100 Years on Bahrain's First Uprising

2022-02-16 - 3:27 p

Bahrain Mirror (Exclusive): On February 6, 1922, thousands of Bahraini Shiites (Baharna) staged a crowded protest in Manama bazaar and confronted a group of Fidawis who were holding a man from Bilad Al-Qadeem and beating him brutally. The crowd released by force the man from the hands of the militia who worked for the ruler, Shaikh Issa bin Ali Al Khalifa, beat the Fidawis, went on a strike, closed all their shops in the Bazaar and controlled it.

The British political agent in Bahrain, Major Daly, sent an express confidential letter to the British political resident in Bushire (responsible for all the Gulf) to inform him of the serious events: "The Bahrainis made a considerable demonstration some days back, shut the Bazaar and forcibly released from a Fidawi a man who had been ill-treated. This action considerably frightened the Shaikh.

The political agent warned the ruler of Bahrain of using further force and advised him to find means for pacifying the situation. A dialogue was conducted between the ruler and representatives of the Baharina during which they made several demands. Issa Bin Ali pretended to meet these demands after two days.

Magna Carta

The British political resident described the events as a "successful demonstration against the oppression of Shaikh's family". The political agent described the demand list which the ruler responded to as a Bahraini "Magna Carta", which none of its terms may be implemented.

That was the spark of what would be called the "The Baharina Uprising". Correspondences would be sent from the political agency (where the Baharina will protest demanding British protection) to the political residency in Bushire and then to the British Government of India, and London. The political agency will be waiting for telegrams responding to these correspondences.

This is the first time that the British have described the movements of the Baharina as demonstrations and sit-ins, having previously warned of an uprising, and it is also the first time that a direct meeting or "dialogue" between the ruler and the Baharina has been referred to. Before that, there was no recognition of them even as "subjects". Al Khalifa used to deal with them as "Invaders" even 150 years after they entered Bahrain. Al Khalifa had never accepted the Baharina as subjects or as part of their community in their new homeland, even though they were the indigenous people of Bahrain.

The Baharina had never seen hope in the British, as the British Crown has been the official patron and protector of Al Khalifa throughout its history. Hence, this uprising was preceded by a movement in another direction when the Shiite cleric Sayed Shubar bin Ali bin Mish'al Al-Sitri turned to Iran's King Naser Al-Din Shah Qajar in 1895 to help him succeed in a military coup he had arranged with some men from Al-Qatif and Al-Ahsa to oust Issa bin Ali. However, the coup failed.

The Chief of the Gulf Meets Massive Crowds

The Baharina took advantage of the circumstances at the end of World War I and of Britain's attempts to subject Bahrain to administrative reforms, and contacted, perhaps for the first time, the British directly. The last 20 years between the British and Al Khalifa had not been going  well** starting with 1904 events, to the appointment of an English political agent and the British Crown issuing the "Bahrain Order in Council" which turns Bahrain into a colony under the direct rule of the political agent, and the supervision of the then Minister of Munitions, Secretary of State for War, and Secretary of State for Colonies, Winston Churchill.

Prior to February 1922, the Baharina made a previous movement when British political resident Colonel Trevor visited Manama. On December 21st, 1921, thousands of Baharina called on him as per his words: "When I arrived at the agency, I found a large crowd of Bahraini waiting" and presented what will be known later as the first petition in the name of "All the Shiites in Bahrain."

After praising the justice of Queen Victoria and King George, the petition which was carefully  written was addressed to the political resident as being the "Chief of the Gulf" stating: "The Shia community is in a state of great humiliation and subject to public massacre. They have no refuge. The evidence of none of them is accepted. Their property is subject to plunder and they themselves are liable to maltreatment every moment." The petition was concluded by officially demanding British protection "This government is unanswerable to God for our bloodshed and for the injustice to which we are subjected, because she is able to help the weak and the poor and to relieve us from the hand of the oppressors."

Britain Investigates the Tyranny of Shaikh Issa bin Ali

Having met the political resident, senior Shiites informed him of the crimes of Al Khalifa, specifically those committed by Abdullah, the son of the ruler Issa bin Ali and the ruler's brother Khaled bin Ali, as well as of the intentions for demonstrating and the pressure exercised by the crowds. The political resident was then forced to ask the political agent Major Daly to prepare his famous inquiry report.. He also directly sent a telegram to the Government of India to inform them of these disturbances, opening up in the British political departments responsible for decision making what will be known as the file of "Tyranny of the Shaikh of Bahrain and his family over Bahrain subjects".

Four days later, another petition was filed by "All Shiites of Bahrain" addressing the political resident as "Our Shaikh, the Chief of the Gulf". They once again referred to what happened during the delegation meeting with the resident in a statement to what is happening to the Shia: "You understood a little of our sufferings and calamities, such as our money being looted, our men being killed, our honour being violated and about us being deported." The petitioners asked the British Government to be aware of what is happening to the Shiites and to rescue them, referring to a great political gathering in one of the mourning houses against the ruling family at a funeral, warning that people will not remain silent and that they are greatly disturbed.

Abdullah bin Issa: Raping 500 Girls

A few days before the outbreak of the February uprising, specifically on January 24th, 1922, 64 people submitted the "second petition" to political agent Major Daly, inquiring about the results of their meeting and their petition to the political resident. The petition shed light on Shaikh Abdullah, the Ruler's  son, stating: "Before affairs were in the hands of shaikh Abdulla, oppression was rife, but when he came to conduct affairs officially, tyranny was practiced to such an extent that matters affecting our honour were not safe and he even took girls from their houses by forces and her father and mother, from fear could not speak." The petition also stated that: "Shaikh Issa is today no more than a ring on Abdulla's finger."

In 1919, Abdullah, the favorite son of the ruler, Shaikh Issa bin Ali, ascended. Abdullah controlled departments of the non-central administration, bringing 50 years of his father's unjust rule to the height of tyranny and oppression and then to a humiliating end, let alone what has been going on since Al Khalifa occupied Bahrain: forcing the Shiites to work by Sukhra (forced labour), paying a tribute for each individual (tax for living in the country), a tax for commemorating religious rituals, usurping their lands and making them work in them, arbitrary imprisonment and releasing the hands of the brutal Fidawi forces against anyone who doesn't  respond to the desires and orders of feudal rulers of Al Khalifa Shaikhs. Abdulla kidnapped women and made them work in prostitution. He was accused of raping 500 girls in Bahrain!

Abdullah was the ruler of Jidhafs and Sanabis, but he was in fact the de facto ruler of the whole country. Oppression and abhorrence were organized and very widespread during his reign, which brought  his father's reign to an end.

Before the popular demonstrations make their way to the streets and to the Bazaar, the British political agent Major Daly will send his famous report which was demanded by the political resident on the crimes committed by Al Khalifa "some examples of oppression of Bahrain subjects by the ruling family in Bahrain". The main character in most of these crimes is Abdullah bin Issa: seizing heirs' money, selling lands that are not his own, confiscating houses, raping a girl in the street, forcing families to send their girls to him or leaving Bahrain, taking over houses, raping a girl on the street, forcing families to send their girls to him, otherwise leaving Bahrain, marrying a girl to one of his servants and then making her as his mistress, as well as sexual conspiracies for the purpose of financial extortion.

Emergence of Al-Khawalid 

Organized killings took place in broad daylight in Jidhafs, Sitra and Al-Nuaim. Relatives of the deceased were arrested, threatened and prevented from filing a complaint. Tubli governor, Hammoud bin Sabah Al Khalifa, was also mentioned in the report. He killed a man from Tubli and tried to kill his wife and children, and then threatened to kill them if they confessed.

At the time, Khalid bin Ali, the chief of Al Khawalid began to appear. He was the brother of Bahrain's Shaikh, and the governor of Sitra. There were several stories on the awful murder crimes he commits in the first correspondence from the political resident to the Government of India after meeting a delegation of the Baharina. The least he did was forcing the fishermen to give him large amounts of fish each day, and pay a tax for each individual without any reason. Later, Khalid will have a bigger role in the camel incident, which ends with his trial and his sons and expelling them from Sitra.

A Humiliating End

The Manama Bazaar and the political agency building (now the British Embassy) will be the scene of tumultuous political events and the first bold rebellions led by the Baharina against the ruling family throughout 1922. Before this date, the Baharina had no presence on the political scene except for being the oppressed who can't resist, oppose or do anything but submission.

The British came under intense pressure, and political resident Trevor and political agent Major Daly tried to ease the conflict, put an end to Abdulla bin Issa and keep him away from public affairs, but Abdullah was only the tip of the ice. Before him was Ali bin Ahmed, and Khalid bin Ali would come after. His father was the official sponsor of what the British would call Bahrain's "policy of terrorism". He rejected and disrupted all attempts to form administrative institutions that would pave the way for the establishment of a state with stability of security and politics.

In the note on the "Political Situation in Bahrain, November 1921", the political agent says that Shiites were ready to appeal to another Arab ruler to rule the region and treat them in a better way, if Al Khalifa were denied British protection. He ended saying "The oppression of the ruling family is greater than would be tolerated among tribal Arabs, who are in position to take the law into their own hands when unusually dissatisfied."

Major Daly said that it is unlikely that the shaikhs will seriously try to introduce reforms, unless the Baharina rose against the Shaikhs and forced them to do so. He quotes the opposition leader Ahmed ben Khamis as saying that Shiites are convinced that publishing about their oppression in the press is their only hope for removing injustice.

In a later letter, the political agent says that some Shiites were supporting an open rebel. It is said that they were importing weapons.

In his correspondence on the February protest, the political agent said that Shaikh Issa seems to be "oblivious to the facts that he is sitting on top of a volcano." Finally, in May 1923, Britain was forced to remove Issa bin Ali from power in a humiliating way, which was one of the most important results of the Baharina's first uprising.


"Records of Bahrain", translated by Awal Centre for Studies and Documentation, reveals the sequence of these historical facts in Bahrain during the 20th century through a flood of correspondences, memoirs, letters, petitions and reports. Many of these secret details remained secret from the public for decades until they were not confidential anymore and were published by the British government.              

Magna Carta or Great Charter, a historic English document issued in 1215 and inspired many constitutions, including the Constitution of the United States of America. The document puts the English king under the rule of law and restricts his powers, and today carries a great symbolism in freedoms, rights and conflict between those in power and laws.

The author Dr. Ali Al-Dairy used the British archives to develop a sequenced historical narrative for these events in his book "Who is Bahraini?" In a critical spirit, the book completed the missing picture with information that were absent from historical works on what was known as the period of administrative reforms and the building of the modern state in Bahrain.

Arabic Version