eastern aden protectorate

Aden Protectorate

[ahd-n, eyd-n]
Aden Protectorate (محمية عدن [Maḥmiyyat ʿAdan]) was a British protectorate in southern Arabia in the early and middle 20th century. Together with the Colony of Aden, it subsequently became known as South Arabia and later South Yemen. Today the territory forms part of the Republic of Yemen.


Informal beginnings

What became known as the Aden Protectorate was initially informal arrangements of protection with nine tribes in the immediate hinterland of the port city of Aden:

British expansion into the area was designed to secure the important port that was, at the time, governed from British India. From 1874, these protection arrangements existed with the tacit acceptance of the Ottoman Empire that maintained suzerainty over Yemen to the north and the polities became known collectively as the "Nine Tribes" or the "Nine Cantons."

Formal treaties of protection

Beginning with a formal treaty of protection with the Hadhrami Mahra Sultanate of Qishn and Socotra in 1886, Britain embarked on a slow formalization of protection arrangements that included over 30 major treaties of protection with the last signed only in 1954. These treaties, together with a number of other minor agreements, created the Aden Protectorate that extended well east of Aden to Hadhramaut and included all of the territory that would become South Yemen except for the immediate environs and port of the British colonial capital, Aden city, which together with several offshore islands was known as the Colony of Aden, the only part where no Arab ruler retained jurisdiction. In exchange for British protection, the rulers of the constituent territories agreed not to enter into agreement with or cede territory to any other foreign power.

In 1917, control of Aden Protectorate was transferred from the Government of India, which had inherited the British East India Company's interests in various princely states on the strategically important naval route from Europe to India, to the British Foreign Office. For administrative purposes, the protectorate was informally divided into the Eastern Protectorate (with its own Political Officer, a British advisor, stationed at Mukalla in Qu'aiti from 1937 to ca. 1967) and the Western Protectorate (with its own Political Officer, stationed at Lahej from 1 April 1937 to 1967), for some separation of administration.

The Eastern Protectorate (ca. 230,000 km²) came to include the following entities (mostly in Hadhramaut):

The Western Protectorate (ca. 55,000 km²) included:

The boundaries between these polities and even their number fluctuated over time. Some such as the Mahra Sultanate barely had any functioning administration. Not included in the protectorate were Aden Colony or the insular areas of Perim, Kamaran, and Khuriya Muriya that accrued to it.

Advisory treaties

In 1938, Britain signed an advisory treaty with the Qu'aiti sultan and, throughout the 1940s and 1950s, signed similar treaties with twelve other protectorate states. The following were the states with advisory treaties:

Eastern Protectorate States

  • Kathiri
  • Mahra
  • Qu'aiti
  • Wahidi Balhaf

Western Protectorate States

  • Audhali
  • Beihan
  • Dhala
  • Haushabi
  • Fadhli
  • Lahej
  • Lower Aulaqi
  • Lower Yafa
  • Upper Aulaqi Sheikhdom

These agreements allowed for the stationing of a Resident Advisor in the signatory states which gave the British a greater degree of control over their domestic affairs. This rationalized and stabilized the rulers’ status and laws of succession but had the effect of ossifying the leadership and encouraging official corruption. Aerial bombardment and collective punishment were sometimes used against wayward tribes to enforce the rule of Britain’s clients. British protection came to be seen as an impediment to progress, a view reinforced by the arrival of news of Arab nationalism from the outside world on newly available transistor radios.

Challenges to the status quo

British control was also challenged by King Ahmad bin Yahya of Yemen to the north who did not recognize British suzerainty in South Arabia and had ambitions of creating a unified Greater Yemen. In the late 1940s and the early 1950s, Yemen was involved in a series of border skirmishes along the disputed Violet Line, a 1914 Anglo-Ottoman demarcation that served to separate Yemen from the Aden Protectorate.

In 1950, Kennedy Trevaskis, the Advisor for the Western Protectorate drew up a plan for the protectorate states to form two federations, corresponding to the two halves of the protectorate. Although little progress was made in bringing the plan to fruition, it was considered a provocation by Ahmad bin Yahya. In addition to his role as king, he also served as the imam of the ruling Zaidi branch of Shi'a Islam. He feared that a successful federation in the Shafi'i Sunnite protectorates would serve as a beacon for discontented Shafi'ites who inhabited the coastal regions of Yemen. To counter the threat, Ahmad stepped up Yemeni efforts to undermine British control and, in the mid-1950s, Yemen supported a number of revolts by disgruntled tribes against protectorate states. The appeal of Yemen was limited initially in the protectorate but a growing intimacy between Yemen and the popular Arab nationalist president of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser and the formation of United Arab States increased its attraction.

Federation and the end of the Protectorate

Nationalist pressure prodded the threatened rulers of the Aden Protectorate states to revive efforts at forming a federation and, on 11 February 1959, six of them signed an accord forming the Federation of Arab Emirates of the South. In the next three years, they were joined by nine others and, on 18 January 1963, Aden Colony was merged with the federation creating the new Federation of South Arabia. At the same time, the (mostly eastern) states that had not joined the federation became the Protectorate of South Arabia, thus ending the existence of the Aden Protectorate.

Sources, references and further reading

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