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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The UAE: A Brief History, Part 2 Tribal Allegiances The Backbone of UAE

by Erin Mc Cafferty

Illustrations by Guillermo Munro Colosio
Illustrations by Guillermo Munro Colosio

In the second article of our series on the history of the UAE we continue to examine the tribes of the region before it came together under the flag of the United Arab Emirates. This time we focus on the Trucial Coast

In the last issue of Al Shindagah we examined some of the tribes in the vicinity of Abu Dhabi – all of which shared a loose allegiance. We noted that most were part-Bedouin, and being nomadic – spent months in one area, moving to another at different times of the year in order to find work.

As the author Frauke Heard Bey points out in her book Trucial States to United Arab Emirates this meant that politics in the region were generally concerned with authority over people rather than land which typically lacked clearly defined boundaries.

She notes too that the British Government of India although it had a presence here at the beginning of the century, usually avoided getting involved in the tribal politics, partly because they were so complicated: the allegiances of the tribes were loose and the different fractions failed to fall under the rule of one dominant leader.

However Heard Bey defines three different but interdependent groups at the time: those of Abu Dhabi including the settled inland areas of Liwa and the Buraimi villages; those of the North Eastern Trucial states known as the Qasimi Empire due to the long and dominant presence of the Qasimis who still retain a strong presence to this day; and lastly the western foreland of the mountains which included the villages of Buraimi and Daid and which have since become part of Oman.

Having dealt with the first group of tribes from the Abu Dhabi region in the last article, we now turn to the second – those of the North Eastern Trucial States. Most of these tribes swore allegiance to different sheikhs at different times and in doing so were rewarded a monetary allowance. The sheikhs in return could count on their support if a dispute arose. This was important because manpower was lacking given the transient nature of the Bedouins.

The N’aim, were the most numerous tribe at this time and therefore the most powerful, numbering approximately 5,000 after the Second World War. They were divided into three different sections – the Al Bu Kharabain, the Khawatair and the Al Bu Shamis and were part-Bedouin; partsettled. They generally lived in Ajman, later spreading to the Buraimi district and forming a substantial part of the settled population of Sharjah.

The Bedouin element of the tribe were also to be found in parts of Oman. Because the N’aim were so spread out the question of their allegiance to Oman arose in 1937 after the Sultan of Muscat signed an agreement with the Petroleum Concessions company. This led to the majority of the N’aim sheikhs agreeing to come under the rule of Oman.

However they changed their minds shortly afterwards and asserted their independence by granting their own petroleum concessions. This eventually culminated in what has come to be known as the ‘Buraimi Dispute’. It led to the intervention of the Saudi King and as result the Saudi force established their presence both in the Buraimi village and in Hamasah in 1952.

Meanwhile, the Al Bu Shamis section of the tribe – the main Bedouin element, had established their own separate identity. A Minority were however settled and lived in important oases and coastal areas – mainly in Hamriyah and Hirah – both dependencies of Sharjah.

Although the N’aim were usually on bad terms with their neighbours, particularly the Bani Ka’ab, the Bani Qitab and the Al Bu Falah, the Al Bu Shamis section of the tribe were the exception; they usually enjoyed good relations with the other tribes in the area, including the Duru and the Bani Qitab.

The Balush of Dhahirah, were another important tribe located in the Trucial Coast region. At the turn of the century these people traded mainly with Dubai and Abu Dhabi. They had a good relationship with the Bani Yas of Abu Dhabi as a result and the Al Bu Falah in the Buraimi area.

A realignment of tribal loyalties took place during the first decade of this century however and this resulted in a dispute between the Balush of Mazim and their former protectors the Bani Qitab.

The Balush turned to Zayad Bin Khalifah for help. Meanwhile the Bani Qitab sought the protection of the ruler of Umm Al Qai wain – Rashid Bin Ahmad. A war was narrowly avoided due to a meeting of the Trucial States leaders in Khawanij, near Dubai, in 1906 and this resulted in a written agreement amongst the various tribes about rulers sphere’s of influence.

The Bani Qitab and the Bani Qa’ab were two important tribes in the hinterland of the Trucial Coast. Like the N’aim, both are also Ghafiri. However the three tribes have rarely been on good terms. In fact the only time they appeared to be in agreement was for a brief period in the 1940s when it appeared it might help them to obtain an independent agreement over petroleum rights.

The Bani Qitab are smaller in number than their Bani Qa’ab brothers, but they were important none the less. More Bedouin in their make-up, they were frequently involved in tribal disputes at the beginning of the century and this led to their falling under the rule of Umm Al Qaiwain in 1906.

In 1907, a rift occurred between rulers of Umm Al Qaiwain and those of Abu Dhabi which led to the involvement of the British Government who put a stop to what could have turned into a war.

In more recent years the northern section of the Bani Qitab established headquarters near Daib. The ruler of Dubai also attempted to establish friendly terms with the tribe in the early 1940s.

In general, while tribal allegiances were always important they became even more so once oil was discovered in the period after the Second World War.

The war between the Sultanate and the Iman lasted from this time until 1959 and affected all who lived in the region. When war broke out also between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in 1945, the usual allegiances were called into question. Unlike Abu Dhabi, Dubai had no large Bedouin population and as a result had to recruit mercenaries. This state of war lasted until 1948 when the oil company – began to make use of its pre-war agreements.

Again in 1954, with the death of the Iman Mohammed Bin Ahmad Bin Abdullah Al Khalili which led to a deterioration in relations to the point of open warfare between the new Iman and the Sultanate of Oman, the question of tribal allegiances was brought to the fore.

However the establishment of a boundary in the Jabal Hafit area, recognised by both the Sultan and the ruler of Abu Dhabi in May 1959 imposed some kind of stability as it was more difficult for independent tribes in the area to tip the scales.

The information in this article is taken from the book From Trucial States to United Arab Emirates by Frauke Heard-Bey; published by Motivate Publishing, Dubai; 2004.

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