established an extensive state welfare system, providing the relatively small population of Qatari citizens (in the 1990’s only about 25 percent of all residents were Qataris) with free education, health care, and modestly priced housing. Qatar retained close ties with Britain, and with the coming of the first Gulf War began to forge a strong defense relationship with the United States.


The independence of Qatar and Bahrain from British authority had a significant impact on the region, as these oil-rich countries with strong economies were able to make independent national decisions. Qatar rapidly became a wealthy nation with a modern and well-developed infrastructure. In the 1990’s, Qatar sought closer ties with Iran and began an economic relationship with Israel. In 1996, Qatar launched the independent, cutting-edge Al Jazeera Al Jazeera satellite television station, and in 1999, permitted women to vote (the first Persian Gulf nation to do so).

In the years since the British relinquished control of Bahrain, that nation has developed its economy, taken a lead in refining oil for Saudi Arabia, and developed a large financial services sector (including offshore banking). In addition, with its many hotels and bars, Bahrain has became a hub for regional tourism. After they gained independence, both countries were able to focus on their own national interests and were able to use their increased political influence on the international stage, especially on issues regarding the Gulf. Bahrain, independence Qatar, independence

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Anscombe, Frederick F. The Ottoman Gulf: The Creation of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. Presents a refreshing view of the Persian Gulf through Ottoman documents rather than from British sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kelly, J. B. Arabia, the Gulf, and the West. Collingdale, Pa.: Diane Books, 1997. Discusses historical events, places, and important figures and their influence on today’s society. Focuses on the significant periods of each region and of British withdrawal, 1968-1971.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Said Zahlan, Rosemarie. The Making of the Modern Gulf States: Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Rev. ed. Reading, Berkshire, England: Ithaca Press, 1999. Reviews and analyzes British imperialism and the economic and social issues of the Persian Gulf.

Iran Announces Nationalization of Foreign Oil Interests

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Saudi Arabia Establishes Gulf Cooperation Council

Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait

Persian Gulf War

Categories: History