The Trucial States refers to a group of sheikhdoms in South Eastern Arabia that allied themselves to the British Empire through various treaties starting with the Great Maritime Treaty of 1820 and running through into the 1890s when the British formalized all the agreements. This was done ahead of renewed interest from France and Russia who were looking to make their mark on the Gulf. These treaties codified the idea that the British empire would defend these sheikhdoms with its military force and in return, the sheikdoms would give up their autonomy to engage with other rulers unless permission had been obtained from Britain itself.
The Trucial sheikhdoms included Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman, and Ras Al Khaimah. You might recognise those in the modern are as the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates. These states were part of the Arabian Gulf and occupied an area that was colloquially known as the ‘Pirate Coast’.
When Britain secured these treaties, there was never an intention to be very hands-on. All they really worried about was controlling the transport and communication channels through to India – a region that was crucial to Britain’s economy. Things were not always peaceful – there were a number of high-profile skirmishes and conflicts that played out across the coast. But in the greater scheme of things, the states found themselves with more autonomy then one might have believed if you read the treaties. For the most part, the Trucial States were left to manage themselves and, in their attempt to gain global legitimacy, came together in 1951 to form a Trucial States Council which would eventually morph into what we know today as the UAE Supreme Council.
Britain only really started to pay attention when oil was discovered in Abu Dhabi and the economic potential of the region started to materialise. The Iraq Petroleum company, an operation owned by the British, bought the concessions of oil and very quickly Abu Dhabi and Dubai become key economic players in the burgeoning gulf region. With the exception of a bloodless coup in 1966 against the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Britain was able to benefit greatly from the oil reserves across the Trucial States.
As the British empire lost its steam, and its colonial nature began to crack at the seams, it began to loosen its grip on the Trucial States and completely broke ties by 1971. The Trucial States squabbled a bit about potentially becoming one giant country, but they could not agree on how to make this work. As a result, Bahrain and Qatar became independent nations and the remaining states joined to form the UAE.
The Trucial States remain a fascinating component of Middle Eastern history and a vivid reminder of the economic, political, and social evolutions that the region has gone through to get to where it is today. Even though the name has been left behind, the UAE carries the history through to modern times, a pendant of a region transformed.
The Trucial States are the South Eastern Arabian sheikhdoms that aligned with the British Empire following the Great Maritime Treaty of 1820. They include the sheikhdoms of Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman, and Ras Al Khaimah.