The Sultan’s Yemen: Nineteenth-Century Challenges to Ottoman Rule
by Caesar E. Farah
I. B. Tauris, 2002. Pp. xxii + 392. Maps. Annex. Notes. Glossary. Bibliog. Index. Hb. £39. 50. ISBN 1-86064-767-7.
The author is Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Minnesota. His book, which is the fruit of many years’ research, deserves particular attention because Ottoman Yemen has hitherto been the subject of limited study, and Professor Farah has drawn on a wealth of previously untapped material in Ottoman archives.
The main focus of his work is on Ottoman efforts to maintain sovereignty over Yemen in face of constant challenges from within and without. The book chronicles in considerable detail the whole range of Ottoman concerns, from the incursions of British and then Italian forces in the south and Red Sea, domestic rebellions (more often abetted by the Italians than the British), to the Ottoman navy’s desperate attempts to stop the smuggling of weapons into the highlands via the powerful and defiant Zaraniq tribes of Tihamah. All the while the cost of pacifying Yemen in economic and physical terms kept mounting. Eventually it became unsustainable, which led the Ottomans to negotiate a settlement with Imam Yahya in 1911, thus securing his passive support during the First World War.
Professor Farah’s book is more for the specialist than the general reader, but his chapter, for example, on ‘Smuggling and International Politics in the Red Sea’ will certainly interest both.
The book’s colour jacket depicts the western facade of the Kathiri Palace in Seiyun, with the tall minaret of the adjacent modern mosque dominating the foreground. One wonders why the designer chose architecture which owes nothing to Ottoman influence (Hadhramaut was never under Ottoman occupation) instead of a scene from the Ottoman north (Zabid or Sana’a). But the picture catches the eye, which perhaps these days is all that matters.