Beylik of Tunis

The Beylik of Tunis was a largely autonomous governorate (beylik) of the Ottoman Empire founded on July 15, 1705, after the Husainid Dynasty led by Al-Husayn I ibn Ali at-Turki defeated the Turkish Deys, that controlled what is now Tunisia.

Beylik of Tunis

بايليك تونس  (Arabic)
Beyliğ-i Tunus  (Ottoman Turkish)
Anthem: "Salam al-Bey"
The Beylik of Tunis in 1707
StatusBeylik of the Ottoman Empire
Common languagesTunisian Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, Judeo-Tunisian Arabic, Berber
Sunni Islam and Judaism
Al-Husayn I ibn Ali at-Turki
Muhammad III as-Sadiq
15 July 1705
12 May 1881
CurrencyTunisian rial (to 1891)
Tunisian franc (1891 on)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Ottoman Tunisia
French protectorate of Tunisia
Today part of Tunisia

Ottoman beylik

Although defeating the Deys, Tunisia continued to be a vassal of the Ottoman Empire and the Friday prayer was pronounced in the name of the Ottoman Sultan, money was coined in his name, and an annual ambassador brought gifts to Constantinople, but the Ottomans never again exacted obedience.

In the 19th century, the country became mostly autonomous, although it was still officially an Ottoman province. In 1861, Tunisia enacted the first constitution in the Arab world, but a move toward independence was hampered by the poor economy and political unrest. In 1869, Tunisia declared itself bankrupt, and an international financial commission with representatives from France, United Kingdom, and Italy took control over the economy.

Husaynid Beys

As holders of the office of Bey the Husaynid Dynasty effectively ruled Tunisia as sovereigns from 1705 to 1881; thereafter they continued to merely reign until 1957. In Ottoman theory perhaps until 1881 the Bey of Tunis remained a vassal of the Ottoman Empire (the Friday prayer was pronounced in the name of the Ottoman Sultan, money was coined in his honor, and an annual ambassador once brought gifts to Constantinople) but for centuries the Ottomans were not able to depend on, or exact, the obedience of the Tunisian Bey.[2] In 1881 the French created their protectorate which lasted until 1956. During this period the beylical institution was retained; the Husaynid Bey served as titular head of state but it was the French who actually ruled the country. After achieving its full independence Tunisia declared itself a republic in 1957; the beylical office was terminated and the Husaynid dynasty came to an end.[3][4]

The dynastic founder Husayn ibn Ali (1669–1740, r.1705–1735), an Ottoman cavalry officer (agha of the spahis) of Cretan origin, managed to acquire the sovereign power in 1705. His military units were included in those Tunisian forces that fought and defeated the then Algerian invasion. The Turkish janissary then selected their own Dey as the new ruler. Husayn ibn Ali, however, opposed the Dey and sought the backing of Tunisian khassa (notables), the ulama and the religious, as well as local tribes. Thus, though also a Turkish-speaking foreigner, he worked to obtain native loyalties against the Turkish soldiery and eventually prevailed. Accordingly, as ruler he sought to be perceived as a popular Muslim interested in local issues and prosperity. He appointed as qadi a Tunisian Maliki jurist, instead of an Hanafi preferred by the Ottomans. He also restricted the legal prerogatives of the janissary and the Dey. Under Husayn b. Ali as Bey of Tunis support was provided to agriculture, especially planting olive orchards. Public works were undertaken, e.g., mosques and madrassa (schools). His popularity was demonstrated in 1715 when the kapudan-pasha of the Ottoman fleet sailed to Tunis with a new governor to replace him; instead Husayn Bey summoned council, composed of local civil and military leaders, who backed him against the Ottoman Empire, which then acquiesced.[5]

In 1735 a succession dispute erupted between his nephew Ali (1688–1756, r.1735–1755) and his son Muhammad (1710–1759, r.1755–1759) who challenged his cousin. A divisive civil war was fought; it ended in 1740 with Ali's uncertain victory. This result was reversed in 1756 after ten more years of fighting, but not without further meddling by Algeria.[6]

Early Husaynid policy required a careful balance among several divergent parties: the distant Ottomans, the Turkish-speaking elite in Tunisia, and local Tunisians (both urban and rural, notables and clerics, landowners and remote tribal leaders). Entanglement with the Ottoman Empire was avoided due to its potential ability to absorb the Bey's prerogatives; yet religious ties to the Ottoman Caliph were fostered, which increased the prestige of the Beys and helped in winning approval of the local ulama and deference from the notables. Janissaries were still recruited, but increasing reliance was placed on tribal forces. Turkish was spoken at the apex, but use of Arabic increased in government use. Kouloughlis (children of mixed Turkish and Tunisian parentage) and native Tunisians notables were given increased admittance into higher positions and deliberations. The Husaynid Beys, however, did not themselves intermarry with Tunisians; instead they often turned to the institution of mamluks for marriage partners. Mamluks also served in elite positions.[7] The dynasty never ceased to identify as Ottoman, and thereby privileged. Nonetheless, the local ulama were courted, with funding for religious education and the clerics. Local jurists (Maliki) entered government service. Marabouts of the rural faithful were mollified. Tribal shaykhs were recognized and invited to conferences. Especially favored at the top were a handful of prominent families, Turkish-speaking, who were given business and land opportunities, as well as important posts in the government, depending on their loyalty.[8][9]

The French Revolution and reactions to it negatively affected European economic activity leading to shortages which provided business opportunities for Tunisia, i.e., regarding goods in high demand but short in supply, the result might be handsome profits. The capable and well-regarded Hammouda Pasha (1782–1813) was Bey of Tunis (the fifth) during this period of prosperity; he also turned back an Algerian invasion in 1807, and quelled a janissary revolt in 1811.[10]

After the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Britain and France secured the Bey's agreement to cease sponsoring or permitting corsair raids, which had resumed during the Napoleonic conflict. After a brief resumption of raids, it stopped.[11] In the 1820s economic activity in Tunisia took a steep downturn. The Tunisian government was particularly affected due to its monopoly positions regarding many exports. Credit was obtained to weather the deficits, but eventually the debt would grow to unmanageable levels. Tunisia had sought to bring up to date its commerce and trade. Yet different foreign business interests began to increasingly exercised control over domestic markets; imports of European manufactures often changed consumer pricing which could impact harshly on the livelihood of Tunisian artisans, whose goods did not fare well in the new environment. Foreign trade proved to be a Trojan Horse.[12][13]

Under the French Protectorate (1881–1956) the Husaynid Beys continued in a largely ceremonial rôle. Following independence a republic was declared in 1957, ending the Husaynid dynasty.

Age of modern reform

Islamic Context

The sense of urgency for such reform stemmed from the intrusion of modernism. The cultural stream of interest and invention coming from the Christian Europeans caused many Muslims to search for a proper and adequate response. Merely to learn the foreign ways risked becoming alienated from one's own people and faith, yet modern science and technology, and perhaps government and social culture also, were becoming an ever-increasing challenge. The desire to reform appeared across the Muslim world, among the Ottomans and among the more remote Iranians and Mughals, as well as the Arabs. If for no other reason than the performance of European armies and fleets, these modern ways were necessary to master. Devout Muslims realized that a proper place must be located in their tradition for this wealth of the new.

Several early reformers presented different remedies, which when repeated were often expressed as general ideologies, e.g., the pan-Islamic, the pan-Arabic, the pan-Turkic, the nationalist. Some Islamic reforms were sourced wholly within Islam and actually pre-dated the modern, making no reference to it, e.g., wahabism. Yet reformed or not, Muslims were adopting the European inventions one piece at a time, day after day, year after year. If Muslim societies continued to so evolve under the influence of the modern, yet without a context of understanding, the coherence of tradition might come apart. Christians, too, of Europe and of the Americas, were faced with similar dilemmas, had been for centuries; their various solutions were complex and not always satisfactory, nor for everyone. Yet for Muslims the problem was different. Christians experienced modernity as generated mainly by their own creativity, which gave its possessors an initial edge over others. Muslims noticed in them a widespread increase in non-belief.[14]

Ottoman Tanzimat

Idealized depiction of first Ottoman constitution, issued by the sultan, effective 1876 to 1878; flying angel shows motto: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity[15]

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Ottoman rulers pursued a broad range of difficult reforms, e.g., in education, in justice, in government, and not least in the military.[16] The second major wave of reform, called the Tanzimat [Turkish: "regulations"], began in the early 19th century and lasted into the 20th. In 1839 the well-known Hatt-i Sherif [Turkish: "Noble Decree"] was ceremoniously read from the Gülhane ["Rose Garden"] to an assembled elite;[17] it outlined anticipated changes in several substantive policies: a) taxes, their fair assessment and collection (avoiding the use of monopolies to raise revenue and terminating the tax farm); b) the military, the conscription of soldiery to be equitable and proportionately spread over the provinces; c) civil liberties, citizens to be secure in their property, criminal procedure to be public, and the different religions treated equally; and, d) the new Council of Judicial Ordinances (established in 1838) designated as the consultative and legislative body, and charged to carry out this work. This articulation of broad principles led to its very gradual and fragmented implementation during the next 40 years.[18] The course of Ottoman reform was erratic, the source of division among elites, and while continuously pursued could prove dangerous to its proponents.[19]

European trade

Starting early in the 19th century, Tunisia under came increasingly under European influence. Under the Husaynid Beys, trade and commerce with the Europeans increased year after year. Permanent residences were established in Tunis by many more foreign merchants, especially Italians. In 1819 at French insistence the Bey agreed to quit with finality corsair raids. Also the Bey agreed with France to terminate his revenue policy whereby government agents dominated foreign trade by monopolizing the export of Tunisian goods; this change in policy opened the country to international commercial firms. In 1830 the Bey (as in theory head of a de jure Ottoman province) reluctantly accepted responsibility to enforce in Tunisia the capitulation treaties negotiated by France, and various other European powers, with the Ottoman Empire over the course of several centuries.[20] Under these treaties, European merchants enjoyed extraterritorial privileges while within Ottoman domains, including the right to have their resident consuls act as the judge in legal cases involving their national's civil obligations.[21] Also in 1830 the French royal army occupied the central coastal lands in neighboring Algeria.[22] At that time, they were inexperienced about and lacked the knowledge of how to develop a colony.[23]

Ahmad Bey

Ahmad Bey, tenth Husaynid Bey of Tunisia (1837–1855)

Ahmad Bey (1806–1855, r.1837–1855) assumed the throne during this complex and evolving situation. Following the examples of the Ottoman Empire under sultan Mahmud II (r.1808–1839), and of Egypt under Muhammad Ali (r.1805–1849), he moved to intensify a program to update and upgrade the Tunisian armed forces. A military school was founded and various new industries started to supply an improved army and navy. In a major step, the Bey initiated the recruitment and conscription of individual Tunisians (instead of foreigners or by tribes) to serve in the army and navy, a step which would work to reduce the customary division between the state and its citizens. Yet the corollary of tax increases for these military innovations were not popular, nor adequate.[24]

Regarding the Ottoman relationship, Ahmad Bey continued the previous beylical policy, in that he would decline or reject political attachment to the Ottoman state in order to remain free of imperial control, yet he welcomed religious ties to the Ottoman Caliphate for the prestige it brought him domestically and to discourage European state interference. Accordingly, Ahmad Bey repeatedly refused to apply in Tunisia the Ottoman Tanzimat legal reforms concerning citizen rights, i.e., those of the Hatt-i Sherif of 1839. Instead, he instituted progressive laws of his own, showing native Tunisian authority in the modernizing project and hence the redundancy of importing any of the Ottoman reforms. The Slave trade was abolished in 1841, slavery in 1846. Yet for many Tunisians these civil law reforms had limited application.[25][26]

As part of his maneuvering to maintain Tunisia's sovereignty, Ahmad Bey sent 4,000 Tunisian troops against the Russian Empire during the Crimean War (1854–1856). In doing so he allied Tunisia with Turkey, France, and Britain.[27] {IN PROGRESS}

Hayreddin Pasha

Hayreddin Pasha

Hayreddin Pasha (Khayr al-Dīn al-Tūnisī) (1820-1890) led the Tunisian government as its chief minister (1873–1877). He was a pragmatic activist who reacted against poor conditions in Muslim states, and looked to Europe for solutions. He applied the Islamic concept of "maṣlaḥah" (or public interest), to economic issues. He emphasized the central role of justice and security in economic development. He was a major advocate of "tanẓīmāt" (or modernization) for Tunisia's political and economic systems.[28]

French protectorate

Tunisia became a protectorate of France on May 12, 1881, after the French claimed that Tunisian troops had crossed the border into their colony of Algeria. Tunisia later received its independence from France on March 20, 1956.

See also


  1. Retrieved July 2008.
  2. Kenneth J. Perkins, A History of Modern Tunisia (Cambridge University 2004) at 13–14.
  3. Jamil M. Abun-Nasr, History of the Maghrib (Cambridge University 1971) at 278–279, and 353–354.
  4. Perkins, Tunisia (Westview 1986) at 61–67, 85.
  5. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib (Cambridge University 1971) p. 180.
  6. Perkins, Tunisia (Westview 1986) at 61–62.
  7. In Tunisian practice, non-Muslim slave youths were purchased in Ottoman markets, educated with royal scions in high government service and in the Muslim religion, converted, given high echelon posts, and often married to royal daughters. Mamluks would number about 100. Perkins, Tunisia (Westview 1986) at 63.
  8. Cf., Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib (1971) at 182–185.
  9. Perkins, Tunisia (Westview 1986) at 62–63, 66.
  10. Perkins, Tunisia (Westview 1986) at 64.
  11. Cf., Julien, History of North Africa (Paris 1931, 1961; London 1970) at 328.
  12. Lucette Valensi, Le Maghreb avant la prise d'Alger (Paris 1969), translated as On the Eve of Colonialism: North Africa before the French conquest (New York: Africana 1977); cited by Perkins (1986) at 67.
  13. Perkins, Tunisia (Westview 1986) at 64–67.
  14. Cf., Albert Hourani, Arab Thought in the Liberal Age 1798–1939 (Oxford University 1962, 1967) at 123.
  15. Turkey's first short-lived constitution was proclaimed in 1876. Vucinich, The Ottoman Empire (1965) at 101–103, 108; Shaw & Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (1977) at II: 174–178; Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries (1977) at 511–516. Additional remark: There is a handwritten notation in French at the bottom of the Image, whose provenance is unknown, which refers to a "1ere constitution Ottomane sous Abdul-Hamid – 3 décembre 1905". None of the above three authorities appear to refer to such a 'first constitution' of '1905'.
  16. Wayne S. Vucinich, The Ottoman Empire: Its record and legacy (Princeton: Van Nostrand 1965) at 89–108. The Turkish reform sought to transform culture and included details such as the style of dress.
    "Like Peter the Great of Russia, Mahmud II showed interest in the appearance of his subjects. A decree was issued in 1829 regulating civilian dress. The North African fez, a red headdress of Moroccan origin, was adopted as the [Ottoman] national headgear in place of the traditional fur-ringed shubara."
    Vucinich (1965) at 92. Cf., Vasili Klyuchevsky, Kurs Russkoi Istorii, volume 4 (1907), translated as Peter the Great (New York: Randon House/Vintage 1958, 1961) at 267. Nearly a century later under Atatürk's reforms, the fez was itself abolished by law along with a large catelogue of social customs and institutions. Toynbee and Kirkwood, Turkey (New York: Scribner 1927) at 135, 272–273.
  17. Vucinich, The Ottoman Empire (1965) at 93, 159–161.
  18. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Cambridge University 1977) at II: 59–61.
  19. The career of the high official Ahmet Şefik Midhat Paşa (1822–1884) illustrates the Tanzimat reformer who becomes Grand Vezir and instrumental in the first constitution of 1876, only to fall from the sultan's favor, be tried on false charges and later killed. Shaw and Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Cambridge University 1977) at II: 66–69 (career), 174–175 (constitution), 180, 216 (trial, exile, and death).
  20. Perkins, Tunisia (Westview 1986) at 69.
  21. Stanford J. Shaw, History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey (Cambridge University 1976) at I: 29–30, 97–98, and (re French capitulations of 1569) 177.
  22. Richard M. Brace, Morocco Algeria Tunisia (Prentice-Hall 1964) at 34–36.
  23. "French Colonization in North Africa". JSTOR 1944685. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  24. Perkins, Tunisia (Westview 1989) at 69–72.
  25. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib (1971) at 259–275.
  26. Perkins, Tunisia (1989) at 72.
  27. Rinehart, "Historical Setting" 1–70, at 27, in Tunisia. A country study (3rd ed., 1987).
  28. Abdul Azim Islahi, "Economic ideas of a nineteenth century Tunisian statesman: Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi." Hamdard Islamicus (2012): 61-80 online.

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