Agreements concluded by Oman's rulers and British India's local representatives that successively expanded British involvement in Omani affairs and culminated in Oman becoming a virtual British protectorate.
British interest in Oman and the Persian/Arabian Gulf was based on the India trade. It became a political interest as the East India Company's focus shifted in the late eighteenth century from commerce to the administration of India as the British government's trustee. In addition, the gulf's strategic significance increased, since communications linking Britain to India skirted the region. The consequences became apparent in 1798 when, after Napoléon Bonaparte annexed Egypt, French plans to invade India were countered by a British diplomatic offensive to protect India's frontiers. Among this effort's fruit was the first formal treaty between an Arab state of the gulf and Britain, the Anglo–Omani Qawl-nama (agreement) signed 12 October 1798, by the Omani ruler, Sultan ibn Ahmad, and an East India Company representative. This excluded France and her allies, such as the Indian ruler, Tipu Sultan, from Omani territories and was amended in 1800 to permit stationing a British "agent" at Muscat. Since Oman was then a leading Indian Ocean maritime power, these engagements constituted an alliance between ostensible equals and implied no Omani dependency upon Britain.
Increased Omani subordination became apparent in the treaty of commerce signed 31 May 1839 by Omani and East India Company representatives. Concluded six years after the United States obtained a commercial agreement, and at a time when Muhammad Ali's Egypt seemingly threatened gulf peace, this treaty placed Anglo–Omani relations on firmer legal footing. It also significantly diminished Omani sovereignty, by limiting the duty Oman could levy on British goods, by formalizing British extraterritorial jurisdiction over its subjects resident in Oman, and by permitting British warships to detain Omani vessels suspected of slave trading, thereby expanding an 1822 anti-slave-trade engagement.
The 1839 treaty was superseded by one signed 19 March 1891 by Sultan Faysal of Oman and Britain's Political Resident Sir Edward Ross. Although this treaty barely increased Britain's formal privileges, an accompanying secret declaration issued 20 March 1891 bound Oman's ruler and his successors never to "cede, sell, mortgage, or otherwise give for occupation" any part of his possessions except to Britain. Actually, these engagements were reached in lieu of formally declaring a British protectorate over Oman, an idea shelved because it conflicted with an 1862 Anglo–French guarantee of Oman's independence. Nevertheless, the 1891 declaration initiated a fifty-year period when Oman, albeit legally independent, functioned as a veiled British protectorate. The legal regime founded on these undertakings began eroding in 1939, when the 1891 treaty was renegotiated and, especially in 1951, when the present Anglo–Omani treaty was concluded and Oman resumed formal control over its foreign relations. It shattered completely between 1958—when the territorial nonalienation declaration of 1891 was mutually terminated—and 1967, when Britain's extraterritorial rights in Oman finally lapsed. Only an updated version of the original 1798 Anglo–Omani alliance endures.
see also persian (arabian) gulf.
Aitcheson, C. U., compiler. A Collection of Treaties, Documents, and Sanads Relating to India and Neighbouring Countries, Vol. 11, 5th edition. Delhi, 1933. Reprint, 1973.
Al-Baharna, Husain M. The Arabian Gulf States: Their Legal and Political Status and Their International Problems, 2d edition. Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1975.
Robert G. Landen