Mubarak’s policy towards Najd 1900-1915.
Kuwait and Najd were characterized by enmity and tension, especially in the times before Sheikh Mubarak came into power. The pressure was the disagreement about who was supposed to control Najd. The situation was much different in the rule of Sheikh Mubarak, who was described as a wise leader who was a great negotiator and strategic in his moves in times of conflict. Sheikh Mubarak was described as a divisive personality in the Arab world. Europeans referred to him as “an enormously clever fox,” a master local ruler who exploited huge power rivalries (Al-Saif,2021). Mubarak’s rise to power, the motives for his change in regime, and the style of his rule have all been subjected to various interpretations. This paper argues that Sheikh Mubarak was a strategic leader who could defeat his enemies and do away with the continuous threat to Kuwait.
Sheikh Mubarak successfully allied with Al-Saud, an enemy of Al- Rashid. Sheikh Mubarak believed that an enemy of his enemy was his friend, and this strategy would make him stronger and be able to defeat the enemies. However, the tension between Sheikh Mubarak and Emir Abdul Aziz kept on growing significantly between 1897 and 1906. Sheikh Mubarak reached out to the British, who recommended Mubarak expand his support base from desert tribes such as the Ajman and Mutran, who were still allied to Al-Rashid. Later, open aggression developed between these tribes and Ibn Rashid, prompting the Ajman to reside in Kuwait and request Mubarak for support. Sheikh Mubarak married ladies of various tribes to strengthen his relationships (Azoulay, 2020). This occurred in the 1880s, years before the protection arrangement with the British was signed.
Strategic partnerships with desert tribes helped Sheikh Mubarak face his opponent, the Al-Rashid in Ha’il. Sheikh Mubarak drew his supporters from the Ajman and Rashaida to assist him in assassinating his half-brother. As per local historians, the Ajman ruler encouraged Sheikh Mubarak to assassinate his half-brother and grab power. While the Ajman ruler is accused of provoking Mubarak, the Rashaida, Kuwait’s first non-noble tribe, played a vital role. The latter was the Mubaraks’ guards, which were made up entirely of Bedouins. Personal enslaved people, distinguishable by their appearance, were included among the servants. Their job entailed practically “forgoing everything for their master,” as they were hired based on a personal relationship with Sheikh Mubarak and held sole responsibility for the latter’s safety (Baumer, 2021). “They didn’t have a specific work to complete, instead, they were required to accept their master’s commands and follow him everywhere he went.” These fidawiyya were also involved in monitoring the neighboring desert and, later, the petroleum wells and the private patrols provided by oil companies. The Emir’s servants provided the gatekeepers for the city wall, which was built in response to the Ikhwan invasion.
For strategic reasons, Sheikh Mubarak allied with Shi’a merchants. Growing danger from Al-Rashid and Mubarak’s humiliating defeat at the War of Sarif in 1901 strengthened his need for cash to fund his expeditions. Kuwait was the epicenter of regional weapons smuggling at the time. The arms trade was solely controlled by Shi’a merchants of Iranian descent. Sheikh Mubarak’s income was mainly resulting from this trade, which justifies his closeness to Shi’a merchants. Firearms arrived in Kuwait through Muscat, which served as a gateway for weapons entering the area from Europe. These merchants had strong relations with French and Belgian agents in Oman, allowing them to export weaponry to Kuwait, considering French corporations were significant consumers of British arms (Satia, 2004). The British essentially ignored the arms trade provided it reached India’s local supporters, including Sheikh Mubarak and Sheikh Khaz’al of Arab Khuzestan. Najaf and Mohammed were the main contributors to Mubarak’s treasury through their involvement in firearm smuggling until the early twentieth century. They were the essential weapon traders.
The Shi’a were a pro-sheikh community during Mubarak’s regime, benefiting from his support and direct ties to sheikh Mubarak’s chief administrator, Mulla Salih. Furthermore, Mubarak’s primary source of cash to finance his state activities was Shi’a merchants. Following Mubarak’s death, the Shi’a did not always feel safe, and they turned to the British for protection, fearing anti-Iranian sentiments among the Sunni Najdi elite.
Al-Saif, B. (2021). Along the Kuwaiti-Saudi Border, Stability Is Built on Flexibility. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep31119.5
Azoulay, R. (2020). Kuwait and Al-Sabah: Tribal Politics and Power in an Oil State. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Baumer, C. (2021). Lt Col Hamilton’s 1917 Political Mission To Emir Abd Al-Aziz Al-Saud Of Najd. Asian Affairs, 52(1), 130-154. https://doi.org/10.1080/03068374.2021.1878737
Satia, P. (2004). The secret center: Arabia intelligence in British culture and politics, 1900–1932. University of California, Berkeley https://www.proquest.com/openview/c56fdd0be8d9323b3dd9dd35e3ea8cf9/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y