In 1900, the heart of the Arabian peninsula was nominally controlled by the Rashidi dynasty, who, in turn, were even more nominally controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The Rashidis had prevailed in a tribal power struggle with the rival Saudis, forcing them into exile in Kuwait (1891). The main areas of commercial interest, the coastlines, had been carved up between colonial powers. The Ottomans governed Hejaz (usually via Egypt), and, intermittently in Al Hasa; the remainder – Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Hadhramaut – were under British ‘protection’. The exception was the strategic port of Aden, governed directly from the Indian Raj. Across the Red Sea, the British were also protecting Egypt, while Egypt (jointly with the British) was serving its protectoral apprenticeship in Sudan. Further down the coast, Eritrea had become Italy’s imperial toehold. No-one tried to protect or annex central Arabia: what commercial value could it possibly have?
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