MEETING # 1401
DECEMBER 5, 1985
Recollections of the Persian Gulf
by Northcutt Ely
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public
Mr. Elys paper today tells of the experiences of himself and his wife, Marica,
during the years 1970-72, in the course of his representation of the Ruler of Sharjah, an
Arab country bordering or. the Persian Gulf.
Mr. Ely was initially retained to represent Sharjah in a dispute with a neighboring
shaikhdom, as to the rights of the two shaikhdoms in the potential oil resources in the
seabed of the Gulf adjoining the island of Abu Musa. This dispute was pushed off stage by
the threat of the Shah of Iran, who also claimed the island, to take it by force upon the
announced termination of the British treaty of protection with the Gulf shaikhdoms.
Mr. Elys narrative tells of the cliff-hanging negotiations with the Iranians and
the British. These ended in a successful settlement with Iran, forty-eight hours before
the British treaty was terminated and they left the Gulf.
This success was overshadowed by tragedy a few weeks after the British treaty of
protection ended, when the Rulers predecessor, who had been deposed by the royal
family and deported by the British, slipped back into Sharjah with a band of followers in
an attempted coup, and assassinated the Ruler. The coup failed, and a brother of the
murdered Ruler was chosen by the royal family to take his place.
Mr. Elys story ends with the discovery of oil in Sharjah a few months later.
BIOGRAPHY OF THE AUTHOR
Mr. Ely is a graduate of Stanford and Stanford Law School.
His wife is Marica McCann Ely, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley
and Pratt Institute of Art in New York.
They have three sons, all doctors. One is a Redlands resident, Dr. Craig Northcutt.
After practicing in California and New York, he became Executive Assistant to Secretary
of the Interior, Ray Lyman Wilbur, in the Hoover Administration. He represented Secretary
Wilbur in negotiating the Hoover Dam power and water contracts.
After leaving the Interior Department, Mr. Ely practiced law in the District of
Columbia for nearly 50 years. He and his wife moved to Redlands in 1981, but he has not
His specialties are international law and natural resources law.
He has argued before the United States Supreme Court seven times. His Supreme Court
cases of most interest to a California audience were the representation of California in
Arizona v. California, and of Imperial Irrigation District in the 160 acre limitation
Mr. Elys current cases include the representation of the City of Los Angeles and
Southern California Edison Company in the renewal of the Hoover power contracts that he
negotiated for the government 54 years ago, advice to Imperial Irrigation District in
their water conservation program, and representation of other clients in several
He is a member of the Board of Overseers of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, and a
trustee of the Hoover Foundation.
The central figure in this narrative is Shaikh Khalid bin Mohamed bin Qasimi, Ruler of
Shardah, a client who became a close friend, and who met a tragic end.
Shard ah is one of the Arab countries which border on the southern shore of the Persian
or Arabian Gulf. Sharjah s neighbors are other small shaikhdoms, except for one
giant, Saudi Arabia. They face Iran, which occupies nearly all of the northern shore.
Seven of these shaikhdoms are now federated in the United Arab Emirates.
The Arab side of the Gulf was known for centuries as the Pirate Coast, with good
reason. The inlets along the shore were the headquarters of pirate tribes. Many of their
watch towers, from which they signaled to one another the approach of a ship, are still
In 1859, after three military expeditions, the British subdued the pirates and imposed
a perpetual maritime truce.
The Pirate Coast took on the more respectable name of the Trucial Coast, and the pirate
shaikhdoms became the Trucial States. These were treated by the British as Sovereigns,
occupying a special treaty relationship with the British government. This included British
authority to enforce the maritime truce, to conduct the foreign relations of the
shaikhdoms, and to protect them against outside aggression. In return, the shaikhs agreed
not to cede any of their lands to a foreign power. This was interpreted by the British to
mean that 811 oil concessions, and permits to drill, required British approval.
2. Shaikh Khalid and His Country
We- my wife Marica and I - first met Shaikh Khalid in April of 1970.
It had been arranged between His Highness and 0a oil concessionaire that I would act as
his lawyer in a boundary dispute with a neighbor, the Shaikhdom of Umm al Qawain. The
issue was the ownership of the seabed adjoining the island of Abu Musa, some forty miles
off the Arabian mainland. Both countries agreed that Sharjah owned the island, but they
disagreed on the extent of the seabed that belonged to the island, and how much of it
belonged to the mainland. The two Rulers had granted petroleum concessions to different
American oil companies. The concession areas overlapped. As wee to be expected, a very
promising geologic structure had been identified in the disputed submarine area, and both
companies were eager to drill there. The British had imposed a truce on drilling, until
title could be decided.
Shaikh Khalid was in his thirties. He was an unpretentious, kindly man. He spoke
English, and wee the moat enlightened of the Rulers. He was the only Ruler who had had an
education, and he was proud of Sharjah's schools. Shaikh Khalid said to me one day, "Do you realize that today a third of our entire population is in school?" He
had great hopes for his impoverished little country. After all, if oil were discovered, it
would bring $2.40 a barrel, a very high price.
We found Sharjah Town to be a primitive place, perched between the desert and the sea.
From our room in the only hotel, we could see householders chasing the neighbors goats out of their kitchens.
An inlet, the original pirate harbor, separated the town from the ocean. Shaikh
Khalids office looked out on a park, dominated by an antique cannon. It had been the
custom of Khalids predecessor, who was 0a cousin, to punish people who offended him
by having them tied onto that scalding-hot cannon for long periods in the blazing sun. He
had been deposed and deported by the family, with British help, and the family had
selected Khalid in his place. Khalid had been in office about five years.
The deposed Ruler will reappear in this narrative, I regret to say.
Shaikh Khalid had two kinds of body-guards, one a smartly uniformed platoon, trained by
a British Army officer, and the other a collection of tough Bedouins from the desert. They
wore bandoliers and daggers-and carried long rifles. One of them, while out hunting on the
desert, had brought down a-British trainer plane with one shot from 0a rifle. The British
were understandably annoyed. They had located him, somehow, and put him in jail for a
short time. After that, he wee naturally in great demand as a bodyguard for royalty. I
always addressed him as One-Short Charlie.
As later events were to prove, all this security was pathetically inadequate.
In mid-1971, a nearly successful attempt was made to assassinate the ruler.
Shaikh Khalids cue tom wee to give audience at 10:00 each morning to any of his
subjects who wanted to see him.
He always sat on a sofa at the end of a long room. I sat on that sofa many times,
waiting while he heard his subjects, one by one, and could turn to the problems on which I
The weapon was a bomb, placed under that sofa.
The bomb went off at 8:00 a.m. It reduced the sofa to powder, and blew out the whole
end of the building. From the fragments recovered, British experts concluded that the bomb
had been timed to explode at about 11:00 in the morning, when the room would be full of
people, but had detonated prematurely.
The attempted assassin was identified as a partisan of the deposed Ruler. He escaped to
Lebanon, which refused to extradite him.
The palace was rebuilt, but from that time forward Shaikh Khalid lived in fear of his
life, and Justifiably so.
3. The Iranian Crisis
In January 1971, Sharjahs quarrel with Umm al Qawain was abruptly pushed off
center stage by two events.
Britains Conservative government announced that it would adhere to the Labor
government e 1968 decision to leave the Gulf and terminate the treatise of
protection with the Trucial States. The date would be December 1, just ten months away.
The second event was Irans threat to send warships to Abu Muse without waiting
for the British to leave the Gulf.
Irans threat was occasioned by the arrival, just outside the twelve-mile
Territorial Sea of Abu Muse, of two huge barges, chartered by the competing oil company,
bearing a twelve-story high drilling platform, intending to drill within the twelve-mile
line. The Shah warned that Iran, not the Arabs, owned Abu Musa, and if the British allowed
drilling, he would send warships to atop it. Irans claim was not new, but the
British had never taken it seriously.
The British, alarmed, obtained from the Ruler of Umm al Qawain an order to 0a
concessionaire to anchor the barge outside the twelve-mile line. The captain of a British
minesweeper boarded the barge and delivered the Rulers order. It was obeyed.
Two days later the competing oil company filed suit in the British courts against the
British government, alleging that the company was the victim of a conspiracy between the
Shah of Iran, Her Majestys government, the Ruler Of Sharjah, and his concessionaire.
It complained, incidentally; that the captain of the minesweeper had scuffed the
barges paint when he boarded. Needless to say, that rather silly suit was dismissed.
However, serious litigation between the two oil companies reverberated through the courts
of the United States and England for the next ten years, going up to the House of Lords
twice. I am glad to say that the side of the angels prevailed.
Back to Abu Musa:
The British had been stirred into action. It was essential, if they were to make a
dignified exit from the Gulf ten months later, that the Shah be pacified, and this
required the Ruler of Sharjahs cooperation. I suddenly found that I was very welcome
The Iranian problem, simply put, wee that the Shah kind an incurable obsession. He had
convinced himself that Iran owned three islands in the Gulf, near its mouth, although they
had been occupied by Arabs from time immemorial. One was our island of Abu Musa, on which
some 800 subjects of the Ruler of Sharjah lived. The other two were insignificant little
islands belonging to another shaikhdom, Ras al Khaimah. The Shahs fixed notion was
that the British had stolen those islands from Persia a century or so earlier, and had
given them to the Arabs.
The source of Irans claim wee that in the middle of the 19th century,
when the British were busy stamping out piracy in the Gulf, the Arabs who lived on Abu
Musa island were the subjects of a branch of the Qasimi family which had its head-quarters
for a short time in a town in Persia, and the shaikh who was head of that branch of the
family had become a Persian subject for a few years, until he was deposed. The Shah relied
heavily on a set of maps which had been given to the Persian government in 1903 when Lord
Curzon, Viceroy of India, toured the Gulf with a fleet of warships, paying courtesy calls.
The sequel was unexpected. The British Minister reported that the Persian Foreign
Minister, on receiving these maps, expressed delight that they showed the islands in the
same color as mainland Persia. This, he said, was an admission by the British Government
that the islands were Persian, and he was very grateful.
Alongside this report the British Foreign Secretary kind written in long-hand, "The lesson I learn from this is that we should never again give maps a as a
The British and American governments, I was to discover, although they considered the
Shahs claim to be preposterous, were not of a mind to do anything effective to help
On one of my visits to Tehran I had a long session with the American Ambassador,
Douglas MacArthur II, the son of the general. He gave me a lecture on geopolitics,
supplemented by a display of maps. The thrust was that when the British left the Gulf in a
few months, there would be a power vacuum. The United States was not going to step into
Great Britains shoes as policeman of the Gulf. Our government expected that Iran
would do so. It was essential to American interests that the Shah he supported in every
way possible, to avoid the Gulf being swallowed by the Russians. The Soviets had already
extended their influence to Iraq at the Gulfs upper end.
On the far side of the Arabian peninsula, the Russians had taken over the abandoned
British base at Aden, which commanded the entrance to the Red Sea. Controlling both the
Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, the Russians would then have Saudi Arabia in pincers. Saudi
Arabia a oil wee essential to the West. There was no power other than Iran that
could stand between the Soviets and the Gulf. Abu Musa, situated near the Gulf mouth, was
important strategically. In the wrong hands, it could be like a cork in the neck of a
bottle. Better to have it in the hands of the Shah, even if he had no right to it, than
occupied by communist Arab insurgents.
The Ambassador did not have to point out the bottom line: Sharjah was expendable.
I received the same story from cabinet-level officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office in London. An added twist was the disclosure that the British had gotten rid of
Shaikh Khalids predecessor, not because he was wicked, but because of the discovery
that he had given Nasser of Egypt permission to station his representatives in Sharjah,
and Nasser was notoriously pro-Russian, anti-British. The British had refused permission
to the Egyptian plane carrying Nassers people to land, end had packed off the
offending Ruler to Egypt the next day. Fate was to bring him back to Sharjah, as we shall
4. The British Negotiate with Iran
The initial British position was that Sharjah, not Britain, must negotiate with Iran.
From the British viewpoint, the authority given them by treaty to "conduct"
the foreign relations of the Shaikhdoms was not synonymous with the power to make
decisions on behalf of a Ruler, but was merely to act as a "conduit" to carry
out his instructions. I found the transformation of the verb "conduct" into the
noun "conduit" hard to follow, and so did the Shah. To the credit of the
British, however, they maintained this position to the last; they would make no agreement
with Iran unless Sharjah authorized it.
The Shah, on the other hand, made it plain that he would not negotiate with the Arabs,
but only with the British. It was the British who had stolen the three islands from his
predecessors, during a time of Persian weakness. But Persia was no longer weak. It was
mighty Iran. The British were going to have to give those islands back to him, the
successor of Cyrus the Great. One of the Shahs ministers told me that His Imperial
Majesty really liked Shaikh Khalid, and was sorry to do this to him, but foreign policy
could be cruel. I was told that the Shah regretted that the man he was about to destroy
was Khalid, instead of Khalids wicked predecessor. This, of course, was comforting
The British, of necessity, moved away from their original position that Sharjah, not
Britain, must negotiate with Iran.
The Shah, I may add, despite his pretensions of friendship for the Arab rulers, as
innocent victims of British imperialism, was in fact supremely contemptuous of all Arabs.
Sir William Luce, the chief British negotiator, told me that when the Shah spoke of Arabs,
his lip "curled in scorn" Luce said he had read that expression in novels, but
had never seen anyone actually curl his lip in scorn. When Luce got home, he tried it in
front of a mirror, but couldnt do it.
The announced date for Britains withdrawal from the Gulf was approaching rapidly.
The clock was ticking. Sir William shuttled between Tehran and Sharjah at an increasing
tempo, bringing to Shaikh Khalid the latest version of the Shahs terms. On each
occasion Khalid would refuse to agree, and demand better terms.
Finally, in late October, Sir William returned to Sharjah with what he called the
Shahs "final offer", and pressed for an answer.
5. The Arabs Decide on Peace Instead of Defiance
This was in the holy month of Ramadan, which made negotiations particularly difficult.
Good Moslems were supposed not to eat or even drink water during daylight hours. The
result was that all business between the British and the Arabs had to be transacted after
dark. For my part, I spent the days arguing with the British, and long night hours trying
to pacify the Arabs, who were hungry, thirsty, and irritable.
The night of decision is etched very deeply in my memory. It was a special feast day,
or rather night, somewhat like Christmas Eve, related to the end of Ramadan. I ant by the
Rulers side on the couch that had replaced the one which had been blown up, while he
received 0a subjects. They came and went, but the large room was always filled with
people. Each of them came up to the Ruler, paid 0a respects, and gave him a present. The
more important people kissed his nose. The British security officer received each present,
beautifully wrapped, much as Christmas presents would be in our country, all within a few
feet of the Ruler, and showed him the wrapped box. He would express 0a thanks, and the
gift would be taken away by a servant. Any one of these boxes might have contained a bomb.
It was a long evening. Whenever there was a lull, a servant would pass a huge tray loaded
with candy, fruit and dates. Discussion of business was out of the question. I grew more
and more restless, knowing that a decision must be made without further delay.
Finally, well after midnight, the Ruler led a few of us into a nearby room. There, one
by one, the members of his family appeared. He had called a council of the royal house to
hear the Shahs "last offer" and make a decision. There was an agitated
discussion. My interpreter whispered to me, "It is not going well. They will turn it
The Ruler finally asked me: "Mr. Ely, not as my lawyer, but as my friend, what
would you do if you were in my place?" I said that I would settle; that Abu Musa
itself was nothing but a rock pile. What wee important wee the oil around it. If the Shah
would agree to a fair division of the oil revenues with Sharjah, without demanding that
Sharjah cede sovereignty, the Ruler would be in a position to make his country prosperous.
If he refused, he would lose the island to Iran a overwhelming force. Neither the
United States nor Great Britain would intervene. There was no likelihood that any Arab
country would fight Iran. He and 0a people would die proud, but poor.
After another sharp discussion in Arabic, Shaikh Euclid turned to me and acid, "I
think we are going to take your advice, but first I want to have a meeting of the people
of the town. If they agree, we will go ahead."
The town meeting was held the next night in the same audience chamber.
A spokesman explained what the problem was, and said they had been called together to
express their views. A translator kept me informed. The meeting wee a moving one, for many
reasons. Not least of these were the statements by townspeople that this was the first
time in their lives that they had ever had the opportunity to express their opinions on a
matter that the Ruler was about to decide. Some took one side, some the opposite.-After
listening to a good deal of this, the Ruler said he wanted them to hear my advice.
I gave my speech again advising settlement, but said I did not think the Shah a
"final offer" wee truly final. Sharjah could not cede sovereignty. Some other
formula must be found. It wee translated, sentence by sentence.
A distinguished looking Arab arose and said, first in Arabic, then in English, "We
are going to support Your Highness in whatever decision you make. It is a difficult one. I
think most of us, if we were in your place, would settle with Iran." There was
general nodding of heads in agreement, and that was that.
As Shaikh Khalid bade his followers farewell at the door, I could see the fog creeping
in, obscuring the garden lights. It was an eerie sight. My tension was not lessened when I
looked down at two Arabs seated by the aisle, and sew that each of them had a hunting
falcon clutching 0a wrist. I expressed astonishment that anyone would bring falcons to a
midnight occasion of this sort. My translator explained that these birds were status
symbols, worth several thousand dollars each. It was like driving up to the meeting in two
Mercedes. Sure enough, before long an Arab walked majestically out into the fog, followed
by his two retainers, each carrying a falcon on his arm.
We broke the news to the very much relieved British. I had been authorized to support
their negotiations, but Sharjah wanted still better terms, and the Ruler must be
personally represented in the final negotiations.
6. The Final Settlement
Before I move on with this narrative, another introduction is in order. The
Rulers closest confidante was a young man named Hamid Jafar, a graduate of Cambridge
University in engineering, wise beyond 0a years. Marica and I had come to consider him our
Arab son. Bit by bit, we had learned about his unusual family background. Hamids
father was a distinguished Iraqi, the fortieth in direct line of Succession from the
Prophet. Hamids mother was the grand-daughter of the Shah of Iran who had been
overthrown by the father of the present Shah. The family had been allowed to leave Iran
with only their clothing. Fortunately, Hamids grandmother had the presence of mind
to put on a dress which was elaborately decorated with pearls. In exile, they had lived on
the proceeds of those pearls for two years, until they could make a fresh start in life.
Hamid was a Shiite, as were the Iranians.
I insisted that Hamid go with me, although others expressed some doubt as to how the
Shah would react.
This time things were different. There were no lectures on geopolitics from the
American Ambassador, no suggestions that Sharjah was expendable. The Rulers
signature to an agreement was indispensable if the British were to be able to leave the
Gulf in peace. Marica and I were the guests of the British Ambassador, Sir Peter
Ramsbotham. His car and driver were at our disposal. In the evening, when I had to draft
counter proposals to the Iranian demands, the Ambassador personally found a typewriter and
carried it out to the sun porch for me.
Whatever doubts anyone had had about Hamids reception in Iran were quickly
dispelled. He was treated by the Iranians with the deference due to a descendant of the
Prophet, to be addressed as "Sayed", more or less equivalent to knighthood. As
to his identification with the exiled Persian royal house, the Iranians did not seem to
mind, and the British were positively pleased to discover that we had royalty on our side,
even exiled royalty. They understand such things.
I did not meet the Shah. After all, he would not negotiate with us Arabs. But 0a
representatives did. They were his Ambassador to London and two cabinet officers. On our
side were Sir William Luce, the British Ambassador, Hamid, and myself.
We agreed to disagree about sovereignty. The settlement document would say that neither
party recognized the sovereignty of the other, but that against this background Iran could
maintain a garrison at one end of Abu Musa. A map was to be annexed, showing the small
area that this garrison would occupy. Sharjah s flag would continue to fly
everywhere else, and Sharjah s police and school system would remain. Oil revenues
would be equally divided. The island was to have a twelve-mile Territorial Sea, putting an
end to Umm al Qawains contentions. The oil company would continue to operate under
license from Shard ah, not Iran.
This last was a sticky point. The Iranians disclosed that the competing oil company had
offered to accept a license from Iran. Our oil company should do the same. We refused. Our
company could have only one boss, and the boss must continue to be Sharjah. A serious
impasse developed. We were told that the Shah himself had insisted on this point. I asked
the Finance Minister to put before His Majesty the concept that Iran was simply acquiring
~ half interest in rents from a house built by someone else, and there was no sense in
tearing the house down and building a new one. The Minister of Finance excused himself, to
phone the Shah. He came back to say that the Shah had Constructed him to accept our
Once we had found a formula to "fudge" the issue of sovereignty, and Iran had
conceded that Sharjah alone should be "boss" of the oil operations, agreement
was quickly reached, subject to one final peculiarity. Since the Shah a position was
that the British had stolen his island and had to return it to him, he was not about to
make a treaty with Sharjah. To the contrary, he would enter into an agreement only with
the British. On the other hand, Shard ah wanted an agreement on which it could hold Iran
responsible. This dilemma was solved by the British Ambassadors suggestion that
Sharjah and Iran would each enter into an exchange of notes with the British government,
evidencing what had just been agreed to, and the British Foreign Office would then hand
over copies of each sides communication to the other.
Sir William Luce went to say his farewells to the Shah, and I went to report the
settlement to the American Ambassador. MacArthur was away. His Deputy Chief of Mission
paid me a compliment that I will repeat here, only because subsequent events were to
deflate it somewhat. He said, "If we had a birthday honors list, as the British have,
your name would be on it, because you have prevented war in the Persian Gulf."
With all this in hand, Marica, Hamid and I returned to Sharjah with Sir William in a
British Royal Air Force plane. En route, Luce said that the Shah had promised to shoulder
the cost of a settlement between Sharjah and Umm al Qawain, cut of Iran's half of the oil
The Ruler was jubilant, and signed the necessary papers. He said that his people
regarded me as the first citizen of Sharjah, and on our next visit he would give Marica
and me honorary passports.
We went on to London, where the solemn minuet of exchanging parallel agreements with
the British government was carried out.
All this was brought to a conclusion just forty-eight hours before the widely
publicized date of British withdrawal from the Gulf.
A small Iranian military force landed on Zebu Musa, was received courteously by a
representative of Sharjah, the two flags were hoisted at opposite ends of the island, and
the new regime was inaugurated.
Now I come to the deflation of the compliment I had receiver' at the American Embassy.
Ras al Khaimah, the shaikhdom which owned the ether too islands that the Shah coveted,
refused to make an agreement with Iran. Consequently, on the day that the British left the
Gulf, Iranian helicopters landed troops on the island, gunfire broke out, and several
Iranians and Arabs were killed.
And so war had broken out, after all, although on a small scale. It could have
escalated. Iraq threatened to go to war with Iran over the seizure of the three islands,
but was in no position to do so at that time. Libya denounced the British for failing to
defend the islands by force. Khadafi took out his displeasure with the British by
nationalizing the British Petroleum Company's holdings in Libya. Other Arab countries
attempted to take the case to the United Nations' Security Council, but neither the United
States nor the United Kingdom would give any support to the movement, and it collapsed.
7. The Assassination of Shaikh Khalid
Marica and I were never to receive our honorary passports.
In January, 1972, a few weeks after the British had cancelled the treaty of protection,
Shaikh Khalid was assassinated. The murderer was his predecessor.
The circumstances, as I came to learn, were as follows:
The former Ruler, with a score of followers, heavily armed, killed one of the guards at
the palace gate, wounded two others, and stormed into the palace and up the stairs to the
second-floor living quarters.
I have the story of what immediately followed from Marica, who was told the
circumstances by the wife of the ruler who succeeded Khalid.
Shaikh Khalid was reading to two of his children, a boy and a girl. His wife had
taken the other children shopping. Shots were heard at the gate. Khalid rushed to the head
of the stairs. He had a machine pistol, and could have mowed doom the assailants, but did
not. Perhaps, as wee suggested later, he did not want to have 0a children see their father
kill anyone. In any event, the former Ruler personally shot and killed Khalid. Rushing on
into the living quarters, his men were about to seize the Ruler's son, when a maid ran
into the room and shouted that the boy was hers, not the Ruler' s. She was permitted to
take him out of the room, thus saving 0a life. Khalid's heir, he's only eon, could not
have been left alive. They did seize the girl. To escape, she said she had to go to the
bathroom, but was told that if she did, one of the men would have to go with her. The
The ex-Ruler at once began phoning members of the royal family. He said that Shaikh
Khalid had stepped down, that he had resumed the throne, and wanted the allegiance of the
family. All of them told him to go to hell.
A brother of Shaikh Khalid had a home a hundred yards from the palace. He told me that
he went up on his roof with a machine gun and laid down a barrage on the palace gate,
preventing the murderers from escaping, while a member of his family phoned the police.
They soon arrived, reinforced by troops. Several hours later, after a heavy exchange of
gunfire, the terrorists surrendered.
And what happened to them?
Nothing much. They were taken off to Abu Dhabi and interrogated by officials of
the United Arab Emirates. There, after a few months, they disappeared from public view.
One story was that some were under house arrest and that others had gone to Cairo.
Political murders are a way of life in the middle East. Nearly every royal house has a
history of violent change of regime.
The royal family quickly convened and elected a new ruler. The man selected was Shaikh
Sultan bin Mohamed, one of the Ruler's younger brothers. He had been educated at the University
of Cairo, and is the only college-educated ruler in the Gulf.
I have continued to represent the new Ruler.
One final sad note.
Shaikh Sultan told me that on his wedding day, a few months after the murder of Shaikh
Khalid, he had for some reason pulled a book from the shelf in the palace library. A piece
of paper had fluttered out. On it, he had found in Shaikh Khalid's handwriting the
inscription, "Oh, death, come soon." Apparently Khalid had lived with a
premonition of his own assassination.
Perhaps a good stopping place for this condensed narrative is the discovery of oil in
1972, less than a year after Khalid's death.
Sharjah 's fortunes changed. Gas in large quantities was discovered in another field
onshore. The town has been transformed from a dusty village into a modern metropolis, with
handsome office buildings, a magnificent covered market far more impressive than
Istanbul's, a Holiday Inn, an Intercontinental Hotel, and of course a Kentucky Fried
The arrangement with Iran has remained firm, notwithstanding the overthrow of the Shah
and the succession of Khomeini. The Union of Arab Emirates has proven to be a viable
government despite all the predictions to the contrary. Britain has disappeared as the
dominant power in the Gulf. The American Government's expectation that the Shah would
succeed Britain as the peacekeeper of the Gulf has of course collapsed. War between Iraq
and Iran, which Iraq threatened over the Iranian seizure of the three Gulf islands, became
a reality, but for quite different reasons, after Khomeini came into power.
And so closes my little vignette of experiences in the Gulf.
Perhaps you would like to see some souvenirs from Sharjah.
One is a sword, given to me by the present Ruler, Shaikh Sultan. Be careful of
the edge. Despite its ceremonial silver scabbard, I have no doubt that it was at one time
a working tool of the trade, the trade being piracy.
Another is a Certificate of Manumission of slaves. These certificates of freedom were
issued to any slave who reached the British Political Agent's compound, and embraced the
flagpole. A friend in the British Foreign Service told me that he was signing such
certificates in Abu Dhabi as late as 1965.
Another is a photograph of one of the pirate watch towers which dotted the Arabian
shore of the Gulf for some 200 miles, enabling the pirates to track any unwary ship.
Another is a picture of an Arab woman wearing the peculiar mask on her nose, which
distinguishes the women of Sharjah.
Finally, we have an oil portrait of Shaikh Khalid, given to Marica by the Ruler and his
wife, the Shaikhah, a few weeks before his murder.
You would have liked him.