Modern History of the Arab Countries. Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky 1969

The Arab Countries During the 16th to the 18th Century Turkish Conquest

At the beginning of the 16th century, almost all the Arab countries were subjugated by the Turks and incorporated in the Ottoman state. In 1514 Sultan Selim I (the Cruel) led the Turkish army to conquer northern Iraq. In 1516, he wrested Syria and Palestine from the Egyptian Mamelukes and one year later routed the Mameluke army, destroyed the Mameluke state and conquered Egypt and the Hejaz.

The Turkish conquest of the Arab countries was continued by Sultan Suleiman I (the Lawgiver), the successor of Selim I. In 1520, the Turkish pirate Khair ed-Din Barbarossa declared himself the Turkish Sultan’s vassal and conquered Algeria, and in 1533 the Sultan began sending officials from Constantinople to rule the country. In 1534, the Turks made their first attempt to conquer Tunisia. They were repulsed by the Spanish and did not gain complete possession of the country until 1574. In 1551, Turkey seized Tripoli.

The Turkish expansion spread to the Arabian Peninsula. In 1532, the Turks conquered the Yemen and then the Somalian Red Sea coast. Mosul served as the starting point for their advance on southern Iraq. The age-old struggle between Turkey and Iran for the possession of Iraq ended in the victory of Turkey in 1638. After Iraq, the Turks conquered El-Hasa on the shore of the Persian Gulf.

Thus, within a period of about one hundred years almost all the Arab countries, except Morocco in the west and Inner Arabia and Oman on the Arabian Peninsula, were included in the Ottoman Empire and for some three or four centuries suffered Turkish oppression, which in the 19th and 20th centuries was replaced by the even harsher colonial yoke of the European capitalist Powers.

What was it that prompted the Ottoman feudalists to conquer the Arab countries? First, the desire to impose the feudal system of exploitation on the people. There was also the advantage to be gained from the Arab countries’ position on the world trade routes. By controlling Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli, the Ottoman feudalists could carry on extensive trade with the European countries; they could even squeeze out the Europeans and practice piracy on the Mediterranean. (This was the era of the primary accumulation of capital, when piracy was part and parcel of sea trade.) Lastly, Egypt, Syria and Iraq were very important centres of transit trade between Europe and the East which, although it declined somewhat after the discovery of the direct sea route to India (round the Cape of Good Hope), still continued to yield large profits.

The degree of subordination to the Ottoman Empire varied from country to country. Algeria, Tunisia and Tripoli were considered Ottoman provinces, but by the beginning of the 17th century they had already gained virtual independence from the Porte. In the middle of the 17th century, the Turks lost real power in the Yemen. Even in Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Iraq, where Turkish pashas were installed, the domination of the Porte was often only nominal. Either the pashas organised plots against the sultan, or the local Arab feudal lords rose against the Turkish pashas, and from time to time fierce uprisings shook the Ottoman Empire.

The Social Order of the Arab Countries. Ottoman Feudalism.

Anxious to gain support in the Arab countries, the Turks, as a rule, preserved the social system that had existed before their conquest. The land and power remained in the hands of the local feudalists.

The system of landownership in the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire was very complicated. All land was divided into three basic groups: state land (mamleket) the supreme owner of which was the sultan; land belonging to religious establishments (waqf); and privately owned land (mulk). In addition, communal landownership continued to exist in some countries.

Land owned by individuals was relatively scarce. Its owners could dispose of it as they saw fit. The state collected only a land tax from the privately owned land: people had to pay either the ushr (about a tenth) or the kharaj, which sometimes constituted half the harvest. The kharaj varied according to the size of the harvest or was fixed according to the unit of area. Non-Moslems also paid a poll-tax (jizyah). As a rule, private land belonged to big feudal lords and was tilled by the peasants on the basis of the metayage system.

Religious establishments owned large tracts of land. Ecclesiastical estates (waqfs) were formed by “endowments” and were exempt from taxation. The Moslem clergy was the mainstay of the feudal system and in order to consolidate it, big feudal lords presented large estates to Moslem religious establishments: mosques, madrasahs (collegiate mosques), Dervish monasteries. It was not uncommon for small peasants to sacrifice their plots to religious establishments in order to save them from feudal usurpation. (Usually these small holders had the use of the land until the family died out. They had only to pay taxes to the religious establishment.) The peasants on the ecclesiastical land (waqf) were no better off than under a feudal lord.

At the time of the Turkish conquest, in some Arab countries there still existed communal ownership of land. Among the nomad herdsmen of North Africa, Iraq and Arabia, the pastures were owned in common by the bedouin clans. In the settled farming areas, the fellaheen communities periodically redistributed land among large families and individual households. In such countries, the Turkish conquerors pursued a policy of forced expropriation of the peasants’ land. The communally-owned land was declared state property and passed under the individual control of the clan nobility – the emirs and sheikhs.

While abolishing communal landownership, the Turkish conquerors often preserved the fellaheen community as an appendage to the system of feudal exploitation. The whole community was held collectively responsible for the prompt payment of taxes. The community also saw to it that the lord’s land was tilled.

The most widespread category of land in the Ottoman Empire was the state land, which was divided into two groups: khas and military fiefs. The khas was a large estate with a revenue exceeding 100 thousand akchas; it either belonged to the sultan personally or was conferred on a prince or on a high dignitary as long as he held his post. Military fiefs were granted to the sipahi (knights) for life. The sipahi were exempt from state taxation. In return, they were obliged to provide first-class military service, regularly turn up at reviews and take part in campaigns with their cavalry. The number of horsemen depended on the amount of revenue received from the fief. Usually for every three thousand akchas one horseman had to be provided. The fiefs were divided into two groups according to their wealth. Military fiefs with a revenue of over 20 thousand akchas were called ziamets and their owners zaims. Fiefs with a revenue of up to 20 thousand akchas were called timars and their owners timarji or timariots.

If, during his lifetime, a sipaha conscientiously executed his military duties, his property passed to his sons after his death. They were given a new charter for which they paid redemption money to the treasury. The fief charter was on a strict class basis and was limited to the nobles. Each new sipaha was supposed to be supported by two zaims and ten timariots. City dwellers were not granted fiefs.

The land of the timars, ziamets and khas was tilled by the peasants, who constituted the overwhelming bulk of the tax-paying population – raya (herd). They received a plot of land (chift) from the landlord, which they could pass on only with his permission. Virtually, the peasants were bound to the land. They had to fulfil all sorts of obligations: pay the ushr or the kharaj and taxes for the use of winter and summer pastures, mills, for tobacco smoking, etc. The situation of the Christian raya was even worse. In addition, the Christians had to pay a jizyah (poll-tax) or a kharaj ra’asi.

The military fief system was widespread in Asia Minor and on the Balkan Peninsula. It was not highly developed in the Arab countries except for the northern parts of Syria and Iraq. In the Aleppo and partly in the Mosul elayets the Turks introduced a system of military-fief landownership. In the other countries, the land remained mostly in the hands of the local feudal lords, who paid tribute to the Sultan’s deputies.

In Egypt, on the whole, the system of feudal landownership which had existed under the Mameluke sultans was preserved. All the land belonged to the feudal lords: multazims (landowner-tax farmers), the Turkish pasha and the Moslem clergy. Formally the land was considered state property but could be acquired by the multazims. Many multazims, the Nubian sheikhs, for instance, owned dozens of villages while some estates were split up between different owners to such a degree that there were several landlords in one village.

Multazims were picked out from among the Turkish functionaries and officers as well as from the local Arab sheikhs. The Turkish rulers of Egypt inherited from the Mameluke sultans the custom of forming private guards from among the Mamelukes, who had originally been slaves and were specially trained for military service. The Turkish beys appointed the Mamelukes to important government posts and granted them large tracts of land. As a result, towards the end of the 18th century, two-thirds of Egypt’s territory was concentrated in the hands of the Mamelukes. They became the dominating stratum of the Egyptian feudal class.

Multazims were exempt from military service but could be taxed. The taxes paid by the multazims were entered in a special register kept by a special clerk (defterdar). If the tax was not paid on time, the estate was confiscated and given to a new owner.

Landownership was usually hereditary. In the Mameluke circle, the land was not passed on from father to son, but from the master to his favourite “slave.” After the death of the owner, his heir was supposed to pay a large redemption sum to the treasury (three-year rent plus one-fifth of the value of the land).

In each iltizam (the estate of a multazim), the land was divided into two parts: the lord’s land, or usia, and allotted land, or atar. The lord’s land was tilled by the corvée system or (on very rare occasions) by hired labour. Allotted land was given to the peasants for life. The latter paid a money rent to the landlord in Lower Egypt and rent in kind in Upper Egypt. The rent in kind comprised from 20 to 35 ardebs of wheat from a harvest of 50 ardebs. If a peasant inherited a plot of land he had to pay a large redemption sum to the multazim.

The money rent, which was known as mal-el-hurr, was collected from the peasants by the multazims and divided into three unequal parts. One part was paid as tribute to the Porte. This part was delivered to the pasha of Cairo and at the end of the 18th century amounted to 80,000,000 medinas a year. Another part was used for the upkeep of the provincial administration (the administration was named kashifia after the regional governors – kashifs). This amounted to 50 million medinas a year. These two amounts were fixed by law and subject to unconditional payment. The remaining part of the mal-el-hurr accrued to the multazims. In 1798, this amounted to 180,000,000 medinas in cash, not counting payment in kind. But the landlords were still not satisfied with this sum. Besides mal-el-hurr, they levied barrani – traditional janissary duties (at first as voluntary “gifts” in kind from the peasants; later, obligatory cash payments). In 1798, this tax yielded a sum of 100,000,000 medinas. In addition every village had to pay local taxes and duties.

Taxes were collected by the village administration headed by a qa’im-ma’qam (sub-governor), who was aided by the senior sheikh. Following the harvest every year a sarraf (money-changer) would turn up in the village. He was a city dweller, usually a Copt, who served the multazim landlord. He evaluated the harvest, determined the size of the tax and set to gathering it. As a reward for his services, the sarraf collected an additional tax from the fellaheen. Also included in the village administration were the wakil – the manager of the lord’s land; the khauli land surveyor, who also directed public works; the mashhed, who carried out the functions of a policeman and also took part in flogging the fellaheen; and the gafiri – watchmen who guarded the lord’s granaries. As distinct from the officials of the Indian community listed by Marx, these were the landlord’s servants, who maintained his economic and political authority over the direct producer – the fellah.

As in Egypt, in Syria and the Lebanon the conquerors preserved the feudal system. The land remained in the hands of the local Arab nobility (except for northern Syria).

Under the Turks, the Lebanon was a kind of autonomous principality under the rule of the Ma’am dynasty. At the end of the 17th century it came under the rule of the emirs of the Shehab family, who considered themselves the vassals of the Turkish Sultan and paid tribute to the Porte, but no Turkish troops were quartered there. There were similar principalities in Syria, for example, Latakia.

The feudal society in the Lebanon, well described. in K.M. Bazili’s book, Syria and the Lebanon Under Turkish Rule (published in Russian), was hierarchical. This country was divided into three appanages – Kesruan, Metn and Shuf – administered by the local feudal dynasties. These appanages were in turn divided into smaller domains, and so on. A similar process occurred in the Latakia principality and in southern Syria. At the head of the hierarchy stood the Turkish pashas, who had their seats at Aleppo, Damascus and Saida. They served as intermediaries between the Arab emirs and the sultan.

The feudal sovereign was the absolute ruler of his own land. The dependent emirs and sheikhs supplied horsemen for the ruler’s army, collected taxes and paid tribute to him. All of them were incredibly rich. The Lebanese Emir Fakhr ed-Din II was reputed to be the richest man in the empire. His court was astonishingly sumptuous. His annual income was estimated at 900,000 livres, out of which he paid a tribute of 340,000 livres to the Turkish Sultan. Sheikh Zahir, who ruled in Safad in the 18th century, had an annual income of about £50,000.

In the outlying districts of Syria and Palestine, there were survivals of the primitive-communal system. These areas had been for long inhabited by numerous nomadic and settled tribes in which the slow process of feudalisation was taking place. The tribal sheikhs, however, were still more like clan and tribal chiefs than feudal rulers. In Volney’s description (1784) of a tribal sheikh in southern Palestine many survivals of the past are cited. The sheikh was in command of 500 horsemen but at the same time he himself looked after the cattle, worked together with the members of his family, and so on.

An important role was played by the spiritual feudals, the priests. In Syria, the Lebanon and Palestine, there were about ten Christian and five Moslem denominations. Here feudal separatism was combined with spiritual separatism, and the political struggle often assumed a religious character. The higher clergy, especially the upper circles of the Maronite Church, owned vast tracts of land and along with the feudal lords exploited the peasantry.

The formation of feudal relations in Iraq, where sharp differences existed between the north and the south, was peculiar. In the north of Iraq, the land was concentrated in the hands of the Kurdish beks, who headed the ashirat tribes. Actually, these were big landowners, typical feudal lords under the cover of the clan. Sometimes, their domains extended over an area of tens of thousands of hectares. They recruited soldiers and paid tribute to the Turkish Sultan’s deputies.

In the south of Iraq, patriarchal relations prevailed. The land belonged to the Arab tribes and was considered their collective property. Many tribes settled down, combining land tillage with nomad cattle-breeding. The Turkish authorities tried to liquidate collective ownership of the land. Community land was declared state property and handed over to the clan’s elite. Attempts were made to turn the obligations of the tribal sheikhs into a hereditary duty which called for the approval of the authorities. Thus arose large Arab feudal families who owned huge tracts of land. These measures of the Turkish Sultan met with resistance from the ordinary tribesmen. Nomads and semi-nomads refused to pay rent. A conflict arose between the new feudal lords and the armed people which resulted in numerous uprisings of the Arab tribes. Often the new feudal lords were merely nominal owners of the land allotted to them.

Almost the same process occurred in North Africa, where the Turks owned part of the land on the seaboard and carried on endless war against the Arab and Berberic tribes who upheld their land rights.

Everywhere in the Arab countries, big feudal landownership went hand in hand with small-scale farming. In the form of huge taxes and requisitions, the landowners appropriated not only the surplus product, but the essential product as well and did nothing to increase production. The economy was stagnant, and at its best was only able to ensure its own reproduction.

Simple reproduction did not create any reserves in the event of social or natural calamities. Frequent wars, feudal discord and droughts ruined the peasantry and brought about the decline of agriculture. Whole villages died out. Of the 3,200 villages that had existed around Aleppo in the 16th century, there were only about 400 left at the end of the 18th. The population either became extinct or fled to the cities. Conditions in Egypt were very bad. “The rich Faiyum Valley and the fertile plains of the Delta, so productive at the time of the reign of the Pharaohs, Ptolemies and even under the rule of the Romans, yield only one-fourth of what they used to,” wrote Chabrulle in his Transactions of the French Expedition. “The cause of these deplorable changes is not far to seek. Nature is not to blame. The river is the same as before. Its periodic floods continue to fertilise the Nile valley each year. But hope no longer encourages the farmer. He knows that the covetous intruder will reap the fruits of his sweat and blood. Why should he produce new crops if neither he nor his children are able to profit by them? He sows the land with disgust, reaps with fear and tries to hide a meagre share of the grain from the grasping oppressors to meet the needs of his family. In this unhappy country, the peasant owns no property and can never own any. He is not even a tenant. He is simply a serf of the clique oppressing his country.”

The process of the ruin of the peasantry, the dying out and depopulation of villages went on in all parts of the Ottoman Empire. The sultans endeavoured to stop it by tying the peasant to the land. As far back as the 16th century, under Suleiman the Lawgiver, laws were passed to prevent the flight of peasants. The code of laws worked out by the Turks for Egypt (Kanun-name Misr), ordered the kashifs, the multazims and sheikhs to see to it that not one plot of irrigated land remained uncultivated, to prevent the flight of the peasants and to populate the ruined and empty villages with fellaheen. If a peasant ran away from his plot, the sheikh was held materially responsible. The usia could be sold only together with the fellaheen who cultivated it.

Famine, hard work, the corvée system, numerous taxes and duties, attachment to the land, the lack of rights, humiliation by the landlords and his servants – this was the lot of the Arab peasant. Often the fellaheen, unable to endure the yoke any longer, rebelled. They were attacked by bands of Janissaries and their Arab hirelings who meted out severe reprisals. According to the codes of the Lawgiver, no mercy was to be shown in dealing with peasant uprisings.

The Arab City in the Period of Ottoman Rule.

From the 16th to 18th centuries, Arab cities still bore the imprint of the Middle Ages. These seats of the Turkish beys and pashas were administrative rather than economic centres. But trade was already being carried on and craft production was developing.

Ottoman rule in the East coincided with the revival and rapid growth of international trade. European industry was in need of additional markets. It found them in the vast Ottoman Empire. Turkish and Arab feudal lords bought English and Dutch cloth, French silks and wines, Russian furs and Bohemian cut glass. They exported to Europe grains, raw silk, skins, crude wool, fruits, nuts, olive oil, homespun yarn and cloth. Actually, this was the exchange of the raw materials exacted by the feudal lords from their producers as rent in kind for foreign luxuries. “The inhabitants of trading cities,” Adam Smith wrote, “by importing the improved manufactures and expensive luxuries of richer countries afforded some food to the vanity of the great proprietors, who largely purchased them with great quantities of the rude produce of their lands.” [Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow 1962, p. 323.]

The fatal consequences of such trade are obvious. It intensified the feudal exploitation of the peasantry and ruined the rural population. Adam Smith and Volney observed that Turkish trade proceeded on an unequal basis and caused great harm to the Ottoman Empire.

One more peculiarity: as distinct from the caliphate, for instance, the main role in this trade was played by foreign merchants. “Who are the traders in Turkey?” Engels wrote. “Certainly not the Turks. Their way of promoting trade consisted in robbing caravans. Now that they are a little more civilised it consists in all sorts of arbitrary and oppressive exactions. The Greeks, Armenians, Slavonians and the Franks established in the large seaports, carry on the whole of the trade and have absolutely no reason to thank the Turkish beys and pashas for being able to do so. Remove all the Turks out of Europe and trade will have no reason to suffer.” [F. Engels, The Turkish Question, New York Daily Tribune, April 19, 1853]

Overseas commerce was concentrated at first mainly in the hands of the Italians (Venice, Genoa, Pisa), who were gradually squeezed out by English and French traders. They had their own quarters in large trading cities. There were European hotels and offices in Cairo, in the cities along the Syrian coast and in North African ports. During the 18th century, the English East India Company established trading stations in Baghdad and Basra.

The Armenians, Greeks and, to some extent, the Arabs, acted as intermediaries and contractors for the European traders. They engaged in transit trade, the large centres of which were Cairo, Aleppo, Damascus, Baghdad, Trabizond and Constantinople. Persian carpets, Indian muslins, pearls, etc., came pouring in. Yemenite coffee was sent from Jidda to Cairo, while from Sennar and Darfur came slaves, gold, ivory musk, ostrich feathers. Through these cities local products were exported to the seaports and purchased by the European traders.

Internal trade was rather poorly developed, although centres of local exchange between town and country gradually began to grow, the wares of the town craftsmen usually being sold in the city at daily bazaars or annual fairs.

There were two reasons for the predominance of Europeans in the trade of the Ottoman Empire. The first was that, by this time Europe had overtaken Turkey in both the cultural and economic fields. The European traders had “large sums of capital behind them and much greater experience in commerce. Their organisation of trade and transport of products was much better. In a word, they had a better “trade culture.” The second reason lay in the capitulation regime. “Capitulations” in the Ottoman Empire were certificates granting the European traders special rights and privileges.

Originally capitulations were privileges granted voluntarily and unilaterally by the Turkish Sultan to foreign traders and could be withdrawn at any minute. The first capitulations were granted to Italian traders in the 14th century, permitting them to settle in the cities of the Ottoman Empire, conduct trade and practice their religion. They contained deeds of property and determined the amount of duty the traders had to pay.

In the 16th century, capitulations assumed the character of bilateral agreements. The first agreement of this kind was concluded in 1535 between Suleiman the Lawgiver and Francis I, the King of France. The French not only obtained the right to trade, but many other privileges as well (the ships of other nations could enter Ottoman ports only under the protection of the French flag). French pilgrims were given free access to the holy places and were free to practise their religion. In 1604, similar agreements were concluded with the English and the Venetians, who began to trade with Turkey under their own flags. Gradually similar rights were extended to the subjects of other European Powers.

As the Ottoman Empire weakened, the European Powers began to regard the capitulations as their irrefutable rights and tried to get them extended to include their local contractors as well. Thanks to the capitulations, the traders were exempt from taxation and from the jurisdiction of the Turkish courts. Their property could not be confiscated.

The capitulation regime lasted till the 20th century (in Egypt, for example, until 1937) and was used by the European Powers as an instrument for the colonial enslavement of the Arab countries. It undermined the development of national capital and placed the local traders in an unequal position. European traders paid a custom rate comprising three per cent of the value of the product, the local traders paid from seven to ten per cent. Taxes were imposed on foreign articles of merchandise only once, when they were imported into the country. Those of the local traders were taxed each time they passed through the numerous customs offices and each time they were moved from one feudal estate to another. Naturally this hindered and undermined the development of capitalist relations in the Arab countries.

As regards industry, the Ottoman Empire also lagged behind the advanced European countries, where the transition to manufacture and then to machine production was making headway. In the Ottoman Empire, however, guilds of handicraftsmen (asnaf) still predominated. In each guild there existed the same hierarchy as in Europe. At the head of each shop was a chief-sheikh. Next came masters and apprentices. Each shop had its own traditions and customs. The largest centres of the crafts industry were Damascus and Aleppo in Syria, Baghdad and Mosul in Iraq, Cairo in Egypt, Tunis, Algiers, Tlemcen, Fez and Marrakesh in North Africa. The Arab handicraftsmen were famous for the production of cloth, carpets, morocco, weapons, copper ware, etc. Up to the 18th century, many of their wares were exported to Europe. But from the time of the Industrial Revolution local merchants were forced out even from the home markets.

In the Arab countries, there was still no clear-cut division between the crafts and agriculture. In Egypt, for example, yarn was produced directly in the peasant household. The manufacture of woollen cloth remained the lot of the peasant womenfolk. The same conditions prevailed in the Lebanon. In Syria, in the province of Aleppo, not only woollen cloth but also cotton fabrics were produced in the villages. On the other hand, many city inhabitants engaged in farming, especially market-gardening. Damascus, for example, was buried in fruit and vegetable gardens.

The social structure of the Arab towns indicates that a large proportion of the population was non-productive. Cairo at the end of the 18th century had a population of 300,000, 100,000 being adult males. Of these 25,000 were artisans, 15,000 were workers and the remaining 60,000 were not productively occupied. These were soldiers, landlords, clergymen, traders and their servants. The servants alone numbered 30,000. Not all artisans were engaged in productive labour. The Cairo guilds included guilds for bathhouse attendants, hairdressers, jugglers, street singers and public speakers, mule and camel drivers, dancers and drummers.

The Ottoman feudal system hampered the development of the Arab towns. The local traders could not compete with the Europeans who were protected by the capitulations regime. Even European trade had many obstacles to overcome. At sea the cargo vessels were subject to attacks from the corsairs, many of whom served the Turkish Sultan. Trade caravans were looted by derebeys and their bands of robbers. Lines of communications in the Ottoman Empire were very bad. Goods were transported by pack animals. Each town had its own customs and commercial legislation, its taxes, weights and measures, and so on. All this on top of feudal robbery held up the development of trade and industry and made the transition to capitalist relations impossible. “In reality,” Engels wrote, “the Turkish domination like any other eastern domination is incompatible with capitalist society. Surplus value is in no way insured against the rapacious grip of the satraps and pashas. The first and main condition for the bourgeois enterprise is lacking-the safety of the merchant’s person and property.” [Marx and Engels, Works, Vol. 22, 2nd Russ. Ed., p. 33.]

State System.

The predominant nationality in the Ottoman Empire were the Turks. The Turkish feudal lords formed the ruling class. Their power was maintained through an apparatus of coercion with the sultan at its head. The sultan, or padishah, was the supreme head of the state. He wielded absolute military and civic power. In the 16th century he became the caliph, the spiritual head of the Moslems.

The second person of importance was the sheikh el-Islam, the head of the Moslem clergy. The legislation, the court, the madrasahs (collegiate mosques) and huge ecclesiastical estates were concentrated in his hands. The cadis (judges), the cadi askari (military judges) and the muftis (expounders of the religious law) were under his control. The muftis in each large centre of the empire headed the local clergy. It was they who decided whether legislative enactments were in conformity with the principles of Islam. The first mufti in the Ottoman Empire was the sheikh el-Islam himself. The theologians and scholars (Ulema) were also influential strata of the Moslem clergy.

The empire’s central government was called Bab-el-Ali – the Sublime Porte. At its head stood the first minister, or the Great Vizir, who from the time of Suleiman the Law-giver had held the title “Sadr-Azam.” He directed the whole state administration. The Great Vizir was always accompanied by a defterdar, who was in charge of the land register and the distribution of the fiefs.

The most important issues were decided by the sultan himself. In urgent cases the diwan (council) was convened. The diwan was made up of senior generals, vizirs and other dignitaries.

The army occupied an exceedingly important place in the life of the military-feudal Ottoman Empire. It was based on the knights (sipahi), who had to live within the boundaries of those districts in which their timars were located. Each district was called sanjaq or liwa (banner), and the knights who lived there formed a combat unit of the Ottoman cavalry. In the event of war, they assembled their cavalry under the banner of the sanjaq-bey, the commander of the district, who commanded them as well as the knights of his own sanjaq.

Each province (pashalik or eyalet) embraced several sanjaqs. A province and its levy of knights was commanded by a pasha, or – bey of beys. Apart from the levy of knights, many pashas had their personal feudal militias of Mamelukes and mercenaries (usually Maghrebs).

The Ottoman infantry corps was made up of janissaries (from the Turkish yeni-cheri, new troops). This was a privileged corps of professional infantry formed in the 14th century. It was recruited mainly from young captured Slav boys, who were forcibly converted to Islam and given a military training. They had no families, were cut off from the local population and served the Turkish Sultan zealously. The janissary corps was divided into “nuclei” with agas at their head. They enjoyed a number of privileges. At some time during the 17th or the 18th century, the janissaries obtained the right to settle down outside the “nuclei,” to marry and raise a family, to engage in the crafts and in trade, while continuing to offer military service on a hereditary basis. Thus a special janissary stratum was formed from which the Sultan’s guard and the military-police formations were recruited for the purpose of exacting taxes and duties and for suppressing revolts. Many towns and provinces of the Ottoman Empire (Serbia, Algeria, Tunisia) suffered cruelly from the outrages of the janissaries and often came under their complete control. The janissary dominance was felt even in the empire’s capital, Constantinople.

Apart from the knightly cavalry, the janissaries and the mercenaries, the Turkish sultans and their deputies resorted to the help of warlike tribes, whose role was especially important in the far-flung parts of the Ottoman Empire.

The Turks imposed their administrative system on the Arab countries. Syria and Palestine were divided into four pashaliks with centres in Aleppo, Damascus, Tripoli and Saida (at the end of the 18th century, Akka was also made a pashalik). The region of the city of Jerusalem was set aside as a special sanjaq. In Iraq, there were only two pashaliks – Mosul and Baghdad. In Arabia, there were also two – the Hejaz and the Yemen. Egypt, Tripoli, Tunisia and Algeria were independent pashaliks. The Somalian seaboard was an independent province of Habash from the middle of the 16th until the middle of the 18th century. The territory of the Lebanon preserved its autonomy under the government of the Arab emirs.

The Sultan’s deputies enjoyed unrestricted power in their own domains. The central government did not bother its governors with petty instructions. According to their own judgement, they levied and collected taxes, distributed estates, administered justice and reprisals, commanded their troops and waged war on their neighbours or rebellious vassals.

There were no strong ties between the provinces. Outwardly the Ottoman Empire was a centralised state. In reality, it was decentralised. It lacked internal economic cohesion and national unity. Actually it was a conglomeration of countries and peoples united under the sword of the conqueror. Hence the existence of centrifugal forces which slowly but surely pulled the empire apart.

The Decay of Ottoman Feudalism.

At the end of the 17th century, the Ottoman Empire entered a period of serious crisis, which affected all branches of social life: the economy was ruined; the machinery of the state had decayed; the provinces would not obey the centre; the demoralised army had lost its fighting efficiency; culture had declined. Marx and Engels compared Turkey with the decaying carcass of a dead horse which supplied the “neighbourhood with a due allowance of carburetted hydrogen and other well-scented gaseous matter.” [Marx and Engels. British Politics – Disraeli – The Refugees – Mazzini in London – Turkey, New York Daily Tribune, April 7, 1853.]

This crisis was called forth by the decay of Ottoman feudalism. Feudal production relations made the further development of the productive forces impossible. Moreover, they led to the destruction of the existing productive forces.

Turkey and her Arab domains were agrarian countries and their main producer was the peasant. He practised small-scale farming on his own plot by his own labour using primitive implements. The basic law of this economy was simple reproduction. Part of the harvest, which comprised the essential product, was used for the reproduction of the primitive means of production and manpower. The other part, which comprised the surplus product, was completely appropriated and used by the feudal exploiters. With the growth of money-commodity relations and foreign trade, the appetites of the feudal lords grew also. Sumptuous palaces were erected in Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo and other urban centres, which received luxuries from all over the world, imported by enterprising European and eastern traders and paid for in kind with the products of the local peasant households. But the needs of the feudal lords continued to grow, and more and more goods had to be supplied.

Feudal plunder assumed, catastrophic proportions for the peasant household. Villages emptied, crops were abandoned. Fields which had until recently been tilled were infested with burr bushes and more than half of the land lost its fertility. Famines were frequent.

The principle of collective responsibility was strictly followed in the village. If a peasant family died out, its taxes had to be paid by the neighbouring peasant household. If a whole village died out, its taxes were paid by the neighbouring village. This system hastened the ruin of the Arab village.

The greater the damage done to the peasant household, the fiercer was the struggle of various groups of feudalists for the right to exploit it. The struggle for fiefs and estates became more intense. Big feudal lords (ayani or kibari) seized the land of the petty knights. Gomurji, the ideologist of the last Kochi-beys, who died about 1650, wrote indignantly about the growing power and prosperity of all sorts of scoundrels, about their seizure of the timars and ziamets: “The owners of large and small estates, who were the real warriors for religion and the state, have been deprived of the means of existence and not a trace of them is left.” While seizing the military fiefs, the nobility declined military service. Their example was followed by the same petty knights whose fate was lamented by Kochi-bey Gomurji. Previously the Sultan had once been able to recruit from 100,000 to 120,000 vassals, whereas in the 17th century only 7,000 or 8,000 went on campaign. Most of them were mercenaries and servants. The vassals avoided military service but strove to retain their own lands. In this period we observe the tendency to turn military fiefs into hereditary privately-owned estates. This process, which was accompanied by the ruin of the peasant household, undermined the very basis of the Ottoman Empire’s might, the army.

This struggle for the right to exploit the ruined peasantry spread throughout the Arab countries. In the 18th century, it became more acute due to the decline of piracy and to military defeats which deprived the feudal lords of their main source of enrichment. Insurrections of the Arab sheikhs and emirs against the pashas became more frequent, as did the revolts of the pashas against the Porte. Internecine wars flared up and feudal separatism increased. The majority of the Arab provinces became virtually independent of the Turkish Sultan and passed into the hands of the local feudal cliques, whose leaders strove to break away from the Porte altogether and to found independent dynasties.

In Baghdad, the dynasty founded by Hasan Pasha was firmly established. This dynasty ruled throughout the 18th century. At times, when it exerted power over the Mosul governors, its authority extended over the whole of Iraq. The mutasallims, many of whom also held the title of pasha, were subordinate to the Baghdad pashas. All attempts of the Porte to depose this dynasty met with failure. The pashas appointed by the Porte could not hold out in Baghdad more than a couple of months. The kulemens overthrew and killed them and proclaimed the next pretender of the Hasan Pasha dynasty the new pasha. In 1780, power in Baghdad was seized by Suleiman the Great (Büyük), the kulemen leader. He founded a new dynasty, the dynasty of kulemen pashas, which ruled in Baghdad until 1831. The Baghdad pashas had their own court modelled after the Sultan’s court in Istanbul, with the same large harems and covetous courtiers, numerous servants and fantastic oriental luxury.

The same went for Tripoli. The janissary dynasty of the Kulemens – white slaves converted to Islam, who underwent military training. They formed the army’s crack troops, rulers’ “guard,” like the Mamelukes in Egypt. Karamanli bey ruled from 1711. This dynasty was virtually independent of the Porte.

The Hussein dynasty in Tunisia began to reign in 1705. It was founded by Hussein bey ibn Ali. Under this dynasty, Tunisia became a fully independent state only nominally under the control of the Turkish sultans.

The Ottoman Empire

In Algeria, power became concentrated in the hands of the janissary freebooters, who turned the country into a virtually independent feudal state. With the help of the local feudal lords and sheikhs of the warring tribes, the janissary commanders laid the nomads and the peasants under tribute, gathered large taxes to their own advantage and seized land. A council of janissary army generals elected from among themselves the governor of Algeria – the dey, a life appointment, which could not be inherited. Under the dey there were four beys, who stood at the head of the provinces into which Algeria was divided.

In the middle of the 18th century, power in Egypt was seized by the Mameluke beys, who pushed the janissary nuclei into the background. According to Volney, the janissary nuclei turned into mobs of vagrants and ruffians. The administrating of the country passed to the leader of the strongest Mameluke clique known as sheikh-el-balad, who made himself ruler of the whole country. The pasha became a virtual prisoner of the Mameluke beys and, as Volney writes, was deprived, banished and expelled. The first governor of Egypt in the 18th century was Ibrahim Bey (1746–57), who himself was not a Mameluke: But being a Turkish bey, a kiyakhya, he was able to form a Mameluke detachment and seized power with its support. His Mamelukes were generously rewarded with estates and posts and many of them were appointed beys. A fierce struggle for power ensued after the death of Ibrahim. It was won by Ali Bey, nicknamed El-Kabir (the Great), who, in 1763, became ruler of Egypt and six years later proclaimed Egyptian independence. In 1773, he was assassinated and power passed into the hands of the rival Mameluke clique headed by Murad Bey and Ibrahim Bey.

Feudal separatism and internecine wars thus led to the downfall of the vast Ottoman state, which had come into being not as a result of economic development, but as a result of the military requirements of Ottoman feudalism in the course of its predatory wars. This state, like many other multinational states of Eastern Europe, arose within the framework of feudalism before the formation of nations and the liquidation of feudal disunity. The forced union of different peoples at different levels of development into a vast state was not durable and the contradictions between the feudal structure of the society with its inherent centrifugal tendencies and the centralised form of the Turkish state led to the inevitable weakening of the Ottoman Empire.

The Decline of the Outward Might of the Ottoman Empire.

Grave internal crisis signified the beginning of the ruin which was to envelop the whole Ottoman Empire. The former might of the Sublime Porte was shaken. In the 15th and 16th centuries, from the military point of view, the Ottoman Empire was the strongest state in Europe. It gained many victories and added many countries to its domains. Its army of janissary infantrymen and knights was considered invincible. But now the knights and janissaries would no longer fulfil their essential military obligations and went unwillingly to war. Industrial development in Europe had brought a marked improvement in military weapons and in the art of war. The Turkish army, however, remained at the level of the 14th and 15th centuries. Consequently the Ottoman Empire passed from victory to defeat, from the offensive to the defensive and from expansion to territorial losses.

At the end of the 17th century, Turkey suffered her first serious defeat. Her war against Austria, Russia, Poland and Venice ended in 1699 with the signing of the Treaty of Carlowitz, which gave Azov to Russia, Podolia to Poland, Central Hungary, Transylvania, Backa and Slavonia to Austria and the Morea and several of the Archipelago Islands to Venice.

Soon Turkey regained the Morea and temporary control of Azov. But according to the treaty of Passarowitz, signed in 1718, she had to yield the Banat and part of Serbia to Austria. The 1739 Treaty of Belgrade wrested Azov and Kabarda from her control and declared them neutral territories (the “barrier”). In 1774, the long Russo-Turkish war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji, which gave Russia Kerch, Yenikale, Kinburn and also the region of Kabarda. The Crimea and the Kuban were declared independent of Turkey. Soon (in 1783) they were also joined to Russia. The Kuchuk-Kainarji Treaty also gave Russia the right to navigate the Black Sea and the Straits for commercial purposes.

By the Treaty of Jassy in 1792, Russia gained the whole northern seaboard of the Black Sea and the mouth of the Dniester which became her border. In 1812, by the Treaty of Bucharest, Russia received Bessarabia.

In her struggle with Turkey for the Black Sea and the Balkan Peninsula, Russia was driven by the economic requirements of her landowners and merchants. Russia’s commodity economy was growing. The landowners and merchants needed an outlet to seaports that did not freeze up in winter in order to ship wheat, wood, hemp and furs to Europe. The importance of the Black Sea for Russian trade was increased by the fact that many of Russia’s great rivers flowed into it. But the Black Sea was in the hands of the Turks and the outlet from it – the Dardanelles and the Bosporus – was firmly closed to Russian ships. The question of capturing Constantinople was also connected with tsarism’s desire for hegemony in Europe.

The Austrian landowners and merchants were also seeking an outlet to the warm water sea ports for their growing export trade. Hence Austria’s desire to gain possession of the Adriatic Sea and the Danube Basin. Austrian expansion crossed and in many respects coincided with Russian expansion. This led to conflicts between the two countries which, however, did not keep them from reaching agreement on the division of Turkey.

England and France were also eager to gain control of Istanbul, the Straits, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Syria and Iraq. These claims were made in the 18th century, but actual fighting began in the 19th century. With the further development of capitalism, the solicitations of the European Powers in the Near East became more persistent and the struggle between them for the division of the Ottoman Empire more fierce. The fate of the empire’s domains, known in history and literature as the Eastern Question, was central to European diplomacy in the 19th century.

Popular Movements and the Arab Countries’ Struggle for Liberation.

The yoke of the Turkish feudal lords – sultans, pashas, janissaries and knights – evoked many insurrections by the peoples of the Ottoman Empire. These insurrections reflected the main class contradiction between feudal lords and peasants as well as the main national contradiction between the oppressors and the oppressed. The feudal yoke in the Ottoman Empire bore the stamp of foreign domination, so the peasants’ struggle against the feudal lords went hand in hand with the national liberation movements. The bourgeoisie, which in the 18th century was taking shape as a class in Greece, Serbia and Egypt, also suffered from the Ottoman feudal yoke and joined in the struggle against feudalism.

Generally speaking, there were two kinds of movements. There were popular movements in Turkey herself, directed against the feudal yoke. These were supported by the oppressed nationalities and in the main assumed a class character. On the other hand, there were movements of the oppressed peoples. These were more like national liberation movements.

Among the popular anti-feudal movements in Turkey proper were the uprisings headed by Badr ed-Din Simawi in 1415–18 and the Kara Yazici uprising at the turn of the 16th century.

The uprising of Badr ed-Din Simawi spread over a huge area, from the Balkans to East Anatolia. In his fiery speeches Sheikh Badr ed-Din Simawi, the leader, inveighed against the exploiters, preached universal equality, the liquidation of class oppression and the communal use of property. He called for the unity of the working people of all religions and nationalities. In the ranks of the insurgents Moslems fought side by side with Christians and Jews, and Turks side by side with the Greeks and Slavs.

The geographical boundaries of the Kara-Yazici uprising were even greater. It included the Balkans, Asia Minor, northern Syria and Iraq. The insurgents seized Baghdad and held it for many years. The Arab fellaheen and Bedouins took part in the uprising together with the Turkish peasants, the petty knights and several pashas. Like the Badr ed-Din movement, the level and the scale of this uprising placed it in the same ranks with the Wat Tyler, Thomas Münzer and John Huss uprisings, with the French jacquerie and with the liberation wars of the Russian peasants.

The uprisings of the oppressed peoples were no less persistent in character. The main centres of the anti-Turkish liberation movements were the Balkans, Transcaucasia and the Arab countries. Although in some cases the leaders were feudal lords, in principle, the movement assumed a profoundly popular character.

One of the main centres of anti-Turkish resistance in the Arab countries was the Lebanon. In 1516, the troops of Selim the Cruel had seized the Lebanon and the mountainous regions of Syria and Palestine. The administration of the country had been entrusted to Fakhr ed-Din I, an emir from the Ma’anid dynasty who recognised vassal dependence on the Porte. His attempts to avoid paying tribute, however, irritated the Turks, who in the end decided to establish direct authority over the country, but were met with fierce resistance from both the Lebanese peasantry and the feudal lords. A long stubborn struggle ensued. In 1544, Fakhr ed-Din was poisoned at the court of the Damascene Pasha, and his son, Kirkmas, like many other representatives of the Lebanese nobility, was killed fighting the Turks who, in 1585, launched a punitive expedition against the Lebanon.

A new stage in the resistance began in 1590 with the advent to power of Kirkmas’s son, Emir Fakhr ed-Din II. This loyal pupil of Machiavelli, a Druze, who made himself out to be a Christian when opportunity offered, was a clever diplomat and master of intrigue. He had spies in Constantinople, at the courts of the pashas and even in the homes of his vassals. He plotted and sowed discord among the enemy. Seeking the favour of the Sultan, at first he paid a high tribute into the Turkish treasury and shared the spoils of war with him. For this the Sultan appointed him ruler of the mountain and coastal districts of the Lebanon and considerable parts of Syria and Palestine.

The ultimate purpose of the Emir’s plan was a crusade against the Sultan with the help of the West. Preparing for the struggle against the Porte, he started talks with the Italians, began the construction of fortresses and brought the strength of his army up to 40,000 men. In 1613, he provoked a rebellion in which the whole population of the Lebanon took part. However, the Turks emerged victorious. Fakhr ed-Din II was compelled to flee from the Lebanon and spent five years in Italy. His pompous Oriental suite and enormous wealth held Europe spellbound. As a diplomat he was less successful. His plans to knock together an anti-Turkish coalition with the participation of France, Florence, the Vatican, the Maltese Order, and others failed.

Upon the accession to the throne of Osman II in 1618, Fakhr ed-Din II was granted an amnesty and returned to the Lebanon. Having regained his domains, he mapped out a plan to develop them economically. He encouraged foreign trade and to a great extent Europeanised the country. Beirut was split up into boulevards after the European manner and new buildings were erected. A group of young people was sent to Italy to study. This was the beginning of Maronite spiritual education. It promoted the European study of Arab philology. At the beginning of the thirties, Fakhr ed-Din II once again inflamed the people to rebel. He was taken prisoner and sent to Constantinople as a hostage. In 1635, disturbances flared up again. Fakhr ed-Din II was executed and his principality routed.

Arab opposition to Turkey, however, continued. Throughout the 17th century two hostile groups of the Lebanese nobility had been fighting each other. One group, the Kaisites (or “reds,” as they called themselves), led by the Ma’anid family came out against local Turkish domination and gained a following among the Lebanese peasants. The other group, the Yemenites (or “whites”), led by the emirs of the Alamaddin family, was supported by the Turks. Varying fortunes attended the struggle. More often than not success favoured the Kaisites, who established authority in the Lebanon many times. In 1697, after the Ma’anid family had died out, the Kaisites were headed by emirs from the Shehab family.

In 1710, the Turks, together with the Yemenites, made one more attempt to settle accounts with the troops of the Kaisite emirs. Having overthrown Emir Haidar Shehab, they planned to turn the Lebanon into an ordinary Turkish province. In 1711, however, the Kaisites crushingly defeated the Turks and the Yemenites in a battle near Ain-Dar in which all the members of the Alamaddin family perished. The Turks were compelled to renounce their plans and for a long time did not interfere in the Lebanon’s internal affairs.

One of the most serious attempts of the Arab rulers to free themselves from the hated Ottoman feudal yoke and win independence is connected with the Russo-Turkish war of 1768–74. The diplomacy of the European Powers, especially tsarist Russia, in its desire to weaken Turkey, supported the national liberation movements on the Balkans and in the Arab countries. The leaders of the insurgent forces, in turn, sought an alliance with Russia, hoping to gain their ends with her help.

In 1769, taking advantage of the war with Russia, the ruler of Egypt, Ali-bey el-Kabir, declared his independence of the Turks. A Mameluke of Abkhazian origin, Ali-bey had for long sympathised with Russia and concealed his hatred for the Porte. In 1770, he declared himself sovereign and assumed the title of “Sultan of Egypt and the Two Seas.” His name was mentioned in the khutbahs (sermons) of the Egyptian and Hejaz mosques. In 1770, the province of Hejaz was added to his domains.

To get help in his struggle against Turkey, Ali-bey entered into an alliance with Sheikh Zahir, the ruler of Safad (a region in Palestine). For many years this Kaisite had been engaged in extending the domains presented to his father by the Lebanese emir. Around 1750, having obtained the small coastal settlement of Akka and turned it into a large centre of sea trade and handicraft production, he moved his capital there. He then restored an ancient fortress of the Crusaders in Akka and converted it into an impregnable stronghold, which was later to withstand even the forces of Bonaparte. Zahir used the huge revenues gained by extortionate tax-farming and the granting of monopoly mainly to equip his army (its combat strength reached 60 to 70 thousand men) and fleet.

Having broken away from the Porte, Ali-bey decided to secure the aid of Russia. At this time a Russian squadron under the command of Count Alexei Orlov was stationed on the Archipelago. Having destroyed the Turkish fleet in the famous Battle of Cheshme on June 25–26, 1770, the Russians established their supremacy at sea and seized several of the Archipelago islands, having actively supported the rebellious Greeks. At the beginning of 1771, special emissaries of Ali-bey arrived at the headquarters of Count Orlov on the Island of Paros, where it was agreed to start a joint struggle against the Turks.

At first Ali-bey was successful. In 1771, the Egyptians with the support of Zahir’s troops began a formidable campaign in Syria. They took Damascus, Saida and besieged Jaffa. However, the treason of the Mameluke generals completely changed matters. Abu’l-Dhahab, who commanded the Egyptian troops, suddenly withdrew his Mamelukes from Damascus, fortified his position in Upper Egypt and started a struggle against Ali-bey. The majority of the Mameluke beys defected to Abu’l-Dhahab. Ali-bey was defeated and fled to his ally in Akka. After the loss of Damascus, and the departure of the Mamelukes, Zahir’s situation became more precarious. The Lebanese emir, Yusef Shehab, joined the Turks and with them besieged Saida. At the request of the allies, a Russian squadron, under the command of Rizo, arrived in Syria. It helped break the blockade of Saida and seized Beirut (May 1772). In the autumn of 1772, having concluded a truce with the Turks, the Russian squadron left Syria. Once again Beirut passed into the hands of the Turks.

In the meanwhile, Count Orlov sent to Ali-bey a mission headed by Lieutenant Pleshcheyev, which handed over to the insurgents a large consignment of weapons and ammunition. In 1773, having reorganised his forces, Ali-bey with his 6,000-strong army came out against the rebellious Mameluke beys. In the battle near Salihia, however (in the eastern part of the Delta) his troops were defeated. Ali-bey was mortally wounded, taken prisoner and soon, on May 8, 1773, died in Cairo. Sheikh Zahir’s situation was now critical. True, in June 1773, the truce between Turkey and Russia ended and once again a Russian squadron, under the command of Kozhukhov, arrived in Syria. The Lebanese emir Yusef Shehab broke with the Turks and entered into an alliance with the Russians and Sheikh Zahir. After a three-month siege, the Russians captured Beirut. In October 1773, Yusef Shehab requested Catherine II to make him a Russian citizen and establish a protectorate over the Lebanon. After the signing of the Kuchuk-Kainarji Treaty in 1774, this petition was rejected and the Russian squadron left Syria.

When the Russians departed, the Turks threw all their forces against Sheikh Zahir. In 1775, he was besieged in Akka and soon killed. The revolt was suppressed and the capital of Zahir, Akka, became the residence of the Turkish satrap Jazzar, whose name is associated with the darkest days in Syrian history.

Jazzar (the Butcher), his real name was Ahmed, was of Bosnian origin. He had embarked on his Mameluke career in Egypt, where he had earned the nickname of Butcher by ordering several massacres. During the Russo-Turkish war he organised his own Mameluke detachment to fight the Russians. For his outstanding services in suppressing the Zahir rebellion, he was appointed the pasha in Saida. Soon the pashaliks of Tripoli and Damascus were also handed over to him and he became the virtual ruler of Syria with Akka as the centre of his domains.

The reign of Jazzar was remarkable for the unprecedented brutality with which one rebellion after another was suppressed. In 1780, a spontaneous peasant movement, supported by some of the local nobility, started in the Lebanon. At its head stood certain relatives of Yusef Shehab, who had once again gone over to the Turks. The insurgents rebelled against the heavily increased tribute that Jazzar had imposed on the Lebanon. The revolt was brutally put down. Yusef Shehab cut off his brother’s tongue, plucked out the eyes of his other brother, and with his own hands killed one of the Shehabs who had gone over to the insurgents. The janissaries fed their prisoners with human flesh.

This was followed by the brutal suppression of the rebellions of the Palestine bedouins and fellaheen of Saida. A continuous struggle was waged in the Lebanon, where rival feudal cliques roused the peasants to revolt with promises of an easier life. The most serious rebellion against Jazzar began in 1789. The insurgents seized Beirut, Saida, Sur and approached Akka, but treason, committed on the part of some of the feudal leaders, bribed by Jazzar, led to the defeat of the revolt. In 1790, in the Lebanon, yet another rebellion was sparked off by discontent among the peasants and internecine strife among the nobles. The rebellion began to die down only in 1797, when Yusef Shehab’s nephew, Emir Beshir II, who had fought against his uncle, gained a foothold in the Lebanon.

In 1798, a big rebellion took place in Damascus, the inhabitants of which refused to pay tribute to Jazzar. Somehow, the Porte managed to settle the conflict by appointing a new pasha in Damascus. However, the disturbances in Syria continued.

In Iraq, uprisings took place throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. These were movements of bedouins and semi-settled farmers, whose life was still based on the tribal system. The insurgents upheld their rights to the land and rose against the feudal system imposed by the Ottoman Turks, refusing to pay taxes to the Turkish authorities. The pashas replied by sending military expeditions to collect taxes from their rebellious subjects, with the result that wars between the pashas and the tribes continued almost without a break from year to year. The local feudal lords – Kurds and Arabs – played an ambivalent role. At times they would help the pasha to pacify one tribe or another (usually for a generous bribe), but often they headed the tribal anti-Turkish uprisings.

To this picture of internecine wars and rebellions were added the Persian raids. Fighting against Turkey as against their permanent enemy, the shahs of Persia supported any anti-Turkish action in Iraq whether tribal rebellions or the campaigns of the pashas. There were times in the forties of the 18th century when the Pasha of Baghdad fought against his own sovereign together with the tribes and the Iranian Shah.

The three centuries of Ottoman rule in Iraq witnessed scores of large-scale rebellions. One of the most significant was the uprising of the tribes in southern Iraq under the leadership of the Siab family. It started in 1651 in the district of Basra. The insurgents captured Basra and held it for many years together with the adjoining regions. Only in 1669 did the Turks succeed in putting down the rebellion and installing their own deputy in Basra. In 1690, an Arab rebellion of the Muntafiq tribes flared up, embracing the valley of the lower and middle Euphrates. The Arabs occupied Basra and conducted a successful campaign against the Turkish troops until 1701. Even then the Turks failed to suppress the rebellion completely. With the support of the Iranian shahs the Muntafiqs offered stubborn resistance to the Turks in the 18th century. At the end of the century a fresh wave of popular uprisings swept southern Iraq. They were put down by the Baghdad Pasha, Büyük Suleiman.

These numerous uprisings and internecine strife weakened the Ottoman Empire. Feudal anarchy reigned in the domains of the Sublime Porte. The popular movements and uprisings of the Arabs, Greeks, Kurds, Armenians and Slays shook the decaying foundations of the feudal empire and hastened the collapse of a reactionary feudal system which had outlived itself.


Last updated: 27 July 2020