Middle East Collections

Bahrain’s Silver Screens: the development of the cinema in Bahrain, as viewed through the diaries of Charles Belgrave

Charles Belgrave was adviser to the Sheikh of Bahrain from 1926 to 1957, and during those thirty years he was an exceptionally busy man. In addition to his duties advising the royal family and steering British policy in the region, he set up the police force, sat in judgement in the law courts, oversaw improvements in the health and education systems on the island and played a key role in supporting the establishment of the petroleum industry in Bahrain after oil was discovered in the early 1930s. He took a hands-on approach to all these activities, taking part in midnight raids on illicit arak stills, interrogating prisoners in the police cells, interviewing applicants for various posts on the island and generally involving himself in the minutiae of everyday life in Bahrain. His personal influence in the region was so extensive that he was referred to not only as المستشار (‘the Adviser’) but also as رئيس الخليج (‘Chief of the Gulf.’)

Despite this he was able to make time for leisure activities, including playing bridge, reading novels and listening to gramophone records. At times it is clear that the constant round of social engagements – integral to his job – could be intensely tedious, and there are countless references to dull dinners with ‘awful’ people and ‘sticky’ conversation. One form of entertainment that does begin to appear more and more regularly in his diary is the cinema. Although his references to picture-going are generally brief, Belgrave’s comments provide an insight not only into his taste in movies, but also into the changing nature of early cinema, different routines and patterns of cinema attendance that developed over these three decades.

The first attempt to set up a cinema in Bahrain was in 1922 when local businessman Mahmood Al Saati began running an impromptu movie house in a cottage on the north coast of Manama using a small imported projector. (Al Saati’s grandson is the filmmaker Bassam Mohammed Al-Thawadi – born 1960 – who directed Bahrain’s first feature film, The Barrier, in 1990.) However, when Belgrave arrived on the island in 1926 there is no reference in his diaries to any cinema being in operation, although he did go and see some films while in India trying to recruit policemen for Bahrain. In Karachi on 8 November 1926 he went to see Dante’s Inferno which he described as ‘rather depressing… dreary performance’. It is likely that this was not the 1911 Italian version but the more recent American adaptation directed by Henry Otto. Eight days later, still in India, he sat through ‘a very bad show called Helen of Troy – most disconnected and badly done.’ It is unclear whether Belgrave was frustrated by the film itself or the manner of its screening; problems with mutilated prints and faulty projectors would be a recurring feature of Bahrain picture-going in its early years.

On 2 August 1939 Belgrave went to see ‘Robin Hood’ and wrote in his diary afterward: ‘coloured, rather like a pantomime, very elaborate and some beautiful scenes, but all very juvenile’.

The Yatim cinema venture

On 21 September 1927 Belgrave ‘signed the monopoly of a cinema for three years to Ali Yatim’, adding in his diary ‘Hope he will get a move on with it.’ Belgrave had encountered Ali Yatim before, describing him as a ‘one-eyed English-speaking protégé’ of the American Mission, where he had been educated. He had a brother, Mohamed Katim, who lived away but had a bad reputation for his moral behaviour and lack of adherence to Muslim laws on food and drink. Ali died before the end of the year, however, and according to local custom, Mohamed returned to Bahrain to marry his brother’s widow. Ali’s son Hussein was sent to England to be educated at a school in Brighton (Diary, 1 January 1928). Plans for the cinema continued to be discussed, with Ghaus, the Indian contractor who had accompanied Belgrave to the cinema in Karachi calling about the matter on 14 January 1928; Sheik Hamed, the ruler of Bahrain, agreed to lower the cost of the ground to be used. The following day Ghaus returned for a lengthy talk about the question of censorship, as already strong opposition was being voiced to the proposal on religious grounds: at the council meeting on 31 January there were forceful speeches against the idea of a cinema, while the local Kadis ‘sent letters of protest.’ A wealthy pearl merchant, Ali bin Seggar, came to Belgrave to express his concern that children would be tempted to go to the cinema, ‘spend money on it, and if their parent didn’t give them money, they might steal it’ (Diary, 5 February) and he returned on 11 April to make further protests about the evils of the cinema. It is clear, however, that at least some of this resistance was due to the fierce business rivalry between the Katim family and another influential merchant Yusuf Kanoo, who was leading opposition to the cinema. The dispute seems to have succeeded in stalling any progress with the Yatim cinema. Mohamed Yatim pursued other lines of business, working as an interpreter and assistant for oil contractor Major Frank Holmes, and Belgrave noted in his diary (16 May 1932) that ‘Mohamed Yatim now sells film that fits my camera.’ The following summer, young Hussein Yatim – now returned from school – ‘came to see me to ask if the Govt. would allow a cinema here.’ Belgrave discussed the matter with him but commented privately ‘it is rather a doubtful project financially.’ (Diary, 31 July 1933).

‘After quite a good dinner we went out to Awali to see a film, Col. Blimp, a very good picture, extremely English & Well acted, a long picture.’ (Diary, 17 July 1945)

Other Venues

In the meantime, the number of places where films could be screened was growing. Belgrave recorded seeing a film – ‘a talkie, which I enjoyed enormously’ – on board the naval cruiser HMS Hawkins (9 November 1933), and then another film at the Agency building (18 December 1933). The Political Agent and his staff occupied a two-storey building on the shoreline at the northern tip of Manama town, with a tennis court and pool, although it is not clear precisely when the projector was installed. Belgrave’s diary records occasions when the machine failed to work.

Oil had been discovered on Bahrain in 1932, beginning with a test well at Jebel Dukhan; a settlement of Nissan huts was built here to house the workers of BAPCO (the Bahrain Petroleum Company) which included catering and recreation facilities. Belgrave records a meeting with Percy Loch, the Political Agent, ‘to discuss a cinema at oil camp’ (Diary, 10 January 1935) and a small cinema seems to have begun operating at the Jebel camp soon after. As the oil industry developed with the construction of Sitra refinery, a new town was built on the dry plains of Awali – about twelve miles south of Manama – on a much larger scale. A cinema was also established here in 1937. Running of this cinema was taken over by a formal Club committee two years later, and Belgrave was a regular attendee of screenings here. Following the destruction of this cinema in a fire on Christmas Eve 1943, an open air screen was set up which lasted until a new auditorium was built in 1952.

There are potential problems with having screens out in the open, and after watching Bambi here, Belgrave recorded ‘an attractive picture but the moon on the screen took much of the colour from it’ (Diary, 6 March 1944). A third cinema screen was also available at the British naval base at Juffair, on the southern edge of Manama, which was established in April 1935.

Belgrave’s diary entries during the late 1930s show that he went to watch films at Awali, Jefel and Juffair, as well as the Agency, although much of the time he just wrote ‘to cinema’ without recording the location. Many of these occasions were dictated by social engagements, with an invitation to dinner at the Agency or with oil managers followed by a film screening.

Not all these films were commercial products. The above-mentioned Percy Gordon Loch – Political Agent on Bahrain from 1932 to 1937 – was himself an amateur film-maker, as was his wife Eleanor, and screenings of their home-movies were a regular event on Bahrain’s social calendar, as is evident from Belgrave’s diary entries, for example, on 27 May, 6 November and 25 December 1933, and 8, 17 and 22 February 1934. Some three dozen of these films have been preserved in the Dalyell Collection – see here for more details.

Commercial Cinema in Bahrain

The Agency, BAPCO and naval cinemas were all of course private ventures, accessible only to employees of these particular institutions and their guests. In his Annual Report for Year 1356 (March 1937 to February 1938) Belgrave recorded that ‘Permission was granted by the Government to The Bahrain Theatre Company to open a cinema in Bahrain and a piece of ground on the south side of Manama town was leased to the company on a long lease. The company consists of several of the younger Shaikhs of the Ruling Family as well as two local Arab merchants. Building was begun during the year.’ [The Bahrain Government Annual Reports, 1924-1956. Vol.II: 1937-42. (Gerrards Cross: Archive Editions, 1986) p.24] One of these merchants was almost certainly Hussein Ali Yatim, the other being Abdulla Al Zayed (1894-1945), something of a media entrepreneur: he installed Bahrain’s first modern printing press in 1935 and four years later launched its first newspaper – Al Bahrain  – which was published between 1939 and 1944.

The Manama cinema had no air-conditioning, and during the winter season screenings were held outside with the films projected onto the wall. The following year’s Annual Report noted that the cinema, which opened in the summer of 1937, showed a different picture every week, with ‘Indian, Egyptian and American films exhibited in rotation. Films are subject to Government censorship but so far only one has been prohibited as being likely to offend local taste. It is understood that the venture is proving a financial success. [The Bahrain Government Annual Reports, 1924-1956. Vol.II: 1937-42. (Gerrards Cross: Archive Editions, 1986) Year 1357, p.31] The following year saw another innovation, as the cinema began adopting the BAPCO practice of showing newsreels before the main feature, which proved so popular that many local Arabs began flocking to the cinema to see the newsreels and then leaving before the start of the movie. [The Bahrain Government Annual Reports, 1924-1956. Vol.II: 1937-42. (Gerrards Cross: Archive Editions, 1986) Year 1358, p.43]

‘James and I went to the local cinema and saw a very good film Blue Lamp about the Metropolitan police, much enjoyed it. It was quite full, a lot of 14 year old Arabs in the 3/- seats – it is amazing how they have so much money to spend. Rather hot in the cinema.’ (Diary, 18 August 1952.) James was his son, born in 1929.

Belgrave’s tastes were not widely shared among these Bahraini cinemagoers, who much preferred to go and see the latest films from Egypt. Westerners perhaps fail to appreciate that during its ‘golden age’ prior to nationalisation in the 1960s, the Egyptian film industry was the third largest in the world, with around fifty new films being produced every year – a figure that increased after the 1952 revolution led by Nasser that overthrew the monarchy. To a slightly lesser extent, Indian films were also popular, which can be linked both to the presence of a large Indian community on Bahrain and the quality of Indian film-making during the 1940s and 1950s.  Egyptian films were the staple at the Pearl Cinema on Government Road, the opening of which was attended by Belgrave (Diary, 22 July 1948), and the Ahali Cinema in Manama, a commercial venture by former pearl merchant Ibrahim Muhammed Al-Zayyani that also opened in 1948. Such entrepreneurship was characteristic of the period of rapid expansion and consumerism that followed the Second World War, with the Pearl Cinema forming just part of a large business empire run by Andulaziz bin Hasan Al Gosaibi and his family, who had links to Saudi Arabia. Cinema going was now increasingly part of a new leisure culture enjoyed by a younger and more affluent Arab population, and no longer the preserve of the small Anglo-American elite as it had been in the 1930s. Belgrave’s diaries provide information not only about the growth of Bahrain’s cinema industry, but also about the cultural development of film screening practices and the changing habits of cinema-goers.

Finally, Belgrave’s diaries also reveal what he thought about dozens of well-known movie classics…

The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940) ‘Disappointing, some good items but it didn’t hang together – bits of slapdash comedy and rather heavy straight stuff which didn’t mix and a long dull propaganda speech to finish. A most disappointing show.’ (29 November 1941)

Jane Eyre (Stevenson, 1943) starring Joan Fontaine: ‘fairly good but too much darkness – the modern tendency in films seems to have them almost black out. I suppose it saves sets.’ (14 July 1945)

The Keys of the Kingdom (Stahl, 1944) starring Gregory Peck: ‘very well acted & close to the story but on the whole somewhat depressing, a good many people sniffed.’ (19 February 1947)

Caesar and Cleopatra (Pascal, 1945) starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh: ‘I was disappointed in the film, some good colour shots – but I don’t care for history brought up to date with modern slang & a very flighty Cleopatra.   (23 January 1948)

 Dark Mirror (Siodmak, 1946) starring Olivia de Havilland: ‘rotten, about two tiresome twins, one of whom did a murder… bored stiff’ (14 August 1948)

Belgrave’s Books

What sort of books might be read by a young British administrator posted to the Middle East? To celebrate World Book Day, it seemed like an interesting exercise to have a skim through the diaries of Charles Belgrave (1894-1969), who was adviser to the rulers of Bahrain from 1926 to 1957. He wrote in his diary almost every day, and in addition to keeping a record of the day’s events, personal meetings, administrative affairs and official matters, he frequently noted details about books that he had read, or films he had seen at the local cinema (which will probably be the subject of a future blogpost.)

Given the extent of Belgrave’s responsibilities on Bahrain, it is remarkable that he found any time for reading at all. In addition to advising Sheikh Hamed Bin Isa Al Khalifa and his successors on financial and legal matters, he was in charge of the police and the law courts, involved in the setting up of schools and hospitals, overseeing improvements in the island’s infrastructure – such as roads, electrical installations, bridge building and harbour construction – as well as dealing with the nascent oil industry, RAF and naval visits, plus the endless round of social calls with Bahraini merchants, pearl fishers, local dignitaries, British officials, American missionaries and visiting clergy.

In spite of this workload – or perhaps because of it – he devoted time to reading a number of novels, both classic and contemporary. Writing in his diary late at night there was neither time nor space for extensive comments, but often he recorded his impressions in a brief sentence or two. The first book to be mentioned was Major Dane’s Garden (London: Hutchinsons, 1926) by Margery Perham, a romantic novel about a District Officer in Somaliland who tries to use his gardening experiments to improve agricultural practices for the locals. Belgrave had arrived on Bahrain on 31 March 1926 and three months later, on 17 June 1926, he wrote ‘Reading a very interesting book called “Major Danes Garden” about Somaliland, really extremely good, the best novel I’ve read for along while.’ Perhaps he saw something in the idealism of Major Dane that he hoped to emulate in his own work on Bahrain?

Next up was The Constant Nymph (London: Heinemann, 1924), by Margaret Kennedy. Set in the Austrian Tyrol in the 1920s, the novel follows the affairs of various members of an extended ‘Bohemian’ family, particularly young Teresa, or Tessa – the ‘nymph’ of the title – and her romantic fixation on composer Lewis Dodd, who shows more interest in Tessa’s cousin Florence. He probably started reading this straight after Major Dane’s Garden as on Saturday 24 July 1926, he noted: ‘Finished reading “The Constant Nymph” a very unusual book, I liked it.’

Unlike many of his contemporaries in diplomatic circles, Belgrave’s tastes at this time seemed to incline towards some of the more unusual and progressive authors on the literary scene. On 26 June 1927 he recorded that he had just read Crazy Pavements (London: Jonathan Cape, 1927) by Beverley Nichols – the ‘original Bright Young Thing’ according to Obsert Sitwell. This darkly satirical swipe at London socialites of the 1920s predated Waugh’s similar Vile Bodies by three years. Belgrave recorded ‘I liked it, though decidedly “modern”.’

Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point (London: Chatto & Windus, 1928) was another novel that mocked the elite social circles of the ‘Twenties, but in contrast to the gossipy tone of Crazy Pavements it was a much more a novel of ideas, in which Huxley used thinly-veiled portraits of figures such as Katherine Mansfield, D.H. Lawrence and John Middleton Murry to explore the complex interaction of various intellectual theories and philosophical questions. Heavy on ideas and thin on plot, it nonetheless intrigued Belgrave: ‘5 June 1929 Just finished reading Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley, one of the Tauchnitz books, quite one of the queerest, most improper and most amusing, in parts, book that I have read for a long time. I should like to read more of his.’ Tauchnitz were a German publisher who specialised in continental reprints of English literary works, Point Counter Point was published as Vols.4872 and 4873 in their library of British and American Authors: due to its length it required two volumes.

A slightly simpler read was Richard Hughes’s novel A High Wind in Jamaica (London: Chatto & Windus, 1929), which Belgrave finished on 14 June 1930 and ‘liked very much.’ Two months later, on 17 August 1930, his diary records: ‘Am reading Jane Austen again and very much liking it; I find several novels I had not read before.’ He seems to have developed an interest in Austen, and on 18 December 1931 he recounted how his wife Marjorie wore a dress that they had copied from a picture in one of Austen’s novels, along with a large bonnet, fan and hair locket as accessories.

Although the Regency world of Jane Austen was far removed from life in Bahrain, some of Belgrave’s reading clearly resonated with his current experience. Regarding Joseph Ackerley’s account of his appointment as personal secretary to the eccentric Maharajah of Chhatrapur –  Hindoo Holiday. An Indian Journal (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932) – he wrote in his diary for 23 September 1932: ‘rather improper but very amusing and in many ways not unlike this place.’ Similarly, with regard to Maurice Collis’s biography Siamese White (London: Faber & Faber, 1936) about Samuel White, a 17th century merchant trader from Bath who ended up as a mandarin of Siam. ‘A most interesting book,’ wrote Belgrave on 25 July 1942, ‘the sort I should like to write myself.’

Other novels that he read were clearly just for escapism and relaxation, although it is evident that he kept up to date with what was being published. On 15 April 1946 he wrote: ‘Read after lunch, an historical novel Forever Amber – very long & rather good. Some are scandalised by it but I can’t see why.’ Kathleen Winsor’s novel about a mistress of Charles II had been published in 1944 and she was then in the process of adapting it into a screenplay for the 1947 movie of the same name, which caused even more of a scandal than her book, earning the ire of Hollywood’s Hays Office.   Around the same time he was also working his way through some of Trollope’s ‘Barchester Chronicles’ including The Small House at Allinton (‘excellent reading’) and Framley Parsonage, before returning to more contemporary fiction such as Waugh’s Decline and Fall (20 February 1947). There was light relief in the form of Robert Hichens’ satire about decadent London during the ‘Naughty Nineties’ The Londoners, which he found  ‘a very funny book – one forgets that he ever wrote comic stories’ (2 June 1955).

Not all Belgrave’s personal reading was fiction, and his diary entries also records him enjoying works such as William Gaunt’s The Aesthetic Adventure  ‘an extremely amusing book…about the arty people of the 90s’ and Anthony Glyn’s biography of his grandmother, the novelist and screenwriter Elinor Glyn.

If anyone is seeking inspiration for reading choices for World Book Day, Belgrave’s diary could provide some ideas!

The Ayubi Papers

The latest Middle East archival collection to be catalogued differs slightly from recent projects in that the papers relate to the life and career of an academic rather than a diplomat or journalist.

A portrait of Nazih Ayubi (1944-95) from the university archives. EUL UA/P/3g

Nazih Nassif Mikhail Ayubi (1944-95) was born on 22 December 1944 in Cairo and obtained a B.Sc. (1964) and M.Sc. (1968) in Political Science from Cairo University, where he was taught by Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He then came to England, studying for a Diploma in Public Administration at Manchester University (1970) followed by a D.Phil (Politics) at Oxford (1975). After returning to Cairo he worked as an assistant professor at the Institute of Public Administration and the National Institute for Management Development (1967-76), followed by a fellowship at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, an independent research unit dedicated to regional and international affairs as well as Egyptian politics and society, with a particular emphasis on Arab-Israeli relations. Ayubi went on to hold posts at the American University in Cairo (AUC) as well as Cairo University, before accepting an appointment as Associate Professor at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1979. After four years in America, he came to the University of Exeter in 1983, where he held the post of Reader in Politics and subsequently Director of the Middle East Programme.

This was an exciting time for Middle East research at Exeter: the Centre for Arab Gulf Studies had been founded in 1979 and the university was already assuming major significance for the quality of its resources and scholarship. Under Ayubi’s guidance, the Middle East programme became one of the most successful graduate programmes in Europe, with a stream of undergraduates and doctoral students benefitting from his expertise. His research interests included Egyptian politics, political economy, international relations and the international politics of Islam.

Nazih Ayubi was an incredibly prolific writer. While cataloguing his papers, I began compiling what I hoped would be a comprehensive bibliography of his published work – a task that remains unfinished and will take a considerable amount of time, given the sheer number of articles, book chapters and conference papers that he published during his career.

Some of Ayubi’s writings on the topic of ‘political Islam’ (EUL MS 129/1/1/3)

The Ayubi Papers

Ayubi’s papers are catalogued in four main categories: academic papers, conference papers, correspondence and research material. The academic papers include different versions of some of his published work, including early drafts of articles and book chapters, working notes and annotated proofs. There are also administrative documents relating to his academic career, both in America and at Exeter.

The conference materials relate to the numerous conferences and symposia attended by Ayubi during the 1980s and 1990s in places such as Paris, Leiden, New York, Istanbul, Marrakech, Rabat and Cairo, and include official conference materials and ephemera as well as copies of papers presented by Ayubi and other participants. Between 1991 and 1992 Ayubi held a Jean Monnet Fellowship at the European Institute in Florence, and our archive contains records of his academic activities during this time, including seminars, reading groups and conferences.

Ayubi was a highly-respected scholar who was continually being invited to speak at international conferences and collaborate in major scholarly projects; the correspondence preserved in our archive reflects the extent of his international reputation and the affection with which he was held. The correspondents read like a Who’s Who of Middle Eastern scholarship, with names such as Malcolm Kerr, Louis Cantori, Ray Hinnebusch, Albert Hourani, Roger Owen, Bernard Schaffer, Richard Sklar, Leonard Binder, P.J. Vatikiotis, Gerald Caiden and Boutros Boutros Ghali. The letters typically deal with professional matters such as collaborating on books or taking part in conferences, or seeking job opportunities, but they are often warm and personal too, with correspondents exchanging news about family and children, expressing how much they are looking forward to meeting up or urging Ayubi to come and visit. These informal letters sometimes provide intriguing insights into events taking place in the Middle East, such as the political implications of academic appointments in Beirut or Cairo, and there are continual reminders of the thin veil separating politics from scholarship in the region.

Part of a letter from Malcolm Kerr to Ayubi (EUL MS 129/5/6) illustrating the difficulties in separating politics from academia. Kerr left Cairo in September 1982 when he was appointed President of the American University in Beirut, where he had been born and raised. He was assassinated by gunmen on campus in January 1984.

Ayubi’s research materials include a small fraction of some of the vast primary and secondary literature he gathered while writing his books. Anyone who has read Ayubi’s work will be aware of the extensive scope of his reading, which included official government records as well as Arab writers who were less well-known in the west. The Ayubi archive does not include the published books and periodicals that he gathered for research purposes – these form a separate donation to the library, some of which is still to be catalogued – but it does include a large mass of annotated material, such as photocopied documents and periodical literature, presscuttings and typescripts. Many of these have been grouped together into folders arranged by subject and contain notes by Ayubi, offering insights into his working methods as well as access to the sources he used in his research.

To give some idea of the extent of Ayubi’s work and the potential for using his papers for future research, I want to highlight three main themes:

Political Islam

The international significance of Ayubi’s work is indicated by the numerous languages into which his books were translated, including French, German, Italian and Japanese

In his Political Islam: religion and politics in the Arab World (London: Routledge, 1991) – which was written between 1988 and 1989 – Ayubi argued that, contrary to the claims of Islamists that the early political systems were shaped and formed by Islamic doctrine, historical analysis suggests the opposite: political regimes appropriated Islam for their own ends as a way of legitimising their rule. To counter Islamic fundamentalists who insist that they are trying to reinstate a golden age of Islam; Ayubi demonstrated persuasively that notions of Islam as a political religion are relatively new, and can only be traced back to the interwar period.

Ayubi’s thinking on this topic can be traced through various stages from papers in the archive, including his notes on ‘Islam and Democracy’ (EUL MS 129/1/1/3), early manuscript drafts for his articles on ‘Islamic State’ and ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ (overview article), written for The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (EUL MS 129/1/1/7), his annotated proofs for Political Islam: religion and politics in the Arab World (EUL MS 129/1/1/13), and various research notes he made on Islamic communities, the notion of أمة‎ (‘ummah’), the relationship between militant movements and the history of Islamic jurisprudence (EUL MS 129/1/2/2 and 1/2/4 and 1/2/7).

Ayubi would have had much to say about the Islamist resurgence that has taken place since his death, and his papers could provide an interesting perspective from which to undertake further lines of research.

Europe

EUL MS 129/4/2

Although much of Ayubi’s work focussed on the Middle East, he held a Jean Monnet Fellowship at the European Institute in Florence (1991-92) and devoted much thought to relations between Europe and its Arab neighbours. He edited the essay collection Distant neighbours: the political economy of relations between Europe and the Middle East (Ithaca, 1995),  from papers originally delivered at the European Institute in March 1993, contributing the opening chapter on ‘Farms, factories…and walls: which way for European/Middle Eastern Relations?’  He later took part in the 1995 ‘Euromed’ conference (EUL MS 129/3/21) that gave rise to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Such attempts to strengthen and articulate relationships between Europe and its neighbours in North Africa and the Middle East were in part a response to claims of a ‘clash of civilizations’ that had arisen in reaction to Islamist resurgence detailed above. The future and form of these relations remains acutely relevant, as debates over ‘Brexit’ and immigration from the Middle East into Europe have encouraged closer scrutiny of the identities and boundaries used to define these relationships. Researchers seeking to explore this topic could begin their work using some of the papers compiled by Ayubi during his European study fellowships (EUL MS 129/4), at Euromed and other related conferences (e.g. EUL MS 129/3/7).

The Arab State

Ayubi’s work was rooted in the close links between public administration and political theory and throughout his career he retained an interest in the workings of the civil service, the military and the bureaucratic systems that support the functioning of the state. In contrast to a well-established tradition, as expressed by Karl Wittfogel’s Oriental Despotism (1957) that insists that Middle Eastern states are strong while civil society is weak, Ayubi drew a nuanced distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘strong’ states. A ‘hard state’ is one that uses its powers – bureaucratic administration, surveillance, the military and police forces – to coerce and punish its citizens, because it is unable to achieve its objectives by using democratic persuasion, economic incentives and the flexibility that is characteristic of a truly ‘strong state’. By challenging the confusion – typical of a long strand of western analysis of the Arab world – between oppressive power and moral strength, Ayubi’s work opens up a fascinating debate about the potential for, and possible means of, future change in the region. It would be interesting to return to Ayubi’s arguments and reassess them in the light of the ‘Arab Spring’ and its aftermath. There is ample scope too for linking all three of the above themes – for example, in exploring the success of political Islamists in ‘state-building’ in Arab regions where the state has proved weak, or European difficulties in providing a coherent economic or political response to the power struggles between authoritarian states and a diverse array of democratic and Islamist challengers.

Nazih Ayubi’s sudden death from a heart attack at the age of 50 was a tragic loss, both for his family and colleagues as well as for the world of Middle East scholarship. The bequest of his papers, however, allows students and researchers access to the materials and processes that shaped his publications and will hopefully inspire others to engage with his writings and build upon his pioneering work. The online catalogue of Ayubi’s papers can be explored here.

The Road to Emmaus: the papers of Michael Adams (1920-2005) – EUL MS 241

‘I have never met a journalist who isn’t biased about practically anything and, since they aren’t Daleks, this probably shows through in their copy. The idea that a journalist should be unbiased is a curious one. The best ones are very biased indeed.’

– Terry Pratchett, reviewing Publish it Not… The Middle East Cover-Up (London: Longman, 1975) by Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew MP in The Bath and West Evening Chronicle, 30 August 1975. (EUL MS 241/5/2)

Michael Adams’ career as a journalist spanned almost six decades, during which he established a reputation not only as an expert on the Middle East but also a passionate campaigner on behalf of the Palestinian people living in the Israeli-occupied territories. He was well aware of the potential conflict between these two aspects of his work and his papers offer valuable insights into the internal and external workings of the media. How does a journalist balance personal beliefs against the need to present an equivocal view of events for his audience? How do newspapers and broadcasters balance their desire for editorial independence with their reliance on financial sponsorship and advertisers with their own agendas and vested interests? How can we learn to navigate the complex relationship between media representation, human experience and political reality?

These are issues with which Adams had to wrestle over many years, and which cost him a great deal of personal pain and sacrifice. Like many critics of Israeli policy, he was accused of anti-Semitism and became embroiled in an unpleasant lawsuit trying to defend himself. During a period when sympathy in the UK lay almost entirely in favour with Israel and in opposition to its Arab neighbours, Adam’s reporting upset many and strained his relationship with his editor at The Guardian, Alastair Hetherington. How these events and tensions played out over the years is documented in detail, through correspondence from different parties, personal notes, typed reports and presscuttings.

Although Adams’ name is closely associated with the subject of Israel-Palestine relations, he travelled widely through the Arab world and wrote about many other regions during his long career

Born in Addis Ababa, Adams was educated at Sedbergh School before going up to Oxford, although his time at university was interrupted by wartime service in the RAF. He was shot down and captured in 1940 and spent most of the war in Luchenwald POW camp near Berlin; we have two early typescripts – Solitude and Adventures with Robert Browning – about his experiences as a POW, written in Oxford just after the war (EUL MS 241/5/1). Having obtained his MA in 1948, Adams began working as a BBC scriptwriter, and travelled in Greece, Turkey and American before his appointment as Middle East correspondent for The Guardian in 1956. As Adams admitted in the introduction to his first book, Suez and After (Boston: Beacon Press, 1958): ‘No one could report events in the Middle East for long without becoming to some extent involved in them. Where principles are in conflict, and prejudices heartfelt, only a saint or a cynic could retain his detachment, and I am neither.’

His involvement in these events was deepened in 1967 after the BBC sent him to make a series of radio programmes gauging what Arabs thought and felt about the situation after the Six-Day War. This work took him through the occupied territories of Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank, and while his meetings with Palestinian people inspired his book Chaos or rebirth: the Arab outlook (London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1968), the visit had a profound effect on his own views. Disturbed not only by the brutal treatment of Palestinian families that he witnessed, but also by the failure of British and American media to report on these matters, he committed himself fully to addressing what he perceived to be a biased misrepresentation of the situation in the Middle East.

Three photographs of Imwas (Emmaus), taken in (top to bottom) 1948, 1958 and 1968.
EUL MS 241/5/3

One of the events that moved him deeply at this time was the Israeli demolition of three villages (including Imwas, long identified as the biblical ‘Emmaus’) between Jerusalem and Ramla. We have an entire file documenting Adams’ research into the destruction of Imwas, including photographs, maps and letters from former residents of the village (EUL MS 241/5/3). Adams’ persistence in publicising these events led to further difficulties with his editor at The Guardian, who refused to publish the article – it appeared instead in The Sunday Times.

CAABU

In 1967 Adams was one of the co-founders of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), which aimed at countering some of the widespread ignorance and prejudice about the Arab World. Among Adams’ papers are some of the original documents relating to the founding of CAABU as well as records of some of the meetings, events, lectures and exhibitions organised during its early years.  (EUL MS 241/3) Adams found another platform for his mission to promote a greater understanding of the Arab world when he became the first editor of the magazine Middle East International (MEI) in 1971. The archive holds copies of many of his MEI editorials and articles.

Remaining frustrated by the difficulties faced by those who wished to publish opinions that might be deemed critical of Zionism and favourable to the Arab states, Adams teamed up with Christopher Mayhew, a Labour MP and Foreign Office official, to write Publish it Not… The Middle East Cover-Up (London: Longman, 1975) which presented evidence of systematic media bias in western coverage of matters relating to Israel and Palestine. The book also offered some practical solutions for the future of the peace process – something that Adams continued to think about and actively seek for the rest of his life.

Black September

Perhaps the most striking instance of Adams’ direct involvement in Middle Eastern affairs was the role he played in negotiating the release of hostages following the hijacking of five passenger jets during the Jordanian civil war of September 1970 – a period of bloody warfare known as ‘Black September’ when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the more radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) tried to wrestle control of Jordan out of the hands of King Hussein and give greater autonomy of the majority Palestinian population. The hijackings were carried out by the PFLP almost simultaneously, and after one plane was surrendered in London and other blown up in Cairo, the remaining three were flown to Dawsons Field, an airstrip near Zarka in Jordan. Most of the passengers were released, but around fifty Israelis and Americans were detained. Given the chaotic situation and the lack of trust on all sides, negotiations for the release of the hostages proved difficult and Adams flew out to help on behalf of CAABU.

He landed in Amman, the capital of Jordan, where he met Walid Khaled, brother of the imprisoned hijacker Leila Khaled. Subsequent events are recorded in a 52-page diary transcript, which details his meetings with representatives of the PFLP, Jordanian military and British and Dutch ambassadors, as well as the escalating fighting in Amman, the destruction of the planes and the release of various Arab prisoners from European jails – including Leila Khaled – in exchange for the hostages (EUL MS 241/2/1). In addition to Adams’ account there are copies of various communications between the Foreign Office, the UK Ambassador to Jordan and other officials involved in the negotiations (EUL MS 241/2/2).

Some of Adams’ correspondence, including images of Bethlehem sent as Christmas greetings. EUL MS 241/2/5

Any assessment of Adams’ achievements as a journalist and campaigner must rest primarily upon the quality of his research and writing, and our collections contains copies of scores of his articles in both typescript and published versions, in addition to his working notes, diaries, photographs, maps and letters. The collections would be well worth exploring for anyone seeking to understand better the recent history of the Middle East – in particular, the relationship between Israel and Palestine – as well as the role and responsibilities of the media in educating the public and influencing political opinion. The online catalogue can be explored here. 

The Odysseys of Captain George Henry Parlby White (1802-82) – Naval Diaries, EUL MS 418

While taking a slight repast in the Temple of Venus, we were surrounded by a bevy of young girls dancing the Tarantella       
–     
George H.P. White R.N., Diary entry, May 1836. EUL MS 418/6

Old travel narratives can be a source of reading pleasure as well as edification, as the charm of their quaint language and their unusual perspectives on regions both familiar and unfamiliar can help us to think again about our own views of the world. The literary pretensions and insatiable curiosity of many of these travellers combined to produce chronicles of their journeys that sometimes reveal as much about the culture from which they came as they do about the culture they were exploring.

We are fortunate to have in our collections a series of six notebooks written by Admiral George Henry Parlby White R.N. (1802-82) between 1819 and 1845 when he was a young naval officer stationed in the Mediterranean. These record his journeys around the coasts of Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia, as well as voyages further afield to South America and Canada. He later served on HMS Implacable during the blockade of Alexandria in 1840 when the British navy engaged with Egyptian forces who had invaded Syria, although these events are not included in these books.

Four of the six notebooks in which the diaries are written        EUL MS 418

The author of the diaries had been born into a naval family. His father Admiral Thomas White (1766-1846) was a native of Buckfastleigh and lived at the Abbey House, the castellated Gothic mansion built on the ruins of medieval Buckfast Abbey. Thomas spent 66 years in the navy, having entered the service in 1780 at the tender age of eleven. Three of his four sons followed him into the Royal Navy, with George being joined by his younger brothers Edward John White (1805-47) and Richard Dunnington White (1814-99), whose son Vice-Admiral Richard White died in Exeter in 1924. Richard also took part in the naval operations off the Syrian coast and painted a watercolour The Bombardment of St. Jean D’Acre – November 3rd – 1840 which is now held in the collections of the V&A.

George was born on 11 October 1802 at Droxford in Hampshire, and after entering the Royal Naval College in November 1816, he served on ships within British waters before joining the crew of his father’s ship HMS Superb in August 1819. The diaries begin with an entry for 9 September 1819: ‘Sailed for South America in HMS Superb. Longeur and Hyperion in company.’

HMS Superb (on the right) engaging with the French flagship Impérial at the Battle of San Domingo in 1806. Painting by Nicholas Pocock, National Maritime Museum

All the diaries are written longhand in lined notepads, with sporadic inclusion of dates and long prose passages that continue over several pages.  It is not long before the reader gains some sense of White’s character and interests. Having caught sight of Tenerife and crossed the Equator, a dolphin is killed for food and the young midshipman writes out some thirty lines on ‘The Dying Dolphin’ by William Falconer – an extract from Canto II of the poem The Shipwreck (1762.) The wording varies in several places from the published text, suggesting that White was quoting the passage from memory. As the diaries proceed, the sailor’s literary interests and skills become increasingly apparent, as does his intellectual curiosity and observant eye.

When the ship arrives in Rio de Janeiro (24 October 1819) he writes a vivid description of the sunset over the harbour, and is soon exploring inland, recording in detail the riding skills, habits and cuisine of the gauchos, or cowboys, of Maldonado (January 1820.) Life here was not without danger – White’s diary notes how ‘The Hon. Lieutenant Finch was basely assassinated when returning from a shooting party,’ (29 August 1820) – but he evidently found much to interest him in the region, from the ‘immense number of sperm whales’ on the voyage to Valparaiso (13 February 1821), to flamingos, condors and other local birdlife (15 September 1821) – indeed he regarded Chile as truly ‘the country for the Poet, the Artist, the Botanist, in fact every lover of nature and her works; at every step he sees something new, he treads on something yet unknown.’ (13 April 1821.) When not exploring South America’s flora and fauna, there was naval work to be done, such as a fortnight’s pursuit of the Chilean pirate Vicente Benavides (5-19 July 1821); although White and his crew failed to find Benavides, he was captured soon after and executed the following February.

The first diary ends in January 1825, by which time White had attained the rank of lieutenant. Later that year, he would be promoted to captain. At the back of the notebook, written in the opposite direction, are almost 100 pages of poems and prose passages, some of which – such as Lines on Botogago Bay, Rio de Janeiro and Admiralty Leave to Tell! A Soliloquy. In the Royal Marine Barrack Yard – appear to be White’s own work. Others have been selected and copied out from books, periodicals and other sources in the manner of a commonplace book, including poems in Greek and Italian, the work of Gabriel Rossetti and Petrarch, an Ode to Lord Byron and some lines from Morning Twilight, by ‘Maria Colling, a servant girl living at Tavistock’. Some of these passages are dated as late as 1845, indicating that the notebooks were reused.

There is more evidence of reuse in the later volumes, with some entries duplicated in different books, indicating that the diaries were copied out at some point. The wording of the two versions is not always identical. Although we only possess six notebooks, these are numbered in pencil as Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, and the full extent of the original diaries is unclear. Pencilled dates have been written inside the covers, either by White or a later hand, but these do not always represent the contents accurately. An approximate summary of the actual dates would be thus:

Notebook I    September 1819 – January 1825, with additional material up to 1845
Notebook II   September 1829 – June 1830
Notebook III  August 1830 – September 1834
Notebook IV  February – August 1834, and September 1841
Notebook V   August 1836 – May 1840
Notebook VI  May 1836 to May 1838

Part of White’s account of his visit to the temple on Aegina, December 1829. EUL MS 418/2

Following White’s departure from South America he had a brief stint off the coast of Africa, but most of his subsequent career was spent in the Mediterranean, which is the background to the events recorded in the rest of the diaries. Notebook II chronicles his ship’s constant cruising between Gibraltar, Malta and the coasts of Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Those who imagine that sailors spent their time ashore seeking the pleasures of wine, women and song might be pleasantly surprised to find White and his fellow officers pursuing other interests. Upon reaching the Greek island of Aegina, he writes ‘Let out with ten officers of our ship to visit the remains of the Temple of Jupiter.’ (4 December 1829). This was the famous Temple of Jupiter Panhellenius, which had only recently become known in the west. After an energetic walk across the island, White provides a detailed description of the site as well as recounting the legends about its foundation. It has since been recognised as being dedicated to Aphaius rather than Jupiter.

‘Temples of Jupiter Panhellenius, Aegina’ engraving by William Miller published in H.W. Williams, Select Views In Greece With Classical Illustrations (London, 1829)

He sailed on to Smyrna in modern-day Turkey, where he visited a mosque and commented, ‘There is something particularly impressive in the simple and unostentatious worship of the Mahomedan. No noise, no bustle, no laughing and talking, as is often the case in Christian churches.’ (20 December 1829). On a later visit to Smyrna he enjoyed a Turkish bath, which he also describes in detail (Notebook III, 17 September 1830, see below.) His ship then moored at Parikia on the Greek island of Paros, where he led his fellow officers into the nearby marble quarries ‘in search of antiquities’ (9 January 1830) only to stumble across the famous bas-relief depicting the Festival of Silenus (a companion of Bacchus). A few days later Captain White ‘formed a large party from our ship to explore the celebrated Grotto of Antiparos’ (15 January 1830.) The party’s enthusiasm for seeking out ancient ruins gives some insight into the degree to which their view of the region was highly coloured by knowledge of classical literature and mythology.

White’s account of a Turkish bath in Smyrna, September 1830. EUL MS 418/3

Later entries cover his visits to Siciliy with detailed descriptions of the Cathedral at Grigento, antiquities in the museum at Syracuse and the Benedictine monastery at Catania, pursuing a Spanish privateer off the coast of Gibraltar, sailing to Tangiers and Tétouan on the African coast, a narrow escape during a boar hunt in Tunisia, a description of the Carlist wars in southern Spain, including the brutal murders of the governors of Malaga and the military exploits of General Miguel Gómez Damas and Don Antonio Escalante, plus carrying troops of the 71st and 73rd regiments around Quebec and Halifax. There are interesting passages in which White ponders on the location of Troy, expressing his doubts about the theories of Dr Edward Daniel Clarke (1769-1822) and advancing his own ideas as he examines inscriptions and the terrain around Berika Bay and Bounarbashi (Pınarbaşı in modern Turkey.)

White married in 1847, retired in 1863, and was subsequently promoted to Rear Admiral (1865), Vice Admiral (1871) and Admiral (1877). Returning to Devon, he lived in Ashburton for a while and later at Rockwood Villa off Totnes Road in Newton Abbot, where he died on 29 December 1881 leaving two daughters and a son.

The diaries would be of interest to anyone doing naval or maritime studies, particularly with regard to the Royal Navy, as well as those researching Victorian travel, antiquarianism, amateur archaeology and classical studies, the political and military histories of Spain and Latin America, the Kingdom of Greece, the Ottoman and British empires, early Victorian encounters with Islam and the Orient, the relationship between Britain and its colonies, 19th century memoir-writing and vernacular literature. The local connections are also strong, with the links to Devon and occasional references to the west country. More details about the contents of the diaries can be found in the online catalogue entries here.

Oil, Pearls and Politics: cataloguing the papers of Charles Dalrymple Belgrave (1894-1969)

Belgrave’s diary for 1917 along with articles on Bahrain written for ‘The Times’ EUL MS 148/2/1/2 and 10

One reason why the papers of Charles Dalrymple Belgrave provide such a fascinating resource is the distinctive nature of his career in the Gulf. Most of the diplomats whose papers are preserved in the Middle East Collections served in specific roles – such as ambassador or political resident – under the British government, and tended to move from place to place every few years. Belgrave was appointed as ‘Adviser’ to the Sheikh of Bahrain in 1926 and held this post until 1957. This thirty-year period saw Bahrain transformed by the discovery of oil and a series of modernising administrative reforms led by Belgrave, who oversaw improvements in the legal system, infrastructure, police service and public health. As he was an employee of the Sheikh rather than the British government, Belgrave occupied a unique and somewhat ambiguous position, balancing the interests of the Al Khalifa rulers and the Bahraini people with Foreign Office policy and British strategic aims for the Gulf region. The papers in our collection shed light not only on the achievements, challenges and controversies of Belgrave’s life and work in Bahrain, but also reveal the means by which the society and economy of this small island altered dramatically during this time, and the role played by British and American interests – both political and commercial.

Pages from Belgrave’s diary for 13 August 1926, recording events in the wake of a fatal shooting at The Fort, the police headquarters. The Political Agent, Major Clive Daly, was badly wounded in the incident – hence the arrival of the cruiser referred to above, which Belgrave clearly regarded as an over-reaction. EUL MS 148/2/2/6/4

Prior to his appointment as Adviser in 1926, Belgrave had obtained experience of the Middle East through military service with the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade during the First World War in Egypt, Sudan and Palestine. He then held administrative posts in the Siwa Oasis in Egypt – recorded in his book Siwa: The oasis of Jupiter Ammon (London: Bodley Head, 1923) and Tanganyika (formerly German East Africa, now part of Tanzania). It was while on leave from East Africa that he saw a job vacancy in the ‘Personal’ adverts of The Times (10 August 1925) – a life-changing moment that gave its name to his autobiography Personal Column (London: Hutchinson, 1960) and also featured in one of Belgrave’s watercolour paintings, a photograph of which is in our collection (EUL MS 148/2/2/4/1).

Having secured the job after interviews with British government officials, Belgrave undertook a three-month Arabic course at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and tried to find out what he could about Bahrain – only to discover that very little information was available. After marrying his fiancée Marjorie Lepel Barrett-Lennard on 27 February 1926, the Belgraves sailed for Bahrain, arriving on 31 March which is when his diary starts.

It should be noted at this point that – with the exception of a few small sections – the diaries we have here are copies and transcripts, rather than the original books (which remain with his family.) The papers in the collection were assembled by Charles’ cousin Robert Belgrave while working on a biography of ‘The Adviser’ that sadly remained unfinished when Robert died in 1991. In addition to the printed versions of the diaries which Robert had transcribed and typed, the collection includes original letters and documents, artwork by Charles Belgrave, printed material on Bahrain, copies of numerous official documents and presscuttings, as well as Robert Belgrave’s early drafts and working papers for the biography.

Copies from a large album of presscuttings chronicling the visit of Sheikh Hamed Bin Isa Al Khalifa, to the UK in June 1936. EUL MS 148/2/2/5

During the cataloguing process I read through Belgrave’s diaries from his arrival in 1926 to the final months of 1956 when his departure was imminent, and was struck by the extent of the changes that took place both in Bahrain and in Belgrave himself. In addition to his duties advising the royal family and steering British policy in the region, he set up the police force, sat in judgement in the law courts, oversaw improvements in the health and education systems on the island and played a key role in supporting the establishment of the petroleum industry in Bahrain after oil was discovered in the early 1930s. He took a hands-on approach to all these activities, taking part in midnight raids on illicit arak stills, interrogating prisoners in the police cells, interviewing applicants for various posts on the island and generally involving himself in the minutiae of everyday life in Bahrain. His personal influence in the region was so extensive that he was referred to not only as المستشار (‘the Adviser’) but also as رئيس الخليج   (‘Chief of the Gulf’).

                   An original page from Belgrave’s diary for 7-8 April 1928 EUL MS 148/2/2/6/4

Despite Belgrave’s heavy workload he was able to make time for leisure activities including playing bridge, reading novels and listening to gramophone records. At times the references to dull dinners, ‘awful people’ and ‘ghastly’ cocktail parties suggest that the constant round of social engagements – integral to his job – could grow tedious. One form of entertainment that does begin to appear more and more regularly in his diary as the years progress is the cinema, which is referred to at the foot of the above letter. Belgrave was able to watch films at a number of different venues, including home movies at the Residency, onboard visiting naval ships and a small theatre in the oil workers’ camp as well as the commercial cinemas that were later established in Manama. Belgrave’s records of how these cinema venues developed provides a fascinating reflection of the changing society in Bahrain, and may be the subject of another blogpost.

Bahrain’s transformation from a small island economy dependent upon pearl fishing into a modern society owes much to Belgrave, who not only managed the island’s administration and controlled its budget, but also took a personal interest in raising standards of education and health, training the police force, establishing hospitals, improving roads and drainage. However, by holding so much power in his own hands and closely aligning Bahrain’s ruling family with British political interests, he made himself a target for the growing nationalist ferment which manifested itself in a series of demonstrations, several of which turned violent and involved the burning of cars and buildings.

These events, and Belgrave’s response to them, are recorded in detail in his diaries, alongside his concerns about intrigue involving Persia and Egypt, and his personal frustration not only with the Foreign Office but also the attitudes of some of the Political Residents – over a dozen of whom came and went during his time there. It is instructive to compare his analysis of political events in Bahrain with the (often critical) confidential reports (EUL MS 148/2/1/3 and MS 148/2/1/5) written by British and American officials – a picture that could be further fleshed out by consulting the views of his opponents, as published in local newspapers and tracts, and the openly hostile opinions of his role found in the Egyptian and Iranian media. Another perspective on the rise of nationalism and the decline of British influence in the Middle East can be traced through the papers of Sir William Luce, who arrived in Bahrain as Political Resident in 1961, four years after Belgrave’s departure, and was instrumental in Bahrain becoming an independent state in 1971. In his diaries for 1956, Belgrave notes the appointment of a new Governor in Aden (Luce) and comments on the troubles there, which in many ways echoed the unrest in Bahrain at the time.

Documents and presscuttings relating to the trial of Abdul-Rahman Al-Bakir, Abdul-Aziz Al-Shamlan and others. EUL MS 148/2/1/7 and 8.

The nationalist movement in Bahrain was led by a small group of individuals who called themselves the Higher Executive Committee, (later the National Union Committee), and made Belgrave’s life increasingly difficult in later years. In November 1956 he had the leaders arrested following a number of deaths and injuries during riots that he claimed had been instigated by the Committee. The trial and conviction that followed caused controversy both in Bahrain and the UK – these events are documented at length in various materials that can be studied in the collection.

Although Bahrain never formed part of the British Empire, during the nineteenth century the ruling Al Khalifa family entered into a series of legal treaties that offered Britain a degree of control over defence and foreign relations in exchange for military and naval protection from pirates and hostile neighbours. As a British Protectorate, Bahrain was nominally independent but effectively supervised by British government officials. Control was exercised by means both subtle and unsubtle, and when the erratic behaviour of the ruler Sheikh Isa ibn Ali Al Khalifa threatened the island’s stability, the British had him deposed in 1923 and replaced with his son Hamed, Belgrave’s employer. After Hamed’s death in 1942 he was succeeded by his son Sheikh Salman, for whom Belgrave continued to advise and govern. Modern readers may find it hard to justify the moral compromises involved in balancing Britain’s vested interests in oil revenues and foreign influence with the authoritarian and feudal nature of Bahrain’s sheikhdom, but the papers in Belgrave’s collection reveal how those engaged in this policy understood their role and perceived the value of their actions.

Demands for ‘The Adviser’ to leave had been circulating for years and were steadfastly resisted by Belgrave, but his position became more and more untenable as the political turmoil in the Middle East during the 1950s was worsened by the disastrous impact of the Suez crisis. There is evidence that the Political Resident, Bernard Burrows, along with the Political Agent Charles Gault and various individuals in the Foreign Office were manoeuvring in the background to have him removed. When Belgrave eventually left Bahrain it was arguably too late, as his refusal to go had only hardened resentment against him as a symbol of British imperialism. In consequence, Bahraini historians – if not exactly airbrushing Belgrave out – tended to minimize the extent of his contribution. While his diaries provide ample evidence of just how much he did for Bahrain, these personal writings also reveal the prejudices and attitudes that were typical of colonial administrators at this period. Those seeking to understand the history of modern Bahrain, the influence of British strategy in the Gulf region, the relationship between Middle Eastern politics and the petroleum industry, or how nationalist movements flourished on regional, national and international levels, would find much of interest by reading Belgrave’s diaries in conjunction with other documents among his papers, as well as other materials in our Middle Eastern collections and the rich resources held next door in AWDU. The catalogue for the papers can be found online here, but please note there are special access requirements for the Belgrave collection.

Windows on Iraq: the Papers of Jonathan Crusoe

Jonathan Crusoe was born in Kuwait in 1953 and lived there with his parents until the age of eight when they moved to the village of Goudhurst in Kent. After completing a degree in Arabic and English at Leeds University, he began working as a journalist for the Middle East Economic Digest (MEED) in December 1976. Over the next fifteen years he closely monitored developments in Iraq and Kuwait, as well as Yemen, building up an international reputation as a specialist on the region. On 21 December 1991 he was killed in a car accident near Peterborough at the age of only 38. His working papers were deposited with the University of Exeter as part of a donation from MEED.

Some of Crusoe’s published work held in the Arab World Documentation Unit (AWDU) in the Old Library at Exeter University

Crusoe’s papers consist primarily of presscuttings, telex press reports, working notes and correspondence (often by fax or telex) on almost every aspect of life in Iraq between 1979 and 1991. There are over 170 folders with the contents arranged thematically in the categories originally assigned to them by Crusoe – topics include: Agriculture, Dams, Archaeology and Architecture, Education, Housing, Power – including Iraq’s nuclear programme – Foreign Relations (with some two dozen individual countries), the Petroleum Industry, Political Opposition groups, Saddam Hussein and his family, Sports, Tourism and Health.

Plans for the new University of Baghdad campus (top) and a 1981 brochure for the University of Basrah (below) – some of the ‘Higher Education’ material compiled by Crusoe. EUL MS 143/8/2

Although many of the presscuttings are from British and American newspapers, there is a wealth of original source material from Iraq, much of which is either unique or hard to find given subsequent events in the region. These include numerous articles extracted from the now-defunct state-run newspaper the Baghdad Observer reporting on everyday life in Iraq, original photographs of Iraqi dams being constructed, advertisements and prospectuses giving details of commercial contracts and building projects, as well as Crusoe’s own handwritten notes and annotations of other documents.

Material on the Kurdish peoples of Iraq, Turkey and Iran is found in dedicated folders as well as elsewhere in the collection, including press releases and booklets issued by different Kurdish groups during the 1980s.

This selection of publications gives some idea of the diverse groups operating (mostly in exile) to oppose the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein. EUL MS 143/14/2/1

Crusoe’s death shortly after the war that followed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait meant that he never saw the later conflict and US occupation of the region. There are six folders of material covering what he termed – following standard usage at the time – the First Gulf War, between Iran and Iraq (1980-88), and a much more extensive collection of over thirty folders covering the Second Gulf War (1990-91) which covers the conflict chronologically as well as under topics such as sanctions, conditions in Iraq during the war, the oil embargo, burning of oil wells, hostages, media reporting, food and medicine shortages, and postwar reconstruction.

A photograph – probably of Basra – taken during the First Gulf War (1980-88) between Iran and Iraq: note the sandbags on the right, a protection against air and missle strikes. EUL MS 143/19/7

Although Crusoe did much of his work from the offices of MEED in London he also visited Iraq and Kuwait – among the collection of hotel and restaurant brochures is his room card for the Hotel Meridien in Baghdad, where he stayed in 1982. Other material was obtained through his contacts with other journalists, contractors and personal sources in the region, and the archive contains a large amount of telex or fax correspondence through which he gained detailed information on business contracts, construction projects and economic statistics. All this was recorded in his meticulously neat and miniscule handwriting, and it was by carefully cross-referencing and filing this research that he was able to build up the encyclopaedic knowledge for which he was renowned.

Some of Crusoe’s notes on Iraq’s nuclear programme. EUL MS 143/13/2

Students and researchers interested in the history of the Middle East during the 20th century could find the Crusoe papers a valuable resource for learning about life in Iraq or understanding topics such as agricultural practices, the extent of foreign investment in Iraqi infrastructure under Saddam Hussein, or how information is compiled and presented by conflicting media interests. Despite its strong pro-government bias, the extensive illustrated coverage of everyday life in Iraq found in the Baghdad Observer could be helpful for those interested in understanding how local and international affairs (such as relations with Iran and Syria) were reported to and perceived by the Iraqi people, as well as opening a window on – for example – social conditions or agricultural practices that are often hidden, or the ways in which cultural and political agendas underpinned architectural design projects such as the hotel below.

A photograph of the Hotel Nineveh Oberoi, on the banks of the River Tigris in Mosul. EUL MS 143/19/6. It was later captured by Islamic State militants, who used it as a base from 2014 until its recapture by Iraqi forces in January 2017. Its present ruinous state contrasts sharply with the sense of luxury conveyed by material in the Crusoe papers.

The Hotel Nineveh Oberoi was opened in 1986 during celebrations marking the anniversary of the July Revolution that brought the Ba’athist party to power in 1968. Eleven storeys high and comprising almost 300 rooms and suites with additional bars, restaurants and leisure facilities, its unusual and striking design was intended to evoke the structure of ancient ziggurats such as the one preserved at Ur in southern Iraq. This was part of a wider campaign by Saddam Hussein to draw parallels between the glories of the ancient Babylonian past and his own regime – evidence for which can also be found in the archive materials relating to the ‘International Babylon Festival’ (EUL MS 143/5/2) and Saddam’s restoration of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. There are other presscuttings about the new hotel during the 1980s and a letter from an Indian journalist to Crusoe, pointing out that the Indian construction company Oberoi had incorporated traditional features of Indian architecture into the design.

Designs produced by the Architects Collaborative for a community project ca. 1981. EUL MS 143/4/1

Crusoe collected information on such projects at every stage, amassing hundreds of adverts from the Baghdad Observer in which the Iraqi government sought contractors for infrastructure schemes and building works. He also compiled lists of foreign contractors, with contact details, notes on personnel, financial records, trade prospectuses, commercial bids, architectural plans and annual reports. Working within the Crusoe archive it is possible to study these items within a wider framework of material on the political, cultural and economic context; users of the archive could augment their research using the resources in AWDU, such as official reports, documentation, statistical records and presscuttings, as well as an extensive run of MEED and similar publications. Those interested in the history of journalism and media studies can trace the process by which raw material from original sources evolved into published reports by making a close comparison of Crusoe’s notes and correspondence with Reuters press messages, draft typescripts and the final text that appeared in MEED and other publications. There is also a 58-page typed document compiled by a senior staff writer at MEED, entitled ‘Sources of Construction Information and their Use in Construction Reporting by MEED Writers’, which examines in detail how different members of the journalists’ team obtained, used and verified their sources.

Anyone wishing to use the Jonathan Crusoe archive should contact Special Collections. The catalogue can be consulted here.

Further Reading

Obituaries of Crusoe were published in The Independent on 30 December 1991 (p.17) and the Middle East Economic Digest (MEED), 10 January 1992 (p.15).

Jonathan Crusoe’s published work includes

MEED Special Report: Iraq.
London: MEED, 1985

‘Economic outlook: guns and butter, phase two?’, in Frederick W. Axelgard (ed.),  Iraq in transition: a political, economic and strategic perspective.
Washington: Georgetown University, 1986.

MEED Profile: Iraq
London: MEED, 1989

MEED Quarterly Report: Iraq
London: MEED, 1990

Kuwait: rebuilding a country (with Peter Kemp)
London: MEED, 1989

The Archives of Sir William Luce: Reframing the Personal and the Political

The personal face of diplomacy – Sir William Luce meeting Gulf leaders.                                    EUL MS 146/1/4/7

While at Exeter University Glencairn Balfour Paul, one of the founders of the Centre for Arab Gulf Studies (later the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies), wrote The End of Empire in the Middle East: Britain’s Relinquishment of Power in Her Last Three Arab Dependencies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) in which he paid the following tribute to Sir William Luce’s work as the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Gulf Affairs:

Luce had to deal with the vain and arrogant Pahlavi government in Iran, with suspicious Saudis and anxious Gulf Rulers, not to mention his political bosses in London, some of whom were far from committed to the decision to terminate the British protective presence in the Gulf. He charmed everybody, he persuaded everybody, he was patient, good-humoured (with occasional explosions) and skilful. (xviii)

Some sense of Luce’s personality – and how important it was for his diplomatic work – can be gleaned from the collection of his working papers that are held in our Middle East Archives and have recently been catalogued. Material relating to his earlier career with the Sudan Political Service (1930-55) is held at the University of Durham, while the papers here in Exeter cover the period between his arrival in Aden in 1956 and his final visit to the Gulf States in 1977 shortly before his death.

Following posts as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Aden (1956-60) and Political Resident in the Persian Gulf (1961-66), he was called back out of retirement in 1970 to act as Personal Representative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary – Sir Alec Douglas-Home – overseeing the arrangements for British withdrawal from the Gulf. His task here was to ensure ongoing stability and the continuation of good relations with the various Arab leaders in the region – he played a vital role in the establishment of Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar as independent states, as well as the foundation of the United Arab Emirates.

Text of Luce’s speech at the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Aden, 28 April 1958. Luce had become a confident speaker of Arabic while in the Sudan, but when giving speeches in Arabic he wrote the text out in phonetic script which he evidently found easier to read.                            EUL MS 146/1/1/5

Luce’s success in these complex and delicate negotiations was due largely to the personal relationships he had forged over the years, earning the trust and affection of Gulf leaders during a time of great political tension and mutual suspicion. Although the papers held in our collections relate almost entirely to his official activities, they reveal the extent to which diplomatic relations between the Gulf states relied upon human contact between individuals and Luce’s own personal skills and charm. So what can do the archives reveal?

The Luce Papers: personal or political?

The papers held here are a diverse group and include handwritten and typed correspondence, political memoranda, official reports, notebooks and appointment diaries, speeches, presscuttings, offprints and printed works such as pamphlets and journals. Some of the papers were written by Luce for his own use, or to be shared privately with close friends or colleagues, and retain an intimate, informal tone. (It should also be noted here that a large collection of personal papers and correspondence remains in the family’s possession.)

Notes written on cigarette paper during his Gulf visit in January-February 1970 reveal the spontaneous and informal aspects of Luce’s work, as well as reminding us that the concept of ‘winning hearts and minds’ in the Middle East has a long tradition.                    EUL MS 146/1/3/5

Others were intended for much wider platforms, such as public meetings or print media, and are phrased and framed with this in mind. The fact that these items are in the archive itself indicates a personal choice – that at some point Luce made a decision to keep a particular paper or booklet in his possession. There is a need to be aware not only of the material that is not in the archive – i.e. that related papers might have been discarded, lost or simply rejected for preservation – but also that other material may exist elsewhere in other collections that may complement or contradict the picture presented here. Each of the parties that attended meetings with Luce may well have recorded their own version of events, so that even an official government report must be treated as offering only a subjective and partial view of the topic – something especially pertinent for anyone approaching the complex kaleidoscope of Middle Eastern politics.

Excerpt from Luce’s confidential report on a meeting he had in Dubai in 1970 with Sayyid Tariq, Prime Minister of Oman.                  EUL MS 146/1/3/7

The above typed report is from a document entitled Thoughts on Oman and reflects upon conversations Luce had with Sayyid Tariq, Prime Minister of Oman, following the very recent bloodless coup in which Said bin Taimur, the sultan of Muscat and Oman, was replaced by his son Qabus bin Said Al Said. It illustrates the extent to which the wielding of power in the region was part of a tapestry of political allegiances, personal relationships, family history and ancestral relations. Luce’s ability to navigate his way through these complexities relied upon the detailed knowledge he had acquired over the years. The document shows how Luce drew on private discussions in order to advice the Foreign Office on points of strategy.

Personal Representative

Luce had reached the Sudan Political Service’s voluntary retirement age of 48 in 1955 but made it clear to the Foreign Office that he had no intention of ceasing to work. Even after his retirement from the Gulf in 1966 he maintained an active interest in the Middle East, appearing regularly at conferences and discussion groups to make his views known, and writing articles for publications such as Round Table. We have many of these talks and articles in the archive (EUL MS 146/5) as well as related correspondence that reveals the high esteem in which he has regarded within both political and academic circles.

Meanwhile the economic pressures upon Harold Wilson’s Labour administration had forced a reconsideration of foreign policy. In July 1967 Defence Secretary Denis Healey announced that Britain would withdraw its forces from the Gulf within ten years. The following January Wilson announced that this would be carried out by the end of 1971.

Luce strongly opposed this decision, regarding the announcement of any timetables as detrimental to the government’s position for negotiating terms of withdrawal – a position he had made clear as early as 1966 (EUL MS 146/1/2/2). The Conservative Party opposed Labour’s move in principle and let it be known that they would reverse the policy if re-elected. Following the election of Edward Heath as Conservative Prime Minister in June 1970, Luce was appointed personal representative to the foreign secretary, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, on 27 July 1970.  Heath and Luce had almost met the previous year during a tour of the Middle East undertaken by Luce between February and April 1969 in his capacity as a non-executive director of shipping agents Gray Mackenzie & Co., while the then Conservative Party leader was also visiting the region. While Luce thought any attempt to reverse the withdrawal would be unwise, Heath chose to leave that option open, at least in public.

Letter from Edward Heath to Luce, responding to a communication sent to the Conservative Party leader while he was at Abadan in Iran.                    EUL MS 146/1/2/14

How Luce worked to steer Heath’s cabinet in the right direction is the subject of a large chunk of the archive, which relates to his activities as ‘Personal Representative for Gulf Affairs’ between July 1970 and 1971. He made five major tours of the Gulf during this time, holding meetings with (among many others) the Shah of Iran, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Fayek, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in the United Arab Republic, various parties at the Arab League Headquarters in Cairo, Abdul Hussein Jamali, Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister of Iran, Sayyid Mehdi Tajir (principal adviser to Shaikh Rashid of the UAR), the Amir of Kuwait, the Sultan of Muscat, the rulers of Umm al-Quwain, Ras-al-Khaimah, Ajman and Sharjah, Shaikh Ahmed bin Ali al Thani, Emir of Qatar, and his cousin Shaikh Khalifa bin Hamed al Thani, and the Emir of Bahrain, Shaikh Isa bin Sulman. Each trip is documented by a mass of papers, including draft itineraries, guest lists, arrangements for travel and accommodation, as well as detailed records of conversations, confidential reports based on these conversations, and official government papers showing how this material was then interpreted and communicated for parliamentary debate or cabinet-level discussions. These papers reveal how Luce shuttled from place to place, carefully observing matters of precedence and etiquette in the frequency and sequence of his visits to successive rulers to avoid offence, painstakingly building up agreements and negotiating points in every successive meeting. Early on he had realised that the future of the Gulf Region after the British had left depended upon solidarity between the various Arab leaders, and with that in mind he set about laying the ground for a federation of the nine sheikdoms around the Gulf peninsula. Although he was unable to unite all nine of them – Bahrain and Qatar declared themselves independent states in August and September 1971 – he managed to bring together Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah to form the United Arab Emirates. The remaining state, Ras Al Khaimah joined the UAE the following year.

Headed letter from Brigadier F.M. De Butts of the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Defence, to Luce, dated 29 August 1972, and providing an update on various military and security issues.        EUL MS 146/1/4/1

Luce was strongly realistic and pragmatic in his approach to Britain’s involvement in the Persian Gulf and was under no illusions about the historic and political reasons for their presence. Writing in the Daily Telegraph he admitted: ‘It is important today to remember that these Gulf agreements were made on British initiative and primarily to serve British interests. We did not undertake the ‘policing’ of the Gulf for some vague, altruistic purpose; we went there, and remained there, because it has suited us to do so.’

William Luce, ‘Aden’s Shadow over the Gulf’, Daily Telegraph, 12 April 1967.         EUL MS 146/1/2/10

Although there is not space to discuss this here, studying the archival records of Luce’s career provide evidence of how his work in the Gulf was shaped by his earlier experiences in the Sudan and Aden. The range of documentation held in the Luce archive provides a fascinating resource with which to explore the wide range of factors that determine how political strategies are both formulated and implemented. While much attention continues to be given to famous and infamous figures in the early history of the British Empire, there is perhaps a need to start focussing more closely on those who played a prominent role in its final stages. The papers of Sir William Luce could provide a bridge for researchers between the contemporary political landscape in the Middle East and its historical roots in the imperial past, as well as illustrating just how much the personal and the political elements of diplomatic life connect and overlap.

Further Reading

Glen Balfour-Paul, The End of Empire in the Middle East: Britain’s Relinquishment of Power in Her Last Three Arab Dependencies.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991

M.W. Daly, The last of the great proconsuls. The biography of Sir William Luce.
San Diego, CA : Nathan Berg, 2014

Luce, Margaret. From Aden to the Gulf: personal diaries, 1956-1966.
Salisbury : Michael Russell, 1987