The Ottoman Scramble for Africa
Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz
Mostafa Minawi



Old Empire, New Empire

On Tuesday evening, the 19th of September of the Julian year 1311, I received orders to leave the Abode of Felicity [Istanbul] in two to three days, and to travel to southern Benghazi and from there to take an approximately one month long journey to Kufra, which is in the middle of the Sahara. I spent the whole night thinking of all that had to be done in order to prepare for such a long trip. No sleep ever entered my eyes.

—Sadik al-Mouayad Azmzade, Aide-de-Camp to His Imperial Majesty, Istanbul, October 1, 1895*

In the summer of 1876, the newspaper cafés (kıraathaneler) of Üsküdar and the taverns of Beyoğlu must have been abuzz with rumors of impending disaster for the empire. Christian Bosnian Serbs and Bulgarians were in revolt; representatives of the European powers were in Istanbul to discuss the fate of Greek Orthodox Ottoman subjects; and the first Ottoman constitution and parliament were declared amid rumors of the empire’s bankruptcy and a sultan struggling with alcoholism.1 It was in the middle of all of this chaos that Abdülhamid II (Abdülhamid-i Sani) ascended the throne to inherit the problems of an empire in crisis. Soon after his ascension, the Russian Empire, determined to take advantage of this chaotic period, attacked the empire from the east and the west. In 1878, following a number of humiliating defeats to the Russian Empire and a series of negotiations sponsored by several European powers, the Ottoman Empire agreed to the terms of the Treaty of Berlin.

The war with Russia was disastrous to Ottoman pride and served as indisputable evidence of a poorly trained and ill-equipped military. Following defeat, Istanbul was forced to concede vast Ottoman territories in the Balkans and eastern Anatolia to the Russians, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and other Balkan states, and hand over the rule of Cyprus to the British.2 In the same year, Sultan Abdülhamid II prorogued the parliament and suspended the constitution as emergency measures supposedly taken to put the empire on the road to recovery.3

The events of 1876–1878 made the Ottoman Empire’s admission to the Concert of Europe seem a purely symbolic “gesture,” effectively null and void.4 That and the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty in 1856 should have protected it from late nineteenth-century European competition for territorial expansion, but a mere two decades after the European powers pledged to protect its territorial integrity, the empire found itself caught in the crossfire of European competitive geopolitics—“utterly demoralized” and in “financial ruin.”5 A quick rundown of its key territorial losses during the long nineteenth century offers a clear image of this once powerful global empire under unrelenting attack.

Years of Russian-supported rebellions in the Danubian principalities and the subsequent Greek Revolt (1820–1829), and then the establishment of the Kingdom of Greece under British tutelage threw the sultan into a state of panic and led to a set of reactionary measures that struck at the very fabric of Ottoman society by decimating the Greek Orthodox community of Istanbul.6 Soon after, in 1830, the French invaded and annexed the Ottoman province of Algeria.7 The 1880s and 1890s witnessed further territorial losses in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf through direct foreign occupation or French- or British-brokered secessions of Ottoman provinces.8

These events, listed one after the other in a narrative that collapses time and reduces political viability to the exercise of territorial sovereignty, might make it seem logical that historians assume that the Ottoman Empire played no appreciable role in the interimperial competitions of the late nineteenth century and often dismiss its representatives as nothing more than “minor actors”9 on the diplomatic stage. In fact, some historians go so far as to question whether an empire that seemed defenseless against Russian expansionist whims and dependent on the Great Powers for its very survival can even be studied as “an empire” alongside the other European empires. To justify the Ottoman Empire’s exclusion from the study of imperialism, some weigh its position as an “object” against its position as an “agent” of the politics of international relations.10 Others assess European interference in Ottoman internal affairs to determine whether Istanbul was independent enough not to be counted as an “informal” colony. The verdicts range from an outright exclusion of the empire from the study of imperialism11 to a qualified exclusion that treats it as an exceptional case, using newly minted categories such as “borderline imperial.”12 The result, with a few exceptions, is that, explicitly or implicitly, the Ottoman Empire has been left out of the study of the interimperial competition of the late nineteenth century, and by extension its role has been underestimated—as a subject of history—in the events leading up to the Great War that drastically altered the global world order.

At the heart of the study of Ottoman participation in late nineteenth-century interimperial competition are fundamental theoretical questions that I grappled with. Considering generally accepted notions about the late empire’s weakness, can scholars of imperialism in the nineteenth century safely discount it in investigations of “new imperialism” and the role it played in the history of the twentieth century? What do we lose by ignoring the Ottomans as imperial competitors in what Eric Hobsbawm famously calls the “Age of Empire?”13 Indeed, can we include British, French, and Ottoman imperialism in the late nineteenth century in the same category of inquiry?

Labels such as “nonimperial,” “borderline imperial,” “informal colonialism,” and the like are informative in certain respects. However, I contend that they have had a chilling effect on the range of historical inquiry possible through an automatic exclusion of the Ottoman Empire from the study of late nineteenth-century interimperial competition and its long-term consequences. To avoid the trap of binary questions that lead to mutually exclusive categorical distinctions—Was it or was it not an empire? Was it an object or a subject of imperialism? Did it belong to an old and dying form of imperialism, or can we talk of it as we do “new empires?”—I follow an open-ended inquiry that assumes imperialism to be essentially adaptive, a process, not a category. Thus, I believe that the productive question is not whether but how the Ottoman Empire adapted to the new demands of imperialism in the late nineteenth century. This book demonstrates some of the important dimensions of world history that we miss when we assume that the Ottoman Empire can be dismissed or ignored in the study of imperialism in the Age of Empire.

The Ottoman Scramble for Africa challenges the narrative of an exclusively defensive and inward-looking empire following the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877–1878 and the loss of much of the Balkan provinces. Contrary to the commonly accepted understanding of the post-1878 Ottoman Empire, it argues that the Ottoman government’s efforts after the Congress of Berlin were not simply survival strategies requiring a necessary withdrawal from the world of late nineteenth-century competitive imperialism.14 In fact, the 1880s and 1890s witnessed a reinvigorated Istanbul that followed competitive strategies that cannot simply be attributed to an ideological aversion to the West, the paranoia of a besieged sultan, or the Hamidian government’s rhetoric of pan-Islamism coming from the mythologized seat of power in Istanbul, the Palace of the Stars (Yıldız Sarayı). The palace of Sultan Abdülhamid II was much more than his residence. In many ways, it resembled the White House in Washington, a place where much of the state’s business was discussed under the watchful eye of its head.15

If we focus on Yıldız Palace–driven negotiations, disputes, and rivalries with its European counterparts on the one hand and its strategic partnership with the leaders of the Sanusi Order and its followers in the eastern Sahara on the other, the outlines of a multileveled expansionist Ottoman strategy become clear. Following the methods of the so-called new imperialism, the empire reinvented itself as one clamoring for its “rightful” colonial possessions beyond its southern frontiers in the Libyan Desert. This Ottoman strategy in Africa between 1885 and 1900 had a direct impact on Istanbul’s policies along its southern frontiers-cum-borderlands in the Sahara and the Hijaz.

In spatial and temporal terms, this book focuses on the eastern Sahara, the Lake Chad basin, and western Arabia, roughly between 1880 and 1902. In present-day geography terms, the Lake Chad basin includes portions of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Sudan, and Libya, while western Arabia corresponds roughly to the Saudi Arabian Red Sea coast. Sadik Pasha al-Mouayad Azmzade, who described his trepidation about what was to be his second journey deep into the Sahara, would play a leading role in negotiations with locals in both the Sahara and the Hijaz, between 1886 and 1902.

Can an Old Empire Learn New Tricks?

New imperialism assumed that territorial expansion was the only way to guarantee global power in what increasingly resembled a zero-sum game played by Europeans on African lands in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century.16 What brought on the shift to new imperialism? Historians have mostly focused on the British and French models for answers.

Some of the most common explanations for the acceleration of colonial competition are economic: the turn to new imperialism is thought to have come about because of the failure of so-called gentlemanly colonialism, the exploitation of local resources through a network of negotiated partnerships with local intermediaries. By the 1870s, failure to transfer resources and solidify local institutions as means of entrenching long-term colonial interests in Africa and Asia had proven detrimental to the colonial project.17 By 1880, having local intermediaries do the “dirty work” of the colonial masters had lost its purchase and a new, expensive, and dangerous method of protecting the metropole’s commercial interests had to be implemented. This meant direct or near direct occupation of the territories.18 The colonization project could no longer be justified economically; it needed a “moral” argument to bolster calls for increasingly dangerous and expensive endeavors.19 The new focus on a moral justification for colonialism becomes more explicit in the French case.

Some historians have investigated the motivations behind this late nineteenth-century brand of expansionist imperialism by probing the logic of French colonialists. Their main refrain was that the Maghreb—namely, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia—formed the core of the North African French Empire while sub-Saharan Africa was assigned the role of the empire’s “hinterland.” Ideological and material motivations seemed to work hand in hand as the mission to “civilize” the colonial subject, the colonies’ economic viability, and the economic prosperity of the metropole became one and the same.20 The involvement of the Ottoman Empire is especially relevant for understanding French colonial ambitions in Africa. The French dream of connecting Senegal and western Sudan with French possessions in North Africa came up against the Ottoman expansionist dream, whose epicenter was the Lake Chad basin.21

As late as 1880, about 80 percent of the African continent remained free of foreign rule.22 However, new imperialism resulted in accelerated colonial expansion in the 1890s to such an extent that by World War I only Liberia and Ethiopia remained free of direct colonial control.23 In 1883, with French expansion in the northwest and the British invasion of Alexandria in the northeast, the race to partition Africa among the European powers, commonly referred to as the “scramble for Africa,” shifted into high gear.24 Many historians believe that the terms of this scramble were set by British-French rivalry, which began in 1882, reached its apex with the Fashoda Crisis in 1899, and ended with the Entente Cordial of 1904.25 But some judge this explanation too simplistic, pointing to the fact that French colonization of western Africa began in the late 1870s and that the British occupation of Egypt did not pose a threat to French interests, which were secured in West Africa, Algeria, and Tunisia. These historians point instead to Paris’s obsession with accessing the fabled economic wealth of sub-Saharan Sudan, which led them to push further east, triggering a massive French investment in the colonization of Africa in the early 1880s.26

Despite the efforts of scholars to distill the shift to new imperialism down to a single explanation, this has proven impossible. However, historians and theoreticians of imperialism—from Lenin to Hobsbawm—do for the most part agree that this period of accelerated colonial expansion was indeed the apex of global imperial competition.27 What is much more difficult to agree on though is the set of complex human motivations—collective and individual—that have fueled this race for territorial expansion. Perhaps only by acknowledging the near impossibility of understanding the “complexities of human motivation,” can we begin to build a more comprehensive picture of the storied motivations behind colonialism in Africa at the end of the nineteenth century.28

The Ottoman Empire’s reasons for colonial expansion were no less complex than those of the British and the French. A number of factors, economic, political, and ideological, do not add up to a coherent explanation for its participation in the scramble for Africa in terms of clearly defined long-term goals of Sultan Abdülhamid II, his Yıldız Palace advisors, and the various stakeholders in the Mabeyn29 and the Sublime Porte. Whether it was imagined economic gains, geopolitical advantages, or the empire’s “moral duty” to lead fellow Muslims in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa who had yet to “benefit” from “modern progress” toward a better future, there was no shortage of opinions in newspapers and government correspondence.

With the advantage of hindsight, I believe I can offer an interpretive reading of events to conclude that what was not explicit at the time was perhaps more illuminating of Ottoman motivations than what was explicit; for the truth of the matter is that the last two decades of the nineteenth century afforded the empire a unique incentive in its position as straddling the quickly ossifying divide between rulers and ruled in the world. It was a time when an empire had to participate in the new system of imperialism or risk becoming a “fair target” of European colonialism. The period immediately after the Conference of Berlin offered a short window of opportunity for the empire to liberate itself from the defensive position it had found itself in after the Russo-Ottoman War of 1877–1878.

Domestic Reforms, Global Ambitions

Struggling with financial deficits30 as well as an influx of refugees from lost territories in the Balkans, North Africa, and the Caucasus31 and a restive Muslim population dissatisfied with the concessions the Ottoman state had made to the European powers, the Ottoman imperial government undertook a broad array of domestic reforms. In the mid-1970s, after decades of portrayals of Sultan Abdülhamid II’s rule as rolling back Tanzimat-era reforms,32 historians began to take seriously the extensive social, bureaucratic, agricultural, and urban reform programs instituted during this period,33 finally revealing a complex government apparatus whose flexible techniques of governing ensured the survival of the empire in the latter part of the long nineteenth century. Since then, many scholars of the Ottoman Empire have continued to fill in this more nuanced picture34 with evidence that the Hamidian regime worked hard to promote a common signifier of “Ottoman-ness” among the various officially recognized “nations” of the empire.35 Starting in the 1880s, the palace mobilized the rhetoric of a common Ottoman identity as a way to move the Ottoman population from a “passive” and unquestioning loyalty to the sultan to an “active” engagement in a new, carefully orchestrated domestic Ottomanism model.36 Toward the end of his life, the sultan spelled out the difficulty of his task: “If there were ever a region in the world that never resembled another, it was our poor country. How could I have united the Armenian with the Kurd, the Turk with the Greek, the Bulgarian with the Arab?”37

Although the Hamidian-era domestic efforts in the 1880s and 1890s have been well studied, the Hamidian government’s foreign policies after 1878 and their impact on the strategies followed on the Ottoman Empire’s frontiers have received very little attention. Only a small amount of comprehensive scholarship in European languages has explored the Ottoman perspective, even on issues as necessarily entwined with the fate of the empire as the Eastern Question—what to do about the Ottoman Empire without upsetting the European empires’ delicate balance of power.38

Some historians whose focus is on the global South have pointedly criticized the Eurocentrism in theories of empire in both early modern and modern periods.39 This book gives Ottoman imperial history a place in a new kind of global history, one that attempts to move beyond the limitations and assumptions of area studies to explore global trends in imperialism and “webs of inspiration and influence which shaped the historical experience of both colonizer and colonized”40 across empires. Despite recognition of the need to consider the colonization schemes of non-Western empires, the Ottoman Empire barely receives a passing mention. Scholarship outside of Ottoman studies continues to subscribe to the belief that the empire in the late nineteenth century was at best a defensive one, and indeed, the “Sick Man of Europe.”41 In diplomatic histories of the period between the Congress of Berlin and World War I, little is ever said of the role Istanbul played except to highlight the sultan’s impotent response to the blatant European disregard of the empire’s territorial integrity42 or to show that the empire was a tool of European imperial rivalry.43 The Ottoman Empire is mostly relegated to the position of silent observer, whose territories were merely bargaining chips in negotiations between the Great Powers.44

The reality is that Ottoman diplomats were back in Berlin in 1884, not to discuss the division of Ottoman territory or to hand over the fate of part of its population to a European power. They were there to represent the empire as one of the imperial powers deciding on the rules governing the division of Africa. Only five years after the Conference of Berlin and the loss of much of the Balkan provinces, the empire was back in the game of interimperial diplomacy. Its ambassadors, foreign ministers, grand viziers, and even the sultan himself made its position clear on the international stage as they fought for what they believed was their “sphere of influence” in Africa.

Sources play a part here, for even though the Ottoman Archives have been used as a source for over seven decades,45 research on the history of the Ottoman frontiers in Africa has mostly relied on Italian, English, French, and Arabic records, with the notable exception of the work of Abdurrahman Çaycı and Ahmet Kavas.46 This book also helps to reverse this trend by relying mostly on Ottoman archival sources together with British archival sources and Arabic and Ottoman-Turkish contemporary newspapers, journals, travelogues, and other publications. The Ottoman Archives bring a new perspective to the logic of Ottoman imperial competitive policies along the empire’s southern frontiers.

The Ottomans at the Conference of Berlin, 1884–1885

In November 1884, German chancellor Otto von Bismarck (d. 1898) sponsored the first major European conference to officially make the rules that would govern imperialism in Africa. The Conference of Berlin, also known as the Congo Conference, has often been mistakenly understood as having been called for the purpose of carving up Africa into European colonies. In fact, its purpose was to facilitate conflict-free imperialism in an increasingly crowded market. For the most part, the issue was not territorial division but guaranteeing the “right” of European colonialists to unhindered commercial access to trade routes in light of increasingly competitive imperial activity in the 1880s.47

Representatives of fifteen republics, empires, duchies, and kingdoms participated in the conference. Among them were the powers that would later play a significant role in the fate of Ottoman Libya and the eastern Sahara: France, Great Britain, and Italy. Germany and Russia would have an indirect (yet significant) impact on the ultimate outcome for the region and the Ottoman Empire’s position in Africa in general. After several months of discussion and negotiation, all attendees, except for the United States, signed the General Act of Berlin, which not only conferred on European powers the right to African possessions that they had already taken effective hold of before 1885, but also set out rules for claiming additional tracts of land that were not yet under recognized imperial influence.48

The Ottoman Empire’s agreement to the terms of the act is significant. First, on the one hand with the signing of the act, its right to the Mediterranean coast of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica was acknowledged by other participants in the conference, but, on the other hand, by agreeing to the new rules, it recognized, by default, the right of France to the Muslim-majority areas that were previously Ottoman provinces—namely, Algeria and Tunisia. Second, by signing the agreement, Istanbul essentially agreed to redefine its relationship to an integral part of its empire in order to affirm parity with the European powers’ claims to possessions in Africa. In other words, the price for a bid to reenter the ranks of expansionist empires was a rebranding of the special relationship between Istanbul and Ottoman Libya. This meant an end to the empire’s historic and religious claims to the Muslim-majority African provinces, albeit exclusively on the level of international diplomacy, something that it would later come to regret. Istanbul used the Act of Berlin as a tool to assert itself as also legally entitled to colonies in Africa well beyond Ottoman Libya.

Instrumentalizing international law was a particularly daring move for the empire, which was in the unique position of being both a member of the Concert of Europe and the object of European imperial designs. The Ottomans were well aware of the extent to which the Act of Berlin was a tool used to justify European colonialism, which meant that the empire’s participation might have opened the door to further vulnerability to European imperialism.49 In addition, the act was meant to apply to what Europeans defined as “civilized” nations only; “uncivilized” nations were kept outside of the rubric of international law. Read backward, this meant that participating in the crafting of agreements assumed a certain level of relative civility.50

The terms “civilized” and “uncivilized” may seem like linguistic flourishes, but in nineteenth-century terms they were influential in determining the applicability of international law to different countries. In fact, European jurists used three categories to classify nations: “civilized humanity” (read Europe), “savage humanity” (uncivilized nations), and the semicivilized, or those that fit somewhere in between. In the words of the influential jurist James Lorimer, these last represented “barbarous humanity.” The Ottoman Empire, because it seemed to straddle the line between civilized and uncivilized according to these definitions, was often slotted as “semicivilized.” For it not to be considered fully civilized meant not only that international law would not apply but that its very right to guaranteed sovereignty over its territories could be questioned.51 With that in mind, we must understand that the Ottoman Empire was not simply fighting for extra territory; it was fighting to maintain legal standing in the so-called family of nations. If it could use international law to its benefit, then, by default, the empire would be considered a privileged “civilized” nation in an emerging world order split between the “subjects” of history (Europe) and the “Other.”52 Even though the line between civilized and uncivilized had been drawn to suit the aspirations of European colonialists, Istanbul found a crack in the hardening veneer of European assertions of superiority that allowed it to claim a place at the negotiation table. It had little choice but to be a party to this emerging world order because the alternative was its relegation to the ranks of the uncivilized and its subjects’ relegation to the category of the invisible native.53 The Ottoman Empire took advantage of its inclusion in international agreements on “legal” forms of colonialism to make claims of its own as a “civilized” nation, in a sense trying to beat the European powers at their own game.54

Neither the Ottoman Empire nor its European counterparts were unaware of the power differential that separated the various signatories. This differential was well illustrated in both the European and the American press, in which cartoons portrayed the Ottoman representatives as small, literally standing in the shadows, fading into the background of the negotiation table (Figure 2). Nevertheless, because the international agreements were binding, in theory at least, Istanbul made the only choice it could: to ignore the extent of their practical applicability. This was a strategic choice that gave the empire a fighting chance at gaining colonial possessions of its own according to the 1885 General Act of Berlin. Such hopes might have been foolhardy, but they were based on what were supposed to be binding protocols. Even though the representatives of the various states and the jurists who interpreted the agreements disagreed on a number of issues regarding the applicability of the laws and their relationship to local and customary laws, one thing was never in question: the agreements bound the signatories to act on an assumed principle of “good faith.”55 Istanbul took this principle seriously, choosing to act and negotiate with the European powers in good faith.

FIGURE 2. Conference of Berlin, 1884 (Allgemeine Illustrierte Zeitung, S.308, Am 28).

The General Act of Berlin was a watershed agreement, launching an accelerated partitioning of Africa and the formulation of a legal framework for colonialism under the rubric of international law.56 I have investigated the legal terms of the act to trace its use in Ottoman strategies of negotiation with other imperial powers over African possessions and the policies of rule along its southern frontiers.57 The Ottoman Scramble for Africa demonstrates just how this “old empire” was in fact ready and willing to develop and practice new tricks in the age of “new imperialism,” an age marked by the significance of frontiers in determining the fate of empires, making it an “age of frontier politics” that required empires to adapt to a new reality in which formerly marginal local powers exerted great influence on the outcome of interimperial competition.58

Centering the Frontiers

Frontiers are often considered marginal in studies that privilege a structural understanding of empire; this understanding sees imperialism as a web of institutions dotting concentric circles that surround the metropole—the center of imperial power. In contrast, this book views imperialism as a “process of adaptive transformation in which people create, assemble, configure, reassemble, renovate and remodel imperial forms of power and authority under diverse, changing circumstances.”59 Imperialism as process is always unfolding, whether close to the centers of power or further afield along an empire’s inherently unstable frontiers. For the best understanding of unfolding imperialism, especially during a time of accelerated territorial expansion (variously described as a “race” or a “scramble”), the African frontiers of the Ottoman Empire in the last two decades of the nineteenth century offer an ideal site of investigation. The twenty-year race that ended with losers and winners strewn along the imaginary web connecting rulers and ruled left the preexisting political map in tatters and paved the way for the great military conflicts of the twentieth century. It was along these frontiers that the imperial presence first took hold, its shape molded through negotiation, violent erasure, and practices of both exclusion and inclusion.

The study of imperialism in a time of expansionist colonialism favors frontiers where “military, political, institutional, cultural, linguistic, ethnic, social and economic frontiers move spatially and temporally at their own pace, so that empire cannot be contained within definite parameters.”60 In visual terms, imperialism as process in Africa was like magma inching along the bottom of the ocean floor, negotiating rough and smooth terrains, avoiding obstacles, redirected by competing local formation, and inhabiting existing crevices and caves. This can best be observed along the moving frontiers during the rare volcanic event: periods of historical accelerated territorial expansion and colonial competition.

Let us pause here to consider the term frontier. The very word assumes a certain perspective, a certain vantage point, one that views the horizon from the particular angle of the metropole. It also privileges the perspective of binaries: “imperial vs. indigenous, conqueror vs. conquered, insider vs. outsider.”61 I take this perspective or vantage point seriously, believing that it captures one of the problems that I grapple with in this book: a unidirectional vision of empire from the perspective of the metropole. Admittedly, I adopt the perspective of Istanbul—the Ottoman metropole, the empire’s center of power. I do so with full awareness that frontiers are also contact zones between imperial ambition and local political formations. They can be thought of as the very epicenter of certain forms of political life: potentially violent struggle in times of war and productive economic exchange in times of peace. In fact, they are a unique and often complex mix of religious, political, military, and economic formulations that can leave the metropole helpless. They are zones of interaction where cultural, geographical, and political boundaries are blurred as the central imperial state tries to balance stability with state hegemony.62 These features of frontier-hood translate well across empires, whether in North America, Latin America, or East Asia, regions whose rich literature on colonialism I have drawn on to understand the Ottoman imperial frontiers in Africa and Arabia.63

Privileging of the metropole’s perspective is to a certain extent a reflection of the available sources in various state archives that I rely on. These archives reflect the concerns of the metropole, which engaged with the frontiers only as far as they mattered to its policies and strategies.64 That is not to say that there is little information about the frontiers in the various imperial archives. To the contrary, microlevel details, from the social to the political, can be found, but they often over-represent times of conflict between the metropole and frontier inhabitants.

Istanbul understood that local regimes substantially influenced imperial strategies and their success or failure. The negotiated expansion of imperial power into the “frontiers” features as one of the main themes of this book. As the British and French empires expanded toward the Ottoman frontiers, the frontiers became interimperial “borderlands,” zones of interaction, like frontiers, where lines were blurred and power was contested. However, in the late nineteenth-century borderland, the parties to conflict were imperial powers contesting control of these often vaguely defined zones. The borderlands were part of interimperial conflicts over “territorialized” spaces.65 Thus, although acknowledging the problematic use of both frontier and borderland, I employ them to reflect the shift from imperial-indigenous interaction to imperial-imperial competition in central Africa and the Hijaz. In spatial terms, then, this book is about the transition of the Ottoman frontiers in Africa and Arabia into the borderlands of interimperial competition between 1880 and 1900.66

In Ottoman studies, frontiers are a subject of research on the effect of state centralization during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II.67 In Frontiers of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire: Transjordan, 1850–1921, Eugene Rogan examines the Hamidian government’s reach into the Syrian Desert and as far south as Ma ʿan in what is today the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. He defines frontiers as “socio-political orders apart from the institutions of the Empire at large.”68 Once incorporated into the imperial state network, a region lost its status as a frontier, pushing a new frontier deeper into the desert. Rogan offers a nuanced understanding of Ottoman administrative, economic, and military control, which he demonstrates were balanced by measures of accommodation to the local Bedouin population. Expanding on the notion of incorporation of the frontiers in the Hamidian period, he shows that the state’s education policies targeted the tribes, one of the empire’s most alienated populations,69 for whom a special school in Istanbul, the Aşiret Mektebi (Tribes’ Academy), was established. In addition to teaching modern languages and modern sciences, this school sought to foster an allegiance to the Ottoman state. The education system was tailor-made to incorporate and indeed assimilate the influential sons of frontier tribal leaders from Libya to Kurdistan and from Iraq to the Hijaz.70

Yemen and the Balkans were also regions of limited state presence, where the imperial government established new strategies for securing its borderlands. Although these strategies favored cooperation with some Yemeni and Balkan leaders, the Ottoman state had to contend with locals’ demands, turning the relationship from one of ruler and ruled into one of partnership between the central state and the local powers.71

The question of Ottoman imperialism along frontiers-cum-borderlands is also taken up by Thomas Kühn, who investigates the relationship between imperial officials and locals in the province of Yemen.72 He argues that Yemen, as a borderland of the empire between 1872 and 1918, showed signs of colonial rule in the state’s efforts to align the local population with its centralization plans. What Kühn calls the “politics of difference”73 adopted by the Ottoman state in Yemen was not a mimicking of European colonialism, despite clear evidence of Ottoman awareness of British and French colonial models.74 In contrast to European colonialism, Ottoman rule posited cultural, not racial or ethnic characteristics, as a way of differentiating the Ottoman rulers from the local population. Kühn uses the term “colonial Ottomanism” to capture a uniquely Ottoman form of rule in this area that had only some “colonial” characteristics.75 As Kühn demonstrates, even by 1914 neither ethnic nor legal categories were used by the central government to distinguish “colonizer” and “colonized.”76 The significance here is that the difference between colonizers and colonized was traversable over time and not an essential condition of Ottoman imperial rule.77

I have benefited greatly from all of this scholarship, which begins to uncover the Ottoman state’s increasing levels of agility and its new methods for consolidating its hold on the southern frontiers in the nineteenth century. It shows that the historical context and the geographic particularities of the frontiers-cum-borderlands necessitated an even wider range of policies aimed at accommodating the particularities of local populations and relational power dynamics. Along the frontiers, the Hamidian regime took an increasingly flexible approach to distinguishing “undifferentiated insiders” and “barbarian” outsiders.78 The emphasis shifted from asserting central state control over the Bedouin populations along the frontiers to the formation of a partnership with them as a way of consolidating Ottoman hold on the frontiers-cum-borderlands in the face of European challenges to the empire’s sovereignty.

Delving into the complex and often fraught relationships among imperial, provincial, and local partners, this book conceptualizes imperial space as a “sphere of a multitude of trajectories of power and influence,”79 in which individual goals are examined in a wider transimperial context. It highlights similarities and differences between the imperial government’s strategic goals, the personal ambitions of imperial intermediaries, and the attitudes of various levels of governmental administrators toward the Bedouin population in the Sahara and the Hijaz. In so doing, it makes a historiographical argument for departing from the oversimplified bipolar relationship traditionally posited between an Ottoman government and a frontier tribal population. For when we consider the multitude of provincial and local powers and their vision for their regions, which contradicted the vision of the sultan, we come to understand why the much vaunted powerful inner-circle discipline and unity of the Mabeyn did not always succeed in making its vision come true when dealing with Ottoman strategies in provinces along the empire’s southern frontiers. Even though Sultan Abdülhamid II shifted executive power from the ministries of the Sublime Porte to the handpicked secretaries in the Mabeyn of Yıldız Palace, his vision did not go unchallenged even there. In fact, it was continuously contested by powers within and without the government rank and file, through official and unofficial channels, leading to many of the problems that were the hardest to tackle and in some cases were the main cause of the failure of Istanbul’s plans.

A Road Map

Chapters 1 and 2 of The Ottoman Scramble for Africa introduce the history and geography of Ottoman Libya, the Sahara, and the Lake Chad basin. Focusing on the Sanusi Order and the Ottoman state’s efforts to reestablish its rule in Ottoman Libya, they set the stage for understanding the context of new imperialism in this part of Africa. They also detail the multifaceted nature of Ottoman strategy and Ottoman participation in the scramble for Africa, alternating between negotiations in Berlin and those in Benghazi.

Chapters 3 and 4 expand the list of competitors vying for control of the eastern Sahara, using a wider lens to examine the impact of intense late nineteenth-century interimperial competition on the empire’s southern frontiers on both sides of the Red Sea. In addition to Britain and France, Italy and the Sudanese Mahdist state played a substantial role in determining the fate of Ottoman interests in Africa. Chapter 3 picks up the story at the end of 1886, when the sultan’s representative, Sadik al-Mouayad Azmzade, first voyaged to the Libyan Desert; it ends with the devastating diplomatic failures of the 1890s and then examines the change in the empire’s strategic and operational focus from territorial expansion to consolidation, and indeed, resistance along the empire’s southern frontiers. Chapter 4 traces the impact of the Ottoman Empire’s fifteen-year experiment in Africa, and its failure, on its foreign relations and domestic strategies along the southern frontiers-cum-borderlands. Ultimately, the chapter highlights how events taking place in one part of the empire—in this case Ottoman Africa—directly influenced and at times dictated imperial strategy in other parts—in this case Ottoman Arabia—demonstrating the necessity of a transimperial approach to the study of empire.80

Chapters 5 and 6 shift the spotlight to the Arabian frontiers, particularly the Damascus–Medina telegraph line extension project. The telegraph project serves as a case study of Istanbul’s shift toward policy making to consolidate its hold on its increasingly vulnerable southern frontiers. It illustrates the intersection of the empire’s interimperial competitive strategy and its intraimperial political conflicts. In Istanbul’s complex and often conflict-ridden decision-making process, international relations concerns sometimes conflicted with the interests of various imperial and provincial stakeholders. At the turn of the century, seemingly localized problems along the southern frontiers often turned into problems of empire-wide concern. Similarly, intraimperial problems in the borderlands often had global interimperial ramifications.

The Conclusion highlights the importance of not allowing final outcomes to prevent us from looking for unfruitful contingencies and unfulfilled possibilities. Alternative paths that do not accomplish intended goals, even failed attempts, rarely make it into history books. However, this book demonstrates the necessity of exploring these alternative paths rather than justifying the final outcome. In fact, I argue that stories of unfulfilled goals and unfinished plans, which usually disappear into the depths of the archives, are sometimes more telling than stories that seem to fit a neat linear trajectory leading to the end of empire. In the case of the Ottoman Empire, the lost history of Istanbul’s efforts to reestablish its presence on the international stage helps us rethink colonial history, international diplomacy, and Ottoman imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century.

Of course, judgments of failure and success, “golden” eras and “dark” ages, and even beginnings and endings are often the privilege of academics who are themselves the product of their local contemporary political and socioeconomic contexts. Similarly, the geographical boundaries of modern area studies are usually the product of contemporary imperial concerns. This has led to an artificial severance of the three regions under study: the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Red Sea basin, which, as we will see in Chapter 1, is not a true reflection of the historical reality of these interconnected regions.


*Epigraph: Sadık el-Müeyyed Azmzade, Afrika Sahra-yı Kebiri’nde Seyahat (Istanbul: Ahmed İhsan ve Şürekası, 1899), 1. Azmzade’s original travelogue was given to Sultan Abdülhamid II as a gift. It is housed at the Nadir Eserler Library at Istanbul University. T4526.

1. The reign of Sultan Abdülaziz (1861–1876) ended in a coup d’état. The reign of his successor, Sultan Murad V, lasted for only a few months until he was deposed allegedly because of alcoholism and mental illness. See James Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 151.

2. On the Russo-Ottoman War and the Congress of Berlin, see Matthew S. Anderson, The Eastern Question, 1774–1923: A Study in International Relations (London: Macmillan, 1996); A. L. MacFie, The Eastern Question: 1774–1923, rev. ed. (Harlow, UK: Addison Wesley Longman, 1996), 34–45.

3. The Ottoman parliament was prorogued on February 14, 1878, during the war with Russia. See Erik Jan Zürcher, Turkey: A Modern History, 2nd ed. (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004), 74–76.

4. Ezel Kural Shaw, “Integrity and Integration: Assumptions and Expectations behind Nineteenth Century Decision Making,” in Decision Making and Change in the Ottoman Empire, ed. Caesar E. Farah (Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1993), 40.

5. Mustafa Aksakal, The Ottoman Road to War in 1914: The Ottoman Empire and the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 4–5.

6. See Christine Philliou, Biography of an Empire: Governing Ottomans in an Age of Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011); John S. Koliopoulos and Thanos M. Veremis, Modern Greece: A History since 1821 (Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2010).

7. See Jennifer E. Sessions, By Sword and Plow: France and the Conquest of Algeria (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011).

8. Aksakal, Ottoman Road to War, 5. On Ottoman-British competition in Arabia, see Frederick F. Anscombe, The Ottoman Gulf: The Creation of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Gökhan Çetinsaya, “The Ottoman View of British Presence in Iraq and the Gulf: The Era of Abdulhamid II,” Middle Eastern Studies 39 (2003): 194–203; R. J. Gavin, Aden under British Rule: 1839–1967 (London: C. Hurst, 1975); Ş. Tufan Buzpınar, “Vying for Power and Influence in the Hijaz: Ottoman Rule, the Last Emirate of Abdulmuttalib and the British (1880–1882),” Muslim World 95 (2005): 1–22; Ş. Tufan Buzpınar, “The Hijaz, Abdülhamid II and Amir Hussein’s Secret Dealings with the British, 1877–80,” Middle Eastern Studies 31 (1995): 99–123.

9. A. S. Kanya-Forstner, “French Expansion in Africa: The Mythical Theory,” in Studies in the Theory of Imperialism, ed. Roger Owen and Bob Sutcliff (London: Longman, 1972), 279.

10. Heinz Gollwitzer, Europe in the Age of Imperialism, 1881–1914 (Norwich, UK: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1969), 12.

11. Ibid.

12. Winfried Baumgart, Imperialism: The Idea and Reality of British and French Colonial Expansion, 1880–1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 8.

13. Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875–1914 (New York: Pantheon, 1987).

14. The empire was fully aware of its weaker position vis-à-vis other empires, but it continuously presented itself as one deserving of sovereignty as an independent empire nonetheless. On the empire rhetoric and images of legitimacy, see Maurus Reinkowski, “Hapless Imperialists and Resentful Nationalists: Trajectories of Radicalization in the Late Ottoman Empire,” in Helpless Imperialists: Imperial Failure, Fear, and Radicalization, ed. Maurus Reinkowski and Gregor Thum (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014), 59–60; Selim Deringil, The Well-Protected Domains: Ideology and the Legitimation of Power in the Ottoman Empire, 1876–1909 (London: I. B. Tauris, 1998); Selim Deringil, “The Invention of Tradition as Public Image in the Late Ottoman Empire, 1808–1908,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 35 (1993): 3–29.

15. I use “Yıldız Palace” throughout the book as “White House” is used in the media—to represent the White House administration.

16. Mary Dewhurst Lewis, Divided Rule: Sovereignty and Empire in French Tunisia, 1881–1938 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 15.

17. Ronald Robinson, “The Case for Economic Aid,” in Developing the Third World: The Experience of the Nineteen-Sixties, ed. Ronald Robinson (London: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 262.

18. Ibid.

19. Marc Ferro, Colonization: A Global History (London: Routledge, 1997), 11.

20. Henk L. Wesseling, The European Colonial Empires, 1815–1919, trans. Diane Webb (Harlow, UK: Pearson, 2004), 134.

21. Ibid.

22. It is telling that this number seems not to include Ottoman imperial rule in North Africa. In other words, either Ottoman rule was counted as “local rule” and thus part of free Africa, or it was simply ignored. See Douglas Northrop, An Imperial World: Empires and Colonies since 1750 (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2013), 73.

23. Ibid.

24. Wesseling, European Colonial Empires, 148.

25. Ibid., 123.

26. A. G. Hopkins, “The Victorians and Africa: A Reconsideration of the Occupation of Egypt, 1882,” Journal of African History 27 (1986): 363–391; C. W. Newbury and A. S. Kanya-Forstner, “French Policy and the Origins of the Scramble for West Africa,” Journal of African History 10 (1969): 253–276.

27. Vladimir Lenin posits the years between 1880 and 1900 as the period when imperialism reached its apex with the joining of Germany and France in the colonial territorial grab leading to the next stage for capitalism. See Vladimir Lenin, “The Division of the World among the Great Powers,” in Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism: A Popular Outline, rev. trans. (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1948), 93–103. Eric Hobsbawm also described the period between 1880 and World War I as the “most spectacular expression of the growing division of the globe into strong and weak, the ‘advanced’ and ‘backward,’” in Age of Empire, 1875–1914, 59.

28. Robert O. Collins, The Partition of Africa: Illusion or Necessity (New York: Wiley, 1969), 234.

29. In some historical works, the administrative and official reception area of the Yıldız Palace compound is referred to by its Ottoman Turkish name, “Mabeyn” (short for “Mabeyn-i Hümayun”). On the intrigues of the Mabeyn, see Ibrahim al-Muwaylihi, Spies, Scandals, and Sultans: Istanbul in the Twilight of the Ottoman Empire, trans. Roger Allen (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). For examples of the influential role that the Mabeyn employees played in Hamidian diplomacy, see Jens Hanssen, “Malhamé–Malfamé,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 43 (2011): 25–48. For the wider bureaucratic structure of the Yıldız Palace, see François Georgeon, “Yıldız, le palais d’Abdülhamid,” in Abdulhamid II: Le sultan calife (Paris: Librairie Arthème Fayard, 2003), 127–146.

30. On the financial challenges facing Abdülhamid II’s administration and the progress made in the first thirty years after his ascension to the throne, see Engin Akarlı, “Economic Policy and Budgets in Ottoman Turkey, 1876–1909,” Middle Eastern Studies 28 (1992): 443–476.

31. On the refugees in the Ottoman Empire in the late nineteenth century, see James Meyers, “Immigration, Return, and the Politics of Citizenship: Russian Muslims in the Ottoman Empire, 1860–1914,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 39 (2007): 15–32; Kemal Karpat, “The Hijra from Russia and the Balkans: The Process of Self-Definition in the Late Ottoman State,” in Muslim Travellers: Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination, ed. Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 131–152. For the history of one of the largest waves of refugees to the Ottoman Empire during the Balkan wars and World War I, see Ryan Gingeras, Sorrowful Shores: Violence, Ethnicity, and the End of the Ottoman Empire, 1912–1923 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

32. Historian Engin Akarlı was one of the first scholars to offer a radical reassessment of the Hamidian era reforms in his dissertation, “The Problems of External Pressures, Power Struggles, and Budgetary Deficits in Ottoman Politics under Abdülhamid II (1876–1909): Origins and Solutions” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 1976). Even though Akarlı never converted his dissertation into a monograph, he developed his argument further over the next few decades, most significantly in a seminal article “The Tangled Ends of an Empire: Ottoman Encounters with the West and Problems of Westernization—An Overview,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 26 (2006): 353–366.

33. See Donald Quataert, “Ottoman Reform and Agriculture in Anatolia, 1876–1908” (PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1973); Carter Findley, Bureaucratic Reform in the Ottoman Empire: The Sublime Porte, 1789–1922 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980).

34. On Abdülhamid II’s use of Islamic symbolism for political ends, see Deringil, Well-Protected Domains; Deringil, “Invention of Tradition,” 3–29. On the pan-Islamic ideology promoted by Abdülhamid II, see Kemal Karpat, The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

35. See Selçuk Akşin Somel, The Modernization of Public Education in the Ottoman Empire, 1839–1908: Islamization, Autocracy, and Discipline (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 199.

36. Deringil, “Invention of Tradition,” 29; Engin Akarlı, “Tangled Ends of an Empire,” in Modernity and Culture from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, ed. Leila Fawaz and C. A. Bayly (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 271.

37. Reşad Pasha’s Muhtasar Osmanlı Tarihi as quoted in George Walter Gawrych, The Crescent and the Eagle: Ottoman Rule, Islam and the Albanians, 1874–1913 (London: I. B. Tauris, 2006), 79.

38. M. Şükrü Hanioğlu, A Brief History of the Late Ottoman Empire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 215. A noted exception focusing on the first decade of Hamidian rule is F. A. K. Yasamee, Ottoman Diplomacy: Abdulhamid II and the Great Powers, 1878–1888 (Istanbul: ISIS, 1996).

39. Frederick Cooper, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 23; Daniel Goffman and Christopher Stroop, “Empire as Composite: The Ottoman Polity and the Typology of Dominion,” in Imperialisms: Historical and Literary Investigations, 1500–1900, ed. Balachandra Rajan and Elizabeth Sauer (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 129–145.

40. Durba Ghosh and Dane Kennedy, “Introduction,” in Decentering Empire: Britain, India and the Transcolonial World, ed. Durba Ghosh and Dane Kennedy (Hyderabad, India: Orient Longman, 2006), 7.

41. Antoinette Burton, Empire in Question: Reading, Writing and Teaching British Imperialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 282.

42. Lewis, Divided Rule, 16.

43. John Lowe, The Great Powers: Imperialism and the German Problem, 1865–1925 (New York: Routledge, 1994), 74–85.

44. For the diplomatic history of the Congress of Berlin from an Ottoman perspective, see Roderic H. Davison, Nineteenth Century Ottoman Diplomacy and Reforms (Istanbul: ISIS, 1999), 175–206.

45. Suraiya Faroqhi, Approaching Ottoman History: An Introduction to the Sources (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 49–53.

46. Abdurrahman Çaycı, al-Siraʿ al-Turki-al-Faransi fi al-Saharaʾ al-Kubra, trans. (Turkish to Arabic) ʿAli Aʿzazi (Tripoli: Markaz Dirasat Jihad al-Libiyyin Did al-Ghazw al-Itali, 1982); Ahmet Kavas, Osmanlı-Afrika İlişkileri (Istanbul: Tasam Yayınları, 2006); Ahmet Kavas, Geçmişten Günümüze Afrika (Istanbul: Kitabevi, 2005); Muhammed Tandoğan, Afrika’da Sömürgelecilik ve Osmanlı Siyaseti (1800–1922) (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları, 2013). Michel Le Gall also used some Ottoman records in his research on Ottoman-Libyan relationships in “The Ottoman Government and the Sanusiyya: A Reappraisal,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 21 (1989): 91–106.

47. Jeffrey C. Stone, “Imperialism, Colonialism, and Cartography,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, n.s., 13 (1988): 57–58; Wesseling, European Colonial Empires, 122.

48. Lisan al-Hal, a popular daily newspaper in Beirut, provided full coverage of the conference from 1884 onward and devoted several columns to its outcome. This was a reflection of the reading public’s interests in colonialism in Africa. Lisan al-Hal, February 28, 1885, 2.

49. John M. MacKenzie, Law, History, Colonialism: The Reach of Empire, ed. Catharine Coleborne and Diane Kirkby (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), vii–viii.

50. J. Westlake, “John Westlake on the Title to Sovereignty,” in Imperialism, ed. P. D. Curtin (London: Macmillan, 1971), 47, quoted in Peter Fitzpatrick, “Terminal Legality: Imperialism and the (de)Composition of Law,” in Law, History, Colonialism: The Reach of Empire, ed. Catharine Coleborne and Diane Kirkby (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), 17.

51. On James Lorimer’s legal opinions in international law, see James Lorimer, The Institutes of the Law of Nations (London: Blackwood, 1883); see also Aimee M. Genell, “Empire by Law: Ottoman Sovereignty and the British Occupation of Egypt” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2013), 7–11.

52. Here I am referencing Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).

53. Fitzpatrick, “Terminal Legality,” 17.

54. For examples of the emerging literature that examines the Ottoman Empire’s negotiating power on the international stage, see John Willis, Unmaking North and South: Cartographies of the Yemen Past, 1857–1934 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 73–103; and Genell, “Empire by Law.”

55. Isabel V. Hull, A Scrap of Paper: Breaking and Making International Law during the Great War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014), 18.

56. On the impact of the Conference of Berlin on the creation and deployment of international law as legal justification for colonialism in Africa, see Anthony Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 32–114.

57. I was inspired by the work of Turan Kayaoğlu, who traced the influence of Ottoman international agreements at the 1856 Conference of Paris on domestic policies, particularly the introduction of the Ottoman Land Law of 1860. See Turan Kayaoğlu, Legal Imperialism: Sovereignty and Extraterritoriality in Japan, the Ottoman Empire and China (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 104–148. I am especially indebted in my thinking about the Ottoman Empire’s role in international agreements and the reflection of international law on Istanbul’s international diplomacy to Surya Sharma, Territorial Acquisition, Disputes, and International Law (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1997); and Godfrey N. Uzoigwe, “Spheres of Influence, Effective Occupation and the Doctrine of Hinterland in the Partition of Africa,” Journal of African Studies 3 (1976): 183–203.

58. D. M. Schreuder, The Scramble for Africa, 1877–1895: The Politics of Partition Reappraised (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 6.

59. David Ludden, “The Process of Empire: Frontiers and Borderlands,” in Tributary Empires in Global History, ed. Peter Fibiger Bang and C. A. Bayly (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 133.

60. Ibid., 136.

61. Pekka Hämäläinen and Samuel Truett, “On Borderlands,” Journal of American History 98 (2011): 343.

62. Ibid., 344.

63. Xiuyu Wang, China’s Last Imperial Frontier: Late Qing Expansion in Sichuan’s Tibetan Borderlands (Plymouth, UK: Lexington, 2011), 242.

64. Ludden, “Process of Empire,” 136.

65. Hämäläinen and Truett, “On Borderlands,” 344.

66. Here I borrow the definition of frontiers and borderlands from Fabricio Prado, “The Fringes of Empires: Recent Scholarship on Colonial Frontiers and Borderlands in Latin America,” History Compass 10 (2012): 319.

67. The Ottoman imperial efforts along the frontiers have been the subject of historical study for well over two decades now. For some of the more recent studies on specific aspects of the Hamidian state’s relationship with its frontiers, see Nadir Özbek, “Policing the Countryside: Gendarmes of the Late 19th-Century Ottoman Empire (1876–1908),” International Journal of Middle East Studies 40 (2008): 47–67; Yasemin Avcı, “The Application of Tanzimat in the Desert: The Bedouins and the Creation of a New Town in Southern Palestine (1860–1914),” Middle Eastern Studies 45 (2009): 969–983. A. C. S. Peacock, ed., The Frontiers of the Ottoman World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) is a major contribution to the study of frontiers across the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the late nineteenth century; on the relationship between the Ottoman state and its nomadic populations before Abdülhamid II’s reign, see Reşat Kasaba, A Movable Empire: Ottoman Nomads, Migrants, and Refugees (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009). Norman Lewis’s Nomads and Settlers in Syria and Jordan, 1800–1980 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987) is a classic text on Bedouins in the Ottoman period. The latest research on the eastern Ottoman frontiers in the nineteenth century includes Janet Klein, Kurdish Militias in the Ottoman Tribal Zone (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011); and Sabri Ateş, The Ottoman-Iranian Borderlands: Making a Boundary, 1843–1914 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

68. Eugene L. Rogan, Frontiers of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire: Transjordan, 1850–1921 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 6.

69. Eugene L. Rogan, “The Aşiret Mektebi: Abdülhamid II’s School for Tribes (1892–1907),” International Journal of Middle East Studies 28 (1996): 83.

70. Ibid.

71. Isa Blumi, Rethinking the Late Ottoman Empire: A Comparative Social and Political History of Albania and the Yemen, 1878–1918 (Istanbul: ISIS, 2003), 49.

72. Thomas Kühn, Empire, Islam, and Politics of Difference: Ottoman Rule in Yemen, 1849–1919 (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 4–8.

73. This is not to be confused with Partha Chatterjee’s “rule of colonial difference,” which Kühn hints at. The difference between Chatterjee’s “rule of colonial difference” and Kühn’s “politics of difference” lies at the heart of Kühn’s argument. Chatterjee posits a perceived essential, nonchanging difference based on theories of racial difference between the ruler and the ruled in the case of India. In the case of Yemen, the difference emphasized by the Ottoman ruler was not racial or legal or unchangeable; it was cultural and changeable. See Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993), 14–34. See also Thomas Kühn, “Shaping and Reshaping Colonial Ottomanism: Contesting Boundaries of Difference and Integration in Ottoman Yemen, 1872–1919,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 27 (2007): 315–331; Thomas Kühn, “Ordering Urban Space in Ottoman Yemen 1872–1914,” in The Empire in the City: Arab Provincial Capitals in the Late Ottoman Empire, ed. Jens Hanssen, Thomas Philipp, and Stefan Weber (Beirut: Ergon Verlag Würzburg in Kommission, 2002), 329–367.

74. Dina Rizk Khoury and Dane Kennedy, “Comparing Empires: The Ottoman Domains and the British Raj in the Long Nineteenth Century,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 27 (2007): 241.

75. Kühn, Empire, Islam, and Politics of Difference, 13.

76. Ibid., 244–245.

77. See Thomas Kühn, “An Imperial Borderland as Colony: Knowledge Production and the Elaboration of Difference in Ottoman Yemen, 1872–1918,” MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies 3 (2003): 5–17.

78. Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010), 12.

79. See Doreen Massey’s For Space (London: Sage, 2005) and its adoption by David Lambert and Alan Lester in “Imperial Spaces, Imperial Subjects,” in Colonial Lives across the British Empire: Imperial Careering in the Long Nineteenth Century, ed. David Lambert and Alan Lester (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 14.

80. There are several examples of the transimperial approach in other imperial histories, particularly that of the British Empire. For example, see Thomas Metcalf, Imperial Connections: India in the Indian Ocean Arena, 1860–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); David Lambert and Alan Lester, eds. Colonial Lives across the British Empire: Imperial Careering in the Long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). Isa Blumi takes a multi-sited comparative approach in his research. See Isa Blumi, “The Frontier as a Measure of Modern Power: Local Limits to Empire in Yemen, 1872–1914,” in The Frontiers of the Ottoman World, ed. A. C. S. Peacock (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 289–304.