Inventing Tribes: The Ottomans, the “Çöl Beğliği” (Desert Emirate), and the Mawali Bedouin of NorthernSyria, 1536-1769
Prof. Dr. Stefan Winter
NOVEMBER 11, 2019
Abstract: The Mawali are considered one of the leading Bedouin Arab confederations of Ottoman Syria, invested by sultan Süleyman I with the “çöl beğliği” or emirate over the entire desert interior. So why do they not appear as such in any historical documentation before the 17th century? This paper traces the relatively late incorporation of the Mid-Euphrates Valley and the Syrian desert into the Ottoman Empire in the mid-16th century, when it was placed under the effective control of local Bedouin notables co-opted by the state to better police and tax the nomad population. It then examines the careers of the Abu Rish and al-‘Abbas families and their official appointment, beginning in the 17th century, to the çöl beyliği, an institution the Ottomans inherited from the Mamluks but also redefined in order to favor the settlement of new nomad tribes from Anatolia in the early 18th century. If both families originally owed their status to their designation as provincial sancak governors rather than as autonomous tribal leaders, it is their increasing recognition as chiefs of the so-called “Mawali” confederation and even as “kings” over the entire Arab population that came to define their place in both Ottoman and European sources of the time. The lecture ends with a look at the emirate’s reabsorption into the provincial government of Aleppo and finally its elimination in the 19th century, suggesting its history be understood as a key but transient phase in the extension of modern state authority into the Syrian desert hinterland.
Bio: Stefan Winter is a native of Québec city, Canada. He studied Middle Eastern and Islamic history in Toronto, Erlangen, Damascus and at Bilkent University before earning his PhD under Cornell Fleischer at the University of Chicago in 2002. He works mainly on the history of rural Syria in the Ottoman period and has published two monographs, The Shiites of Lebanon under Ottoman Rule (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and A History of the ‘Alawis: From Medieval Aleppo to the Turkish Republic (Princeton University Press, 2016). He joined the College of Social Sciences and Humanities at Koç University in 2018.