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The Egyptian and Iranian ulama at the threshold of modern social change: what does and what does not account for the difference?

SINCE THE SIXTIES, AN ASTONISHING DEBATE has been in progress on the singularity of the Iranian religious experience in the course of the nineteenth century. With the outbreak of the ulama-led Iranian Revolution of 1977-79, the debate has gained added significance.(1) It is noted that the politics of the Shi'i ulama in Iran in the nineteenth century (and thereafter) displays a contrast with the politics of the Sunni ulama in other Middle Eastern countries. The Iranian ulama have enjoyed a power and influence in society unrivaled by their counterparts in other Muslim countries, played an influential role in the politics of this period, and occasionally participated in movements against the incumbent monarch. This is quite intriguing because in other areas of the Middle East, such as Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, ulama influence began to decline in the same period.

This essay attempts to explain this contrast, using the existing historical evidence. The article begins by summarizing the existing explanations of ulama politics in Iran offered by area specialists and historians. It then attempts to provide a structural-historical explanation for the difference between the Egyptian and Iranian ulama. By comparing Iran with Egypt, this study also attempts to contribute to the existing debate on the relationship between religion and politics in social history and historical sociology.


Although none have used comparative historical investigation, the leading scholars' explanations of ulama politics in nineteenth century Iran contain accounts of its contrast with the politics of the Sunni ulama in other Middle Eastern countries. These explanations are constructed either in terms of the difference between the political theory of Shi'ism and Sunnism or the institutional autonomy of the Shi'i ulama within the context of the state's weakness in Iran and its strength in other places. The first group argues that there is no theological basis in Shi'ism for the accommodation between the ulama and any worldly polity. This ideological precedent, which seemingly renders all temporal rulers illegitimate, is thought to be the underlying cause of the oppositional role of the Shi'i ulama, while its absence in Sunni teachings has deprived the Sunni ulama of a strong ideological basis to oppose the state.(2) Keddie, on the other hand, argues that "the ulama declined in those states, like Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, where the central government was able to strengthen itself significantly .... In Iran, there is a rise in ulama power, which is directly related to a governmental 'power vacuum'."(3) A new institutional development in Shi'ism in the late eighteenth century, the rise of the Usuli school and the decline of the Akhbari provided a strong organizational ideology for ulama political action, further enhancing their power and influence in society. The Usuli claimed for the ulama primacy in interpreting law and demanded that all believers pick a living mujtahid to follow and to abide by his judgments. The Akhbaris, in contrast, rejected the permissibility of religious scholars using their reason to enact certain judgments. Thus the Usuli doctrine, says Keddie, "gave the living mujtahids a power beyond anything claimed by the Sunni ulama, and gave to their rulings a sanction beyond anything merely decreed by the state."(4)

The theoretical and historical problems in these interpretations have been presented elsewhere.(5) As an alternative, this paper suggests a structural-historical explanation of the contrast in ulama politics in Egypt and Iran. This approach involves posing the problem of ulama political action within the broader context of the interaction between the state and various social classes as well as the varying patterns of alliance between these actors. Class dynamics and capacity for collective actions may provide clues for understanding the contrasting cases of Iran and Egypt.

Religious opposition requires social resources to grow and be maintained. The availability of social resources in turn depends on the nature of the triadic relationships between class, state, and ulama. Class interests, organizations, and class alliance constitute an important basis for the maintenance of religious opposition. Class provides audiences and material resources for the ulama and at the same time limits their actions. Likewise, state policies may affect class formation/coalition, thus structuring the ulama's capability for collective action. An expanding state bureaucratic structure may destroy the traditional occupational roles while providing new positions for cultural production including religious activities.

To be sure, social historians have noted the connection between the ulama and various social classes. In the case of Egypt, for example, Crecelius(6) and Marsot(7) observe that many Egyptian ulama were involved in commerce or enjoyed the rents of commercial holdings, urban dwellings, or landed property. And in the case of Iran, while Algar tends to overemphasize ulama religious authority, many other scholars have mentioned the connection between the ulama and various social classes.(8) Nevertheless, the substantive theoretical claim advanced in this essay goes far beyond a simple reiteration of the established fact. This is so because, first, historians have simply noted the ulamaclass connection. Class does not seem to play a central role in their explanation of the politics of religion. Second, this essay claims a causal connection between class and state dynamics, as two mutually interdependent variables, and the political behavior of various factions of the ulama. It is not that the ulama have some sort of elective affinity with certain social classes. It is rather understanding ulama politics presupposes a sufficient understanding of class politics. Finally, the patterns of class coalition and class-state alliance are considered consequential for the growth of ulama power in Iran and its decline in Egypt.


The fundamental similarities between the Egyptian and Iranian ulama should not be obscured by their ideological differences. The ulama were a group of learned religious scholars and jurists. Educated at the best institutions in Egypt and Iran, they embodied the religious elite. They attained positions carrying material wealth as well as social prestige and political power. The exact number of the ulama in both countries is unknown. For eighteenth century Egypt it was between roughly thirty and one-hundred persons,(9) and for Iran, the number of the ulama in the same period was much lower but it increased from less than a dozen at the beginning of the nineteenth century to several hundred by the end of the Qajar period.(10) The ulama were a small group, yet clearly a powerful one, and paradoxically one that despite its modest size was fragmented by rivalries and tensions.

As for wealth, some of the ulama constituted an important element in the landowning class and some were even engaged in trade and commercial activities. The Egyptian ulama were administrators. They managed the wealth of minors and orphans, of schools, mosques, hospitals, and above all managed the funds of charitable endowments, the awqaf (plural of waqf) which by the nineteenth century covered almost one-fifth of the total cultivable land, and which included perhaps a higher proportion of real estate and other forms of urban property. They were also involved in every form of commercial transaction since all sales, purchases, and transfers of property had to be authorized by a judge and in the presence of a witness.(11) One commentator even places the ulama on a level with the Mamluk elites:

At the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century the

"ulama" were among the chief multazims in Egypt. Like the Mamluk amirs,

they built luxurious palaces, surrounded themselves with servants and

hangers-on, employed officials, and took enormous interest in their property

and wealth.(12) The Iranian ulama also owned considerable landed property. The increase in ulama landownership was partly a Safavid legacy. According to Chardin:

The most notable change in the composition of the landowning class in Safavid time ... was the great increase in land held by members of the religious classes. Originally they probably held this land as mutavallis [administrators] of ouqaf or by way of hereditary grants or soyurghals. In due course much of this land became private property. In certain parts of the country, notably Azarbayjan and Isfahan, the religious classes have continued to form an important element in the landowning class.(13)

Pro-ulama practices of Qajar rulers further contributed to the ulama's wealth. Another source of ulama income was in the form of religious taxes [khoms va zakat] and donations largely from merchants, retail traders and craftsmen, and payments they earned for performing various functions related to general economic affairs.(14)

The political power of the ulama matched their wealth. The ulama of both countries were an integral part of their respective traditional government. They controlled traditional educational institutions and the shar'ia courts (which covered the areas of civil law and disputes). The Egyptian ulama, says Crecelius,

were actually an integral part of traditional government in Egypt and formed exceptionally close political and social ties with their Ottoman-Mamluk rulers. These ties of cooperation and friendship created patterns that can only be described as patron-client relationships. The native ulama were participants in the government of the foreign military-bureaucratic elites, not outsiders, and their own influence and wealth, the well-being of their entire corps, and the influence of Islam in general depended upon the close relations the ulama were able to maintain with their powerful rulers.(15) Floor also makes a similar observation about the Iranian ulama:

Because of the legitimization of power through religion, its values and norms were of great importance for the political structure of pre-industrial Iran. The religious system provided most of the formal legal structure. This meant that religious leaders, with their broad legal, social, and educational functions, influenced the limits of power of the ruling class. (Judicial functions were dominated and education monopolized by the religious class). (16) The Egyptian and Iranian ulama were thus occupying a similar location within the political and social structures of their respective countries. During the course of the nineteenth century, however, the Egyptian ulama began to decline while their Iranian counterparts maintained and even enhanced their socioeconomic and political power.(17) This paper attempts to explain this difference in terms of variations in state structure and pattern of class alliance in Egypt and Iran.


In the early nineteenth century, Egypt and Iran experienced the growth and consolidation of new political dynasties. The rise of Muhammad Ali to power in Egypt marked the development of a strong regime capable of exercising central authority. In 1517 when Sultan Salim I defeated the Mamluk rulers of Egypt, the country became a province of the Ottoman Empire. For almost three centuries, political power was divided between a trio of rival military elites: the viceroy, or governor, who represented the imperial authority; the Janissaries who ostensibly served as the imperial military force but who in actuality served to check any ambition of the viceroys; and the Mamluk Beys who had declared their allegiance to the Sultan and were appointed governors of various provinces in Egypt. The decline of the Ottoman Empire in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought increasing autonomy for Egypt so that by 1700 the Turkish viceroy in Egypt was a mere pawn in the hands of local Mamluk Beys.(18)

The despotic rule of the Mamluk Beys was ended by the French invasion of Egypt in 1798. Napoleon, however, failed to establish a pro-French government, and his evacuation of Egypt in 1801 left the country in a state of chaos characterized by continued struggle for political power between rival Mamluk and Ottoman forces. The native notables, and in particular the ulama remembered too vividly the notorious reign of Murad and Ibrahim Beys (1775-1798) to allow the restoration of the Mamluks.(19) Therefore, they began rallying behind Muhammad Ali, a young officer who had come to Egypt in 1801 with the Albanian detachment in the Turkish expeditionary force against the French. His success in securing the support of the ulama and the merchants won him the vali of Cairo in 1805.(20) By 1810, Muhammad Ali was able to successfully defeat all his rivals and secure order in the country.

Similarly, the Qajar dynasty was established in Iran by the turn of the nineteenth century. Before this period, Iran was experiencing one-hundred-years of political anarchy--between the fall of the Safavids and the rise of the Qajars. The anarchy was produced by recurrent wars of rivalry between the dominant tribal groups, such as the Afshars, Zands, Qajars, Bakhtiaris, Afghans, Turkmans, and others.(21) True, the Afshars and the Zands were able periodically to defeat their rivals and place one of their own on the throne. However, their reigns were too short for order and security to be established throughout the country. By the end of the eighteenth century, Aqa Muhammad Khan, a leader of the Qajar tribe, successfully ended the civil war, and established a new political dynasty.

The ulama in both countries benefitted from the political ascendancy of the new rulers. Extensively rewarded for their support of Muhammad Ali, the ulama of Egypt became wealthy enough to purchase property, village lands, slaves, give extravagant parties, and build mansions that, as Jabarti decries, rivaled those of the former amirs. In imitation of the amirs they set themselves above the people, mistreated their former subordinates, and, like the former multazims, beat or imprisoned their fellaheen for failure to meet the exorbitant taxes they imposed. "They neglected study and education and did not occupy themselves with that justice with which they preserved their privileges," said Jabarti.(22) In Iran, the Usuli ulama ascendancy and the Qajars' consolidation of political power mutually reinforced each other. The rise of the Qajars was particularly beneficial to the ulama when one considers the anti-clerical orientations of their predecessors, Nadir Shah Afshar (1736-47) and Karim Khan Zand (1750-79). Nadir's religious policy was directed toward the suppression of Shi'ism and promotion of pan-Islamism; while Karim Khan is reported to have regarded the ulama and religious students as parasites. And their successors were no more favorably disposed toward the ulama.

It was Aqa Muhammad Qajar, who in his coronation in 1796, emphatically affirmed his adherence to Shi'ism.(23) His nephew and successor, Fath Ali Shah, was even more favorably predisposed toward the ulama. Fath Ali Shah aimed to establish his reputation among the ulama as that of a pious sovereign by embellishing and repairing shrines and constructing mosques. The inhabitants of Qum (which was something of a holy city) were exempt from taxation, and madrasahs were built near the Qum shrine. The Shah also allotted sums of money among the ulama and granted other material signs of good will. The Shah's favorite ulama were appointed to the office of Shaykh al-Islam and Imam Jum'ah.(24) Crucial also was the role of the Qajar state in suppressing Sufism and Akhbarism and thus assisting the Usuli ulama to establish their religious dominance in nineteenth century Iran.(25)

The similarities between the two states, however, end here. Muhammad Ali's consolidation of power did not mean the restoration of the Mamluk-type system of government. Muhammad Ali initiated the formation of a new set of administrative apparatus, bringing under the firm control of the government the institution of traditional society such as semi-autonomous guilds, village administration, the sufi orders, and orthodox religious establishments. By dispossessing the old Mamluk ruling class, changing the system of tax farming (iltizam), eliminating tax exemption from waqf lands, which covered one-fifth of the arable land, better management of state lands, and by introducing a more effective system of tax collection, his government acquired considerable financial autonomy.(26) Along with the maintenance of security and order at home, military aggrandizement became the central purpose of Muhammad Ali. Allied with the rich import-export merchants and richer ulama, Muhammad Ali unleashed a series of military campaigns against his neighbors. In sum, Muhammad Ali became for all practical purposes politically, economically and financially independent of the Ottoman Empire, even though he continued to pay tribute to the Imperial Ottoman Treasury.(27)

Moreover, Muhammad Ali's elimination of tax farming expanded his popular base in the countryside, and thus made it even more difficult for the dispossessed landowners and the ulama to challenge the pasha. The peasants were at first delighted with the multazim's ouster and when some of them came round to collect their dues they were sent off empty-handed and told, "We are the pasha's fellaheen, we no longer work for you."(28) By setting up a special divan which, by collecting information and hearing fellah grievances, Muhammad Ali undermined the standing of the multazims in the countryside.(29) Since taxes had to be collected and land supervised, the rural local elites, such as shaykh and umad, were co-opted and given the tasks previously assigned to the multazims. In that fashion the new government earned the support of the village shaykh and was assured of getting its taxes.(30)

Extensive and effective state intervention in the economy led to economic development which in turn brought more revenues to the state treasury. The subsistence economy under which the country had lived for centuries began to be transformed into an export-oriented economy. Egypt's available reserves of land, water and underemployed labor were brought into use and agricultural output increased at a rapid rate from 1821 to 1878. The average returns per unit of land and per unit of labor increased very substantially over the period.(31) As a consequence, foreign trade increased considerably. In 1800, the country's exports represented a mere [pound]E 288,000. In 1850, they had risen to [pound]E 2,302,000, an increase of more than eight-fold.(32)

The Qajars, in contrast, were unable to introduce similar changes in the country's economic and political structures. Although the establishment of a central authority in the early nineteenth century contributed to rapid economic recovery from the devastation of the previous century,(33) it was not followed by the creation of a modern state structure and a military. The Qajars had neither a large standing army nor an extensive state bureaucracy. The standing army was no larger than a contingent of Qajar tribesmen and a bodyguard of 4,000 Georgian slaves. The rest of the army was composed of a poorly trained mass militia estimated at over 150,000 men but broken down into regional forces, and a tribal cavalry of some 80,000. The latter was the main fighting force in foreign wars. The bureaucracy, if it can be called that, was nothing more than a haphazard collection of hereditary accountants (mostowfis) and secretaries (mirzas) in the central and provincial capitals.(34) The Qajars' defeats at the hands of Imperial Russia in 1813 and 1828 underlaid their political impotence.(35) These defeats led to the collapse of governmental authority in various parts of the country,(36) and put peasants under considerable pressure because they were the ones who had to carry the main burden of the wars.(37) This situation provided the social conditions for the occurrence of another serious blow to governmental authority, the rise of the Babi movement in the mid-nieteenth century. While the wars with Russia resulted in the further weakening of state power, the Babi movement provided ample opportunity for the ulama to expand their influence in the government.

Babi ideology originated from the thinking of Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i, a forerunner of gnostic Shi'ism (irfan) and founder of the Shaykhi school. Of the five religious principles--towhid [unity of God], nabovvat [the prophecy of Muhammad], resurrection, imamate, and justice--upheld by the ulama, Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i accepted only three principles--towhid, nabovvat, and imamate, while rejecting justice and resurrection. He also rejected the material nature of the miraj, the journey of the Prophet Muhammad to Heaven. He then added a fourth pillar [rokn] or principle to Shi'i religion. This principle pertains to the mediators between the twelfth Imam who is in occultation and the people. These mediators are the gate or the bab through which one can communicate with the hidden Imam. The bab is the pious and spiritual leader who is closer to God than ordinary people.(38) The last principle provided an ideological basis for the emergence of Babism.

In 1844, Sayyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi (1819-1850), a disciple of the Shaykhi school and founder of Babism, claimed that he was the bab and was in communication with the hidden Imam. A few years later he claimed that he was in fact the twelfth Imam and the bearer of a new revelation from God. Babi's millenarianism was reflected in the slogan, "I am the one for whom you were waiting for one-thousand years."(39) He soon attracted many followers which resulted in a number of chiliastic uprisings in 1848-53. These uprisings are also attributed to the revolutionary thoughts and leadership capability of Tahira, known as the Qurrat al-Ayn [the Consolation of the Eyes], the martyred Babi heroine, Mulla Hosein Bushruyeh, and Mulla Muhammad Ali Barforushi.(40) In their mobilizing efforts, these leaders preached that "ownership is a social corruption," the accumulation of wealth "by a small group when the majority is deprived from it, is the worst corruption .... You, the peasants, should take a share from these properties in order for poverty to fade away." In the teaching of Babism, it was said: the poverty of the peasants had brought the rich to wealth. "You, the oppressed people of Iran ... arise."(41) These practical teachings gained considerable support among the impoverished masses in both rural and urban areas.(42) In Gillan, Mazandaran, and Khorasan, villagers joined the Babi movement in large numbers. In the cities people refused to pay taxes. In Zanjan, people attacked prisons, attempting to free those imprisoned for failing to pay their taxes.(43) Even considerable numbers of the ulama joined the Babi movement. The total strength of the movement was estimated at nearly one and a half million or about twenty percent of the total population of Iran.(44)

The threat of the Babi movement to both state authority and the ulama's guardianship of religious orthodoxy provided an occasion for their close cooperation in brutally suppressing Babism.(45) The repression of the Babi movement further integrated the ulama in the state structure. The shar'ia courts were strengthened; as the ouqaf came under the control of the ulama, the administrators of the endowments (mutavallibashis) became more important than the governors in some provinces; and some state lands were also given to the ulama. The court and the prime minister were disbursing a regular payment for religious causes, and annually the ulama were receiving 20,000 tomans from the prime minister to be spent on various purposes. The marriage of one of the ulama and a royal court member sealed the alliance, when Mirza Abulqasim, the Imam Jom'eh of Tehran, who gave fatva for the massacre of the Babis, became the Shah's son-in-law.(46) Finally, Kazemzadeh observes that "the close cooperation between the mullas and the government in opposing the Babi-Baha'i movement was almost entirely to the advantage of the clergy, which increased its hold on the Shah and the bureaucracy, and stigmatized as a Babi any Persian who dared to open his mind to Western influence."(47)

Thus there seems to exist a connection between the decline of the ulama and the centralization of the administrative power of the state. In comparative terms, the Egyptian state under Muhammad Ali was stronger than its Iranian counterpart. Nevertheless, to explain why Muhammad Ali succeeded in launching his centralization measures, while similar attempts by Iranian political elites (such as Abbas Mirza, Amir Kabir, and Mirza Hosein Khan) failed, it is again necessary to consider the availability of social resources. It is self-evidently true that for the elites to successfully centralize state power and expand its bureaucratic-administrative apparatus in different parts of the country, and for the ulama to resist such changes, the mobilization of social resources would become necessary. Some of these resources are internal to the organization of the contending groups. The leadership capability of the ruling elites and the effectiveness of the military in suppressing dissent are important factors affecting a state's centralization and bureaucratic expansion. Likewise, ulama unity, organization, and ideology determine their capability to resist modernization and protect their traditional privileges. More crucially, however, is resource mobilization at the societal level. As this paper attempts to demonstrate, such resources turned out to be a differing pattern of class alliances and nature of class conflict in Egypt and Iran in the nineteenth century.


That there has been a relationship between social processes and ulama political behavior should not be interpreted as an indication that the ulama were the mediators between the state and the people. Naturally, the ulama's pursuit of substantial wealth in commerce and land was not easily reconcilable with a pro-people orientation and the well-being of the impoverished masses. Nor is it correct to argue that the ulama's willingness and ability to lead protest movements against the incumbent rulers were primarily a function of the weakness of the state. In nineteenth century Iran where the central government was relatively weak, not all the ulama participated in protest movements against the state. On the contrary, a certain faction of the ulama frequently defended the state against pressures from below. In the same vain, when Muhammad Ali launched his modernization program in Egypt, he did not face a united opposition from all the ulama.

The ulama as a whole constituted a social category--defined by their distinctive unifying religious and occupational functions which set them apart from the rest of the society--and as such they were able to reap what wealth and power they could from their culturally advantageous position. Yet being pressured by conflicting class interests in society, they seldom enjoyed a unified basis for political action. In Iran, a segment of the ulama were able to lead protest movements against the state and successfully challenge unpopular policies initiated by the ruling elites. In Egypt, in contrast, those among the ulama who protested Muhammad Ali's policies were effectively and brutally repressed. The clue to these diverse outcomes is the varying patterns of alliance between merchants, craft guilds, landowners, and the state. In Iran, ulama power grew because of their ties with merchants and the guilds. In the course of the nineteenth century, these classes were adversely affected by foreign economic competition and the state's failure to protect domestic commercial interests. Consequently, they began protesting Qajar policies, hence the formation of a significant social basis for the ulama to resist state authority. In Egypt, in contrast, Muhammad Ali's agrarian policy undermined ulama landed interests. The ulama were unable to resist this process. Their potential ally, the Mamluks, were effectively defeated and many of their leaders were killed by Muhammad Ali. Moreover, the relationship between merchants and artisans was characterized by conflict. And while Muhammad Ali's industrial policy of establishing state monopolies undermined artisans and retail traders, he was closely allied with rich import-export merchants and wealthy ulama. In the absence of a strong class alliance against Muhammad Ali, few resources were therefore available for that faction of the ulama who attempted to undermine his power.

The significance of international trade for both the Egyptians and Iranians and a well developed system of petty commodity production were the underlying economic factors for the social significance of the merchants, artisans and retail traders in these societies. Both countries were located on an important trade route. In 1800, Iran's main trade partners were Afghanistan and the principalities of Central Asia, Turkey, and India. Trade with India consisted mainly of native products on both sides, the East India Company's export of British goods to Iran being very small. Trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia included a large amount of European goods re-exported from Iran. Likewise, Turkey sent a substantial amount of such goods which passed through Istanbul or Baghdad.(48) John Malcolm put the total trade for Iran at [pound]2,500,000; this is the sum of imports, exports and re-exports, the last item accounting for over half of the total.(49) During the early part of the reign of Fath Ali Shah, trade increased with extraordinary rapidity because of both greater security and the greater attention the government of India paid to Persian Gulf trade. Whereas around 1784 annual imports of Indian chintz through Bushehr averaged sixty to seventy bales, by 1811 they had risen to 500 to 600 bales. Between the 1780s and the 1820s Persian Gulf trade increased rapidly, and perhaps doubled by 1860. The trade of Tabriz also increased considerably. Russian trade with Iran, expressed in gold rubles, about doubled between the early 1830s and mid-1860s. Altogether, it seems unlikely that total trade around 1860 could have been much below [pound]5,000,000.(50) In southern Iran, largely due to the influence of trade between Iran and India which was carried on through the Persian Gulf port of Bushehr, the agricultural economy changed from one designed to satisfy the needs of local consumption to one which was geared to meet the demands of expanding foreign markets.(51)

Egypt's geographic location was also favorable to commercial expansion. The country was situated at the meeting point of two continents, Asia and Africa. "From the beginning of the second millennium B.C. Egypt succeeded in establishing trade contacts with Southern Arabia and East Africa and was able to draw on the produce of India through the medium of the Southern Arabians, whose chief port, Aden, was a great entrepot for international trade."(52) although the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope by Portuguese fleets was disadvantageous to Egyptian trade, international trade still remained an important economic activity in the country. And it gained even more significance by the development of an export oriented economy in the nineteenth century. Egyptian merchants were primarily engaged in importing and exporting goods manufactured or grown outside the country, both for sale in domestic markets and for shipment to markets in Turkey, North Africa and Europe.(53)

Other classes tied to trade and industry were artisans and retail traders. In both countries, petty commodity production was well developed, and considerable differentiation existed in the type of commodities being produced by artisans.(54) Craftsmen and retail traders were organized into occupational guilds.(55) In both countries, craft guilds had their own bazaar, were among the most politically conscious groups in society, and played an important role in the life of their cities.(56)

Therefore, in terms of the nature of economic activities and structural locations, the Egyptian merchants, craftsmen and retail traders displayed little difference with their counterparts in Iran. Yet in terms of historical experiences, their differences in Egypt and Iran were significant enough to have a determining impact on the political fortune of the ulama. In Iran a de facto alliance between the merchant and craft guilds was formed against European and Russian companies, who began gradually to take over a greater part of the Iranian commerce. Notwithstanding the economic recovery and commercial boost associated with the consolidation of Qajar political order, Iran's primitive accumulation according to the existing international scale was too little and too late. Iran had neither the economic resources nor the political power to successfully meet challenges from Europe and Imperial Russia. For one thing, Iranian merchants lacked the organizational and administrative capabilities as well as the capital necessary to finance and run their affairs on the same scale as the Europeans.(57) For another, the situation was exacerbated by the Qajar rulers not only leaving the country's commercial interests unprotected but also granting concessions to foreign concerns. The consequence was increasing hostility of the merchants and the guilds toward the state.

The first sign that European influence had penetrated and was resented by the Iranian mercantile community was about 1830, when "the quality of English and Masulipatan chintzes alarmed the manufacturers so much so that they petitioned the king to put a stop to the importation."(58) When in 1937 the trading house of Ralli opened a branch in Tabriz, the first of many protests against European merchants occurred.(59) This was followed by a ban on the consumption of tea which was issued in Tabriz and Tehran against Russian Georgians "who have the principal traffic in that article, whereas native merchants have none."(60) Three years later the British consul reported that the "Persian merchants had asked the government to prohibit imports of European manufactures 'on the ground principally of the ruin Persian manufacturers are reduced to by the constant and immense importation of foreign goods.' This attempt was, however, unsuccessful, and the combination formed by the merchants for that purpose was dissolved."(61) Similar, and equally fruitless, attempts were made by "traders and manufacturers of Cashan...and other manufacturers and traders."(62) According to K. E. Abbott, the British consul in 1844, "a memorial was presented to His Majesty the Shah by the traders and manufacturers of Cashan praying for protection to their commerce which they represented as suffering in consequence of the introduction of European merchandise into their country."(63) Again, in 1849, he reported that "the manufacturers have however rapidly declined for some time past in consequence of the trade with Europe which has gradually extended into every part of the kingdom to the detriment or ruin of many branches of native industry."(64) In 1864 there was another unsuccessful attempt against European trade.(65) The Qajars' tax policies also favored the Europeans and further undermined domestic commercial interests.(66)

The concessions granted by the Qajar state to foreign companies caused a further deterioration in the economic situation of the commercial sector. The first concession was granted in 1872 by Nasir al-Din Shah of Qajar to Baron Paul Julius de Reuter, a British citizen. It gave him the exclusive right (for a period of seventy years) to construct and operate a railway between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, to build tramways throughout the country, to work all mines (except gold, silver and precious stones), to undertake irrigation projects, and to lumber in state forests. For the building of the lines, the government lands would be handed over to the concessionaire free of charge and private land was to be appropriated at current prices. The management of the custom was to be entrusted to the concessionaire(s) for a period of twenty-five years, beginning 1 March 1874. Reuter was to have the first refusal in preference to any other parties for any further concession for public utilities, roads, postal service, manufacturing plants, or banks. In return, the Iranian government was to receive [pound]20,000 a year for giving the privilege of operating the customs for the first five years and then sixty percent of the net revenue for the remaining period, twenty percent of the profits from railways, and fifteen percent of the profits from forests, mines, and water.

When the concession was announced, in Curzon's words, it "literally took away the breath of Europe."(67) Some even commented that the company which Reuter proposed to establish "might well have been called Persia Incorporated," for it would have brought the entire resources of the country under its control for seventy years.(68) As a result of some opposition, the concession was withdrawn in November 1873. The sale of concessions, however, continued. After several years of negotiations, Reuter managed to retain mining and banking privileges, that led to the establishment of the Imperial Bank of Persia. Generally, Iranian merchants lost their hold on the domestic markets, and by the end of the nineteenth century, they were dominated by foreign companies. In the north the Russian merchants had about half of the foreign trade in hand, and in the south the British merchants handled "the bulk of transaction."(69) Not only was Iranian trade seriously hurt by the Western impact, but also Iranian industry was virtually ruined.(70)

The merchants' protest against the state and foreign interests culminated in one of the most celebrated events in nineteenth century Iran, the tobacco movement. The movement was a rebellion against a concession granted by the Shah of Qajar to Major G. F. Talbot, a British citizen, in 1890 for the monopoly of buying, selling, and manufacturing all the tootoon and tobacco in the interior or exterior of the Kingdom of Iran for fifty years. In return the monarchy received an annual rent of [pounds]15,000, and a quarter of the annual profits after the payment of all expenses and a five percent dividend on the capital.(71) The concession was particularly damaging to the merchants and retail traders whose income depended on the tobacco trade. Had it come in to force, the concession would have affected the livelihood of about 200,000 Iranians. Tobacco was one of the country's major exports, and it was not easy to cut off Iranian merchants from this profitable trade.(72) Between 20 March 1890 when the concession was signed and late January of 1892 when it was canceled by Naser al-Din Shah, the British company and the Shah, on the one hand, and a merchant-led resistance movement and a faction of the ulama, on the other, fought intensely.

The merchants used religion to mobilize the public against the concession and to boycott tobacco consumption in the country. In early December 1891, it was announced that the eminent Shirazi, the leading mujtahid of the time, allegedly had issued a fatva that prohibited the use of tobacco. The original copy of the fatva was said to be at the disposal of Ayatollah Ashtiyani, a leading mujtahid of Tehran.(73) The fatva read: "In the name of God, the Merciful and the Forgiving. As of now, the consumption of tobacco and tootoon in any form is tantamount to a war with the Imam of the Age."(74) The fatva was then copied and distributed throughout the country. The tobacco movement thus culminated in a nationwide tobacco boycott. The fatva, however, was not real but was fabricated by a group of merchants including Haj Kazim Malik al-Tujjar and with the cooperation of Mirza Hasan Ashtiyani.(75) When the news about the boycott reached Shirazi, he was prudent enough not to question its authenticity. The universality of the boycott followed by demonstrations at the Shah's palace, which left many people dead and wounded, eventually forced the Shah to repudiate the concession in January 1892.

The relevance of class politics to the growth of religious opposition in this period was quite evident. This is so because, for one thing, the attitudes of the merchants toward the concession was of prime importance. For example, Hajj Muhammad Rahim Isfahani, a leading merchant, rejected the concession on political and economic grounds, and demanded its cancellation. Reproaching the government, he charged that "this government does not care about the common people.... It acts as it wishes and is not accountable to any one." He then asked Amin al-Zarb to act in negating the concession. In other words, as Adami'yat has stated, the merchants and businessmen independently, and before the ulama, rose against the concession.(76) For another thing, the ulama position vis-a-vis the concession was contradictory. Undoubtedly, some ulama played an important role in mobilizing the public against the English company. Nevertheless, the ulama as a whole were not united over the issue. During the entire episode of the tobacco movement, a faction of the ulama refused to join the movement, and even supported the concession. For example, Ayatollah Behbahani was bribed, allied with Amin al-Sultan (the prime minister), and refused to participate in the movement.(77) Behbahani was not alone. In Tehran, a group of the ulama announced that the repudiation of the concession was "the elimination of an evil by a worse evil." In Shiraz, the ulama did not initially follow the merchants and shopkeepers in boycotting tobacco. In Tabriz, the collaboration between the ulama and the government was such that the protesters declared that "whoever among the ulama collaborates with the [British] Company will be killed." In Kerman, when the people, after hearing the news about the fatva, boycotted smoking, the merchants reported that the city's ulama had not yet prohibited smoking. In Mashhad, a group of high ranking ulama such as Shaykh Muhammad Rahim, Muhammad Taghi, and Habibullah Hoseini decided to repress the movement. In their telegram to Amin al-Sultan they reproached "the ruffians and rogues" who were rising against "His Majesty's intentions" and the concession. They assured His Majesty that, with the cooperation of their colleagues, they would extinguish the rebellion.(78) It should be noted that the ulama in Isfahan who participated in the movement and those in Mashhad who acted to the contrary did so according to their material interests. In Isfahan Aqa Najafi, who was actively involved in the anticoncession movement, was a large landowner, and the concession had affected his income from tobacco. Keddie also concedes that ulama hostility to the concession partly "reflected their ties to merchant families and merchant guilds and their interest in tobacco grown on their private or vaqf land...."(79) In Mashhad, on the other hand, the ulama acted conservatively because they were financially tied to the Shah. The administration of the property of the Shrine of Imam Reza was under the Shah's control, and the ulama were benefiting considerably from its vaqf properties.(80) Similarly, in Tehran, those among the ulama such as Ayatollah Behbahani who refused to participate in the tobacco movement had close connections with the Shah and Amin al-Sultan.

The situation in Egypt was quite different. While in Iran the merchants, artisans and retail traders were united against the state and foreign interests, in Egypt the relationship between rich import-export merchants and artisans was characterized by a conflict of interests and diverse political orientations. Before the advent of Muhammad Ali, the merchants were the allies of the Mamluks, who kept order, and of the ulama, who kept the population quiescent.(81) The artisans, on the other hand, had a close yet exploitative relationship with the Janissaries, which reached its peak around 1670-1700. The Janissaries "protected" the artisans, and exploited them by becoming their "partners" but at the same time they assured their security and tempered the exactions levied on them by the authorities. Around 1750 when the Janissaries began to lose their influence to the Mamluk beys the picture changed. The tempered exploitation of the urban iqtaat by the ojakat was then replaced by severe financial exploitation by the Mamluks.(82) This political change was an added problem for the artisans because they were economically in decline since the early 1700s as a result of a variety of factors including an increase in European imports, the Syrian merchants who killed off textile trade in order to export raw materials to Europe, and the outbreak of plague and famine in the last two decades of the eighteenth century. These factors were responsible for the occurrence of many protest activities and violent rebellions at the turn of the century. Beginning in about 1777, popular revolts in Cairo started to be more frequent and more serious than they had been before. Members of the city's guild organizations participated in these revolts in greater and greater number toward the end of the century.(83) The poorer ulama and the artisans began to make increasingly better use of the most important organizational resource available to them--the sufi brotherhoods--to influence domestic political affairs. Toward the end of the eighteenth century "popular" sufi brotherhoods, turuq, proliferated throughout Egypt. These turuq reinforced the influence of local religious practices and teachers, while threatening the social position of the elite ulama associated with al-Azhar University in the capital.(84) These orders in fact had a history of rebellion against the city's rulers when conditions warranted such action, and they had close ties to Cairo's artisan guilds.(85)

Artisans' political activism and their organizational resources provided favorable opportunities for the ulama to play a leading role in three major revolts between 1798 and 1805, the third of which was directed against the vali (governor) of Egypt, and placed Muhammad Ali on the throne of Egypt.(86) The ulama deposed "the vali on religious grounds, based on their traditional power to declare a ruler 'rebellious'."(87) The ulama and the guilds assisted Muhammad Ali's ascedance to power,

for Muhammad Ali's troops were divided among themselves, and were constantly defecting because of lack of pay, so that it was the people, who, armed by the ulama, did all the fighting. Town-criers went round calling on the people to arm and report for action in response to the call of Sayyid 'Umar Makram and the ulama.... 'Umar Makram, assisted by the head of the greengrocers' guild, organized combat groups which took over whenever Muhammad 'Ali's forces deserted their posts, which happened fairly regularly....

For one brief glorious moment the ulama had taken the initiative and had posed as the rulers of the country, rousing the people into a resistance movement. 'Umar Makram levied a contribution from the wealthier citizens and bought arms to supply the populace, and even paid the poorer artisans a daily wage, as indemnity for leaving their trade and turning soldiers. As a result, he could call upon nearly 40,000 armed men.(88)

The concentration and centralization of state power under Muhammad Ali, however, resulted in a gradual decline in the economic and political power of the artisans. Between 1810 and 1815, the Egyptian government began to create a comprehensive system of state trading monopolies within the country whose purpose was not only to augment the state's revenues from economic activities but also to establish some sort of discipline among the artisans and small traders of the cities and towns.(89) Muhammad Ali's government also created a modern industry replete with iron foundries, tanneries, bleaching establishments, a printing press, and twenty-nine cotton factories in 1837.(90) It is evident that government monopolies severely limited the activities and profits of the country's artisans, both in the capital and in the provinces.(91) Economic dislocation resulting from the infiltration of European goods into the Egyptian market, government centralization and its policies of various kinds such as conscription, corvee, and new taxes provided a basis for the outbreak of several uprisings against Muhammad Ali in Cairo in 1814 and in Upper Egypt in 1820-25. These uprisings which were largely revolts of disgruntled artisans, pieceworkers in the textile trade and peasants often took the air of millinery or chiliastic movements. However, they were not able to cause a significant change in governmental policy.(92)

The economic and political situations of the merchants and their close allies, the richer ulama, were quite different. By 1810, the merchants and the wealthy ulama were facing strong domestic political challenges not only from the grandees in the countryside but also from their urban-based opponents. In these circumstances, and especially given the rich merchants' lack of incentive to try to dominate the artisans by taking control of urban workshops themselves, cooperation with state forces presented itself as the most viable strategy for the merchants-ulama to use in asserting their predominance over their domestic political opponents.(93) To be sure, the government's new trading monopolies threatened to dislodge the rich import-export merchants of Cairo from their predominant position within the economic affairs of the country. Not only did the government's trading monopolies prevent the merchants from being able to increase their hold within the country's economy as domestic order was restored around 1810, but the state's new workshops were often in direct competition with those merchants who made their livelihood from the import of cheap manufactured goods from Europe and India.(94)

However, it is a mistake to assume that these government monopolies ruined all the country's merchants. Rather, they effectively ruined the poorer merchants, especially the poorer ones in the provinces, while benefiting the more influential and wealthier ones in each region and the capital. It can be established that merchants were involved as not only administrators for Muhammad Ali,(95) but also as representatives in international trade and commerce.(96) Al-Jabarti reports that in 1813 Sayyid Muhammad Mahruqi was appointed state inspector of Cairo's marketplace. Sayyid Muhammad had been a prominent Red Sea import-export merchant in Cairo before that time.(97) Similarly, in 1823, one Ibrahim Umar Urfali, formerly in charge of measuring goods in Wakalat al-Gallaba [Caravanserai for importing and traveling merchants] through which the government's supervision of the Sudan trade in Cairo was exercised, was appointed by the pasha as weigher of goods for Cairo and its environs.(98) Syrian merchants became Muhammad Ali's import-export agents with direct connections to the state monopolies, and assisted him in setting up and running his ambitious factories.(99) Boghos Yusufian of Izmir, a member of one of the era's far-flung Armenian merchant families, "rose from merchant and farmer of Alexandria's customs to 'minister' of commerce and foreign affairs by the mid 1820s."(100) Similarly, despite government monopolization of the Sudan trade, "merchants continued to be attached to the wakala and important traders, such as Hajj 'Abd al-Karim al-Baghl, continued to purchase storerooms in the wakala in the usual fashion from ordinary individuals,"(101) and the creation of new offices were filled by the most influential of the merchants.(102) Walz mentions thirty-two prominent merchant families in Asyut, a prosperous city in Upper Egypt, whose economic activities did not seem to have been affected by Muhammad Ali's system of monopoly. He mentions that local merchant houses, such as Bayt al-Hilali and Bayt al-Jawhari, kept on the best possible terms with the provincial Turkish establishment, acting on occasion as private bankers to the governor-general and feeding him and his subordinates with information about grain prices in Cairo and Lower Egypt.(103) This appears to be true even of those in the African slave trade, for which the regime had a special concern. In long-distance commerce as well, at least some already-established merchants became important officials in the state commercial sector,(104) this group having skills which Muhammad Ali desired to incorporate into his bureaucracy.(105) Thus it seems that during the 1820s, the existing commercial institutions and central government offices merged together to a considerable extent. Such assistance from merchants and similar "entrepreneurs" was widespread, rather than purely local, as Ali both employed and encouraged merchants from Europe as well.(106) As Lawson has aptly stated "the supervisors of Muhammad 'Ali's monopolies were not simply drawn out of thin air."(107)

Rich import-export merchants and the wealthy ulama constituted the social alliance underpinning Muhammad Ali's regime.(108) This alliance, though not unproblematic, was the only viable strategy for the constituting elements to establish their predominance over the country's internal affairs against the old large landowners, and in the face of continuous political challenges from the artisans and retail traders. Although the establishment of governmental monopolies was a source of tension between the merchants and the state, foreign military expansion provided these forces with a basis for domestic cooperation that could be mutually beneficial and therefore politically viable. Expansionary policies that lowered the merchants' "protection costs" in foreign trade allowed them to survive the government's efforts to administer domestic political operations.(109) Walz in particular argues that "the conquest of Sinnar eventually produced other unforeseen and heretofore unrecognized changes in the trade. The military occupation was accompanied by an opening up of contacts between Egypt and this distant region. Many more people, Egyptian as well as Sudanese, moved into trade, travelling between Cairo and the new Sudanese capital at Khartoum."(110)

Given the significance of the availability of social resources for the growth of ulama power in society, the contrasting cases of Egypt and Iran are thus explained by class politics and state structure. When one considers that the ulama in both countries have seldom acted as a homogeneous group to be governed by matters of ritual purity and/or anti-colonial feelings, the relevance of social structural factors for the politics of religion gains an added significance. In Egypt, the challenge to Muhammad Ali by 'Umar Makram and his followers was effectively defeated because of an unfavorable distribution of social resources for the growth of ulama power. For one thing, while a member of the wealthy group, a multazim and a tajir in his own right, 'Umar Makram was not obviously part of the long-distance tujjar cabal, but represented the landowning, local industries groups. For another, a good number of the leading ulama such as Shaykh al-Amir, Shaykh al-Mahdi, Shaykh al-Dawakhli, and Shaykh al-Sharqawi, the rector of al-Azhar, turned against him and began supporting the pasha.(111) The rich export-import merchants and the wealthy ulama were close allies of Muhammad Ali. Likewise, the Iranian ulama have had problems in maintaining their unity over controversial and politically significant issues throughout the nineteenth (and twentieth) century(ies).(112) Yet despite ulama disunity, religious opposition grew in late nineteenth century Iran because it rested on a solid de facto alliance between the merchants, artisans and retail traders. And once religious principle was successfully invoked against foreign interests and the state in the tobacco movement, it set a significant historical precedent for the politics of religious opposition in the subsequent periods. In this process, the connection between material interests and the forged fatva was overlooked in many of the historical and political commentaries of the subsequent periods. Also overlooked was the fact that a significant portion of the ulama failed to participate in the movement. In its stead, the idea that the Shi'i ulama were fundamentally against the state and tyranny was textualized and at the same time disarticulated from the very material conditions that caused its growth. The ulama propagandists then began perpetuating the myth on how the ulama saved Iran's resources from being plundered by imperialism. In short, this particular historical event itself seems to have become a factor contributing to the singularity of the Iranian religious experience.


This essay provided a structural-historical explanation of the contrast between ulama politics in Egypt and Iran. It was argued that social structure affects the distribution of resources among various actors in society, and therefore limits the possibilities for the growth of religious opposition. The relevant features of social structure were varying patterns of alliances between social classes and the state. In Iran, ulama power grew because of the formation of a coalition between the merchants and the guilds against the state and international capital. In Egypt, the absence of such a coalition against the state did not leave many resources for the ulama to resist state policies.

The differential power of the state in the two countries was also consequential for ulama political power. Iran was characterized by a weak state, while Egypt experienced the development of a strong regime capable of concentrating and centralizing power. The power of the Egyptian state, however, did not seem to have been entirely rooted in its military and bureaucratic apparatus. The social bases of power of the Egyptian state rested in its coalition with the rich import-export merchants, and its ability to attract the support of the peasants by eliminating the old land-owning class. In Iran, in contrast, the state remained weak because of the erosion of its social bases of support among the peasants as a result of its repeated defeats in Perso-Russian wars, and among the merchants because of its failure to protect Iran's commercial interests against competition from foreign companies.

By attempting to explain ulama politics in terms of structural variables, this essay contributes to a growing literature on the interaction between the state and society. Midgal, for example, has developed a model of state-society relations to explain the state's varying capacities to implement its policies in Egypt, India, Israel, Mexico, and Sierra Leone.(113) Similarly, Anderson explains diverse patterns of political outcome in Tunisia and Libya in terms of these countries' varying experiences of modern state formation and bureaucratic development.(114) Also, similar to these approaches, this paper has overlooked the role of ideology and the nature of the symbolic resources available to diverse actors in Iran and Egypt in the nineteenth century. This neglect by no means implies that ideological factors were inconsequential. In recent years, social scientists have suggested different mechanisms such as "tool kit,"(115) "discourse,"(116) and "hidden transcript"(117) through which culture affects human actions. Whether Muhammad Ali's modernization program was aided by the dominant cultural trend within society unleashed by the French invasion of Egypt in 1798 and by the country's closer cultural contact with the West is a historically significant question. However, in the case of Iran, Reza Shah's modernization policies in the nineteen-twenties and -thirties were aided by the dominant cultural trend within civil society.(118) A similar factor might have been at work in Egypt under Muhammad Ali.


(1.)See Mansoor Moaddel, Class, Politics, and Ideology in the Iranian Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).

(2.)For representatives of this view, see Hamid Algar, Religion and State in Modern Iran (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969); Roger M. Savory, "The Problem of Sovereignty in Ithnaw Ashari ('Twelver') Shi'i State," Middle East Review (1979), pp. 5-11; and Montgomery Watt, "Shi'ism under the Umayyads," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, parts 3 and 4, (1960), pp. 158-172.

(3.)Nikki R. Keddie, "The Roots of Ulama Power in Modern Iran," in Keddie (ed.), Scholars, Saints and Sufis (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972), p. 213.

(4.)Ibid., p. 223.

(5.)Mansoor Moaddel, "The Shi'i Ulama and the State in Iran," Theory and Society, 15 (1986), pp. 519-556, and "Shi'i Political Discourse and Class Mobilization in the Tobacco Movement of 1890-92," Sociological Forum, 7, 3 (1992), pp. 447-468.

(6.)Daniel Crecelius, "Nonideological Responses of the Egyptian Ulama to Modernization," in Keddie, Scholars, Saints, and Sufis, pp. 167-210.

(7.)Afaf Loutfi El Sayed Marsot, "The Ulama of Cairo in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries," in Keddie, Scholars, Saints, and Sufis, pp. 149-166.

(8.)Ahmad Ashraf, "Bazaar-Mosque Alliance: the Social Basis of Revolts and Revolutions," Politics, Culture, and Society, 1, 4 (1988), pp. 538-567; Nikki R. Keddie, Religion and Rebellion in Iran: The Tobacco Protest of 1891-1892 (London: Frank Cass, 1966); and Azar Tabari, "The Role of the Clergy in Modern Iranian Politics," in Keddie, Religion and Politics in Iran (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), pp. 47-72.

(9.)Marsot, "The Ulama of Cairo," p. 150.

(10.)Said A. Arjomand, The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 247; Williem M. Floor, "Change and Development in the Judicial System of Qajar Iran (1800-1925)," in Edmund Bosworth and Carole Hillenbrand, eds., Qajar Iran (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1983), p. 113.

(11.)Marsot, "The Ulama of Cairo," pp. 153-54.

(12.)Gabriel Baer, "Urbanization in Egypt, 1820-1907," in William R. Polk and Richard L. Chambers (eds), Beginnings of Modernization in the Middle East: The Nineteenth Century (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1968), p. 147.

(13.)Cited in Ann K. S. Lambton, Landlord and Peasant in Persia (London: Oxford University Press, 1953), pp. 126-27.

(14.)Keddie, "The Roots of Ulama Power," p. 225; and Ann K. S. Lambton, "The Persian Ulama and Constitutional Reform," in T. Fahd (ed.), Le Shi'isme Imamite (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1970), p. 249.

(15.)Crecelius, pp. 167-68.

(16.)Willem Floor, "The Revolutionary Character of the Ulama: Wishful Thinking or Reality?" In Nikki R. Keddie, Religion and Politics in Iran (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), p. 74.

(17.)There is, however, an alternative interpretation of the political power of the Egyptian ulama and the nature of their relationship with the state. It has been argued that ulama power in nineteenth century Egypt under Muhammad Ali did not decline. Only one faction of the ulama led by Umar Makram was expelled from its position of power and privilege. Another group led by al-Azhar ulama and represented by Shaykh Muhammad al-Amir and Shaykh Abdullah al-Sharqawi supported Muhammad Ali. Furthermore, Muhammad Ali depended heavily on al-Azhar ulama such as Rifa' al-Tahtawi and Uthman Nur al-Din in his modernization program and diplomatic missions. As a result, al-Azhar ulama and graduates remained among the strongest social groups in society. See Hosein Munis, Al-Sharq al-Islami fi al-Asr al-Hadith (Cairo, Egypt: Hijazi, 1938); and Abdul-Aziz Muhammad al-Shenawi, Umar Makram. (Cairo, Egypt: Vazarat al-Thaqfih, 1967). (The author is indebted to the anonymous reviewer's comments and for bringing these sources to his attention.) Although it may be correct to argue that al-Azhar ulama remained powerful, their power seems to a considerable extent contingent upon their alliance with the state. This is so because much of their traditional sources of power were taken away as a result of Muhammad Ali's modernization program. This interpretation, however, does not seem to contradict the theoretical thrust of this paper. Like Iran, the Egyptian ulama were politically divided. To explain why the ulama-led opposition in Iran succeeded while it failed in Egypt, requires some understanding of how social structure affected the distribution of resources among the state, social classes, and the ulama.

(18.)Panayiotis J. Vatikiotis, The History of Egypt (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), p. 30.

(19.)Ibid., p. 50.

(20.)Afaf Loutfi El Sayed Marsot, Egypt in the Reign of Muhammad Ali (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 61; Vatikiotis, p. 51; and Crecelius, p. 176.

(21.)Ervand Abrahamian, "Oriental Despotism: The Case of Qajar Iran," International Journal of Middle East Studies, 5 (1974), p. 18.

(22.)Cited in Crecelius, pp. 78-79.

(23.)Arjomand, pp. 216-17; John R. Perry, Karim Khan Zand: A History of Iran 1747-1779 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 220-22; and Lambton, Landlord and Peasant, p. 131.

(24.)Algar, pp. 45-63.

(25.)Arjomand, pp. 217, 244.

(26.)Marsot, Egypt, pp. 66-73; and Gabriel Baer, A History of Landownership in Modern Egypt: 1800-1950 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. 1-7.

(27.)Fred Haley Lawson, Social Origins of Aggressive Foreign Policy: The Case of Muhammad' Ali's Egypt, 1800-1830 (UCLA: Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, 1982); Vatikiotis, p. 65; and Afaf Loutfi El Sayed Marsot, Egypt's Liberal Experiment: 1922-1936 (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977), p. 43.

(28.)Cited in Marsot, Egypt, p. 142; and Baer, A History of Landownership, p. 4.

(29.)Baer, A History of Landownership, pp. 3-4; and Kenneth M. Cuno, "The Origins of Private Ownership of Land in Egypt," International Journal of Middle East Studies, 12 (1980), p. 257.

(30.)Marsot, Egypt, p. 142; and Gabriel Baer, Studies in the Social History of Modern Egypt (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1969), p. 38.

(31.)Patrick O'Brien, "The Long-term Growth of Agricultural Production in Egypt: 1821-1962," in P. M. Holt, Political and Social Change in Modern Egypt (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), pp. 183-84; and Charles Issawi, Egypt in Revolution: An Economic Analysis (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 18.

(32.)A. E. Crouchley, "The Development of Commerce in the Reign of Mohammad Ali," L'Egypt Contemporaine, Nos. 168-169 (1937), p. 305.

(33.)Lambton, Landlord and Peasant, p. 134; and Charles Issawi, The Economic History of Iran, 1800-1914 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), p. 17.

(34.)Abrahamian, "Oriental Despotism," pp. 11, 20.

(35.)Firouz Kazemzadeh, Russia and Britain in Persia, 1864-1914 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968).

(36.)Mehdi Bamdad, Tarikh-i Rejal-i Iran [A Dictionary of National Biography of Iran, 1700-1960] (Iran, Tehran: Zovvar Bookstore, 1968/1347), vol. II, p. 375.

(37.)Nikki R. Keddie, "Peasants, 1900s," in Issawi The Economic History of Iran, p. 55.

(38.)Muhammad Reza Feshahi, Vapassin Jonbesh-i Qoroun Vosta-ei dar Douran-i Feoudal [The Last Middle Ages' Movement in the Feudal Period] (Tehran: Muhammad Hasan Elmi Printing Office, 1977/1356/2536 Monarchial Calendar), pp. 63-81.

(39.)Cited in ibid., p. 85.

(40.)Homa Neteq, "Sar-Aghaz-i Eqtidar-i Eqtisadi va Siaci-ye Mollayan" [The Beginning of the Economic and Political Power of the Mollas], Alef Ba, 2 (1983/1362), p. 43; Feshahi, p. 120.

(41.)Nateq, p. 44.

(42.)Feshahi, p. 120.

(43.)Nateq, p. 44.

(44.)Valentine Chirol, 1903. The Middle Eastern Question or Some Political Problems of Indian Defence (New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, 1903), p. 123.

(45.)Nateq, p. 44. Lambton, "The Persian Ulama," pp. 252-53.

(46.)Nateq, p. 45.

(47.)Kazemzadeh, p. 188.

(48.)Issawi, The Economic History of Iran, p. 71.

(49.)Ibid., p. 130.

(50.)Ibid., pp. 130-31.

(51.)Roger T. Olson, "The Persian Gulf Trade and the Agricultural Economy of Southern Iran in the Nineteenth Century," in Michael E. bonine and Nikki R. Keddie (eds), Modern Iran: The Dialectics of Continuity and Change (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981).

(52.)Charles Issawi, Egypt: An Economic and Social Analysis (London: Oxford University Press, 1947), p. 8.

(53.)Lawson, Social Origins, pp. 78-79.

(54.)Ehsan Tabari, Foroupashi-ye Nizam-i Sunnati va Zayesh-i Sarmayedari dar Iran [The decline of traditional order and the emergence of capitalism in Iran] (N.p.: Tudeh, 1976), p. 29; Peter Gran, Islamic Roots of Capitalism (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979), pp. 21-26; and Alfred Bonne, State and Economics in the Middle East: A Society in Transition (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955), pp. 258-68.

(55.)Willem Floor, "The Guilds in Iran--an Overview from the Earliest Beginning till 1972," Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, Band 125 (1975), pp. 99-116; Ann K. S. Lambton, "The Islamic Society in Persia," Theory and Practice in Medieval Persian Government (London: Variorum Reprints, 1980), pp. 3-32; and Gabriel Baer, Egyptian Guilds in Modern Times (Jerusalem: The Israel Oriental Soceity, 1964)

(56.)Lambton, "The Islamic Society," p. 20; and Gran, p. 23.

(57.)Willem Floor, "The Merchants (tujjar) in Qajar Iran," Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, Band 126 (1976), pp. 124-25.

(58.)Cited in Floor, "Merchants," p. 129.


(60.)Issawi, The Economic History of Iran, p. 76.



(63.)Cited in ibid., p. 258.

(64.)Ibid., p. 259.

(65.)Ibid., pp. 103-4.

(66.)Ibid., pp. 80-81.

(67.)George N. Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question, vol I (London, 1892), p. 614.

(68.)L. E. Frechtling, "The Reuter Concession in Persia," The Asiatic Review, vol xxxiv, no. 119 (1938), p. 518.

(69.)Floor, "Merchants," p. 133; and Issawi, The Economic History of Iran, pp. 71-72.

(70.)Floor, "Merchants," p. 130; Issawi, The Economic History of Iran, p. 259; and Ervand Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), p. 59.

(71.)"Correspondence Respecting the Persian Tobacco Concession," Sessional Papers, LXXIX, (Great Britain, 1892), pp. 210-211.

(72.)Feraidun Adami'yat, Shourish bar Imtiyaz' nameye Rizhi [Rebellion Against the Regie Concession] (Tehran, Iran: Payam, 1981/1360), p. 13.

(73.)Shaykh Hasan Karbala'i, Qarardad-i Rizhi-ye 1890 M. [The Regie Contract of 1890] (Tehran, Iran: Mobarizan, 1982/1361), pp. 67-68.

(74.)Cited in ibid., pp. 68-69.

(75.)Adami'yat, Shourish, p. 75.

(76.)Feraidun Adami'yat, Idiuluzhi-ye Nahzat-i Mashrutiyat-i Iran [The Ideology of the Constitutional Revolution in Iran] (Tehran, Iran: Payam, 1976), pp. 36-39.

(77.)Neteq, p. 52.

(78.)Ibid., p. 53; and Adami'yat, Idiuluzhi, pp. 38-39.

(79.)Keddie, Religion and Rebellion, p. 65.

(80.)Adami'yat, Shourish, p. 65.

(81.)Marsot, Egypt, p. 6.

(82.)Ibid., pp. 5-6.

(83.)Ibid., p. 109.

(84.)Lawson, Social Origins, p. 112; Gran, p. 47; and F. de Jong, Turuq and Turuq-Linked Institutions in Nineteenth Century Egypt: A Historical Study in Organizational Dimensions of Islamic Mysticism (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978), pp. 14-20.

(85.)Lawson, Social Origins, p. 113.

(86.)Marsot, "The Role of the Ulama in Egypt," p. 271.

(87.)Ibid., p. 274.


(89.)Lawson, Social Origins, p. 122.

(90.)Robert F. Hunter, Egypt under the Khedives, 1805-1879: From Household Government to Modern Bureaucracy (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984), p. 17.

(91.)Lawson, Social Origins, p. 122.

(92.)Marsot, Egypt, pp. 132-35; and Fred Lawson, "Rural Revolt and Provincial Society in Egypt, 1820-1824," International Journal of Middle East Studies, 13(1981), pp. 131-53.

(93.)Lawson, Social Origins, p. 116.

(94.)Ibid., pp. 123-24.

(95.)Marsot, Egypt, p. 190.

(96.)Ibid., p. 185.

(97.)Laswon, Social Origins, p. 211.

(98.)Terence Walz, Trade Between Egypt and Bilad as-Sudan: 1700-1820 (Cairo: Institut Francais D'Archeologie Orientale, 1978), pp. 238-39.

(99.)Marsot, Egypt, pp. 163, 167; and Albert Hourani, "The Syrian in Egypt in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries," in Colloque International Sur l'Histoire du Carie (Cario: General Egyptian Book Organization, 1969), p. 225.

(100.)Cuno, p. 259.

(101.)Terence Walz, "Notes on the Organization of the African Trade in Cairo, 1800-1850," Annales Islamologiques, vol vi (Cairo: Institut Francais D'-Archeologie Orientale, 1972), p. 273.

(102.)Ibid., pp. 269-274.

(103.)Terence Walz, "Asyut in the 1260's (1844-53)," Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, XV (1978), pp. 115, 118.

(104.)Gran, p. 116.

(105.)Ibid., p. 232, n. 5.

(106.)Marsot, Egypt, pp. 194-95.

(107.)Lawson, Social Origins, pp. 211-212.

(108.)Munis, al-Sharq.

(109.)Lawson, Social Origins, pp. 304-6; and Marsot, Egypt, p. 195.

(110.)Walz, Trade, p. 246.

(111.)Marsot, Egypt, pp. 67-69.

(112.)Moaddel, "Shi'i Ulama and the State in Iran."

(113.)Joel S. Migdal, Strong Societies and Weak States: State-Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988).

(114.)Lisa Anderson, The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 1830-1980 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986).

(115.)Ann Swidler, "Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies," American Sociological Review, 51 (1986), pp. 273-86.

(116.)Robert Wuthnow, Communities of Discourse: Ideology and Social Structure in the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and European Socialism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989); and Mansoor Moaddel, "Ideology as Episodic Discourse: The Case of the Iranian Revolution," American Sociological Review, 57 (1992), pp. 353-79.

(117.)James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).

(118.)Moaddel, "Class Politics and Ideology," chapters 1 and 2; and Moaddel, "Ideology as Episodic Discourse," American Sociological Review, 57(June, 1992), pp. 353-79.
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Author:Moaddel, Mansoor
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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