THE BAHRAIN SOCIETY
…was founded in 1971, after the State of Bahrain became fully independent, a Treaty of Friendship with the United Kingdom replacing the Treaty of Protection which had defined relations between the two nations since the middle of the nineteenth century.
The discovery of oil in the 1930s accelerated the interest and involvement of British citizens in the affairs of Bahrain and contributed to the increasing development of the State as the commercial, business and financial centre of the Gulf. After the Second World War more and more British people came to live and work in Bahrain and the close ties which had for long been sustained between the two communities, Bahraini and British, were further strengthened.
Bahrain rapidly became the communications centre of the Gulf and especially the focus of the west-east aviation routes that rapidly expanded in the 1950s and 60s, from the early days of civil aviation that dated back to the 1930s in Bahrain. Imperial Airways had flown scheduled flights to and from Bahrain from the 1930. British Overseas Airways continued and expanded this service and Bahrain became one of its most important staging posts, with a consequent increase in the number of British people who came to know and love Bahrain and its people. When Gulf Aviation (now GulfAir) was formed as the National Airline, British Airways became a partner with the Bahrain Government until its eventual independence.
Over the years, the numbers of British people who came to regard Bahrain as their second home became significant. When Bahrain became an independent state, with its own diplomatic representation, membership of the United Nations and of all the principal international bodies that were established in the post-war period, it was felt appropriate to form a Friendship Society, to provide a forum for Bahrainis and British people with particular interests in Bahrain to meet and to maintain their friendships through a London presence. So the Bahrain Society was formed.
From the outset the Society was led by distinguished figures who had served in Bahrain, principally from the Foreign Service. The first Chairman was Charles Gault, who had been Political Agent when Bahrain was still technically a Protectorate. Future Chairmen included Sir George Middleton political resident in the Gulf, E.W. (Jock) Given and Sir Harold Walker, both of whom had been British Ambassador to Bahrain. Michael Rice CMG became Chairman in 1999. Many years connection with Bahrain in political and information fields and also in the promotion of the Kingdom’s archaeology gave him an invaluable insight to the Island’s history. He planned the first museum in Bahrain and others throughout the Arabian Peninsula and is author of books on Near Eastern archaeology. For his services to Bahrain he was awarded the Order of Bahrain (First Class) in 2003.
The Ambassador of Bahrain in London of the day is always the Society’s President; the first President was H.E. Shaikh Sulman bin Daij Al-Khalifa, who played a major part in the Society’s foundation. The relationship between the Society and the Embassy has always remained close. The first Patron of the Society was the Ruler of Bahrain at the time of the Society’s foundation, His Highness Shaikh Isa bin Sulman Al-Khalifa, who assumed the title of Amir after Independence. Today the Patron is His Majesty King Hamed bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the King of Bahrain.
The Society’s year consists of early-evening meetings held in London during the winter and Spring, at which distinguished guests are invited to speak on subjects generally related to Bahrain and to the Members’ interests. These meetings have always been very popular and provide a regular opportunity for friends to meet and socialise. An eagerly awaited annual event has always been the Reception held in London for Members of the Society and hosted by the Society President
An Annual Dinner takes place, usually in the winter months and is also one of the major high-lights of the year. It has become the practice for a distinguished British guest to be matched by his opposite number from Bahrain. From time to time the Society organises visits to Bahrain; these occasions are very popular with members and are notable for the warmth of the reception and hospitality that Bahrain extends when the Society is its guest.
The Bahrain Society has supported a number of important charitable and cultural events that have taken place in London, including supporting Bahraini students studying at British academic institutions. It was also one of the principal sponsors of the highly successful exhibition, ‘Traces of Paradise: The Archaeology of Bahrain 2500 BC to 300 AD’, held in the Brunei Gallery, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University College London.