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Army Reform and Elite Movements between the Maghrib and the Near East (1830-1912)

During the "long 19th century”, the southern and eastern Mediterranean was characterized by profound transformation, in which intra-Muslim relations played a crucial role. This project explores the role these relations played with respect to army reform, which here becomes the prism through which less exposed aspects of political reorganization in the region will be scrutinized. The creation of a standing army can actually be considered as one of the key elements in the course of the creation and/or consolidation of centralized statehood. It aimed at internal societal mobilization and control as well as at the drawing of frontiers, or, at times, expansionism. At the local and national level, both dynamics met with practical problems and created new demands for legitimization. Moreover army reform did not evolve in terms of dependence on and/or opposition to Europe alone. Indeed, the historical experience of reform as well as the frames of reference were never a function of political or socio-cultural boundaries, given the horizontal mobility of religious and politico-military elites and the appeal of translocal identities within the Muslim world. Conversely, the experiences of reform and frames of reference were themselves affected by change. Working from the perspective of concrete actors, the project intends to reconstruct how contacts and references across borders within the Muslim world have shaped the appropriation/creation of forms of modern statehood and how these in turn influenced such contacts and references. The first sub-project (part 1) explores encounters by members of the Moroccan military and learned elites with reforms and reformism(s) in North Africa and the Near East. The second sub-project (part 2) studies a specific group of Arab-Ottoman officers active in different countries of the region, with reference to the quality of their experts, instructors and consultants. The third sub-project (part 3) looks at army reform in Egypt and Egyptian expansionism from a scholar and scholarly literature perspective at the Azhar mosque university.

project publications

Part 1

Itineraries of the "(New) Order” – Moroccan encounters with North African and Near Eastern reformism

Bettina Dennerlein

Bettina Dennerlein challenges generalizations regarding the degree and impact of the ‘Muslim’ (i.e., Algerian, Egyptian, Ottoman, Tunisian...) influence on Moroccan army reform, by looking at the concrete experiences, strategies and perceptions of individual actors. She starts from two basic assumptions. Firstly, reform in general should be understood in terms of a multitude of practices, points of view, ideas, techniques and institutions. Secondly, the intra-Muslim space for implementing and experimenting with new techniques and models of order can by no means be considered a homogeneous one, nor was it free from conflict. By exploring the lives and activities of different members of the Moroccan administrative and scholarly elites in touch with developments in the region, this study seeks to reconstitute the forms, conditions, and possible impact of individual encounters and experiences with North African and Middle Eastern reforms.

Part 2

Army reform as a profession and transnational experiment : Arab-Ottoman experts in Morocco at the beginning of the 20th Century

Odile Moreau

Odile Moreau examines a group of Arab-Ottoman officers and military reform experts who came to Morocco at the beginning of the 20th century and how they contributed to military reform in Morocco. Their expert knowledge had been accumulated in reform experiments in different areas of the Middle East and North Africa. This project seeks to contribute to the social history of interaction between the southern countries of the Mediterranean. By tracing the socio-cultural trajectory of Ottoman military experts, it follows a micro-historical approach. At the same time, this case study will allow us to examine their professional careers more closely in order to outline the category of professional expertise in the Muslim Mediterranean at the beginning of the 20th century.

Part 3

Discourses of legitimation in the age of reform. The Azhar, the Army and Egyptian Expansionism (1822-1882)

Dyala Hamzah

Dyala Hamzah looks at the creation of Egypt’s standing army (1822) and the novel wars it waged during the 19th century from the point of view of Azhar mosque university scholars. She asks whether and if so, how Islamic theories of government and political order (siyâsa shar‘iyya, khilâfa) were transformed in the wake of state centralization and expansionism; and whether specific jurisprudential concepts, such as ‘abd, dhimmî, jihâd, etc., were affected in any way by military reform itself. In order to gauge the social relevance of ulema, the scope of their networks, and the translocal significance of their ideas across the Ottoman Empire (and beyond), she examines the conditions of production for scholarly literature as a whole in the context of reform, with particular focus on legal advice literature (fatâwâ). Ultimately, she aims at establishing the persistence of Azhar scholars’ power of legitimation vs. the new, competing world views that had begun to emerge from bureaucratic and technical rationale and practice.