Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East

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Workers and Peasants in the
Modern Middle East
Joel Beinin
Stanford University
         
The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom
  
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© Cambridge University Press 2001
This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published 2001
Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge
Typeface Plantin 10/12
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A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data
Beinin, Joel, 1948–
Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East / Joel Beinin.
cm. – (The contemporary Middle East; 2)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0 521 62121 6 – ISBN 0 521 62903 9 (pbk.)
1. Working class – Middle East – History. 2. Artisans – Middle East – History.
3. Peasantry – Middle East – History. I. Title. II. Series.
HD8656.B44 2001
305.5′62′0956–dc21 00-068950
ISBN 0 521 62121 6 hardback
ISBN 0 521 62903 9 paperback
List of tables
List of acronyms and abbreviations
Map 1 The Ottoman Empire, 1699–1914
Map 2 Egypt and Bilad al-Sham
Map 3 The Middle East in the twentieth century
page viii
1 The world capitalist market, provincial regimes, and local
producers, 1750–1839
2 Ottoman reform and European imperialism, 1839–1907
3 The rise of mass politics, 1908–1939
4 Fikri al-Khuli’s journey to al-Mahalla al-Kubra
5 Populist nationalism, state-led development, and
authoritarian regimes, 1939–1973
6 Post-populist reformation of the working class and peasantry
6.1 Turkish workers placed in positions abroad
6.2 Arab labor migration
6.3 Strikes in Tunisia, 1970–77
6.4 Strikes in Turkey, 1963–94
page 150
The world capitalist market, provincial
regimes, and local producers, 1750–1839
The large-scale economic and political processes that characterize the
period of this chapter are the rise of autonomous provincial regimes, the
expansion of agricultural production, and the intensification of links
between several parts of the Ottoman Empire and the world capitalist
market. Although this was a time of political weakness for the Ottoman
central government, it was not an era of unmitigated political and economic decline, as traditional Orientalist studies of the eighteenth century
maintain (Gibb & Bowen 1950). The political stability and enhanced
physical security established by powerful local notables and provincial
governors contributed to increased agricultural production. Parts of the
empire favorably situated to benefit from trade with Europe including
Macedonia and Thrace, lower Egypt, Izmir and its hinterlands, and Acre
and the Galilee experienced economic growth and prosperity. However,
there was no qualitative departure from the relations of production and
circulation of earlier periods.
A long wave of European economic growth began in the 1740s and
lasted, with ups and downs, until the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815,
followed by an economic contraction lasting until the early 1840s. The
central development of this mid-eighteenth- to early nineteenth-century
economic expansion is the Industrial Revolution. European economic
growth generated increased demand for agricultural products from the
Middle East. During the subsequent contraction, prices of European
manufactured goods dropped more sharply than prices of Middle
Eastern agricultural goods. Low-priced European manufactures, especially finished textiles, began to appear in Middle Eastern markets in significant quantities. But the terms of trade for Middle Eastern agricultural
products remained favorable. Consequently, in the Middle East the
century from 1750 to 1850 was marked by rising prices of agricultural
products and increasing exports to Europe (Tabak 1991: 138).
Periodization of long-term economic trends can only be approximate,
and general tendencies must be modified by local histories and conditions. Cairo and western Anatolia are the only Middle Eastern regions
Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East
where pre-twentieth-century local periodizations of economic expansion
and contraction have been attempted. In Cairo, after frequent crises due
to currency debasement, high prices, and food shortages from 1690 to
1736, there was a return to prosperity and high, but stable, wheat prices
from 1736 to 1780. This period was ended by the demise of the mamluk
regime, the French invasion of 1798, and the rise of Mehmed ¨Ali Pasha
(1805–48) (Raymond 1973–74: 81–106). After Mehmed ¨Ali stabilized
his rule, Egyptian economic expansion resumed, primarily due to investment in military industries and the export of newly developed long-staple
cotton and other agricultural products. However, the Pasha established a
command economy, regulating production and marketing closely by his
orders. Efficiency and equity were not his highest priorities. Hence, there
were many crises, and growth could not be sustained.
There was a major commercial boom in western Anatolia in the second
half of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Izmir became the
most important port for European trade with the Levant, which was
dominated by France before the Napoleonic Wars (Frangakis-Syrett
1991: 97). From the 1750s commercial crops – cotton and other fibers,
maize, tobacco, grapes, and livestock – were added to previously established contraband exports of wheat and other grains from Izmir,
Salonica, and Macedonia to Europe (Kasaba 1988: 19). Cotton cultivation tripled in Macedonia and western Anatolia from 1720 to 1800. Most
of the crop was exported, primarily to France and the Austro-Hungarian
The periodization I propose has some similarities with world systems
theory conceptions that view the period from 1750 to 1839 (or 1815) as
marking the incorporation of the Ottoman Empire into the capitalist
world economy (Wallerstein & Kasaba 1983; Kasaba 1988). World
systems theory also argues that Ottoman local notables responded to
growing demand for agricultural products from Europe in the mideighteenth century by establishing large, commercialized estates (çiftliks)
on which they sought to establish private property rights and impose
harsher forms of labor control over peasants. Although something of this
sort happened in parts of the sub-Danubian Balkans, it was not a general
phenomenon throughout the Ottoman territories (Islamoǧlu- Inan 1987:
12; Keyder 1991: 2). Even in the Balkans, many çiftliks were small
(McGowan 1981). Local notables in western Anatolia, such as the Kara
Osmanoǧlus, did not have the capacity to oversee peasant labor and
introduce large-scale capitalist production methods (Kasaba 1991: 115).
The character of eighteenth-century commerce between Aleppo and
Europe, primarily France, also does not conform to the predictions of
world systems theory. Aleppo’s international trade increased markedly,
The world market and local producers, 1750–1839
but intraregional trade was more substantial and stimulated Aleppo’s
commercial relations with its agricultural hinterland and cities as distant
as Mosul, Diyarbekir, and Basra. In the early eighteenth century,
Aleppo’s trade with Europe conformed to the typical colonial pattern predicted by world systems theory: exporting agricultural and pastoral raw
materials and importing finished goods. But at the end of the century,
Aleppo sold more finished goods to France than it imported (Marcus
1989: 146–50). Similarly, in Jabal Nablus in Palestine the active regional
trade in soap and textiles involving Cairo and Damascus was not disrupted by the activities of European merchants in the coastal cities of Jaffa
and Acre (Doumani 1995). These cases confirm that “the social classes
and institutions of the Ottoman provinces were not simply remolded as a
consequence of trade with Europe . . . They are not a dependent variable,
as a reading of Wallerstein’s theory might lead one to suppose” (Cuno
1992: 11).
In most of Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent large, privately owned
estates producing cash crops for export to Europe were exceptional,
though some were formed when market conditions were favorable.
However, market relations in agriculture were a common feature of many
regions. In the Bursa region and elsewhere in Anatolia, small commercial
farms supplying local urban markets coexisted with peasant family farms
(Gerber 1987: 30, 39). In lower Egypt, as early as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries cash crops such as sugarcane, rice, and flax were cultivated. Processed sugar and linen as well as foodstuffs were exported to
other parts of Ottoman Empire. Total agricultural output was far larger
than subsistence (Hanna 1998: 85). There was a stratum of wealthy peasants in eighteenth-century lower Egypt (if not earlier), and villages
around Mansura produced cash crops for markets including rice, sesame,
and wheat (Cuno 1984). Sectors of the agrarian economy of the hinterlands of Mosul were integrated into a market economy before the
Ottoman conquest (Khoury 1997: 27). Basra merchants advanced credit
to owners of palm trees and shipped dates throughout the Persian
Gulf/Indian Ocean regional market in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Fattah 1997: 85–86). Similar credit practices were
common in the olive oil agro-industry of Jabal Nablus (Doumani 1995).
There was a market in usufruct rights for agricultural land in lower Egypt,
Mosul, Jabal Nablus, and the hinterlands of Bursa at least as early as the
middle of the eighteenth century and probably much earlier (Cuno 1992;
Khoury 1997; Doumani 1995: 8; Gerber 1987: 23).
Linkages between the Ottoman Empire and the world capitalist market
intensified during a period of rising agricultural prices and increasing
production. This tended to benefit primary agricultural producers and
Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East
enhance the viability of peasant family farms (Tabak 1991: 135–37).
Agricultural commodities for export and local markets were generated
primarily from the surplus of small peasant production, rather than centrally managed, large-scale, privately owned commercial farms. In the
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries most peasants retained control
of their production process and usufruct rights. “Fiscal domination of the
peasantry and not the organization of large estates to serve the export
trade . . . was the primary rural source of power and fortune” (McGowan
1981: 171–72; see also Veinstein 1976; McGowan 1994: 672; Doumani
1995: 161). Hence, there was no wholesale restructuring of agricultural
production and agrarian social relations in response to demand from
Europe. In contrast to Europe, the Ottoman social formation embodied
“a logic in which privatized large property was marginal . . . Commodity
production by small-owning peasantry represents an alternative mode of
integration into the market” (Keyder 1991: 2, 3).1
Detailed examinations of local relations of production and circulation
and the cultural systems in which they were embedded reveal differences
so substantial as to call into question the viability of the category of “the
Ottoman peasant.” Lower Egypt, Mount Lebanon, and Jabal Nablus represent very different agrarian regimes, yet the three cases converge in
refuting the predictions of both the Orientalist paradigm of eighteenthcentury economic decline and world systems theory. Well before the
French invasion of Egypt and the Egyptian occupation of greater Syria,
peasants in these regions produced commercial crops for regional
markets and export to Europe, especially France. Commercial agriculture was not an innovation brought about by increased contact with
European markets or the entrepreneurial activity of large landowners,
although these factors stimulated and influenced its development.
Peasants in regions more remote from transportation were less engaged in
commercial agriculture. But there were no structural or ideological barriers to commercial agriculture in the mid-eighteenth or early nineteenth
Egypt: the peasants and the pasha
By the mid-seventeenth century Egyptian mamluk households had established considerable fiscal and political autonomy from Istanbul, collecting the land tax as tax farmers and spending much of it locally. Peasants
had usufruct rights on their own plots (aradi al-filaha or athar) and paid
their takes to the tax farmer. They also worked on the lands of the
mamluks (aradi al- usya) sometimes for wages, sometimes as sharecroppers, sometimes as unpaid corvée laborers. The tax-farming system
The world market and local producers, 1750–1839
imposed many burdens on the peasants, not the least of which was the
tendency of the mamluks to increase taxes to expand their military power
and establish a competitive advantage over rival mamluk houses.
There is no evidence of a decline in the status of peasants, increased
coercion of labor, or formation of large estates in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries.2 Peasants retained control of production and marketing on the lands on which they held usufruct rights, which they commonly bequeathed, sold, rented, and pawned (Cuno 1984: 314–15; Cuno
1992: 10–11, 66, 82–83). While shari¨a law recognizes a distinction
between ownership and the right of usufruct, peasants commonly disregarded it with impunity. In lower Egypt, where the area of annual Nile
inundation and the cultivated land overlapped in a stable and predictable
pattern, peasant plots were demarcated and families were individually
responsible for the land tax. From what we know of Cairo prices, it seems
likely that the prices of agricultural commodities in lower Egyptian villages rose in the eighteenth century. This would imply an increase in the
income of peasant producers and the value of their usufruct rights, which
may have been partly offset by increased taxation.
From 1780 to 1805, political instability, disruption of trade with
France, and natural disasters resulted in recurring economic crises
(Raymond 1973–74: 100–04). The mamluk chief, Murad Bey
(1779–98), imposed a monopoly on customs collection and purchased
and resold a large portion of the wheat crop to raise revenues for the military. When the French invaded, they seized many tax farms and declared
them state-owned lands (Owen 1969: 15–16). In the same period Sultan
Selim III (1789–1807) tried to finance his military reforms by restricting
military land grants and tax farms in the face of strong opposition from
provincial notables (Rivlin 1961: 37; Shaw 1971: 132).
These practices were more systematically and effectively implemented
by Mehmed ¨Ali Pasha after he became the Ottoman governor of Egypt in
1805. The status of peasants began to improve considerably after he consolidated his power and restored political stability by eliminating the
warring mamluk factions in the infamous 1811 massacre at the Cairo
citadel. The irrigation system was repaired and expanded, and idle land
was brought under cultivation. From 1814 on, Mehmed ¨Ali abolished
tax farming and instituted a regime of direct collection of taxes from peasants by salaried government employees, monopolization of domestic and
foreign trade, and compulsory delivery of harvests to state-operated
depots at prices below the market rate.
The introduction of long-staple cotton in 1821 is associated with dramatic changes in the lives of peasants, though the effects of this innovation were not fully realized until the second half of the nineteenth century.
Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East
Cotton cultivation requires large inputs of water, fertilizer, and labor and
is best undertaken on large plots. Cotton plants remain in the ground
from February to September and must be watered heavily in the summer,
when the natural level of the Nile is low. To increase the supply of summer
water, the government recruited peasant workers by corvée to construct
canals, barrages, water wheels (saqiyyas), and water-lifting apparatuses
(shadufs). By the early 1830s cotton and other summer crops (rice,
indigo, sugar) were cultivated on 600,000 faddans compared to 250,000
in 1798.
Detailed rules governing cultivation, harvesting, and marketing of
cotton and other crops as well as more stringent tax-collection practices
were codified in the 1829 Regulation of Peasant Agriculture (La©ihat
zira¨at al-fallah), though peasants did not simply dutifully obey the
Pasha’s directives (Richards 1987: 216; Cuno 1992). The monopoly
system imposed low prices on peasant crops, and the state attempted to
regulate every aspect of production and marketing. Peasants had always
performed corvée labor to repair irrigation canals in their villages and the
like. But in the 1820s the number of corvée laborers increased to some
467,000 annually; many were compelled to work for two months a year or
more far from their villages for nominal or no pay (Owen 1969: 48).
Mehmed ¨Ali raised taxes to support his large and modernized army and
its expedition to Morea in support of the Ottoman sultan’s failed effort to
thwart the Greek independence movement (1824–28). Peasants were
conscripted into the army for the first time. These massive intrusions of
the state into the lives of peasant families reversed the improvements in
their economic and social well-being.
Peasants responded through a combination of resistance and resort to
the “weapons of the weak” (Scott 1985). The Pasha’s Albanian cavalry
massacred upper Egyptian peasants who rebelled following the government’s seizure of their entire grain crop for the first time in 1812. In 1816
the army compelled recalcitrant peasants to grow government-specified
crops. There were five peasant revolts during 1820–26 against increased
taxation and the introduction of conscription, including three large uprisings in the upper Egyptian province of Qina. As many as 40,000 people
participated in a two-month-long uprising in 1821 led by one Ahmad.
Two years later an even larger revolt was led by another Ahmad, who
sought to overthrow Mehmed ¨Ali and appealed to Muslim salvationist
sentiment by calling himself the mahdi (Baer 1969b: 96–98; Baer 1982:
77, 254; Richards 1987: 218–19; Cuno 1992: 125; Fahmy 1997: 95).
Commercial crops grown in Qina were marketed in Cairo, Istanbul,
and Europe, especially durra (the local variety of wheat) and sugarcane.
Qina was also a commercial hub linking upper Egypt with Sudan and the
The world market and local producers, 1750–1839
Red Sea–Arabian Ocean commercial network; and it was a manufacturing center for textiles, pottery, and charcoal. Handicraft textile production in Qina province, including the export of some items beyond Egypt,
prospered during the Napoleonic Wars and was seriously damaged by the
influx of European textiles to Egypt after 1810. The profitability of grain
exports diminished around 1820 due to competition from Russian wheat.
The rise of sugarcane as the principal cash crop and the conversion of
lands from food crops to sugarcane caused local food shortages. Thus,
economic decline following a prosperous period may have motivated the
revolts in Qina. In contrast to all others who have studied them, Fred
Lawson argues that the Qina revolts should not be understood as peasant
revolts against taxation and conscription, but “revolts by village artisans
and pieceworkers against the supervisors and merchants in whose hands
the control of the local sugar, wheat, and cloth industries rested” (Lawson
1981: 145). This is a functionalist argument unsupported by direct evidence about the social composition of the revolts: those most affected by
economic decline should initiate a rebellion. Artisans may very well have
collaborated with peasants in rebelling against the expanding power of
Mehmed ¨Ali’s state under the banner of Islam. But the general consensus
that Qina was a center of peasant resistance to conscription and taxation
by Mehmed ¨Ali seems well founded.
Peasants opposed the demands of the Pasha’s regime in ways other
than open revolt. Desertion from the army was common. Peasant conscripts mutinied in 1827 and 1832. When resistance to conscription was
ineffective, peasants fled their villages or maimed themselves. Cutting off
index fingers, removing teeth, and putting rat poison in an eye to blind
one’s self were common techniques of mutilation (Fahmy 1997: 99–103,
The combination of peasant resistance/avoidance, hence a shortage of
labor and declining revenue, the opposition of European powers to the
exclusion of their merchants from the interior of the country, the power of
the British navy, the administrative and technical weaknesses of the
Pasha’s regime, and the global capitalist crisis of 1836–37 forced
Mehmed ¨Ali to abandon the monopoly system and devise a new decentralized rural administration. These developments are the local markers
of the end of the period treated in this chapter.
Lebanon: peasants and the emergence of
communal politics
The Ottoman central government did not concern itself with the internal
social structure and local customs of Mount Lebanon. It regarded Mount
Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East
Lebanon as state-administered land and the local notables as tax farmers.
The northern part of the mountain was subject to the pasha of Tripoli;
the southern part to the pasha of Sidon (whose actual seat was Acre after
1750). Christian historians have usually argued that Mount Lebanon was
a single unit with a self-conscious identity and an autonomous and locally
legitimized political regime and that the land was private property (Holt
& Lewis 1962; Salibi 1988: 108–29). This view is becoming increasingly
The system of social hierarchy and decentralized political leadership in
Mount Lebanon is commonly characterized as a feudal exception within
the Ottoman Empire. This terminology tends to minimize the Ottoman
context and accentuate the association of Lebanon and Latin Christian
Europe. In the heyday of modernization theory this affiliation was commonly adduced as an explanation of Lebanon’s “successful” adaptation
to modernity – an interpretation that has lost credibility since the second
post-independence civil war of 1975–91.3 To avoid this misleading association, I use the local terms for the system, iqta¨, its districts, muqata¨at,
and its notables, muqata¨ajis.
The mountain was divided into muqata¨at where hereditary Druze and
Maronite muqata¨ajis were responsible for collection of taxes and the
administration of justice. Whereas most Ottoman tax farmers lived in
cities, Lebanese muqata¨ajis lived in their rural districts and held large
plots of land (¨uhdas) in their own names. Though not juridically tied to
the land, peasants were required to perform labor service and buy marriage licenses and baptismal oil from their muqata¨ajis and to offer them
holiday gifts. From 1711 to 1841 the Shihabs were the leading muqata¨aji
family. The Maronite muqata¨ajis concurred that Mount Lebanon was a
hereditary principality (imara) and that a member of the Shihab family
was the legitimate paramount ruler (amir or hakim); the Druze
muqata¨ajis accepted the Shihabs as tax farmers and did not seek to set up
an alternative regime.
Maronites were originally concentrated in Kisrawan and northern
Mount Lebanon and the Druze in the Shuf and southern districts. From
the late seventeenth century, Maronite peasants began to migrate southward, where they became subject to Druze muqata¨ajis, the most powerful
of whom were the Junblats. The Maronite population increased more
rapidly than the Druze and constituted the majority in Mount Lebanon
by the nineteenth century. Reforms in the administration of the church
initiated by the Council of Luwayza in 1736 led to expanding the network
of church schools, and Maronite peasants began to be educated.
Consequently, Maronites became the dominant force in the administration of Mount Lebanon. One expression of the increasing power of the
The world market and local producers, 1750–1839
Maronites in the late eighteenth century was the secret conversion of a
branch of the Shihab family, including the amirs Yusuf (1770–88) and
Bashir II (1788–1840), to the Maronite faith.
The principal agricultural product of Mount Lebanon was raw silk
produced from cocoons spun by worms who fed on the leaves of mulberry trees. Since the time of Fakhr al-Din Ma¨n II (1593–1633) the
amirs encouraged silk production in the religiously mixed Junblati
muqata¨a of the Shuf and in the Maronite district of Kisrawan, controlled
by the Khazin family. Cultivation of mulberry trees and the export of raw
silk from Sidon and later Beirut, primarily to France, was dominated by
Maronites. The Junblats encouraged Maronite peasants to settle on their
lands and even donated lands to Maronite monasteries to promote production of silk (Salibi 1988: 104–05). Until the late 1830s itinerant, seasonal peasant-laborers reeled raw silk into thread by hand (Polk 1963:
Some peasants in Mount Lebanon owned small plots of land. But as
they were usually too small to sustain a family, sharecropping (musharaka) arrangements with monasteries or aristocratic families who held
most of the land were common. In the eighteenth century peasant holdings expanded, primarily through the use of cultivation contracts (mugharasa): agreements stipulating that a landowner supply the land, tools, and
materials for a peasant to terrace and plant trees and tend them for three
to twelve years, depending on the type of tree. During this period the
peasant planted suitable food crops between the trees. When the trees
were fully mature, a quarter to half of the land, or sometimes only the
trees, became the property of the peasant (Firro 1990: 158; Dubar &
Nasr 1976: 29; Chevallier 1971: 138–39). Mulberry, fig, almond, and
olive trees as well as grape vines were planted under this system.
Muqata¨ajis maintained their rights to peasant labor and other forms of
economic and social dominance if they expanded the area of cultivation
in this way or sold parcels of land to peasants when they needed cash.
The reinvigoration of the Maronite church following the Council of
Luwayza contributed to expanding agricultural production. The Lebanese
Order of Monks, primarily comprising men from peasant backgrounds,
began to enlarge their originally meager holdings through cultivation contracts, efficient organization of their collective labor, and pooling their
savings and donations from the faithful. They acquired new properties
from the muqata¨ajis, who were pleased by the monks’ productive activities
and the educational and other services they provided. By the mid-nineteenth century the Lebanese Order owned fifty monasteries with large
plots of land (Harik 1968: 112–14).
Most peasants were poor and socially and economically subordinated
Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East
to the muqata¨ajis. During the early years of Bashir II’s rule, the governor
of Sidon (Acre), Cezzar Ahmed Pasha (1775–1804), pressed the amir for
increased tribute payments. To meet these demands, Bashir II increased
the levies on the muqata¨ajis and the peasants, confiscated the lands of
rival muqata¨ajis, and removed some of them altogether, consolidating
their former holdings under his personal control. Ahmed Pasha’s successor, ¨Abd Allah Pasha (1818–32), also demanded higher tribute, forcing
Bashir II to attempt to collect additional taxes to pay the pasha. Due to
these repeated demands for extra-legal taxes, peasants lost much of their
lands. By the first half of the nineteenth century about 10 percent – a high
proportion by local standards – of the peasantry owned no land at all and
supported themselves by sharecropping or as agricultural day laborers
(Dubar & Nasr 1976: 28).
These conditions formed the context for peasant uprisings (¨ammiyyas,
or movements of the common people) in 1820 and 1821. The revolts
were directed against both Amir Bashir II and his most important ally,
Bashir Junblat. The Maronite bishop, Yusuf Istfan (1759–1823), played a
leading role in the first revolt. He organized the peasants into village communes and had them choose a representative (wakil) to lead and represent each village. The Druze muqata¨ajis blocked the collection of
additional levies from Druze peasants or paid them themselves. The taxes
were collected only from the Maronite peasants of Maronite muqata¨ajis
in the northern districts, who Bashir II thought lacked a leadership
capable of opposing him. Therefore, although some Druze peasants and
one muqata¨aji family participated in the revolts, they primarily involved
Maronite peasants in districts with Maronite muqata¨ajis. This gave the
movements a sectarian character, which was enhanced by the active participation of Maronite clergymen (Harik 1968: 208–22; Khalaf 1987:
The 1820 and 1821 revolts challenged the muqata¨aji monopoly on
political leadership and expressed both peasant class and Maronite communal consciousness, which were sometimes mutually contradictory.
The Maronite Khazin and Abillama¨ muqata¨ajis opposed the revolts, but
peasants in their districts participated nonetheless. The pact between the
people of Bash¨ala and their representative made during the second revolt
is a rare expression of peasants’ political voice and their capacity to articulate some surprisingly new ideas.
We the undersigned, all the natives of Bash¨ala . . . have freely accepted and
entrusted ourselves and our expenses to our cousin, Tannus al-Shidyaq Nasr, and
whatever is required of us . . . with respect to the ¨ammiyya. His word will be final
with us in all [matters] of expenses and losses . . . [W]e shall obey him in the
recruitment of men . . .
The world market and local producers, 1750–1839
This is what has been agreed upon between us and him, and he shall act according
to his conscience, not favoring anyone over the other . . . Whatever he arranges as
the tax, we shall accept; and if he relents in pursuing our interests, we shall hold
him accountable. (Harik 1968: 213–14)
This radical departure from the previously prevailing political culture
of Mount Lebanon led Ilya Harik to view the revolts as the first Lebanese
expressions of the modern ideas of nationalism, the public interest, and
individual rights. Harik acknowledges that some Maronite peasants
understood their revolt to be directed against the privileges of the Druze
muqata¨ajis (Harik 1968: 220–21). This communal aspect of the movements makes the dichotomy of “tradition” and “modernity” inadequate
for the understanding of the 1820–21 uprisings. They were limited revolts
against increased taxes, not revolutions against the social structure of
Mount Lebanon. The deployment of ideas and institutions derived from
the French republican tradition coexisted with communalism and sharpened tensions between Maronites and Druze (and Muslims). This undermined Lebanese national identity as much as it promoted it.
Bashir II fled Mount Lebanon in 1822 but resumed his demands for
increased taxes when he returned in 1823. This led to a military clash
with the Junblat family and its supporters in 1825 in which the Junblat
partisans were decisively defeated and their lands distributed to supporters of Bashir II. Bashir Junblat was strangled to death by ¨Abd Allah Pasha
at the request of Amir Bashir II, and his sons and other Druze notables
went into exile. Bashir II’s attacks on the muqata¨ajis and his repeated
demands for additional revenues undermined the cohesion of the ruling
class of Mount Lebanon and intensified conflict between Druze and
Maronites that had been building since the mid-eighteenth century.
Bashir II’s alliance with the 1831–40 Egyptian occupation further
diminished his popularity. The Egyptians imposed a new head tax
(farda), and despite its generally favorable attitude towards non-Muslims,
the need for revenue to finance the army led it to insist on collecting the
poll tax (jizya) from Christians and Jews, which Christians in Mount
Lebanon had not previously been required to pay. In May 1840 Ibrahim
Pasha ordered the Druze and Christians of Dayr al-Qamar to surrender
their arms, widely understood as a precursor to conscription. Christians,
Druze, sunnis and shi¨a met at Intilyas on June 8, 1840, drew up a covenant expressing their grievances, and resolved “to fight to restore their
independence or die”(Khalaf 1987: 37). The revolt and the withdrawal of
Ibrahim Pasha after Ottoman troops landed in Beirut with European
naval support in September 1840 allowed the sons of Bashir Junblat and
other Druze notables to return to Mount Lebanon and forced Bashir II
into exile. To recover lands they had lost and over which they claimed
Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East
ownership, the Druze muqata¨ajis rallied Druze peasants to their banner,
provoking widespread sectarian conflict that allowed the Ottoman central
government to end the rule of the Shihab family in 1841.
Mount Nablus: peasants and merchants
Jabal Nablus, a predominantly Muslim region in northern Palestine,
had some similarities with Mount Lebanon and Qina province in upper
Egypt. It was a district of the province of Sidon whose regional
economy and inland mountainous location fostered a high degree of
political autonomy. In the lowlands of Palestine and Syria, an indeterminate portion of peasant lands were held as communal holdings that
were redivided annually (musha¨a). In the hills, communal holdings
were less common; neither olive groves nor vineyards, which were widespread in Jabal Nablus, were communally held (Schölch 1986: 142).
Commercial agriculture, a cash economy, social differentiation among
the peasantry, commoditization of land, and links to markets beyond
Palestine predated the Egyptian occupation (1831–40), the Ottoman
Tanzimat, and Jewish colonization. Court cases in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries indicate that, as in lower Egypt, peasants of Jabal
Nablus disposed of their usufruct rights on state-administered lands as
though the land was their private property (Doumani 1995: 8,
Local merchants constituted the economic and social links among
peasant producers of agricultural commodities, artisans, and local notable
families. The expansion of commercial agriculture, the primary source of
wealth in Jabal Nablus from the second half of the seventeenth to the
twentieth century, allowed merchants based in the town of Nablus to
establish their control over its agricultural hinterland (Doumani 1995:
20). The most important agricultural product of the region was olive oil,
the raw material for the high-quality soap manufactured in factories in
the town of Nablus and renowned from Damascus to Egypt. Peasants
cultivated olive trees and other agricultural products and sold their
harvest to city-based merchants. Until the 1830s most of the soap factories belonged to the notable families of the district – the Tuqans, Nimrs,
Qasims, ¨Abd al-Hadis, etc. From then on, merchants began to enter the
lucrative soap manufacturing business.
Merchants and peasants were bound together by patron–client relations in which merchants clearly held the upper hand. These relations
were the social vehicle for marketization of the economy.4 Nabulsi merchants bought and stored goods for peasants, provided them with credit
The world market and local producers, 1750–1839
and references, and served as their hosts when peasants came to town.
The commercial relationship was part of an elaborate fabric of economy,
culture, and moral values.
One of the principal mechanisms that allowed the merchants to dominate peasants was the salam contract: a merchant lent a peasant money
and the peasant agreed to deliver a harvest to the merchant in return for a
specified price or portion of the proceeds from the sale of the crop. This
arrangement left peasants in perpetual debt. Until the 1860s merchants
did not usually expropriate lands of indebted peasants. Debt assured a
merchant access to a peasant’s crops, while the need to maintain a
peasant’s capacity to produce meant there was always room to renegotiate
the relationship (Doumani 1995: 55–56, 140–42, 161).
Jabal Nablus was occupied by Egyptian forces led by Ibrahim Pasha in
1832. The local notables welcomed Ibrahim, and the ¨Abd al-Hadi family
established its influence by becoming his principal local allies. Before the
Egyptian invasion, Qasim al-Ahmad, a sub-district chief of the Nablus
hinterlands and head of the Qasim family, had risen to prominence,
bought a soap factory, and moved into the city. Ibrahim Pasha appointed
him district officer (mutasallim) of Nablus but in 1834 replaced him with
Sulayman ¨Abd al-Hadi. In response, Qasim al-Ahmad organized notables from Nablus, Jerusalem, and Hebron, who informed the Egyptians
in May 1834 that they were unable to disarm and conscript the peasants
and collect the head tax. Al-Ahmad then led the peasants of Jabal Nablus
in a revolt against Egyptian rule. The uprising spread to Hebron,
Jerusalem, and other mountain districts in what is known today as the
West Bank. In July, the Egyptian army crushed the revolt, burning sixteen
villages to the ground on the way to retaking Nablus. Qasim al-Ahmad
lost his soap factory; 10,000 peasants were deported to Egypt; and the
population was disarmed (Doumani 1995: 46, 208; Kimmerling &
Migdal 1993: 7–11; Hoexter 1984: 192–93).
As in Mount Lebanon, sectarian factors played a role in the opposition
to the Egyptians. Egyptian rule generally improved the status of
Christians and Jews throughout greater Syria by measures such as including them in the local councils established in towns of more than two thousand inhabitants. Muslims and Druze felt their status was threatened, and
this was expressed in sectarian conflict. During the 1834 revolt one
zealous Muslim tried to mobilize the people of Nablus to join the revolt
by denouncing Ibrahim Pasha as an infidel from the minaret of a mosque
(Shamir 1984: 230). Peasants from the surrounding area invaded
Jerusalem, attacked the Christian and Jewish populations, looted property, and raped women (Rustum 1938: 60).
Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East
Peasants and state formation in the Ottoman provinces
Peasants were hardly quiescent or isolated from politics. They resisted
efforts of aspiring state builders to impose new taxes, to conscript their
sons, and to tell them what to plant and to whom and at what prices to sell
their harvests. The Lebanese revolts of 1820–21, the Palestinian revolt of
1834, and the Qina revolts of the 1820s indicate that peasants were not
totally isolated from other sectors of society. The peasants of Mount
Lebanon used new organizational techniques and ideologies as well as
their existing relationships with the Maronite clergy to mobilize for rebellion. The economic and social integration of Jabal Nablus seems typical
of smaller provincial towns where peasants, bedouin, and town-dwellers
collaborated in producing and circulating commodities with relatively
less regulation by guilds or the state. Such networks were probably mobilized in the 1834 rebellion. Similar links among peasant agriculture, rural
artisanal production, and regional commercial networks in Qina were
probably mobilized in the revolts of the 1820s.
The concentration of revolts in provincial towns and rural districts in
the 1820s and 1830s may be due to the recent intensification of their
contact with the state and their greater capacity to resist the encroachments of the early nineteenth-century state builders: Mehmed ¨Ali,
Ibrahim Pasha, and Bashir II. Revolts of ¨Alawi peasants in the
Nusayriyya mountains in 1834 and 1835 and Druze peasants in Hawran
in 1837–38 against the Egyptian occupation were part of the same
pattern. The resistance of ¨Amir ¨Abd al-Qadir to the French occupation
of Algeria (1830–47) was both a continuation of previous rural and tribal
resistance to the extension of Ottoman state authority and a transition to
a new phase of engagement with a European occupier more typical of the
later nineteenth century (Burke 1991: 28).
The presence of an occupation army, whether Egyptian or French,
introduces the question of incipient nationalism. Some have characterized ¨Abd al-Qadir’s resistance to France, the Lebanese revolts of
1820–21, and the 1834 Palestinian revolt against the Egyptian occupation as the first steps towards self-conscious nationhood (Ruedy 1992;
Harik 1968; Kimmerling & Migdal 1993). This is as improbable as the
view that peasants were politically passive. The use of ideas and institutions derived from the Enlightenment and the French Revolution by
Maronite peasants of Mount Lebanon to justify and organize their revolts
is distinctive, yet far from an assertion of Lebanese nationhood. The
Palestinian revolt of 1834 was concentrated in the hill country and did
not involve the major urban centers of Jaffa or Acre. ¨Abd al-Qadir’s resistance to the French occupation of Algeria relied heavily on his leadership
The world market and local producers, 1750–1839
of the Qadiriyya sufi order and was only effective in what is today western
Algeria; resistance to the French in eastern Algeria was led by al-Hajj
Artisanal production in major cities
Textiles and apparel constituted the leading sector of production in
almost all early modern Ottoman towns and cities; the other main manufacturing sectors were food, leather, and construction. Typically a male
artisan owned his own shop and tools, bought raw materials, and produced and sold commodities on demand using his own labor, that of
family members, and a small number of journeymen or apprentices.
Capital investment was generally low. Exceptions to this pattern of smallscale production included the Cairo manufacturers of licorice, beer,
starch, wax candles, and sugar, leather tanners, casters, dyers, carpet
weavers, and bottle makers, who employed an average of 12.5 persons per
workshop. These activities engaged only 14.5 percent of the workforce
(Raymond 1973–74: 223). Wealthy Aleppine merchants sometimes organized production of commodities, especially textiles, by supplying
working capital, cloth, and other materials, coordinating the different elements of the manufacturing process, and marketing the finished products
(Marcus 1989: 164–65, 168). This was not common in Cairo despite the
great wealth of its long-distance merchants, perhaps because they could
make bigger profits by purveying luxury products (Raymond 1973–74:
213–14, 225).
Guild monopolies, like other practices and structures, emerged
through specific historical circumstances and processes and were not a
fixed characteristic of the guild system. In the seventeenth century entry
into crafts and membership in guilds were loosely regulated. Around
1750 Istanbul guilds cooperated with the state to establish a certification
process for those who wanted to practice a craft or open a retail shop. A
similar process seems to have occurred earlier in Cairo, perhaps at the end
of the seventeenth century. By the end of the eighteenth century a certificate (gedik – the term originally applied only to the tools necessary for a
craft, not the right to practice it) was required to engage in most urban
occupations in Istanbul and other Ottoman cities (Raymond 1973–74:
271, 549–50; Akarli 1985–86: 223; Marcus 1989: 178–79; Rafeq 1991:
503; Faroqhi 1994: 588–89; Quataert 1994a: 895). Around 1805,
perhaps motivated by the opening of many new weaving workshops to
produce cloth for the market void created by the withdrawal of French
textiles from the Middle East during the Napoleonic Wars, the Ottoman
government and textile guilds in cities in Anatolia and Syria agreed to
Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East
establish a central location in each town for polishing cloth where the
state would tax and stamp it. Only cloth bearing this stamp could be sold
legally until this system was abandoned in 1878 (Quataert 1994b: 7;
Quataert 1994a: 895; Vatter 1995: 41–42).
The proliferation of gediks and the tighter regulation of textile production are examples of a general trend towards increased state control of
guilds from the mid-eighteenth century on, most clearly evident in Egypt
under Mehmed ¨Ali Pasha. In 1800 the French occupation force in Cairo
created the post of director of crafts (mudir al-hiraf) – a government
employee who supervised the guilds but was not organically connected to
them (Raymond 1973–74: 558). Expanding on this French initiative,
Mehmed ¨Ali’s regime was more actively interventionist than had previously been the norm in the internal regulations of the guilds. In 1829 the
Pasha issued a decree regulating prices and commercial practices (La©ihat
al-ihtisab). Like the Ottoman sultan, he used the guilds to recruit labor for
state construction projects. As state intervention increased, the power of
the guild masters over their members grew, and they assumed more
administrative functions. Wealth began to be more concentrated among
certain guild members, not always the master, from the mid-eighteenth
century on, and guilds offered less mutual assistance to their members
(Ghazaleh 1999). There are no detailed studies of guilds in cities other
than Cairo for the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, so
developments there can only suggest a possible general pattern.
Guilds never exercised absolute control over the quality of commodities or techniques of production. The guild structure was sufficiently
flexible to accommodate new crafts and production processes (Raymond
1973–74: 225, 584–85); nor did guilds block expansion of production in
the face of competition from European manufactured goods. There may
have been some decline in the manufacturing output of males organized
in guilds in the nineteenth century. But manufacturing activity by women
concentrated in rural areas and urban areas outside the framework of the
guilds flourished. Weaving of cotton and mohair cloth, wool spinning, silk
reeling, shoemaking, and carpet making expanded in Salonica and the
Macedonian countryside, western Anatolia, north central Anatolia, southeast Anatolia, and northern Syria (Quataert 1991a; Quataert 1994b).
Nablus: soap making in a regional town
The Nablus soap-making industry offers a sharp contrast to the guildbased production systems in major cities such as Istanbul, Cairo,
Damascus, and Aleppo. In the late 1820s leading local notable families
began to increase their investments in the soap industry, raising capital
The world market and local producers, 1750–1839
through forming partnerships with merchants who, despite their
increased their wealth and power, still sought the political protection such
business alliances might provide. The soap industry continued to prosper
and expand throughout the nineteenth century, with spurts of growth in
the late 1830s to early 1840s and the 1860s. Unlike mercantile practice in
Cairo, soap merchants provided the major share of capital investment to
finance soap production, and their activities resulted in the vertical integration of the industry.
Soap making was a capital-intensive but not labor-intensive process.
Peasants produced the raw material – olive oil. Bedouin supplied barilla
plant ashes, which were mixed with the olive oil and cooked to make soap.
They also comprised the seasonal unskilled laborers – ash pounders, oven
stokers, etc. Only a small group of skilled and semi-skilled workers –
fewer than fifteen per factory – were required for the production process.
The soap-factory owners were organized in a guild, but not the unskilled
or the craft workers. Teams of soap makers organized and led by a skilled
and experienced boss (ra©is) circulated among the factories according to
the workload. Factory owners did not control their labor directly, but
rather through the intermediary of the boss, who managed both the
workers and the production process. Workers were paid in cash and kind
after each batch of soap was cooked. Soap-making jobs tended to be
monopolized in families, and patronage relations were deployed to
resolve disputes among the workers and between workers and factory
owners (Doumani 1995: 188–201).
Three conclusions emerge from this vignette of artisanal production in
a regional town. First, many important commodities, including some
with a high commercial value, were produced outside the major urban
centers and the framework of the guild system. Second, certain kinds of
artisanal production prospered throughout the nineteenth century
despite the influx of European manufactured goods from the 1820s on.
Finally, the Nablus soap-making process illustrates the concrete social
connections among peasants, bedouin, urban workers, and merchants
that both integrated society and formed potential points of friction
between sectors with different interests.
Guilds and urban politics
By the eighteenth century guilds had become an important institution of
urban political life. They were often mobilized during moments of urban
popular insurrection. The guilds of Istanbul artisans and shopkeepers
were active in the 1730 Patrona Halil revolt that ended the centralizing
efforts of the Tulip Era (Olson 1974). The Cairo guilds of butchers, fruit
Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East
sellers, vegetable sellers, and grain carriers participated in the series of
popular protests that erupted at the end of the eighteenth and beginning
of the nineteenth centuries. Ahmad Salim al-Jazzar and Hajjaj alKhudari, masters of the butchers’ and the vegetable sellers’ guilds respectively, were among the organizers of urban protest during the anarchy of
the late mamluk era, the French invasion of 1798, and against the new
governor installed by the sultan after the expulsion of the French in 1801.
Al-Khudari and Ibn Shama – al-Jazzar’s successor as master of the butchers’ guild – along with some of the Muslim scholars (¨ulama©) and the
dean of the descendants of the Prophet (naqib al-ashraf), ¨Umar Makram,
led the Cairo uprising of May 12, 1805 that deposed the incumbent and
proclaimed Mehmed ¨Ali governor of Egypt. The sultan accepted this fait
accompli the following month (Raymond 1975; Marsot 1984: 44–50).
The participation of the guilds and the ¨ulama©, and the Islamic justification of the 1805 Cairo uprising are typical of early modern urban social
movements (Burke 1986).
The guilds’ capacity to lead urban protest led Sultan Mahmud II
(1808–39) to secure their agreement when he decided to abolish the
Janissary Corps in 1826. Many guild members had become Janissaries in
order to avoid taxation, thus impeding the Ottoman state’s ability to
control the guilds and weakening the fighting capacity of the army
(Bodman 1963: 65, 143; Marcus 1989: 58; McGowan 1994: 701–2, 705,
706–7). Mahmud II compensated the Istanbul guilds for their members’
loss of income as Janissaries by giving master artisans and shopkeepers
full control over their shops through deeds of usufruct (gedik senedi) and
strengthening guild monopolies over their trades. In return, the guilds
accepted the liquidation of the Janissary Corps (Akarli 1998: 33).
Urban social structure and income distribution
Some data about wages and the distribution of wealth in the eighteenth and
early nineteenth centuries are available for Cairo and Damascus.
Fragmentary information from Aleppo is consistent with that evidence.
There are no quantitative data on the size of handicraft workshops, output,
or wages in Anatolia until the last third of the nineteenth century (Kurmuş
1981: 85). Export–import merchants were the wealthiest and most powerful urban stratum, followed by retail merchants and artisans. Selfemployed artisans earned more and had more prestige than wage workers.
In Aleppo, servants, doormen, and watchmen were the poorest wage
workers and earned 1–3 piasters a month. Craft workers earned 4–6
piasters a month; assistants in retail shops, 8 piasters; and salesmen for
import–export merchants, 17–20 piasters (Marcus 1989: 49, 162).
The world market and local producers, 1750–1839
Artisans comprised over half the economically active population of
seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Cairo, but their estates as recorded
in the shari¨a court were only between 6.2 and 9.3 percent of the total
value of estates recorded. Leather and food workers, except for the sugar
refiners, were among the poorest artisans. Cairo artisans were economically subordinate to merchants. Their incomes declined from the late
seventeenth to the late eighteenth centuries, while the incomes of merchants remained relatively stable (Raymond 1973–74: 231–32, 237).
Based on the value of estates registered in the Cairo and Damascus
shari¨a courts, an index measuring inequality in the distribution of wealth
has been calculated for several points in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. (The standard social science measurement is the Gini coefficient of inequality. On a scale of 0.0 to 1.0, 0 indicates equal distribution
of wealth, while 1 means concentration of all wealth in the hands of a
single individual. The higher the number, the greater the inequality.)
Distribution of wealth was very unequal. The Gini coefficient for men in
Damascus in 1700 was 0.75. Women had less wealth but were considerably more equal than men, with a Gini coefficient of 0.50 (Establet &
Pascual 1994: 124). Between 1624 and 1798 Cairo’s Gini coefficient fluctuated between 0.68 and 0.81 and averaged 0.76. Disparities of wealth
increased during periods of crisis and declined somewhat in periods of
prosperity (Raymond 1973–74: 375–76, tables 7 and 8 following 382).
In the early nineteenth century there was also a high degree of concentration of wealth in Cairo (Ghazaleh 1999: 76–86). Artisans in the leather
sector remained the poorest, followed in ascending order by perfumers,
construction crafts, services, textiles, food, retail, wood, masters of all
guilds, metals, long-distance merchants, and tobacconists. The real value
of the legacies of textile workers, the “average artisans par excellence,”
declined steadily from the late seventeenth century to 1849. Relative to
other crafts, the legacies of textile artisans increased in the late eighteenth
century and declined in the early nineteenth century because of the influx
of European manufactured cloth and the monopoly policies of Mehmed
¨Ali. Food workers’ legacies also declined over time, but this cannot be
attributed to competition from Europe. The wealth of metal workers
increased steadily in both relative and absolute terms, especially during
the period 1799–1849, perhaps due to the demand for their labor in
Egypt’s new factories.
Towards industrialization?
Industrial manufacturing was introduced to the Middle East as part of
the drive to establish modern armies and extend the power of states.
Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East
Sultans Abdülhamid I (1774–89) and Selim III (1789–1807) brought
European advisors to Istanbul to establish workshops to produce
cannons, rifles, bombs, saltpeter, and gunpowder. The most technically
advanced of these enterprises, the gunpowder works on the Sea of
Marmara, used water power; the others used animal power (Shaw 1971:
10, 139–44). Selim III also initiated a woolen mill and a paper factory in
the Istanbul area. Further industrial innovation was inhibited by the conservative forces that deposed him in 1807. Mahmud II waited until after
he destroyed the Janissary corps in 1826 before establishing a spinning
mill, a fez-making factory, a wool-weaving mill, a sawmill, and a copper
sheet-rolling mill and converting the cannon foundry and musket works
to steam power in the late 1830s. The state owned and managed these
enterprises, and the army and the state were the principal consumers of
their output (Clark 1974: 66). Guild artisans were recruited to work in
them by paying them high wages and allowing them to continue to work
in their own shops in their free time. Before being employed they took an
examination to determine that they produced high-quality work (Shaw
1971: 140).
As in the arena of fiscal policy, Mehmed ¨Ali adopted and extended
these innovations with greater success than his nominal sovereigns. In
1815 he built a gunpowder factory on Roda Island in Cairo. Shortly
thereafter he established a munitions foundry in the Cairo citadel,
employing 400 men to produce high-quality cannons, swords, and muskets. The Pasha ordered new shipyards constructed at Cairo’s port of
Bulaq and Alexandria in 1829; the latter employed 4,000 workers who
built twenty-two naval vessels (Owen 1981a: 71; Marsot 1984: 165).
Other enterprises produced commodities with dual military–civilian
uses: a soap factory, a fez factory, weaving mills for cotton, jute, linen, and
silk, a textile bleaching and printing works, sugar refineries, rice mills,
indigo works, tanneries, and a printing press. Cotton weaving was the
leading sector of this effort. By the 1830s there were some thirty cotton
mills employing 12,000–15,000 workers; at least three used steam power
(Owen 1981a: 70).
Egyptian nationalist historians argue that there were a total of
180,000–260,000 workers in all Mehmed ¨Ali’s enterprises, some 4–5
percent of the population (Fahmy 1954: 84–85; Marsot 1984: 181).
More cautiously, Roger Owen suggests that during the high point of operations in the 1830s there were only 30,000–40,000 workers (Owen
1981a: 72). Unlike in Selim III’s Istanbul factories, many of the workers
were peasants forcibly recruited from their villages. Their arms were tattooed with the names of their factories to enable them to be captured
should they desert (Fahmy 1998: 162). Wages, generous to begin with,
The world market and local producers, 1750–1839
were just adequate for subsistence by 1832–33. Hours were long and discipline was harsh. In many cases workers sabotaged production, stole the
products, and set the mills on fire (Owen 1969: 45).
No guilds operated in Mehmed ¨Ali’s factories, and it is unclear
whether any of the workers were previously guild members. Except for
textile weaving, most of the enterprises were new activities for which no
guilds existed. But neither the textile guilds nor hand-loom weaving were
eliminated by the Pasha’s efforts to monopolize this sector.
In contrast to these state-led initiatives, European entrepreneurs established silk-reeling mills powered by water and then later steam in Bursa,
Izmir, Edirne, and Salonica. The first such mills were set up in Bursa in
1838 and Salonica in 1839. The workers – typically unmarried nonMuslim girls from peasant or poor urban families – were engaged seasonally to produce silk thread for export to Europe. The factories were
managed by European men who recruited French women reelers to teach
the locals and serve as forewomen. By 1845 Salonica had nearly 2,000
silk-mill workers out of a population of 70,000 (Quataert 1991a;
Quataert 1994b: 116–32). There were no guilds in the mechanized silkreeling industry, even though silk spinning and weaving were well-established Ottoman enterprises.
The silk spinning and weaving industry in Mount Lebanon was similar
to that of Anatolia and Rumelia. The first French-owned hand-reeling
mill was established in Kraye in 1810, followed by several others in the
1830s. Around 1840, the first mechanized silk-reeling mill was established by Antoine-Fortuné Portalis in the village of Btater (Labaki 1983:
434; Khater 1996: 326).
Debate over the significance of these efforts is centered on Egypt, the
site of the most extensive early-nineteenth-century manufacturing initiatives. Historians with a nationalist or third-worldist outlook portray this
development as an “industrial revolution” (Fahmy 1954; Marsot 1984).5
Others note that Mehmed ¨Ali’s factories were powered primarily by
animals, by the workers themselves, and by a total of no more than seven
or eight steam engines. By contrast, there were at least 10,000 steam
engines and 2,000 power looms in England in 1822. Egypt had no class
of bourgeois entrepreneurs, no “free” working class, and no free market.
Most of the Egyptian factories as well as the state-owned enterprises in
Anatolia failed by the late 1840s and 1850s, leaving an uncertain legacy
when industrial development resumed in the 1860s. The nationalist tradition attributes this collapse to British intervention and the imposition
of free trade through the 1838 Anglo-Ottoman Commercial Convention. Certainly, British naval power was a relevant factor. Others
point out that Egypt had a small local market and no sources of fuel.
Workers and peasants in the modern Middle East
Mehmed ¨Ali’s factories relied heavily on foreign managerial and technical expertise. The administrative capacity of the Egyptian state, though
substantially greater than in the eighteenth century, was still limited
(Owen 1981a: 72, 308 fn. 85).
This debate is partly about whether Egypt, based on its own indigenous
cultural, political, and economic resources, would have followed the
modern European trajectory of development, in which the central institutions are the capitalist market and the nation-state. Paradoxically,
nationalist historians agree with their mainly European and American
interlocutors that this is the appropriate measure of progress, development, and modernity. If we do not suppose that there is only one path to
the modern world, then these early industrial efforts can be assessed in
different terms. Autocratic state builders – Sultan Mahmud II, Amir
Bashir II, and Mehmed ¨Ali Pasha – seeking to compete with each other
and with Europe, did see European technology and industry as a model
to be emulated. But they could not replicate the trajectory of textile-based
industrial development pioneered by England. Extensive coal deposits
and a global empire provided fuel, capital, raw materials, and markets for
English industrial development and military preeminence. Egypt had no
coal, and its regional empire was weak and short lived. Its textiles were
unable to compete with England’s goods in the global market, and it had
no independent capacity to develop the iron and steel industries that led
the second stage of England’s industrial revolution and extended its
industrial and military lead over potential competitors. These circumstances do not describe the deficiencies of Egypt compared to England
but the conditions of global capitalist development in the early and midnineteenth century.
The recruitment and mobilization of peasants and urban artisans was
essential for the late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century state
building, military expansion, and economic development projects of
Sultan Mahmud II, Amir Bashir II, and Mehmed ¨Ali Pasha. These rulers
were neither democrats nor nationalists and often used coercive measures
to achieve their goals. Coercion continued and in some respects increased
during the subsequent, more self-conscious period of elite-led “reform” –
the Tanzimat era. It is not surprising that subalterns resisted or evaded
demands aimed at securing the interests of ruling elites. This should not
lead us to idealize life and work before this period. Life was difficult, and
incomes were barely adequate for most working people. Pre-capitalist
production processes continued to flourish in the late eighteenth and
early nineteenth centuries, and some sectors underwent considerable
growth without any connection to the expansion of trade with Europe.
Towards the end of the period, new techniques and products – primarily
The world market and local producers, 1750–1839
mechanized silk reeling in Anatolia, Salonica, and Mount Lebanon and
the cultivation of long-staple cotton in Egypt – were introduced which
had a very substantial long-term impact on the reformation of economies,
societies, gender relations, and political regimes.

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