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A General History of the Middle East


1798 to 1914

This chapter covers the following topics:

Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt
The Wahhabiyah
Mahmud the Reformer
Mohammed Ali
The Tanzimat Reforms
A French Foothold in Lebanon
Nineteenth-Century Persia
The Baha'i Movement
The Suez Canal and the Pawning of Egypt
The Ottoman Constitution and the Russo-Turkish War
British Inroads in Arabia
Abdul the Damned
The Majlis Revolution
Early Steps in the Regathering of Israel
The Father of Modern Zionism
The Young Turks
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Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt

Sultan Selim III (1789-1807) was the first reformer who realized that it would take more than the eradication of the most obvious weaknesses to save the Ottoman Empire. Coming to the throne during a disastrous war with Russia, he had to wait until peace came before he could put his ideas into action. Once he got the chance, however, he moved rapidly. A European-style corps of 10,000 men was created, called the nizam-i cedid ("new order"), and it quickly proved its superiority in the field. He also revised commercial relations with the West, created a new treasury called the irad-i cedid ("new revenue"), and began a program of tax reform. However, his projects ran right into opposition from the Ulema, the Janissaries, and other vested interests, and together they brought his efforts to a halt.

Meanwhile, it seemed like Selim's domestic problems were not big enough, because his foreign problems wouldn't go away. In May of 1798, France's new hero, Napoleon Bonaparte, set sail for Egypt with 232 ships, 2,000 cannon, and 32,300 soldiers; he also brought 175 engineers and scholars to study the land they were invading. Bonaparte saw himself as another Caesar or Alexander; to him Egypt was the first step in a great campaign to drive the British out of India. Of course this was a purely romantic idea, which depended on a command of the sea the French did not have. Bonaparte got safely to Egypt (taking Malta on the way), and once there he defeated the Mamelukes in a single battle and seized the whole country. He didn't get to enjoy his conquest for long, though; the British Mediterranean squadron, under the command of Vice-Admiral Nelson, found the French fleet anchored at Aboukir Bay (near Alexandria) and destroyed it.

That made the rest of Bonaparte's activities pointless, but he tried to go ahead anyway. First he marched into the Holy Land, won a victory at Jaffa, and because he was short on provisions, massacred the prisoners.(1) At Acre the British generously supplied the Turkish garrison, and Napoleon found his own artillery (captured at Aboukir Bay) used against him. The bewildered conqueror was forced to abandon his siege of Acre when his supplies ran out. Returning to Egypt, he annihilated a Turkish force shipped in from Rhodes. Finally he decided that France needed him more than his army did and sneaked away in a fast boat (October 1799). The garrison he left behind in Malta surrendered to the British in 1800, and so did the army in Egypt a year later.

Napoleon's adventure in Egypt was too brief to have any major effect on Egyptian society. Before Napoleon withdrew Selim allied himself with Britain, Austria, Russia, Portugal, and Naples against France (the War of the Second Coalition, 1798-1801). After that came a Serbian revolution, which began in 1804, and a Romanian revolt that invited Russian intervention (1806). Because Selim needed the army during these years, he found it impossible to resist their wishes, and eventually deserted his reformers and the new army to please the conservative majority. Now that the sultan was bereft of support, the Janissaries easily deposed him in 1807, replacing him with a conservative relative, Mustafa IV. A year of violence between opposing army factions followed, until a group favoring Selim III stormed the palace, only to discover that Mustafa had already ordered Selim strangled. The unruly soldiers then dragged Mustafa from his throne, strangled him with the usual bowstring, and crowned a reform-minded cousin, Mahmud II (1808-39).

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The Wahhabiyah

We have not heard much from the Arabs since the mid-eleventh century, when the Turks replaced them as the ruling class over most of the Islamic world. It is remarkable that the producers of a culture as vigorous as the one described in Chapters 8-10 could have been quiet for so long. Part of the reason is that in no way did they feel subjected or enslaved to another people; they were the first to have Islam, they spoke the language of the Koran in everyday life, and the Turks were always careful in dealing with them. Another factor may be the fatalism that most Moslems readily accept; don't question Allah, just submit to his authority and trust him to do the right thing. As long as Islam was winning against its opponents, that was not a heavy burden. Then Christendom started to take back the Balkans, Mogul India was lost to the British, and Persia was torn apart between rival generals; this seemed to go against the very grain of history. The Arabs have a strong sense of history, and remember their past greatness very well. What had gone wrong? Why was Allah letting his people go down in defeat repeatedly? A faith like Islam that uses its victories to prove itself finds questions like these difficult to answer. As a result, today's Arabs regard their four centuries under Ottoman rule as a dark age in their history, although during the first part of that period the Turks introduced Islam to places the Arabs could never reach in their heyday.

Yet not all Moslems were content to passively wait for Allah to save the day. Two other remedies offered themselves: (1) beat the "Franks" at their own game by learning the techniques of their military success, or (2) regain Allah's favor by purifying Islam of all corruptions that had crept into Islamic society over the centuries. Champions of both policies appeared in the eighteenth century, but it was the Arabs' misfortune--unlike for example, the Japanese--that the reformers and the puritans could never agree on what to do. As a result, they tried both remedies, and they have often canceled each other out, leaving Moslems more confused and frustrated than ever.(2)

The first important champion of Islamic fundamentalism was Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1691-1787), who lived in central Arabia. In 1745 he won the support and protection of a minor tribal chief, Mohammed ibn Saud. Al-Wahhab's goal was to restore the faith of the Prophet in all its pristine purity. This meant rejecting every element of Sufism--especially saint worship--and attacking the paganism of pre-Islamic Arabia, which some tribes still practiced. It also meant a strict adherence to the Koran. They severely punished wine drinking and other prohibited acts, and for those grey areas that the Koran said nothing about, the Wahhabis chose to play it safe and adopt the sterner, stricter view. Thus, the Wahhabis banned tombstones, artwork containing pictures of people, smoking, shaving of beards, abusive language, rosaries, and women's rights. Those who did not practice their form of Islam, including other Moslems, automatically became their enemies.

Al-Wahhab directed his greatest anger, though, at the Ottoman sultan who claimed to be Islam's caliph, denouncing the Porte for its "ungodly inclination toward the filthy devices of the Frankish infidels." By the time of his death his followers dominated the central Arabian desert. Now they began to raid the nearest Ottoman provinces and in 1801 they sacked Kerbela, the holy Shiite city in Iraq. In 1804, after some initial reverses, they took Medina from the sharif of Mecca; to the horror of most Moslems, they destroyed the tomb of Mohammed, since they regarded even that as a potential site for saint worship. In 1806 they took Mecca and read public prayers in the name of the Saudi chief instead of the sultan. This alarmed the Ottomans so much that they called upon Mohammed Ali, the new governor of Egypt, to drive the Wahhabis out of the holy cities. Egyptian troops invaded Arabia, and after a long and bitter struggle, they finally triumphed in 1818. The Wahhabi leader at this time, Abdullah ibn Saud, was beheaded in Constantinople; Mohammed's tomb was rebuilt, and foreigners dominated most of Arabia for some 20 years. Nevertheless, defeat in battle did not destroy the Wahhabi movement. It outlived the Ottoman empire, and in modern Saudi Arabia Wahhabi Islam is still applied to every condition of human life. It also gained some appeal among pious Moslems in India and the rest of the Middle East, leading to the creation of other fundamentalist movements in the twentieth century.

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Mahmud the Reformer

Mahmud II, unlike Selim III, had the willpower to do whatever it took to make the Ottoman empire work again. The empire he inherited was ready for its 19th century role as "the Sick Man of Europe." Control over North Africa had long since faded; in Egypt, Iraq and Syria powerful local governors paid only lip service to the Porte. Serbia, Romania and Arabia were in revolt, while in Turkey only two provinces were really under firm control. It took a British-mediated treaty to solve the Romanian problem (1812, the Russians kept Bessarabia but got out of Moldavia and Wallachia). That gave Mahmud a free hand to suppress the Serbs in the following year. Once recovered, Serbia was granted autonomy; having peaceful vassals on the northern frontier was obviously better than discontented peoples looking to Russia or Austria.

Now Mahmud had time to concentrate on internal reforms. The main goal of these reforms was to modernize the army and save the empire from both internal and external challenges. In 1826 he announced his proposals for a completely new, European-style army, and the Janissaries mutinied; this caused their long-overdue extermination. Thousands of Janissaries were massacred, the Bektashi dervishes (the Janissary religious order) were outlawed, and even the word Janissary was proscribed. Afterwards Ottoman historians called this event "the Auspicious Incident."

Mahmud's administrative reforms, like his military ones, were designed to give the sultan more power, and increase loyalty to him. He introduced modern education (to train officers, doctors, and veterinarians), overhauled the tax structure (to pay the army), abolished feudalism (to increase taxable revenues), and made the administration more centralized (so it could collect the taxes). To limit the power of the Ulema and other religious organizations, he gave them various charitable endowments, hoping to wean them from a previously independent base of support. To make his power more effective, he built new roads and, in 1834, introduced a postal service. The most visible reform of all was the invention of the fez (1828), which looks more like a Western hat than the traditional turban, but because it is brimless, allows a pious Moslem to touch his forehead to the ground while praying.

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Mohammed Ali

Egypt was Mahmud II's greatest failure. Handed back to him on a platter, he found himself unable to keep it. The trouble started with the Albanian soldiers that Selim III had sent there in 1799. Among them was Mohammed Ali, the illiterate son of a fisherman who knew a great opportunity when he saw one. Acting to restore order in a chaotic situation, he won the friendship of the local Ulema and they asked him to take control; in 1805 the sultan recognized him as khedive or viceroy over Egypt. Mohammed Ali then ruthlessly massacred his Mameluke rivals, ending their long domination over Egypt, and in 1807 easily defeated a British expedition that had been unwisely sent to restore Mameluke power.

Mohammed Ali has a peculiar role in Egyptian history. He spoke no Arabic, did not love the Egyptians and never regarded himself as one of them. Still, his leadership and personal drive transformed Egypt from a dirt-poor province into a Mediterranean power that very nearly overthrew the sultan. Because of this, and because he conducted reforms more vigorously than any sultan ever did, we now regard him as the founder of Egyptian nationalism.

His first reform was to confiscate the lands of the Mamelukes and use them to grow crops for the state's benefit. One million new acres were brought under the plow, irrigation was improved and modernized, and new crops like cotton and rice were introduced. The revenue this produced allowed him to build a navy, modernize the army, set up factories, and establish the first Arabic-language printing press. He built new schools to teach modern subjects, especially medicine and engineering, and sent promising students to Europe for higher education. French officers and professors came in as advisors; this irritated the British.

All of this was done to support Mohammed Ali's military ambitions. On the face of it, there could not be less promising material for an army than the peasants of Egypt, the fellahin. Bullied and downtrodden by two thousand years of foreign rule, they had no desire for the military life; they were also one of the most passive peoples to be found anywhere, content to live a wretchedly poor lifestyle that had changed little since the time of the pharaohs. Nevertheless, Mohammed Ali's son, a military genius named Ibrahim Pasha, recruited them brutally, trained them with Turkish and Albanian officers, and produced an army of a quarter of a million men that fought with discipline and courage. Ibrahim Pasha added a corps of black Sudanese troops to lead in offensives, but the Egyptians did well enough by themselves at holding defensive positions, and their health stood up better than that of the Sudanese in the cooler climates of Greece and Asia.

The new Egyptian army got its first test in 1811 when the sultan asked Mohammed Ali to put down the Wahhabi rebellion in Arabia; it took seven years but the Egyptians succeeded. Then in 1820 Mohammed Ali turned his attentions back to Africa and conquered all of the present-day Sudan; he built Khartoum in 1823, at the junction of the Blue and White Niles, to strengthen his control over the south. Mohammed Ali now held more territory than the Ottoman sultan did.

In 1821 the Greeks revolted; despite chaotic leadership, they defeated the first forces that the sultan sent against them. This prompted Mahmud II to turn the war over to Mohammed Ali. Sure enough, the Egyptians were more effective; in less than a year Ibrahim Pasha made short work of the rebels on Crete. The following year (1825) saw him enjoy equal success on the mainland, and it seemed like the Greek cause was doomed. But now it was the Greeks' turn to get outside aid, for, spurred on by sympathy for the cause of classical Hellas, the Europeans decided to intervene. The British, French and Russian navies combined to sink the Turko-Egyptian fleet (the Battle of Navarino, 1827), the Russians invaded the Balkans and crossed the Caucasus (1828), and the sultan threw in the towel. By the terms of the treaty of Adrianople (1829), the Turks recognized Greek independence, gave autonomy to the Romanian provinces, and ceded to Russia the Danube delta plus a few towns in Georgia.

Despite this defeat, Ibrahim Pasha demanded that the sultan give him Syria, which had been promised earlier as a reward for his service. Mahmud refused and the Egyptian forces were unleashed against the Turks. Ibrahim overran Syria, defeated the Turks at Konya, and advanced to a spot only 150 miles from Constantinople. At first Britain refused to help, and the sultan had to call upon the hated Russians to save him. The result was the humiliating Treaty of Hunkiar Iskelessi (1833), which left Ibrahim Pasha in charge of Syria, gave the Russians the right to intervene in Turkish affairs, and included a secret clause allowing Russia to close the Dardanelles in time of war. In an unrelated move, the sultan regained control over Libya, which had been independent for more than a century (1835).

Britain was now extremely concerned. The British prime minister, Lord Palmerston, realized that Mohammed Ali now controlled the two most direct routes between Europe and India: the Red Sea and the Euphrates valley. Nobody in the West really liked the Turks, but Britain definitely preferred a weak power in that region over a strong one (before long Britain would oppose Russian activities for the same reason). Now the sultan, feeling that he did not have much time left to live, feverishly rebuilt his army and navy to cut Mohammed Ali down to size. In 1839 he attacked the Egyptians at Nizib, on the upper Euphrates, and Ibrahim beat him so decisively that the entire Ottoman navy surrendered a week later. Mahmud II died on the same day (July 1, 1839).

The Ottoman Empire survived this debacle because Britain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia got involved at this point. For two years they met and discussed "The Eastern Crisis," and finally produced the Treaty of London, which declared the following: (1) an end to French support of the Egyptian regime, (2) reduction of the Egyptian army to 18,000 men, (3) the return of Syria and Arabia to the sultan, and (4) the closing of the Dardanelles to all non-Turkish warships. They let Mohammed Ali keep Egypt and the Sudan, though, since he no longer threatened the Ottoman Empire. He died a broken man in 1849, but his career stood out as an example to reform-minded Moslems elsewhere.

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The Tanzimat Reforms

Now that Mohammed Ali was no longer a threat, the Western powers leaned on the new sultan, Abdul Mejid (1839-61), to overhaul the state. So did his reform-minded vizier, Reshid Mustafa, so the sultan gave the ministers the power to do whatever they needed in the name of modernization. The next 37 years were a time of activity, dominated by a series of liberal decrees known as the Tanzimat-i-Khayriyah, or beneficent legislation. Consequently, we know the reigns of Abdul Mejid and his brother, Abdul Aziz (1861-76), as the Tanzimat period.

The first decree was issued in November 1839, and promised the following: (1) security of life, honor, and fortune to every subject, no matter what their race or creed; (2) a uniform system of taxation, replacing the old code that discriminated in favor of Moslems; and (3) an equally impartial system for raising troops for military service. In theory, this abolished the old millet system and all discrimination based on religion. Next came several smaller pieces of legislation specifying reforms in administration, education, the legal system, and the military, but here Reshid Mustafa ran into enough opposition to minimize the effects of his program. Pashas (Ottoman officials) objected to selection and promotion based on merit, fixed salaries, and the elimination of corruption. Christians and Jews were not thrilled by the idea that they could now do military service, and their millet leaders used their influence to make sure they did not have to. Still, there was a perceptible improvement in the tone of government. The worst excesses of corruption, such as torture, ceased because governors could be, and were, brought to trial for administrative abuses. Legal equality was practiced, at least in theory, and new schools were built all over the empire.

The reforms were interrupted by one of those petty wars caused by a misunderstanding, the Crimean War (1853-6). In the 18th century, Russia's Catherine the Great had appointed herself the protector of the Ottoman Empire's Christian subjects. Sixty years later, Catherine's great-grandson, Tsar Nicholas I, used this claim as an excuse to invade the Balkans. The Turks came out on the winning side in that war, but not because of anything they did; it was a joint invasion of Russia by France and Britain that made the tsar change his mind and leave the Turks alone. Nevertheless, the war was a drain on an already strapped Ottoman economy, and in the middle of it (1854) the Porte negotiated a foreign loan to pay his debts.(3)

A new reform decree was issued in 1856, promising equality in taxation, justice, military service, education, government employment, and social respect. Since they had made many of those promises in the 1839 decree, it shows how much the first effort had failed in reaching its objectives. They built more schools, including ones run by Christian missionaries, and this produced a steadily growing class of Western-educated personnel. A new, fairer penal code, based on the Napoleonic code, was introduced in 1858. Most successful was a new system where officials of the central government made regular tours of the provinces; this allowed ordinary people to voice their complaints, helped to curb abuses of power, and furnished a wealth of firsthand information for future administrative activity.

The best example of how the government should work was supplied at this point by Midhat Pasha, a Bulgarian Moslem who became governor of Bulgaria in 1865. Previously, Bulgaria was an unruly, predominantly Christian frontier province that was susceptible to Russian influence. However, during his four-year administration he turned the Bulgarians into supporters of the government by curbing banditry, dealing out evenhanded justice, setting up banks that made loans to the peasants at reasonable rates, and building public works like roads, schools, and bridges.

As one might expect, Midhat Pasha's more conservative colleagues grew jealous of his success. In 1869 they got him transferred to Iraq, a backward and woefully neglected province. Baghdad, once the world's greatest city, had decayed by this time into little more than a great refuse heap. Nomads grazed their herds in fields where irrigation had once supported one tenth of the world's population. Here he worked his wonders again. Apathetic townsmen, peasants, and nomads were put to work cleaning and repairing the buildings of Baghdad, constructing new roads, and most important of all, opening up the clogged irrigation canals. He resettled some nomads as farmers on the reclaimed land, while others were conscripted into a reformed military force to maintain security. In Baghdad he founded a savings bank, a newspaper, a hospital, an orphanage, and still more schools. After three years of frenzied effort, marred by some blunders caused by haste, jealous officials protested again and Sultan Abdul Aziz recalled Midhat Pasha a second time.

Unfortunately, Midhat Pasha was an exception among Ottoman administrators rather than the rule. Most did not want to risk their careers by bucking a system that encouraged corruption and laziness. Even Midhat Pasha indulged in some corrupt activities, but compared to his colleagues he was a knight in shining armor. His successors neglected what he had started, and made matters worse by borrowing money, which had a remarkable ability to get spent before it could produce concrete results. This brings us back to the question of how to pay for the Ottoman Empire's budget.

The problem was that the Turks were still trying to behave like a first-rate power, using a primitive and impoverished economy that could barely feed its own people. Western businessmen had a ready answer: deficit spending covered by foreign loans. They argued that if the money was spent on roads, railroads, and industrialization, it would create greater revenues in the long run and allow the Porte to pay off the debt without too much trouble. But since the Koran prohibits usury--the charging of interest on loans--Moslems were quite unfamiliar with Western banking practices, and were slow to realize that going into debt is a form of bondage. By 1874 the debt had grown so large that the annual payment with interest amounted to $60 million, out of a total imperial income of $80 million.

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A French Foothold in Lebanon

Egypt was not the only part of the Middle East where the French got involved in local activities. The ten years of Egyptian rule over the Levant (1831-40) brought modern ideas there. Ibrahim Pasha centralized and improved the government, introduced conscription, built several public schools, and even proposed equal treatment of Christians and Moslems under the law. Yet the taxes that these reforms required, and the conscription, were unpopular, so when Ibrahim Pasha was forced to give up Syria the people welcomed the return of the Ottomans.

The method in which Ottoman rule was reimposed was disastrous. Previously rule over the mountains of Lebanon had been left to local Druze landlords, and the equally independent-minded Maronite Catholic peasants.(4) Now the Ottoman government wanted direct rule over Mt. Lebanon, so with their encouragement the Druze landlords went forth and killed many Christians. In 1860 the massacres spread to Damascus, causing France to intervene. The Emperor Napoleon III sent an army to occupy Beirut; a conference of the five major European powers (France, Britain, Prussia, Austria and Russia) proposed a new way to govern Lebanon, which the Porte was forced to accept. Mount Lebanon became a special autonomous district or sanjak detached from the nearest province, the vilayet of Damascus; its population had a clear Maronite majority, with a Christian governor and chief of police. These events naturally strengthened ties between Europe and the Lebanese Christians, and the French now felt they had a special interest in this small but crucial portion of the Ottoman Empire. That would eventually lead to French rule over both Syria and Lebanon in the early twentieth century.

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Nineteenth-Century Persia

Fortunately for Persia, the six shahs who succeeded Agha Mohammed were not as vicious as he was. Unfortunately, the Qajars were also weaker than their Safavid predecessors. Like the Parthians, their military power depended on the nobility, who were only loyal when they had a free hand in exploiting their own domains and received gifts from the shah. Meanwhile the clergy steadily increased its influence, thanks to the doctrine which taught that Shiites must seek guidance from a mutjahid who had proved his wisdom through his scholarship and his ability to motivate the masses. Clergymen who achieved this status had extraordinary power; they controlled education, the law, and the administration of charities. They also had endowments, large landholdings, and received up to 20% of the disposable income of every devout Shi'a, half of which they earmarked to support the poor. (Contrast this with the 2.5% tithe called for in the Koran.) The shahs tried to buy their support, but the loyalty of the mutjahids was questionable; the result was that the shahs remained in power by cooperating with the aristocrats and the clergy to exploit everybody else. Under such a regime the Persians enjoyed internal peace, but no progress. Although Persia was farther away from the West than the Ottoman Empire, in time it also became a pawn in the struggles between the Western Powers.

Under the second Qajar shah, Fath Ali (1797-1834), the Persians got involved in Napoleon's scheme to invade British India. By a treaty concluded in 1807, France provided a general and 70 officers to reorganize the Persian army, so that it could regain Georgia from Russia and spearhead an invasion of India. Two months later Napoleon's treaty with Russia killed this plan, but the British were so alarmed that they provided British officers and an annual subsidy in return for dismissal of the French. In 1814 the agreement became formal, through a treaty that barred all agreements with powers hostile to Britain in return for 150,000 a year.

Still, the treaty did not help the Persians in their struggles with Russia. The trouble started in 1801, when two eastern Georgian states asked to be incorporated into the Russian Empire, to keep Persian influence out. Annexation of the rest of Georgia followed rapidly; by 1810 all of the Georgian states were at least protectorates. Rebel factions resisted and called for Persian aid, and in 1804 the revolt became a Russo-Persian war, with the Russians making an unsuccessful attack on Yerevan. After that both sides did equally well, until 1812, when the Russians, despite their deep involvement with Napoleon's invasion of their country, surprised and wiped out a superior Persian force at the battle of Aslanduz. By the terms of the Treaty of Gulistan (1813), Georgia and the northern half of Azerbaijan went to Russia.

In 1825 the Persians declared that the Treaty of Gulistan was too ambiguous and launched an invasion of Georgia. They were turned back in the Battle of Ganja, where the Persian cavalry was terrified by Russian artillery and fled. During the following campaign season (1827), the Russians advanced into Persia, taking both Yerevan and Tabriz. At the end of the year the Persians dispersed to their winter quarters, but the Russians stayed put, marched upon and seized Tehran, capturing the entire Persian artillery arsenal. That ended the war, and the Treaty of Turkmanchai established the Aras river as the permanent border between Russia and Persia, granted Russia the sole right to keep warships in the Caspian Sea, imposed an indemnity upon the Persians, and gave commercial concessions to Russia. Because the British did not help the Persians in either war, the next shah was cool toward them, but he was unable to refuse their money.

A grandson named Mohammed (1834-48) succeeded Fath Ali. The only event of his reign worth noting is an Ismaili rebellion in 1838. It was quickly suppressed, and the Ismaili leader, Hasan Ali Shah, fled to India, taking most of the sect with him. He was the first Ismaili leader to call himself by the title of Aga Khan; the current Aga Khan, Prince Karim al Hussaini Shah (1936-), is his great-great-grandson.

The fourth shah, Nasir ad-Din (1848-96) was the best of all the Qajar rulers. During his first four years he had an incorruptible prime minister, Mirza Taqi Khan, the son of a cook who had risen to the top through his own talents. Together they attempted the fiscal and military reforms that they needed to free the shah from noble support. The effort failed and the progressive minister had to be removed from office, and later executed, because of vigorous opposition from nobles and others who were interested in keeping the corrupt system the way it was. The one enduring result of these early reforms was the establishment of the Dar al-Funun, a military academy where Austrian teachers provided future army officers and the sons of nobles with some Western learning.

Meanwhile, Britain and Russia were expanding in Persia's direction, and their activities established the borders that Iran still has today. Russia absorbed the pro-Persian khanates in Central Asia--Tashkent, Samarkand, Khiva, Bukhara, and Merv--one by one; that process was virtually complete by 1885. In 1856 the Shah launched an invasion of Afghanistan, and was on the verge of success when the British decided that he was too close to India for comfort. Britain declared war in November, and beat the Persians so badly that they sued for peace four months later. The British took no Persian territory, but the resulting treaty made Afghanistan a neutral buffer state between India, Persia, and Russia; more important, Persia was opened to British trade and economic penetration.

To start with, Christian missionaries stepped up their activities in the cities of Kerman, Yazd, Shiraz, and Isfahan, building hospitals and Western-style schools there. That, along with the influence of the Dar al-Funun, encouraged many prominent families to send their sons abroad for further study. In 1864 construction on the first telegraph line began, which would ultimately provide instant communication with London.

By this time the Shah believed that the best way to overcome his country's weakness was through rapid modernization along Western lines. To do this he granted a tremendous set of concessions to a persuasive British banker in 1872; among them were the right to build railroads, the right to develop minerals and oil for 70 years, the right to create a national bank, and control over the Persian customs service for 24 years. If these grants had gone into effect, Persia would have become an economic satellite of Britain. However, one year later the shah made his first tour of Europe, and discovered so much Russian hostility to the plan that he renounced it upon his return. In its place came several lesser concessions, the most important of which was the establishment of the Imperial Bank of Persia in 1889. To keep the Russians happy, he also made some reforms/concessions that favored them. In 1879 he created a Persian Cossack unit, in imitation of the Russian cavalry, that quickly became the best military force in the country. Russia received major fishing concessions in the Caspian Sea, and the rights to build a naval base on its southeastern corner. To limit British financial domination, the Russians got their own bank in 1891, the Discount Bank of Persia.

Playing off the British against the Russians kept Iran in Persian hands, but it did not solve Nasir al-Din's financial problems. Besides the foreign penetration of the economy, there was also the Persian court's own lavish spending, made worse by the Shah's expensive trips to Europe (in 1873, 1887, and 1889). As a result, in 1892 he had to borrow money from the British to pay off his other debts. Two loans came from Russia in 1900, for 22 and 10 million rubles. Persia was now under the same burden of debt that afflicted Egypt and the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century.

In 1890 the Shah granted a tobacco monopoly to a British concern. This touched a raw nerve among his people, who were now sick of the oppression and corruption in their upper class. The clergy launched a nationwide boycott of tobacco, forbidding its use while the monopoly was in European hands. The boycott was so successful that soon the shah had to buy back the tobacco monopoly. This episode showed to the people that unified popular protest--from the common people, the growing merchant class, and at least part of the clergy--could limit the despotism of the Shah and his nobles. Nasir ad-Din did not live long after this (he was assassinated in 1896), but the shahs who succeeded him would face constitutional revolution because of this lesson.

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The Baha'i Movement

As noted above, 19th-century Persia had a society where the ordinary people were exploited by the aristocracy and a Shiite clergy which had become worldly and venal. The 1,000-year anniversary of the 12th imam's disappearance was approaching, so many Persians expected the Mahdi to come soon, followed by the final judgment. When similar conditions existed in Europe around 1500, the result was the Protestant Reformation, so it was probably only a matter of time before a Persian reformer appeared on the scene.

That reformer was a young businessman from Shiraz named Mirza Ali Mohammed ibn-Radhik (1819-50). On May 23, 1844, he proclaimed himself to be the Bab (gate or door), because he saw himself as the gate to God and spiritual truth. Posing as another John the Baptist, the Bab announced that he was a prophet equal to Mohammed, but a greater agent of God would come in just 19 years (1863), and he must prepare the way for him. He wrote a new holy book, the Bayan, to supersede the Koran, and attacked the Shiite hierarchy, arguing with Sufi fervor that obedience should be to the spirit rather than to the letter of religion. His movement, known as Babism, forbade polygamy and concubinage, condemned discrimination by race, sex, or class, and predicted that a new age was coming in which all religions would be united under one spiritual head. To spread the faith, the Bab selected a group of eighteen disciples, seventeen men and one woman.

As one might expect, the Babists rapidly gained followers from among the downtrodden. Success went to the Bab's head, and soon he was calling himself a "mirror," through which ordinary people might behold God. From that it was a small step to the final heresy, where he claimed to be an incarnation of God. This was too much for the clergy and the new Shah, Nasir ad-Din, so in 1850 the Bab was arrested and executed by firing squad. Bloody massacres of Babists followed during the next two years.

Leadership of the Babists passed to a noble, Mirza Husayn Ali (1817-92). The government first imprisoned and tortured him, then exiled him to the Ottoman Empire. A political prisoner for the rest of his life, Mirza Husayn Ali was kept under house arrest in Baghdad, Constantinople, Edirne, and finally Acre in the Holy Land. In 1863, just before they moved him to Constantinople, he proclaimed himself to be the final prophet that the Bab had predicted. He changed his name to Baha'u'llah, meaning "The Glory and Splendor of God," and ever since then we have known his followers as Baha'is.

Baha'u'llah spent most of his time writing scriptures for his followers, eventually totaling some 200 books called "tablets." His job was inherited by his son Abbas (1844-1921), who took the name Abdul Baha ("The Servant of the Glory"). Like his father, Abdul Baha was a prisoner for many years, but in 1908, revolution shook the Turkish court and he was freed. He used his freedom to spread Baha'ism outside the Middle East, traveling to Egypt, Europe, and America. In Wilmette, Illinois, he laid the first stone for a temple that would eventually become the Baha'i headquarters in North America. He also found time to organize and interpret his father's teachings, and added a few of his own. In his will, he named his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi (1896-1957), as guardian of the faith. Shoghi Effendi led the movement until his death, and since then nine elected leaders have governed Baha'ism.

Baha'ism, like Manicheism, teaches that all religions are true, and that only the misunderstandings of man have kept them divided. Eight times in the past God sent prophets to preach His message to people in different times and places: Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Laozi, Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed. Now He has made His ninth and most important appearance as Baha'u'llah, and since worldwide communication is now possible, all religions will be united under his teachings.

The Baha'i creed emphasizes peace, unity, and justice, and proclaims the following goals/principles:

1. Independent investigation of the truth.
2. The essential harmony of science and religion.
3. Recognition that God inspires all religions.
4. Universal education.
5. The equality of all men and women.
6. Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty.
7. A universal language (many Baha'is speak Esperanto).
8. Universal peace, brought about by a world government.
9. The elimination of all prejudice, both racial and religious.
10. Recognition of the essential unity of humanity.

The Baha'is do not have a formal clergy or ritual. Unpaid teachers and "pioneers" give lessons to students; new converts are encouraged to tell others about their new faith right away, before they have learned all the tenets of it. Sermons use not only Baha'i scriptures, but any other religious text that happens to agree with the message being taught. Marriage and funeral services are simple and flexible; they have always practiced racial integration in their congregations, and interracial marriage is commonplace. They follow a calendar with nineteen months of nineteen days each, with nine holidays marking the birth, calling, and deaths of the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and Abdul Baha (Evidently nine and nineteen are sacred numbers to them, since they use them so often). The Baha'i New Year's Day is March 21, because the Persians have always observed it on that date.

Any group of at least nine Baha'is is considered a congregation. The only organization above the local level is a central temple, one on each continent. Their world headquarters is in Haifa, Israel, where on Mt. Carmel one can visit an archive building, an administrative center, and the grave of the Bab. In the one hundred years since Baha'u'llah's death, Baha'ism has spread to just about every nation on earth, but nowhere can they be found in large numbers. Exact membership figures are hard to come by, since they measure their numbers in congregations, not individuals; a recent estimate put the number of Baha'is worldwide at six million, and that number is growing rapidly wherever ethnic/racial tensions exist. The ayatollahs of modern Iran viciously persecute them as heretics; elsewhere they are seen as model citizens, though they do not get involved in any political activity.

Because of the movement's high ethical standards, many celebrities have hailed Baha'ism as the religion of the future; among those who have given it a good press are Luther Burbank, Leo Tolstoy, Arnold Toynbee, and the musical duo Seals & Croft. However, it has not succeeded in unifying mankind. Like other religions that have called for a unification of opposing creeds (Sikhism, for instance), it has instead added another division to an already divided world religious scene; one cannot be a both Baha'i and a practicing member of any other religion. Also, in their talk of religious unity, they tend to ignore two facts: (1.) there are basic differences between world religions that cannot be resolved, like opposing views of God and the afterlife, and that (2.) many, perhaps most, of the people who claim any religious belief take those differences very seriously. Despite this, the movement continues to grow, and we will probably hear more from them in the future, so it is worth the effort to digress from the narrative and discuss them here. The Baha'i movement is also a turning point in Iranian history, for it was the first of many protest movements that would shake the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties.

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The Suez Canal and the Pawning of Egypt

The idea of direct sailing between the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, without traveling overland, is not really new. In ancient times the Egyptians sailed regularly on both seas, and they found it inconvenient to unload boats, carry their cargo across the desert, and put it in another boat when they reached water again. This motivated them to cut a narrow canal from the Nile to the Red Sea in the sixth century B.C. (see Chapter 5 of this work), and since then it has been in use whenever Egypt's rulers cared to keep deposits of silt cleaned out of it. We saw in the previous chapter that as early as the 1560s, the Ottoman Turks dreamed of an even more ambitious shortcut--a 100-mile canal across the narrowest part of the Sinai, going directly from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea--but they didn't have the tools to dig it. Napoleon had the same dream when he was in Egypt, and his engineers mistakenly calculated that the project was unfeasible, so they talked him out of the idea. Nevertheless, by the early 19th century there was so much commerce between Europe and Asia that many wished for an alternative to the long journey around Africa. Whenever the canal idea came up the British government opposed it, though an 1830 study by British engineers said the project was now feasible. They guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that the French would be the ones most likely to do it, and they did not want French involvement in Egypt to increase, since that would force the British to increase their own activities in the area just to protect their own interests.

The French already had the man for the job in Cairo, a brilliant engineer and vice-consul named Ferdinand de Lesseps, but he had to wait until a friend of his, a son of Mohammed Ali named Sa'id, became the khedive of Egypt (1854). Sa'id had his father's vision of modernizing Egypt, and he immediately gave de Lesseps the green light to do whatever it took to get the project started. He did it by floating a company, and printed 400,000 shares of stock to sell to anyone interested in the project. However, no Western government bought any. In the end the khedive bought 177,000, or 44% of the total; a horde of small investors, most of them French, purchased the rest; the average investor held only nine shares.

Construction began in 1859, carving a path through the desert and three lakes in the interior of the Sinai. Thousands of Egyptian fellahin were drafted for the task; the canal they dug was 190 feet wide and 26 feet deep. Ten years later the canal was finished, and on November 17, 1869, it was formally opened in one of the biggest celebrations of the century. More than eighty ships of all types sailed from Europe to Port Said to pass through the canal on the first day. The first to enter was the French Imperial yacht l'Aigle, with the Empress Eugenie on the bridge. She was followed by boats carrying Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, the Crown Prince of Prussia, and the Prince & Princess of Austria. Also present were the Prince & Princess of Wales; by this time Britain had second thoughts about the canal's practicality.

The canal was an immediate success; 437,000 tons of shipping passed through it in the very first year. Travel time between Europe and India was reduced from three months to about three weeks, and every Western power with colonies in the East benefitted from the increased commerce that resulted. The power that gained the most was Britain; two thirds of that shipping was British. Britain now saw a strategic interest in owning a share of the Suez Canal Company, for the sake of India, and soon the khedive's spending habits gave the British another chance.

The spending problem started with Mohammed Ali, who made Egypt both strong and broke. Most of the factories he had built were run at a loss and had to be closed by his successors; this meant that Egypt would be an agricultural state in an age when wealth was passing to the nations that industrialized. And since money equals power in a capitalist society, Egypt was now in a very precarious relationship with its more advanced trading partners.

All the khedives followed Mohammed Ali's example: do whatever it takes to modernize and disregard the cost. Sa'id, like the Ottoman sultan, fell into the trap of borrowing money from Europe to cover the cost of his contribution to the Crimean War. That, combined with his other expenses, produced a debt of $60 million by the end of his reign. The next khedive, Ismail (1863-79), was even worse when it came to spending. Ismail's accomplishments were considerable--ports were enlarged, schools and railroads were built, and more than a million acres were reclaimed from the desert--but he could never figure out a sensible way to pay for all of this. At first he relied on cotton exports, which produced a handsome profit while the American Civil War made U.S. cotton unavailable, but once peace returned to America the market for Egyptian cotton collapsed. Then he borrowed more money from abroad, but only about 10% of it ever found its way into fruitful projects.

By 1875 the Suez Canal had nearly paid off the cost of constructing it, but the khedive also had a debt approaching $500 million. Ismail's creditors turned him down whenever he suggested lowering the interest rate on the debt--which would have been the best solution to his problem--and no more revenues in taxes could be squeezed out of the poor fellahin. What all this meant was that Ismail could not wait for the canal's profits to come in--he had to have money right away. Reluctantly he placed his last asset, his 44% share in the Suez Canal Company, on the market. The British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, quickly raised the money and bought the entire holding before Parliament could even discuss the matter. That effectively turned what had been a Franco-Egyptian company into a British-dominated one.

This was bad enough for French pride, but worse was to follow. The four million pounds the khedive received for his stock only lasted him a year, and soon his French and British bankers agreed that they would have to take control of the Egyptian treasury if the rot was going to be stopped. A new government was set up, that concentrated political power in a council of ministers that included a Frenchman and an Englishman. Most of the khedive's personal property, which amounted to 20% of the country's cultivated land, became the property of the state, and was put to use paying off the debt; in return, the khedive received a salary that allowed him to live comfortably, if not extravagantly. Ismail agreed to these terms at first, but soon claimed that Europeans were the cause of all his problems, dismissed the ministers and appointed his own. Then he suggested reducing the interest rate on the national debt to 5 percent. That was too much for the European creditors and together Britain and France put pressure on the Ottoman sultan to make Ismail abdicate in favor of his weak and colorless son, Tewfik. On June 30, 1879, Ismail loaded his crown jewels and some three million pounds in cash on a yacht in Alexandria and sailed into exile. Seventy-three years later his grandson Farouk, the last king of Egypt, would end his reign in much the same way.

Tewfik inherited not only Ismail's problems, but also a budding nationalist movement that wanted an end to outside interference in Egyptian affairs. The nationalist leader, Colonel Ahmed Arabi, commanded such powerful support that he compelled Tewfik to accept nationalist proposals for new government, with the khedive as a constitutional monarch and Arabi as war minister. Britain and France became greatly concerned over the future of the Suez Canal, the lives of Europeans in Egypt, and suspected that Arabi might revoke Egypt's debts. In May of 1882 they sent warships to Alexandria, in the hope that this would make the nationalists behave moderately. Instead it had the opposite effect--a riot broke out in which 57 Europeans and 140 Egyptians were killed. Britain and the nationalists rushed troops into Alexandria, Arabi was defeated, and after a second battle near Cairo Arabi was exiled to Sri Lanka.

The Ottoman sultan, Abdul Hamid II, did not get involved in this affair; he dallied too long waiting to see whether Tewfik or Arabi would come out on top. Neither did the French; when the British entered Alexandria a domestic crisis prompted the French to withdraw. This left Britain as the sole power in Egypt. Being only reluctant occupiers of the country, they announced that they would leave when a responsible Egyptian government could take their place, but soon they realized that if they got out, the defeated nationalists would regain control. Leaving the khedive on his throne maintained the illusion of Egypt's independence, but the "temporary" occupation of Egypt would continue well into the 20th century, in an unwritten system the British called "the veiled protectorate."

The French were furious. Because they could not act at the most critical point, they had to turn down a British offer of joint action/occupation. However, when they saw Egypt, which they had courted so carefully for the past eighty years, fall into the hands of the British by default, it was almost more than they could bear. Enemies of France like Germany's Bismarck must have smiled as the French cried foul at the British--and perpetuated their international isolation.

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The Ottoman Constitution and the Russo-Turkish War

By 1875 the Ottoman government was not only at the end of its economic tether, but in a crisis. Drought and famine ravaged the Balkans and Turkey precisely when many ethnic minorities were seething with unrest. Late in that year the Serbs of Bosnia revolted, and the sultan found himself relying on soldiers, sailors, and officials who had been paid for more than six months with IOUs that were now worth much less than their face value. The Bosnian rebels were joined on May 2, 1876 by a Bulgarian revolt that massacred every Turk who could not escape the province in time.

These events required immediate action. The military and conservatives realized that Midhat Pasha was the most competent man around, put aside their disagreements, and told him to do whatever was needed to restore order. On May 11, he made his first move, by dismissing an unpopular pro-Russian vizier. However, Midhat knew he could not succeed under a hostile sultan, so on May 29, a coup d'etat deposed Abdul Aziz and crowned a nephew, Murad V. The new sultan, however, turned out to be a feebleminded alcoholic, so three months later he was declared insane and replaced by his younger brother, Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909).

Meanwhile on the frontier, Serbia and Montenegro declared a religious/racial war in support of their weakening Bosnian kinsmen. Morale was now high among the Turkish troops, who had just crushed the Bulgarian rebellion, and they probably would have made short work of the Serbs and Montenegrins if the Russians had not threatened to jump into the conflict at that point. The Ottomans knuckled down under this ultimatum, and a conference involving all the European powers convened at Constantinople to settle the Balkan problem.

The main thing that came out of that conference was the promotion of Midhat Pasha to grand vizier, since the West widely respected him. On December 23, he proclaimed the Middle East's first constitution. The constitution included a bill of rights for all Ottoman citizens, an elected parliament, and an independent judiciary. On the other hand, it also gave the sultan the power to call or dismiss parliament, veto any bill, and exile anyone he considered dangerous to the state. Nevertheless, it did accomplish what both Abdul Hamid and Midhat Pasha wanted: it made the Europeans shut up and go home. Once it was feasible, the sultan dispensed with the new parliament, though he continued to piously speak good words about the constitution every year.

Mere words could not placate Russia. After months of negotiations over Bosnia got nowhere, Russia declared war in April 1877. Nine months later it was already over. The bulk of the Turkish army made a heroic stand at Plevna in Bulgaria, but the Russians threw more and more men into the battle until they overran the fortress by virtue of sheer numbers. The Turks surrendered when the Russians were only sixty miles from Constantinople, and in the Treaty of San Stefano, Russia announced the creation of a monstrous Bulgarian state, which would have virtually eliminated Turkish rule in Europe had the treaty gone into effect.

Yet while the Turks lost the shooting war, they won the propaganda war. The battle of Plevna had turned Western opinion a full 180 degrees. In the eyes of the West the Turks had gone from being "the great antihuman specimen of humanity," as Britain's Sir William Gladstone had called them, to valiant underdogs fighting the imperialist Russian bully. A new song going around Britain echoed the British view and coined a new word (jingoism), to define militant patriotism:

"We don't want to fight, but, by jingo if we do,
We've got the ships, we've got the men,
We've got the money too."

Europe's leaders held another international conference, this time in Berlin, and a second treaty was produced, one that was much better suited to Western tastes (1878). This time most of the Ottoman Empire remained intact, and "Greater Bulgaria" never appeared on the map of Europe. Instead two autonomous Bulgarian states were created, called Bulgaria and East Rumelia.(5) In 1885 those two states united to form a single Bulgarian kingdom. Serbia, Romania, and Montenegro were all given complete independence and enlarged a bit, while Austria was given "temporary" occupation of Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Novipazar, since that was where the trouble had started. All Russia got was a few towns in Armenia. The grateful sultan thanked the British for their role in keeping the Russian bear away by giving them Cyprus, and since many Westerners felt it was time to give the Greeks some more of their homeland, he ceded Thessaly to Greece in 1881. The British occupation of Cyprus was only supposed to be temporary, lasting as long as Russia held the Armenian districts, but in practice it became just as permanent as the Austrian occupation.

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British Inroads in Arabia

The early 19th century saw Oman's greatest ruler, Sayyid ibn Sultan (1806-56). Under him Oman regained control of East Africa, which had been neglected during the 18th century. Upon his death, however, the kingdom divided in two again, forming the Sultanates of Muscat and Zanzibar. Also important is the way Oman came under British influence during Sayyid's reign. A series of agreements, mostly involving trade with the British East India Company, were signed, followed by an 1820 peace treaty that allowed Britain to suppress the Omani pirates, made Bahrein a British protectorate, and gave Britain control over commerce in the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, the Wahhabis recovered enough from Mohammed Ali's attack to begin a second round of activity. Turki, a cousin of the ill-fated Abdullah, took control of the Saudi family, revolted against the Egyptians, and in 1824 captured Riyadh and made it his capital. He was succeeded by his son Faisal I, who moved to take al-Hasa, the Arabian shore of the Persian Gulf, from the Turks. By 1833 the Wahhabis had the central and eastern portions of what would one day become Saudi Arabia, while the Turks and Egyptians held onto the Hejaz. Then Mohammed Ali struck again; this time his troops pushed all the way to the Persian Gulf and deposed Faisal.

Faisal did not lose his throne permanently. When Mohammed Ali's empire collapsed in 1840, he regained control over the interior. After Faisal's death his two eldest sons started a power struggle that weakened the Saudis. The Ottomans took back al-Hasa, and in 1890, Ibn Rashid, a rival in northern Arabia and a religious moderate, captured Riyadh, with some help from the Turks. The Saudi family ultimately had to take refuge in nearby Kuwait.

Western Arabia technically came back under Turkish rule in the 1840s, but the problems of transportation and communication in the desert made Ottoman control over this area no firmer than it had been previously; the Turks had to depend on local tribes to maintain order. The sharif of Mecca was loyal to the sultan because it was in the interest of both sharif and sultan to keep the holy cities open to pilgrims. In the far south, authority over the imam of Yemen was even more tenuous, and only existed out of a mutual desire to keep the Saudis away; the imam did not even allow Turks into his capital, San'a, until 1872!

The next European encroachment on the Middle East came in southern Arabia. Britain, always preoccupied with protecting its Indian colony and the roads leading to it, decided that it needed Aden to control the Red & Arabian Seas. This port had declined considerably since Roman times, when it had been a thriving center for commerce; by the early 19th century it was a fishing village with only 500 inhabitants. In 1839 the British sailed in and occupied Aden. They did it to stop Mohammed Ali, who also had designs on the area, but officially they said they did it because the local ruler, the sultan of Lahej, had committed some acts of piracy against shipping in the neighborhood.

After the Suez Canal opened, British interest in Arabia increased geometrically. They saw their control of the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf threatened by attempts to restore Turkish authority along the Gulf, Russian activities in Persia, and French and German activities in the Ottoman Empire. Gradually Britain looked for, and got, control over the entire south Arabian coast, by signing treaties with the local sheikhs in the area. Many of these sheikhs were glad to accept British protection, since Britain demanded less from them than the Ottomans and Wahhabis did. Britain concluded the first protectorate treaties with some 20 local rulers in the Hadramaut region and on the desolate but strategic island of Socotra (1882-1903). Oman signed a treaty in 1891, and the seven sheikhs on the Trucial coast did in 1892. In 1899 Mubarak, the sheikh of the Al-Sabah family, declared Kuwait independent from the Ottoman Empire and called in the British to keep the Turks out. The emir of the Qatar peninsula followed this example during World War I, in 1916.

In 1901 a twenty-year-old warrior, Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud II, assumed leadership of the Wahhabi cause. At this point Saudi fortunes had sunk so low that Abdul-Aziz could only count 200 armed followers on his side. Nevertheless, he was resourceful and had the courage to act when he saw an opportunity, and it came when his arch-rivals, the Rashidis, quarreled with his patron, the sheikh of Kuwait. In 1902 he and fifteen members of his band sneaked over the walls of Riyadh and overthrew its governor. Now that Riyadh was back in Saudi hands, Abdul-Aziz began a long campaign to create a united Arabia that would be totally free of Turkish influence. Wherever he went, he formed cooperative farming communities and settled them with Wahhabi warriors; this gave him a core constituency of fierce fighting men. In 1913 he succeeded in driving the Turks out of the al-Hasa region for the last time. When World War I broke out he fought the pro-Turkish Rashidis and talked with the British, but otherwise took no part in the war. We will cover the rest of his long and illustrious career in future chapters of this work.

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Abdul the Damned

Anyone who believed that Abdul Hamid II would turn the Ottoman Empire into a democratic state was sadly mistaken. Once his position was secure, the new sultan showed himself to be a ruthless despot who was only interested in modernization when it gave him more power. The Turkish defeat in the recent war with Russia was blamed on Midhat Pasha's liberal policies, so in 1878 they sent the new parliament packing and exiled Midhat to the Hejaz. Five years later Midhat was strangled, after several attempts to poison him failed. There was little protest; many Turks, still loyal to the dynasty, saw Abdul Hamid's tyranny as a necessary step toward regaining the empire's lost glory.

In the 1850s, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia began calling the Ottoman Empire "the sick man of Europe," and that also turned out to be a good description of Abdul Hamid. Obsessed with fear for his life, he cleared two Christian cemeteries from a hillside, built a fortified estate there, and named it Yildiz. He hired twelve architects for this project, but each one only got to work on one twelfth of the palace, and was kept in complete ignorance on what the other eleven were doing. The result was that Abdul Hamid made a royal prison for himself and his harem, where he stayed for most of his reign. Every wall had mirrors so he could see the people around him from every angle; every door was made of steel. He organized an efficient network of spies, to protect him and to ferret out every sign of dissent, every conspiratorial organization. Assassination was freely used to silence suspects, until no one knew whom it was safe to talk to. All his food was prepared behind the barred windows of a secure kitchen, and even then it had to be tasted by a servant and a pet before Abdul Hamid would touch it. To protect the sultan's milk supply, his dairy herd was the only one in the world with a twenty-four-hour guard around it. Likewise, the sultan only accepted cigarettes that were hand-rolled by his most trusted eunuch, who would then be required to take the first puff. This paranoid, unhappy man even feared that his clothing might be poisoned. Booby traps, secret passages, and one thousand loaded revolvers lay concealed in Yildiz; the sultan knew where they were and how to use them.(6)

Some people the sultan distrusted were too popular to simply eliminate by prison or assassination. For these he gave an offer they could not refuse: an invitation to come and live in Constantinople. Once they arrived, they found the capital to be a gilded cage, where they were treated with honor and deference but kept under the close watch of the sultan's spies. The most important of these "guests" was Hussein ibn Ali, a 37th-generation descendant of Mohammed and a member of the Hashemite family, whose members had long held the office of Sharif of Mecca. In 1893 the thirty-seven-year-old Hussein was summoned, along with his wife and four young sons, Ali, Abdullah, Faisal, and Zaid. They spent the next fifteen years in a villa along the Bosporus; Hussein gained a large circle of admirers and his sons grew during this time.

Abdul Hamid always suspected his Christian subjects, because of their Western sympathies and Western promises to protect them. Most of all he hated the Armenians, because some of them supported the Russians in the 1877-78 war, and the British made him promise to carry out reforms in Armenia to forestall any future Russian activity in the area. Few reforms were carried out, and the acts of terrorism committed by some independence-minded Armenians gave the sultan an excuse to treat them harshly. Between 1894 and 1896 he armed and encouraged the Armenians' traditional foes and neighbors, the Kurds, who then went out to commit atrocious massacres. Abdul Hamid attempted to suppress news of this pogrom--he prohibited Turkish newspapers from even using the word "Armenian"--but eventually the West got enough information to figure out that an attempted genocide had taken place. Britain put pressure on the sultan to cease and desist, but for more than 100,000 Armenian men, women and children, it was too late. For this and other activities, Europeans began to call Abdul Hamid "the Red Sultan"; his longsuffering subjects called him Abdul the Damned.

At his best Abdul Hamid was an energetic and clever politician. In 1881 he set up the European debt commission to take care of the foreign debt before the Europeans used it as an excuse to take over the Turkish economy, and they successfully negotiated it down from $1.25 billion to a more manageable $700 million. The commission gained control over the salt monopoly, the tobacco monopoly, the stamp tax, and taxes on alcoholic production, fishing, and silk production. To increase the revenue from these resources, foreign experts were hired to modernize those industries. These improvements benefitted Turkish producers, European bondholders, and gave the Turks the credit they needed for modernization in other areas, like the building of railroads.

The sultan's anti-Christian, anti-Western, and antiliberal convictions led him to call for a worldwide Islamic revival, known as pan-Islamism. To Moslems abroad he sent the message that he was Islam's caliph, and that his cause was their cause. He never recognized the British occupation of Egypt, and because Russia claimed to be the protector of Abdul Hamid's Christians, he announced that he was the protector of Moslems under European rule, which by this time meant just about every Moslem community outside the Middle East. In effect, he said that if the West made another grab at Ottoman territory, he would start revolts in Western colonies with large Moslem populations, namely British India, French North Africa, the Dutch East Indies, and Russian Central Asia. He encouraged popular Islamic movements in the press, patronized the mystical Sufi orders, and built the Hejaz railway from Damascus to Medina to help pilgrims on their way to the holy cities (a move which also strengthened the sultan's control over western Arabia). Moslem organizations abroad contributed one third of the funds used to construct the railway, showing that the pan-Islamic campaign did have some success.

While much of the West condemned the Armenian massacres, the unloved sultan found a friend in Germany. Having only become a unified nation in 1871, Germany was far behind Britain and France in the worldwide race for colonies and allies; consequently the Germans would take them wherever they could be found. At any rate, Abdul Hamid found the conservatism of Bismarck and the kaisers more appealing than the democratic ideas held by the British and French, and furthermore, Germany had never wronged the Turks in any way. As Britain, France, and Russia watched apprehensively, German military advisors went east to train Ottoman troops, and German capitalists extended to the Porte additional credits to build more railroads. They built the first railroad, from Constantinople to Angora, in 1888. Kaiser Wilhelm II visited Constantinople twice, in 1889 and 1898, to assure Abdul Hamid of his support.

On those trips, the kaiser also visited Damascus and Jerusalem, and in the latter he displayed his notorious ego. The current wall around Jerusalem's Old City was built by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1538, and it has eight gates. Originally all the gates looked like the gates you'd expect, openings in the wall with doors to shut them. However, the kaiser planned to ride into Jerusalem on a white horse, while wearing his famous spiked helmet, and the gates weren't tall enough for that. To get through, the kaiser would either have to bow his head or dismount, and he considered both acts humiliating. Instead, he ordered one of the gates widened to accomodate him, and the Turks complied. Therefore in present-day Jerusalem, most of the Old City gates are unchanged, while the Jaffa Gate is an open gap in the wall, big enough to drive through. In response, I'll just say that when a greater man entered Jerusalem in the first century, He didn't need to leave His mark on the architecture.

The German-trained Turkish army was put to the test in a thirty-day war with Greece in 1897; the Turks won all the battles until the West intervened and demanded that the disputed territory (Crete) be made autonomous. Meanwhile, the Germans were hard at work building the celebrated "Berlin to Baghdad" railway, which by now had become the most important part of Germany's "Drive to the East" foreign policy. Running 1,875 miles, it was nearly 90% complete when World War I broke out in 1914; the unfinished sections ran between Adana and Aleppo (Cilicia to northern Syria) and between Mardin and Mosul in Iraq. Originally there were plans to run tracks through eastern Turkey and Armenia, but Russia refused to allow a rail line that close to their frontier, and a more southwesterly route had to be followed. To limit Western opposition to the project, French investors received a minority share in the building/management of the railroad. Branch lines built out from it included the Hejaz railway and a line connecting Aleppo to Gaza via Damascus. They made plans to continue the main track from Baghdad to Kuwait, or to the Persian oilfields at Kermanshah, but World War I began before either idea left the drawing boards.

Friends at home became harder to find. Because of Abdul Hamid's paranoid behavior, there now were people out to get him. In 1904, a knife-wielding officer attacked him within the walls of Yildiz; a year later he was nearly killed by a load of dynamite planted outside the mosque he was praying in. After this he forbade anyone standing near him to put his hand in his pocket. Nevertheless, time was running out for Islamic autocracy, and Abdul Hamid's works sped up the process.

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The Majlis Revolution

As with the Turks, Persia experienced the penetration of foreign ideas and economics in the nineteenth century, and responded with revolution in the first years of the twentieth century. Since the path to modernization resembles the one we already discussed with the Turks, and had a less severe effect on Persian society, we can cover it with just a few words here.

Germany's vigorous drive for an empire caused alarm among the other major colonial powers, and resulted in an alliance between three former rivals: France, Russia, and Great Britain. One example is the Anglo-Russian dispute over the lands between Russia and India; decades of fighting and diplomacy over this area now ended because both contestants feared Germany's growing ties with Turkey, symbolized in the Berlin to Baghdad Railway. In 1907 Britain and Russia settled the Persian question with a treaty that divided the country into zones of economic penetration. Russia got the whole northern third of Persia, including Tehran, as its sphere of influence; Britain got Persia's southeastern corner (namely Baluchistan & Seistan), while the rest of Persia in the middle became a neutral buffer zone, which both sides were expected to stay out of.

The "Tobacco Riots" of 1890 set the example for the kind of demonstrations that took place under the next Shah, Muzzafar-ud-Din (1896-1907). The economy was in a slump for all of his reign, causing steadily increasing discontent among the people. In December 1905 the flogging of several merchants for profiteering, which was nothing unusual, provoked a demand for the removal of a tyrannical, corrupt, and pro-Russian grand vizier. The protest was led by merchants, religious leaders, and even a few nobles, aided and advised by British agents. When the Shah did not give in right away, shops were closed and the common people took to the streets in support of the demand. The British embassy offered sanctuary to the unpopular vizier, and the Shah dismissed him. However, the demonstrators did not want to stop here; now they called for a government that put limits on the absolute authority of the Shah. In October 1906 the ailing Shah agreed and an elected assembly, known as the Majlis, met to draw up a constitution. This constitution established a Western-style cabinet government, with an appointed prime minister and a bicameral legislature that consisted of an appointed upper house and an elected lower house.

The constitution was a very moderate document, but it ran into resistance from the beginning. The Anglo-Russian Entente of 1907 ended British interest in backing the democrats, while the religious leaders and aristocrats who had supported reform now felt that their vested interests were safer in the hands of the shah. The Russians, never interested in democracy, supported the Shah all along, and supplied him with Russian officers to train the Persian Cossacks. Russian aid arrived too late to put down a new series of rebellions; in 1909 the new Shah, Mohammad Ali, was compelled to flee, leaving the throne to a twelve-year-old son, Ahmad Shah (1909-25).

The reformists tried to transform the country before the Shah grew up, and they put an American economist, William Morgan Shuster, in charge of the treasury. Shuster had the power and the skills needed to straighten out Persian finances, but sadly, he was no diplomat, and his high-handed behavior quickly offended the Russians. Russia sent two ultimatums demanding the removal of Shuster, and when they were ignored, they launched an invasion of Azerbaijan in 1911. The Shah's regency staged a coup at this point, closing down the Majlis and dismissing Shuster. Thus, conservatism triumphed, and the Persian experiment with constitutional government was aborted.

The most important event at this time went largely unnoticed while the above political upheavals took place: oil was discovered in Persia in 1908. The mere fact that the area of the discovery (the provinces along the Persian Gulf) had not been claimed by either Russia or Britain in the 1907 treaty shows how little regard they had for it, just one year earlier. That changed overnight; since 1904 the British Navy had been busy converting its ships from coal to oil power, and the recent invention of the automobile made oil the fuel that would power the West. In 1909 the Anglo-Persian Oil Company was set up to exploit this new resource as rapidly as possible. 1914 saw similar oil strikes in Iraq, the nearest Ottoman province.

The strategic significance of Middle Eastern petroleum was not fully understood until after World War I, but once it was it presented two unavoidable facts that would confront the world for the rest of the twentieth century:

1. The countries along the Persian Gulf have the world's largest supply of oil.
2. The people who control this oil, the Persians and the Arabs, are both Moslem.

Islam, so long indifferent to the West, now controlled the lifeblood of its machinery.

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Early Steps in the Regathering of Israel

As pointed out earlier in this chapter, the Arabs were politically dormant for some 800 years. The Jews have been out of the limelight even longer, having been beaten down by every conqueror that passed through the Levant. After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, restoring Israel became the ultimate goal of the Jewish people. The prophets promised it would happen; a psalmist wrote, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning!" Every year at Passover, Jews would end their prayers with these words: "Next year in Jerusalem!"

There is a story told of Napoleon Bonaparte passing a crowded synagogue on the 9th of Av, the anniversary of when both the first and second Jewish temples were destroyed. Asking what was the meaning of the weeping and sorrow he heard, he was told that the Jews were mourning the loss of their country and sanctuary some 1800 years before. Deeply moved, Napoleon observed that "a people which weeps and mourns for the loss of its homeland 1800 years ago and does not forget--such a people will never be destroyed. Such a people can rest assured that its homeland will be returned to it."

During the centuries following the Bar Kochba rebellion (see chapter 7), a small Jewish community always lived in the Holy Land. The local Arab population--what we now call the Palestinian Arabs--never worried much about them, since there weren't enough of them to make their Zionist dream a reality. Arabs in the land outnumbered the Jews by 20 to 1, and even the Christian Arabs formed a larger group than the Jews. Many Jews were Sephardic Jews (Jews from Moslem countries); they looked like Arabs and were just as poor as the Arabs around them. Many of the other Jews were senior citizens, who came here to live their last years and be buried within sight of Jerusalem; naturally they were not seen as a threat. The rest were refugees, fleeing persecution and expulsion at the hands of Christendom, and they chose to live here despite spasmodic ill-treatment by their Moslem rulers. By the end of the Middle Ages there were four major Jewish communities in the land: Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias. Safed, near the Sea of Galilee, was the largest, with about 10,000 Jews living in the area, and it became a center for the development of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism).

Most Jews expected that Israel would be restored when the long-awaited Messiah came. From time to time somebody would proclaim himself the Messiah, or the last prophet to come before the Messiah. Usually this pseudo-messiah would gain a brief following that would last until a promised miracle failed to take place. One such leader was the already mentioned Bar Kochba. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, another appeared on Crete in 448, announced that he was Moses, and promised to divide the Mediterranean Sea so that the Cretan Jews could walk to Judaea over dry land. On the prophesied day he ordered his followers to leap into the sea; the waters did not get out of the way, and many drowned.

One of the most interesting of these self-proclaimed prophets was Isaac ben Jacob al-Isfahini, also known as Abu Isa or Obadiah. Little is known about him; he was a tailor from the Persian city of Isfahan, and historians aren't even sure when he lived; 700 or 750 A.D. are the most likely dates. At any rate, Abu Isa proclaimed himself to be the last great prophet, and set about purifying Judaism. His followers, Persian Jews who called themselves Isunians or Isfahanians, claimed that he could not read, but could write prophetic books when inspired by God. He reformed the Jewish calendar, rituals and prayers, and prohibited meat, wine and divorce. Most unusual of all, he declared Jesus and Mohammed to be authentic prophets, a thought most Jews will not consider. Mainstream Jews viewed Abu Isa as a fanatic, but not a heretic.

Abu Isa came to grief when he launched a revolt against the Moslem authorities. Talk about bad timing; Islam was never stronger than it was in the early eighth century! After several years they suppressed the rebellion; Abu Isa was killed in a battle near modern Tehran. The Isunians convinced themselves that their leader was not dead but merely hiding in a cave until the time was right to come out and defeat the forces of Islam singlehandedly; they lingered on as a distinct Jewish group until the tenth century. Meanwhile the Khazars (see Chapter 9) became both civilized and Jewish, giving Jews a country where they could live without persecution. While a Jewish state existed in Russia, there was little desire to set up a Jewish state in the Holy Land.

In the early 12th century Russia produced an attempt at a Jewish Crusade, aimed at conquering the Holy Land by force of arms. This was started by a Khazar Jew named Solomon ben Duji (Ruhi or Roy in some translations), with the help of his son Menahem and a Palestinian Jewish scribe. They wrote letters to the Jewish communities of the Middle East, announcing that the time had come when God would bring His people back to Jerusalem, and that Solomon ben Duji was Elijah, and his son was the Messiah. However, those appeals seem to have had little effect, for we hear nothing until twenty years later; at this time Menahem moved from Russia to Kurdistan, changed his name to David al-Roy, and proclaimed himself the Messiah. Then he assembled a substantial armed force of Khazars and local Jews, and took possession of Amadie, a strategic fortress northeast of Mosul.

It seems that from here the plan was to lead the army to Edessa, and fight through Syria to the Holy Land. Because of the constant feuds between Crusaders, Sunni and Shiite Moslems, the enterprise did not seem as hopeless as it does now. Besides, some Moslem commanders might have welcomed the prospect of a Jewish Crusade against those Christian castles.

One of David al-Roy's messengers went to Baghdad and boldly told the Iraqi Jews to assemble on a certain night on their flat roofs, and from there they would be flown on clouds to the Messiah's camp. Many Jews spent that night on their roofs, awaiting a flight that never came for them. Not long after that, David al-Roy was assassinated in his sleep, allegedly by his own father-in-law, whom some interested party had bribed to do the deed. That ended the Crusade, but as with Abu Isa, David al-Roy continued to have followers for many years afterward. He also existed for centuries in Jewish literature as an example of the all-conquering king the Messiah was expected to be; Benjamin Disraeli, the famous 19th-century British Prime Minister, even wrote a historical romance about his career, called The Wondrous Tale of Alroy.

In the early 16th century, a charismatic Jewish leader named David Reubeni arose, who claimed to be a descendant of the tribe of Reuben (hence his name). Like David al-Roy, he forcefully called for leading a Jewish army against the Turks in the Holy Land; Pope Clement VII and King John III of Portugal endorsed this venture, since the Turks were their enemies as well. One of his followers, a young Portuguese Marrano(7) named Solomon Molcho, openly declared himself a Jew again, and preached fiery sermons of his own, encouraging the messianic hopes of many Jews.

Shortly after this, Reubeni offended King John and was forced to leave Portugal. He went to Italy, and found that Solomon Molcho, who he now accused of rashness, had preceded him there. The two put aside their disagreements and headed for Regensburg, Germany, where they hoped to win the support of the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V. The visionaries wanted Charles to arm the Jews so they could fight the Turks; instead he arrested them and sent them back to Italy to face the Inquisition. Molcho was burned at the stake in 1532, while Reubeni ended up in a Spanish prison, where he died a few years later, possibly by poisoning.

A generation later, a Portuguese Jew named Joseph Nasi (1524-79) fled the Inquisition and came to the Ottoman Empire, where his wealth and diplomatic skills made him a welcome addition to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent. The next sultan, Selim II, elevated Joseph further by making him Duke of Naxos and the Cyclade Islands (in the Aegean Sea), and by giving him a monopoly on the wine trade through the Bosporus. He founded the Jewish community of Tiberias and developed a silk industry there. In 1563 a Hebrew printing press was set up at nearby Safed, nearly two hundred years before the Turks got one. However, soon after that the Turkish-Venetian war over Cyprus (a conflict Nasi favored) took place, and after the Battle of Lepanto his influence declined. A promising Jewish renaissance in the Galilee region was nipped in the bud.

The bloody religious wars of the early 17th century plus the massacre of thousands of Jews at the hands of Russian Cossacks made many people think that they were living in the end times and that soon the Messiah would appear. Accordingly, in 1648 a Jew living in the Turkish city of Smyrna, Shabbetai Zevi (1626-76), proclaimed himself the Messiah. It is unclear whether he was a con man or a mentally deranged person who believed in what he said. At any rate, the local rabbis ran him out of town, and he spent the next several years living in Jerusalem. In 1665, he again announced that he was the Messiah, and returned triumphantly to Smyrna. His most important disciple, a young rabbi named Nathan of Gaza (1643?-80), sent a letter to Jews abroad, predicting that 1666 would be the year of redemption; Shabbetai Zevi would march from Smyrna to Constantinople, and there the music and praise of his followers would cause the Turkish sultan to surrender without a battle. That would be the first step in a nonviolent revolution that would put the whole world under Jewish authority.

Unlike past pseudo-Messiahs, who only enjoyed local support, Shabbetai Zevi gained followers from all over the diaspora. Jews from Europe, Morocco and Egypt sold their houses and anything else they could not take with them, and streamed east, either to settle in Jerusalem or to join the army that Shabbetai Zevi was forming. Then their hopes were suddenly dashed. When Shabbetai Zevi reached the Sea of Marmara, Turkish officials arrested him and took him to the Sublime Porte in chains. They brought him before the sultan's physician, an apostate Jew named Mustafa Hayatizade, and given this choice: Islam or death. Without much soul-searching he chose Islam! He took a Moslem name, Aziz Mehmed Effendi, was given a title (Keeper of the Palace Gates) and received a royal pension of 150 piasters a day.

Some of Shabbetai Zevi's followers also converted to Islam, believing that all would work out in the end if only they kept their trust in him. Others, including Nathan of Gaza, remained Jewish but clung desperately to the belief that their leader's apparent apostasy was yet another mystery that God would explain at some future date.

The two centuries after Shabbetai Zevi saw little Zionist activity. With the coming of the Age of Enlightenment religious intolerance went out of fashion, first in the Netherlands and then all over western and central Europe. Anti-Jewish persecution decreased, and many Jews felt that if they could assimilate into Western society and keep their Jewish practices at home, they would be accepted as social equals among the Christian majority. Others pulled up their roots completely and moved to America, a new land that was both rich and tolerant. In America the Zionist dream went to sleep, and if it was brought up, American Jews would respond by asking, "Why look for the Promised Land somewhere else when we already have a place like it here?"

Those favoring assimilation would be disappointed before the 19th century ended. The Askenazim (European and American Jews) found that, at best, they were only grudgingly accepted into Western circles of power. Anti-Jewish prejudice did not go away; on the contrary, it became more respectable, to the point that it was given a scientific name: anti-Semitism. In Russia the tsars made it clear that they did not want their Jews around by killing, robbing, and expelling them in a wave of "pogroms." This caused thousands of Jewish refugees to leave Russia; most went to America, but about 1,000 of them arrived in the Holy Land every year. This marked the first of several waves of Jewish settlement, known as aliya (literally, "going up"). Between 1881 and 1914 the Jewish population in the land grew from 24,000 to 90,000, while the Palestinian Arab population grew from 470,000 to 500,000.

Life did not instantly get better for the Jewish refugees after they arrived. The Holy Land was one of the Ottoman Empire's poorest provinces; ages of abuse and neglect had turned it into a place of sand dunes, rocky waste, and malarial swamps. The cities were full of rags, poverty, and dirt; to contemporary Westerners that represented Moslem rule just as surely as a flag with a crescent on it. Even the gold had been stripped off the Dome of the Rock to pay taxes! A few years earlier, Mark Twain visited the Holy Land, and reported that it was the most depressing country he had ever seen:

"Close to it was a stream, and on its banks a great herd of curious-looking Syrian goats and sheep were gratefully eating gravel. I do not state this as a petrified fact--I only suppose they were eating gravel, because there did not appear to be any thing else for them to eat."
"There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent [valley of Jezreel] -- not for 30 miles in either direction. . . . One may ride 10 miles hereabouts and not see 10 human beings."
"A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds . . a silent, mournful expanse . . . a desolation . . . . We never saw a human being on the whole route . . . . Hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country."
"Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince . . . Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes."(8)

The halutzim (Jewish pioneers) did not have money either, and it took contributions from wealthy sympathetic Jews in the West to get them started. Most of the immigrants had no farming skills, so they gravitated to the cities. In 1909 a group of them founded the first entirely Jewish city, Tel Aviv, on the sandhills north of Jaffa.

the founding of Tel Aviv
The founding of Tel Aviv. After the land shown above was purchased from the Bedouins, a shell lottery was used to determine who got it. The land was divided into sixty plots, the names of the plots were written on sixty sea shells, and the shells given randomly to sixty families. In terms of architecture and the size of its population, the present-day city looks a lot like Miami, FL.

Another problem was that while the land was underpopulated, it was not empty. As early as 1882 the Turkish authorities took steps to limit immigration, by closing the three main ports (Jaffa, Haifa, and Beirut) to Jews arriving from eastern Europe. The settlers purchased their land piecemeal, from European, Turkish and (mainly) Arab landlords, at outrageously high prices. Although the Arabs did not make trouble at this early date, they knew what was going on, as one Zionist leader, Asher Ginsberg, warned in 1891:

"We abroad are accustomed to believe that Eretz Israel is almost totally desolate at present . . . but in reality it is not so . . . Arabs, especially those in towns, see and understand our activities and aims in the country but keep quiet and pretend as if they do not know . . . and they try to exploit us, too, and profit from the new guests while laughing at us in their hearts. But if the time comes and our people make such progress as to displace the people of the country . . . they will not lightly surrender the place."

In the spring of 1914 anti-Zionist societies were established in Jerusalem, Haifa, Cairo, Beirut, and Constantinople.

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The Father of Modern Zionism

Zionism's transformation from a messianic vision to a secular political movement began with the activities of Theodore Herzl (1860-1904), a Hungarian-born journalist. Originally an atheistic Jew who did not care about the Promised Land, Herzl got a head-on look at anti-Semitism when his Viennese newspaper sent him to Paris to cover the Dreyfus case. In the early 1890s the French were looking for scapegoats on which to blame the Franco-Prussian War and more recent reverses. A series of charges, countercharges, perjury, and forged evidence descended on a Jewish officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus. In 1894 he was accused of giving military secrets to Germany, convicted, and sent to the infamous prison colony on Devil's Island. However, soon many irregularities about the trial arose. Debates over the Dreyfus case became the hottest political issue of the decade. It became impossible for a Frenchman to be progressive without being for Dreyfus, or conservative without being against him. Dreyfus was brought back for a new trial in 1899 but was again convicted, not because of evidence but because they believed an acquittal would dishonor the French army; not until 1906 did Dreyfus finally achieve his vindication.

At first Herzl believed that Dreyfus was guilty, but when the Paris street mobs began shouting "Down with the Jews!", he had second thoughts. If this could happen in the city of the Enlightenment, how could Jews be safe anywhere? Herzl became convinced that the Jews could never be totally free unless they had a country of their own, and devoted the rest of his life to achieving that goal.

Theodore Herzl.

In 1895, Herzl wrote his manifesto, The Jewish State. It was not truly revolutionary--some Russian and German Jewish writers had expressed similar sentiments a few years earlier--but unlike them, he put his words into action. In 1897 he presided over 197 delegates at the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. Its goal was "to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law." They held follow-up meetings every few years after that.

Herzl also went to heads of state in the hope of getting them to support his program. First he went to the current owner of the Holy Land, Abdul Hamid II; the sultan liked the idea of Jewish taxpayers moving into his realm, and said he would let them settle in any Turkish province except Palestine. Since that was not what Herzl had in mind, he next went to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and then to the Russian government; he got nowhere with both. Pope Pius X granted an interview, but since there was no hope of the Jews converting to Catholicism, he could not favor the movement. Finally he tried the British, and they offered him Uganda, in East Africa, as a place for Jewish settlement. Herzl accepted, and tried to sell the idea to the Sixth Zionist Congress. But no Jew with more than the slightest religious inclination could accept Zionism without Zion; all of God's promises to the Jews were tied to their Old Testament home, and a substitute land just wouldn't do. One year after dropping the Uganda plan, Herzl died (1904), and an Anglo-Russian chemist, Dr. Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952), took charge of the Zionist movement; he would live to see the restoration of Israel take place.

Jewish Angola cartoon.

A similar proposal to the Uganda one was put forth in 1912. This one called for settling European Jews on the plateau of central Angola. In those days Angola was a Portuguese colony, so the proposal was rejected by Portugal's parliament; it wasn't very popular with Zionists, either. Indeed, the only reason the idea was considered was because the Portuguese monarchy had been overthrown two years earlier, and some thought a Jewish community in Angola would bring Western civilization and stability to that part of the empire. This cartoon appeared in a Yiddish newspaper at the time; it shows Portugal (center) as a matchmaker, introducing Angola (left) to widowed Israel (right).

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The Young Turks

While most Moslems in the Ottoman Empire remained loyal to their sultan-caliph, a reform movement was growing among the Western-educated elite. Known originally as the Young Ottoman movement, these reformers were simply called the Young Turks after 1890. Driven underground early in Abdul Hamid's reign, many dissidents fled to Europe or to Cairo, where they formed reform societies, circulated radical literature and plotted the downfall of the regime; the sultan's own brother-in-law was among them. Those who remained at home infiltrated the military, the bureaucracy, and even the secret police. An attempted coup in 1896 was crushed, and Abdul Hamid tried to win over the dissidents with a mixture of threats and promises, but the movement continued to grow. When news arrived of Japan's amazing victory in the Russo-Japanese War, the reformers felt they had been proven right; a modern, secular nation with a constitutional government can beat a larger but more backward state any day. Officers on active duty became leaders in the movement, and they soon won over their soldiers to the cause. Among them was a newly commissioned captain named Mustafa Kemal; we will be hearing a lot from him in the next chapter.

Meanwhile, ethnic unrest in Macedonia and bad economic times increased popular discontent. Scattered army mutinies in 1906 from soldiers seeking back pay alarmed the aging and fearful sultan. Since he did not know how many soldiers were on his side, he met their demands with concessions instead of the usual suppression. Even those arrested were treated with surprising leniency, only suffering exile or some lesser penalty. This behavior caused more uprisings in 1907, which were joined by civilians with grievances of their own. The Hamidian tyranny was obviously growing weak, and this made the dissidents bolder than ever.

When the revolution came, it happened with a swiftness that astonished everybody. In May of 1908 Abdul Hamid sent a commission to Salonika to investigate reports of sedition among the soldiers there. Acting out of fear of discovery rather than by plan, the dissident officers rebelled. The largest of the Young Turk organizations, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), came out into the open and announced its demands: an elected parliament and restoration of the 1876 constitution. Within two months all of the army units in Macedonia were on the side of the rebels, and threatening to march on Constantinople. The sultan hesitated, went to his astrologer for advice (something he always did before making an important decision), and on July 23 he agreed to the rebel demands. Then he abolished censorship and dissolved his corps of more than 30,000 spies.

The news of the revolution was greeted with joy. Suddenly newspapers could openly discuss "freedom" and "elections," ideas that could not be safely whispered just a day before. Bulgarians, Greeks, Jews, Armenians and Turks embraced each other in the streets. Somehow Abdul Hamid got credit for what had happened, and thousands flocked to Yildiz, where the surprised sultan, now just a constitutional monarch, greeted them from his balcony. Hussein ibn Ali was allowed to end his exile and go back to Arabia, where the post of Sharif of Mecca had just fallen vacant. Elections were held, and a 260-seat parliament was created with 119 Turkish and 72 Arab members (the rest were Albanians, Greeks, Kurds, Armenians, and other minorities).

Foreign powers did not give the new constitutional monarchy a chance to prove itself. In October 1908 Austria returned the province of Novipazar but kept Bosnia and Herzegovina, a move that violated the 1878 treaty. Within a week, Bulgaria proclaimed complete independence from the empire, and the government of Crete transferred its allegiance from Turkey to Greece (however, the outside world did not recognize the Greek annexation of Crete until 1913). On the other end of the empire, Yemen was in revolt again. This discredited the Young Turks, and in April 1909 some envious army officers who happened to be Moslem fundamentalists staged a countercoup. The revolt was suppressed in two weeks, and the Young Turks took steps to secure their power. They amended the constitution to give more power to the parliament, and demoted the sultan to a figurehead. Since Abdul Hamid had been behind the countercoup, they removed him from office completely. Most of the harem was disbanded, and fathers or brothers of the women came to Constantinople to take them home. Stripped of most of his treasure and retinue, Abdul Hamid still lived comfortably as a private citizen until his death in 1918. His brother, who confessed to not having read a newspaper in twenty years, became Mohammed V (1909-18), a sultan only in name.

The Young Turks now ran the government, and chief among the Young Turks were three members of CUP: Enver Bey, Talaat Bey, and Jemal Pasha. Enver was a handsome, fearless, and charming young officer--and as cruel as the sultan he replaced. Born into poverty, he had risen to his current position by marrying one of Abdul Hamid's daughters. Talaat, once a humble post office employee, eventually rose to become interior minister. A huge man with the build of a wrestler, he was the driving force of the CUP. Jemal Pasha, a bearded, cold-eyed fanatic, served first as interior minister, and then as minister of the navy; he had few original ideas but was ruthlessly efficient at whatever he set out to do. They and men like them would preside over the last disastrous decade of Ottoman history.

The Arabs took no part in the 1908 revolution, but they enthusiastically supported it, since they expected that now the empire would become a true democracy, where Arab and Turk would be equal. But two goals motivated the Young Turks: (1.) democracy, and (2.) a strong, centralized state. All of them supported centralization, but only some of them supported democracy. In a 1910 speech, Talaat Bey said that equality between Moslems and non-Moslems was "an unrecognizable ideal." The Young Turks now attempted to Turkify all of the non-Turkish peoples under their rule, hoping to strengthen the empire by making it homogeneous. Pan-Islamism was discarded, and in its place came Pan-Turanianism, a philosophy that states that since Finns, Hungarians, Turks, Siberians, Mongolians and Central Asians have a common ancestor(9), they should all be united in one super-state.

For these reasons the Arab-Turkish honeymoon was short-lived. The Arabs now formed political parties and secret societies of their own. Two of them are worth noting here. Al-Qahtaniya, founded by an Egyptian major named Aziz al-Masri, wanted to turn the empire into an Arab and a Turkish kingdom, with a single monarch over both, like the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. More important for the future was al-Fatat, which aimed at complete independence for all the Arab provinces. Al-Fatat was founded in Paris, but soon it moved its headquarters to Beirut, and then to Damascus, where its membership rapidly increased.

In June of 1913 al-Fatat hosted what it called the "Arab National Congress" in Paris. Most of the delegates came from Syria, but it claimed to represent all Arab interests. The CUP first tried to get the French to stop the meeting, then it agreed to grant what the congress called for:

1. Equal use of the Arabic and Turkish languages in the government.
2. Decentralization of local administration, giving more power to local officials.
3. End the practice of having Arab soldiers serve outside Arab provinces.
The CUP also agreed to use Arabic as the language of instruction in primary and secondary schools, and to appoint three Arab ministers to the cabinet.

This apparent victory for Arab nationalism only lasted as long as the congress did. Once it was over the CUP went back on all its promises, either by whittling them down until they were meaningless or by postponing them indefinitely. By the summer of 1914 the Arab nationalists had given up hope of making a deal with the CUP, but they were not ready to revolt just yet; most Arabs still saw a strong Ottoman empire as Islam's best defense against the West. When World War I began, most Arabs would stay neutral or fight on the Turkish side until persuaded otherwise.

In 1911 the Yemeni revolt ended with a negotiated settlement: the Tihama plain along the Red Sea coast was returned to the Turks while Yemen's hereditary ruler, the Imam Yahya (1904-48), enjoyed virtual independence in the interior. Autonomy was also given to Mohammed ibn Ali al-Idrisi, ruler of Asir, the province between Mecca and Yemen. In the same year Italy, making its bid for a colonial empire, abruptly declared war and invaded Libya. The Turkish garrisons were easily defeated along the coast(10), but the desert and Bedouins of the interior made for a tougher going. Since the Turks had too much pride to surrender right away, the Italian navy sailed into the Aegean and occupied Rhodes and the islands around it (twelve islands in all, hence the term Dodecanese). Italy promised to return these islands when the Turks formally handed over Libya; in the confusion of the years that followed, this promise was conveniently forgotten.

The Turks signed a peace treaty not because they were afraid of the Italians, but because a more serious war was beginning right on their doorstep. The Balkan states of Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, and Serbia saw the Turkish preoccupation with Libya as an opportunity not to be missed. In a rare show of unity, these four states joined forces and attacked the nearest Turkish territories in October 1912. Within two months, Albania was independent; Novipazar was divided between Montenegro and Serbia; Macedonia was split between Serbia and Greece; Bulgaria had overrun nearly all of Thrace and was approaching both Edirne and Constantinople.

The Ottoman government, currently run by a moderate Young Turk faction, was prepared to surrender all of Turkey-in-Europe except Constantinople. Enver Bey, however, came back from action in Libya and the Balkans to stage a flamboyant coup d'etat. Waving a pistol and shouting, "We will hold Edirne," Enver and his fellow rebels burst into the government's council chamber, killed the war minister, and stopped peace negotiations. Now the new minister of war, Enver dismissed 1,200 officers in a single day and resumed the conflict. The Bulgarians responded by bombarding Edirne into submission and slaughtering the Turkish peasantry of eastern Thrace. In the spring of 1913, a humbled Enver had to sue for peace, on terms he had tried to prevent originally.

Fortunately for the Turks, the First Balkan War was not the last word on eastern Europe's borders. Within a month the victors quarreled over the spoils, precipitating a second Balkan War (June-July 1913); this time it was Bulgaria against Serbia, Greece, and Romania. Ottoman troops joined the anti-Bulgarian coalition and retook the eastern half of Thrace, including Edirne. Yet the war-ravaged land was scarcely worth having. "The country looks as if it had been swept by a terrible earthquake," was how the first Western reporter on the scene described it. That reporter then showed the prevailing attitude of his time when he added, "It is almost impossible to believe one is living in the twentieth century with such evidence of man's ferocity all around."

Enver Bey went home to a hero's welcome, and took for himself the more noble name of Enver Pasha. In the celebrations that followed, the Turks seemed to forget that they had lost their last African colony and 80% of their European territory in just two years. It didn't matter though, because thirteen months after the Second Balkan War ended, a far greater war broke out and melted down the Balkan frontiers again. By the time it ended, four years later, the Ottoman Empire itself would be nothing more than a memory.

This is the End of Chapter 14.


1. The ruler of Acre at this time was Ahmed Pasha, an old Bosnian with such a reputation for cruelty that he was usually called Djezzar--the Butcher. Still, the French couldn't have been seen as an improvement, because at Jaffa, a cough decided the fate of 1,200 Turkish prisoners. While deciding what to do with them, Napoleon coughed and exclaimed, "Ma sacre toux!" (My darned cough!). The nearest general thought he said "Massacrez tous!" (Kill them all!), so he did.

2. Rudolph Peters, a Dutch historian, defined these two groups as "those who would subordinate Islam to progress and those who would subordinate progress to Islam." Another historian, Bernard Lewis, used the difficulty Moslems had, in understanding how Christian Europe caught up with and surpassed the Islamic world's technology, to give the title to his book on the subject: What Went Wrong?

3. Make a note of that loan, it will have serious consequences before long!

4. The Maronites are actually Uniates; in the early 18th century they accepted the authority of the pope in return for the right to keep their Oriental customs. Lebanon also has a small Greek Orthodox community, like those found elsewhere in the Levant.

5. The term Rumelia had long been the Ottoman name for the Balkans, from the Turkish Rum Eli, meaning "Roman country."

6. The best description of Abdul Hamid comes from the Zionist leader Theodore Herzl. In 1902 Herzl met with the sultan in an unsuccessful attempt to buy real estate in the Holy Land for Jewish settlement. Afterwards he wrote this in his diary: "I can see him before me now, the Sultan of this declining robber empire. Small, shabby, with his badly dyed beard touched up apparently once a week . . . the feeble hands in their over-sized gloves . . . the bleating voice, restraint in every word and fear in every glance. And this rules!"

7. Marranos was the derogatory term Spanish and Portuguese Christians gave to the Jews they forced to convert to Christianity; it meant "pigs."

8. Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1867, Chapter LVI. For more quotes like these, visit this page.

9. The Turks called this legendary ancestor Turan; possibly this was the biblical patriarch Magog from Genesis 10:2.

10. When your army is such bad shape that the Italians can beat you, you're in bad shape!

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© Copyright 2016 Charles Kimball

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