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Muhammad ‘Ali of Egypt and Sudan  

George Michael La Rue

Muhammad ‘Ali ruled Egypt from 1805 to 1848. Long perceived as a reforming modernizer and founder of modern Egypt, historians have more recently reconsidered the impact of his economic and social policies on Egypt’s ordinary people. To determine his place in African history (and in the history of slavery and abolition) requires a broad reexamination of his policies and Egypt’s actions, and their consequences in Egypt, Sudan, within the Ottoman Empire, and in the 19th-century balance of power. After arriving in Egypt in 1801, Muhammad ‘Ali emerged from a complex political field as the Ottoman Pasha of Egypt by 1805. He overpowered the remnants of the old Mamluk regime, pushed them to Egypt’s southern boundaries, allied with key Egyptian elites, helped to suppress the Wahhabi revolt in the Hijaz for his Ottoman overlord, and strove to reduce the power of his Albanian troops. He reestablished trade (including the slave trade) with Sudan, and planned a new army of enslaved Sudanese. Between 1820 and 1835, Muhammad ‘Ali made a series of bold moves. The invasion of Sudan (1820–1821) and its occupation caused great political, social, and economic devastation there. Egypt toppled or threatened many Sudanese rulers, redirected Sudanese-Egyptian trade, and reshaped Sudan’s urban centers. The invaders attacked Sudanese and other African populations, conducted ongoing slave raids, enslaved thousands, and destroyed their homes. Egyptians and Sudanese found challenges and opportunities within these broader patterns. Enslaved Sudanese became soldiers in the nizam al-jadid, laborers in Muhammad ‘Ali’s new industries, diplomatic gifts, and taxable trade commodities. Newly formed elites bought African slaves for domestic tasks in Sudan and Egypt. Egypt’s new medical establishment treated Sudanese slave soldiers for guinea-worm, vaccinated incoming slaves for smallpox, and purchased Sudanese and Ethiopian women to train as hakimas—fully trained nurse-midwives. Initially, Muhammad ‘Ali sent his new army to fight in Greece on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. Later, his challenges to Ottoman supremacy drew the attention of European powers, who feared any disruption to the delicate balance of power. The demographic impact of the bubonic plague epidemic of 1834–1835 on Egypt’s black slave population was notable, and led to increased demand for replacement slaves. This drew attention from European observers and added an abolitionist dimension to diplomatic pressure on Muhammad ‘Ali. By 1841, he gained Ottoman recognition as hereditary ruler of Egypt and parts of Sudan, his army’s size was capped, and he made trade concessions to Europe. With his imperial ambitions now limited to Africa, Muhammad ‘Ali renewed his interest in controlling more of Sudan and adjacent regions, and deflected abolitionist criticism by blaming supplying regions for continuing to raid and trade in slaves.

Article

Prisoners, Ransoms, and Slavery in the Maghrib  

Russell Hopley

The topic of prisoners, ransoms, and slavery in the Maghrib (that is, the lands of the Islamic west—the area that today encompasses North Africa, and historically, also the regions of Iberia and Sicily that came under Muslim rule) is of considerable chronological and geographical scope extending from the earliest establishment of Islamic rule in the region during the second half of the 7th century, persisting to the final decades of the 20th century, and enslaving or otherwise taking prisoner peoples from areas as geographically diverse as West Africa, the southern coastal regions of Europe, and as far north as Ireland and Iceland. The practice of slavery and the taking of prisoners in the Maghrib are thus of substantial historical significance. Yet, it is only in comparatively recent times that this complex topic has drawn the attention of scholars. Therefore, our understanding of slavery and the taking of prisoners in the Maghrib, especially during the medieval period, remains in its incipience.

Article

Slavery in Egypt under the Mamluks  

Adam Ali

The Muslim polity commonly referred to as the Mamluk Sultanate ruled Egypt and Syria during the late medieval period (1250–1517). Slaves played a big role at every level of society in Mamluk Egypt. A slave’s race, origins, and network (if he had one) determined the prospects of his life and career. Most slaves formed the lowest stratum in society as domestic servants and laborers. Such slaves could be Africans, Caucasians, Turks, Europeans, Greeks, Armenians, or Mongols. However, some slaves occupied the highest positions. These military slaves, the mamluks, dominated the army and the government and formed a military-political elite caste in Egyptian society. In fact, so-called military slaves played an important role in the history of the Muslim world for a millennium, starting from the 9th century. Even after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517, the mamluks continued to exist as an elite socio-military class in Egypt.

Article

Slave Trades and Diaspora in the Middle East, 700 to 1900 CE  

George La Rue

In the Middle East, Africa was only one of multiple sources of enslaved and servile labor. Building on the legacy of earlier civilizations, the region drew on all of its immediate neighbors for slaves. Local kingdoms and empires arose, clashed, expanded, and adapted old and new slaving strategies from internal and external rivals. From the 7th century, the rapid expansion of Islam and the building of Muslim empires are salient features in this history, but many other historical developments played key roles. Ensuing encounters with other civilizations, empires, and trading networks frequently resulted in friction, mutual adaptation, or new cultural, political, or economic synergies. In the Middle East, Islamic practices toward slaves influenced all regional cultures, yet many variants emerged due to local customs; changing economic and political considerations; specific environmental conditions; and the experiences, cultures, and talents of the enslaved. Slaves were captured directly or purchased. In wars and raids, Middle Eastern armies captured enemy combatants and civilians to ransom or enslave. The mix of enslaved and servile persons brought into the region varied in its composition, reflecting the geographical areas of military actions, the development of powerful trading partners, and the extent of trading networks. Foreign merchants imported additional slaves from the Balkans, the Black Sea region, the islands and shores of the Mediterranean, Central Asia, and Africa—including the West African savanna, the Lake Chad region, Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Horn of Africa, particularly via the Swahili coast. These practices brought new servile populations as workers, domestic staff, concubines, soldiers, or bureaucrats to serve in imperial outposts, trading towns, or centers of agricultural, handicraft, or industrial production. The constant demand for servile labor was driven not only by expanding empires and new economic enterprises but also by growing urban populations, the multiple options for manumission under Islamic law, high mortality rates and low rates of reproduction among enslaved populations for social and medical reasons, and the resultant scarcity of second-generation slaves. Broadly speaking, enslaved Africans were more common in the southern tier of the Middle East and demand for them generally increased over time, as northern and internal sources of slaves dwindled. Enslaved persons, including Africans, served in numerous capacities and were dispersed throughout the Middle East and its areas of slave supply.

Article

Zanj Revolt in the Abbasid Caliphate (Iraq)  

Adam Ali

In 869, slaves, mostly of African origin, revolted in Southern Iraq against their masters, living mainly in the city of Basra, and against the Abbasid caliphate. The slaves, referred to as Zanj in the sources, rebelled due to the harsh conditions under which they lived. They worked on large plantations where they were primarily employed in reclaiming land by removing the nitrous topsoil to make it arable. They toiled under terrible working conditions, received little sustenance, and suffered cruel and harsh treatment at the hands of their overseers. The rebellion was incited and led by Ali ibn Muhammad, a mysterious charismatic leader who was neither a slave nor a native of the marshy regions where he launched the movement that would cause the central authorities so much trouble for a period of 15 years. Ali ibn Muhammad and his band of followers attacked the plantations where the slaves worked and freed thousands of them. He promised the slaves that he would lead them to victory, wealth, and power. He also promised that he would treat them with respect and dignity and that he would never betray them. Ali ibn Muhammad and his followers established a polity in Southern Iraq and the region of Ahwaz (in Southwestern Iran). They constructed their capital, al-Mukhtara, deep in the marshes. The rebels utilized the marshes to conduct a guerilla war against their enemies. They defeated several armies sent by the local authorities in Basra and drove back caliphal forces sent to subdue them from Samarra and Baghdad. The Zanj were only crushed when the caliphate focused a considerable amount of its military and resources on subduing the revolt, eventually pushing the rebels back to their capital. Even after the rebel capital was besieged, it took the caliphal armies 2 years to capture al-Mukhtara. The rebellion took a heavy toll on the caliphate. The damage done to the economy, agriculture, and trade was devastating. Thousands lost their lives, irrigation systems were destroyed, and countless villages were abandoned. Even major cities such as Basra and Wasit were taken and sacked by the rebels, leaving much of the region devastated and depopulated. The caliphate suffered from losses of revenue and prestige and became further fragmented with regional dynasties and a rival caliphate rising to control much of its territory, leaving the Abbasid caliphs with little actual power beyond the capital.