The Buraimi crisis erupted way back in 1954, following the crisis between Oman and Saudi Arabia over the legitimate owner of the Buraimi Oasis; which was an important segment in the exploration of oil. Buraini is one of the autonomous interior regions of Oman, which had for long been regarded as the Imamate of Oman. Its ownership was not factored in the British treaties that saw Said bin Taimur become ruler of Muscat and Oman in 1954. In 1954, the Imam of Oman endeavoured to galvanize Omani tribesmen to eject the Saudis from Buraini. The British intervened and mitigated the conflict. In an effort to restrict the interference of Imam with the Buraini settlement, a battalion-sized task force, the Muscat and Oman Field Force were established and sent to occupy Ibri town. This led to the destruction of the Sultan’s prestige and authority by his disdain for his own people. The essay discusses external forces that resulted in the creation of Buraini crisis. The paper describes the effects of the Buraini crisis, as well as assessing the subsequent crises in the Gulf region.
Two major external forces contributed to the crisis in Buraini. The first one is the regional powers and the second, the British government. All these penetrated into the region due to the relationship that existed between them and Sheikh. The Arabiana Peninsula had for long been dominated by competing for tribal interests with oil as the centre of concern. Prominent oil companies from the region modified Buraini, irrespective of the void that had been filled by the international rivalries. The companies redrew the maps and allotted the area to themselves for their own commercial interests (Onley & Khalaf, 2006).
The heated controversy over Buraini’s ownership erupted between the competing forces, some alleging that Buraini was a territory of Saudi Arabia since the locals paid their taxes to Al Saud. The British began showing concern gradually, as it forced its way into the territory in the name of an arbitrator. The British dawdled over some time, as it strengthened its bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia and other states in the region. Eventually, there emerged considerable controversies bringing about a blue, red, violet and brown boundaries being drawn purported to be protecting tribal interests under the guidance of the British officials.
The voluntary support, given by the British, was never suspected as the officials tried as hard to conceal their interest in the region. Its immense support is given to Sultan Sa‘id bin Taymour of Oman and Shaikh Saqr bin Sultan Al Naimi of the UAE reinforced the Saudi gesture. As more events in other parts of the Arab world continued to unfold, the Buraimi disagreement took on an Arab nationalist perspective. Eventually, the issue became even more problematic for the British officials to strike a compromise to give the confounding dynamics that rocked the whole subject. For instance, whereas Anthony Eden was repugnant to the sympathies for Saudi Arabia emanating from Washington, concerning the ARAMCO oil company that had a stake in additional foraging, his anti-Arab positions puzzled the parties involved.
After a certain period of time, the British and Saudi Arabia reached consensus to submit to arbitration in order to bring the whole matter to finality and efforts and proper mechanisms were laid down to spearhead the process. By 1974, the dispute over Buruhani was then settled. This was when Shaikh Zayed and King Faysal Bin Abdul Aziz endorsed an “Agreement” in Jeddah (Onley & Khalaf, 2006). However, the contents of the agreement remained concealed but later it transpired that 15 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and 25 trillion cubic feet of untapped gas reserves had been allocated to the kingdom (Onley & Khalaf, 2006).
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Till today, it is alleged that the public has never come to the knowledge of what the treaty entailed, although there have been hitherto unsettled allegations that Saudi government must have tipped the arbitrators to gain its way into the legitimate ownership of the territory. The British government is also said to have wrecked the arbitration tribunal, making and coaxing dependent local tribes to accept various interpretations of the tribunal’s promises, which stated that oil wealth would transform the Buraini oasis into an El Dorado but sources confirmed that there were no oil deposits near or in the region (Onley & Khalaf, 2006). This was just a strategy for them to map the entire region, as they advance vast concessionary holdings.
The first effect of Buraini crisis was weakening the relationship between the Sheikh and tribesmen. The British intervention and wooing of Sheikh on their side destroyed and abolished the ties that exist between them. This meant the introduction of a new rule away from the traditional style of governance. The gradual transformation in leadership also brought civilization in the region together with the introduction of Christianity in some regions. Furthermore, the British succeeded to gain total control of the region through divide and rule system. They found it easier to deal with a smaller number of leaders than those of the entire Arab world. The British officials, therefore, identified and dealt with only a few leaders and tribal sheikhs from the Gulf region. This mechanism enabled the British to use the rulers themselves to enforce the Anglo-Arab treaties, for instance, the anti-slave and anti-piracy agreements.
Besides, the British tactics of using local leaders and tribesmen to enforce the enticing policies of Anglo-Arab treaties plunged the local leaders into a difficult situation, working to satisfy the local people and, at the same time, impressing the British lords. More often than not, the interests of the two factions would be clashing. This is what weakened the indigenous systems of government, hence creating a leeway for dominance of the British system.
In the same breath, the locals began embracing the British style of life and the majority of them enrolled for the British system of education, as well as aping their lifestyle. Schools were established and hospitals were created. This made the local culture lose relevance with time, as the people had gradually been civilized and wanted change. Similarly, the British penetrated and monopolized the local markets, a situation that weakened local industries and killed local innovations which were still feeble. ,
On the positive note, the slave trade and piracy, which were prominent activities among the merchants of this region, were brought to an end. The two forms of trade were then replaced with legitimate trade which had been introduced and controlled by the British. Apart from that, the region was stabilized politically due to the introduction of superior weapons by the British government. This enhanced security among the locals who had been under persistent attack by the pirates. The improvement of security also improved the tourism sector, where the area was filled with a considerable number of tourists who contributed greatly to the growth of the economy of the region.
Finally, the peasants and small scale farmers also benefited greatly from the introduction of exotic species and animal breeds which gave quality agricultural products. Alongside that their farming methods were improved drastically, a situation that contributed to the alleviation of famine in the region. Famers were later encouraged to venture into commercial farming with the purpose of penetrating the world market. Eventually, the economy of the region improved tremendously, leading to improved living standards.
Buraini crisis was perhaps the advent of a series of other revolutions in the Gulf region. After the Dhofar rebellion, the Saudi Arabian Frontier continued to expand and modernize its systems, as a result of maintaining close links with the British. Britain drew a lot of benefits from the airbase on Masirah Island as a staging post located off the southern coast. The USA was granted the same facilities which were increasingly important, as tension increased in the Gulf of Persia. In the mid-1980s, the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force (SOAF) instigated Hawker Hunter F6, SEPECAT Jaguar and C-130 Hercules aircraft from an in-country airbase at Thumrait. This triggered some form of conflict between the involved parties due to conflict of interests.
Besides that, in 1987 a border conflict emerged with the PDRY which made the entire SAF mobilized manoeuvre into Oman by Toyota pick-up trucks, which were armed with Dushka powerful arms and killed some Omani troops armed with inferior weapons (Onley & Khalaf, 2006). This prompted the PDRY to send motorized infantry force to reinforce the border but this was invaded by SOAF Jaguars as peace talks followed. Moreover, in 1989, the border tussle between Iran and Iraq emerged (Onley & Khalaf, 2006). This was a result of failure to determine the legitimate owner of some significant oil fields that fell between the two countries. Granted the powers by the Gulf Cooperation Council, Oman being a member state-assigned infantry battalion to the force known as Peninsula Shield.
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In the following year, 1990 Kuwait which is also a member of GCC, was ambushed by Iraqi Army (Morton, 2013). The situation prompted the formation of an international coalition as a means of discouraging further aggression by the Iraqi troops. Eventually, the sovereignty of Kuwait was restored after consolidating more military support from GCC member states to combat Iraq. During this time, Oman’s role in the First Gulf War was to serve as a base area, as well as a staging post for the large the United States Air Force and British Royal Air Force troops which had been deployed to Saudi Arabia.
The Oman battalion served in Saudi Arabia, as a part of GCC contribution to the ground war to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi attacks. A Task Force Omar was formed jointly between Oman and Saudi Arabia to forcibly advance into Kuwait. Luckily, no casualties were reported in the military engagement. Finally, in 2001, an exercise of Saif Sareea II led by the British Army took place hosted by Oman (Morton, 2013). The exercise was meant to practice rapid deployment and equipment testing under severe conditions. This activity was widely speculated to be the stage rehearsal for the involvement of Britain in the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan way back in 2001 to 2003 (Morton, 2013).
The crisis in Buraini may have looked like it was an internal affair but the reality is that it was orchestrated externally mostly by the British Government, which had eyed the potential gains to the detriment of the locals. Though it had disguised itself behind the mask of an arbitrator, the British emerged as the main beneficiary of the crisis. Thereafter, it had greater influence over the region and, particularly, the oil bowels. Apparently, the British Government identified several benefits in attempting to recognize the most powerful coastal leaders in the Gulf. The recent revolution of Arab Spring in 2011 saw the involvement of a number of states from the Middle East and the Arab world, which was an indication of the possibility of similar crises occurring in the future. This was a demonstration of efforts of the civilian groups to liberate themselves from the dictatorial leadership of incumbent governments. There is a confounding situation of ISIS that the world is yet to figure out the extent of its effects on the involved states: Iraq and Syria.
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