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Allday, Louis (2021) Cultural Propaganda in Informal Empire : The British Council in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, 1939-1971. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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The thesis examines the British Council’s involvement in Britain’s Informal Empire in the Persian Gulf from 1939 until shortly after 1971, when Britain formally withdrew from the region. It traces the developments that led to the Council establishing a network of centres around the region between the mid-1950s and early 1970s, from which it carried out a range of cultural propaganda activities, and in doing so, formed connections that helped to preserve Britain’s influence in those states after they gained independence. Geographically, the thesis focuses initially on Bahrain and Kuwait, but its scope widens to include Oman, Qatar, and the Trucial States (from 1971, the United Arab Emirates) in line with the expanding work of the Council. The central conclusion of this thesis is that the British Council, despite its ostensible independence from government, was fundamentally aligned in its aims and objectives with Britain’s broader strategic intentions in the region. Initially the organisation was utilised as part of an effort to try to maintain the political status quo in the face of the threat that Arab nationalism, expanded educational facilities and the growth of a middle class posed to Britain’s hegemonic position. The Council’s involvement then increased after the crisis instigated by the Government of Iran’s nationalisation of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) in 1951 – events which caused Kuwait to become of central importance to Britain’s economy and led to a rethink in its regional policy. It was at this point the value of the Council’s role was endorsed by the Drogheda Committee, a wideranging independent review of Britain’s entire overseas propaganda apparatus, and it began to be recognised at the highest echelons of the British government. The transition in the nature of the British presence in the region that occurred towards the end of the period under study, that is, the shift from attempting to preserve its regional hegemony by seeking to maintain the political status quo, to an acceptance that political and social change was inevitable and that that change needed to be managed to Britain’s advantage, served to increase the Council’s prominence and importance. The Council became an important component of the form of decolonization in the region whereby Britain accepted that its formal domination could not continue and, instead, aimed to transform the Gulf states from British protected entities whose foreign affairs and defence were under its control into independent states under pliant, ‘development’ friendly leaderships that would remain closely linked to the West. The consolidation of this new role in the 1960s and into the early 1970s saw the Council expand its presence across the region. By British withdrawal in 1971, when this study ends, its facilities and influence were widespread, as was a burgeoning network of locals who had acquired education and training in the UK under its auspices.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Shabnum Tejani
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 04 Nov 2021 12:09

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