** slavery in the Middle East and North Africa early modrrn era

Slavery in the Middle East and North Africa: Early-modern Era

Figure 1.-- Franec began colonizing North Africa (1830). Algeria was from the berginning the major colony. The Second Republic abolished slavery in all French colonies, including Algeria (1848). This outlawed the slave trade and slavery illegal in Algeria, Tunisia, and the rest of France’s colonial empire. Yet thousands of slaves, mainly women and children, continued to be sold, bought and freed. [Brower] French photograohrs began to establish studios and we begin to see images like this. There weas a market for ethnographic photograohs. The CDV mount looks ti have been taken in the 1860s. Here there was no accoimpoanying information. We do not know who these two women and the boy are. But because they are not veiled, we suspect that the women are slaves and because the boy is prbably one of their sons. That would make him a slave as well. He looks to be the son of gheir owner. It is difficult to tell. Note that both women have jewlry, which suggests a degree of status. We are still assessing the image. We note many similar images from British-influenced Egypt. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

The Islamic Caliphate conquered Christian provinces in the Middle East and North Africa in which slvery had already began to decline. After only about a cenury, the Caliphate began to splintet early in the medivl peiod giving rise to largly independent emirates. Slavery contginued to decline as the Koran discourged Muslims from enslavng other Muslims. Manumission of Muslim slaves was promoted as a way of expiating sins. [Gordon, p. 40.] Thus there was a strong motivation for slaves to become Muslims. Slavery continued largely through importing captive Africans, For nerarly a millenium, the African slave trade was almost entirely based on the Muslim world importing captive Aftricans, This only changed to ny significant extent when Portuguese navigators began moving south aling the western coast of Africa to fund trade routes to the East, India and China (15th century). Soon the political labndscape changed when the Ottoman Empire conquered the the Arab lands of the Middle East including Egypt and gained control over North Africa (16th century). With this the Ottomans inherited the Indian Ocean and Trans-Saharan slave trade. Major battles were fought with the Christian powers, especially Spain, for control of the Mediterranean. While Ottoman control over North East was tenuous, the Middle East becanme Ottoman provinces. North Africa evolved into largey independent emirates. This was a time of huge ecomonic and political chnage. Europe developed modern science and increasinly productive progress. The Ottoman Empire made much less progress and came to rely on Christian Europe for technology. The North African emirates made almost no technologicl and economic progress. Slavery in accpoted in Islamic, but has no racial basis, but in practice this was not a clear cut matter. [BBC] This was because many captives were taken from non-Muslim areas, especially Africa. And the enslavement of non-Muslims was a well establihed practice and sanctioned by the Koran. The Ottoman slave trade before the conquest of the Arab lands, captutredc asnd enslaved Christins in eastern and central Europe and the Caucasus. The semi-autnomous North African emirates conductcd the Barbary Coast slave trade. They had two sources for captives to enslave. These emirates had been participging in th ranbs-Sahzrn slve trades for centurius. They also conducte slave tring raids along Europe's southern coast, some tgimes reching Irelnd and Britin. (The Gilbert and Sullivan 'HMS Pinafore' opertta is not entirely fannciful.) But the rise in he Mediterranran serious ffected costal communities. The decline of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Europe gradully changed the power dynamic, ending Ottoman slave raiding. Particularly lucrativd was ransoming the captives. The Barbary Pirates continud raiding Mediterranean shipping into the 19th century. The major powers gerally paid off the Barnaryn emirates as a cost effctivde approch. The young American republic decided to take them on. Britain using the Royal Navy launched a campaign to end the slave trade (1807) and eventually slavery itself in the Emnpire (1835). The British effort to end thev slkave trade would take decades. One of the most difficult problems, especially when dealing with Arab states was the entrenched support entertwined with Islam for the slave trade and slavery. Britain established a protectorate in Egypt, largly because of the Suez Canal (1869). They moved to close the important slave market in Cairo and end slave trading in Egypt and Sudan. This resulted in the Madist rebellion in Sudan (1881-98). It was finlly ended by the last great calvalry charge of history--in which a young Winston Churchill participated. Slavery persisted t losw leverl in rabia , the OIttoman Empire and Iran.France began colonizing North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco) as well as large areas of Western and Central Africas part of the Scrable for Africa (1880s-90s). France also abolished slvery in its colonies (1848), but was not as agressive as Britain in intrfering wih Arab society. And thus slavery persisted at a low level in French colonies. [Brower] This seems to reflct how entrencvhed slavery was in Islkamic socieryty. And it helped to avoid incidents like the Madist revolt in their colonies.


Brower, Benjamin Claude. "Rethinking abolition in Algeria: Slavery and the "Indigenous Question," Etudesafricaines (2009), pp 805-28.


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Created: 4:49 PM 3/15/2022
Last updated: 4:49 PM 3/15/2022