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'British interests in Arabia' [‎1r] (1/4)

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The record is made up of 1 file (2 folios). It was created in 20 Jan 1917. It was written in English. The original is part of the British Library: India Office The department of the British Government to which the Government of India reported between 1858 and 1947. The successor to the Court of Directors. Records and Private Papers.


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B. 247.
It is understood that a memorandurn is desired, explaining why the
•exclusion of Italy from Western and Southern Arabia and the Red Sea
littoral is important in British interests.
1. The importance of Arabia from its geographical position, lying along
two of tUe main approaches to India, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf Historically used by the British to refer to the sea area between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. Often referred to as The Gulf or the Arabian Gulf. , is a
commonplace. ISio part of the country can be completely indifferent to
Great Britain, who is the only Power that at present has a foothold in the
country. Our hold is limited to a narrow fringe along the coast, from Aden
to Koweit; its security depends ultimately upon the tranquillity of the
interior. Since we are unable to intervene in, or control, the interior, it is
essential to exclude all possible seeds of disturbance.
2. Arabia is not a State in any effective sense, but a fortuitous concourse
of tribes—more or less settled in the fertile regions near the coast, elsewhere
wandering—under Chiefs, the limits of whose sway are determined, not by
frontiers, but by the tribes which they for the time being control. Their
politics are closely interwoven, and a quarrel may run light across the
continent. With the tribes and Chiefs along the coast mentioned we have
treaty relations.
3. In addition to this we occupy at Aden an area of 75 square miles
with a considerable hinterland, the frontier of which, with the Yemen, has
been demarcated. The Chiefs within this frontier are under our protec
4. The strategical importance of Aden need not be emphasised. The
fortress of Aden is almost impregnable against tribal forces. In circum
stances as they existed before the war we could hold it with a very small
force, and control the protectorate by means of prestige and subsidies.
5. The Aden-Yemen frontier is a frontier quoad the Turks, not quoad
the Arabs, who do not greatly respect it. Its demarcation was necessitated
largely by the intrigues of our semi-independent neighbour the Imam of
Sanaa, whom the Turks encouraged when it served their purpose, but could
never effectively control when he chose to defy them. But we had recognised
Turkish authority, and whenever some petty local incident occurred the only
remedy was representations at Constantinople. The Imam has pretty
extensive claims on our side of the frontier—indeed, they extend to the
Hadramaut tribes on the coast the other side of the protectorate. To the
north and north-east, where the frontier has not been demarcated, we are
safeguarded by the great desert, the Ruba al Khali, and by our treaty
relations with the Sultan of Shehr and Mokalla, which, however, suffice
only so long as the tribes of the Hadramaut hinterland are not tampered
with. '
0. In addition to being a fortress, Aden is the gateway of a considerable
land trade with the Yemen (worth before the war about 300,000i. per annum).
The construction of a railway from Aden to Taiz—desirable for political
reasons as well—would make Aden the main outlet for the trade of the
Yemen. If another Power is master of the Yemen, it will build a line from
Hodeida to Sanaa ; Hodeida will become the outlet, and Aden will lose the
trade it already possesses.
7. It is the Yemen on which Italian ambitions are mainly fixed. The
Yemen is as little a unity as Arabia itself, and when the Turk is ejected from
Arabia it will fall to no one Arab master. The Idrisi, we know, will claim
S 358

About this item


This memorandum was written by Sir Frederic Arthur Hirtzel in January 1917. Its purpose is to explain 'why the exclusion of Italy from Western and Southern Arabia and the Red Sea littoral is important in British interests'. It notes the importance of Arabia lying as it does along two of the main approaches to India from Europe. Hirtzel's memorandum also notes the absence of an effective state in Arabia, and the concomitant influence of tribes and their chiefs.

It reviews the strategic importance of Aden and its protectorate along with the significance of the Aden-Yemen frontier in the context of British relations with the Imam of Sanaa and Turkey (paragraphs 4-5). It notes that the Italian ambitions are mainly focused on the Yemen and that the Italo-Turkish war made Italy the most unpopular 'Christian power' in the Muslim world. It analyses the implications of any British consent to an Italian occupation of the Yemen.

It concludes that the 'present war has shown the use that may be made against us of Islam' and contends that the success of H M Government in the Middle East 'depends to a large extent on the transfer of the Caliphate from Turkey to Arabia. This in turn depends on the possibility of making the ruler of the Hejaz sufficiently strong to be able to pose as an independent sovereign. This again depends upon keeping the Christian powers at a sufficient distance.' The memorandum finishes by noting that it was for these reasons Britain took the precaution of inserting in the Anglo-French convention [Sykes-Picot agreement] that the British and French Governments agree that they will not themselves acquire and will not consent to a third Power acquiring territorial possessions in the Arabian peninsula with a sphere of influence being seen as equivalent to territorial possession.

Extent and format
1 file (2 folios)

The memorandum consists of eleven paragraphs.

Physical characteristics

Foliation: The foliation sequence commences at the first folio and terminates at the last folio; these numbers are written in pencil, are circled, and are located in the top right corner of the recto The front of a sheet of paper or leaf, often abbreviated to 'r'. side of each folio. Pagination: The booklet also has an original printed pagination sequence.

Written in
English in Latin script
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'British interests in Arabia' [‎1r] (1/4), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/PS/18/B247, in Qatar Digital Library <> [accessed 23 August 2019]

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