Keepers of the Golden Shore: A History of the United Arab Emirates

By Barnwell, Kristi N. | Arab Studies Journal, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Keepers of the Golden Shore: A History of the United Arab Emirates


Barnwell, Kristi N., Arab Studies Journal


KEEPERS OF THE GOLDEN SHORE: A HISTORY OF THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Michael Quentin Morton London: Reaktion Books, 2016 (240 pages, bibliography, index, illustrations, maps) $39.00 (cloth)

Reviewed by Kristi N. Barnwell

Today, approximately eight percent of the population in the United Arab Emirates consists of North American and European expatriates, many of whom arrive in the country with little or no knowledge of the rich history of the region. Keepers of the Golden Shore, Michael Quentin Morton's fifth book about the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf and one explicitly intended for expatriate readers, provides those newly arrived in the region with a readable, enjoyable introduction to the states and their history. Organized along generally chronological lines, moving from the prehistory of the eastern Arabian coast to the present day, with a strong focus on the economic and political developments of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Keepers of the Golden Shore not only recounts a history of the emirates that now comprise the UAE, but also links their past to the surrounding states through regional and global trade, political upheavals, and the rise and fall of European imperialisms.

Beginning with a survey of archaeological findings, Morton describes several early settlements that connected prehistoric peoples of ancient Greece and the Levant to Oman, eastern Arabia, and Iran. In one such case, evidence from one Stone Age settlement revealed that cattle indigenous to the Levant may have accompanied migrants to the eastern coast of Arabia. Similarly, other materials suggest that trade networks from Oman, ancient Greece, Iran, and Mesopotamia crisscrossed the coast throughout antiquity. Morton further expounds on the well-known trade of the medieval and early modern periods, when the pearl trade thrived and several imperial powers attempted to gain a foothold in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. He considers the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in detail. It was at that time that the British Empire established its dominance in the Persian Gulf and consolidated its power over the tribes of the eastern Arabian coast. He ends with the most recent global financial crisis, which damaged the economy of Dubai significantly and underscored the influence and power of Abu Dhabi over the other, relatively oil-poor emirates.

For novices interested in the UAE, such connections to the broader Middle East might simply represent interesting context. Scholars, however, will note that Morton's work is an important step in integrating eastern Arabia into broader historical narratives of the Middle East, which frequently view the rise of Arab identities and states through the lens of the Levant and the Arab republics while ignoring or segregating the rise of oil monarchies. Scholarship in the past decade has effectively elaborated on the nature of Arab maritime activities in the Persian Gulf. Port cities such as Manama and Dubai served as entrepôts in the pearl trade, for example, while Ras al-Khaimah in today's UAE was the home of the Qasimi fleet that dominated the Persian Gulf until its destruction at the hands of the British Navy in the early nineteenth century. The period from 1930, following the collapse of the pearl trade, until the 1960s, when oil was found in commercial quantities, is generally considered one of relative isolation of the emirates from the rest of the Middle East. Morton, however, draws on his own knowledge of the UAE as well as on the memoirs of Emiratis and British civil servants to show the extent to which the rulers of the emirates were aware of, and interested in, political and cultural developments elsewhere in the region. This interest began particularly in the 1940s and 1950s, when Emiratis traveled to Bahrain and Qatar and came into contact with people from across the Arab world in the oil fields. Such interactions continued through the 1950s and 1960s as teachers and doctors were recruited from across the Middle East to work in the Trucial Coast, serving to integrate the states into the wider Arab intellectual and political world. …

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