of land and sea routes called the Silk Road were established. They carried goods, culture, language and art between East Asia and the Middle East, which acted as an entrepôt1, linking with other trading routes onwards to Europe and Africa.
As the author Caroline Piquet2 puts it: The Gulf is an area that for centuries has been on the Asian and African trade routes, at the crossroads of maritime voyages across the Indian Ocean, which historically played as important a role for the East as the Mediterranean did for the West.
In more recent times, the Gulf was part of a natural colonial trade route for goods being bought and sold between Europe and Asia. In the nineteenth century, the region became particularly important for Britain, as communication lines developed between the British Isles and India. The discovery and exploitation of petroleum deposits increased the strategic importance of the region.
Bahrain was the first Arabian Peninsula country to export oil, with its first deposits discovered in 1932, and drilling beginning in 1934. Three years later, in 1937, oil gushed forth for the first time in the Dammam region in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from wells drilled by the Standard Oil Company of California, which had been granted a concession.
In Kuwait, oil was discovered at Burgan in 1938. Drilling rights were granted to the Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), owned by British Petroleum and the US-owned Gulf Oil Corporation. However, the United Kingdom, which wielded predominant political influence in the country, held pre-emptive rights over the oil produced.
In Qatar, drilling for oil began in 1949, but oil production did not begin in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Oman, until the 1960s.
During this period, the Gulf States were modernising and taking steps to become independent nation states.
The modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established in 1932, unifying a patchwork of regional centres, which had operated under the influence of the Ottoman Empire. Kuwait, which became a British protectorate in 1897, gained independence in 1961. A decade later, the other Gulf States became independent as the United Kingdom ended its protectorate over what had been known as the Trucial States .
The emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, Umm al Quwain and Ras al Khaimah came together under a federal model as the United Arab Emirates, with the
1. A trading centre where goods are imported and re-exported without paying duties.
2. Piquet, Caroline. Les pays du Golfe, de la perle à l économie de la connaissance (The Gulf States: from Pearl Diving to the Knowledge Economy), Armand Colin, 2013, p.15.
30 T H E H I S T O R Y O F B N P PA R I B A S I N T H E G U L F S TAT E S