Islamic history, Syrian history, Western Colonisation

Nineteenth Century Colonisation Continued: Muhammed Ali Pasha and the Wahabiiz

I have read lots of  accounts on how to make a web log more popular, so I aim to try. Sticking to one theme seems to be a way of doing that, which does make sense. Because I do have strong opinions I’ll continue to comment on what is newsworthy before I move to the historical content but will try to keep the two separate.


In my last entry I forgot two very important comparisons between Syria, Iraq and Egypt, a comparison that applies to Jordan too. That is their strategic position and their eclectic populations, Syria and Iraq are both trade routes to India, formerly one of Britain’s most important colonies and their populations are far more of a mix than those of Egypt and Jordan. This partly is because of the way the former two were ”carved” up by the west and the Ottomans, after the first world war.

Politics first: Syrian refugees and peace negotiations

The Radio 4 news featured Syrian refugees; it announced how a few people should be admitted to Britain. It is interesting, as such concern did not materialise during the invasion of Iraq or at least not in relation to Syria, who got no thanks or financial help for supporting over a million people. Rather it impacted on their cost of living and no doubt contributed to the demos in 2011. Oh I forgot, Syria accepting refugees did cause the bombing of Abu Kamal, on the border with Iraq, an attack that was allegedly against ”militants” but instead hit civilians.

I know Syria was very safety conscious at that border but people passed to and fro regularly, as they travelled to and from Iraq and the other Gulf states. Syrian people and Arabic people generally travel overland, rather than by plane but of course, this is not possible now.

Don’t know the details but I see the talks that took place in Geneva have broken down. What a surprise eh! Unless President Assad offers to publicly hang, draw and quarter himself, his suggestions will never be acceptable to the western supremacists.

History: nineteenth century colonisation continued

If the historical entries seem rather selective and condensed it is because this is the intention: giving accounts of individuals or particular events build up a picture and is far easier than wending your way through the endless and mind-boggling wheelin ‘n’ dealin that characterised the relationship between Europe and Islam in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Though this is a history of Syria it is impossible not to include the surrounding regions, as their histories are intertwined and the divisions that existed in the 19th century have not been resolved by the existence of  state structures; even since independence.

Intrigue exacerbates the divisions in the Arab world

As the seeds of Arab nationalism were sown in the 19th century, there is little doubt there was much manipulation by the European powers, as well as by the Ottoman empire as both sought to ensure their political and economic interests. This intrigue served to exacerbates the divisions in the Arabic world. During the 19th century Arab nationalism was not, on the whole, a secular movement but related to the role of Islam as well as the power struggles with the Ottomans and the West.

Muhammed Ali Pasha

The last entry featured Ibrahim Pasha see/2014/01/25/colonisation-and-its-impact-on-arab-nationalism-in-the-19th-century-some-comparisons-with-the-situation-today/ an Ottoman and governor of Syria, who may have been one of the first Arab nationalists. Ibrahim Pasha was the son of the statesman Muhammed (or Mehmet, probably the Turkish version) Ali Pasha, the ”self appointed” governor of Egypt and Sudan. Muhammed Ali Pasha was reportedly of Albanian or Greek origin (it appears he used Albanian mercenaries in his conquest of Egypt but his nationality varies according to the account you read).

After taking Egypt by storm he moved to the Sudan, a worry for England as, this gave him full control of the through routes to India. England was not the only country, that was uneasy as the Turkish Sultan, Mahmud the second, the ultimate ruler of the Ottoman Empire at the time, feared the power of both Mohammed and Ibrahim Pasha. The Ottoman Empire was in decline however and those who fought for it expected to be rewarded with the territory they acquired.

More divisions

Despite the Ibrahim’s ”Arabisation” (see the previous entry) and the concerns of the Sultan, the Pasha family engaged in a war with the Wahabiiz, who were opposed to the Ottoman empire and wished to establish a state in the Gulf. In its establishment they looked at Islam for inspiration and returned to a more basic interpretation of the Qu’ran. Wahabiizm is still practiced in Saudi Arabia, in fact the modern Saudi state was established by its principles.

This alone offers an explanation as to why Saudi Arabia is so opposed to Arab Nationalism, particularly when the movement acquired a more secular flavour, as it did in Egypt, Syria and Iraq.

The Saudi legal system adopted the doctrine of the ulama, which invests power in a small group of scholars to make the law, as Karen Armstrong writes, the absence of the principles of jurisprudence has resulted in the oppression of women. According Armstrong women were neither ”shrouded or secluded” in the time of the Prophet Mohammed. Apparently more enlightened ”religious”groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, have criticised the Wahabiizt approach of the Saudi system; a factor that complicates matters further and will result in more divisions even if the conquest of Syria is successful.


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