Hawar Islands

Background information on the dispute between Bahrain and Qatar on the islands of Hawar

Early 1700s: The confederation of Utob tribes (Al-Khalifa, Al-Sabah, Al-Jalahma) migrates to Qarin (Kuwait) (on the northern coast of the Gulf) to flee the harsh desert conditions of the Arabian peninsula. In 1700, the Utob attacked Bahrain but their attack was repulsed

1766: The Al-Khalifa tribe migrates to Zubara village on northern west coast of Qatar following the appearance of difference with Al-Sabah.

1783: Bahrain at this time was the richest spot in the Gulf as a result of its trading in pearl, hence many tribes and forces targeted Bahrain. The Al-Khalifa family and its tribal allies attack and invade Bahrain from Zubara. They retain Zubara as their HQ. The head of the tribe (Ahmad Al-Khalifa) dies in Zubara in 1795.

1799-1811: The Al-Khalifa are evicted from Bahrain. The Sultan of Muscat controls the islands for 3 years and the rest of years came under the Wahhabi control. The Al-Khalifa re-attack and invade Bahrain from Zubara in 1811.

1867: The representative of Al-Khalifa in Qatar (collection of taxes) arrested a man from a leading tribe in Wakra and sent him to Bahrain. Wakra and Doha tribes came together against Al-Khalifa. The person was released, but Al-Khalifa invited a member of the leading Qatari tribe (now rulers), Jasim bin Mohammed Al-Thani, to Bahrain. Upon his arrival he was put in jail. Then the Al-Khalifa joined forces with Sheikhs of Abu-Dhabi and attacked Doha and Wakra, destroying and ransacking the areas. Britain intervened and punished Al-Khalifa.

1869: The ruler , Isa bin Ali al-Khalifa, 21 years old, was brought from Zubara and put in charge of Bahrain by the UK to put an end to conflicts amongst sons of the Al-Khalifa family. The Al-Khalifa family continues some of their presence on the Qatari coast

1872: The Al-Thani family spread their influence in Qatar when Sheikh Mohammed bin Thani became a qaim-maqam (Ottoman provincial ruler). Mohammed was succeeded by his son Qasim (1876-1913). Qasim’s son Abdulla (1913-49) signed a treaty with the British in 1916 gaining British protection simialr to that of Bahrain.

1925: Al-Khalifa gives concessions for oil exploration but excluded Hawar islands from any mention

1935: Sheikh of Qatar (Abdulla bin Jassim al-Thani) gives concession for oil exploration including Hawar

1936: Bahrain complains and Britain rules that Hawar belongs Bahrain

1939: Britain officially ruled that Hawar belongs to Bahrain. Qatar protests. Britain replies its decision was final.

1947: Britain issues a map showing the borders of Bahrain and Qatar, with Hawar belonging to Bahrain

1965; Bahrain allows an America oil exploration firm to explore Hawar. Qatar protested to Britain. Exploration stops

1967: A meeting between the Sheikh of Qatar and Bahrain fails to resolve the disputes

1972: Shell company discovers the huge Qatari Gas Field (the largest in the world). This gave the assumption that Natural Gas might also exist in Hawar, hence, the dispute gets deeper

1982: Bahrain conducts military manoeuvres near Fasht Al-Deable, part of the disputed areas near Hawar.

1984: Bahrain attempts to consolidate positions in Fasht al-Adham, and Qatar protests.

1986: Bahrain starts work in Fasht Al-Deable. Qatar attacks and arrest the workers. Saudi Arabia mediates. It was agreed not to change any physical feature until the matter is settled.

1987: Two Jordanians working for the Bahrain Defence Force arrested and accused of spying for Qatar

1990: Qatar raises the issue during the GCC meeting in Doha. The GCC refers the matter to Saudi Arabia for arbitration and if the arbitration is not successful the case can be taken to the International Court.

1991: Qatar goes to the international court saying that mediation failed and that going to the court was agreed in the 1990 summit.

1992: Qatar issues a decree for its borders in the sea that includes Hawar. Bahrain protests.

1996: Early in 1996, a coup attempt against the new Amir of Qatar is foiled. Qatar accuses Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa (crown prince) of deep involvement in the coup attempt. Bahrain boycotts the GCC summit in Doha (7 December). Before the summit, two Qataris were arrested in Bahrain and accused of spying for Qatar. The media in Bahrain speaks of possible death sentence or life imprisonment. On 25 December, the two were sentenced to 3 years and a fine of 1000 dinars each. However, the two were released on 28 December (three days later). On 30 December, a member of the ruling family, 1st Lieutenant Nasir Majid Nasir Al-Khalifa, flee to Qatar with his military helicopter and request political asylum.

Opposition groups (the Bahrain Freedom Movement, Popular Front in Bahrain and the National Liberation Front of Bahrain) issued a joint statement on 29 December 1996 deploring the escalation of events between the two sisterly nations (Qatar and Bahrain). The statement called on both parties to search for a civilsed dialogue-based approach to slove the conflict in the same way as Oman solved its border disputes with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen. The statement also condemned the behaviour of the Bahraini government which has harmed the interests of the country. The basic agreements of 1986 and 1990 should be considered as the bases for resolving the dispute. The government of Bahrain has continued in changing the physical features of the disputed islands (building a palace for the crown prince, a hotel, many other facilities, etc.) and this has invited the various reactions from the Qataris. The statement called on the government to stop beating the drums of war and not to attempt to use the citizens as a “human shield” by inviting them to settle in the islands.

Report Written in April 1994

Awaiting the Outcome of the Legal Debacle at the International Court of Justice On 7th February 1994, the Algerian judge, Mohammad Al Bajawi was assigned to preside over one of the longest protracted disputes in the Gulf region. With sixteen international judges along his side, Mr. Bajawi had to endure the agony of listening with special attention to the court proceedings which lasted for ten days, with no stoppages save for the times necessary to cater for human needs. Both Qatar and Bahrain have been preparing for this international hearing at the Hague for the last three years. The two parties have not come to the international court this time to put their respective view points in order to reach a verdict on the border dispute between them. The main aim of the hearing was to determine whether the International Court of Justice can intervene in the case after the state of Qatar had asked her to look into the dispute. Bahrain, the other party to the dispute, refuses to be drawn to the court because, in her view, Qatar had acted contrary to the spirit of the 1990 Doha agreement between the two countries witnessed by Saudi Arabia. The whole show was therefore to look into the legality of Qatar’s attempt to put the case in front of the Court without Bahrain’s connivance.

Border disputes in the Gulf are amongst the most dangerous in the world, having led to two major wars in the last fourteen years. Saddam Hussain resorted to the use of force to settle the border dispute with the state of Kuwait, causing one of the most destructive wars this century. Border clashes have often taken place between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Oman, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, and between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In fact, the latter was the main cause for the flare up of hostilities among the Gulf states, mainly; between Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

In 1992, the Saudi border guards attacked and occupied a Qatari border post at Al Khafoos killing two Qatari soldiers in the process. That incident has now led to the fragmentation of the Gulf alliance with no prospect of rapid reconciliation. Qatar had been so incensed by the Saudi action that she went out of her way to establish fully-fledged relations with Iraq. More importantly perhaps is the recent rapprochement between the Qatari government and Israel. It appears that the Al Thani of Qatar are bent on “teaching the Saudis a lesson”.

Although much despised, resorting to the international court is the least of evils in a situation where war is the only real alternative. The prospect of war between two small states such as Qatar and Bahrain has always been a nightmare since the 1986 armed attack by Qatari forces on a Bahraini border post at Fasht al Dibel. That incident raised the temperature in the Gulf since it took place at a time of rising tension at the peak of the Iraq-Iran war. Twenty eight people some of whom were working for the Dutch construction company, Ballast Nidam, were taken prisoners by the Qataris and were not released until high level mediation were effected. The Qataris maintain that taking the case to the international court was a less drastic course of action than the military option. But the Bahrainis disagree with the Qatari initiative maintaining that Doha’s unilateral action is contrary to the 1990 Doha agreement between the two countries.

It was during the GCC summit at Doha which was being held at the peak of the crisis arising from Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, that Qatar insisted on listing the border dispute with Bahrain high on the agenda. The war was barely three weeks away, and the leaders of the GCC countries were anxious to avoid further embarrassment through internal disputes. The Saudis were annoyed by the Qatari attempt to disrupt the summit, but had no option except to act rapidly to contain the situation. With half a million soldiers mainly American poised for war, King Fahd had it on his shoulder to calm the antagonists and put his personal credibility at stake by offering his mediation. The two antagonists gave the Saudi initiative six months after which they agreed to take the case jointly to the International Court of Justice. The Bahrainis believe a joint affidavit is necessary for the court to be able to take up the case, whilst the Qataris think a unilateral action is sufficient to meet the conditions of the Doha agreement.

The two teams of experts took up their stands at the court from 1st to 11th March 1994 and each of them, armed with the best international experts on the subject, tried to force his view on the court. The Qatari team, led by Dr. Najeeb bin Mohammed al Ne’aim, consisted of four more experts, Sir Ian Sinclair, Mr. Shankerdas, Professor Jan Salmon and Professor Jan Pierre. The Bahraini team was headed by the Minister of Legal Affairs, consisted of Professor Derek Boyet, Professor Luther Bacht, Dr. Gemenis de Aritchiga, Professor Prspier Vile, and Mr. Keith Hyte. The Qatari team put their case for the first three days arguing that the Court has the power to take up the case on the unilateral invitation by Qatar. Too much details were presented to the point where hours were spent on lingual examination of the Doha accord. The Bahrainis then took up the challenge and tried to invalidate Qatar’s argument through a critical analysis of the Doha accord. Each team was then given an extra day to sum up its arguments before the court rose on 11th March. The seventeen judges will go into recess to study the implications of the arguments and decide accordingly.

Report written in 1995

Qatar’s emir, in an interview published on 2 September 1995, criticised Bahrain’s decision to build a tourist resort on a Gulf island claimed by both countries. “That constitutes a violation of the principles within the frame of the solution to which the two parties have agreed and which does not permit the undertaking of such works,” Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, told Qatar’s al-Watan newspaper.

The Bahraini government housed several hundreds of people who were brought to the country in the past months and given Bahraini citizenships in return for working for the Ministry of the Interior’s anti-riot squad.

The government has also constructed tourist facilities on Hawar island just off the Qatari coast, one of a cluster of potentially oil-rich islands and reefs. The row between Bahrain and Qatar came to a head in the 1980s when Qatar used force to prevent Bahrain from building a military post on Fasht-ad-Dibal, another disputed island. The Qatari emir, who replaced his father in a bloodless palace coup in June, called on “the brothers in Bahrain” to cooperate with Doha and the International Court of Justice in The Hague to settle the sovereignty dispute.

Bahrain has refused to accept the jurisdiction of the court which decided in January that it had jurisdiction and is expected to produce a verdict by the end of next year. Although Qatar has welcomed mediation by its larger neighbour Saudi Arabia, it refuses to drop its case at the International Court of Justice.

On 4 September the Bahraini Foreign Ministry defended the construction work stating that Hawar was sovereign territory. The Foreign Ministry sent a memorandum to Qatar reiterating that Hawar islands are, and have always been, the sovereign territory of the state of Bahrain. “Bahrain is merely exercising its legitimate rights as sovereign, without intending in any way to affect the brotherly relations which exist between itself and the state of Qatar,” the Bahraini statement added.

On 9 September, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani said that Qatar will drop its case at the International Court of Justice if Saudi Arabian mediation succeeds in ending its territorial dispute with Bahrain. “If this mediation succeeds, we will withdraw the case at the International Court of Justice, but if the mediation does not succeed, then we will accept the ruling of the Internaof Justice,” he said. “For Saudi Arabia to succeed in the mediation, both parties should be ready to accept the (Saudi) solution,” he added. Sheikh Hamad was speaking in an interview with the Saudi London-based MBC television.

It is worth noting that the people of Bahrain are prevented from seeing more than half of Bahrain islands. For example, the south of Bahrain (comprising some 40% of total area) is an exclusive land for the ruling family.

Similarly, the important islands of Um-Naasan, Jedda and Um-Subban have been allocated as private estates for the Amir, the Prime Minister and their younger brother Mohammed. Bahrain’s position is weak as the people have no say in any national issue and will continue to be weaker if the government continues to ignore public interest.

6-1-96: (Reuter) – Qatar on Saturday turned down a Bahraini request to withdraw a border dispute case from the International Court of Justice. “The case will not be withdrawn before an amicable solution is reached between the two sides,” said Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani. On Friday Bahrain’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al- Khalifa urged Qatar to withdraw its case before the World Court in the Hague over disputed Gulf islands and directly negotiate a settlement with Bahrain or accept Saudi Arabian arbitration. But the Qatari minister, speaking to reporters in Riyadh, said: “I hope that statements are always clear and balanced by any (Gulf Arab) official… “There is only one role accepted by Qatar…and it is the Saudi role for mediation. When the extent of that mediation is made available we welcome it. When we reach a solution Qatar will think about withdrawing the case.”

Bahrain: Call for Qatar to withdraw lawsuit, go to arbitration on border dispute

Excerpt from report by the Gulf news agency Wakh Manama, 1st June: This morning’s Bahraini newspapers praised the call by HH Shaykh Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifah, heir apparent and commander-in-chief of the Bahraini Defence Force, to Qatar to withdraw its lawsuit on the border dispute with Bahrain from the International Court of Justice. Such a withdrawal would open the way for arbitration, which would be sponsored by Saudi Arabia in its capacity as the primary mediator and held under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC]…

Source: Wakh news agency, Manama, in Arabic 0850 gmt 1 Jun 96

Qatar: Bahrainis to be allowed entry by showing identity cards

Excerpts from report by Qatar radio on 3rd July 1996

His Highness Shaykh Hamad Bin Khalifah Al Thani, the beloved emir of the country, chaired an ordinary cabinet session at the Emiri Court this morning. Following the meeting, Shaykh Muhammad Bin Khalid Al Thani, minister of state for cabinet affairs, stated the following:

… The Emir then gave the floor to Shaykh Hamad Bin Jasim Bin Jabr Al Thani, the foreign minister, to brief the cabinet on his visit to the sisterly State of Bahrain on 30th June. The visit aimed at discussing bilateral ties and ways of enhancing them in all fields. The cabinet stressed its extreme eagerness to develop and promote relations among the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] member states to benefit the GCC peoples. Stemming from this, the State of Qatar has decided to allow the citizens of the sisterly State of Bahrain to use all Qatari ports of entry and departure by showing their identity cards. All the necessary facilities will be extended to them. The cabinet also welcomed the call of the G-7 communique for reactivating the peace process and making efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace, based on the Madrid process and the land-for-peace principle and other principles enshrined in relevant Security Council resolutions…

Source: QBS radio, Doha, in Arabic 1030 gmt 3 Jul 96

Bahraini minister reacts to Qatar’s decision on entry by ID cards

Text of report by the Gulf news agency Wakh

Manama, 5th July 1996: Answering a question by the Gulf news agency on Qatar’s decision allowing Bahraini nationals to enter Qatar with their identity cards, Muhammad Ibrahim al-Mutawwa, minister of cabinet affairs and information, said that the State of Bahrain recognizes the passport as the travel document . All Bahraini nationals, he said, and foreigners residing in Bahrain are given a residency card which can only be used within the Bahraini borders.

Bahrain: Heir apparent says sovereignty will not be relinquished over disputed islands

Text of report by the Gulf news agency Wakh

Manama, 15th July 1996: His Highness Shaykh Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifah, heir apparent and commander of the Bahraini Defence Force, has asserted that Bahrain is a sovereign state that cannot relinquish its sovereignty over an inch of its land. Speaking to Staff Lt-Gen Shaykh Khalifah Bin Ahmad Al Khalifah, defence minister and deputy [defence force] commander, and a number of senior officers from the defence force, his highness said that the Huwar islands constitute one third of Bahrain’s area and that their area is fixed. In this regard, his highness said that Bahrain would not allow this fact to be overlooked under the cover of demands and marginal border disputes. He said that Bahrain was ready to prove this fact with evidence at any time. He added that Bahrain would defend this fact and sacrifice everything for it, regardless of the price.

Excerpts from report by London-based newspaper `Al-Hayat’ on 17th July 1996

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