chapter  I
33 Pages

Perspective

Throughout the greater part of the nineteenth century, Britain en joyed in the Persian Gulf a position of unchallenged political paramountcy. Although in theory the Gulf was an international waterway, in practice it was a' British Lake '.1 In an area and a period where a great seapower could exercise a predominant role, Britain reigned supreme. As will be seen, it was not until the last decade of the nineteenth century that her position in the Persian Gulf came to be contested. In the 1890s Britain suffered successive challenges from France, Russia and Germany. These intrusions by the Great Powers were complemented by Turkish efforts, which were a manifestation of a general policy of consolidation in the Ottoman Empire, to assert their shadowy authority in Kuwait and along the northern part of the Arabian littoral. 3

Just before the Persian Gulf became the scene of international rivalry at the close of the nineteenth century, this British sphere of influence was comparatively peaceful. During the previous ninety years the British 'Raj' had imposed a maritime truce on the Arabian coast through the suppression of piracy. The British authorities in India had also suppressed slave-trade and arms traffic in the Gulf. In addition they had surveyed the shores, sounded the channels and, above all, acquired a near monopoly in the Gulf's cominerce.3