Trucial Coast

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Colonial precursor of the United Arab Emirates.

The Trucial Coast was known to Europeans as the Pirate Coast in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when the powerful federation of the Qawasim, operating primarily from the port of Raʾs al-Khayma, ravaged shipping in the lower Persian (Arabian) Gulf. The government of British India sent several expeditions against them, finally subduing them in 1819. In the following year, Britain through the General Treaty of Peace, imposed a truce that condemned piracy and implied Britain's obligation to maintain peace in the Gulf. Subsequent treaties (truces) made the agreements more explicit, and the territories ruled by the shaykhs who were signatories to them became, in European usage, the Trucial Coast. The terms "Trucial States" and, confusingly, "Trucial Oman" were also used.

Fear of European rivals led Britain to establish "exclusive agreements" with these shaykhs in 1892. These engagements made Great Britain, through the colonial government in Delhi, responsible for the foreign relations of these shaykhdoms and, by implication, for their protection. The British, interested primarily in the security of the Gulf, kept their involvement on land to a minimum. Their intervention however, tended to freeze political relationships. This situation remained essentially unaltered until the interwar period, when the British government forced the rulers to deal only with prospecting oil companies of which it approved. Britain's simultaneous establishment of an air route across the Gulf began to open the area to the outside world, especially Sharjah, where an Imperial Airways airfield was established. Moreover, oil concession agreements created the need for the novel concept of fixed borders, which the British began to establish.

After World War II, Britain was much more fully involved in the affairs of the Trucial States. After 1947, with India's independence, the states became the responsibility of the Foreign Office in London. Britain's representative in the Trucial States was a permanent political officer assigned to Sharjah in 1948 (upgraded to political agent in 1953), and several state institutions were established. In 1951 the Trucial Oman Levies, a small force with British officers, was created to keep order in the Trucial States. Expanded and renamed the Trucial Oman Scouts in the mid-1950s, it became the nucleus of the United Arab Emirates, armed forces in 1971. In 1952 the Trucial States Council was created; though limited to a consultative role, it provided the first forum in which the rulers of the seven shaykhdoms could discuss common concerns. From 1965 until independence a Development Office, operating under the aegis of the Council, carried out infrastructure projects financed through a development fund to which Britain, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Abu Dhabi contributed; Abu Dhabi carried the lion's share as its oil income expanded from the mid-1960s.

In December 1968, Britain's Labor government, beset by a balance-of-payments crisis, decided to withdraw military forces and relinquish responsibilities in the Gulf by the end of 1971. Though some of the rulers viewed Britain's withdrawal with alarm, Shaykh Zayid of Abu Dhabi and Shaykh Rashid of Dubai, the wealthiest of the seven Trucial States, agreed, as early as February 1968, to form a federation that would include Bahrain and Qatar. Despite British encouragement of this venture, it had foundered by early 1971. On 2 December 1971, a few months after Bahrain and Qatar had become separately independent, Sharjah, Umm al-Qaywayn, Ajman, and Fujayra joined Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the federation of the United Arab Emirates. In February 1972, Raʾs al-Khayma belatedly joined the United Arab Emirates.

see also sharjah; united arab emirates.


Anthony, John Duke. Arab States of the Lower Gulf: People, Politics, Petroleum. Washington, DC: Middle East Institute, 1975.

Heard-Bey, Frauke. From Trucial States to United Arab Emirates: A Society in Transition. New York: Longman, 1982.

Peck, Malcolm C. The United Arab Emirates: A Venture in Unity. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986.

malcolm c. peck

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Trucial Coast: see United Arab Emirates.

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