This last week of February was marked by the visit to Europe of President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmud Abbas, and Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman. (suite…)

 

Cette dernière semaine de février a été marquée par la visite en Europe du Président de l’Autorité Palestinienne, Mahmoud Abbas, ainsi que du ministre israélien des Affaires Etrangères, Avigdor Lieberman.  (suite…)

 

– D’autres noms israéliens correspondent à la nouvelle liste de suspects à Dubaï (More Israeli names match new Dubai suspects list) (26/2/2010) – Gulf news

D’autres Israéliens ont été informés que leur identité avait été usurpée lors de l’assassinat du leader militaire du Hamas, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, à Dubaï. Une liste mise à jour de vingt-six suspects a en effet été établie par la police de l’émirat parmi lesquels douze Anglais, six Irlandais, quatre Français, trois Australiens et un Allemand. Les personnes concernées se sont toutes récemment établies en Israël. La police de Dubaï accuse le Mossad d’avoir mené l’assassinat, mais les autorités israéliennes démentent toujours. La sortie du Ministre israélien des Affaires Etrangères Avigdor Lieberman en réponse aux préoccupations des Européens a par ailleurs été remarquée : « Vous regardez trop de films de James Bond ».

– UE : les produits des colonies juives ne sont pas israéliens (EU: Goods made at Jewish settlements are not Israeli) (26/2/2010) – BBC news

La Cour de Justice Européenne a rendu jeudi un jugement concernant l’accès des produits des colonies juives de Cisjordanie au marché européen. Après avoir été saisie par la compagnie allemande de boissons, Brita, l’organe judiciaire a déclaré que les produits issus des colonies ne pouvaient bénéficier de l’exemption de taxe à l’importation dont bénéficient les produits israéliens, ou palestiniens. Les jugements de la Cour Européenne de Justice sont obligatoires pour ses Etats membres.

– L’ambition présidentielle d’El-Baradei se précise (25/2/2010) – France 24

Mohamed El Baradei a annoncé mardi la création d’une « Coalition nationale pour le changement ». Les rumeurs sur les ambitions présidentielles de l’ancien Secrétaire Général de l’Agence Internationale pour l’Energie Atomique (AIEA) et Prix Nobel de la Paix (2005) semblent donc se confirmer. El Baradei a dit accepté de se lancer en politique à conditions qu’il y ait des élections libres et qu’il et d’autres se présentant comme lui indépendamment des partis, puissent s’y présenter. Le pouvoir s’est en effet prémuni contre la candidature de candidats indésirables en obligeant tout candidat indépendant à obtenir l’assentiment des 250 élus du Parlement. La popularité du Prix Nobel semble en tous cas en hausse au vu du millier de supporters venus l’acceuillir à l’aéroport à son retour en Egypte le 19 février, et aux 115 000 fans du groupe « Elbaradei for Presidency of Egypt_ 2011 » (El Baradei poour la Présidence de l’Egypte_2011) sur Facebook.

– Le Tribunal Russell sur la Palestine arrive à Barcelone (El Tribunal Russell sobre Palestina arriba a Barcelona) (25/2/2010) – Tribunal Russell sobre Palestina (blog – vidéo)

Pierre Galand (français) et Frank Barat (anglais) présentent la première session du Tribunal Russell sur la Palestine qui aura lieu à Barcelone du 1 au 3 mars 2010. La session de Barcelone s’attaquera aux « manquements de la Communauté européenne et des pays européens, qui permettent aujourd’hui  à Israël de violer un ensemble de règles du droit international, violations qui ont encore été amplifiées après la guerre de Gaza ». Plusieurs thèmes guideront les débats : le mur, le droit à l’autodétermination du peuple palestinien, le démantèlement des colonies, et les accords d’association entre l’UE et Israël. Le principe du Tribunal Russell se base sur l’espoir que «  les opinions publiques peuvent avoir une influence déterminante pour amener la communauté internationale (ONU, Etats-Unis, l’Europe, les pays arabes) à prendre des mesures pour forcer Israël à devenir un partenaire honnête dans une négociation de paix, pour une juste paix ».

>>>Les débats pourront être suivis en direct à partir du 1er mars à 10h surhttp://www.bcnsolidaria.tv/tv/

– Investissements, mémoire, Sahara occidental, liste noire… : Les mots crus de Ouyahia à Claude Guéant (23/2/2010) – Al Watan

Les relations entre l’Algérie et la France semblent chercher le chemin de la réconciliation après des mois de froid. Le Secrétaire général de l’Elysée, Claude Guéant rencontrait dimanche passé le Premier ministre algérien Ahmed Ouyahia. Selon Al Watan, ce dernier a tenu a abordé tous les sujets à la base de la discorde, avec en priorité la gestion de la mémoire coloniale qui envenime régulièrement les relations entre les deux pays. De son côté, l’émissaire de l’Elysée a affirmé la volonté ferme de Nicolas Sarkozy afin de trouver des solutions aux problèmes évoqués.

 

 

– More Israeli names new Dubai suspects game list (26/2/2010) – Gulf News

Other Israelis were informed that their identities had been misused in the assassination of Hamas military leader, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai. An updated list of twenty-six suspects has indeed been established by the police of the emirate, including twelve English, six Irishmen, four French, three Australians and a German. Those involved have all recently established in Israel. The police of Dubai accused the Mossad of having carried out the killing, but Israeli authorities are since denying. The statement this week by the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman was remarked :  « You watch too many James Bond films” he said as response to European concerns about the case.

– U.S.: Goods made at Jewish settlements are not Israeli (26/2/2010) – BBC news

The European Court of Justice issued has ruled Thursday on the access of products from Jewish settlements in the West Bank to the European market. After being seized by German drinks company, Brita, the court said that products from the settlements did not qualify for the exemption of import tax enjoyed by Israeli, and Palestinian products. The judgments of the European Court of Justice are binding on its member states.

– The presidential ambition of El-Baradei becomes clearer (L’ambition présidentielle d’El-Baradei se precise) (25/2/2010) – France 24

Mohamed El Baradei announced Tuesday the creation of a « National Coalition for Change ». The rumors about the presidential ambitions of former Secretary General of the International Agency for Atomic Energy (IAEA) and Nobel Price for Peace (2005) seem to be confirmed. El Baradei said he would engage in politics only if there are free elections and if he, and others independent candidates like him, could take part of it. The power has however protected itself against the nomination of independent candidates by requiring those candidates to obtain the consent of the 250 elected member of Parliament. The popularity of the Nobel Prize seems in any case to increase in the light of the thousand fans presents to welcome him at the airport at the occasion of his return to Egypt on February 19th, and of the115 000 fans of the group “Elbaradei for Presidency of Egypt_ 2011” on Facebook.

– The Russell Tribunal on Palestine arrived in Barcelona (El Tribunal Russell sobre Palestina arriba a Barcelona) (25/2/2010) – Russell Tribunal sobre Palestina (blog – video)

Pierre Galand (French) and Frank Barat (English) presented the first session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine to be held in Barcelona from March 1 to 3, 2010. The Barcelona meeting will address « deficiencies of the European Community and European countries, which now allow Israel to violate a set of rules of international law, violations that have been amplified after the war in Gaza. » Several themes will guide the discussions: the wall, the right to Palestinian to self-determination, the dismantling of settlements, and the Association Agreements between the EU and Israel. The principle of the Russell Tribunal based on the hope that « public opinions can have an influence in persuading the international community (UN, U.S., Europe, Arab countries) to take measures to compel Israel to become an honest partner in peace negotiations, for a just peace.  »

Live streaming of session will start on 1st March at 10am here:http://www.bcnsolidaria.tv/tv/

– Investments, memory, Western Sahara, black list …: raw words of Ouyahia to Claude Guéant (Investissements, mémoire, Sahara occidental, liste noire… : Les mots crus de Ouyahia à Claude Guéant ) (23/2/2010) – Al Watan

Relations between Algeria and France seem to seek the path of reconciliation after months of cold. The Secretary General of the Elysee, Claude Guéant met last Sunday Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia. According to Al Watan, the latter addressed all the core subjects of the discord, with priority to the management of the colonial memory regularly poisoning relations between the two countries. For its part, the envoy of the Elysee said the firm will of Nicolas Sarkozy to find solutions to current problems.

 

 

« Nous sommes sûrs à 99 %, si ce n’est à 100 %, que le Mossad est derrière ce meurtre ». Telles sont les paroles du chef de la police de Dubaï, le général Dahi Khalfan Tamim. Le 20 janvier dernier, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, un haut responsable de l’aile militaire du Hamas était assassiné dans son hôtel à Dubai. Les circonstances du meurtre ainsi que les origines et occupations de la victime orientent rapidement les enquêteurs émiratis sur la piste du Mossad – les services de renseignements israéliens. Jusque là, l’affaire n’intéresse que peu la presse occidentale. Du côté israélien, si le gouvernement tait tout rôle du Mossad, la population se félicite de l’efficacité des services secrets.  (suite…)

 

« We are 99%, if not 100% certain of Mossad’s involvement in this murder« . These are the words of Dubai police chief, General Dahi Khalfan Tamim. On January 20, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior official from the military wing of Hamas was assassinated in his hotel in Dubai. The circumstances of the murder and the origins and occupations of the victim quickly oriented UAE investigators on the trail of the Mossad – the Israeli intelligence services. Until then, the case did not interested the Western press a lot. On the Israeli side, if the government kept silent on any role of Mossad, the people welcomed the effectiveness of its intelligence services.  (suite…)

 

– Ankara is expanding its role in the Middle East (Ankara étend son rôle au Proche-Orient)  (18/02/2010) – Le Figaro

Turkey takes a new turn in its diplomatic relations with countries in the region. It arises as a mediator in conflicts, in particular through the Palestinian cause. The image of Ankara has changed again; moreover, its goal is the regional leadership. The Arab countries have a new approach of Turkey: it promotes an image of democracy in the region and put itself as promoter of peace that could launch a new dynamic.

– Sources: Algeria govt wants Orascom Telecom to leave (17/02/2010) –Almasryalyoum.net

After tensions between Algeria and Egypt due to sporting events in 2009, new information comes burdening relations between both countries. Indeed, the Algerian government demands that the Egyptian company, Orascom Telecom, leave Algerian market. The only official reasons that led to that decision provided from a weak explanation. OT does not have the choice. However, the firmness of Algiers does not help to restore a link between the two friendly countries.

– Europe, a casualty of diplomacy tensions between Switzerland and Libya(L’Europe, victime collatérale de la guérilla diplomatique entre la Suisse et la Libye), (17/02/2010) – Le Monde

On February 14, Libya has decided to change its policy on visas. Now, the issuance of visas to nationals of the Schengen area has been suspended. This is a decision taken by the Libyan authorities to counter the policy of Switzerland – which is to reduce visas issued to clans Gaddafi.
These decisions have a direct impact on other European countries and on trade between the EU and Libya. Moreover, it questions the relationship between these two regions.

– Saudi Princess who stand up for women (16/02/2010) – Le Figaro

Reform women’s status
The situation of women in Saudi Arabia may be described as retrograde. Schooling is regulated, a strict dress code is imposed, identity of the men accompanying them is verified, and civil rights almost do not exist.
Today the daughter of King Abdullah wants to move the Saudi society. The cause of women is close to her heart. However, this is a sensitive issue in this country where  traditions and religious norms are very presents.

– Thousands mark Hariri’s killing (15/02/2010) – Kuwaittimes.net

On 14 February, Lebanon commemorated the death of Rafik Hariri, former Prime Minister. Five years after he was assassinated, the international law court did not identify yet the responsible of the car bombing.  March 14, a Lebanese political coalition created following R. Hariri’s death, includes political figures of the country. This group had demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops. This reminds us that the situation in the region remains uncertain: peace is not yet sustainable, or complete. In addition, March 14 is fighting today for the establishment of diplomatic relations with Syria and an agreement on the demarcation of the border between the two countries. In December 2009, Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri’ son and Prime Minister, visited Syria to begin a process of reconciliation. However, some thought that it was kind of a loss of power from March 14. However the Prime Minister said that fear of Lebanon is no more focused on Syria. Today it is Israel which represents a threat. Peace in the region was unfortunately not fully established. Moreover, for Lebanon, it is not reassuring to see Israeli military aircraft entering its airspace.

 

 

Ankara étend son rôle au Proche-Orient (18/02/2010) – Le Figaro

La Turquie prend un nouveau tournant dans ses relations diplomatiques avec les pays de la région. Elle se pose en tant que médiateur dans les conflits, en passant notamment par la cause palestinienne. L’image d’Ankara a évolué, de plus, le but recherché est le leadership régional. Les pays arabes la perçoivent différemment : elle véhicule une image de démocratie dans la région et promoteur de paix qui pourrait lancer une nouvelle dynamique.

l’Algérie réclame le départ du groupe Orascom Telecom (Sources: Algeria govt wants Orascom Telecom to leave) (17/02/2010) – Almasryalyoum.net

Après les tensions entre l’Algérie et l’Egypte dues aux évènements sportifs en 2009, une nouvelle information vient alourdir les relations entre ces deux pays. En effet, le gouvernement algérien demande à ce que le groupe égyptien, Orascom Telecom, quitte le marché algérien de téléphonie mobile. Les seules raisons officielles qui ont amené à cette décision, ont fourni une faible explication et mettent le groupe OT au pied du mur. Néanmoins, la fermeté d’Alger n’aide pas à rétablir un lien cordial entre les deux pays.

L’Europe, victime collatérale de la guérilla diplomatique entre la Suisse et la Libye (17/02/2010) – Le Monde

Le 14 février, la Libye a décidé de modifier sa politique en matière de visa. À présent, la délivrance de visas aux ressortissants  de l’espace Schengen a été suspendue. Cela serait une décision prise par les autorités libyennes afin de contrer la politique de la Suisse visant à réduire les visas accordés aux clans Kadhafi.
Ces décisions ont un impact direct sur les autres pays européens puisque cela freine les échanges entre l’Union Européenne et la Libye et remet en question les relations entre ces deux dernières.

– La princesse saoudienne qui défend la cause des femmes (16/02/2010) – Le Figaro

Vers une réforme de la société ?
La situation des femmes en Arabie Saoudite peut être qualifié de rétrograde : la scolarité est réglementée, la tenue vestimentaire stricte est imposée, l’identité des hommes qui les accompagne est vérifiée, les droits civiques sont quasi inexistants.
Aujourd’hui la fille du roi Abdallah souhaite faire bouger la société saoudienne. La cause des femmes lui tient à cœur, cependant cela est un sujet sensible dans ce pays marqué par les traditions et les normes religieuses.

– Des milliers de personnes pour commémorer la mort de Hariri (Thousands mark Hariri’s killing) , (15/02/2010) – Kuwaittimes.net

Le 14 février dernier, le Liban commémorait la mort de Rafic Hariri, ancien Premier Ministre. Cinq ans après son assassinat, le tribunal international les responsables n’ont toujours pas été identifiés et arrêté.  L’Alliance du 14 Mars, coalition politique libanaise créée suite à la mort de R. Hariri, regroupe des personnalités politiques du pays. Ce regroupement avait réclamé le retrait des troupes syriennes. Cela nous rappelle que la situation de la région reste encore incertaine : la paix n’y est pas encore durable, ni totale. De plus, cette Alliance lutte aujourd’hui pour la mise en place de relations diplomatiques avec la Syrie, ainsi qu’un accord sur le tracé de la frontière entre ces deux pays.  En décembre 2009, Saad Hariri, fils de Rafic Hariri et Premier Ministre, s’est rendu en Syrie afin d’entamer un processus de réconciliation. Cependant, cela a été considéré par certains comme une perte de pouvoir de l’Alliance du 14 mars. Or le Premier Ministre explique que la peur du Liban n’est plus focalisée sur la Syrie. Aujourd’hui c’est Israël qui représente une menace. La paix dans la région n’étant malheureusement pas complètement établie, il n’est pas rassurant pour le Liban de voir entrer dans son espace aérien des avions militaires israéliens.

 

 

L’Ambassade du Koweit et l’Institut MEDEA ont eu le grand plaisir d’accueillir le Professeur Ben J. Slot le 16 février au Cercle Gaulois. Le Professeur est venu présenter son livre « Les Origines du Koweit » et a retracé au travers d’anciennes cartes l’histoire de ce qui s’avère être un des premiers pays arabes à prendre une forme d’Etat nation.

Dans son mot d’accueil, S.E. Madame Nabeela A. al-Mulla, ambassadrice du Koweit à Bruxelles, a souligné les attraits du Koweit, tandis que M. François-Xavier de Donnea, Président de l’Institut MEDEA, a rappelé la nouvelle orientation du MEDEA vers les pays arabes du Golfe. Un public intéressé et de haut rang était venu en nombre pour écouter le Professeur Ben J. Slot lors du dîner dans le beau cadre du Cercle Gaulois.

Voir notes.

 

Cercle Royal Gaulois, Brussels
16 February 2010

 

Dinner-conference
under the patronage of H.E. Nabeela A. Al-Mulla, Ambassador of the State of Kuwait,
and François-Xavier de Donnea, President of the MEDEA Institute

 

The European Exploration of Kuwait

by

Dr. Ben J. Slot

 

Dr B.J. Slot (Apeldoorn, 1941) has spent most of his working life as archivist at the National Archives of the Netherlands. In addition, he has published many articles and a number of books, including The Origins of Kuwait and Mubarak Al-Sabah founder of modern Kuwait. Kuwait also has a place in a more general work: The Arabs of the Gulf, 1600-1784. These three books also exist in Arabic translation. At the moment he is preparing several publications, on the history of Greece, on the history of the Gulf in general, and on the history of Kuwait.

 

 

Introduction

In her introductory speech H.E. Ambassador Nabeela al Mulla underlined that this event was coinciding with Kuwait’s Presidency of the GCC through 2010 which overlaps Belgium’s Presidency of the EU. Kuwait is a country which importance is mainly unknown. A study such as the one Dr Slot is presenting today make Kuwaitis proud to belong to such a country.

Mr François-Xavier de Donnea, President of the MEDEA Institute, took then the floor to present the new strategy line of the MEDEA Institute, from now focalizing on Euro-Arab relations and more especially on the relations between Europe and the Gulf countries. Those countries are mostly unknown, or known only for their energy supply or their petrodollars. There was undoubtedly a lack of an organism informing about the diversity of resources, cultures and heritages presents in the Gulf. The MEDEA Institute is pleased to initiate its new partnership with the Embassy of Kuwait by such an interesting conference about the dialogue between Kuwait and Europe in its early period.

 

 

The European exploration of Kuwait

In the course of the 15th century, when the European started to explore the world, they had an old source of knowledge: the handbook of geography by the Greek scholar Ptolemy of Alexandria (c. 150 A.D.) His work consists of lists of thousands of toponyms and coordinates which enable one to reconstruct the lost maps belonging to his book. Such reconstructed maps were printed and became generally available. Also in Ptolemy’s book figures the large bay of Kuwait which made it a splendid port as Holy Gulf, in Greek Hieros Kolpos. Ptolemy’s information was not very fresh when he wrote his book: the main source of Greek knowledge was Androsthenes of Thasos, who almost 500 years before Ptolemy explored the Gulf on the orders of Alexander the Great.

 

Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Cartes et Plans Ge DD 683 Rés. fol. 3 (detail)

 

The first map that seems to show results of the Portuguese explorations in the region of Kuwait is the unique and precious manuscript map of the Indian Ocean in the Miller Atlas in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, but this map is strangely distorted. Printed maps of the region that showed the situation after the first Portuguese explorations appeared in Italy from 1548 on. They were the work of the Piemontese cartographer Giacomo Gastaldi. Gastaldi’s big map of Asia of 1561 shows the knowledge acquired by the very first Portuguese expedition of 1507, but contains no solid knowledge about the Kuwait region. Gastaldi filled Kuwait haphazardly with erroneous toponyms from south-eastern Persia. The only positive thing is that there still can be seen the bay near Kuwait which Ptolemy called in Greek the Hieros Kolpos (Sacer Sinus in the Latin versions).

 

Gastaldi’s map of 1561

 

Gastaldi’s maps were inaccurate, but they were imitated by the great Antwerp cartographic firm of Ortelius and even became the standard of knowledge for the European printed maps until the year 1700.

There was by that time better knowledge available. In 1561 a Portuguese cartographer, Lazaro Luis, drew a manuscript atlas that contained the first geometrically correct image of the Gulf, with correct toponyms. A version of this map came into the hands of Dutch printers and so from 1596 on a few Dutch maps were printed  which showed two Kuwaiti toponyms: Ilha de Aguada (Island of the Well) for Faylaka and Zar for the headland of Zor near Kuwait’s border with Saudi Arabia. But these rare maps never gained a market share against the popular Gastaldi maps.

There is no confirmation that the Portuguese ever went on land in Kuwait. The first recorded presence of a European on Kuwaiti soil was in the course of a Dutch exploration of the route to Basra in 1645 when Dutch sailors went on land on an empty stretch of the coast of Kuwait and turned back thinking that there was nothing to be gained there.

There were two ways of exploring. Simple sailors could visit unknown coasts which could be dangerous. But there was also a more gentlemanly way of exploring, from a library. French cartographers found in Latin and French translations of books of Arab geographers

Between 1701 and 1721 the French cartographers Guillaume Delisle and Jean-Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville got rid of most of Gastaldi’s old misconceptions. They also had a French translation of a clear Arab source: the Arab author Abulfida’s version of the description of Arabia by Ibn Hawqal. This text mentioned a city Kadhema with a big harbor, and so maps since 1721 have Kuwait with the mention of its bay, but with an old and forgotten name.

The real Kuwait must have been known before 1750 to some Europeans. There was in Basra a Carmelite monastery with European monks who acted as agents for forwarding of mail from India to the Mediterranean and we know that Kuwait was the starting point of a caravan route to the Mediterranean. In 1750 Frans Canter, the representative of the Dutch East India Company in Basra, accused of fraud, took the money of his office and fled to Kuwait, then usually called Green, to travel with a caravan to Europe. Canter’s successor Kniphausen tried to recover the escapee and the money from Kuwait, but he was too late.

The Dutch documents on this event show us the position of Kuwait as an intermediary between East and West. A printed nautical chart, published by the firm of Van Keulen in Amsterdam in 1753 is the first map to have Kuwait City with the name of Green and Faylaka island as « Felicia ». The map shows moreover in lines of depth soundings the route of the first Dutch ships to visit Kuwait City, but its drawing is still a bit distorted.

 

Part of the nautical chart of the Gulf by Johannes van Keulen, printed in Amsterdam in 1753

 

Kniphausen was an interesting adventurer. He quarreled with the Turkish authorities in Basra, and then built a Dutch fortress, Mosselstein, on the island of Kharg. He established Kharg as the first free port in the Gulf, open to all nations. In the old times the Dutch East India Company’s policy had been focused on Turks and Persians, but Kniphausen told his superiors that Turks and Persians as subjects of tyrants were unreliable, and that it was much preferable to deal with Arabs, free people like the Europeans. The Arab shaikhs were accepted by their people because they were the most competent among them, not because they had inherited their position. The Gulf Arabs were rather poor, but loved their freedom, and if they came under pressure they left for new dwellings out of the reach of potential oppressors. In this context we have also to consider Kuwait, where merchants settled outside the reach of Persia or Turkey. To support his new policy Kniphausen wrote a long report on the Arab tribes of the Gulf region.

Kniphausen had during the hunt for Canter come into contact with the principal shaikh of Kuwait. In his report of 1756 he gives the first description of that place, which he still calls Green. He describes the Utub tribe of Kuwait as the biggest in the region. They have many small ships for pearling, fishing and trade. They are ruled in a unique manner: « several shaikhs together who govern in relative unity ». Among them the first in rank in 1756 was  a certain Mubarak Al Sabah, but because he was young and relatively poor there was another shaikh (the ancestor of the later Royal family of Bahrain) who had almost equal power. This state of affairs indicates a stable political system which had been established for some time: otherwise a relative young and poor person could not be the leader of Kuwait. Kniphausen also experimented with trade with Kuwait, he was interested in the sulphur ore of the southern part of the country.

The first printed mention of the name of Kuwait as synonym of Green is thanks to Carsten Niebuhr, a Danish geometer, who visited the Dutch on Kharg island in 1765 as only survivor of the Danish expedition to the Arabian peninsula which had left Denmark in 1761. His book also mentions the place of Kuwait as a link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean.

The war between Turkey and Persia of 1778 made that the Europeans left Basra once again and looked for another port in the Gulf region. The captain of an English ship, the Eagle made a first accurate survey of Kuwait Bay, the old Holy Gulf. The French consul in Basra, Rousseau (a cousin of the famous philosopher) came as first European to stay for some months in Kuwait.

Rousseau and Niebuhr were among the first to bring to Western Europe reports about a new development in Central Arabia: the movement of Islamic revival connected with the expansion of the first Saudi state. Kuwait, a city of moderate traders and sailors in the buffer zone between the Ottoman Empire and the Saudi state came under serious pressure between two strong neighbours and had to balance between the two, sometimes also trying an alliance with Britain, the main naval power in the region. This difficult position even reached in the European press: the Paris journal de l’Empire of 2 April 1811 was the first European newspaper to mention Kuwait’s balancing act.

In the following years Britain established its predominance in the Gulf. Between 1821 and 1830 they sent out ships to survey in detail all its coasts and so the first modern nautical charts of the entire Gulf were published. In the 19th century there came more foreign visitors to Kuwait and their impressions can be found in travel books and reports in archives. They usually described Kuwait in a friendly manner. A kind of general summary of the impression the Europeans had about Kuwait is given in the 1880’s by the great French geographer Vivien St Martin:

Kuwait is in Turkish Arabia a kind of independent republic ruled in a patriarchal way by a Shaikh. The powerful Utub tribe founded it, since then in has much increased because of the immigration of people from Basra…

The activity of its port is continually increasing, especially with India. Engineers generally see this place as the terminus of a railroad that once should connect the Gulf with the Mediterranean. The people of Kuwait are among the freest people of the world and also are said to be among those with the strongest physical health, people of 100 years old are quite common there…

 

The nautical chart of 1832 showing the detailed surveying by Guys and Brucks of 1821

 

A few years earlier, in 1870, there had been a Dutch naval visit to Kuwait. The report on this visit also gave a very positive image of Kuwait: it was a prosperous place and the only port in the Gulf where the trade was entirely in the hands of local Arab people. The idea of Kuwait being a kind of republic went so far that the prestigious Berlin firm of Kiepert in 1867 published a map showing an independent “Republic of Kuwait”; this to the indignation of the Ottoman Empire, and the map caused diplomatic upheaval. But even a Turkish source stated (following the French geographer Reclus) that Kuwait was a republic like the republic of Venice. The Turkish fears that Kuwait might drift into the hands of Britain was caused by such maps and by newspaper reports from India that Kuwait might ask to British for protection. The Turks reacted by trying to impose their authority on Kuwait around 1867 – 1871, but not very energetically: they feared that the rich Kuwaitis might leave Kuwait for a place outside reach of the Turks and that they would be left with a piece of desert.

But at the end of the 19th century, when the colonial empires tended to fill the last empty spaces in the world, also Kuwait came into serious danger. The Ottoman Empire wanted effective occupation of this strategic position. At that time, Kuwait was ruled by Mubarak al Sabah, a descendant of the Mubarak described in 1756 by Kniphausen.

Mubarak tried an old ploy, used already by the Kuwaitis around 1800 and in 1840: if Turkey looks dangerous, Kuwait will look for British protection. The British were at first not inclined to help him but Mubarak was cleaver and he established contact with the Germans, the Persians, the French, the Russians and the British very nervous that other powers would gain a foothold in the Gulf. Mubarak’s manipulations caused a high British official to make the statement: « We do not want Kuwait, but we also do not want somebody else to have it.

Mubarak’s Kuwait became a state with a legal status in international law. He created a clever play of balancing the British against the Turks. Both kept from interfering too much in Kuwait internal affairs because they still feared that the merchants and ship-owners would leave.

 

Shaikh Mubarak, portrayed by the German traveler Hermann Burchardt in 1903

 

Mubarak was quite a modern man, using a steam yacht to get to places where he could discreetly send telegrams, to foreign representatives. His most interesting contact was a French scholar, who after publishing studies on Islamic law, publishing a nationalist Arabic newspaper in Tunisia, where he was kicked out by the French authorities because he stared a nationalistic newspaper against the French.  He lived disguised as an Arab in Mubarak’s palace, writing newspaper articles about independence for the Arabian Peninsula and organizing the supply of arms to Mubarak’s friends Ibn Saud.

In 1912, Mubarak was the first Gulf ruler to have a newspaper interview. He went very far by playing the balance between the powers. It was even said that Sief palace in Kuwait had two reception rooms: one for visiting British officials and one for Turks.

According to by the Danish traveler Barclay Raunkiær, who visited Kuwait in 1912, Mubarak was an autocrat, but a very approachable one. He was indeed a unique personality who was the first Kuwaiti of international fame.