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'British interests in Arabia' [‎1v] (2/4)

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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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down to and including iloiliMi'la, the Imam of Sanaa will claim the greater
part of the remainder, and there are certain Sheikhs (like Mavia) on our
border whom it will be to our interest to maintain independent. We have
by treaty guaranteed the independence of the Idrisi in bis own domain
(undefined), and undertaken to arbitrate between him and the Imam where
their claims clash. The Idrisi and the Imam are possibly irreconcilable
adversaries, though the removal of the Turk may bring them closer
S. The Italo-Turkish war made Italy the most unpopular of the
Christian Powers in the Moslem world. This unpopularity is enhanced by
Italian methods of colonial administration, and by national characteristics—
in particular by Italian treatment of the women of subject races, a point on
which Moslem opinion is very sensitive. Moreover, the Iman has an especial
ground for detestation in that Italy blockaded his coast, and supported the
Idrisi with arms and money during the war.
9. From the preceding description of the general political conditions it
must be clear that the appearance of Italy in the Yemen would create in
Western and Southern Arabia a ferment which would not be limited to that
region, and from which we, as the limitrophe Power, would be the chief
Our consent to it would be resented by the Grand Shereef and by the
Arabs as a breach of faith towards the so-called Arab State, and it is
probable that this resentment would be shared by the whole Moslem world
(including India) who would consider that, after having betrayed the Turk,
we were now betraying the Arab. This would react unfavourably on our
position at Aden, and our reputation as a Power friendly to Islam. The
Arabs have made use of our support against the Turks, but they do not like
us any the more ; and when the Turkish danger is removed it is by no means
certain that the brunt of their dislike will not in any case fall on us, and
with redoubled force if it is thought that we have released them from the
Turk (who is at least a Moslem) only to hand them over to the most hated of
Christian nations.
If the Idrisi, in virtue of his former connection, welcomes the Italians, it
is certain that the Imam will oppose them. That will mean hostilities on
our border, ending at the best in a precarious peace, seeing that the Italians
will be far too exhausted to undertake decisive operations in the hills.
With our experience of Italian relations with the Senussi in Cyrenaica, and
of the resultant friction with Egypt, we may know what to look for in Aden,
and we may expect before very long to be ourselves involved in hostilities
on, if not within, our own border.
If, on the other hand, the Imam accepts Italian domination, it must be
expected that part of the price he will ask will be the support (at least tacit)
of his claims where they will not conflict with Italy's, i.e., in our protectorate
and in the Hadramaut; and against his intrigues we shall have no redress
but appeals to Rome, which are likely to be even less fruitful than were
appeals to Constantinople.
If these anticipations are well founded, it is clear that our position in
Aden will have to be put on an entirely different footing. Instead of keeping
a handful of troops in the fortress and exercising a weak control over the
tribes by subsidies, we shall have to hold the Protectorate in force—and
this is surely not a prospect which His Majesty's Government can regard
with equanimity.
10. The present war has shown the use that may be made against us of
Islam. Arabia is of great importance in the Islamic world, not only as the
cradle of Islam and the seat of the Holy Places, but also because its
geographical position interposes it as a wedge between the Islam of Africa
and that of India and the surrounding countries.
11. The ultimate success of the policy of His Majesty's Government in
the Middle East depends to a large extent on the transfer of the Caliphate
from Turkey to Arabia. This in turn depends upon the possibility of

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' [‎1v] (2/4), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/PS/18/B247, in Qatar Digital Library <> [accessed 23 May 2019]

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