1960-1969 | Instigating coups | United Arab Emirates



Sheikh Shakbut in 1961 –
public domain – via Wikimedia

[ 6 August 1966 ]

On 6 August 1966, the British deposed Sheikh Shakhbut of Abu Dhabi by backing a coup. Shakbut had been failing to reward the UK’s military support by spending enough on British goods. The serious problem his prudence presented was more tactfully described by officials to journalists as ‘impeding development plans.’1 The Foreign Office had put a secret operation into motion for his ousting as early as May 1963, when Alec Douglas-Home, then Foreign Secretary, decided his removal might be arranged quietly with other members of the Sheikh’s family so that it could be presented as merely an internal family feud.  The most important consideration was that British involvement should remain deniable.

In 1964, when Labour won the election, Patrick Gordon-Walker who succeeded Douglas-Home as Foreign Secretary, was not initially as enthusiastic about what he termed ‘this James Bond scheme,’ but he soon succumbed to the prevailing Whitehall view that Britain’s economic interests necessitated the Sheikh’s removal.2 The British then coached Shakhbut’s brother, Zaid, in the proper diplomatic etiquette for such a takeover, which required he obtain a letter of approval from other family members who had already been discreetly sounded out as to their likely support.  When, in June 1966, Zaid visited London, he was finally given the green light to follow through with the plans, under which Britain placed its Trucial Oman Scouts on standby in case the coup required outside military assistance.


  1. Rory Cormac, Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2018, p. 188.
  2. Rory Cormac, op. cit., p. 189.

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