Peasants and politics in the modern Middle East

 Half Title
 Title Page
 Table of Contents
 1. Peasants defy categorization...
 2. Changing patterns of peasant...
 3. Rural unrest in the Ottoman...
 4. Violence in rural Syria in the...
 5. The impact of peasant resistance...
 6. Peasant uprisings in twentieth-century...
 7. War, state economic policies,...
 8. Rural change and peasant destitution:...
 9. Colonization and resistance:...
 10. The ignorance and inscrutability...
 11. The representation of rural...
 12. Clan and class in two Arab...
 13. State and agrarian relations...
 14. Peasant protest and resistance...
University of Florida University Press of Florida
xml version 1.0 standalone yes
PageID P215
ErrorID 3
PreviousPageID P188

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00100526/00001

Material Information

Title: Peasants and politics in the modern Middle East
Added title page title: Peasants & politics in the modern Middle East
Physical Description: vi, 340 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Kazemi, Farhad, 1943-
Kazemi, Farhad, 1943-
Waterbury, John
Publisher: (multiple)
Florida International University Press
Distributed by University Presses of Florida
Place of Publication: Miami
Gainesville, Fla


Subjects / Keywords: Peasants -- Political activity -- Middle East   ( lcsh )
Boerenbewegingen   ( gtt )
PEASANTRY   ( unbist )
POLITICAL POWER   ( unbist )
MIDDLE EAST   ( unbist )
Politics and government -- Middle East   ( lcsh )
Rural conditions -- Middle East   ( lcsh )
Política y gobierno -- Oriente (Cercano Oriente)
Condiciones rurales -- Oriente (Cercano Oriente)
Peasants -- Protest movements
Middle East
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
index   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references and index.
General Note: Cover title: Peasants & politics in the modern Middle East.
Statement of Responsibility: edited by Farhad Kazemi and John Waterbury.

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 23732342
lccn - 91017014
isbn - 0813011027 (pbk.)
Classification: lcc - DS62.4 .P4 1991
ddc - 956
bcl - 15.75
bcl - 89.62
System ID: UF00100526:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00100526/00001

Material Information

Title: Peasants and politics in the modern Middle East
Added title page title: Peasants & politics in the modern Middle East
Physical Description: vi, 340 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Kazemi, Farhad, 1943-
Kazemi, Farhad, 1943-
Waterbury, John
Publisher: (multiple)
Florida International University Press
Distributed by University Presses of Florida
Place of Publication: Miami
Gainesville, Fla


Subjects / Keywords: Peasants -- Political activity -- Middle East   ( lcsh )
Boerenbewegingen   ( gtt )
PEASANTRY   ( unbist )
POLITICAL POWER   ( unbist )
MIDDLE EAST   ( unbist )
Politics and government -- Middle East   ( lcsh )
Rural conditions -- Middle East   ( lcsh )
Política y gobierno -- Oriente (Cercano Oriente)
Condiciones rurales -- Oriente (Cercano Oriente)
Peasants -- Protest movements
Middle East
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
index   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references and index.
General Note: Cover title: Peasants & politics in the modern Middle East.
Statement of Responsibility: edited by Farhad Kazemi and John Waterbury.

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 23732342
lccn - 91017014
isbn - 0813011027 (pbk.)
Classification: lcc - DS62.4 .P4 1991
ddc - 956
bcl - 15.75
bcl - 89.62
System ID: UF00100526:00001

Table of Contents
    Half Title
        Page i
        Page ii
    Title Page
        Page iii
        Page iv
    Table of Contents
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page viii
    1. Peasants defy categorization (as well as landlords and the state)
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
    2. Changing patterns of peasant protest in the Middle East, 1750-1950
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
    3. Rural unrest in the Ottoman Empire, 1830-1914
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
    4. Violence in rural Syria in the 1880s and 1890s: State centralization, rural integration, and the world market
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
        Page 84
    5. The impact of peasant resistance on nineteenth-century Mount Lebanon
        Page 85
        Page 86
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
    6. Peasant uprisings in twentieth-century Iran, Iraq, and Turkey
        Page 101
        Page 102
        Page 103
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
        Page 111
        Page 112
        Page 113
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
    7. War, state economic policies, and resistance by agricultural producers in Turkey, 1939-1945
        Page 125
        Page 126
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
    8. Rural change and peasant destitution: Contributing causes to the Arab revolt in Palestine, 1936-1939
        Page 143
        Page 144
        Page 145
        Page 146
        Page 147
        Page 148
        Page 149
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
        Page 153
        Page 154
        Page 155
        Page 156
        Page 157
        Page 158
        Page 159
        Page 160
        Page 161
        Page 162
        Page 163
        Page 164
        Page 165
        Page 166
        Page 167
        Page 168
        Page 169
        Page 170
    9. Colonization and resistance: The Egyptian peasant rebellion, 1919
        Page 171
        Page 172
        Page 173
        Page 174
        Page 175
        Page 176
        Page 177
        Page 178
        Page 179
        Page 180
        Page 181
        Page 182
        Page 183
        Page 184
        Page 185
        Page 186
        Page 187
        Page 188
        Page 189
        Page 190
        Page 191
        Page 192
        Page 193
        Page 194
        Page 195
        Page 196
        Page 197
        Page 198
        Page 199
        Page 200
        Page 201
        Page 202
    10. The ignorance and inscrutability of the Egyptian peasantry
        Page 203
        Page 204
        Page 205
        Page 206
        Page 207
        Page 208
        Page 209
        Page 210
        Page 211
        Page 212
        Page 213
        Page 214
        Page 215
        Page 216
        Page 217
        Page 218
        Page 219
        Page 220
        Page 221
    11. The representation of rural violence in writings on political development in Nasserist Egypt
        Page 222
        Page 223
        Page 224
        Page 225
        Page 226
        Page 227
        Page 228
        Page 229
        Page 230
        Page 231
        Page 232
        Page 233
        Page 234
        Page 235
        Page 236
        Page 237
        Page 238
        Page 239
        Page 240
        Page 241
        Page 242
        Page 243
        Page 244
        Page 245
        Page 246
        Page 247
        Page 248
        Page 249
        Page 250
        Page 251
    12. Clan and class in two Arab villages
        Page 252
        Page 253
        Page 254
        Page 255
        Page 256
        Page 257
        Page 258
        Page 259
        Page 260
        Page 261
        Page 262
        Page 263
        Page 264
        Page 265
        Page 266
        Page 267
        Page 268
        Page 269
        Page 270
        Page 271
        Page 272
        Page 273
        Page 274
        Page 275
        Page 276
    13. State and agrarian relations before and after the Iranian revolution, 1960-1990
        Page 277
        Page 278
        Page 279
        Page 280
        Page 281
        Page 282
        Page 283
        Page 284
        Page 285
        Page 286
        Page 287
        Page 288
        Page 289
        Page 290
        Page 291
        Page 292
        Page 293
        Page 294
        Page 295
        Page 296
        Page 297
        Page 298
        Page 299
        Page 300
        Page 301
        Page 302
        Page 303
        Page 304
        Page 305
        Page 306
        Page 307
        Page 308
        Page 309
        Page 310
        Page 311
    14. Peasant protest and resistance in rural Iranian Azerbaijan
        Page 312
        Page 313
        Page 314
        Page 315
        Page 316
        Page 317
        Page 318
        Page 319
        Page 320
        Page 321
        Page 322
        Page 323
        Page 324
        Page 325
        Page 326
        Page 327
        Page 328
        Page 329
        Page 330
        Page 331
        Page 332
        Page 333
        Page 334
        Page 335
        Page 336
        Page 337
        Page 338
        Page 339
        Page 340
Full Text

Peasants and Politics
in the Modern Middle East

Peasants and Politics
in the Modern Middle East

Edited by
Farhad Kazemi
and John Waterbury

Florida International University Press / Miami

Copyright 1991 by the Board of Regents of the State of Florida
All rights reserved
Printed in the U.S.A. on acid-free, recycled paper S

The Florida International University Press is a member of the University Presses of
Florida, the scholarly publishing agency of the State University System of Florida.
Books are selected for publication by faculty editorial committees at each of
Florida's nine public universities: Florida A & M University (Tallahassee), Florida
Atlantic University (Boca Raton), Florida International University (Miami), Florida
State University (Tallahassee), University of Central Florida (Orlando), University
of Florida (Gainesville), University of North Florida (Jacksonville), University of
South Florida (Tampa), and University of West Florida (Pensacola).

Orders for books published by all member presses should be addressed to
University Presses of Florida, 15 Northwest 15th Street, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Peasants and politics in the modem Middle East / edited by Farhad
Kazemi and John Waterbury.
p. cm.
Includes index.
ISBN o-8130-o1088-8. ISBN o-8130-1102-7 (pbk.)
1. Peasantry-Middle East-Political activity. 2. Middle East-
Politics and government. 3. Middle East-Rural conditions.
I. Kazemi, Farhad, 1943-. H. Waterbury, John.
DS62.4.P4 1991 91-17014
956-dc2o CIP


Acknowledgments vii
1 Peasants Defy Categorization
(As Well as Landlords and the State) 1
John Waterbury
2 Changing Patterns of Peasant Protest
in the Middle East, 1750-1950 24
Edmund Burke, III
3 Rural Unrest in the Ottoman Empire, 1830-1914 38
Donald Quataert
4 Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and 189os:
State Centralization, Rural Integration,
and the World Market 50
Linda Schatkowski Schilcher
5 The Impact of Peasant Resistance
on Nineteenth-Century Mount Lebanon 85
Axel Havemann
6 Peasant Uprisings in Twentieth-Century
Iran, Iraq, and Turkey 101
Farhad Kazemi
7 War, State Economic Policies, and Resistance
by Agricultural Producers in Turkey, 1939-1945 125
&evket Pamuk
8 Rural Change and Peasant Destitution: Contributing Causes
to the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936-1939 143
Kenneth W. Stein


9 Colonization and Resistance:
The Egyptian Peasant Rebellion, 19i9 171
Reinhard C. Schulze

10 The Ignorance and Inscrutability of the Egyptian Peasantry 203
Nathan Brown

11 The Representation of Rural Violence in Writings
on Political Development in Nasserist Egypt 222
Timothy Mitchell

12 Clan and Class in Two Arab Villages 252
Nicholas S. Hopkins

13 State and Agrarian Relations Before and After
the Iranian Revolution, 1960-1990 277
Ahmad Ashraf

14 Peasant Protest and Resistance in Rural Iranian Azerbaijan 312
Fereydoun Safizadeh

Contributors 327

Index 329



The editors acknowledge the generous financial support of the Department of
Near Eastern Studies of Princeton University for helping to defray the cost of
translating Reinhard C. Schulze's article from German into English and of the
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of New York University for covering
the cost of preparing an index for the volume. They are also indebted to Walda
Metcalf for pursuing this project and to Judy Goffman for overseeing its
completion. Special thanks are due to all the authors for their contributions,
perseverance, and good humor, and for putting up with two nagging editors.
Permissions to use previously published material were received and are
acknowledged as follows.
Chapter 3, "Rural Unrest in the Ottoman Empire, 1830-1914," by Donald
Quataert, is part of a chapter in The Ottoman Empire: Its Economy and
Society, 1300-I914, Halil Inalcik, editor, and Donald Quataert, associate
editor (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). It is
used with permission from the publisher.
An earlier version of chapter 7, "War, State Economic Policies, and Re-
sistance by Agricultural Producers in Turkey, 1939-1945," by Sevket Pamuk,
appeared in New Perspectives on Turkey 2, no. I (1988).
An earlier version of chapter o10, "The Ignorance and Inscrutability of the
Egyptian Peasantry," by Nathan Brown, appeared in Nathan Brown, Peasant
Politics in Modern Egypt: The Struggle against the State (New Haven, Conn.:
Yale University Press, 1990). It is reprinted by permission of the publisher.


Peasants Defy Categorization (As Well as

Landlords and the State)


As the societies of the Middle East entered the twentieth century (for our
purposes the Middle East is an area stretching from Morocco in the west to
Afghanistan in the east, and including the Sudan), their economies and popu-
lations were overwhelmingly agrarian. In that sense the Middle East did not
differ appreciably from other regions of what has come to be called the Third
(or developing) World. On a priori grounds alone, then, one can argue that the
involvement of rural producers in local and national politics must have been,
and perhaps still is, of commensurate importance. By politics, I mean the
active involvement of groups and individuals in those processes by which
valued goods are distributed, such distribution taking place at all levels of
social and economic hierarchies.
Yet it is extraordinarily difficult for small-scale rural producers-whether
owners, tenants, sharecroppers, or laborers-to exert political pressure, vio-
lently or otherwise, that accurately reflects their numbers or their economic
significance. The fact that peasants, in and of themselves, have not been the
force driving economic and political change has evoked a great deal of schol-
arly attention to what might be called their plight-that is, that their numbers
and their aggregate weight in economic life have not been remotely reflected
in their political influence. Our effort in this book is at least partially an
analytic approach to this imbalance.
It would be easy, but not very illuminating, to elaborate a multibox matrix
with types of rural actors running down the left side and types of political
actions running across the top. The matrix might account for nearly all pos-
sible combinations, but there would surely be many boxes in which only one


data point would be located. It is for this reason that I speak of peasants
defying categorization. What I will stress in this essay, and what I suspect the
reader will find in the other contributions, is in fact the variety of experiences
and interactions that characterize peasant politics and violence in the last
century and a half of Middle East history. We shall not find any overarching
paradigm that explains most of what has transpired, and, in specific cases, we
shall seldom find monocausal explanations of events. Indeed, if we could
convert our matrix from a two- to a three-dimensional format, we could add
an axis called explanatory propositions to those of types of actors and types of
actions. At that point we might encounter a few empty boxes.
The words peasants and peasantry are shorthand for what is usually a
highly differentiated population of small producers. The Middle East is sec-
ond to no other region in the diversity of actors frequently clustered under the
label "peasant." Although I suspect this word defies useful definition, I will
furnish one advanced by one of the foremost analysts of these actors (Eric
Wolf 1966:3-4): "[P]easants . are rural cultivators whose surpluses are
transferred to a dominant group of rulers that uses the surpluses both to
underwrite its own standard of living and to distribute the remainder to groups
in society that do not farm but must be fed for their specific goods and services
in turn." I would add that the term surely implies some of the following
characteristics: (i) that peasants are primarily sedentary village dwellers, (2)
that their own operations are small-scale, (3) that frequently they yield up
surplus in the form of tribute, (4) that their sales to markets are frequently
under duress (to pay off debt or taxes) and not in search of profit, and (5) that
they are politically subordinate and vulnerable. It follows that I would not
treat as peasants those producers who have variously been qualified as kulaks,
bullock capitalists, middle peasants, and so forth, precisely because they
generally have recourse to markets on a voluntary basis and in search of
profits. Not all the authors in this volume would agree with that judgment, and
it is everywhere the case that peasants, as I have defined them, are not easily
separable from somewhat wealthier market producers.
Peasants in this sense are never short of adversaries. Traditionally these
have been the landlord and the moneylender who occasionally are the same
person. The state is also frequently an adversary, conscripting young men into
the army or, as in Egypt, into forced labor gangs (corvee), extracting taxes and
tribute, and, in its modem form, setting the prices for agricultural inputs,
credit, and crop purchases. Until fairly recently, peasantries have been vic-
timized by rural bandits and, in the Middle East, by the raids and extractions
of the bedouin. Finally, the peasant faces the elements: flood, drought, wind,

Peasants Defy Categorization

locusts, and disease. The peasant does not have the resources to combat any of
these adversaries effectively and often has to face all of them simultaneously.
Sometimes the word peasant elicits images of venerable traditions, rooted-
ness, and "from time immemorial." But the people who stow away in this
definitional vessel are constantly changing, as is the vessel itself. In Iraq, in
recent centuries, peasants have reverted to nomadism, while in Egypt, since
the middle of the nineteenth century, some nomads have become peasants. In
Egypt we encounter a truly ancient peasant way of life, while in Syria's
northeast, or in the Sudan's Gezira scheme, we encounter state-created peas-
antries only a few generations old. An increasingly common feature of rural
society in the Middle East is the part-time peasant, with a hold on the land and
on the city, on village life and migration, on agricultural and nonagricultural
sources of livelihood.
It may simply be that one can no longer speak with any analytic utility of
peasants. Hobsbawm said as much more than fifteen years ago (1973:20):
"[T]he fundamental fact of peasant politics today is the decline of the tradi-
tional peasantry, and indeed increasingly the relative numerical decline of any
kind of peasantry."
It may be this perception that accounts for a declining level of interest
among historians and anthropologists in rural politics in the Middle East. A
generation or more ago, such studies were fairly abundant,1 but only modest
follow-up on them has been done. The editors had difficulty finding an-
thropologists who felt peasant politics to be a subject worthy of study, and I
am grateful to Nicholas Hopkins and Fereydoun Safizadeh for seeing matters
In this collection the reader will find something approaching a critical mass
of those who have systematically examined the role of rural producers, includ-
ing peasants, in politics broadly construed, a role shaped by the profound
social and economic transformations that the region has undergone in the last
century and a half.
The magnitude of that transformation is borne out by the crude statistics in
table 1.1, and it is a process that is still under way. These figures reveal a
general, albeit uneven, trend toward an increasingly urban way of life, al-
though many urban agglomerations bear markedly rural characteristics in
various quarters and in the shantytowns. They are also a kind of residual
category for all those who do not live in cities and large towns. In that sense,
and as in the chapters to follow, they comprise far more than peasants (Chaulet
1987:69). The landed gentry, moneylenders, state officials, schoolteachers,
petty tradespeople, migrant laborers, and so forth are all present in the coun-


Table 1.1.
Rural Population as a Proportion of Total Population in the
Middle East, 1965 and 1987 (in percentages)

Country 1965 1987

Algeria 62 56
Egypt 59 52
Iran 63 47
Iraq 49 28
Israel 19 9
Jordan 54 34
Lebanon 50 ?
Libya 74 33
Morocco 68 53
Saudi Arabia 61 25
Sudan 87 79
Syria 60 49
Tunisia 60 46
United Arab Emirates 59 22
Yemen Arab Rep. 95 77
Yemen PDR 70 58
Source: The World Bank, World Development Report, 1989 (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1989), 224-25.

tryside and may play crucial roles in rural politics. At the height of the
populist socialist experiments in Egypt and Syria, schoolteachers were used to
try to mobilize smallholders and tenants in favor of the regimes (Harik 1974;
Hinnebusch 1979). The rural middle class, by contrast, has used conventional
patron-client relations to prevent any kind of mobilization among the poorest,
and most dependent, rural producers (Binder 1978; Leveau 1985; Hopkins,
this volume). When peasants act alone, it is generally through foot-dragging,
dissimulation, or surreptitious harassment of the powerful. When they act
collectively, an outside agent of some kind is almost always present.
Peasant protest is as old as peasantries themselves, but in this volume we
focus on the period since the great expansion of European-industrial societies
into other parts of the world. For this period, in the general field of peasant
studies, two crucial variables are often adduced in explaining peasant protest:
the penetration of markets into partially subsistent agriculture, and the grow-
ing extractive reach of the state. The processes go together and correspond
historically to the phenomenal growth in world trade that sprang from a
revolution in transportation technology involving the railroads and the steam-
ship. Despite a severe downturn in world trade in the 187os (noted by some

Peasants Defy Categorization

authors here, e.g., Schilcher), between 184o and 1895 world trade sextupled,
and between 1895 and 1913 it quintupled. As Arthur Lewis has shown,
"tropical" exports grew between 3 and 4 percent per annum over the same
period (Reynolds 1985:33-36; Rogowski 1989:23). The argument is that
peasantries were dragged into commercial markets, captured by landlords and
moneylenders who sought to extract an ever larger marketable surplus from
them, and assaulted by an aggressive state in search of new sources of revenue
to sustain military modernization. Peasants resisted as best they could (this
volume, Burke, Quataert, Schulze, Schilcher, Havemann).3 This we might
see as phase i. Phase 2 comes in what Lloyd Reynolds has called "the longest
depression" (1985:35), the period 1914-45. Peasants who had in some sense
grown accustomed to the market were battered by the slump in world trade,
especially in the 1930s, and by drastically declining world prices for primary
products. In other parts of the developing world, above all in Vietnam and
China, this period gave rise to organized rural-based revolutionary move-
ments. In the Middle East the seeds of the Algerian revolution (1954-62)
were planted at the same time, and the insurrections in Egypt in 1919
(Schulze, this volume) and in Palestine in 1936 (Stein, this volume) combined
factors of economic privation and opposition to colonial rule.
The rural world should be seen in political terms as both an arena and a
protagonist. Protest and violence may occur in rural areas because the terrain
is favorable for guerrilla warfare, but on this stage peasants may be relatively
passive actors. Extrarural or quasi-rural actors combine with specific, dis-
gruntled sectors of the cultivating population to produce insurrections, re-
bellions, and even state-toppling revolutionary movements. The bulk of the
rural population will be more or less sympathetic bystanders, camouflaging
the rebels and even brigands through studied silence (see Brown, this volume)
and supplying them with food, shelter, and hiding places. The countryside as
the arena for protest and revolution is the subject of Eric Wolf's Peasant Wars
of the Twentieth Century, and in it he devotes a chapter to the Middle East's
most famous manifestation of this phenomenon, the Algerian war. But the
Gilan province of Iran (Kazemi, this volume and 1988) and the ethnically
defined arenas of the southern Sudan and of Kurdistan provide similar
There are more but less spectacular instances when peasants and other rural
producers are the primary actors undertaking acts of protest and violence. In
sheer numbers these "acts of everyday resistance" (Scott 1985, 1989) consist
mainly in stealing, sabotaging crops, destroying tax and debt records, hiding
produce and animals, evading the draft or deserting from the army, and


occasional acts of individual aggression (Brown, Mitchell, and Safizadeh, this
volume). From the "everyday," however, peasant protest can escalate to levels
of widespread and semiorganized violence and insurrection, but almost never
in the absence of some form of outside leadership. Two famous episodes are
the Tunisian insurrection of 1864 that falls squarely in what I have called
phase I, and the 1919 revolt in Egypt that comes at the beginning of phase 2
(as does the 1920 Iraqi revolt discussed by Kazemi in this volume).
In Tunisia, the Bey (the Ottoman governor of Tunis) gradually increased
the fiscal reach of his state from 1831 on, provoking in the process a series of
uncoordinated and ineffective rural revolts.4 The introduction in 1856 of a
male head tax, the majba, and in 186o of military conscription triggered a
broad movement of violent protest. A new group of state intermediaries, set
loose in the countryside to collect taxes and conscript youths, were the targets
of peasant wrath. The most notorious of these was Zarruq, the qa'id of the
Souss and Monastir who quintupled the tax burden on those regions (Slama
1967:142). The revolt of 1864 spread through the Sahel, the center, and the
west of Tunisia. For Valensi this insurrection was aimed mainly at restoring a
preferred status quo ante, or, in her words, "un sursaut 4e defense des cam-
pagnes tunisiennes pour conserver un ordre social 6branl6 par I'administra-
tion beylicale" (1977:36o) [a defensive jolt of the Thnisian countryside to
preserve a social order buffeted by the Beylical administration]. The insur-
gents denounced not only the doubling of the majba and conscription but the
new constitution, the abolition of slavery, and the reform of the tribunals.
The insurrection brought together tribes and villages, tenants and land-
owners, notables and commoners in opposition to the new class of state
intermediaries. The alliance was not to survive the harvest, during which the
Bey was able to cut deals with various tribal alliances (sof-s), turning one
against another. It was not to be the last rural insurrection, however; in 188I,
at the time the French took control of Tunisia, a new uprising joined the state
intermediaries with the local population against the state itself (Cherif 1980).
The 1919 revolt in Egypt represents protest within a more mature form of
rural market economy and in the face of a non-Muslim colonial power, Great
Britain (cf. the phase i insurrections in the Ottoman provinces of Syria
described by Schilcher and Lebanon by Havemann, this volume). Schulze's
analysis in this volume shows that no monocausal explanations are sufficient.
Relative to the rest of the Middle East, Egypt's rural population is remarkably
homogeneous, with the partial exception of the Coptic Christian minority. Yet
the incidence of revolt was region-, crop-, and even village-specific. There
were, nonetheless, two overriding themes: decades of gradual incorporation

Peasants Defy Categorization

into the cotton economy, and successive waves of state fiscal assertion,
culminating in the forced crop procurements, draught animal seizures, and
conscription of World War I (cf. Pamuk, this volume, on similar exactions in
Turkey during World War II).
What is most striking in Schulze's account is the sequential unfolding of
the "alliance" of the urban effendiya in the nationalist movement with the
rural notability and the peasantry (cf. Stein, this volume, on the alliances of
the 1936 Palestinian uprising). In a sense the effendiya were able to capture
briefly for their own purpose the cumulative discontent aroused by incorpora-
tion into the cotton economy, which had already resulted in land seizures and
growing rural banditry. The alliance led to the formation of short-lived "re-
publics" in various rural areas and towns, but in the face of the British effort to
suppress the republics, the nonrural leadership lost its sense of purpose and
abandoned its rural allies. Pockets of peasants, rural notables, and bedouin
struggled on, seeking to reduce the grip of the state authorities on their
everyday lives. The British were then able to deal piecemeal with rural
jacqueries deprived of any central leadership.
The 1919 revolt reveals a typical feature of such transregional movements:
the outside leaders generally have a different set of objectives, and, indeed, a
different vocabulary, than their rural allies. They may share a general sense of
who the enemy is and of prevailing injustice but not of the goals to be
attained. Outside leaders may have a revolutionary blueprint, as in Algeria or
Vietnam, or at the very least will want to gain leverage over the state. Rural
participants will more likely be concerned with specific local grievances and
with a quest for greater local autonomy.5
Apart from these two cases, some general questions and propositions per-
tain to all forms of peasant resistance and protest. Who acts, how do they act,
what do they seek, and in what context do they act? Margaret Levi summa-
rizes a generally accepted understanding: "Outright rebellion reflects im-
provements in the rebels' organizational capacity as often as it reflects
changed relationships between rulers and ruled. However, resistance can take
forms other than outright rebellion; for example it can take the form of high
productivity, individualistic tax avoidance, or even free-riding. What causes
resistance, I argue, is not only the recognition of exploitation but also, and
more important, the ability to act. Resistance is as likely-indeed more
likely-to come from those with resources as from those without" (1988:53).
Who, then, rebels? For some, like Branko Horvat, it is the oppressed
peasantry in a situation of objective exploitation and misery: "[I]n the un-
developed countries . the peasants are economically exploited, politically


oppressed, saddled with debts, losing their land to the moneylender and the
landlord. The salesmen and mass media inform them of a different world and
the teacher explains to them that their fate can be changed. As a result,
peasants, with the possible exception of a tiny fraction of rich peasants, are
ready for revolution" (198 I:953).
In a less romantic vein, Scott (1976) emphasized rebellion among the
poorest in times of "subsistence crises." The proposition is simple: if one's
very life is at risk, one will resort to any means, including violence, to protect
it. Scott saw subsistence crises emerging through a combination of market
failures and increasingly extractive landlords who eliminated traditional
mechanisms such as gleaning rights that could tide the poor over periods of
penury. And because the poor were (and are) the most vulnerable to such
crises, they are likely to furnish the bulk of the insurgents.
Plausible as this proposition may sound, it seems to break down as often as
it holds up. Amartya Sen, for example, points out that the Great Bengal
Famine of 1943-44 produced no rural revolt, and its primary victims were
fisherfolk, laborers, paddy huskers, craftspeople, and transport workers. The
least affected were, in fact, sharecroppers and peasants (Sen 1981:71-72).
Similarly, Quataert (this volume) states, "The terrible killing famine of 1873-
74 provoked only a few bread riots in various regions." By contrast, near
famine conditions in Algeria at the end of World War II provoked large-scale
riots (and massive repression) at Setif in the eastern wheat-growing region
(Halpern 1948). It could be hypothesized that famines are so cataclysmic that
revolt and resistance are not feasible options and that it is, rather, subsistence
crises on the margins of survival that induce such action. Pamuk's study (this
volume) found that increased grain procurement by the Turkish state during
World War II did not produce famine, but it did produce resistance.
In his comparative study of twentieth-century peasant wars, Wolf singled
out the "middle peasants" as likely to be political activists because, although
they are involved in production for market, they have not attained a scale of
operations that can protect them against production or market failures. They
frequently act, as well, as intermediaries between central authorities and local
populations and may develop nonagricultural economic interests (in housing,
transport, or trade) and have family members in purely urban occupations. In
short they have a stake in the market economy, in the urban environment, and
in national politics, but they are marginal actors in all three. If they lose their
stake they are likely to revolt. These are people with resources in Levi's sense,
and we can see them at work in the 1919 revolt in Egypt, in the late nine-
teenth-century insurrections of the Levant, and, as Wolf argues, in the 1954-
62 war against the French in Algeria.

Peasants Defy Categorization

Other propositions formalize some of the evidence advanced by Schulze
(as well as by Nathan Brown 1990) by linking forms of resistance to various
modes of rural production or relations among production factors (land, labor,
capital). For instance both Paige (1975) and Stinchcombe (1961) suggest that
when tenants (owners of labor power) face landowners (owners of capital and
land) with few other economic interests, explosive, even revolutionary, con-
frontations are likely to follow. However, Egypt since the late nineteenth
century has presented just such a context, but with the exception of 1919 has
had no explosion. In any event the "modes of rural production" approach has
difficulty in accommodating the factor mobility that has characterized the
countryside in the last several decades. Labor and capital have become highly
mobile, while only land is locked in. Moreover, as we shall see, the portfolio
of even the poorest peasants has diversified to an unprecedented extent (al-
though Mitchell, this volume, presents a counterinterpretation). It may be that
we should think of a phase 3 emerging sometime after World War II, once the
colonial authoAities have departed. In this phase the everyday forms of re-
sistance, including migration, nonpayment of loans, and evasion of crop
procurement quotas (or what Paige calls market protests) become the preva-
lent modes of action, increasingly directed at the state itself.
In answering the question "who acts?" in the Middle East, we encounter
the particularly thorny issue of overlap between class alignments and ethnic or
tribal boundaries. In some instances the economically weak and powerful
divide along ethnic or religious lines, as did Sunni landowners and Shi'i
tenants in lower Iraq after World War I. More often each "primordial" com-
munity contains a full range of economic players, from the weakest to the
most powerful, and tribal, ethnic, and religious identity have often been
viewed as ideologies manipulated by dominant elites to hold in thrall the
weaker members of such communities.6 The game, Batatu argues, cannot go
on indefinitely: "The tribal rebellions of the first decades of the [Iraqi] mon-
archy-and more so the Arab than the Kurdish rebellions-appear in retro-
spect as the gasps of a tribal world approaching its end. The rural rebellions of
the last decade of the monarchy were of an entirely different character. They
were rebellions not under shaikhs but against them . and were made by
tribesmen whose customary ideas and norms of life had been shaken to their
foundation" (1978:469).
One must proceed cautiously with this line of analysis because it is well
known that even when the grossest signs of inequality are stripped away,
primordial sentiments continue to run deep. Cynically administered ethnic or
religious opiates cannot explain Ngorno Karabakh, Lebanon since 1976, or
the southern Sudan since 1955.

Two Egyptian peasants playing a strategic game similar to chess in the sand.
Photo by John Waterbury, ca. 1973.

Peasants Defy Categorization

The question of ethnic-cum-peasant protest brings us back to the role of
intermediaries. Politicians, even in systems where the ballot is of little conse-
quence, are often tempted to mobilize followers on the basis of primordial
appeals in order to extract resources from the center. The Rif rebellion of
1959, shortly after Moroccan independence, can be seen in this light (Gellner
1962), and Clifford Geertz depicted it as a near-universal phenomenon in
newly independent states (Geertz 1963; see also Kasfir 1979).
Education and migration have, in recent decades, led to substantial phys-
ical and occupational mobility among peasants, yielding what we called ear-
lier part-time peasants. Off-farm employment and incomes have come to be an
important, if not the most important, source of livelihood for many rural
families. This category includes the middle peasants analyzed by Wolf, but it
also includes the rural poor who may be, out of necessity, more heavily
involved in off-farm pursuits than the better off (see Taylor-Awny 1984).
Saunders and Mehanna (1989) found that in an Egyptian village in 1961, less
than half of the adult men indicated agriculture as their primary source of
livelihood, while in 1978 more than half did. This surprising change, the
authors argue, was because of the increasing prosperity in the village that had
seen the landless acquire land through agrarian reform (including women
titleholders) and lucrative agricultural pursuits, such as poultry raising, that
diminished the attraction of worker migration.
In political terms, the part-time peasant may turn out to be a key player.
Hoogland found that in Iran, opponents to the shah were concentrated among
middle peasants (in the 7-IO hectare range) and among what he called "shut-
tle peasants." The former felt left out of the shah's agrarian reforms and were
unable to qualify for limited rural credit and subsidized fertilizer. They could
not make the transition to capitalist agriculture (Hoogland 1982:138-52). The
latter were young men who described themselves as workers rather than as
peasants and who shuttled back and forth between their villages and their
places of work in nearby towns and cities. They tended to have at least a
primary school education and were attracted by the radical programs of Ali
Shariati and the militant clergy (Hoogland 1980; Ashraf, this volume).
The ranks of the part-time peasant are bound to grow, and their protest is as
likely to be urban as rural. Their economic interests are split among mine,
factory, the informal sector, and the field. The phenomenon is not new. Some
years ago I summarized the history of the Chleuh, a congeries of Berber tribes
of Morocco's Anti-Atlas mountains. Since the beginning of this century they
had been able to gain control of most grocery trade in Morocco's northern
cities while maintaining a fragile agrarian economy based on arboriculture,



coarse grains, and animal husbandry. They were instrumental in mounting the
last rural resistance to French "pacification" in 1934 and then in mounting the
first urban resistance to the French in Casablanca and elsewhere in the early
1950s (Waterbury 1973).
Regarding our second question, how do they act?, we want to know what
forms resistance and protest take, and how we can explain them. Two analytic
approaches have gained currency in the last decade, one based on moral
economy and the other on rational actor models. Although clearly different in
their assumptions, their empirical applications are not mutually exclusive.
Scott (1976) wrote of a subsistence ethic that bound poor cultivators to more
powerful owners of land and capital. He contended that when the ethic was
violated by the powerful (e.g., denial of gleaning rights or increase in the
landlord's share of the crop), the weak no longer owed them deference and
support. Individual or collective resistance then became legitimate. The as-
sumptions can be easily extended to relations between the peasantry and the
state (Hyden 1980; Scott 1989). The alternative view has been advanced most
notably by Samuel Popkin (1979), who suggests that both the weak and the
powerful should be seen as rational actors attempting to maximize whatever
they see as their best interests. If there is an ethic, it is a device invoked to
justify an unsentimental contest for relative advantage. In Popkin's view the
landowner is best seen as a monopolist or oligopolist who will press his
advantage until he meets resistance or causes the flight of his own labor force.
Peasants will most often act as families, seldom as larger collectivities, to
press counterclaims for a larger share of whatever is being produced (cf.
Migdal 1974).
As Hayami and Kikuchi have shown (1982), in specific instances one may
discern a mix of the moral economy and rational actor approaches; so, too, in
many of the contributions to this volume. For example, in Tunisia and else-
where in the Ottoman empire in the late nineteenth century, the resistance to
state efforts to increase rural tax revenue involved large, communally orga-
nized coalitions of rural actors (Druze, bedouin, Sunni peasants, urban mer-
chants in the Hawran of Syria; see Schilcher, this volume), followed by a
collapse of these "fronts" as the central authorities cut deals with each of the
contenders, sometimes, as in Tunisia, setting one erstwhile ally against
The issue here is that of collective action, crucial to understanding any
economic or political behavior (Burke, 1988). Collective action will succeed,
if at all, only so long as all members of the collectivity remain committed to
the cause. But rational actor models tell us that any individual will have an


Peasants Defy Categorization

incentive to stand idly by or to act passively, for if the movement succeeds,
that person will reap all its benefits without having been exposed to any of the
risks. These people become "free riders," and if enough people in the move-
ment follow their rational individual maximizing strategies, the movement
will obviously fail. Because peasant movements are so rare, and their suc-
cessful outcomes rarer still, this simple proposition would seem to have great
Individual foot-dragging, or small-scale family resistance to and sabotage
of oppressive power wielders, yields benefits that are to some extent "ex-
cludable," that is, they do not accrue fully to all members of the oppressed
group. The risks of everyday forms of resistance are relatively low, and the
payoffs also relatively low and individualized (theft of grain or animals,
poaching, desertion, credit delinquency, etc.). Between collective action and
individual foot-dragging lie acts that may provide payoffs for certain free
riders: destruction of tax records or squatting on the landlord's land.
There is a temptation to place foot-dragging and violent collective protest
at opposite ends of a spectrum of forms of resistance with the implication that
one might expect an escalation from the petty and the individual to the violent
and the collective. In fact it may be that foot-dragging is best seen as an
alternative to revolt and insurrection, and in that sense it may be in the
interests of the power wielders to tolerate a certain level of foot-dragging in
order to prevent a generalized conflagration. This seems to me most apparent
in contemporary relations between state agents and small-scale rural pro-
ducers in which a certain level of credit delinquency, crop rotations violations,
black market sales of subsidized inputs, and so forth has become a standard
feature in Egypt, the Sudan, Algeria, Syria, and elsewhere.
A romantic figure in Middle East history arises out of everyday forms of
resistance-the rural bandit. Yaar Kemal's novel Mehmet My Hawk portrays
just such a hero, who not only abducts the landlord's daughter but kills the
landlord. Eric Hobsbawm characterized such figures as social bandits, precur-
sors to more organized forms of rural resistance. But David Hart (1987) and
Nathan Brown (1990), among others, have argued that bandits have rarely
exhibited much social conscience and have stolen from the poor perhaps more
often than from the rich. When they are pursued by the authorities, they may
benefit from a peasant conspiracy of silence, but they do not appear to have
been the catalysts to collective resistance.
The foregoing discussion has partially answered the third question, what
do they seek? I will deal here with two simple dichotomies. The first is
whether the movements are forward- or backward-looking. Recall that Va-



lensi saw the Tunisian insurrection of 1864 as restorationist, seeking the return
to a preferred status quo ante. The subsistence ethic approach also suggests
that peasants will seek to restore what are portrayed as venerable obligations
and understandings. But other movements and actions, outwardly no different
from the restorationist, seek to overturn the basic power structures. Tanyus
Shahin's movement in Mount Lebanon in 1859 (Owen 1981:I61-62;
Havemann, this volume), the Jangali movement of 1920 in Gilan (Kazemi,
this volume), the 1919 revolt in Egypt (at least for its leaders), the 1936
Palestinian uprising (Tress 1988; Stein, this volume), and the Algerian revolu-
tion begun in 1954 (Wolf 1969) were resolutely aimed at creating new orders.
The problem is that a backward-looking movement may look exactly like a
forward-looking one.
The same confusion arises with rural ethnic or religious protest (Favret
1972). Sometimes, as with the Iraqi Kurds or Nilotic populations of the
southern Sudan, the proclaimed objective is to secede from the state or at least
to create regional autonomy. However, more frequently such movements are
aimed at extracting more resources from the state, that is to opt in rather than
to opt out. The 1959 Rif rebellion in Morocco, the Yemeni civil war of 1962-
67, the Lebanese civil war since 1976, and the Sudanese civil war since 1983
can best be understood as struggles, in which rural ethnic or confessional
actors are heavily involved, to turn the state apparatus to their own advantage.
The problem of split agendas arises once again. The leaders may have a
revolutionary set of objectives while the followers are restorationist. Ethnic
brokers may employ the idiom of separatism to get a bigger piece of the state's
action, while followers may well see the destruction or evasion of the state as
the objective. Leaders can be bought off but so can followers. Collective
action problems are compounded by split agendas.
Finally, we must ask "in what context do they act?" Even if one were to
agree with Horvat about the revolutionary potential of the peasantry, its ability
to undertake action, as well as the nature of the action, will depend on a host
of contextual and institutional factors. The most obvious is, perhaps, the
nature of the terrain: it is easier for a mountain Kurd to revolt than it is for an
Egyptian Delta peasant. More important is the nature of the state and of
markets. For some these are the villains of the piece, beating down peasants
through heavy taxes and adverse terms of trade. For others, like Samuel
Popkin, there is nothing given about states and markets, which in many
instances provide mechanisms for spreading risks among producers and for
promoting a general improvement in rural welfare. The studies in this volume
by and large depict the state in unflattering terms, and because Middle Eastern


Peasants Defy Categorization

states have interfered so extensively with markets, these, by extension, have
brought as much harm as good to the interests of rural producers.
In this sense many Middle Eastern states adhere closely to a pattern ana-
lyzed by Michael Lipton under the rubric "urban bias" (Lipton 1977; see also
Bates 198 ), whereby the state sets the terms of trade between its agrarian and
nonagrarian sectors to generate a net flow of resources from the former to the
latter. Agriculture is taxed to finance industrialization and a subsidized stan-
dard of living for the urban poor and lower-middle classes. Only the
wealthiest rural producers can profit from this bias by selling highly valued
produce to upper-income urban consumers or for export. The rural poor, as
suggested above, resist the state by defaulting on government loans, sabotag-
ing "government" crops, and so forth. When everyday forms of peasant
resistance are aggregated, they can oblige states to change the policies of
urban bias (Hyden 1980), although in the Middle East such changes are only
at their inception.7
Many observers have noted that in the twentieth century, cities have re-
placed the countryside as the most likely source of challenge to incumbent
regimes. The old distinction employed in Morocco, between the land of
dissidence (bled as-siba) and the land of government (bled al-makhzen), has
been inverted so that the cities are now the center of dissidence. Student
demonstrations, labor agitation, and cost-of-living riots have been common
features of Middle Eastern cities in recent years. It was primarily the cities
that brought down the shah in 1978-79, and it is in the cities that the
Lebanese civil war has been fought.
Years ago Samuel Huntington argued that because of the disruptive poten-
tial of the cities, political stability could be assured only through an alliance of
the central authorities with the countryside (Huntington 1968:435). Paradox-
ically such alliances have been forged at the same time that the authorities
have implemented pricing policies that penalize rural producers. They are able
to do so through control of government patronage, meted out through local
brokers and notables who can neutralize the alienation that the victims of
urban bias may feel-or, at any rate, keep it individualized. Rdmy Leveau
(1985) has provided a fine case study of this strategy.
Yet this view of the cities and the countryside is flawed to the extent that it
suggests two worlds-two modes of existence and two distinct populations.
Migration from the countryside, the phenomenon of the part-time or shuttle
peasant, the flow of remittances from the cities to the countryside, all indicate
that the two economies are highly interdependent. Balancing rural against
urban interests is probably snare and delusion, a point apparently substanti-



ated by the role of recent migrants to Iranian cities in toppling the shah.
Conversely some of the benefits of urban bias, such as subsidized consumer
goods, find their way back to the countryside in the form of an increased
remittance flow. Middle-income urbanites, fighting the erosion of their in-
comes by inflation, increasingly invest in commercial agriculture and animal
raising, bringing new resources to the countryside but also creating a new set
of absentee owners.
One arena of state-peasant interaction and confrontation in the Middle East
has grown in importance, but, unfortunately, none of the contributors to this
volume address it. It is the arena created by large surface irrigation schemes,
generally state-owned and -operated, on which the cultivators are tenants
dealing with a landlord that is the state itself. Even in those instances when the
land brought under irrigation has been alienated to private holders (Turkey,
Morocco, Egypt, Iran), the state may try to control cropping patterns and the
terms of tenancy and sharecropping. The role of the state as landlord needs
systematic comparative study, and, at least for the Middle East, we have some
good case studies upon which to build.8
Political brokers, licensed, as it were, by the state, in all instances turn out
to be crucial actors who serve two masters. They must deliver their rural
clients to the mercies of the state, by collecting taxes and outstanding loans
from them and by assuring their political quiescence, yet they must serve their
clients by assuring a supply of state services and patronage. In hard economic
times the broker is in an extremely precarious position and may not be able to
serve both masters simultaneously. Throughout this volume we see intermedi-
aries (landlords, merchants, tax farmers, bureaucrats) swinging back and forth
between support for the central state and involvement in local resistance. A
clever broker can convince both parties that he is acting in their interest. The
unclever have short careers.9
Even when rural power structures and institutions are extensively re-
fashioned in the wake of revolutions from above or below, new, rigid power
relations tend to develop, a new stratum of brokers and functionaries often
lapses into corruption, bossism, and rent-seeking, and new forms of foot-
dragging are frequently invented. The most extensive agrarian reforms in the
Middle East-those in Egypt and Algeria-support this observation. 10
The efforts of a number of Middle Eastern states to redistribute rural assets
have strengthened the state's ability to intervene in and to control rural mar-
kets and have led to coopting or replacing local elites (Ashraf, this volume). In
the process peasant grievances have come to focus on the state itself, and
because of increasingly blurred rural-urban lines of economic demarcation,


Peasants Defy Categorization

resistance may take place in either environment. The point is that urban
resistance should not be seen as driven by purely urban interests.
At the same time the ability of the state to control these markets has
diminished as producers have escaped into parallel and black markets or have
migrated to the cities or to other countries. In general the collective good
provided through the redistribution of rural assets has been privatized or
familized, on the one hand by intermediaries collecting fees at every point that
the regulatory state apparatus impinges upon the producer, on the other by the
producers themselves who appropriate and dispose of collective goods (irriga-
tion water, subsidized seed, fertilizers, fuels) for their own personal ends.
Those who start the game with better factor endowments usually increase their
advantage so that new patterns of stratification emerge in what was intended to
be an egalitarian environment.
If phase 3, since World War H, has been characterized by everyday forms
of peasant resistance, interspersed on a global scale with spectacular bursts of
rural-based, and sometimes peasant-based, revolution, then phase 4 may in-
volve states recognizing their limitations in regulating agricultural production,
the distortions introduced through policies of urban bias, and the fiscal con-
straints on delivering adequate services to the countryside. The state might
then quietly relinquish its role as creator and defender of rural egalitarianism
and recognize and legitimize what already exists, that is, extensive rural
differentiation. The market, though by no means unregulated, will be touted
as the best guarantor of increased production and incomes, accompanied by a
necessary sorting out of the efficient from the inefficient. Any true equity
concerns still alive in the bosom of the state might best be promoted by
contested elections in which the weight of numbers of the rural poor can be a
factor. With or without elections, we might anticipate that in this phase the
resistance and protest of the small-scale producer will once again focus on
those in the countryside who own land, movable assets, and capital. The
contest will be less naked than in the early decades of this century, for the state
will set rules (land ceilings, floor prices) and maintain programs (targeted
subsidies on credit and inputs) that will inhibit gross distortions in income
Whatever shape phase 4 may take, it is still part of the longer process of
market and state penetration into the countryside. As in other parts of the
developing world, the context is set by the long economic swings of trade and
business cycles and by the steady increase in rural population, processes
punctuated by short, conjunctural economic crises-sudden increases in
taxes, crop failures, privatization of commons, power vacuums in which



contenders mobilize rural constituents, forced grain procurements, relative
price shifts, and so on, down a long list.11 Small-scale producers have often
been victims in both the long and the short term. The objective conditions of
their victimization have not been as important as have fissures in the ranks of
their exploiters, whether landlords, the state, or some combination of both.
Oppression, rage, and threat of extinction in and of themselves have not been
sufficient to drive them to collective action in the absence of outside lead-
ership, resources and organization that can command their commitment, and a
favorable terrain.
As we near the end of this century, it is probably no longer useful to speak
of peasants in Wolf's sense of the term. Rural production and rural producers
will remain highly significant in the political and economic development of
Middle Eastern societies, and poverty and vulnerability will probably remain
concentrated in their ranks. But to answer the questions now of who acts, how
and why they act, and the contexts in which they act will be analytically a
much greater challenge.
The only rural violence we are likely to witness will be ostensibly ethnic or
confessional in nature; indeed, since the end of the Algerian liberation war,
the Middle East has witnessed no other form of sustained rural resistance. We
must be attentive to the long-term shift in population from agrarian to non-
agrarian sectors, the increasing integration of the lower-income groups at both
ends of that shift, and the possibility that the distinction between urban and
rural political arenas will be increasingly meaningless. The most aggressive
rural political actors may turn out to be the growing ranks of the medium-scale
market producers who will lobby collectively for favorable policies from the
state. They will have the resources and the organization to give voice to their
grievances. For the rural poor, exit to the cities will prevail over protest, while
accommodation with the middle strata through clientage will prevail over


I. The leader among them was Gabriel Baer (1969), but see also Jacques Berque
(1955, 1957), Launay (1963), Couleau (1968), Hamed Ammar (1954), and Jacques
Weulerrse (1946).
2. Two good, recent anthropological surveys of the Middle East are Bates and
Rassam (1983) and Eickelman (1981). Neither deals with peasant protest, although
Bates and Rassam devote a chapter to local politics and patronage (pp. 241-68). An
excellent collection of historical articles, some of which deal explicitly with the same


Peasants Defy Categorization

subject matter that concerns us here, is Edmund Burke and Ira Lapidus, eds. (1988).
Bridging history, anthropology, and rural sociology is the special 1987 issue of the
Revue de l'Occident musulman et de la Mdditerrande, "La Soci6t6, la Terre, et le
Pouvoir dans le Monde Arabe" (vol. 45, no. 3).
3. The two best general economic histories of this period are Issawi (1982) and
Owen (1981).
4. The primary sources are Valensi (1977:35o-68), Cherif (198o), Slama (1967),
and Anderson (1986:69-7o, 84).
5. Scott (1979:o108) explores these split agendas in some detail. Commenting on
Vietnam in 1930, he states, "What the party belatedly called 'Soviets' were nothing
more, nothing less than the enactment of local autonomy and the vision of an equitable
distribution of food and land."
6. This theme is explored in Roberts (1982, 1983), Seddon (1981), and Schilcher
(this volume). In a recent collection on ethnicity and politics in the Middle East, only
Farhad Kazemi tried systematically to explore the links between ethnicity and the
peasantry in Iran (Esman and Rabinovich, 1988:2oi0-14). For an earlier collection
dealing only with Berberism in North Africa, see Gellner and Micaud (1972).
7. A difficult empirical and analytic question inheres in this observation. Do indi-
vidual actors, when they drag their feet, understand their action as challenging political
authority, or is it more likely that they are "merely" looking out for their own best
economic interests? Answering the question may be impossible, but see Scott (1989:8)
and Brown (this volume) for views that support conscious political intent.
8. On the Sudanese Gezira scheme, see Barnett (1977); on Syria's Tabaqa scheme,
Hannoyer (1985); on Egypt, Mehanna, Huntington, and Antonious (1984); on Moroc-
co, Swearingen (1987); and on Tbnisia, Baduel (1985).
9. An excellent analysis of the Janus-faced intermediary can be found in Zweig
(1989:74-97), where he deals with leaders of production teams and brigades in Maoist
and post-Mao China.
io. Stinchcombe (196I:173) makes the general point, while Pearse (1975:165)
provides case material on the rise of caciquismo in the Bolivian countryside following
the far-reaching agrarian revolution of 1952. In the flavorful observation of a Nic-
araguan peasant after the Sandinistas came to power, "Only the flies change; the crap
remains the same" (Colburn, 1986:120). See Ashraf (this volume).
I I. In this broad frame the Middle East is in no way unusual; see the excellent
collection edited by Friedrich Katz (1988), especially Coatsworth, "Patterns of Rural
Rebellion in Latin America."


Ammar, Hamed. 1954. Growing Up in an Egyptian Village. London. Routledge &
Kegan Paul.
Anderson, Lisa. 1986. The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya,
183o-198o. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Baduel, P.-R. 1985. "Action sur les facteurs de production et d6pendance paysanne:



L'Exemple du d6veloppement hydro-agricole tunisien." In Les Politiques de l'eau
en Afrique, edited by G. Conac. Paris: Economica.
Baer, Gabriel. 1969. Studies in the Social History of Modern Egypt. Chicago: Univer-
sity of Chicago Press.
Barnett, Tony. 1977. The Gezira Scheme-An Illusion of Development. London: Frank
Batatu, Hanna. 1978. The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of
Iraq. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Bates, Daniel, and Amal Rassam. 1983. Peoples and Cultures of the Middle East.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Bates, Robert. 1981. Markets and States in Tropical Africa. Berkeley: University of
California Press.
Berque, Jacques. 1955. Structures sociales du Haut-Atlas. Paris: Presses Univer-
sitaires de France.
- 1957. Histoire social d'un village egyptien au XXieme siecle. Paris: Mouton.
Binder, Leonard. 1978. In a Moment of Enthusiasm: Political Power and the Second
Stratum in Egypt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Brown, Nathan. 1989. "The Conspiracy of Silence and the Atomistic Political Ac-
tivity of the Egyptian Peasantry, 1882-1952." In Everyday Forms of Peasant
Resistance, edited by Forrest Colburn. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe.
--. 1990. Peasant Politics in Modern Egypt. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University
Burke, Edmund. 1988. "Rural Collective Action and the Emergence of Modem
Lebanon." In Lebanon: A History of Conflict and Consensus, edited by Nadim
Shehadi and Dana Mills. Oxford: I. B. Taurus.
Burke, Edmund, and Ira Lapidus, eds. 1988. Islamic Political and Social Movements.
Berkeley: University of California Press.
Chaulet, Claudine. 1987. "Les ruraux alg6riens et l'6tat." Revue de l'Occident mus-
ulman et de la Mediterranee 45, 3:67-93.
Cherif, Mohammed Hadi. 198o. "Les Mouvements paysans dans la Tunisie du XIXe
siecle." Revue de l'Occident musulman et de la Miditerranee, no. 30.
Coatsworth, John. 1988. "Patterns of Rural Rebellion in Latin America." In Riot,
Rebellion, and Revolution: Rural Social Conflict in Mexico, edited by Friedrich
Katz. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Colburn, Forrest. 1986. Post-Revolutionary Nicaragua: State, Class, and the Dilem-
mas of Agrarian Policy. Berkeley: University of California Press.
--, ed. 1989. Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E.
Couleau, Julien. 1968. La Paysannerie marocaine. Paris: CRESM/CNRS.
Eickelman, Dale. 1981 The Middle East: An Anthropological Approach. Englewood
Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Esman, Milton, and Itamar Rabinovich, eds. 1988. Ethnicity, Pluralism, and the State
in the Middle East. Ithaca, N.Y.: Comell University Press.
Favret, Jeanne. 1972. "Traditionalism through Ultra-Modernism." In Arabs and Ber-
bers, edited by Ernest Gellner and Charles Micaud. London: Duckworth.
Geertz, Clifford. 1963. "The Integrative Revolution: Primordial Sentiments and Civil


Peasants Defy Categorization

Politics in the New States." In Old Societies and New States, edited by Clifford
Geertz. New York: The Free Press.
Gellner, Ernest. 1962. "Patterns of Rural Rebellion in Morocco: Tribes as Minor-
ities." European Journal of Sociology 3, 2:297-311.
Gellner, Ernest, and Charles Micaud, eds. 1972. Arabs and Berbers. London:
Halpern, Manfred. 1948. "The Algerian Uprising of 1945." Middle East Journal
(April): 191-202.
Hannoyer, Jean. 1985. "Grands projects hydrauliques en Syrie." Maghreb-Machrek,
no. 109 (July-September): 24-42.
Harik, lliya. 1974. The Political Mobilization of Peasants: A Study of an Egyptian
Community. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Hart, David. 1987. Banditry in Islam. Cambridgeshire: Middle East and North African
Studies Press.
Hayami, Yujiro, and Masao Kikuchi. 1982. Asian Village at the Crossroads.
Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Hinnebusch, Raymond. 1979. "Party and Peasant in Syria." Cairo Papers in Social
Science 3, I (entire issue).
Hobsbawm, Eric. 1973. "Peasants and Politics." Journal ofPeasant Studies I, 1:3-22.
Hoogland, Eric. 198o. "Rural Participation in the Revolution." MERIP Reports, no.
87 (May): 3-6.
--. 1982. Land and Revolution in Iran, 1960-198o. Austin: University of Texas
Hopkins, Nicholas. 1987. Agrarian Transformation in Egypt. Boulder, Colo.: West-
view Press.
Horvat, Branko. 1981. "Establishing Self-Governing Socialism in a Less-Developed
Country." World Development 9, 9:951-64.
Huntington, Samuel. 1968. Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven,
Conn.: Yale University Press.
Hyden, Goren. I980. Beyond Ujamaa in Tanzania: Underdevelopment and an Uncap-
tured Peasantry. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Issawi, Charles. 1982. An Economic History of the Middle East and North Africa.
New York: Columbia University Press.
Kasfir, Nelson. 1979. "Explaining Ethnic Political Participation." World Politics 31,
Katz, Friedrich, ed. 1988. Riot, Rebellion, and Revolution: Rural Social Conflict in
Mexico. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Kazemi, Farhad. 1988. "Ethnicity and the Iranian Peasantry." In Ethnicity, Pluralism
and the State in the Middle East, edited by Milton Esman and Itamar Rabinovich.
Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Kazemi, Farhad, and Ervand Abrahamian. 1978. "The Non-Revolutionary Peasantry
of Modern Iran." Iranian Studies 11:259-304.
Launay, Michel. 1963. Paysans algdriens: La Terre, la vigne, et les hommes. Paris:
Edition de Seuil.
Leveau, R6my. 1985. Le Fellah marocain: Difenseur du tr6ne. Paris: Presses de la



Levi, Margaret. 1988. Of Rule and Revenue. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Lipton, Michael. 1977. Why Poor People Stay Poor: Urban Bias in World Develop-
ment. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Mehanna, Soheir, Richard Huntington, and Rachad Antonious. 1984. "Irrigation and
Society in Rural Egypt." Cairo Papers in Social Science 7, monograph 4.
Migdal, Joel. 1974. Peasants, Politics and Revolution. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press.
Owen, Roger. 1981. The Middle East in the World Economy. London: Methuen.
Paige, Jeffrey. 1975. Agrarian Revolution. New York: The Free Press.
Pearse, Andrew. 1975. The Latin American Peasant. London: Frank Cass.
Popkin, Samuel. 1979. The Rational Peasant. Berkeley: University of California
Reynolds, Lloyd. 1985. Economic Growth in the Third World, i85o-198o. New
Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Roberts, Hugh. 1982. "The Unforeseen Development of the Kabyle Question in
Contemporary Algeria." Government and Opposition 17, 3:312-34.
--. 1983. "The Economics of Berberism: The Kabyle Question in Contemporary
Algeria." Government and Opposition 18, 2:218-35.
Rogowski, Ronald. 1989. Commerce and Coalitions: How Trade Affects Domestic
Political Alignments. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Saunders, Lucie, and Soheir Mehanna. 1989. "Smallholders in a Changing Economy:
An Egyptian Village Case." Peasant Studies 16, 1:5-30.
Scott, James. 1976. The Moral Economy of the Peasant. New Haven, Conn.: Yale
University Press.
- 1979. "Revolution in the Revolution: Peasants and Commissars." Theory and
Society 7, I and 2:97-131.
--. 1985. Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New
Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
- 1989. "Everyday Forms of Resistance." In Everyday Forms of Peasant
Resistance, edited by Forrest Colburn. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe.
Seddon, David. 1981. Moroccan Peasants: A Century of Change in the Eastern Rif.
Folkestone: Dawson.
Sen, Amartya. 1981. Poverty and Famines. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Slama, Bice. 1967. L'Insurrection de 1864 en Tunisie. Tunis: Maison Tunisienne de
Stinchcombe, Arthur. 1961. "Agricultural Enterprise and Rural Class Relations."
American Journal of Sociology 67, 2:165-76.
Swearingen, Will. 1987. Moroccan Mirages: Agrarian Dreams and Deceptions,
1912-1986. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Taylor-Awny, E. 1984. "Peasants or Proletarians: The Transformation of Agrarian
Production Relations in Egypt." In Proletarianisation in the Third World, edited by
H. Finch and B. Munslow. London: Croom Helm.
Tress, Madeleine. 1988. "The Role of the Peasantry in the Palestine Revolt, 1936-
39." Peasant Studies 15, 3:161-90.
Valensi, Lucette. 1977. Fellahs tunisiens: L'Economie rurale et la vie des campagnes
aux 18e et g9e siecles. Paris: Mouton.


Peasants Defy Categorization 23

Waterbury, John. 1973. North for the Trade: The Life and Times of a Berber Merchant.
Berkeley: University of California Press.
Weulerrse, Jacques. 1946. Paysans de Syrie et du Proche Orient. Paris.
Wolf, Eric. 1966. Peasants. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
1968. Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century. New York: Harper and Row.
Zweig, David. 1989. Agrarian Radicalism in China, 1968-1981. Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press.


Changing Patterns of Peasant Protest

in the Middle East, 1750-1950


o an extent not generally recognized, peasant rebellions and protest move-
ments were recurring features of rural politics in the Arab world in the period
1750-1950. Until recently, the historical literature has emphasized the non-
revolutionary character of the Middle Eastern peasantry, stressing the fatalism
of peasants and the oppression of corrupt governments and landowners. The
elite bias of many sources and stereotypes about the nature of Islamic societies
account to a considerable extent for this view.1

The Problem: From Peasants to Politics?

Recently this orthodoxy has shown signs of crumbling. A survey of rural
protest in Egypt and Bilad al-Sham, for example, concludes that "throughout
the last 200 years there was no generation that did not witness a fellah
rebellion."2 Peasant protests were also important in the Maghrib, where their
occurrence is somewhat better documented.3 In some cases, as we shall see,
peasant revolts could give rise to challenges to the established agrarian order.
Protest has had a far greater presence in the Middle Eastern countryside than
previously recognized, even though in comparison to western Europe and
China, the area still looks relatively peaceable. What is clear is that overt
peasant rebellions were less frequent than resort to various forms of avoidance
protest. The weak demography of the Middle Eastern countryside and the
proximity of vast unpoliced wastelands in which recalcitrant peasants could
hide out helped shape protest along lines different from the European and


Changing Patterns of Peasant Protest

Chinese models. The alternation between protest and passivity, it now seems
clear, as well as the changing patterns of peasant revolt in the Arab world over
these two centuries were both connected to the transformation of agrarian
structures. When and how these changes came about, which groups benefited
from them and which suffered, are topics that must be explored in order to
understand fully their genesis.
We are on the threshold of a new understanding of the processes of rural
change in the Middle East and North Africa. In part, this is because new
research has called into question many of the old assumptions about the ways
Middle Eastern rural society was transformed.4 In part, we owe this new
understanding to significant changes in the social science literature on rural
society and peasant protest, which has evolved from an infatuation with
peasant revolution to a more complex and nuanced grasp of the realities of
peasant protest and avoidance.5
In the first part of this essay, I will briefly survey the literature on rural
protest and seek to show that not only has rural protest been a recurrent feature
of Middle Eastern history since 1750, but also that there were patterns to this
protest.6 Next, I will situate rural collective action and avoidance protest
against the background of the transformation of the region's agrarian struc-
tures. Finally, I will advance some hypothetical connections between the ways
in which Middle Eastern societies were transformed over the long nineteenth
century and the outcome of these rural struggles.

Rural Collective Action: Some Preliminary Considerations

For purposes of analysis, one can say that since 1750 social movements in the
Middle East have emerged as a result of the intersection of three main kinds of
change. The first was the indigenous self-strengthening movement, under
whose aegis the state bureaucracy sought to increase its control of the society,
establishing modern armies, schools, and methods of communication. In the
Ottoman provinces this process was known as the tanzimat movement. It
inevitably led to a collision between reform-minded state bureaucrats and
local elites, eager to defend their traditional rights and liberties. The tanzimat
also stimulated conflict with peasants and artisans, who experienced the
state's encroachment primarily in the forms of military conscription and in-
creased taxation.
The incorporation of the Middle East into the world economy stimulated a
second and in some ways more far-reaching type of change. Although even



relatively isolated regions with weak states felt its effects, the consequences
were differentially greater for societies like Egypt and the Arab East that stood
astride major world communications links. Economic incorporation led to the
rise of a new urban middle class whose fortunes were linked to Europe, and of
an urban-based class of landowners engaged in commercial agriculture for ex-
port. It also caused a decline in the fortunes of artisans and peasants unable to
adapt to the changing economic tides. Incorporation in the capitalist world mar-
ket, therefore, added to the fiscal and other pressures of the centralizing state.
Where the experience of the Middle East diverges with that of Europe to
join that of the rest of the Third World is in the colonial context of its coming
to modem politics, the third major change to affect the region. European
hegemony challenged basic cultural values and distorted the impact of change
in significant ways, setting in motion deeply rooted responses throughout the
region. One place to evaluate the social impact of Western dominance is in the
internal processes of political change, where collaboration with imperialism
worked to undermine the legitimacy of local elites even as it strengthened
their power. In this ambiguous context, the national struggle tended to take
precedence over the class struggle. Thus European dominance shored up the
precarious power of old elites, who successfully capitalized on their position
to maintain control of the nationalist movement and ensured that when new
classes at last emerged on the political scene, after World War II, their impact
would be muffled. This era is only now showing signs of drawing to a close.
Each of these vectors of change worked in favor of certain groups in the
society and against others. Those possessing privileged ties to the state or to
European business interests were often in a position to profit disproportion-
ately, while urban artisans and rural agriculturalists found themselves
squeezed from all sides. Following the establishment of European political
control, groups willing to serve as intermediaries gained substantially, while
overt opponents suffered from various forms of political and economic dis-
crimination. The complex sequences of change thus set in motion intersected
with one another, generating powerful crosscurrents and eddies that eroded
established interests and molded new ones. Social protest and resistance found
fertile ground in the circumstances thus created.

ANY SURVEY of the transformation of protest in the Arab countryside must
begin with some basic distinctions in the agrarian structures within the region.
Agricultural conditions in Egypt, Bilad al-Sham (greater Syria), and the
Maghrib varied considerably according to rainfall, soil type, relief, and prox-
imity to irrigation sources. No less important were social and political real-
ities: the system of land tenure, the precise nature of the connections between


Changing Patterns of Peasant Protest

governments, intermediaries, and agriculturalists, and the social organization
and ethnic composition of rural society.7
The agrarian structures of the Arab East were infinitely complex and vari-
ous. Mamluk Egypt with its system of tax farms and urban-based military
elite, for example, differed from the quasi-feudal society of Mount Lebanon
with its muqataji great families and oppressed peasantry, the tribally con-
trolled irrigated lands of Iraq, and the collectively held mushaa lands of the
Palestinian villages. The countryside was further marked by the presence of
significant ethnic and religious minority communities: Kurds, Druze, and
Christian and Shi'ite sects, so that in some districts of Bilad al-Sham and al-
Iraq, minorities could outnumber Sunni Arab groups.
The Arab Maghrib was no less varied, ranging from the densely settled
olive- and grain-producing Sahel region of Tunisia to the sedentary Berber-
speaking arboriculturists of Kabiliya, the pastoralist transhumant sheepherd-
ers of the Middle Atlas mountains in Morocco, and, in the southern oases, the
quasi-serf black haratin populations and their Bedouin overlords. In the
Maghrib, the Atlas mountain chain presented an even greater barrier to gov-
ernment control, giving greater weight to tribally organized forces. Also, in
contrast to the Arab East with its plethora of ethnic minorities, the Arab West
enjoyed substantial homogeneity: the Jewish population was mostly urban,
and even the Berbers were Sunni Muslims of the Maliki legal rite. Out of the
Middle East's many microecologies and political systems, a profusion of
distinctive ways of life developed that at the same time had significant points
in common. The conventional image for this diversity-a mosaic of in-
tergroup rivalries and tensions arbitrated by state authorities-exaggerates
differences while it downplays the significance of conflict.
Against the background of this diversity, we can attempt to sketch in the
broad sequences of rural rebellions in the period 1750-1950. Because Egypt
was both the center of state centralization and the most strongly engaged in
the expanding world market, the new changes (and the related patterns of
collective action) tended to emerge there before they affected the rest of the
Middle East. The twin forces of statemaking and capitalism impinged next
upon Bilad al-Sham, while Iraq and the Maghrib (except colonial Algeria)
went through broadly analogous patterns of change about a generation later.

Rural Collective Action, 1750-1850

If we examine the patterns of rural collective action, the first phase that can be
distinguished runs from roughly the 1750S to the 184os. Toward the end of the



eighteenth century Egypt began to experience a sharp increase in the pace of
change. In response to the state's increasing fiscal demands on the rural
populations, a series of revolts broke out beginning in the 1770s and 178os in
Egypt and Lebanon. Another wave of peasant uprisings followed the estab-
lishment of the Muhammad Ali regime in 1805 and of comparable regional
dynasties in Lebanon and Palestine-the 1820-23 rebellion of peasants in
Qina province in Upper Egypt, the 1820 general rebellion of peasants in
Mount Lebanon, and further rebellions in Egypt in the late I82os. Significant
uprisings occurred in Palestine in 1834 and in Syria in 1837-38.8
In North Africa the timetable of revolt lagged somewhat. The first decades
of the nineteenth century were the scene of major rebellions in Algeria,
Tunisia, and Morocco. They took the form of regional resistance to would-be
centralizing rulers: the 1803-4 Kabyle uprising, the 1803-12 and 182OS
Oranais revolts against Turkish rule in Algeria, rebellions in Tunisia in 1795,
1819, 1824-25, 184o, and 1844 against the fiscal impositions of the Beys,
and risings of Middle Atlas Berbers in the 182os. The onset of the French
conquest of Algeria in 1830 significantly altered this pattern in ways that will
be explained in the next section.
A finer-grained analysis than is possible here would reveal the crucial
importance not only of the new, more systematized demands of the Muham-
mad Ali dynasty but also of responses to the commercialization of agriculture,
the transformation of landholding arrangements, the increased role of urban
moneylenders, and, as has been suggested for the Egyptian rebellions of the
182os, the decline of rural artisans and craftspersons threatened by the incor-
poration of hitherto largely autonomous provinces into a national economy
linked to the capitalist world economy.9 The local elites proved central in all
of these uprisings. In most instances they reached compromises with the
established governments that safeguarded their interests or even increased
their control locally.
Beginning in the 184os the Arab countryside was further transformed by
accelerated economic changes stemming from the commercialization of agri-
culture on one hand, and the Ottoman self-strengthening movement on the
other. Thus began the second phase of protest, which lasted roughly from the
184os to the early i88os (with local variations). A key problem was the
absence of security of land tenure anywhere in the region. The system of land
rights was based on usufructary rights held by farmers who paid land rents to
various intermediaries, with the rest forwarded to the central treasury. As a
consequence, surplus revenues were invested in commerce, rather than in
land. The changes introduced from the I840s onward exploded the old agrar-


Changing Patterns of Peasant Protest

ian structures. Private property on the European model was introduced and
loosened the bonds between cultivator and land and between cultivator and
village community. In place of the old class of tax-farmers a variety of social
groups emerged, including a numerous smallholding peasantry in Tunisia and
a class of urban-based absentee landowners in Egypt and greater Syria.10
The extension of government power into the countryside, one of the pri-
mary features of the self-strengthening movements throughout the area,
gathered force in the I84os and provoked major rebellions in Lebanon, Egypt,
and Syria, among others. Increased security led to the further commercializa-
tion of agriculture and rural textile production, undermining local social and
economic structures and setting the stage for a major confrontation around
mid-century. The extension of regular steamship service between the Middle
East and Europe by the i84os accelerated these changes.

Mid-Century Peasant Collective Action and Avoidance Protest

By the I85os the agrarian structures of the Arab world entered a phase of
sustained crisis. Especially in Lebanon (1858-61), Tunisia (1864-65), and
Algeria (1871-72), rebellions broke out that challenged the very basis of the
system itself, before they were repressed with European assistance. The scale
and radical demands of these mid-century rebellions mark a break with earlier
movements. More significantly, their repression led to the crystallization of
the coalitions of rural, urban, and state forces within which agricultural devel-
opment proceeded until the twentieth century. Of these movements, the
Lebanese rebellion of 1858-61 is the best known. 11 Both in it and in the more
radical Tunisian rebellion of 1864, the cruel pressures of the state's fiscal
demands and the commercialization of agriculture can be seen clearly. 12
Other peasant rebellions in the region merit inclusion in this list. Most
important was the so-called Muqrani rebellion of 1871-72 in Constantine
province in Algeria, which occurred in the context of the Franco-Prussian war
and before it was repressed had seriously threatened French control over
Algeria.13 Lagging somewhat in this sequence was Morocco, which experi-
enced a number of important rural insurrections between 185o and 1906. The
1894-96 insurrection in the Marrakech region of Morocco by the Rehamna
and associated groups challenged the authority of the Sultan 'Abd al-'Aziz and
required three years to bring under control.14 Finally, among the most impor-
tant Moroccan rural insurrections in this context were the 1902-6 siba of the
tribes in the Shawiya plain of Morocco adjacent to Casablanca, and the



rebellion of Abu Himara (1902-9), a pretender to the throne who gathered
substantial support among the tribes of northeastern Morocco and managed to
survive two sultans.15
Very much in this context was the 1889-90 rebellion of Druze peasants
against the supremacy of their Atrash lords, the last great mid-century re-
bellion. The peasants endured undeniably harsh circumstances. They pre-
viously had owned neither their fields nor their homes and could be evicted at
will with no compensation. In alliance with anti-Atrash clan heads, they
managed in 1889 to wrest ownership of the land from their quasi-feudal
Atrash overlords. The resolution of the conflict permitted the extension of new
relations of production into the heart of the Jabal, and, in an interesting
parallel to the Maronite rebellion, recemented the alliance of Druze peasants
with their chiefs in opposing Ottoman policy.
Several common features emerge from the obvious differences among the
great peasant rebellions of the middle part of the nineteenth century. One is the
common opposition to crushing government fiscal impositions and to the
intervention of the state and its agents. Expanding government ambitions and
the need for more revenues to pay for them resulted in a sharply increased tax
burden on the peasantry. Recent administrative changes that threatened further
encroachment on local autonomy is a second common feature. Initially the
revolts were supported by disaffected local elites. Often, however, peasant
groups sought to turn the revolts into broader attacks on the remnants of the
old agrarian structures, as well as on government fiscal repression. Yet as the
revolts consolidated their gains, this radicalization lost the rebels the support
and sympathy of local elites and urban groups. The opposition of urban
landowners and big merchants entailed the eventual opposition of the ulama
(in the case of the Muslim rebellions), or of the Maronite upper clergy (in the
case of the Kisrawan rebellion in Lebanon). With these defections, the bal-
ance of social forces shifted and the rebellions were repressed.
In all cases, the regions in which the revolts broke out were substantially
involved in producing agricultural exports, and the local agrarian structures
had managed to retain much of their previous character, and the old families,
their power. The development of new agrarian relations was thus largely
channeled within the old social forms, overlapping and interpenetrating them.
In areas that did not experience revolt on such a scale, the old agrarian elites
were less tenacious, and the changeover left less opportunity for challenge
from below.
Through their demands and their action, one glimpses the hidden world of
the peasants. Their targets were the houses and goods of government repre-


Changing Patterns of Peasant Protest

sentatives and of particularly disliked wealthy indigenous and foreign land-
owners. In the case of the Tunisian movement, the rebels were able to forge a
coalition that included at its height most of the Beylik outside the capital,
Tunis. In neither the Lebanese nor the Tunisian case was the leadership drawn
from the agricultural day-workers. Rather it came from the lesser clergy,
smallholders, and rural artisans. (The Lebanese leader Tanyus Shahin was a
farrier, while the Tunisian Ali bin Ghadhahim was head of the local Tijaniya
sufi brotherhood.)
In Tunisia, the explicitly political strategy adopted (collective bargaining
by riot) was directed against Ottoman taxation policies (rather than, for exam-
ple, against landowners, or toward changing the conditions of landholding or
labor). In Lebanon, the revolt was directed against the excesses of the greedy
Khazin muqatajis and resulted in the ending of feudalism in the Maronite
sections of Mount Lebanon. To defend the allegedly self-sufficient peasant
village, the rebels took up arms, selecting their leaders from among the better-
off peasants, and drafted political demands aimed at forcing a roll-back of
intrusive government reform measures. Their rebellion culminated in bloody
intercommunal fighting between the Druze and Maronites and the intervention
of Ottoman and European forces.
The other face of peasant revolt, as Anton Blok observes with reference to
Sicily, is the intimidation by agents of the landlord or the state of peasants
who might be tempted to rebel. Blok was attempting to explain the so-
ciogenesis of that peculiarly Sicilian institution, the mafia.16 If we look at the
Arab world through Sicilian spectacles, the extent to which the countryside is
controlled by similar social forces is striking: the Lebanese zu'ama and
qabadays, the Palestinian great families, Egyptian umdahs, Moroccan grands
qa'ids. Violent political middlemen in a myriad of social forms flourished in
the niche created between weak governments uncertain of their power and a
restive and rebellious peasantry. Through their control over the means of local
coercion, such middlemen were able to dominate the countryside, in some
cases into the twentieth century. Through their control over kin, clients, and
confederates, they were able to dominate the labor market and make them-
selves indispensable to urban absentee landlords and the state. It is no accident
that the development of this group of violent political middlemen reached its
height in Lebanon, with its intense confessional rivalries, oppressive agri-
cultural system, and weak state. The perpetuation of archaic social forms in
the Arab world is to be understood in this context.
As in Sicily, the viability of the old structures was maintained not only by
coercion but also by the availability of emigration as a safety valve in the



explosive countryside. Here we come to the understudied subject of peasant
avoidance protest. If the agrarian structures of the Arab world have managed
to preserve the shreds and tatters of the old forms, it is as much owing to
peasant avoidance as to the maintenance of oppressive structures and social
forms. If, unlike the densely settled peasant societies of China and India, the
Middle East entered the modem world with a thinly settled countryside, then
the dilution of this base by migration is surely an important variable in
explaining the patterns of collective action in the region. Without a sea in
which to swim, the fish are easily caught.

Peasant Collective Action in the Liberal Age, 1880-1925

By the end of the nineteenth century, beginning in Egypt and spreading to the
rest of the region, new forms of collective action begin to emerge. In 1882,
the first successful agricultural strike occurred in Sharqiya province. Share-
croppers in the district of Zankalun struck against a large renter of lands
owned by the Khedive and forced him to give up his lease. 17 The old reper-
toire of peasant protest based on the traditional Islamic moral economy and
defense of local rights gradually disappeared, to be replaced by new forms of
social movements keyed to the new market relations: rent strikes, agricultural
worker strikes, boycotts, and an epidemic of rural banditry.
These changes signal the transformation of agrarian relations and mark a
new phase in the history of the Middle East. The development of a rural
constabulary, the settlement of the nomads, the extension of modem means of
communication (railroads and telegraph) into the countryside, and the devel-
opment of modem property relations transformed the terrain on which the old
struggles were enacted. Agrarian collective action increasingly played itself
out in terms of the new model, with the militancy of estate laborers and
sharecroppers increasingly replacing jacqueries and older forms of rural vio-
lence. With the exception of the mass anticolonial risings that followed World
War I, the new forms of protest represent a shift from jacqueries to smaller-
scale protests in which economic demands play the major role.
The new forms of collective action were pioneered first in Egypt because
that is where the new economic forces had their deepest impact. The agri-
cultural laborers who struck at Zankalun in 1882 were part of a wave of
agrarian unrest that affected Egypt in the late 187os and early i88os. After
several decades of worsening agricultural conditions, and encouraged by the
ulama and the Sufi orders, Egyptian peasants attacked the estates of the Turco-


Changing Patterns of Peasant Protest

Circassian elite and khedival family in Buhaira, Gharbiya, Qalyubiya, and the
cotton provinces of Minya and Asyut. Changing agricultural conditions, re-
sulting both from market forces and state fiscal demands, led to a rising tide of
foreclosures, with the inevitable human casualties: a growing number of in-
creasingly desperate landless peasants and service tenants. In this context,
'Urabi's promise to cancel peasant debt and "banish the usurers" provoked a
widespread series of attacks on foreign moneylenders, and al-Azhar students
fanned the discontent. A specific object of peasant wrath was mortgage fore-
closure, a hitherto unknown and un-Islamic practice. Only British interven-
tion saved the Turco-Egyptian hold on the land.18 Not for the last time, a
Middle Eastern country would be saved from revolution by European
By the early 1900oos similar strikes were taking place from Syria to Algeria,
and by the interwar years the peasant repertoire had expanded to include land
invasions and other more radical tactics. By 1900oo Algerian agricultural la-
borers were demanding higher wages. By the 193os, as a result of Communist
party activity, efforts to organize agricultural labor were taking shape.19
As the focus of peasant protest turned from the state to moneylenders and
landowners, the landed elites (whether European or indigenous) turned more
repressive, hiring field guards and other armed retainers to keep order. They
also turned increasingly to the courts to enforce their new rights upon a balky
agricultural labor force. A plague of lawyers, eager to defend the interests of
wealthy clients (and often their own), descended upon the countryside. We
catch echoes of this world in such works as Tawfiq al-Hakim's Yawmiyyat
na'ib fi al-riyaf.20
The consolidation of private property rights combined with worsening
agrarian conditions to provoke a wave of brigandism in Egypt and elsewhere
in the region. The peasant bands that had sprung up in 1879-82 remained
active despite the repression of the 'Urabi movement, prompting the creation
of an official Brigandage Commission in 1884 to put down the "primitive
rebels" who threatened landlords and their estates. Despite punishments, the
threat of retaliatory acts by angry peasants remained real into the early twen-
tieth century. Thomas Russell, police commandant of Cairo from 1913 to
1946, noted the reaction of a rural notable to his suggestion of the delights of
reading a book on the veranda of a country estate of an evening: "My friend
said at once: 'You don't really think that a landlord in the districts could sit out
on a veranda after dinner, with a bright light over his head, do you, and not
get shot.' "21
Algeria also experienced a wave of banditry at the end of the nineteenth



century. Especially in mountainous districts like the Aures and Kabilya, ban-
dit gangs functioned with impunity into the twentieth century. Supported by
the local populations, groups like the bandee de Belezma" lasted from 1915
to 1921, preying chiefly upon Muslims known to be tied to the French au-
thorities.22 Social bandits like these may be found throughout the region,
testing the limits of the repressive power of the colonial state. They also
experimented with new political forms that were later to be adopted in the
postwar nationalist movements. (Think, for example, of the armed bands who
terrorized landlords in the Palestinian countryside in the 1930s or the Algerian
The social movements of the liberal age (I8go-1925) reflect not only the
tightening grip of state authorities and the heightened pace of economic
change but also the looming shadow of the West. A key feature of this period
was experimentation with new forms and ideologies of collective action.
Increasingly the remnants of the old system were bypassed by new social
groups with distinctively different economic bases, cultural reference points,
and social experiences. In the countryside, peasant jacqueries began to give
way to rent strikes and attacks on local estate agents and usurers. Most
important, as portions of the Arab world came under European domination,
experiments with new forms of identity and social cohesion, notably secular
nationalism, began to emerge.


One way to begin to make sense of the complexity and diversity of the Middle
Eastern countryside lies in placing it in comparative historical context. As
Barrington Moore, Jr., and Theda Skocpol have shown, the entry into the
modem age of states like France, Russia, and China was the occasion of
intense social conflict.23 In these agrarian bureaucratic states, they argue,
under certain conditions conflicts could give rise to social revolutions.
Whether they did or not, they contend, the manner in which the old structures
were transformed in agrarian bureaucracies permanently shaped the sort of
modem state that would emerge and the coalition of forces that would sus-
tain it.
The Ottoman Empire, Iran, and Morocco were agrarian bureaucracies
similar in some ways to the states studied by Moore and Skocpol. During the
period 1750-1950 each underwent intense social turmoil. Yet the Middle East
did not experience major social revolution. Why not? The study of the local


Changing Patterns of Peasant Protest

elites in the Middle East, because they were the chief intermediaries between
rural agriculturalists, the state, and the market can help us to begin to assess
cases of revolt and nonrevolt in the area. As elsewhere, rural society in the
Middle East was connected to the outside world by webs of kinship, religious,
state, and market relationships. Local elites were well placed within each of
these networks to muffle the impact of change upon themselves, the better to
be able to preserve their own fortunes. The adroitness of Lebanese muqatajis,
Egyptian umdahs, and rural big men all over the region in penetrating the
emerging state structures allowed them to maintain a grip on important politi-
cal and economic resources and ride out currents of change they could not
control. Ultimately, it helped them to survive.


I. For a summary and critique of this literature, see Bryan S. Turner, Marx and the
End of Orientalism (London: Allen & Unwin, 1978).
2. Gabriel Baer, "Fellah Rebellion in Egypt and the Fertile Crescent," in Fellah
and Townsmen in the Middle East, ed. Baer (London: Frank Cass, 1982).
3. See, for example, Muhamed Cherif, "Les movements paysans dans la Tunisie
du XIXe siecle," Revue de l'Occident musulman et de la Mdditerrande, no. 30 (1980);
Peter Von Sivers, "Rural Uprisings as Political Movements in Early Colonial Algeria
(1851-1914)," in Islam, Politics, and Social Movements, ed. Edmund Burke, III and
Ira M. Lapidus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988); and Edmund Burke,
ml1, Prelude to Protectorate in Morocco: Precolonial Protest and Resistance, 1860-
1912 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976).
4. See, among others, Charles Issawi, An Economic History of the Middle East
and North Africa (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982); Roger Owen, The
Middle East in the World Economy, 1880-1914 (London: Methuen, 1981); Tarif
Khalidi, ed., Land Tenure and Social Transformation in the Middle East (Beirut:
American University of Beirut, 1984); and Lucette Valensi, Fellahs tunisiens: L'Econ-
omie rurale et la vie des campagnes (Paris: Mouton, 1976).
5. Joel Migdal, Peasants, Politics, and Revolution (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1974); Jeffery Paige, Agrarian Revolution (New York: The Free
Press, 1975); Samuel Popkin, The Rational Peasant (Berkeley: University of Califor-
nia Press, 1979); James Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant (New Haven,
Conn.: Yale University Press, 1976); and Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolu-
tions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).
On avoidance protest, see the special issue of The Journal of Peasant Studies 13, 2
(1986), "Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance in South-East Asia." See also Michael
Adas, "Market Demand vs. Imperial Control: Colonial and Southeast Asia," in Global
Crises and Social Movements: Artisans, Peasants, Populists, and the World Economy,
ed. E. Burke (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1988); and James C. Scott, Weapons of



the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University
Press, 1985).
6. The beginning of modern Middle Eastern history is generally dated from 1798
and the Napoleonic invasion of Europe. Recent research into the economic history of
the region, however, has tended to push the date back into the mid-eighteenth century.
See Andr6 Raymond, Artisans et commergants du Caire, 2 vols. (Damascus: Institute
frangais de Damas, 1973, 1974), and Kenneth Cuno, "Landholding Economy and
Society in Rural Egypt" (Ph.D. diss., UCLA, 1985).
7. For a useful overview, see Issawi, An Economic History, chap. 7.
8. Baer, "Fellah Rebellion."
9. On the Egyptian rebellions, see Fred H. Lawson, "Rural Revolt and Provincial
Society in Egypt, 1820-1824," IJMES 13, 2 (I981):131-53.
io. For a summary of our present understanding, see Owen, Middle East in the
World Economy. See also Dominique Chevallier, "Western Development and Eastern
Crisis in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: Syria Confronted with the European Economy,"
in The Beginnings of Modernization in the Middle East, ed. W. R. Polk and Richard
Chambers, 205-22 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968).
On Tuhnisia, see Muhamad Cherif, "Expansion europ6enne et difficulties tunisiennes
de 1815 a 1830," Annales 25, 3 (197o):714-45, and Valensi, Fellahs tunisiens.
I I. See, among others, Y. Porath, "The Peasant Revolt of 1858-61 in Kisrawan,"
Asian and African Studies (Jerusalem), 2 (I966):77-157; Owen, Middle East in the
World Economy; D. Chevallier, "Aux origins des troubles agraires libanais," Annales
14 (1959):35-64; and Abdallah Hanna, Qadiyat al-zira'iyyah wa harakat al-
fallahiyah fi suriya wa lubnan, 1820-I92o (Beirut: Dar al-Farabi, 1975).
12. See the excellent monograph of Bice Slama, L'Insurrection de 1864 en Tunisie
(Thunis: Maison tunisienne d'edition, 1967).
13. Von Sivers, "Rural Uprisings."
14. See Ellen Titus Hoover, "Among Competing Worlds: The Rehamna of Moroc-
co on the Eve of French Conquest" (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1978), and Paul
Pascon, Le Haouz de Marrakech, 2 vols. (Tangier: Editions marocaines et interna-
tionales, 1977).
15. On the Shawiya, see the impressive case study of John Godfrey, "Overseas
Trade and Rural Change in Nineteenth Century Morocco" (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins
University, 1985). On Abu Himara, see Ross E. Dunn, "The Bu Himara Rebellion in
Northeast Morocco: Phase I," Middle Eastern Studies 17, I (1981): 31-48.
16. Anton Blok, The Mafia of a Sicilian Village (New York: Harper and Row,
17. Gabriel Baer, "Submissiveness and Revolt of the Fellah," Studies in the Social
History of Modern Egypt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), loI.
18. Alexander Scholch, Aegypt den Aegyptern! (Zurich: Atlantis Verlag, 1972);
Alan Richards, Egypt's Agricultural Development, 18oo-I98o (Boulder, Colo.: West-
view Press, 1982).
19. Charles-Robert Ageron, Les Algeriens musulmans et la France, 2 vols. (Paris:
Presses Universitaire de France, 1968), 2:837-47.
20. Abba Eban, trans., The Maze of Justice (London: Saqi Press, 1989).
21. Russell, quoted in Richards, Egypt's Agricultural Development, 57.


Changing Patterns of Peasant Protest 37

22. Capt. Petignot, "Banditisme au Pays Chaouia" (1921), and M. Bouchot,
Sous-Pr6fet of Tizi-Ouzou, "Rapport sur la repression du banditisme" (1894), both in
Service historique de l'armee. Archives militaires.
23. Barrington Moore, Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord
and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966);
Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions.


Rural Unrest in the Ottoman Empire,



A variety of natural, economic, and political factors affected the pattern of
rural unrest in the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire. Droughts, famines, or
locust infestations, familiar parts of life for most of the period, often caused
bread rioting but usually not sustained violence or rebellion. The commer-
cialization of agriculture certainly was important. During this period, the
growing commodification of the agrarian sector meant a mounting importance
of the market economy, aimed at both domestic and international consumers.
In its train, this development brought increasing sensitivity to market condi-
tions and to changes in the business cycle. Thus, it is no surprise to find the
international financial crisis of the mid-i89os mirrored in rural violence
within Ottoman borders, this time directed against Armenians. Shifting de-
mand for Ottoman crops, such as the bust in cotton exports after 1865 or the
post-19o0 boom in tobacco exports, surely affected the level and frequency of
unrest in the countryside, although the microstudies needed to determine these
relationships have not been done. Shifts in the terms of trade also influenced
the patterns of unrest. Between 1820 and 1873, for example, the terms of
trade favored cultivators, then worsened for two decades before turning
around again after 1896.
State policy worked variously to aggravate conditions in the countryside.
When it settled Muslim refugees from Czarist Russia and its own lost Balkan
provinces, for example, the state inadvertently challenged the position of
established villagers in areas as widely scattered as Ottoman Bulgaria, the
Black Sea coast of Anatolia, and southern Syria. Tribal pacification policies


Rural Unrest in the Ottoman Empire

that otherwise were quite beneficial to the body politic and the economy could
bring the settling tribes into conflict with village communities-a notable
example being the Kurdish settlement in eastern Anatolia. Overall, state pol-
icy, often in the form of the centralization of power, exercised a decisive
impact on the timing, frequency, and intensity of rural unrest in the nineteenth
The Land Law of 1858 certainly affected rural stability but in ways we do
not yet understand fully because the actual impact of the law on landholding
itself is unclear and the subject of much controversy.1 The prevailing view has
been that it primarily benefited the notables who formed large estates, but this
consensus probably is incorrect. The law contained a complex bundle of
capitalist and precapitalist features that sought to enhance state control, en-
courage production, and provide for title deeds and land registration. In
certain regions, the law worked to dispossess smallholders. Thus, as is fre-
quently cited, the law did help to promote the agglomeration of land by
chieftains and notables in the Iraqi provinces. But elsewhere, it legalized and
solidified small cultivators' claims to lands that they had been cultivating. In
the Lebanon, around Jerusalem, and in the region of modern Jordan-three
case studies for which research has been done-smallholders eagerly flocked
to the land registry office and obtained official documents recording their
claims. Smallholdings did remain characteristic of Ottoman Anatolia and
parts of Syria, while large holdings emerged in some regions of Syria and
much of Iraq. But the Land Law did not play the key role, confirming and
ratifying rather than creating and establishing, these varied landholding pat-
terns around the empire. What, then, are the correlations between the Land
Law and unrest? If smallholders generally sought to register their lands, as the
three examples cited above suggest-and it seems reasonable to assume so-
then we can see that the Land Law probably raised peasant expectations.
Uncertainty over the meaning of the law and who might benefit from its
implementation as well as the actual process of land registration may have
added to rural unrest.
During the nineteenth century, the state began to encroach upon life in the
countryside in a manner rarely, if ever, seen during the long centuries of the
Ottoman imperium. This encroachment was part of a larger process, the
Tanzimat reform program of centralization and Westernization, that sought to
rebuild Ottoman military and civil power to ensure the state's continued
survival. Following a long period of decentralized rule in which regional
magnates exercised considerable control over the land and the cultivators, the
central state sought to reassert its authority, break the autonomous power of



the local notables, and regain control over the land, the peasants, and their
surplus. In addition, the state adopted policies of equality before the law and
equality of fiscal responsibility. It sought to eliminate the tax-exempt status of
the magnates and, hoping to increase aggregate revenues, ordered that all pay
the same agricultural tax rate. Ironically, these reform programs accelerated,
in some respects at least, the pace of Ottoman destruction, for they tore at the
loyalty of its long-privileged Muslim subjects while straining relations be-
tween Ottoman Muslims and Christians. Vast waves of rural (and urban)
unrest were unleashed, shaking the state to its foundation and recasting whole
provinces as independent states.
These great cycles of rebellion and destruction were hardly unique exam-
ples of nineteenth-century rural discontent in the Ottoman Empire. That pro-
test was an unexceptional part of everyday Ottoman life has often escaped the
notice of historians because, in part, they have been bent on rediscovering the
history of imperial institutions, reform programs, and Westernizers. Another
reason that this history of rural protest has been unrecovered lies in its nature.
To begin with, it was located in the (generally illiterate) countryside, away
from the urban seats of governmental and other record keepers. Examples
occasionally do appear in the written record: in 188o, central Anatolian vil-
lagers murdered several government officials seeking to collect arrears in
taxes while, further west in the same area, other peasants resisted admin-
istrators seeking to transfer grain from their famine-stricken village.2 Only
when it became very large, widespread, or violent, or caused substantial
declines in state revenues, might rural unrest become a focus of official
attention and outside concern. Because most protest was neither violent nor
widespread, it has remained largely invisible-a force surely present but an
undocumented one.
Peasant avoidance certainly was the most common form of protest, a
refusal to perform duties or pay taxes or enter the military, a posture that might
end in flight. But this avoidance could remain unrecorded unless very large
numbers were involved, such as the mass movement of Christian peasants
from the Ottoman Bulgarian provinces to independent Serbia in the mid-
nineteenth century. Other forms of protest included social banditry, which
flourished with the support of villagers and nomads whose anger these bandits
articulated. There also were frequent open insurrections against the state and
rural elites by both peasants and tribes. Intersectarian violence, when Ottoman
cultivators fought with one another instead of against the rulers, sometimes
was a degeneration of social banditry or insurrection that had begun as anti-
elite protest.


Rural Unrest in the Ottoman Empire

RURAL UNREST seems to have been particularly widespread and violent
during three periods. The first, from 1839 until about the mid-i86os, was
characterized by resistance to the implementation of the Tanzimat reforms.
These rebellions were, quite probably, the greatest of the nineteenth-century
Ottoman Empire. In the Balkan areas, these struggles mutated into national-
ist revolutions. In the Arab provinces, important uprisings occurred around
Aleppo and Damascus and in the Hawran; of particular importance was the
Kisrawan rising of 1858-61, which also derived from the Land Law of 1858.
The next cluster of violence was directed against the Armenians in eastern
Anatolia. Beginning in the 189os and reaching its climax two decades later, in
1915-16, it owed much to the settlement of the Kurds and to Tanzimat
promises of equality. The third period includes the growing disorders in the
Balkan, Arab, and Anatolian rural areas that characterized the last few years,
about 1902-8, before the Young Turk Revolution.
Between about 1863 and the early i89os, rural rebellions probably were
less widespread than at any other time, with the notable exception of Bulgaria,
where violence reached new heights in 1875-76, just before the final break
from Ottoman control. It seems unlikely that the overall decline in rural
violence is only apparent as a result of reporting flaws. If anything, sources
for the late nineteenth century are incomparably richer than for the earlier part
of the period. Instead, the quiescence derived from several factors. The locus
of much unrest had been in the Balkan areas; by the mid-i86os, many of these
had achieved de facto independence, with the additional exception of Mac-
edonia, where rebellions continued into the twentieth century.3
In the Arab and Anatolian areas, the decreased incidence of social unrest
can be explained only partially on the basis of the available evidence. Increas-
ing central control and taxation had been in effect for over three decades and
had become institutionalized. More concretely, the military power of the
central state was vastly greater than it had been around 18oo. The regular
army consisted of not more than 24,000 soldiers in 1837; by the end of the
next decade, their number had risen to perhaps 120,ooo regular troops and
came to be supported by the telegraph and, in some areas, by railroads as
well.4 The peasants had thus become accustomed to taxes that evolved from
being a novel to a normal part of the rural landscape; in any event, they were
less able to resist. The case of the notables is slightly different. In the face of
Tanzimat policies, they almost everywhere lost direct control over the land,
some revenues, and their tax-exempt status, to boot. Their relative disinclina-
tion to open resistance probably owes something to their retention of consider-
able local prominence, power, and wealth. Toward the end of the century,



however, Young Turk resistance to Abdulhamid's regime found support
among many provincial notables whose positions had been deteriorating in the
face of the increasingly effective central rule of the sultan. The formation of
the Public Debt Administration, in 1881, probably also weakened notables'
fiscal hold as tax farmers when its salaried agents collected agricultural taxes
on behalf of the foreign consortium.
Among the insurrections arising from implementation of the Tanzimat, the
Bulgarian peasant rebellions are the best known. Their origins are well docu-
mented and arise directly out of the 1839 reform decree. The land regime in
the Vidin area combined pre-Ottoman practices with a distorted version of the
timar system. In a turn of events almost unique in Ottoman history, Muslim
lords, descendants of sipahis, and urban notables became the true owners of
state land during the eighteenth century, when they also seized control of the
local administration.5 In return for a cash payment to a strapped central
treasury, these groups emerged as a class of great landlords and took over
"all" state lands. The lords were Muslim because the lands earlier had been
classified as frontier territories. By customary practice predating the Ottoman
arrival, the sipahis collected certain extra dues and taxes not demanded in
other provinces, such as one or two months' sowing labor, a cart of wood, or a
cartload of corn. Indeed, the peasants owed as much or more to the lord as to
the state. When the 1839 decree abolished all forms of compulsory services,
peasants in the Vidin region quickly made clear their refusal to perform them
anymore. When called in to decide, the state straddled the fence. Like the
czar's emancipation of the serfs, the sultan's decree attempted to reconcile the
irreconcilable, to abolish the services due without harming the landowners.
As a result, landholders generally had their way and, the reform regulations
notwithstanding, services and feudal-like dues continued.
In 1850, a revolt erupted in Vidin, its underlying cause confusion and
disorder in the land system. In the ten years since proclamation of the Tan-
zimat, the state had stabilized peasants' possession of state lands by increasing
the number of family members who could inherit. The lords, for their part,
continued to take dues and services by force, dominating the local councils
and thwarting the authority of the governor sent to control them. Peasants
demanded abolition of the lords' rule and, apparently, deeds granting them
direct ownership of the land. The governor of Vidin concurred, seeing the
measure to be essential for peace. But the Istanbul authorities required a three-
step procedure: continuation of state ownership of the land, abolition of those
obligations to the lords that the central government deemed illegal, and pay-
ment of the remaining "legal" obligations that cultivators would render partly


Rural Unrest in the Ottoman Empire

to the lords for life and partly to the central treasury. This plan flew in the face
of peasants' expectations since they intended to keep the lords' former reve-
nues and pay nothing either to the government or the lords. By the time the
state finally decided in 1851 to sell the lords' lands to the peasants, peasants
were seeking to obtain the land without compensation. These discontents then
meshed with mounting Bulgarian nationalism and culminated in the great
revolt of 1875-76 and Bulgarian independence.6
A parallel set of events occurred farther west in the Balkans, in Bosnia and
Herzegovina. There, as in Bulgaria, a three-way struggle pitted Muslim nota-
bles interested in retaining tax revenues against the state, while the Christian
peasants sought to take over the land that the notables held. Unrest began
immediately after proclamation of the Giilhane decree. The notables orches-
trated the first rebellions against the centralizing state but, later on, peasants
rose against the lords. In 1858-59, perhaps partially inspired by fear of the
Land Law and its provisions for cultivators' registration of lands, long-estab-
lished feudal families incited the peasants to revolt and prevented imposition
of Ottoman central control. With the help of the peasants, these families
opposed the Tanzimat reforms and retained their timars or, where they had
been converted, their tax farms. They kept the majority of the surplus and
dominated both Muslim and Christian peasants, despite strong state efforts in
the early i86os to break landlord power. Over time, however, the programs of
the central government weakened the notables. In 1874-75, Herzegovinian
Christian peasants rose against Muslim landowners in a number of villages
where tax farmers had been trying to collect taxes during a time of bad
harvest. The rebellion spread all over Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Great
Powers became involved and the rebellions ended with the removal of Ot-
toman authority, similar to the process that brought about the loss of
Widespread rural unrest in nineteenth-century Anatolia, on the magnitude
of the i85os and i86os uprisings in the Balkans or the Arab provinces, seems
to have been relatively unusual. Although perhaps underreported by histo-
rians, more likely this relative peacefulness stemmed partly from the moral
economy of the peasantry in Anatolia, a culture disinclined to use violent
protest to register its discontents. Anatolian peasant quietude certainly was
tied to the continuing prevalence of small family holdings as the dominant
form of land tenure, a distribution pattern inherited from the pre-nineteenth-
century era and sanctified by the Land Law of 1858. Not that Anatolia was
devoid of unrest: The history of rural Anatolia was one of incessant active and
passive protest, from one end of the period to the other. What seems different



about Anatolia is the small scale of its protest. Implementation of the Tan-
zimat reforms there brought immediate and varying forms of resistance.
Sometimes the sumptuary aspects of the new state policies were opposed
passively: in the small town of Bergama, for example, most people continued
to wear their turbans and conical hats, ignoring the example of the Westerniz-
ing bureaucracy who adopted the fez.
Against the new fiscal measures, the protests took a more active shape: in
1841, for example, a low-ranking member of the ulema in Adapazari called on
the populace not to pay the new, higher, imposts since they already were
unable to pay their present taxes. At the same time, notables at Yalvag,
themselves subject to heavier taxes under the new policies, sought to gain
allies and urged the populace at large to resist the new levies. A notable in the
Bala area south of Ankara understood that the Tanzimat's removal of tax
exemptions meant taxes on large state properties in his possession, so he
incited a tax revolt among some 400 villagers. When arrested, he complained
that although his taxes had increased sharply, those of poor villagers had more
than doubled.8 During the early reign of Mahmud II (1808-39), social bandits
had been common, often serving as unpaid military forces responsible for
maintaining order. By the 183os, thanks to the reimposition of central author-
ity and the rise of the larger, salaried military force, many bandits had van-
ished from western and central Anatolia.9 But social banditry persisted
throughout the period, sometimes focusing on foreign travelers with the con-
nivance of local cultivators and authorities.
Tribal unrest, for its part, faded as the century progressed and had ceased to
be an important factor in most areas by the i87os. In the Armenian massacres
of the i89os, however, several factors seem to have been at work. During the
worldwide financial crisis of the mid-189os, Turkish or sedentarized Kurdish
peasants may have sought to escape from Armenian moneylenders through a
violence that then focused on the Armenian community in general. There also
is the issue of the disintegrating tribal structures as state centralization pro-
ceeded: The power of the Kurdish beys over their tribes was fading just as
Tanzimat pledges of equality and an awakening nationalism caused some
Armenian villagers to become increasingly assertive. The famous Sasun mas-
sacre, for example, occurred when the local Armenians refused to continue
yielding to the extortionary demands of nearby Kurdish chieftains. Their
authority over both the villagers and the tribes threatened, the chiefs resorted
to massive force to maintain themselves in power. Using a variety of appeals
that may have included shared ethnicity as well as economic advantage, the
chiefs mobilized the tribes against the peasants and thus retained control.


Rural Unrest in the Ottoman Empire

The Muslim refugees' encroachment on common lands also contributed to
disorders all over Anatolia. In the 187os, for example, considerable friction
existed between the newly arrived settlers and villagers in the coastal areas
around Black Sea Samsun. The worst, however, probably was over by the
beginning of the i88os.10 Factory burnings also are an integral part of the
social history of nineteenth-century Anatolia, although these protests focused
on particular establishments and never developed into a Luddist variety of
protest against factory qua factory. Examples include factory sackings at
Bursa in the i86os, Bergama in the i88os, and Uak in 19o8.11 In the carpet-
making center at Uak in March 19o8, village spinners marched into the town
and sacked three mechanized spinning mills that jeopardized their livelihoods.
Crop cycles, by themselves, were not catalysts of major protest. The terrible
killing famine of 1873-74 provoked only a few bread riots in various regions.
Later, however, a broader series of bread riots accompanied crop failures and
shortfalls in 19o6-o8. In June 1908, for example, Sivas-area villagers
marched into the town and with the urban discontented sacked local granaries.
The response at nearby Kayseri was more pacific as 12,000 gathered and
prayed for rain.12 At Erzurum, however, fears about food shortages combined
with a taxpayers' protest dating back to 1906 over an increase in the poll and
animal taxes. The revolt combined rural and urban dissidents and persisted
until the 19o8 Young Turk Revolution. Without exception, these protests
occurred in the presence of failing or threatened crops. But poor crop condi-
tions required a cadre of revolutionaries who mobilized, organized, and artic-
ulated the discontents. That is, peasant discontent was a constant but usually
required some outside variable to erupt in open revolt or insurrection. These
demonstrations eloquently expressed the weakened legitimacy of the state and
helped pave the way for the Young Turk seizure of power.13
In the Arab provinces, rural unrest erupted with considerable frequency
until the i86os. In 1834, for example, the fellah of Palestine rebelled against
forced labor, against the conscription of Muslims into Muhammad "Ali's army,
and against the ferde, a levy like the poll tax previously reserved for Chris-
tians that Ali imposed on Muslims. Lebanon had four or five rural uprisings
between 182o and 1861. Among these were revolts in Mount Lebanon in
184o, Alawi risings during the i85os, and Druze insurrections in the Hawran
in the late i870s. Many revolts primarily fought remnants of the old agrarian
regime and the increasing fiscal pressures of the reform-minded central state,
among them insurrections in Palestine during 1852 and 1854 and in Syria
during 1852, 1854, 1862-64, and 1865-66. Peasant rebellions in the Fertile
Crescent were most common in remote districts where villages usually were



more prosperous than on the plain or near important cities. In many moun-
tainous districts, the local lords, who usually were the tax farmers, led peasant
revolts against the centralizing efforts of the state. In this case, the protests
were like the early ones in Bosnia and Herzegovina from about 1839 to the
i86os. In other instances, peasants rebelled against local lords or intermediate
tax farmers weakened by the intrusion of central power.14
Perhaps the best documented example is the 1858-61 revolt of the Mar-
onite peasants of Kisrawan against their Maronite overlords. In Kisrawan,
after the Emir Bashir II had removed the tax farmers' judicial authority,
Muhammad 'Ali and then the Ottomans further weakened the power of the
Khazin family of Maronite sheikhs. The revolt seems to have stemmed from
the desire of some prosperous cultivators connected to the Beirut silk trading
center to obtain more land to grow mulberries and meet the demand for
cocoons. The Khazin overlords, however, refused to alienate land and thus
blocked this expanding peasantry. Khazin power had weakened substantially,
but, increasingly strapped for money, they demanded all kinds of feudal
presents. Still worse from their perspective, massive quantities of European-
made arms recently had flooded into peasant hands. When the revolt erupted,
its leaders appealed to the call of the Hat-ti Humayun for universal equality.15
The rebellion was a great success for the peasants since, by its end, the
Khazins had lost much of their land. In addition, the state abolished feudal
privileges and proclaimed equality before the law. Unlike the Kurdish chiefs
facing opposition from the state and their own followers, the Khazin lords had
not maintained military superiority and so lost the day. 16
The Kisrawan demands for changes in traditional lord-peasant relations
closely paralleled those of the Vidin peasants during the i85os in their efforts
to gain full control over the land. They also are echoed by the actions during
1889-90 of the Druze peasants in the Hawran, who rebelled against their
Atrash lords as the Ottoman state sought to subdue the district. In common
with the Kisrawan rising, the Druze rebellion ended feudalism and began the
extension of new relations of production.17

IT SEEMS evident that the peak of open unrest occurred between the i84os and
the middle i86os, in many cases as popular and notable responses to govern-
ment fiat. The imposition of the Tanzimat reforms meant a changed agrarian
order, with greater (but not full) central control of the land, more of the
surplus going to the imperial treasury, and higher taxes for the peasantry. But
the notables continued to hang on with considerable success, using their
memberships in local councils and other bodies to maintain their influence and
power over the peasantry. Extreme confusion reigned in the countryside


Rural Unrest in the Ottoman Empire

everywhere in the empire, since the state declared removal of the old order but
could not fully eliminate it.18 As in the Vidin case and that of the Kurdish
beys, it may have been unwilling to do so. Programs to eliminate the lords
generated strong resistance among the notables while the increase in taxes
angered them as well as the peasants. Resistance to the new conscription laws
prompted abandonment of Muslim villages in the first decades of the reform
era just as the 19o8 inclusion of Ottoman Christians in the conscription
process led to their large-scale emigration from the empire. Sharecropping
expanded at the same time that state taxes on peasants were increasing faster
than agricultural productivity. Finally, the peasants demanded that landlord-
ism be abolished and rebelled against a state that was not willing to sacrifice
the estate owners. In the Vidin region, the fact that peasants were Christians
and the owners were Muslims gave the social conflict a religious and finally a
national dimension.19 Social conflict indeed played a vital role in many nine-
teenth-century nationalist movements. Peasants hoped to gain from the reform
legislation and resented state efforts to acquire coveted notables' lands. Thus,
giftliks undermined Ottoman control of the Balkans.20 Although social strug-
gle between the Kurds and Armenians also took on a religious dimension that
incompletely evolved into a national struggle, tendencies toward land agglom-
eration and market agriculture do not seem to have played a catalytic role.
Lebanon and the Bulgarian lands each were important seats of insurrection.
Each possessed unusually high population densities and a strong commitment
to commercial agriculture. Whether feudal-like relations were stronger in
these two regions than elsewhere is uncertain. In Anatolia, for its part, the
prevalence of small peasant family farms played a role in the relative lack of
uprisings, as did the relatively low level of agricultural commercialization
(compared to that of the European provinces) and the relatively lower eco-
nomic growth rate after 1850 (compared to that of European and Arab
A relative absence of open insurrection should not be interpreted to suggest
the absence of serious discontents or oppression. Peasant avoidance, not
insurrection, was the common form of coping with crisis or difficulties. For
many, open revolt remained the exceptional method of expressing rural


i. This discussion draws from my analysis and the sources cited in The Ottoman
Empire: Its Economy and Society, 13oo-1914, ed. Halil Inalcik and Donald Quataert
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).



2. My thanks to Fato Kaba of the SUNY-Binghamton Anthropology Department
for these references, drawn from the Great Britain Foreign Office reports.
3. Fikret Adanir, "The Macedonian Question: The Socio-Economic Reality and
Problems of its Historiographic Interpretations," International Journal of Turkish
Studies (Winter 1984-85): 43-64. Adanir holds the opinion that socioeconomic fac-
tors were not a cause of the Macedonian rebellions.
4. Edouard Engelhardt, La Turquie et le Tanzimat (Paris: A. Cotillon et Cie, 1882,
1884), 1:89, 2:281-82.
5. Margaret L. Meriwether, "Urban Notables and Rural Resources in Aleppo,
1730-1830," International Journal of Turkish Studies (Summer 1987): 55-73.
6. Halil Inalcik, Tanzimat ve Bulgar Meselesi (Ankara: Turk Tarih Kurumu
Basimevi, 1943) and "Application of the Tanzimat and its Social Effects," Archivum
Ottomanicum (1973): 97-128.
7. See, for example, A. Cevad Eren, "Tanzimat," Islam Ansiklopedesi i i (Istan-
bul: Maarif Matbaasi, 1970): 709-65; see also the sources cited in Stanford J. Shaw,
History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 1977), 2: 149-60.
8. Inalcik, "Social Effects"; Osman Bayatli, Bergama'da yakin tarih olaylari
XVIII-XIX yiizyil (Izmir: Teknik Kitap ve Mecmua Basimevi, 1957), 7.
9. Musa Cadirci, "II. Mahmud d6neminde (1808-1839) Avrupa ve Hayriye Ttc-
carlari," in Social and Economic History of Turkey, I071-192o, ed. Osman Okyar
and Halil Inalcik (Ankara: Meteksan L. S., 198o), 237-41; M. C. Ulugay, Saruhan'da
eskiyalik ve halk hareketleri (Istanbul: N. p., 1955).
10. Great Britain Foreign Office reports.
I I. Donald Quataert, "Machine Breaking and the Changing Carpet Industry of
Western Anatolia, 1860-1908," Journal of Social History (Spring 1986): 473-89; and
Bayatli, Bergama.
12. Donald Quataert, "The Economic Climate of the 'Young Turk Revolution' in
1908," Journal of Modern History (September 1979): D 1147-61.
13. Ibid., and Quataert, "Machine Breaking."
14. Gabriel Baer, "Fellah Rebellion in Egypt and the Fertile Crescent," reprinted
in Fellah and Townsmen in the Middle East: Studies in Social History, ed. Gabriel
Baer (London: F. Cass, 1982), 253-323; Marwan Buheiry, "The Peasant Revolt of
1858 in Mount Lebanon," in Land Tenure and Social Transformation in the Middle
East, ed. Tarif Khalidi (Beirut: American University of Beirut Press, 1984); Edmund
Burke HI, "Changing Patterns of Peasant Protest in the Middle East, 1750-1950,"
paper presented to the 1986 annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association;
and Burke, "Understanding Arab Protest Movements," Maghreb Review I I, I (1986):
15. Buheiry, "The Peasant Revolt of 1858," 299.
16. Account based on Baer, "Fellah Rebellion in Egypt." See article 6 of the 1861
"Regulation for the Administration of Lebanon" in The Middle East and North Africa
in World Politics: A Documentary Record, ed. J. C. Hurewitz (New Haven, Conn.:
Yale University Press, 1975), I: 347-49.
17. Burke, works cited in n. 14 above. In an otherwise useful analysis, Baer overly
stresses the uniqueness of the Kisrawan affair: "Only once in Middle Eastern history


Rural Unrest in the Ottoman Empire 49

did poor and wealthy peasants revolt together against a feudal-like aristocracy" (294).
Here Baer excludes the Anatolian and Balkan areas of the Ottoman Empire from his
Middle East.
18. Inalcik, Bulgar Meselesi and "Social Effects." Also see, for example, the
185os reports in A. D. Mordtmann, Anatolien. Skizzen und Reisebriefe aus Klein-
asien, ed. Franz Babinger (Hannover: Heinz Lafaire, 1925), e.g., 116, 139.
19. Inalcik, "Social Effects."
20. Suraiya Faroqhi, "Agriculture and Rural Life in the Ottoman Empire ca.
1500-1878," New Perspectives on Turkey (Fall 1987): 32-33, discussing the research
of Stoianovich and Inalcik.


Violence in Rural Syria in the 1880s

and 1890s: State Centralization,

Rural Integration, and the World Market


In recent decades Syria's rural areas have been the locus of a new political
activism and the formation of political constituencies for a new kind of politi-
cal regime. Historians are now unearthing more primary sources for rural
history in an attempt to end the silence of a heretofore voiceless peasantry.
There seem to be two complementary approaches: on one hand, we can
reconstruct the structures, functions, and routine processes of rural society; on
the other, we can investigate particular events or series of events, movements,
uprisings, and so forth that were centered in a rural area. In the interplay
between these two approaches, we may be able to discover the perceptions
and interpretations of shared experiences by particular rural people and what it
was or is of these perceptions and interpretations that was and could become
influential in subsequent developments.
Having written on the structure and processes of rural society elsewhere, in
this paper I pursue the course of rural events with interpretive references to
this background.1 We will follow approximately twenty years of events in a
significant district, the Hawran, at the end of the nineteenth century. This
district is an important hinterland of the Syrian capital, Damascus, but its
population has also been influential in the Lebanon and in Palestine/Israel as
migrants and emigres.

The Hawran: Geography and Economy
The Hawran is an open plain of rich, deep soil, sloping upward toward the
east and nearly enclosed by protecting ravines, valleys, and highlands.2 Tak-

Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and i890os

ing the plain together with the cultivable hill country, badlands, and desert
fringe areas that surrounded it, the Hawran encompassed an area of about
25,000 square kilometers. In the nineteenth century it had a distinct identity as
a separate Ottoman sanjak under the control of the vilayet capital, Damascus.
As was often the case in remote regions of the empire, however, the actual
composition of the Sanjak Hawran depended on the extent of the govern-
ment's effective control, which, even at the end of the nineteenth century,
remained an unresolved military and political issue. To a considerable extent,
the history of the Hawran in the nineteenth century is the story of a complex
struggle for administrative and economic control as settlement and agri-
cultural production increased.
By the middle of the century the traditional exchange pattern of resource
autarchy among bedouin, mountaineers, and plainsfolk was increasingly dis-
placed by production for export.3 An informal cartel of Damascene merchants
and rural government-sanctioned political and fiscal brokers emerged in the
course of the bloody Hawran conflicts of the i86os to disrupt the autarchic
pattern, extend agriculture, and "free" surpluses for external markets and for
revenues for the Ottoman provincial treasury.4 This informal cartel was able to
exploit not the land, which was plentiful and could not in any case be

A shepherdess, southern Syria. Photo by L. S. Schilcher, 1988.



"owned," being state land (miri) or the property of religious endowments
(waqJ), but also the peasantry, who were contracted and manipulated into
dependent clientele relationships for ploughing and harvesting. The land unit
of production was not necessarily enlarged into plantations (or giftliks, as in
other parts of the Empire), but the scale of the managerial unit of production
was enlarged as protoindustrial modes of exploitation were extended from the
urban and oasis areas into the more distant dry-farming countryside.5 Since
the cartel alternated sales between a number of markets-wherever profits
were highest or government pressure strongest-its activities caused the
Hawran to oscillate on a varying scale of rural political economy rather than to
fall into a fixed or linear pattern of development. Adapting the categories
suggested by Pamuk for Ottoman agriculture in Turkish regions for this pe-
riod,6 the Hawran could be described as follows, depending on the disposi-
tions of the cartel at any given time: (i) a remote region isolated from the
impact of world markets and having small peasant units of cultivation and
relatively strong, sometimes quasi-feudal, relations of production; (2) a re-
gion drawn into commodity production for world markets, eventually highly
commercialized and export-oriented, and increasingly so with the introduction
of railways.
The status of the peasants of the Hawran also varied according to these
categories.7 Once autarchy was disrupted, the Hawranites could be exploited
as (i) day laborers or (2) servile subsistence tenants, but sometimes they
succeeded in remaining (3) semidependent as sharecroppers or (4) fully inde-
pendent as surplus producers dealing directly in the market.
The cartel required two levels of preconditions for existence and survival.
On one level it needed political control, which included cooperation with
powerful rural factions, the quiescence or subjugation of the cultivators, and
sustained state support, protection, and collaboration. A British consular re-
port of 1869 presents a contemporary description of how the cartel operated:

On orders received from Constantinople, the Governor is selling [to urban
entrepreneurs possession and cultivation rights to] land belonging to the gov-
ernment [miri] by public auction. The local treasury has already realized a sum
amounting to L[stg]I5o,ooo. The lands [for which the cultivation rights are
being sold] are in the lower parts of the Hawran, inhabited by the [Sunni
Muslim] Hawranites and in the Jabal Ajlun [inhabited by sedentary tribes],
where the authorities have but little power. It is to be feared that disturbances
will follow any attempt to enforce these sales. The peoples of those districts are
bent upon resisting the sales. As the success or failure of this measure depends


Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and i89os

upon what action the Druze [of Jabal Hawran] will take in the matter, the
Hawranites applied to them for protection while the Governor, having allotted
the pay of 0oo horsemen to the four principal [Druze] shaikhs, which amounts
to a salary of 50,000 piasters [to each shaikh], has called upon them to use their
influence on his behalf. The Druze shaikhs, in consideration of this pay, have
made professions of submission and though they are anxious to retain their
salaries, they are unwilling to create enemies so near their home. They will
deviate but slightly from their policy which has always been to keep up an
alliance with the tribes surrounding their stronghold, since united they are able
to live in a state of semiindependence of the government, which singly they
could not so easily defy. In order therefore to conciliate their interests with both
parties [the Druze shaikhs] will refrain from openly taking part in any contest
that might ensue but will secretly assist the Hawranites and perhaps actively
aid them under cover of night.8

Here the state has ordered sales to urban entrepreneurs and financed the
quasi-feudal rural chieftains who were to defend these sales; the rural chief-
tains hoped to play a double game between the state (and its urban allies) and
the peasantry; and the peasantry were likely to be outsmarted and outgunned
by the forces ranged against them by the combination of state, urban en-
trepreneurs, and rural chieftains.
On a second level the cartel also needed economic incentives. Profits in
good years averaged 15 percent but could go well beyond that if special
conditions applied-as, for example, during the Crimean War, when grain
prices skyrocketed in the eastern Mediterranean.9 The heyday of Syrian grain
export in the i85os and i86os was gradually reversed in the i87os and i88os
with the opening of the Suez Canal and as the Great Depression took hold. 10
The consequent slump in world grain prices, which lasted far into the i89os,
was a major disincentive for urban and coastal traders and fiscal en-
trepreneurs. The profit margin between the price at the port of export and the
price on the world market increasingly dwindled in the i88os and disappeared
altogether by 1887. By 1892 the world prices fell below those paid to the
cultivators in the fields. For those entrepreneurs who did not grasp the im-
plications early on or had no options even if they did, a long period of struggle
and indecision extended from the late i870os to the late i88os, climaxing in the
189os. The best evidence we have of the gradualness of the shift up to 1889 is
that in 1879 there was still avid interest in tax farming, and not until 1889 did
the government fail to find anyone to bid for the normally profitable tax farms
of the Hawran. In the years immediately following, however, the crisis was
severe. As we shall see in the next section, many peasants harvested clan-



destinely or gave up cultivation altogether when they could not reach the
terms with their contractors that they considered acceptable. The crisis con-
tinued until the late 189os, and even then profit margins were too low to
encourage entrepreneurs to arrange more generous terms with cultivators and
transporters. Even though an upturn had begun, the conditions of the i85os
and i86os had not been restored.
When the price squeeze began in the late 187os, the cartel's participants
put more pressure on their respective peasant clienteles to preserve their own
profit margins. The clients sometimes submitted but sometimes responded by
resisting or attempting to find new intermediaries. On rare occasions the
peasants petitioned the state to champion their cause. The cartel had therefore
to consolidate its political and economic control if it were to survive.
Not only the price situation marked 1879 as a turning point. In that year the
state introduced direct taxation and the first serious outbreak of rural conflict
occurred, bringing to a close a ten-year period of relative peace. The en-
trepreneurs tended to blame the Syrian peasantry rather than the world market
for the relatively high prices of local grain. The trading community expressed
its exasperation in a series of articles on grain that ran in 1898 in a semiofficial
Beirut newspaper: "Despite the fact that the best lands for the cultivation of
wheat [in the world] are in the Ottoman Empire . the prices of our
[native] wheat flour in Beirut are now [as high as] those in London and Paris.
The reason for that is that our peasants are lazy, stupid and irresponsible."11
The state would remain a major player in developments in the Hawran
because its grain-based revenues declined and production was disrupted in the
course of the ensuing conflicts, raising the specter of famine in the cities and
in the desert along the pilgrimage route. Its tactic was to play off one layer of
intermediaries against another, sometimes supporting the rural political bro-
kers, sometimes the urban-based merchants and tax farmers. The state also
encouraged sedentarization and the immigration into the Hawran of the refu-
gee populations from the Lebanon, Algeria, Tunis, and the Caucasus with the
hope that they would be productive and compliant peasants. However, these
people produced new sources of conflict and were themselves often turned
into intermediaries who challenged state and cartel authority.

Chronology of Events, 1879-1900

The following chronology for the period 1879-1900 was reconstructed from a
variety of sources.12 Though incomplete, it presents ample evidence of the


Wheat cultivators in the Hawran of southern Syria. Photo by L. S. Schilcher,


impact of the Great Depression, the demise of the cartel, and the resultant
scramble for control in the Hawran in the last decades of the nineteenth
At mid-century the ltawran's population is estimated to have been some-
what less than 50,000.13 While the vast majority of its inhabitants were
Arabic-speaking Syrians employed in agriculture, there were some important
internal differences.
The plainsfolk were villagers practicing grain, seed, and legume cultiva-
tion in unirrigated fields. Their attachment to the Hawran was so long-stand-
ing that it would be impossible to identify their origins. Their agricultural
practices were age-old adaptations to climate, flora, and fauna and triumphed
in the production of one of the highest quality preindustrial wheats known.14
Although the plainsfolk were Sunni Muslims, their religious practices would
probably not have conformed to the "high" culture of Sunnis in the Syrian
The nomads of the plain and of the bordering steppe were also Sunni
Muslims, but their way of life differed markedly from that of the plains
cultivators. The nomads were the chief animal husbanders of the Hawran,
providing sheep, goats, and camels and their derivative products in exchange
for grain. The sheep- and goat-rearing bedouin frequented the Hawran
throughout the year. The camel bedouin came only seasonally but in massive
numbers when drought elsewhere obliged them to move their herds into the
Hawran's greener pastures and cultivated fields. The nomads often functioned
as harvest guards and grain transporters for the villagers' production.
Different again were the inhabitants of the hill country, mostly Syrian
Christians and Druze. These were communities of peasants whose faith sepa-
rated them from the Syrian majority. The Druze were a heterodox offshoot of
Shiite Islam, whose adherents concentrated in the hills and mountains in
various parts of greater Syria. The Druze of the Hawran sustained ties to other
Druze communities, particularly to those in the mountainous regions west of
the Hawran in what today is Lebanon. Substantial numbers of western Druze
peasants migrated into the Hawran at this time as a consequence of population
pressure and political developments in the Lebanon.
The Christians of the Hawran were mostly Greek Orthodox, but there were
also some Greek Catholics. They were Arabic-speaking communities with
ancient ties to the Hawran who inhabited villages bordering the plain and in
the Jabal Hawran. The Christian villagers were often interspersed with the
Druze. In contrast to the Druze, however, a substantial number of Christians
migrated from the Hawran. Intercommunal tensions combined with economic


Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and I890os

opportunity in urban and coastal centers and abroad drew Christians from all
over Syria into new patterns of migration and settlement in the latter half of
the nineteenth century.
All the people of the Hawran would probably have identified themselves
exactly as that, as "Hawarna" (the people of the Hawran). This identification
would have differentiated them from other regionally defined populations,
such as, for example, the "Shawim" (the people of Damascus). Nonetheless
they would have recognized that they, the Damascenes, and many other
peoples of contiguous regions and towns all inhabited a more general entity,
the country of Syria, the "Bilad al-Sham," as distinct from the countries of
the Hijaz, Nejd, Egypt, Iraq, or the Turkish-speaking regions to the north. To
at least a limited extent, some Hawranites would have been aware of political
issues beyond the immediate confines of their own district and would have
recognized the importance of their district as a distinct entity in the larger
political scheme of things.
The Hawran was a frontier Ottoman district, attached administratively and
economically to Damascus, the capital of the province of Syria. Damascene
merchants who sought their fortunes in the Hawran usually came from the
Maidan, a southern quarter of the city known in this period both for its
agricultural trades and its political ferment. Otherwise, the city's presence was
increasingly personified by Turkish-speaking Ottoman administrative and mil-
itary officials and Arabic-speaking Damascene notables. These notables were
dispatched by the authorities as mediators in disputes or active in routine
administrative matters such as tax collection and conscription. They were also
agricultural entrepreneurs, creditors, and land controllers.
As the century progressed, the city dispatched whole groups of newcomers
into the Hawran, among them pilgrims who took the overland route from
Damascus through the Hawran and into the steppe on their way to Mecca.
Some newcomers lingered in the Hawran voluntarily, finding work in agri-
culture and trade. Others were slaves employed on the Hawran plantations of
the pilgrimage officials who had access to this kind of labor supply in the
course of their undertakings. More sizable groups of newcomers were the
refugees who came to the Hawran from the Caucasus, North Africa, and
the islands of the eastern Mediterranean with the blessing of the central
government and sometimes, as in the case of the Tunisians and Algerians, the
financial support of European consulates. Some of these, though of the Mus-
lim faith and like the Hawranites also Ottoman subjects, were not Arabic
speakers; none were Syrians.15 Their association with Syria would begin with
their gradual and not always smooth integration into local society.



Finally, Damascus introduced Europeans and Americans into the Hawran.
They came as tourists, adventurers, explorers, missionaries, investors, and
aspiring colonizers. Their influence remained largely indirect and, by the later
decades of the nineteenth century, was represented by consular officials based
in Damascus. The Ottoman authorities often turned to the European consuls to
mediate in Hawran affairs, though decreasingly so as time went on.

Phase One (1879-87): Intermediaries Resist the Squeeze,
Pressure Their Clients

In 1879 when the British consul reported that the most lucrative form of
investment in Syria was still in agriculture, a new cycle of violence began in
the Hawran.16 Three to four thousand Ottoman troops intervened in a dispute
between eastern Hawran Druze and the Sunni Muslim villagers of the Hawran
plains village of Busra. The Druze were led by the Druze shaikh Ibrahim al-
Atrash, who had been the cartel's chief rural collaborator, authorized by the
state to collect taxes in the Hawran. Yet the troops fought on the side of the
Busrites against the Druze. The outcome was indecisive, and the Ottoman
authorities requested that the British consul mediate. A western Druze shaikh,
Said Bey Talhuq, was awarded the post of district governor (qaimaqam) of
the Jabal Hawran despite opposition from the Hawranite Druze shaikhs.17
During this period, the Ottoman government made its first serious attempts
to install direct taxation in rural areas. Under Midhat Pasha, the famous
Ottoman reform administrator who held the governorship of the province of
Syria from 1878 to 188o, the central government ordered the collection of a
fixed land tax. Midhat realized that direct cash taxation could not succeed in
the Hawran and pleaded with Istanbul that the tithes be farmed as in the past,
though not to the members of the cartel. In his first year Midhat was able to
find new tax farmers, including some village shaikhs. Even though it was a
poor harvest year, the reorganization of tax farming brought in increased
revenues, embarrassing the cartel and forming the background to the conflicts
spreading in the Hawran, including the dispute between the Atrash shaikhs
and the Busrites.18
In 1881, about a thousand Hawran Druze led by Shibli al-Atrash, the
Druze rival of Ibrahim al-Atrash, attacked the Hawranite Sunni Muslim plains
villages of Kerak and Um Walad, seizing cattle and flocks. One hundred
villagers and two merchants from the Damascus Maidan quarter were killed.
To escape the hostilities, many plainsfolk migrated into the more secure areas
of the Hawran such as the Laja' and parts of the Jabal Hawran. Despite


Violence in Rural Syria in the 188os and i89os

renewed negotiations with the Hawranite factions, pursued by the Damascene
notable Hulu Pasha al-'Abid on behalf of the Ottoman government, Druze
attacks on Hawranite Sunni Muslim villages continued and resulted in the
abandonment of fifteen more villages.19
At the end of 188 I, the Ottomans mounted a military campaign of io,ooo
troops into the Hawran to protect the villages, but financial constraints on the
provincial treasury obliged them to stop short of engaging the Druze.20 Proba-
bly for the same reason, the authorities reappointed Ibrahim al-Atrash and his
supporters to administrative functions in the Jabal in 1882.21 As legitimate
Ottoman governor in the Hawran once again, Ibrahim led his forces, in league
with the Sardiya bedouin, in an attack on the Wald "Ali bedouin. With the
hope of provoking Ottoman intervention and restoring their losses, the Wald
"Ali then invaded the plain and attacked Sunni Muslim villages there.22 But it
does not appear that the Ottomans responded as expected.
These events indicate that the Hawran continued in an uneasy state of only
quasi-control by Damascus and that struggles between rural factions con-
tinued as the government's policies vacillated among authorizing Ibrahim's
Druze shaikhs, tax farming through a second echelon of intermediaries, and
even direct taxation. In 1883, the authorities reaffirmed their intentions to
bring the Hawran to heel. They announced plans for a railway through the
Hawran, and proceeded with the construction of military bases at strategic
points. They also granted cultivation rights to some bedouin so that they

Plains cultivators, central Syria, at home. Photo by L. S. Schilcher, 1972.



would settle in the vicinity of the bases and serve as a buffer between the
authorities and the rebellious Hawranite factions. In 1883, the Ottomans sent
a new contingent of troops into the Hawran to adjudicate a dispute over
cultivation rights between Sunni Muslim plains villagers and Druze followers
of Ibrahim.23
In 1884 the authorities once again shifted their support from Ibrahim, this
time to the Shibli al-Atrash Druze. Shibli was recognized as the leading
shaikh of Jabal Hawran and the adjoining Laja'.24
In 1885, Druze demonstrated their objections to the continued settlement
of bedouin in the gorges that controlled the access and escape routes to the
strategically important Laja' region. Besides being useful in guerrilla warfare
because of its gullies and hideaways, the Laja' could offer peasants refuge
from attack and oppression. Whoever controlled it could continue to patronize
the cultivators of the plain. The Druze attacked the newly resettled villages of
Mismiyya and Sha'ra on the fringes of the Laja'. The Ottomans sent troops and
successfully intimidated them. When the Druze shaikhs came to Damascus to
negotiate in good faith, they were imprisoned by the authorities.25
In 1886, the Ottomans attempted to carry out a census of the plains villages
but were opposed by the Hawranites, who had ample justification to fear that
the census was a measure to facilitate the introduction of conscription.
Though Muslims, the Hawranites had until that point been exempt from
service in the Ottoman army. Though they justified their exemption by re-
minding the authorities that they were a frontier peasantry, in fact the state had
lacked the power and authority to conscript them. To avoid a confrontation
with the 3,000 troops sent to carry out the census, many Hawranites aban-
doned their villages and escaped to the Laja'. Confident that they controlled
the access routes to the Laja', the troops took up positions there to entrap the
fleeing villagers, but Druze fighters of Ibrahim's faction attacked them. The
Ottoman authorities called in the French consul to mediate. The consul con-
cluded an agreement whereby villagers would return to their fields and the
Ottomans would retain control of the Laja' gorges.26 Plans to take a census
were probably dropped, but, as we shall see, these issues were far from

Phase Two (1887-89): The Economic Crisis Peaks

By 1887 the steady decline of world grain prices rendered coastal prices so
low that there was no profit margin whatsoever for local merchants and other
intermediaries in the export of Hawran grain. The government could no longer


Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and i89os

find any urban notables interested in farming agricultural taxes in the Hawran
and was thus at a loss to raise the funds and grain necessary to sustain troops
in the Hawran and eventually in the entire province. Though the urban nota-
bles of the cartel may have temporarily lost interest in the affairs of the
Hawran, the state could not so easily relinquish its interests. At first the
commander in chief for the province paid salaries out of his private fortune, at
the same time refusing to pursue any military campaigns into the region. The
central government, however, would not concede the Hawran's loss. In the
coming years the authorities frequently resorted to sending the gendarmerie to
raid villages and seize livestock from nomads in order to extract revenue. The
Hawranites often complained of these robber-gendarmes, who were a serious
impediment to order and normal economic activity.27
During 1887, major battles occurred among the Hawran's factions and
between Hawranites and the government's forces based there. For example,
3,000 Druze attacked the newly settled bedouin and drove them out of their
camps in the Laja'. The settlers sought refuge in the new Ottoman base there,
and troop reinforcements had to be dispatched from Damascus to hold the
fort. In the ensuing battle 16o were killed, including the Turkish commander.
Though the Ottomans appeared to retain control of the Laja', the Druze
retaliated by instigating their allies, the Ghiath bedouin, to attack the
Baghdad-Damascus caravan in the desert east of Damascus, causing heavy
losses to urban merchants and embarrassment to the authorities.28
Supplied by the government with new Martini rifles, the newly settled Laja'
bedouin then went on the offensive against the Druze, attacking their grain
caravans and seizing their camels. The Ottoman authorities sent Mamduh
Pasha and the aged Damascene notable, Sa'id Bey al-Kaylani, to mediate the
dispute while rumors spread that the government was planning to resupply the
bedouin with the ammunition they needed for their new rifles. The terms
negotiated held that the Druze shaikhs were to be restored by the Ottomans to
positions of authority in the Jabal Hawran and would exercise judicial, fiscal,
policing, and administrative autonomy in their own districts. Ibrahim al-
Atrash was to be granted the highest rank, but Shibli was also to have a post.
In addition Shibli was expected to adopt Turkish dress and to avoid any
contacts with the French consulate. The implication was that the Druze would
be restricted to their own districts and a few contiguous regions. For the most
part, they would be excluded from economic or political affairs in the Hawran
plain, with the central authorities acting directly there. Ibrahim accepted these
terms, but Shibli and other subordinate shaikhs eventually rejected them.29
No one bid in Damascus for the Hawran tax farms in 1887 and 1888.



Desperate for revenues and grain but unable to collect them directly, the
authorities imprisoned the shaikhs of Hawranite villages until the villagers
farmed their own taxes. That segment of the Hawranite peasantry that was
again subjected to Ottoman control through the shaikhs of Ibrahim abandoned
their villages in protest, taking refuge in the Laja' and Jabal. The villagers
objected to the share of taxes they had to pay relative to the shares paid by the
shaikhs and also to the Atrash shaikhs' attempt to meet their commitments to
the state by undercutting the villagers and contracting more compliant, newly
arrived Druze immigrants from the west. The authorities were at first inclined
to support the peasants in order to obtain the harvest. They applied military
pressure on the Druze shaikhs through their new bases, and some villagers
returned to cultivation.30

Phase Three (1890): Radical Populism in Jabal Hawran

New taxation demands of 30,000 Turkish lire were pressed by the au-
thorities on the Hawranite shaikhs in March 1890. The peasants, however,
were even less disposed to cooperate. Grain prices were so low that they could
not possibly sacrifice enough of their own supply to raise the cash demanded.
In April 300 Christian and Druze peasants converged on the seat of the district
governor at Suwaida in Jabal Hawran to seek relief. At that time Ibrahim still
held the post. His men fired on the crowd, killing many, whereupon the
petitioners forced Ibrahim to flee the fortress, and it was reported that his son
was killed in the melee. Ibrahim fled to Damascus and was obliged to accept
very difficult terms in order to retain his governmental position, including the
payment of the 30,000 lire in taxes from his districts.31
In the Hawran, the Druze religious leaders (eaqqal) attempted to mediate
the dispute within the Druze community. Their terms held that Ibrahim would
remain Ottoman governor of the district but would financially compensate the
families that had suffered fatalities at Suwaida for a total of 30,000 French
francs. The peasants would be permitted to cultivate the lands they occupied,
rather than being displaced, presumably, by incoming western Druze.32
But the peasants were not satisfied with these terms either. They wanted
assurances that they would not be paid as wage earners on the land they
cultivated, exposed to direct taxation. They preferred to return to the share-
cropping agreements of previous years whereby the shaikhs paid the taxes and
protected them from the Ottoman authorities.33 In meetings all over the Jabal
and in the Hawran plain, many shaikhs began to concede to the peasants'
demands regarding the relative shares to be taken in the harvest and for tax


Violence in Rural Syria in the 188os and i89o0s

~, 4,~..

Syrian mountaineer hunter. Photo by L. S. Schilcher, 1972.

responsibilities. At first encouraged by these successes and by the support of
some subordinate Druze shaikhs (including Shibli) who had agreed to the
justice of the peasants' demands, peasants continued to gather in Suwaida. In
April 1890 they held a public meeting and set up a commune ('Ammiyya). In
this radical development, the peasants, mostly Druze but also some Chris-
tians, announced their intentions to alter the traditional system of agriculture



and politics. They wished to elect their own shaikhs, to distribute their own
cultivation rights, and to retain three-fourths of the harvest in sharecropping
contracts with their elected shaikhs. They were even prepared to accept an
ethnic Turk as district governor and expressed their continued loyalty to the
Ottoman government, including a pledge to pay their taxes.34
Though this might have been the opportunity the authorities were awaiting
to establish direct rule, they squandered it. Seizing instead the opportunity to
exploit internal Druze disunity, they chose to ignore the "Ammiyya's proposals
and to exert more pressure on the plains Hawranites, who now had no protec-
tors if they attempted flight. Livestock taxes were collected by force, and
more village shaikhs were arrested to force the peasants to pay the taxes they
could ill afford. These measures only aggravated the Hawranites' discontent
with the government. For its part, the government clearly did not trust the
communards, for in June 1890 heavy troop contingents were dispatched by
the Ottomans to Suwaida. There followed an unprecedented military bom-
bardment that resulted in the reported destruction of three-fourths of Suwaida
and approximately 500 casualties. The communards who had broken with
their shaikhs were left without protectors as the troops moved in. The com-
mune appeared to have been crushed.35
In the aftermath the authorities sent the western Druze shaikh, 'Ali Junblat,
to negotiate the terms of submission at Suwaida and called upon the British
consul for his mediation. The government's terms were harsh and insensitive
to peasant vulnerabilities: land registration (as a preliminary to lump-sum
taxation and privatization); the construction of an Ottoman military base
directly in the Jabal Hawran at which "foreign" (non-Druze, non-Hawranite,
even non-Syrian) troops could be garrisoned; the confiscation of Martini rifles;
and the payment of many years of tax arrears in cash. The communards
refused these terms, preferring to concede the reinstatement of Ibrahim as
district governor and to pay only a lump-sum tribute tax, negotiated through
their shaikhs.36
Though the Ottomans remained in occupation of Suwaida, they could not
handle all the guerrilla attacks on their positions in other parts of the
Hawran.37 The Druze shaikhs could neither control their villagers nor appease
the authorities. A fascinating aspect of this phase is the possibility that the
central government actually inspired rural populism. As reported locally, the
governor in Damascus, Mustafa Assim Pasha, began an open and energetic
campaign in the last months of 1890 to support peasants in their disputes over
cultivation rights against their land controllers, contractors, and shaikhs. He
pressed charges through administrative rather than judicial channels against


Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and 890os

urban notables with extensive holdings whom he considered to be usurpers,
even in cases where they had acquired the land-registration documents. The
extent to which the governor's campaign influenced events in the Hawran is
not clear. Roughly coinciding with the peasant 'Ammiya of Suwaida, how-
ever, his policy added weight to the pessimism of the remaining cartel mem-
bers. Not only had the government no further intention of promoting their
interests, but it had either lost control of the peasants (as in the Hawran) or
would promote peasant interests (as in the cases pursued by the governor in
Damascus). To the cartel, the situation must have seemed totally out of
The uproar in Damascus was significant. Several high-ranking officials of
local origin resigned, and the Damascene Administrative Council (Majlis al-
Idara) refused to convene.39 The Ottoman Wali responded by exiling four
Damascene notables who were alleged to be the leaders of the protest. But
other Damascene land controllers and politicians continued to resist rural
reforms into the next year, despite repeated deportations. These disputes
resulted in yet further difficulties for the Ottomans. Not only did the govern-
ment fail to farm any taxes in the Hawran, but now the urban tax farmers also
refused to deliver the taxes from the rich villages in the vicinity of
Damascus.40 Ibrahim and Shibli both decided to petition their cases at a
higher level and left for Istanbul with the hope of having an audience with
Sultan 'Abd al-Hamid.41

Phase Four (1891-95): Hiatus

In the midst of this crisis, a serious cholera epidemic swept the province of
Syria and continued into 1892, especially in the Hawran. Probably as a
consequence of the epidemic the Ottoman authorities suspended their new
policy in 1891 and 1892, but the duplicity of 'Uthman Nuri Pasha, the former
commander in chief who was named governor in 1891, must also have played
a role. While accepting bribes from powerful urban tax farmers and land
controllers, he pretended to support the peasants' cause in line with the new
policy, using the government's reform program as leverage on the wealthy in
Damascus to line his own pocket. Also, Istanbul might have thought it wiser
to bide its time until the new railway was completed. Though planned and
announced, the railway was not actually started until December 1892 and not
finished until 1894.42
The Ottomans did, however, press ahead with their attempts to register
lands in the Hawran plain in 1892, the first and most important step toward


tMIEN Wv."3
jl TiT.


... .. ....

T NfEw



Famine in Syria during World War I. Photos from L'Asie Frangaise.



establishing direct control through the further privatization of cultivation
rights. They were faced, however, with peasant protest, the abandonment of
villages, and covert harvesting. The shaikhs of plains villages received gov-
ernment ultimatums announcing registration, and troops were sent to enforce
the measures. Several Druze shaikhs were exiled. By 1893 it was reported that
the land registrations had been completed, though they were far from perfect.
New revolts in the Hawran involved the bedouin on its southern fringes, who
also objected to the land registrations.43 The Hawranites themselves were
confused. Though they objected to the squeeze their shaikhs were applying,
they also did not trust the measures the government used to undermine the

Phase Five (1893-95): The Railways

With the railway finally under construction in 1893, the Ottoman au-
thorities revealed yet another plan. They inaugurated the new Sanjak of Ma'an
for the administration of the even more remote regions extending south of the
Hawran and east of the Jordan River, in what is today the kingdom of Jor-
dan.44 This move was intended to indicate their commitment to the entire
interior region south of Damascus, their determination to bring it under con-
trol, and their willingness to offer at least some Damascenes a new field of
fiscal and commercial exploitation. A number of Damascene notables were in
fact awarded posts and control of lands in the new district. But these measures
failed to stem the tide of general rural unrest and the incursions of bedouin
into settled areas. Most of the new officials for the Sanjak of Ma'an had to
remain in the safety of the fortress at Kerak, a small town east of the Jordan.45
Upon the death of Ibrahim al-Atrash, Shibli, who had returned from Istan-
bul, attempted to form an alliance with some of these rebellious bedouin
tribes. In the ensuing raids and counterraids, which included many atrocities,
Shibli was captured by the authorities and threatened with imprisonment in
Damascus. In a further surprise move, the Ottoman authorities named a Jeru-
salem Sunni Muslim notable, Yusuf Dia Pasha al-Khalidi, to the governorship
of Jabal Hawran. Though he may have been an enlightened and progressive
individual, for the Hawranites, he represented the now mistrusted if not
despised urban notables. Al-Khalidi was generally rejected by the local popu-
lation and failed to appease the rebellious factions.46
In 1894, the Hawranites and Ma'anites did not pay their taxes, and, with
scarcely any revenues coming in, the provincial authorities were hard-pressed
to pursue their new policies. They could not even afford to send troops to
protect villages close to Damascus from Hawranite raiders.47 The situation


Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and i89os

was so critical that it was beginning to evoke panic in Damascus. Though the
gendarmerie was dispatched, they punished the wrong Hawranites and only
contributed to the general disillusionment with the government and the escala-
tion of violence. Since the gendarmerie chief was a Circassian, outbreaks now
occurred between Hawranites and the newly settled Circassians in the western
The opening of the railway from Damascus into the Hawran in 1894 did
not have the desired effect. For the Damascene grain traders and the au-
thorities, it only exacerbated the situation. Now large quantities of Hawran
grain flooded the city's market, depressing prices even further and distressing
the producers and merchants from the surrounding villages who normally
dominated this market. Coinciding with the depths of the general trade de-
pression in the eastern Mediterranean, the drop in prices severely affected the
Damascene commercial community. The situation became even more desper-
ate when news of the 1895 crash on the London and Paris financial markets hit
Syria. It was reported that the losses of local investors amounted to at least 20
million francs.49 Even when, in that year, the branch railway from Damascus
to Beirut was opened, grain continued to flood the Damascene market and
could not be exported from there with much profit because coastal prices
remained depressed. The Beirut market could be supplied more cheaply by
sea than from the interior.
'Uthman Nuri Pasha had been assigned to the governorship of Damascus
shortly before the completion of the railway into the Hawran. At about the
same time, the district governor, Yusuf Dia al-Khalidi, was replaced by Shibli
al-Atrash in the Jabal Hawran. These shifts in government assignments indi-
cated a renewal of the policy of supporting peasant cultivation rights. The elite
of Damascus was at a loss as to how to respond. Disputes among the notable
families broke out as various factions formed and reformed, attempting to
place partisans in positions to deal with the government without losing face or
vital assets in the Hawran, in the oasis villages, or among urban clienteles.50
Given the world trade and financial crises, the Ottomans' ostensibly pro-
gressive attempts to undermine the urban land controllers were costly and
would have catastrophic political consequences. The provincial authorities
could not afford to pay the salaries of troops based even in Damascus and were
faced with riots and rebellions in Damascus and its surrounding villages when
they attempted to carry out conscription. From their own military officers
came open accusations against the sultan, which were read at public gather-
ings in Damascus. Another serious development was the renewed and brisk
trade in arms into the rebel areas of the Hawran.51
Not only were taxes not being paid, but the peasants were beginning to



abandon cultivation altogether. Either they ignored their contracts with urban
land-controlling investors or the investors withdrew from agricultural con-
tracts because of low profit margins. Large numbers of Hawranite villagers
left their fields and villages to seek refuge from the general unrest with
relatives and allies in more remote parts of the Hawran where the rebels held
sway.52 A general Hawranite uprising was in the air, including not just the
Christian and Druze villagers of Jabal Hawran but also the Sunni Muslims of
the plain.

Phase Six (1895-96): The State Wages War on Its Peasantry

To regain the confidence of the urban population, the Ottoman authorities
had but one alternative: to mount a new campaign into the Hawran. The
Damascene 'ulama delivered afatwa expressly naming the Druze as the legiti-
mate target of the state's wrath. Thirty thousand troops were raised, as-
sembled, and dispatched into the Hawran by railway in December 1895. In
response, the Hawran unleashed a new kind of weapon. Perhaps the railway's
water towers were poisoned, perhaps not, but the Ottoman campaign was
crippled at the outset by an outbreak of dysentery among thousands of unfor-
tunate soldiers. Working on a practically nonexistent budget, the authorities
now had to interrupt the campaign and were obliged in the end to attempt to
negotiate with the rebels.53
The government demanded that the rebels surrender their Martini rifles,
pay compensation to villagers under government protection, pay twenty
years' tax arrears, and submit to conscription. The rebels flatly refused all
these demands. The state of health of the troops virtually precluded any
further military action. In the early months of 1896, the military authorities
struck private deals with the Druze rebels rather than press on with the
campaign. As the Ottomans proclaimed themselves the victors, Shibli and the
rebel shaikhs agreed to come to Damascus to negotiate in return for a cease-
The Damascenes were disappointed that a clear military victory had not
been achieved, and rumors of bribes further undermined the authorities' credi-
bility. The government nevertheless considered the matter closed and dis-
banded the larger portion of the troops, disregarding the promise of safe-
conduct to the rebel leadership, probably under pressure from Damascene
notables and public opinion. In the Hawran the remaining Druze and their
allies were also exposed to the attacks of progovernment factions with im-
punity. Their shaikhs telegraphed to Istanbul for protection, but none was


Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and i89os

In the following months, more than a thousand Druze prisoners were
brought to Damascus and exposed to the abuse of the mob while the au-
thorities stood by. The prisoners had already been mistreated by the soldiers
along the trek to the city and many arrived dead. Shibli was publicly dis-
played, spat on, and heaped with dung. Approximately a thousand Druze,
including women and children, were exiled to Rhodes, Bursa, and Casto-
mouni, first transported to Beirut and then overseas.
A few months of bitter discontent in the Hawran followed. Then, though it
was harvest time, new hostilities broke out.56 Reports held that the entire
countryside between the Hawran and the Palestinian coast was in turmoil as
the Druze carried out retribution on villagers who were considered wards of
the state. In one incident the Druze were said to have massacred 6oo Ottoman
troops.57 In the middle of the harvest and threshing period, the state mounted
a new campaign.
Late in June 1896, Istanbul made a number of major changes in provincial
administration. The governor, 'Uthman Nuri Pasha, was removed and re-
placed by a higher-ranking official from Baghdad, Hasan Rafiq Pasha.58
Though finances were desperate, civilian salaries were cut in order to mount
the new campaign. On July I I, 1896, the troops were given orders to regroup
and attack. Some 30,000 soldiers moved on the 9,000-10,000ooo Druze holding
Suwaida. In the battle that ensued, 1,200 casualties among the rebels and 6oo
among the troops were reported, a result later revised by the governor to 2,000
rebel casualties. The Druze's defense of Suwaida was considered heroic, even
in Damascus.59
Though the troops swept through all the villages and towns of the Jabal,
murdering prisoners, women, and children, raping and pillaging, the Druze
still refused to disarm, surrender their leaders, or accept service in the army.
At the end of 1896 several thousand Druze rebels still held out in the hide-
aways of the Laja' and the Jabal while the government had to disband all but
six battalions owing to lack of funds.60
Fearing retribution, Damascus reached such a peak of panic that the nota-
bles pleaded with the authorities to form an urban defense militia. It was
known that the Druze had appealed to the western Druze factions to come to
their rescue.61 But the government appeared undeterred. Having defeated the
Druze rebels at Suwaida, it pushed ahead with its attempts to tax grain
producers directly, without the intermediation of village shaikhs or tax farm-
ers. This system (called Takhmis) made production assessments on the basis
of a five-year average, taking io percent as the government's due. Though the
Druze peasants still wished the authorities would reinstitute lump-sum tribute



A street in a southern Syrian town. Photo by L. S. Schilcher, 1988.

taxation through their shaikhs, the plains peasants protested that the tithe
assessments were far too high and that they also preferred the previous system
of tax farming.62
Taxation during 1896 was especially oppressive. As a result of the unrest,
the harvest was poor, but the tax assessments did not reflect the shortages. Not
only were many fields abandoned but the confiscation by the authorities of
40,000 camels normally used for transport disrupted the delivery of grain to
train stations and warehouses. In addition, much money otherwise available
for taxation had been spent on bribes to Ottoman officials. Further unrest in
the Hawran and resistance to the Takhmis fueled the debate among the local
authorities and notables as to the wisdom of the new tax reforms. Damascene
opinion blamed Ottoman rule for the difficulties.63
As hostilities continued and the general mood of the Hawran remained
rebellious, the Druze who held out in the hills spread the message that they
were now opposed only to the Ottomans and would undertake to protect any
grain merchants traveling in the Hawran and the peasantry in general. The
Sunni peasants' loyalties were slowly swinging in favor of the Druze rebels,


Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and 189os

even though they were now outlaws. The ultimate horror for Damascus and
the authorities, a unified Hawranite uprising, was unfolding.64

Phase Seven (1897): General Uprising

The peasantry of the Hawran plains abandoned their fields in still greater
numbers in 1897 as the harvest was to begin. It was reported that the entire
plain was deserted but for the aged and infirm. The Sunni Muslims now
migrated en masse to the Laja' and Jabal, seeking alliances with the rebellious
Druze and bedouin. Some 8,ooo Druze guerrillas had still not submitted to the
Ottoman authorities, and when the authorities attempted to cut the water
supply to the Laja', the troops were resisted, significantly, by a mixed force of
plainsfolk, Druze, and bedouin.65
The villagers' threats to abandon their farms at harvesttime were at first not
taken seriously in Damascus, where it was assumed that the peasants would
not abandon their own food supply. Gradually, however, the scale of the
exodus became clear. In addition, a severe grain famine was developing in the
desert regions south of the Hawran and along the pilgrimage route-for which
the government's policies would be held directly responsible.66 The pos-
sibility of further disturbances involving the bedouin of the Sanjak of Macan,
the Nejd, and the Hijaz could not be ignored.
The state of the provincial treasury was as desperate as ever, having been
exhausted by the previous year's campaign and the increased expenses of
escorting and provisioning the pilgrimage through the Hawran. Yet petitions
from the Hawranites to the authorities requesting the return to taxation
through the intermediacy of rural shaikhs rather than the Takhmis were ig-
nored. The authorities first called on Damascene notables for financial as-
sistance; that proving inadequate, they finally turned to European bankers to
float a new loan for the province.67

Phase Eight (1898-1900oo): Detente

These last acts of desperation led the central government to release the
provincial administration from the obligation to institute Takhmis taxation and
conscription in the Hawran. Though grain prices on the coast recovered
enough to make export profitable in 1897 and even more so in 1898, the
merchants had little grain to sell in those years. Locust attacks in 1899
extended the production crisis. The government's position was critical, and
the civil and military officials quarreled over a course of action. On the eve of



yet another military campaign into the Hawran, the sultan himself decided to
relent. An order from Istanbul on April 19, 1900, granted a general amnesty,
dropped demands for tax arrears, and assigned Druze to the new sub-district
posts in Jabal Hawran.68
As a result, Jabal Hawran in 1900 had neither a Druze shaikh nor an urban
notable as district governor. The Ottomans posted instead an ethnic Turk. As a
symbolic gesture of reconciliation, however, this governor held a great ban-
quet in his residence as the exiled Druze shaikhs returned to Suwaida amidst a
jubilant peasantry.69
The twenty-year period of tension, resistance, and open warfare in the
Hawran appeared to have ended with the reconciliation of the Druze shaikhs
and at the expense of direct rule. The harvest in 1900 was good, prices had
recovered, and relative peace reigned.70 The Hawranites had won their cause
and retained some measure of rural autonomy, a victory won at the expense of
considerable hardship and loss for both Hawranites and Ottoman soldiers,
many of whom were locally recruited.71


The period 1879-99 saw events with causes specific to those years. In this
chapter I have attempted to demonstrate that events in the Hawran of the late
nineteenth century were strongly influenced by larger economic develop-
ments, and especially by those beyond the influence and control of the rural
region or even of the larger entities of province and empire. The impact of
trends in world markets into which Syria was well integrated by the second
half of the century had been crucial to local developments not only in the cities
but also in this remote and barely settled rural district.
These events vividly describe patterns of Third World political economy in
rural Syria. Coinciding with the accession of the authoritarian and centrist
Ottoman sultan "Abd al-Hamid, the Great Depression had contributed signifi-
cantly to tensions in Ottoman provincial politics. In the urban areas, the
struggle for survival and control during the depression led to new factionalism
within the "politics of notables." The powerful provincial families that sur-
vived this period as members of the elite did so by consolidating their posi-
tions and increasing their dependence on and identification with the central
state. For those who were excluded or who rejected overdependence on prin-
ciple, the concepts of state decentralization and Arab nationalism presented
new political alternatives.72


Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and 1890s

In rural areas, the state was obliged to pursue an expensive policy of
military intervention to hold the Hawran in spite of the declining economic
value of this chiefly grain-producing region in the new global economic
framework of exploitation and investment. Besides losing this struggle
economically, the Ottoman state would eventually also lose it politi-
The i88os and 189os were a period of serious conflict in rural Syria.
Apparent outbreaks of ethnic and religious animosity or of the supposedly
endemic struggle between the desert and the sown in fact reflected the scram-
ble for power and profit among several layers of intermediaries and their
respective clienteles, a contest played out on a diminishing field of oppor-
tunity as both economic depression and state centralism placed rural areas
under intense pressure.
I have isolated a number of phases. In the early years of the Great Depres-
sion, the provincial cartel of urban-based fiscal entrepreneurs pressured their
rural counterparts for more grain as the price squeeze reduced profits. This
pressure led to hostilities among rural cultivators who could ill afford to
sacrifice more grain. When the state's attempt at direct taxation failed, it
turned from the cartel to less demanding fiscal entrepreneurs. Wavering state
support undermined the cartel's control at the level of its rural chiefs, and
some urban notables of the cartel unsuccessfully conspired with Europeans to
sustain their position.
With the drastic decline in world grain prices and with no local profit
margins, the cartel disintegrated and the state attempted direct control, taxa-
tion, and conscription through its own agents. The state's representatives'
harsh measures, corruption, and duplicity reawakened the spirit of rural au-
tonomy, especially among factions with strong communal solidarity. Further
state pressure resulted in the declaration of a rural commune in a remote hill
region. The communards expressed a form of rural populism that was not only
antistatist but antifeudal and antiurban.
Continuing its campaign to reduce the power of urban intermediaries, the
state reorganized the provincial infrastructure to permit direct military inter-
vention in remote areas. Following a long hiatus caused by a major epidemic
and delays in railway construction, the state mounted a major military cam-
paign into the heart of the rural region. The peasantry reacted with self-
sacrificing flight, reaffirming quasi-feudal rural solidarities that bridged the
traditional gaps among peasants, nomads, and mountaineers. The state won a
military but not a political victory and had to make further political and
economic concessions to the rural populations.



Toward the end of these twenty years of struggle and conflict, the depres-
sion eased, allowing limited maneuverability and reconciliation. In the mean-
time, the political community had been transformed, revealing solidarities
that reflected and often transcended traditional estate, religious, feudal, and
factional allegiance. The cartel's influence was so reduced that neither state
nor peasantry would again be as easily fooled by the intrigues of urban
notables. The peasantry appears to have developed an even more intense
distrust of all urbanites.74
The events of 1879-1900 had taught the two groups very different lessons.
The local urban notables learned to doubt the imperial state's intentions to-
ward them after a brief era in the i86os and I87os when it had actively
promoted their interests. Many reacted negatively to the state's policies, with-
drew their collaboration, and turned to new political solutions such as de-
centralization and separatist nationalism. The peasantry was awakened to the
possibility that, vis-a-vis the urban elites, the state was a potentially positive
force in their struggle for economic survival and political representation,
though resistance and survival seemed inevitably linked with hardship, vio-
lence, and reversion to quasi-feudal solidarities. The peasants seem to have
had only two methods of dealing with their adversaries: armed violence or
withdrawal of their labor through flight. Both methods were extreme, but they
seem to have been the only ways the peasantry could communicate a desire to
renegotiate their relationships with urbanites and authorities.
The rural solidarities forged in the 189os were further tested in the years
leading up to World War I and especially during the famine years of that war,
1916-18. Reorganization of the Syrian rural economy in the interwar period
under the French mandate, especially as a consequence of the 1930s depres-
sion, and again during World War II under the Allies' Middle East Supply
Center would also have a significant impact on rural Syria before indepen-
dence. If there was a general trend up to the 1950s, it was that the state
continued to vacillate in its support of rural political demands depending on
the economic indispensibility or expendability of the region concerned. The
inability of rural people to express themselves except as factors of production
or as disrupters of public "order" forms the sad commentary on urban-rural
and state-rural relations of the pre-independence period. It is not difficult to
see how the frustrations and bitterness of this little-respected majority of the
population might eventually express itself in more organized radical rural
populism, even when the peasants were no longer cultivators but had become
the newly urbanized petite bourgeoisie of the modem states of contemporary
greater Syria.


Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and 890os


i. This paper is one of a series of interrelated papers I have been able to research
and write thanks to the financial support of the Volkswagen Foundation during the
years 1979-82: "The Hawran Conflicts of the 186os: A Chapter in the Rural History
of Modem Syria," International Journal of Middle East Studies I3 (1981): 159-79;
"The Grain Economy of Late Ottoman Syria and the Issue of Large-scale Commer-
cialization," in Large-Scale Commercial Agriculture in the Ottoman Empire, ed.
Faruk Tabak and (;aglar Keyder (New York: SUNY University Press, 1991, forthcom-
ing); "The Impact of the Great Depression on Late Ottoman Syria," in New Perspec-
tives on Turkey, ed. Suraiya Faroqhi (special issue forthcoming); "The Famine in
Syria, 1916-1918," in Historical Perspectives on the Middle East, ed. John Spagnola
(forthcoming); "Die Weizenwirtschaft des Nahen Ostens in der Zwischenkriegszeit:
Der Einfluss der Okonomie auf die Politik am Beispiel Syriens," in Der Nahe Osten in
der Zweischenkriegszeit 1919-1939, ed. L. Schatkowski Schilcher and C. Scharf
(Stuttgart: Steiner, 1989), 241-89; "The Wheat Economy of Syria during the Second
World War," paper delivered at the International Economic Historians Congress,
Budapest, 1982.
I am also grateful to Albert Hourani, Roger Owen, David McDowell, Jean-Paul
Pascual, Faris Nasrallah, Chris Eccel, Faruk Tabak, evket Pamuk, Eugene Rogan,
Henry McAdam, and Charles Issawi for many useful and stimulating comments and
discussions. Some of their published works are referred to here in the footnotes, but I
am responsible for any misinterpretations or mistakes.
2. To the north lay the valley of Wadi Ajam and the well-settled and ostensibly
well-controlled Damascene oasis (al-Ghuta). To the west stood Mount Hermon (Jabal
al-Shaikh) and the slopes and valleys of the Anti-Lebanese mountains (Jaulan, "Ajlun,
Aklim al-Ballan) beyond which the Sea of Galilee (Bahr al-Tabariyya) and the Jordan
River gorge (Baisan, al-Ghur) presented further barriers. To the northeast and east lay
a volcanic badlands region of heavily eroded gullies-and redoubts (al-Safa, al-Laja')
and the hills, known then as Jabal Hawran, now as Jabal al-Duruz or Jabal al-'Arab,
which, together with a lava rock field to their east (al-Harra), built a buffer between the
plain and the Syrian steppe. To the south an opening to the Trans-Jordanian plateau and
the Syrian steppe existed, though gullies and ravines also provided some protection
For a detailed geological, geographic, and land use description of the Hawran see
Doris S. Miller, "The Lava Lands of Syria: Regional Urbanism in the Roman Empire"
(Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1984), 8-48. See also Eugen Wirth, Syrien. Ein
geographische Landeskunde (Darmstadt: Wissentschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1971),
57-59, I 17, 255-60, 409, 417-19, and related figures; Johann Gottfried Wetzstein,
Der Hawran und die Trachonen. Reisebericht fiber Hawran und die Trachonen
(Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 186o). Today the Hawran and its previously contiguous or
dependent subdistricts are relatively economically depressed areas split among the
states of Syria, Jordan, and Israel. Some of its western regions are now disputed
among these states. In particular, portions of the Jaulan (Golan Heights) have been
annexed by Israel but not relinquished by Syria.



3. If we assume that the average annual per capital consumption of grains among
peasants stood then as it does now at approximately 365 kilograms, the Hawran's
production to meet the demands of its own population would have stood at about
oo100,000ooo tons of grain annually by 1900oo, when the dependent rural population was
probably about 150,000-200,000. In fact, an estimate in 1900oo placed the average
annual grain production of the Hawran at about 250,000 tons. This would have
allowed for a surplus for "export" in an average year of at least 150o,ooo tons. In years
of above-average harvests, that amount would, of course, have been higher. An 1899
estimate of Hawran grain exports to the coastal ports of Haifa and Acre alone stood at
an average of 30,000 tons of wheat and I I,oo000 tons of other grains. See M. R.
Hamdan, Die Versorgung der Bevolkerung in Jordanien mit Grundnahrungsmitteln,
Energie und Energie liefernden Nahrstoffen (Bonn, 1979), I 10-13, for consumption
estimates; Schilcher, "The Grain Economy of Late Ottoman Syria," goes into the
problem of production estimates in more detail.
4. Schilcher, "The Hawran Conflicts."
5. Schilcher, "The Grain Economy of Late Ottoman Syria."
6. evket Pamuk, The Ottoman Empire and European Capitalism, 1820-1913:
Trade, Investment and Production (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987),
96-97, proposes them as mutually exclusive alternatives in nineteenth-century
Turkish-Ottoman rural political economy.
7. There are parallels here as well with Pamuk's work; ibid., io6.
8. Paraphrased from consular report of Richard Wood, No. 5, April lo, 1869, FO
195/927. The British consuls often reported on the activities of the cartel in sinister
tones, not because they necessarily objected to them in principle but because the cartel
successfully blocked the penetration of British proteges. The consul at the time of
Midhat Pasha's tax reform attempts reported, "Bids for tax farms are 50 percent above
last year due to the energy and personal control of Midhat and to his action in doing
away with the time-honored practice of former authorities of selling the tithes of entire
districts to favored rings of speculators, the magnitude of which operations prevented
the competition of smaller capitalists to the loss of the fisc and proportionate profit of
officials and speculators" (consular report from Damascus, June 6, 1879, FO
195/1263; see also consular reports from Beirut, August 16, 1879, FO 195/1264;
Damascus, February 6, 188o, FO 195/13o6).
9. Schilcher, "The Grain Economy of Late Ottoman Syria," analyzes market
factors of supply and demand in further detail.
10. Schilcher, "The Impact of the Great Depression."
I I. Taken from an article signed by 'Abd-al-Wahhab in Thamarat al-Fanun, 25,
no. I 18I (1898), a government-sponsored, Arabic language weekly published in
12. The main sources of information are the reports sent from the French, British,
German, and Austrian consulates in Damascus, Beirut, and Jerusalem. (The following
abbreviations are used: AE, Archives du Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres, Paris [Pol,
Correspondence Politique; Comm, Correspondence Commerciale]; FO, Archives of
the Foreign Office, London; PPAP, Parliamentary Papers, Accounts and Papers Series,
London; AA, Archive des Auswartigen Amtes, Bonn [0, Oxford Verzeichnis]; OA,
Ostereichisches Staatsarchiv, Vienna.)


Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and i89os

In addition, a valuable source is the Ph.D. dissertation of Najib Elias Saliba,
Wilayat Suriyya 1876-I9o9, University of Michigan, 1971 (University Microfilms
International, Cat. #7123866), which is based on a survey of contemporary Arabic
13. This is a rough estimate. The official statistics quoted in the Ottoman Yearbook
(Salname) for the year 1316 (A.D. 1898-99) reported the settled male population of
the Hawran (including the subdistricts of Hawran, 'Ajlun, Jabal Hawran, Qunaytra,
Busra, and Dara'a) to be 56,429. This number probably indicates a population in
excess of 150,oo000 by that time if we adjust for the underreporting of males and the
nonreporting of females, children, and the nonsettled dependent rural populations of
the Hawran. A British estimate in 1901 held the population of the limited number of
villages in the Hawran likely to be directly affected by the railway to be in excess of
116,630 (Damascus, October 3, 1901, FO 195/2097).
14. The Hawran wheat cultivar is still valued by agronomists today for its re-
sistance to drought and its high protein.
15. See Norman N. Lewis, Nomads and Settlers in Syria and Jordan, 18oo-I98o
(London: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Eugen Wirth, "Die Rolle tscher-
kessischer 'Wehrbauem' bei der Wiederbesiedlung von Steppen und Odland im Os-
manischen Reich," in bustan 4 (1963): 16-19.
16. Damascus, PPAP/74, 997-1011 .
17. Both the British and the French consuls were involved in this dispute and its
mediation. Talhuq was considered a French favorite. Damascus, October 22, 26,
November 3, 22, 1879, FO 195/1264; August 23, November I, 5, II, 25, 1879, July
17, 1880, AE Pol/II. See also Saliba, Wilayat Suriyya, 157-65.
18. Damascus, December 31, 1878, FO 195/1202; March 2, 1879, FO 195/1262;
April 15, 1879, FO 195/1263. Midhat's tenure in Damascus lasted less than two years.
In 1884, the next governor in Syria, Hamdi Pasha, attempted the Takhmis system of
taxation in rural areas, but it too was discontinued, not to be tried again until the
189os. Damascus, April 19, 1884, FO 195/148o; December 16, 1884, FO 195/148o.
19. Damascus, January 31, February 8, March 22, June 20, I881, AE Pol/I2;
January 30, February 13, March 21, November 21, 1881, FO 195/1369; from Beirut,
February 28, 1881, FO 195/1369.
20. Damascus, June 20, I88I, AE Pol/12.
21. Ibid.
22. Damascus, March 31, 1882, AE Pol/13.
23. Damascus, January 14, 1883, AE Pol/13. The earliest mention of railway
projects for the Hawran that I have been able to find is that reported by the British
consul in 1869, when a sizable delegation of Damascene notables called on him to
launch a company in England for this purpose (Damascus, October 26, 1869, FO
195/927). The inauguration of construction of the Haifa-Acre-Damascus line was not
celebrated until December 1892 (Beirut, December 15, 1892, FO 195/1761). On
construction of the bases, Damascus, December 8, 1887, FO 195/1583. On bedouin
rights, Damascus, November 23, 1881, FO 195/1369; August 18, November 5, 1883,
FO 195/1448. On the cultivation rights dispute, Damascus, March 22, 1883, AE
24. Damascus, June I I, 1884, AE Pol/13.



25. Saliba, Wilayat Suriyya, 170; Beirut, December 8, 1887, AA(O), Ttirkei/
26. On the Hawranite escape to Laja', Damascus, April 7, 1886, AE Pol/14. On
the agreement mediated by the French consul, Damascus, April 4, May I, 31, July 25,
1886, FO 195/1548; telegrams of April 7, i0, II and report of October 26, 1886, AE
27. On disinterest of intermediaries, Damascus, August 26, 1889, FO 195/1648.
On the commander in chief, Damascus, June 25, 1888, FO 195/1613; June 15, 1888,
AE Pol/ I4. On gendarmerie raids, Damascus, December 31, 1888, AE Pol/ I4; March
17, 1894, FO 195/1839; March 17, 1894, AE Pol/17. On complaints about the
gendarmerie, Damascus, June 23, 1896, FO 195/1940.
28. On the Laja' battle, Damascus, November 25, December 12, 27, 1887, FO
195/1583; December 8, 1887, AA(0)/Tiirkei/177/I/15977. On the caravan attack,
Damascus, December 27, 1887, FO 195/1583.
29. On rumors about bedouin ammunition, Damascus, July 6, i888, AE Pol/14.
On the negotiated terms, Damascus, August 23, i888, AE Pol/14. On the shaikhs'
reactions, Damascus, September 18, 1888, AE Pol/14.
30. On the shaikhs' imprisonment, Damascus, August 26, 1889, FO 195/1648;
Sidon, July 6, 1891, FO 195/1723. On objections to taxes, Damascus, June 29, 1889,
AE Pol/I5; July 3, 1889, FO 195/1648; May 13, 1890, FO 195/1683; Pera, June 3,
189O, AA(O) Tuirkei/177/I/696i. On contracting immigrants, Damascus, July 5,
1889, FO 195/1687; Saliba, Wilayat Suriyya, 173. On military pressure on the
shaikhs, Damascus, March 14, June 29, 1889, AE Pol/I5. See also note 38 below.
31. On March taxation demands and the Suwaida shootings, Pera, June 3, 1890,
AA(O) Tiirkei/177/I/6961; from Damascus, March 31, 1890, AE Pol/I5. On
Ibrahim's terms, Damascus, June 29, 1889, AE Pol/I5; Pera, June 3, 1890, AA(O)
Tiurkei/177/1/696I; Saliba, Wilayat Suriyya, 173-74.
32. Damascus, August 8, 1889, AE Pol/i5.
33. Saliba, Wilayat Suriyya, 175.
34. On shaikh concessions and support, Damascus, November 26, 1889, March
31, 1890, AE Pol/15. On the commune, Damascus, May 3, 189o, FO 195/1687. On
Christian peasants, Damascus, July 21, 1890, FO 195/1687. On commune terms,
Pera, June 3, 1890, AA(O) Ttirkei/177/I/696i; Damascus, May 7, 1890, AE Pol/I5;
Saliba, Wilayat Suriyya, 175.
35. On government pressures, Damascus, June I, 1892, AE Pol/16. On the
Suwaida attack, Damascus, June 26, July 3, 7, 1890, AE Pol/i5; June 2, 28, July I, 2,
1890, FO 195/1687; clipping from the Hamburgische Korrespondent of July 28, 1890,
included in AA(O) Tiirkei/177/1/8912. A later report held that the communards had
lost only io8 and that the Ottomans had suffered more casualties than originally
reported (Damascus, September 27, 1890, AA(O) Tiirkei/177/I/1035).
36. On the negotiations, Damascus, June 3, July 2, lo, 1890, FO 195/1683; July
7, 1890, FO 195/1687; Saliba, Wilayat Suriyya, 177. On the communards' refusal,
Damascus, July I, 1890, FO 195/1687.
37. Beirut, July 23, 1890, AA(O) Tiirkei/177/1/9141, 11035.
38. At least one previous Ottoman governor had sympathized with the peasants.
Rashid Nashid Pasha had unsuccessfully requested that a military campaign be
mounted in 1887 to "quell and correct [the Jabal's] leading shaykhs who . [kept]


Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and i89os

the common folk in serfdom." The governor's report is quoted in Engin Akarli,
"Abdilhamid IU's Attempt to Integrate Arabs into the Ottoman System," in Palestine
in the Late Ottoman Period, ed. D. Kushner (Leiden, 1986), 74-89.
39. Damascus, September 15, 189o, AE Pol/15, February 10, 12, 1891, AE
40. Some of these deportees were named. They were members of the well-estab-
lished notable families: 'Azm, Bakri, and Dalati (Damascus, September 15, 189o, AE
Pol/ 6).
41. Saliba, Wilayat Suriyya, 178. It may be that the impetus for the creation of a
new Sanjak south of the Hawran grew out of these representations. See note 45 below.
42. On cholera in Syria, Damascus, November 28, 1891, FO 195/1727; in the
Hawran, Damascus, January 23, 1892, FO 195/1765. On 'Uthman Nuri Pasha, Beirut,
October 26, 1894, FO 195/1843. On the railway, Beirut, December 15, 1892, FO
43. On peasant protest, Damascus, August 2, 1892, FO 195/1765; July 16, 1892,
AE Pol/16. On bedouin involvement, Damascus, October 10, November 7, 1893, AE
Pol/17; June 16, 1892, FO 195/1765.
44. Damascus, January 7, 1893, AE Pol/17; October 7, 1893 FO 195/1801; OA
1/35; OA 10/7. For a detailed study of Ottoman planning of the new Sanjak, see Engin
Deniz Akarli, "Establishment of the Ma'an-Kerak Mutasarrifiyya, 1891-1894,"
Dirasat (Amman) 13 (1986): 27-42, and Peter Gubser, Politics and Change in al-
Karak, Jordan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973). For a study of recent farming
practices in this region, see Part-time Farming, ed., M. Monday and R. S. Smith,
Studies in Anthropology, Archaeology, and Epigraphy, vol. 2 (Jordan: Institute of
Archaeology and Anthropology, Yarmnouk University, 1990).
45. The funds for this new administrative venture were made available to the
Ottoman authorities by European creditors through the Ottoman Bank, which would
time and again fund the provincial treasury during these decades. Beirut, October 20,
1894 OA/i, and Jerusalem, March 7, 1894, OA lo; Damascus, March 9, 1894, FO
195/1839; Damascus, November 9, 29, 1893, AE Pol01/17.
46. On Shibli, Damascus, October 9, 1893, FO 195/1801, OA 11/187, OA 10/7.
On al-Khalidi's character, Alexander Sch6lch, Paldstina im Umbruch (Stuttgart,
1987), 225-36; on his failure, Damascus, November 7, 1893, AE Pol/I7.
47. Damascus, February 3, 1894, FO 195/1839.
48. The Damascene Administrative Council (Majlis al-Idara), on which many
Damascene-based Hawran land controllers sat, instigated an investigation of the con-
flicts in the western Hawran, which led to a cease-fire to permit harvesting (Damascus,
June II, 21, July 31, August 25, 1894, FO 195/1839).
49. On surplus grain, Damascus, July 20, 1894, July 9, 1895, AE Pol/I7. On
effects on the commercial community, Damascus, June 6, 1895, PPAP/IOO, 865-71;
from Beirut, July 23, 1895, PPAP/IOO, 945-56; Damascus, August 1896, AE Pol(NS
105/2); December 15, 1896, AE Comm/I I. An especially irksome reason for dismay
was the conversion of some of the best state land along the railway line in the Hawran
into tax- and conscription-exempt private estates, mostly for the benefit of Istanbul
personages, including the sultan (Damascus, November 22, 1895, AE Pol/17; March
12, 1896, AE Pol/i8). On local losses, Beirut, November 25, 1895, AE Comm/II.
50o. Damascus, October 22, 1894, AE Pol/I7; November I I, 1894, FO 195/1839;


for land-related disputes between the Mu'ayyad-al-'Azms and the Jaza'iris see the
reports from Damascus, July-September 1893, AE Pol/17.
51. On military accusations, Damascus, September 17, 1896, FO 195/1940. On
arms trade, Damascus, October 14, 1895, AE Pol/17.
52. Damascus, September 17, October 14, November 6, 8, 15, 1895, AE Pol/17.
53. On the fatwa and the troops, Damascus, November 6, 8, 13, 22, 1895, AE
Pol/17. On dysentery, Damascus, December 9, 1895, AE Pol/17; private letter from
Consul Hay, Beirut, January 10, 1896, FO 195/1937. On the government budget,
Damascus, December 14, 1895, AE Pol/I7.
54. Of the 6,ooo Albanians among the troops, 4,000 were said to be already dead
or dying (Damascus, January 2, 1896, FO 195/194o). The German consul also re-
ported 4,000 troops dead by the end of January 1896 (Damascus, January 28, 1896,
AA(O)Tiirkei 177/2/1471). On negotiations, Damascus, February 12, 1896, AE
Pol/ 8.
55. On bribe rumors, Damascus, January 5, 1896, AE Pol/18. On no safe-
conduct, Damascus, December 28, 1895, AE Pol/17; June 2, 24, 1896, AE Pol/I8;
January 24, February I, 8, March 12, May 29, June 13, 1896, FO 195/1940. On
shaikhs' telegrams, Damascus, February 7, May 7, 1896, FO 195/1937.
56. According to some of the reports, the spark for the new uprising came from the
Ottomans. The beautiful niece of Shibli al-Atrash was propositioned by the Ottoman
military commander Ramadan Pasha, to whom she had gone to petition the release of
her husband. In an attempt to extricate the woman from her predicament, Druze
religious leaders approached the Ottoman encampment, but they were fired upon by
the Ottoman forces. Now the honor of religion was also involved. The Druze (includ-
ing this woman and many other women) set up a siege of the Ottoman garrison at
Suwaida. This incident escalated the level of hostilities, which were already intense,
especially between the Druze and the Circassians. Damascus, January 28, 1896,
AA(O) Tiirkei/177/2; from Jerusalem, July 2, 1896, OA/I2.
57. On Druze retribution, Beirut, June 29, July 7, 1896, FO 195/1937. On 6oo
troops, Damascus, June 19, 1896, AE Pol/I8.
58. Some of these new officials had recently been active against the Armenians of
Zeitun (Damascus, July 2, 8, 1896, AE Pol/I8).
59. On the campaign, Damascus, December 28, 1896, AE Pol/18. Eventually
extra taxes would be levied from villages and towns under government control
(Damascus, August 20, 28, 1896, AE Pol/18). On the defense of Suwaida, accounts
differ on many points of detail: Damascus, July 19, 1896, AA(O) Tiirkei 177/3/7891;
July 15, 1896, AE Pol/l8; July 9, 13, 28, 29, 1896, FO 195/1940; Damascus, July
19, 1896, from Beirut, July 20, 1896, OA/2.
60. On the Druze refusal to surrender, Damascus, July 15, 29, August 12,
November 13, 17, 1896, AE Pol/18. To fund the campaign, the local authorities had
"borrowed" from the budgets of several agencies including the Awqaf and the or-
phans' fund. They had also extracted money from wealthy local inhabitants
(Damascus, July 2, November 27, December 28, 1896, AE Pol/l8, January 7, 1897,
AE Pol/NSio4/I; Beirut, July 27, 1896, OA/2). Supplies for the campaign were so
short that hundreds of soldiers deserted (Damascus, August 3, 1896, AA(O)
Tiirkei/I177/3). Slowly the Syrian soldiers began to sympathize with the Druze, and at


Violence in Rural Syria in the i88os and 189os

one point they refused to carry out an attack (Damascus, September 13, 1896, AA(O)
61. On panic in Damascus, Damascus, July 20, 1896, AE Pol/i8. On western
Druze, Damascus, July 13, 1896, AE Pol/i8.
62. Damascus, September 19, November 27, 1896, AE Pol/18, January 7, April
26, 1897, AE Pol/NSIo4/I; June 23, 1896, AA(O) Tiirkei/177/3/6795; September
10, 1897, FO 195/1984.
63. On the camels, Damascus, November 27, December 28, 1896, AE Pol/18;
January 28, 1896, AA(O) Tiirkei/177/2. On bribes, Damascus, August 6, 1895, AE
Pol/17; February 7, 1896, OA/7; from Beirut, February 7, 1896, OA/2. On Dama-
scene opinion, Damascus, September 14, 28, October 29, 1896, AE Pol/i8; anony-
mous report from Damascus, "Situation Politique, 1897," AE Pol/NS 105/2; July 19,
September 28, 1896, AA(O) Tiirkei/177/3-
64. Damascus, April 26, 1897, AE Pol/NSlo4/i.
65. Ibid., and July 19, 21, 31, 1897, AE Pol/NS 105/2; Damascus, January i,
1897, FO 195/1980, September 6, 1897, FO 195/1984; June 23, 1897, AA(O)
66. The shortfalls in 1898 were caused by drought, but, under the circumstances,
the government would nonetheless be blamed (Damascus, July 23, 1897, FO
195/1984, May 13, June 30, July 5, 1898, FO 195/2024).
67. On the treasury, Damascus, March i, 1897, April 3, October ii, 1897, FO
195/1984. On petitions, Damascus, August 19, 1897, AA(O) Tiirkei/177/4/10516.
On the loan, Damascus, December 18, 1887, AE Pol/NS 105/2.
68. On the Takhmis, Damascus, October 15, 1897, FO 195/1984; September 17,
i8, 1897, AA(O) (Tfirkei/177/4/11475. On grain supplies, Damascus, December 18,
1897, AE Pol/NS 105/2; May 13, 1898, FO 195/2024. On locust attacks, Damascus,
April 4, 1899, FO 195/2056. On the sultan's order, Damascus, April 8, 1898, FO
195/2024, February 23, November 2, December 11, 1899, FO 195/2056, March 9,
May 2, 1900oo, FO 195/2075; April 23, 1900oo, AA(O) Tiirkei/177/4; April 9, 1900oo, AE
Pol/NS 106/4.
69. The Ottoman authorities returned exiles to the Hawran with some fanfare and
provided new clothes and a cash compensation for each returnee (Damascus, May-
June 1900oo, FO 195/2075; June I I, 1900oo, AE Pol/NS 106/4).
70. Damascus, October 4, 1900, FO 195/2075.
71. In March 1898 the young Mark Sykes toured the Hawran where he saw
mounds of human skeletons (Damascus, May 2, 1898, FO 195/2024).
72. For the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century activities of members of
prominent Damascene families, see my Families in Politics: Damascene Factions and
Estates of the 18th and 19th Centuries (Stuttgart, 1985), for sketches of the 'Azms
(141-43), Barudis (147), Shamdins (147-49), Mahayinis (15o), Yusufs (153), 'Abids
(155-56), Bakris (16o), 'Umaris (181), Hamzas (199), Hisnis (204), Mardams (213),
and Jaza'iris (215-18). For an example of retrenchment and consolidation within the
elite families in this period, see my "Lore and Reality of Middle Eastern Patriarchy,"
in Die Welt des Islams 28 (1988): 496-512. For the impact of these events on early
Arab Nationalists see my "Arab Nationalism in the Frame of Eurasian Nationalisms,"
in Arab Nationalisms: Processes of Self-Definition, ed. Charles Stewart (forthcoming).



73. The connections between the Hawran conflicts of the i88os and i89os and the
major bedouin revolts in the Hijaz and Nejd have, to my knowledge, never been
systematically pursued. The bedouin revolts eventually resulted not only in Arab
independence from the Ottoman Empire but also in the emergence of the two leading
national Arab dynasties of the twentieth century, the Hashimites and the Ibn Sa'uds.
Philby often mentioned the importance of Syrian grain to the political stability of
regimes in Arabia, and the British clearly used food as a weapon to win the tribes'
support during World War I by blockading the Red Sea ports and by inflating Hawran
prices, distributing large amounts of gold there and among the tribes. These measures
largely contributed to the catastrophic famine that occurred in Syria in 1916-18 and to
the final collapse of Ottoman authority. See my "Famine in Syria."
74. It is interesting to note that the rebels of 1896 specifically requested military
(i.e., Turkish Ottoman) rather than civilian (i.e., Damascene notable) negotiators in
the aftermath of the revolt (Damascus, September 28, 1896, FO 195/1940).


The Impact of Peasant Resistance on

Nineteenth-Century Mount Lebanon


Since the early nineteenth century, Lebanon has experienced outbreaks of
political violence and civil unrest of varying intensity. All such conflicts, from
the rural uprisings and confessional strife in the last century to the civil war of
the i98os, have resulted from internal as well as regional and international
causes. They reflect the fragility and precariousness of a pluralistic society, its
deficient civility, and its failure to establish a national identity. Although resort
to violence has not been unusual in societies of this sort, what is remarkable in
the case of Lebanon is the frequency and pattern of such conflicts. Non-
confessional, factional rivalries and clashes have almost always been trans-
formed into religious hostilities. Thus, the persisting feature of Lebanon's
society is the relative lack of secular and national loyalties and class ties, on
the one hand, and the survival of sectarian, communal, and primordial senti-
ments, on the other.1
It is a commonplace that rural unrest has been widespread in Middle
Eastern history, but nowhere did it evolve into such sustained movements and
so alter society as in the Mount Lebanon region. This study focuses on the
origins, developments, and results of Lebanese rural protest movements at
three successive times, 1821, 184o, and 1858-61. The conclusions drawn
from a systematic comparison and analysis of the movements are based on a
broader study of sociopolitical, economic, and ideological continuity and
change in Ottoman Lebanon.2
The subject will be treated by posing the following questions:

What were the general long-term causes of politico-social unrest and



What were the short-term causes that triggered the single movements?
What were the movements' differences and similarities?
To what extent did the movements manifest new phenomena as reflected in
their organization and vocabulary?
To what degree did the movements contribute to positive changes for the
peasants, and what was the impact of rural unrest on society?

THE RURAL movements between 1821 and 1861 must be viewed against the
area's political, economic, social, and ideological structures which underwent
various transformations during the period under study. It has to be stressed
that in the first decades of the nineteenth century both the politico-legal and
socioeconomic organization of Mount Lebanon were singular within the Ot-
toman Empire. Mount Lebanon was de facto a tributary principality, the
territory of which was in the hands of noble families or clans (patrilinear
kinship groups). They presided over the various tax districts (muqata'at) into
which the entire territory was split; each district or its subdivisions was led by
a muqata'aji. At the top of this hierarchically organized armed nobility stood
the amir or hakim who represented the principality to the Ottoman sultan.
Internally, however, the amir had no right to interfere in the affairs of the
muqata'ajis' domains.3
A formalized hierarchy of nobility existed at the social level, although in
principle the muqata'ajis had equal authority and even the amir was only
primus inter pares. Below him as well as below all the noble families stood
the commoners, mainly peasants and some small artisans affiliated with and
loyal to the houses of muqata'ajis whose duty it was to protect them. The
peasants in turn belonged to a clan and a village and, beyond those, to a
faction or a religious community. However, religion was not a dividing factor;
society was organized in a secular political framework regardless of sectarian
The economy of Mount Lebanon was based on agricultural production and
local handicraft, both oriented toward local consumption and limited regional
exchange. Moreover, a considerable amount of exportable silk was produced.
Small market towns such as Dayr al-Qamar and Zahleh existed in the moun-
tains, but the urban centers on the coast and in the Syrian interior normally lay
outside the sphere of the muqata'ajis. Peasants within a landlord's district
were subject to different forms of socioeconomic and fiscal exactions (irreg-
ular, often excessive fees, levies in kind, corv6e services, etc.). These exact-
ions differed from place to place according to customary rules. Thus, in
addition to legal ties of personal dependence, peasants were bound by eco-
nomic constraints.5


The Impact of Peasant Resistance on Mount Lebanon

Regarding the structural levels of Mount Lebanon, one scholar has con-
vincingly demonstrated that it seems possible and necessary to speak of a
"Lebanese variant" of feudalism.6 However, this claim is subject to two
qualifications: first, the limited capacity for independent evolution of Mount
Lebanon's society because the emirate was located in an empire whose neigh-
boring provinces were structured differently; second, the fiscal connection
with the central Ottoman power mediated through the amir and the muqata'ajis
who were, however, not mere tax farmers comparable to those in the other
provinces of the empire.7 According to this argument one may say that the
muqata'a system was specifically Lebanese, based on a mature social order
with roots older than Ottoman sovereignty, and, via the institution of tax
farming, artificially adapted to Ottoman law and fiscal practice.
From the first half of the nineteenth century on, Mount Lebanon experi-
enced various internal and external changes that began to dislocate and trans-
form societal structures, with crucial repercussions for the muqata'a system.
On the political level, the centralizing policy of amir Bashir Shihab I
weakened the noble families, who were no longer able to contain the power
and authority of the emirate. Backed by increasing support from sections of
the Maronite church, the amir's position toward the muqata'ajis grew so strong
that in the long run it could not be counterbalanced.8
With regard to social strata, religious affiliation gained in importance and
redefined social boundaries along sectarian lines. Particularly during the
i83os, the time of the Egyptian occupation of Greater Syria, confessional
tendencies came to the surface and became even more tense when European
intervention sought to curry support among particular local groups. The pro-
tective policy of the European powers, especially France and Great Britain,9
resulted in increasingly differential treatment of the religious communities and
aggravated internal conflicts in the Lebanese mountains. In this context, the
Maronite church consolidated its position by appealing to Maronite identity.
Henceforth, social and religious issues intermingled so strongly that often
they could not be separated.
Economically, Mount Lebanon was struck by the disintegration of its tradi-
tional mode of production. The dissolution of the economic features of the
muqata'a system was linked to both internal economic developments and
growing European economic penetration, especially after 183o. New relations
of production came into being through the disintegration of the barter econ-
omy, the growth of a market-oriented peasant economy, and the appearance in
villages of craft workshops employing hired labor. The introduction of cash
crops and the monetization of large sectors of the traditional economy caused
a gradual change from a "subsistence to a market economy."'10 Such gener-



alizations, however, require comment. First, it is difficult to determine exactly
the portion of subsistence existing in Mount Lebanon between 1800oo and 1850.
Second, with respect to specific products, the transition from old to new
modes of economy did not happen at the same time or without interruption.
For example, in the production of raw silk and its export to Europe, the
transition to a cash economy had already begun in the eighteenth, if not the
seventeenth, century. This trade was characterized by sharp fluctuations in silk
prices and the emergence of an active class of merchants and money
The new relations of production evolved and deepened under the growing
influx of foreign capital (the circulation of European coins in conjunction with
the devaluation of local currency and a general monetary hemorrhage) and the
involvement of the country's economy (particularly silk) in the world market.
Nothing better reflects these developments than the spectacular rise of Beirut
to the leading seaport of the eastern Mediterranean.12
In the long run, European penetration proved as detrimental to Mount
Lebanon as to all of Syria, exhausting the financial reserves of the country and
contributing to the decline of important branches of local handicraft, though
this decline should not be exaggerated.13 One striking example of the European
impact was the decline in the production of handmade silk. The establishment
by the French of spinning mills in the Lebanese mountains considerably
improved the quality of silk. This led, however, to the indebtedness and semi-
impoverishment of the muqata'ajis, and, even more, to that of their peasants-
bound to their old-fashioned methods of producing silk, they were no longer
able to compete with the new technological challenge.14 The muqata'ajis tried
to compensate part of their losses by reinforcing their pressure on the peasants
through higher tax demands and forced exactions. Given the general strong
population increase, largely a result of improved hygiene and better health
conditions,15 distributional problems were intensified, so that by the middle of
the century the struggle for profitable land had become a vital issue.
Altogether, the rupture of the economic basis of the muqata'ajis, the chang-
ing patterns of political relationships (between the nobility, the amir, and the
Maronite church), and the socioreligious transformations (especially through
the Egyptian occupation and the interference of the foreign powers) brought
about the breakdown of Mount Lebanon's old order in the first half of the
nineteenth century.

ALTHOUGH the short-term causes or precipitants of rural protest differed from
one movement to another, the reasons for the outbreak of conflict were re-


The Impact of Peasant Resistance on Mount Lebanon

lated. The 'Ammiyya riots of 1821 (which consisted of two successive move-
ments, the cAmmiyya of Antilyas and the 'Ammiyya of Lihfid) were triggered
by fiscal policies, amir Bashir's tax demands (both poll taxes and land taxes)
that Christian peasants considered excessive and unjust. Bashir's refusal to
repeal his demands sparked resistance that evolved into military conflict.16
In 184o, the situation was more complicated, and the immediate causes of
turmoil were manifold. Starting from a protest against the harsh measures of
the Egyptian governors, such as heavy taxation of land and individuals, con-
fiscation of weapons (considered the first step toward conscription into the
army), and compulsory labor, the insurgents struggled to throw off foreign
rule. 17 A certain degree of patriotic feeling underlay this rebellion.
In the district of Kisrawan in 1858, two factors triggered revolt: first, the
sharp and unexpected economic downturn in Kisrawan, beginning two years
prior to the rebellion and resulting from climatic difficulties that proved partic-
ularly detrimental to cereals cultivation; second, the arming of the peasantry
through foreign dealers and smugglers.18is
According to the Lebanese chroniclers, the oppressive rule of the muqa-
ta'ajis over their peasants led to the only rebellion in which the peasants turned
immediately against their local landlords.19 Though this contention may be
true, other motives for revolting should be taken into consideration. Participa-
tion in or evocations of earlier rural movements may have enhanced the
peasants' consciousness and self-esteem. Moreover, the general spirit of re-
form (for example, that expressed by the Ottoman imperial decree of 1856,
which promised equality and freedom for everybody) and the increasing inti-
macy of the Maronite clergy with the peasants must have impelled the move-
ment further.20 Together, these factors provided fertile soil for social protest.

WHAT WERE the movements' common features and peculiarities? Regarding
social composition, the bulk of the participants in the events of 1821 were
peasants and lower clergymen. As for leadership, the villages that were join-
ing the 'ammiyya movements elected deputies (wukala') from the ranks
of commoners to advocate their concerns. Above this level, the 'am-
miyya movements had leaders from the traditional elite, the muqata'ajis,
supplemented by a Maronite bishop who is reported to have initiated the first
protest meeting and organized the subsequent campaigns.21
In 1840, the peasant mass again constituted and sustained the insurgence.
What was new was the appearance of some prominent leaders of low social
origin as "popular leaders." But there was still military guidance by some
muqata'ajis and by European agents (French noblemen, Catholic missionaries,



and British diplomats). Active support in the Maronite church came from the
lower clergy, in due time morally backed by the higher clergy, including the
patriarch himself. Another innovation consisted of contacts between the insur-
gents and members of the rising merchant bourgeoisie. For example, mer-
chants and artisans were among the members of the committee that launched
the insurgence. Through access to urban centers the bourgeoisie was able to
give various kinds of support, such as equipment and provisions.22
There seems to be no doubt that the insurrection of 1858 was the most
evident manifestation of a popular movement (one is tempted to call it "a
revolt by the common man"). Apart from wealthier villagers from the north-
western plains of Kisrawan whose commitment was temporary, the bulk of the
rebels who permanently adhered to the movement were poor and perhaps
landless peasants from the upper south of the area. Many peasant wukala may
have been socially better off but not the majority, and, while indirect support
came from higher social strata (above all from wealthier merchants and the
upper clergy), the leader of the rebellion was a simple, probably illiterate,
man without means-Tanyus Shahin, a former mule driver and blacksmith.
His election as general representative (al-wakil al-'amm) and retention of
power throughout the period lend credence to the description of the movement
in Kisrawan as the culmination of popular uprising in nineteenth-century
Mount Lebanon.23 Not that the role of members from higher social strata was
unimportant, but, in comparison to the accounts of 1821 and 1840, the
sources' message seems to be that during the Kisrawan events wealthier mer-
chants and upper clergy, including the Maronite patriarch (himself of peasant
origins), kept much more in the background. Their suspicion of Tanyus
Shahin's character and personal ambitions as well as of the radical groups
among his followers was shared by the French consul in Beirut, whose sympa-
thy shifted toward the moderate peasant groups. On the other hand, the moral
encouragement or, better, the passive attitude of the Ottoman authorities
toward the rebels should be taken into consideration.24
As far as religious affiliation is concerned, in both the movements of 1821
and 1840 the Maronites constituted the absolute majority. Temporary par-
ticipation of some Druze and Shiites was of only minor importance. One of
the main reasons for the nearly complete religious homogeneity probably was
that no community other than the Maronites was backed by religious institu-
tions comparable to their church. By favoring rebellion and supporting it, the
Maronite church intended to strengthen its own influence over the political
order.25 Furthermore, efforts at supraconfessional cooperation had proved
unfeasible from the beginning of all such protest movements. In 1858, revolt


The Impact of Peasant Resistance on Mount Lebanon

started in a purely Maronite area and remained limited to it. Direct effects on
neighboring districts or followers within them cannot be discerned, although
the spirit or mood of revolt spread to other regions.26
What of the demands raised by the insurgents? During the first protest
meeting in 1821, the peasants demanded the taxes imposed on land and on
individuals be levied once a year only, and, above all, not before the crop was
mature. Some time later, demands relating to administrative and political
problems were added.27 The matter of personal and land taxes also arose in
the 184o demands along with others: orders to disarm the Christian population
should be revoked and inhabitants of Mount Lebanon be exempted from
service in the Egyptian army; compulsory labor should be abolished; two
members from each religious community should be appointed to an advisory
council to help the amir in his affairs.28 With respect to later developments,
this last demand proved the most important, representing the first step toward
a confessional order.
Demands advanced in 1858-59 were different. This time, the direct rela-
tionship between peasant and master was at stake. Full financial, social, and
juridical equality was sought. This meant the repeal of oppressive customary
obligations and payments, the abolition of forced labor personal levies (such
as gifts), more favorable tenancy terms, and so forth. However, the peasants'
claim for social and juridical equality with the muqata'ajis aimed at transform-
ing substantial parts of the traditional social order. In the peasants' view, such
equality was established by the Ottoman reform edicts, to which they im-
plicitly alluded in their lists of demands. Radical peasant groups went so far as
to demand the settling of the question of who should be ma'mur
(administrator) by insisting upon his election from the common people. For-
merly, the office of ma'mur of Kisrawan had been in the hands of muqata'ajis.
The radicals' claim implied much more than political participation; it replaced
the muqata'ajis' political authority with self-rule of the common people.29
Thus, within a period of forty years, the claim of the "common man" to
have his own say in the process of change evolved through an escalation of
demands. Starting with a tax issue, it ended with a claim for full equality,
which for some implied peasant rule.30
The movements possessed certain forms of organization. Unfortunately,
beyond the wakil system31 little is known of their internal functioning, partic-
ularly concerning the events of 1821. Sources reporting on 184o mention a
council (diwan, majlis) constituted by wakils to take charge of the insurgency
and to coordinate its military operations through a fixed headquarters. This
organization was shaped through the support of European agents who also



helped with better armaments and money. 32 In the Kisrawan rebellion, organi-
zation became more refined, with an executive council (diwan) in charge of
administrative and judicial tasks. This council, headed by the general repre-
sentative (wakil 'amm) Tanyus Shahin, constituted the basis of the peasant
regime.33 The capacity for warfare was guaranteed by arms deliveries and by
purchases and smuggling both from local merchants, and, probably to a minor
degree, from foreign dealers. However, it needs to be stressed that the revolt
was not mounted or directed by outside forces. There is no support for such a
proposition. Apparently, armed men in several villages were ready for quick
mobilization.34 What remains most obscure is the matter of finances.
Throughout the peasants' rule there was obviously no tax collection. If, as
historical sources suggest, the peasants only subsisted by confiscations, by
economizing on their payment of taxes, and by some allowances from mer-
chants, theirs was indeed a rudimentary pattern of financial organization.35
However, compared to the beginnings of peasant organization in the 182os, a
remarkable development can be discerned.
In conclusion, one may argue that in 1821 there was primarily a fiscal
revolt, in 184o a political insurgence, and in 1858-61 a "social movement,"
taking this term in its widest sense. Regardless of specific differences, all
three were driven by certain present grievances and none was against the
whole order. Therefore, the movements were revolts or rebellions but not
revolutions. This is also true of the Kisrawan movement, in the course of
which even the radical groups demanded neither the expropriation of any of
the landlords' estates nor any changes in property rights.36 On the other hand,
in view of some characteristics and given the stages of its development, the
Kisrawan movement indeed had quasi-revolutionary traits. In other words, it
was the most progressive of all rural movements but still remained "archaic"
in the sense defined by Eric Hobsbawm.37
Finally, irrespective of progress and continuous evolvement, all the move-
ments were subject to external mechanisms of control: the amir, the muqa-
ta'ajis, the Maronite upper clergy, the European powers, the Ottoman
authorities. In the frame of the general evolution of society, even rural move-
ments with revolutionary-like claims were tolerated, but only to the extent that
they worked in favor of the prevailing tendencies and interests to weaken and
overcome those political, social, and economic structures of traditional Mount
Lebanon that had become obsolete and dysfunctional.

WHAT WERE the new phenomena revealed by the movements? For the first
time in Mount Lebanon's history, members of low social status started to