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The Tunisia of Ahmad Bey, 1837-1855

The Tunisia of Ahmad Bey, 1837-1855

Copyright Date: 1974
Pages: 427
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    The Tunisia of Ahmad Bey, 1837-1855
    Book Description:

    Under the energetic but confused prodding of the activist ruler Ahmad Bey, Tunisia made its first effort to institute European-inspired political and military reforms. L. Carl Brown's book on the reign of Ahmad Bey is thus a case study in modernization as well as a historical survey of Tunisia in the mid-nineteenth century. Professor Brown explains the workings of the traditional political system, an elaborate blend of Hafsid and Ottoman governmental ideas and practices. He explores the ways in which the changes imposed on Tunisia by the West made this system unworkable. Turning to the modernization movement itself, the author argues that the first phase of modernization was almost exclusively in the hands of the existing political elite, whose background, education, career pattern, and self-image he examines. This elite, working within a political climate characterized by a close interweaving of domestic and diplomatic concerns, developed an operating style described as collaborationist modernization. In addition to recapturing in a narrative history the age of Ahmad Bey and the political class over which he ruled, Professor Brown fits the Tunisian story of these years into the broader historical context of change imposed by the West on the rest of the world.

    Originally published in 1975.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4784-6
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  4. PREFACE (pp. xi-xii)
  6. ABBREVIATIONS USED (pp. xiv-xiv)
  8. INTRODUCTION (pp. 3-16)

    On September 2, 1798, corsairs from Tunis launched a surprise raid on San Pietro, a small island just off the southwest coast of Sardinia. The booty of some 900 prisoners, including 150 young girls and treasures from the parish church, was taken back to Tunis and distributed by the bey of Tunis among the notables of his government.

    Forty-nine years later the son of one of those young girls was in Paris being lionized by the court of Louis Philippe as ruler of a state friendly to France and as the very symbol of modernity in North Africa and the...

  9. PART ONE: The Traditional Political Culture
    • I Tunisia: Mediterranean, Muslim and Ottoman (pp. 19-40)

      Some of the categorical conceptions acquired in early schooling can hamper understanding of Tunisia. We learn of the continents, and the implicit assumption is that they represent different entities. To this is overlaid the distinction between the Islamic world and the West (or in earlier days, Christendom). At an even higher level of abstraction there is the difference between East and West.

      A few moments with a map of the lands bounding the Mediterranean correct these arbitrary distinctions. Overlooking political boundaries, one can follow the natural routes—the lines of least resistance—for the movement of men and ideas: plains,...

    • II The Political Class (pp. 41-92)

      The earlier discussion of the Husaynids introduced the notion of a distinct governing class who thought of themselves as separate from the native Tunisians they ruled. The name “Ottoman-Tunisian” best describes this political class who looked to the Ottoman example but who after generations of virtual autonomy vis-à-vis Istanbul had absorbed a large body of Tunisian ideas, customs and personnel. More needs to be said, now, about the composition, values, andmodus operandiof the political class in order to clarify how the Husaynid government actually operated in the early decades of the nineteenth century. This chapter treats in turn...

    • III The Web of Government (pp. 93-145)

      Two traits of Tunisian government in the early nineteenth century impressed European observers—despotism and simplicity. Dr. Frank, after cataloguing the full powers of the bey, added, “In Europe, it is difficult to understand how one man can handle so many different matters and direct them with order and precision. It must be noted that in the administration of this country, everything is reduced to the greatest possible simplicity … which is able to dispense with the complicated machinery of European bureaucracy.”¹ Roughly thirty years later—in the 1840s—another good observer wrote, “The government of Tunis is at present...

    • IV The Religious Establishment (pp. 146-183)

      There was one group in Husaynid Tunisia, aside from the state, whose activities and influence transcended the smaller units of family, tribe, quarters, and guilds within which most of daily life was circumscribed. This group derived authority from the claim to understand and interpret the ultimate values that give meaning to life. The custodians of religious truth, they formed “the religious establishment.”

      Who were the members of the religious establishment and how did they fit into daily life? One can answer these questions by imagining the contacts the average sedentary Tunisian of at least modest means might have had with...

    • V … And the Ruled (pp. 184-204)

      The Husaynids ruled over perhaps one to one and a half million persons, at most. An estimated two-thirds to three-fourths were sedentary, the remainder nomadic.¹ Even by the standards of the day, before the great world-wide population explosion, this was a a small population. In terms both of people and of land Tunisia was of modest size. The area under Husaynid political control—with all due reservations about the nebulous nature of the southern boundary—was perhaps 48,000 square miles, roughly the size of Louisiana.

      With a small population, a territory of manageable size, most of which was easily accessible...

  10. PART TWO The Westernizing World of Ahmad Bey
    • INTRODUCTION TO PART TWO (pp. 207-208)

      The study of the ruling elite and their links with Tunisian society, as set out in Part One, revealed a working political order that had evolved out of Tunisian experience. The resulting system was neither static (thingsdidchange) nor idyllic, but there was a definable, largely self-sufficientsystem. A logical pattern, comprehensible to the participants, governed the relations among the several parts. The historian could approach his subject with a wide angle lens.

      In Part Two the focus of interest narrows to present in sharper detail a smaller cast of characters for the brief span of an eighteen-year reign....

    • VI Ahmad Bey (pp. 209-236)

      On October 10, 1837, Ahmad Bey became ruler of the beylik of Tunis. His father had died earlier that same day, and in accordance with custom, the important officials immediately gathered to offer the bay‘a to the new bey. Just two months later he would observe his thirty-first birthday.

      What little we know of the young Ahmad Bey before he became the tenth member of the Husaynid family to rule over Tunisia is largely confined to the years immediately preceding 1837, when he was beginning to assume responsibility and thus command public attention. Consistent with traditional Arabo-Muslim canons of biography,...

    • VII Tunisia and an Encroaching Outside World (pp. 237-260)

      Husaynid Tunisia was accustomed to live surrounded by more powerful states, and a pattern of diplomatic responses attuned to such a reality was well established. Yet, if Tunisia’s statesmen were prepared to heed foreign developments, they had nevertheless been molded by a set of power relationships that no longer existed when Ahmad Bey began to rule. Nominally provincial governors owing allegiance to the Ottoman sultan, the beys of Tunis had come to expect only sporadic and half-hearted interference from Istanbul. When in trouble they might make pro forma appeals to the sultan just as they might respond to occasional calls...

    • VIII Military Reforms (pp. 261-312)

      Nothing better illustrates Husaynid Tunisia as part of a larger Ottoman political culture than the story of efforts to Westernize the military. The Tunisian experience is strikingly similar to that of the Ottoman Empire and Egypt in methods attempted, the sequence in which innovations were introduced, successes, failures, and even unplanned consequences.

      In all three there was a wholesale, often quite uncritical, borrowing of Western military techniques and methods, even extending to such seemingly irrelevant details as type of uniform and parade drill procedures. All imported Western military advisers to train the new armies. All established European-style military schools to...

    • IX Marks of Modernity (pp. 313-334)

      European contemporaries of Ahmad Bey and later writers as well have been selective in their judgments of him. He has been generally condemned for wasteful expenditures. His penchant for what are taken to be the superficial aspects of European civilization has been noted, usually with disdain. There are numerous disparaging references to his building a Tunisian Versailles at Muhammadiya. On the other hand, most writers applaud his liberal attitude toward the church and toward the Jewish community living in Tunisia, seeing this as a move away from Muslim fanaticism. Ahmad’s initiatives in freeing slaves have also met with almost universal...

    • X The Fatal Flaw (pp. 335-350)

      Man is always tempted to explain great turning points in terms of a single individual. Carlyle insisted on the hero in history. Pascal claimed that if only Cleopatra’s nose had been shorter, the whole face of the earth would have been changed. Parson Weems, lustily echoed by subsequent generations of schoolmarms, depicted George Washington as the father of his country. Russian peasants, groaning under institutionalized oppression, clung to the belief that if only the tsar knew, their burden would be lifted. Such notions, whether sophisticated or simple, bespeak the urge to simplify and individualize history.

      The historian knows he must...

  11. Conclusion: The Meaning of it all (pp. 353-368)

    On 30 May 1855 Ahmad Bey died. His cousin, Muhammad Bey, was immediately called in to receive the bay‘a khassa. The following day he received the bay‘a ‘amma. The consular community duly noted that the succession had taken place without incident. They even voiced the optimism, characteristic in witnesses to a new reign, that things might now get better. “In a word,” French Consul Rousseau informed his government, “Tunis is not only calm but is given over to a sentiment of joy which creates confidence in a better future and the hope of soon seeing wise and useful reforms change...

  12. APPENDIX I Husaynid Marriage Patterns (pp. 369-371)
  13. APPENDIX II Provincial Qaids (pp. 372-374)
  14. APPENDIX III A Note on Population (pp. 375-378)
  15. GLOSSARY (pp. 379-382)
  16. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 383-398)
  17. INDEX (pp. 399-409)
  18. Back Matter (pp. 410-410)