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The Impact of Ottoman Reforms

p. 198-201

Texte intégral

1Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, Transjordan was a marginal province of the Ottoman Empire with a local mode of governance. For years, the main concern of the Ottoman Porte in Transjordan was to ensure the safety of the Hajj caravan by paying the Bedouin tribes of the regions it passed through (eg. Bani Sakhr and Huwaytat).

Tanzimat, administrative boundaries and Ottoman cadastre

2According to Eugene Rogan, the two major reforms of Tanzimat* (reorganization of the Ottoman Empire) in Transjordan were the law of vilayets (provinces) and the land code. The law of vilayets established an administrative hierarchy in which the district (qada’) was the standard unit. Three officials administered the qada’*: a district governor, a mufti and a judge. This law endorsed the election of administrative boards made up of local representatives who could be consulted by the governor and participate in administrative decisions concerning the district.

3Between 1866 and 1871, Rashid Pasha, the governor of Damascus, laid the first foundations of the Ottoman presence in Transjordan by creating the qada’ of Ajlun (which was integrated with the mutasarrifiyya* (province) of the Hawran) and al-Salt (integrated with the mutasarrifiyya of al-Balqa’). From 1868, a series of initiatives were taken to extend the Ottoman administration to Ma‘an. In 1872, a new administrative region was established comprising the districts of al-Salt, al-Kerak and the Jauf region, with Ma‘an as its capital. Subsequently, in 1892, the borders of this region were redefined to include the districts of al-Kerak and al-Tafila. In 1895, al-Kerak replaced Ma‘an as capital of the region.

4Between 1882 and 1887, the Hawran’s Special Committee for Land managed to draw up a comprehensive land cadastre for the district of ‘Ajlun. In the district of al-Balqa’, the communal area (dira) that came under the control of Bedouin tribes was converted to private ownership. The new cadastre led to the emergence of many agricultural villages between Amman and al-Kerak. A new agricultural system emerged based on cereal crops, which were very lucrative, and there was a significant increase in agricultural production. In 1901, the district of ‘Ajlun was one of the most productive in the Hawran region. The establishment of a land register in the southern districts came later, covering al-Salt, al-Kerak, al-Tafila and Ma‘an (from 1906) (fig. IV.17).

Figure IV.17 — Bilad al-Sham Ottoman administrative division in 1914.

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5The arrival of Circassian refugees, encouraged by the Ottoman Porte, promoted the creation of new villages. Between 1878 and 1906, there were two waves of settlement: between 1878 and 1884, three Circassian villages (Amman, Wadi al-Sir and Jerash) were founded and a Turkmen community settled in al-Ruman. Between 1901 and 1906, five new Circassian and Chechen villages came into being (Na’ur, al-Zarqa’, Sukhna, Ruseifa and Suwaylih). The Christians from as-Salt also began to settle in the villages of al-Fuhays and al-Rumaymin (Abujaber 1989).

New trade activities

6Palestinian and Damascene merchants have long established trade relations with Transjordan villages. There was steady trade between al-Salt and Nablus, al-Kerak and Hebron, and Ma‘an and Gaza. However from the late nineteenth century, the rapid development of agriculture encouraged large families of Palestinian and Damascene merchants to settle in the towns of al-Salt, al-Kerak and Ajlun. The low price of grain in Transjordan allowed the significant expansion of trade; merchants bought the grain in Transjordan and resold it at a higher price in Jerusalem, Nablus and Damascus. They opened-up Transjordan to the regional market. These merchants also became major landowners and thus completely dominated the economic life of Transjordan.

House in Salt.

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M. Ababsa

7These merchants, who were mostly Palestinian, formed the new elite of Transjordan society and played a vital role in the political and social life of al-Salt and al-Kerak. They also built many structures in these towns. However, the settlement of these merchants created social disparities and tensions.

Development of infrastructure

8After centuries of neglect, the advent of a permanent Ottoman presence in the region led to the construction of administrative buildings and lines of communication. The creation of administrative centres allowed the extension of the State’s security apparatus (new police stations, guard posts etc.). Few facilities were established in the district of Jabal Ajlun, but there was much investment in the districts of al-Salt, al-Kerak and Ma‘an, further away from the regional centre (Damascus), and a telegraph line was set up.

9The Ottomans invested little on roads. Two main north-south routes crossed Transjordan: the hajj road (darb al-hajj) and the Kings’ Highway (darb al-sultani). The development of settlements led to the construction of many roads. The first linked as-Salt to ‘Amman, Jerash and Madaba. In 1903, a road was built from Madaba to al-Kerak, following the route of the Hijaz Railway. Construction of the Hijaz Railway began in 1900 and reached Medina in 1908. Sultan Abdul Hamid II had emphasized the religious aspect of the project. The creation of the Hijaz railway line allowed the extensive development of the towns it passed through. The extension of communication links to Palestine opened Jordan up to the regional market. Two roads linked Salt to Jerusalem and a bridge was built to connect the two banks of the Jordan River.

10Starting from 1866, Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries developed the infrastructure for health and education. Schools were a major success with local populations, and encouraged the Ottoman and Orthodox authorities to develop their own social and education services in the largest towns in Transjordan.

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