Crowds and Sultans
151 pages

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151 pages

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An alternative reading of Mamluk politics and society in fifteenth-century Egypt and Syria
During the fifteenth century, the Mamluk sultanate that had ruled Egypt and Syria since 1249-50 faced a series of sustained economic and political challenges to its rule, from the effects of recurrent plagues to changes in international trade routes. Both these challenges and the policies and behaviors of rulers and subjects in response to them left profound impressions on Mamluk state and society, precipitating a degree of social mobility and resulting in new forms of cultural expression. These transformations were also reflected in the frequent reports of protests during this period, and led to a greater diffusion of power and the opening up of spaces for political participation by Mamluk subjects and negotiations of power between ruler and ruled.
Rather than tell the story of this tumultuous century solely from the point of view of the Mamluk dynasty, Crowds and Sultans places the protests within the framework of long-term transformations, arguing for a more nuanced and comprehensive narrative of Mamluk state and society in late medieval Egypt and Syria. Reports of urban protest and the ways in which alliances between different groups in Mamluk society were forged allow us glimpses into how some medieval Arab societies negotiated power, showing that rather than stoically endure autocratic governments, populations often resisted and renegotiated their positions in response to threats to their interests.
This rich and thought-provoking study will appeal to specialists in Mamluk history, Islamic studies, and Arab history, as well as to students and scholars of Middle East politics and government and modern history.
1. The Mamluk State Transformed
2. A Society in Flux
3. Popularization of Culture and the Bourgeois Trend
4. Between Riots and Negotiations: Popular Politics and Protest



Publié par
Date de parution 01 mai 2016
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781617976971
Langue English

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This electronic edition published in 2015 by
The American University in Cairo Press
113 Sharia Kasr el Aini, Cairo, Egypt
420 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10018
Copyright © 2015 by Amina Elbendary
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
ISBN 978 977 416 717 1
eISBN 9781 61797 697 1
Version 1
To my parents, Nawal Mehallawi and Attia El-Bendari, In loving memory
Note on Transliteration
Long-term Transformations
‘Decline and Fall’ Paradigm
After the Fifteenth Century
The Challenges before Them
Mamluk Administrative Policies in Crisis
If Not Taxes, Then What?
Structure of the Army
Population and Demographic Changes
Rise of the Bedouin and Bedouinization
Racial Groups
Emerging Landowning Class
Social Mobility
Anxiety and Social Malaise
Protest as Manifestation of Malaise
Factors behind Popularization
Changes in Mamluk Culture
Various Forms of Patronage
Popular Sufism
Manifestations of Popularization in Written Cultural Production
Center versus Periphery, Cairo versus the Provinces
Civic Interest
Writing the Self into History
New Audiences for Written History
Who Wrote History and Why?
Currency Devaluation
Taxes and Levies: Paying Up, Evading, and Protesting
Injustices and Perceived Corruption of Officials
Food Shortage and Protest
Mamluks Protesting
Protesting to Maintain Traditions in a Changing Society
Restrictions on Non-Muslims and Sectarian Violence
Protesting against Rulers and Middle Officials
State-Induced Protest
Prayer and Protest
Satire and Parody
Protest and the Mamluk Underworld
Protesting Peasants
In transliterating Arabic words the American University in Cairo Press uses a modi fi ed version of the International Journal of Middle East Studies system. Accordingly, words that are part of the English lexicon are not italicized and diacritical marks are not used.
This book, as most projects do, has a prehistory. It began in a discussion in our kitchen with my mother’s best friend, the late Lebanese novelist Layla Usayran. Having reunited with my mother in the mid-1990s after the Lebanese Civil War had kept them apart, Auntie Layla visited us in Cairo. As she tried—albeit with limited success—to explain to me just what the war had been about, we turned to protest and despotism. I made an offhand remark that maybe our populations, especially in Egypt, didn’t resist and rebel against despotic rule historically because the stakes were too high and they knew better. Little did I know! When I started graduate studies at the American University in Cairo, I was struck to discover so many references to street riots and protests in the Mamluk period. Gradually a project came to develop, not on “Why did they not rebel?” but on “When and how did premodern people of Egypt and Syria protest?” And “What did protest look like before colonialism and modernity?” These questions were asked long before the Arab Spring was on the horizon, indeed in part in the hope that one would live to see such active protest in the political landscape of the region in the spirit of our medieval ancestors, or that one would come to better appreciate what appears as a calm surface. This project officially began in 2003, on the eve of the Second Iraq War and when the streets of the Arab world had begun grumbling, if in somewhat muted voices. It is laid to rest in 2015, well after a revolution and its aftermath.
I am grateful for all the support I received at the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Cambridge, from the Cambridge Overseas Trust, the Gibb Memorial Trust, and my college Clare Hall, without which I would not have been able to finish my research in a reasonable time frame.
I am indebted to many people in helping me write this book. I am thankful to my professor and mentor Professor Nelly Hanna for many reasons, too many to mention and do justice to. Since my graduate-student days Professor Hanna has made history seem so exciting, so crucial, and yet so easy. She continues to inspire me and to teach me lessons on why history matters. She is always generous with her time and thoughts and this book owes much to long, patient discussions with her. I am grateful to the steady advice of Professor Basim Musallam at Cambridge, who made the Mamluks seem less intimidating and the “project” an already existing whole whose parts one only had to assemble.
I am also deeply indebted to Professor Elizabeth Sartain at AUC. Her encyclopedic knowledge of medieval Islam and Egypt remains a beacon to aspire to.
I am also grateful for the supportive atmosphere and resources—and bottomless cups of hot coffee in the cold Cambridge winter—of the Skilliter Centre for Ottoman Studies and Professor Kate Fleet. I am also thankful to the students of ARIC 460/560 and ARIC 357 at AUC who endured the long reading lists on protest and dissent in premodern and early modern history, especially the group that persevered in Fall 2010, before protest was once more in academic fashion. Our discussions have greatly informed this project. I am also grateful for the insight and comments offered by colleagues at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University where I presented part of the arguments here. I also benefited greatly from the discussions at the Zukunftsphilologie Winter School on “Textual Practices beyond Europe 1500–1900” organized by Forum Transregionale Studien in Cairo in 2010. A pre-tenure leave from my university, the American University in Cairo, allowed me precious time to put the manuscript in order. The anonymous AUC Press readers made very thorough and insightful remarks and suggestions on the manuscript for which I am very grateful. I wish to thank the team at AUC Press, Nigel Fletcher-Jones, Neil Hewison, Nadia Naqib, and Nadine El-Hadi; they have been particularly helpful and patient through all the stages of finalizing the manuscript.
I am immeasurably sad that neither of my parents lived to see this book in print or read its drafts, for it owes them much. I am indebted to my mother, Nawal Mehallawi, for her support and encouragement of my education, even from beyond; for giving me my first dictionary with continual instructions to “look it up”; and for instilling in me the idea that one can do almost anything “if you put your mind to it.” To my father, Attia Elbendary, I am indebted to his down-to-earth backing. His support was an anchor far beneath the surface whose gravitation is fully appreciated only after it is gone. I am grateful to my brother Alaa Elbendary for his backing and matter-of-fact encouragement at all the crucial junctures. I am also deeply grateful to Hussein Basyouni, without whose help I would not have been able to leave my home and head to England, for being supportive in many subtle ways.
Last, but certainly not least, I am indebted to my friends and colleagues who endured years of talking about “the book” and about protest, and who made valuable suggestions and helped it materialize: Maggie Morgan, Amira Howeidy, Pascale Ghazaleh, Mona Anis, Sherine Hamdy, Adam Sabra, Camilo Gomez, Reham Barakat—thank you.
Long-Term Transformations
Medieval as well as contemporary histories of the Mamluk period differ in their historiography and on many issues; they all agree, however, that the fifteenth century ushered in a new period for the regime. While many of these sources have understood these transformations in terms of a paradigm of decline—citing signs of the weakness and economic crisis the Mamluk regime was going through—this book will argue that things were more nuanced and complicated. Rather than straightforward and linear decline, I will argue that the fifteenth century witnessed crises that presented opportunities for various political and social groups, some of whom benefited and gained more power, while others suffered and were placed under increased stress. It will also show that the multiple crises were simultaneously the outward manifestations of deeper changes. These economic crises and political transformations led to changes and were themselves the outcome of changes in all of the domestic, regional, and international balances of power. Furthermore, while the changes led to distress in some areas, and for some groups at certain times, they also opened up opportunities for others, at other times. Rather than a linear regression, then, there was more dynamic change occurring, with ups and downs. This allowed some groups in society more access to power, and placed others under stress that led them to continually renegotiate thei

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