Arab Slavery: Country Trends

Figure 1.-

We have limited information on slavery in individual Arab countries. The subject is ciomplicated bcause the history of modern Arab countries include both pre- and post Islamic eras. And the pre-Islamic era inclused contril by different political regimes, inclusing the Roman/Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire among other political regimes. Slavery was a common cionditiin in the ancient world, but varied wuidely. Greece and Rome had large slave poulations, but Egypt amd Mesopotamia did not. And the pre-Islamic population and cultures of most Arab countries outside the Arabian Peninsula was not Arab. And the soures of slaves also varied. A further complication is the African ciountries that were not Arab, but where the skave trade centered on Arab skavers. Information on slavery is limited, especially in the early periods. There are a variety of sources that can be used. There are some surviving historical texts. And there are some paintings, although Islamic discouragement of the visual arts limited such depictions. And by the 19th and early 20th century there are even some photographic evidence from various countries. And the history of slavery in Arab countries is not a purely historical topic. As late as World War II, slavery persisted in a number of Arab countries. And even after independence it continued to be legal orat any rate widely oparctyiced. This was the case because there are Koranic verses legitimizing slavery. As a resuklt it has persisted in several Muslim ciountries. Slavery and the slave trade continues in several most North African and and Sahel countries. The Sudan has an especially ugly history in the modern era as a country allowing slavery. Maurutania and Mali are two other problem countries.


Modern Algrria was another lair of the Barabry Pirates.


Slavery existed for much of the 19th century in Egypt. Slavery in the Khedivate was not unlike slavery in Ancient Egypt. The great bulk of the labor force was the landless peasantry. Slaves were a small part of the labor force and concentrated in a few specific activities. Slavery followed the pattern set during earlier historical periods, most recently Egypt's position as a province of the Ottoman Empire. Slavery was similar in Egyopt to that of the wider Arab world. The Mamuluks were destinctive to Egypt. Egypt had access to as well as access to African slaves and until the early-19th century had access to the European catives of the Barbary pirates. There were both white and black slaves as well as male and female slaves. Slavery gradually disappeared in Egypt during the 19th century. Formal abolition was just part of this transition. Although defeated by the Ottomans and Napoleon, the Mamluks still had considerable influence in Egypt and important positions. They were annililated in a great massacre conducted by Muhammed Ali (1811). This ended their rule as a ruling aristocracy. They continued to play an important role in the military and government administration. Many Mamluks and other white make slaves were owned by Turks (non-Arab Ottomans) and increasingly wealthy Egyptians. [Baer, p. 147.] The slave population of Egypt during the 19th century was an estimasted 20,000-30,000, although there is no precise accounting. Certainly they were a small fraction out of out of the overall populstion of about 5 million people. About half of Egyptian slaves were concentrated in Egyot. The number of slaves in Cairo has been estimated at 12,000-15,000 in a city of about 350,000 people. Female slaves might be kept in harems. Wealthy Turks preferred Circassian females (white women who were primarily obtained in the Caucasus). More humble Egyptain harems were more commonly Abyssinians (Africans). While male and female Negro slaves were commonly used as domestic servants. Black slaves were used as soldiers as well as the decling number of Mamluks. African slaves were also used as agricultural labor, although this was a very small part of the largely peasant labor force. The estates of the Muhammed Ali family were worked by African slaves. [Baer] The supression of the slave trade was largely brought about by the British. The first major step was the First Anglo-Egyptian Convention (1877). One focus of the effort was the Sudan. Sudan was seen by Egyptian officials as a part of Egypt. The Sudan was more traditional than Egypt itself and a more austere form of Islam widely followed. And the slave trade was an important part of the economy whoch was not the case in Egypt. British governors were appointed in the Sudan. The most notable was Charles "Chinese" Girdon. Special missions were dispatched to supress the slave trade. The Mahdist revolution delayed the effort in the Sudan (1881). More aggressive steps were taken after the establishment of the British Protectorate (1882).



Sultan Sayyid Said of Oman (1806-56) conquered all the coastal city-states along the Indian Ocean north of Cape Delgado in northern Mozambique (early 19th century). He established a thriving Indian Ocean commercial empire. He did not, however, move militarily against the Bantu clans in the interior. Controling the ports gave him a measure of influence and the abikity to profit economically fr trade. He moved his capital to Zanzibar, an island in present-day Tanzania. The clove plantations (Zanzibar) and the oil-palm groves (southern Somalia and Kenya) were major sources of the Sultan's income. They required a large labor force and this was met through the slave trade. The resulting slave trade was centered at Mombasa and Zanzibar. Captured Africans were brought from as far as Zaire. Swahili slavers would raid weak Bantu clans. They also traded for slaves from the stronger African states that were able to resist their deprdations. Reports of the cruelties involved brought the attention of the British whi after largely stopping the Atlantic slave trade began to move against the Eastern Slave Trade.


One of the primary goals of the Barbary Pirates was to take European captives. Large rasoms could be obtained by captives who were conected. The otherse condemned to slavery. This is in part just wht the somalu porates in more recent years were attempting to obtain. The Europeanms fiound it cheaper to pay tribute to the pirates. The new Amerixan Reopublic in its first foreign advebture used it new Navy to wage war. The orimary targetrs were the pirates in Tripoli.


Several chiefs during the middle ages began to expand their power through maritime trade with East Africa, the Middle East and India. Some of the most important were the Sakalava and Boina. The Arab slave trade became an important part of the economy. Madagascar tribal chiefs participated in the profitable export of slaves. Madagascar was the pimary source od slaves for the plantations on Mauritius and other Indian Ocean islands. Madagascar natives elected a king--Móric Beňovský (1776). Merina rulers became increasingly dominant (1790s). The British efforts to end the Indian Ocean Arab slave trade in the 19th century adversely affected the Sakalava as the Merina expanded their influence. The Merina ruler and the British governor of Mauritius signed a treaty abolishing the slave trade (1817). A second treaty further restructed slave trading (1820). The British helped replace income from the slave trade with military and financial assistance. Unaddressed by these treaties was domestic slave trading. At about the same time the Merina began importing slaves, a new phenomenon. This was one result of the growth of the Merina empire, the econony of which was based on slave labor. As the Merina expanded so did the demand fior slave labor. Slave-trade networks were relastively stable on Madadagascar, regardless of local rivalries. A major factor here was due largely to the Arab Antalaotra, an experienced body of traders. The Indian Karany supplied the needed financing. [Campbell] British influence was important, but France invaded Madagascar in what historians call the first Franco-Hova War (1882-85). The French broke the the Merina Empire. This created an unstable situaion on the island which temporarily exoabded the slace trade. It also caused the Creoles to demand French intervention. The French did so (1895). The French abolished slavery (1896). This, and the effective military occupation effectively endedthe slave trade on Madagascar.


David Livingstone was the first European to reach and report on the area that is now Malawi (1850s and 1860s). Cecil Rhodes's British South African Company was awarded a charter to develop the country (1884). His Compamy soon came into conflict with Arab slavers who continued to operate there (1887–89). Britain annexed what was then nammed Nyasaland (1891). It was made a protectorate (1892). Sir Harry Johnstone, the first high commissioner, employed Royal Navy gunboats to finally defeat the slavers.


The Mauritanian Muslim human rights activist, Biram Ould Abeid, astionished his countrymen by burning a collection of Islamic jurisprudence books. This suceeded the world’s attention to the plight of a Mauruitanian slaves. Amid charges that these books were largely responsible for the continuation of slavery by endowing it with Islamic religious legitimacy. He and a dozen other members of the non-profit organization Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (RA) set a collection of Maliki jurisprudence books on fire after the Friday communal prayer (April 28, 2012).


Modern Morocco wa a part of the Roman Empire. As the climate was different, North Africa was a grain producing region. We suspect that slaves were used on agricultural estates. We have little actually information on slavery during the Roman era. but exopect that they were mostly Europan captives and war prisoners. After the Arab conquest, important slave markets operated in North Africa (Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli and Cairo). The most established Moroccan slaves markets were in Tangier and Marrakesh). African slaves from the Senegal River area brought across the Sahara and sold in public places or in the established souks Markets). Very little information is available on the eaerly Moroccan slave trade. We know from more recent accounts that Potential buyers were allowed to carefully examine the offered 'merchandise'. We note the recent wiork of a scholar who writes that contrary to Islamic principles, Arabs and Berbers in northwest Africa imposed a racial slavery upon the black peoples of the region. He concebntrates on Sultan Mawlay Ismail's whi enslaved 221,000 black Moroccans (late-17th century) to form a substantial army at relatively low cost. These slave soldiers and their families managed to leverage the imoprtant contruibution to the Sultan's administration and gradually free themselves. Many later fell back into slavery after the demise of the Sultan's dynasty. The varying fortunes of e black Moroccans stand in contrast to Islamic claims of a non-racial brotherhood. [El Hamel] The Barbary Pirates also operated from what is now Morocco.


The Arabian peninsula juts out into the Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean. Thus as might be expected, the Sultanate of Oman played aajor role in commerce between Africa and the Middle East. Little is know about this trade in the early years after the Arab outburst (7th century AD). We do know that Muscat and the Sultanate of Oman was an important part of that trade and slaves were an important part of that commerce. More is know about after the arival of the Europeans in the Indian Ocean. Vasco de Gama reached the Cape of Good Hope (1488). This opened up the possibility of direct European trade with the Orient fir the first time. First thec Indian Ocdean had to be made safe for European shipping. The Battle of Diu premanently broke Muslim (Ottoman/Arab/Persian) naval dominance in the Indian Ocean (1509). This ended Muslim dominance of the Indian Ocean, but it did nor end Muslim (mostly Arab trade) in the Arabian Sea. And this included the trade in slaves. The numbers of enslaved Africans, primarily from East Africa, sold into the Middle East by Arab traders, however, is not well documented. Arab commerce was, however, limited by the fact that the Portuguese dominated much of the eastern coast of Africa south of what is now Somalia. The Portuguese were, however, by the end of the 17th century, the weakest of the European colonial powers. Omani ruler Saif bin Sultan decided to challenge Portuguese control of the western Indian Ocean by seizing their fortified trading posts (1690s). The first to fall to the Omanis was Fort Jesus which was at Mombasa in modern Kenya (north of Zanzibar). It fell after a 33-month seige (1699). The Omanis subsequently seized one Portugrese base after another as far south as Kilwa in modern Tanzania (south of Zanzibar). The island strionghold of Zanzibar fell (1699). It was more secure than the mainland outposts and became the center of Omani trade in East Africa, although the Omanis also garisoned Pemba (a smaller island near Zanzibar) and Kilwa. The Omanis did not give great attention to their African conquests. And they did not move inland, although Arab traders from their coadtab bases did set up trade networks inland. Products included gold, ivory, and slaves. Trade began to expand (late-18th century). The most importantv commercual centers Kilwa Kivinje (modern Kenya) and Bagamoyo, Lindi, Mikandani, Pangani, and Tanga (modern Tanzani)on the African mainland. Mikandani was the soutghernmost extent of Omani rule. The Portuguese held control of Mozambique to the south. Much of the trade from these outposts were chanelled through Muscat which became an especially importanht slave market for supplying the wider Middle East. Eventially the slavec trade became so important that the Sultanate seat of rule to Zanzibar. >br>

Saudi Arabia


Arabs and Moroccam Berbers conqquered Spain (8th century AD). They ruled nmuch of the country until Christioan monarchs finally completed the Reconquista with the seizure of Grenada in souther Spain (1492).


The slave trade in the Sudan has ancient origins. There is until the 19th century, however, only limited information on the dimensions of the slave trade. Geography was an important factor. The Sudan is composed of two different regions. The largely African, equitorial south and a Saharan north. The Blue and White Niles join in Sudan to provide a water route north to the Mediterannean. This is the only watrer route through the vast Sahara Desert. It is importsant because it provided a route through which where African captives taken in the south could be readily marketed. Egypt itself was not a slave society, in part because the peasanty were basically serfs tied to the land. There were slaves in Egypt and other anient civilizations such as Greece and Rome. Unlike Egypt, these weee salave societies. And references to Nubians suggest that they enslaved in the Sudan or through Cushite slave markets. Some believe that Aesop was a Nubian. We certainly knew Nubian slaves. There are many references to Nubians in Roman manucripts. It must be remembered, however, thar slsavery in the ancient world was not a racial matter and thus Nubian did not equate with slave. Another complication is that most Africans in Rome were called Nubians, including those with no connection to Cush. We are not sure just how important Nubian slaves were to Rome. Give the ditance from Rome and the fact that Rome never occupied Cush/Nubia militarily, we suspect that Nubians made up a basically small proportion of the Roman slave population. Perhaps mpdern DNA studies will shed some light on this. The slave trade continued into the Christian era and then into the Muslim era. We know this because of the 652 treaty between the Kushites and Arab invaders under which Kush would pay an annual tribute. This may sound like a small number, but this was just the tribute and does not address the trade between Kush/Nubia and Egypt which was probably many time the number of Africans delivered as tribute. Unfortunately the historical record is very limited until the arrival of the British and efforts to wipe out the slave trade (19th century). The British certsainly sharply reduced the slave trade, but did not end it. Even after independence (1956), the slave trade comtinued. And it became a factor in the civil war following independence. Press reports of the slasve trade in Sudan continue to this day.




The Barbary Pirates also operated from what is now Tunisia.


Turkey is not an Arab country, buiuthr Ottoman Empire for about 5 venturies cotolled or at least stringly influencd the Arab lands


Trade contacts between the Middle East, India, and East Africa date back to antiquity. Trade with Africa was for slaves, gold, ivory, and wood. After the Arab expansion (7th century AD), armed Arab merchants set up bases in Indian Ocean islands for security reasons. Zanzibar became the most important (10th century). It was not only a secure base for trade with East Africa, but it also was a source for spices, a particularly valuable trade commodity. They called Africa Zenj (black in Arabic) or Azania. The more important island bases became independent Muslim sultanates. On islands the Arab merchants were not ethnically swamped by the African population of the mainland. They developed mixed Arab-African populations. The early history of Zanzibar and the Arab presence is largely unknown. The oldest surviving edifice on Zanzibar is a mosque at Kizimkazi (1107). The dimensions of the slave trade in the early Arab period is unknown. Trade expanded and eventually attracted Indians who settled on Zanzibar as as shopkeepers, traders, and artisans. The Portuguese briefly ruled Zanzibar in the 16th century. When the British after the Napoleonic Wars began their campain to end the slave trade, it was apparent from an early point that the Sultan of Oman/Zanzibar was the key to ending the Arab slave trade in the Indian Ocean. The slave trade was largely overseen by the Sultan and allied African tribes. Zanzibar developed into the most important source of cloves as well as the largest slave trading center on the East African coast. The Sultan and other Omanis organised caravans into the interior of the East African mainland. It was not an entirely Omani Arab activity. The descdents of ethnic Indians living in Zanzibar, often working for for Bombay interests helped finance the slaving and other East African trade activities. The spice trade related to the slace trade, African slaves were used to grow and harvest cloves. And both were shipped to ports all along the Indian Ocean, including the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. Slaves were usually shipped Bagamoyo on the mainland to Zanzibar. The peak of East African slave trading through Zanzibar was probably reached with the development sugar and clove plantations on Mauritius and Reunion (18th century). The British began using diplomacy even before he Royal Navy had an effective presence in the Indian Ocean. They largely imposed the the Moresby Treaty (1822) and the Hamerton Treaty (1845) on the Sultan to limit the slave trade. These treaties were, however, only partially effecive. The British consul on Zanzibar took the lead in the anti-slave-trade movement in East Africa. The British offered guarantees of continued protection to the the Sultan if he would limit the scope of the slave trade (1850s). Finally Said's son, Barghash (1870-88), fearing that the British might simply seize his Empire agreed to a limited form of abolition (1873). Zanzibar became a British protectorate (1890) and after considerable agitation, authorities abolished slavery on the island. The slave owners, mostly Arabs operating spice plantations, were compensated.


Slavery has pre-Islamic roots in Yemen, a country pace astride imoortang trade routes between Africa and Arabia and on to the wider world. There are records of slaveryu dating to the 1st century BC, but also certainly predates this. Yemen played a role in the African slave trade. Geography was apart of this. Yemen is separated from the Horn of Africa by only a few kilomwters. There were importnt slave markets in Yemen during the mediecval era. Yemen involvement in the African slave trade was not affected by any domestic abolitionist movement. As in other Muslim countries no such movement developed. Only the intervention of the British Royal Navy ended the African slave trade and Yemen's participation in it (19th century). Slavery was officially banned in Yemen (1962). The laws, however, are not strictly enforced, largely because many Yemenis believe that the Holy Koran allows slavery, especially for non-Muslims. Slavery continues to be a problem in Yemen, as with other traditional Muslim countries. This is in part because of the importance of the Holy Koran and Islam in Yemeni society. there is no Koranic condemnation of slavery and slavery is presented as an accepted practice throughout the Koran. Slavery and child labor often little different than slavery coninues to be a serious problem in Yemen. There are believed to be about 0.4 million child laborers in Yemen. Most experience various degrees of abuse and harassment, including sexual exploitation. UNICEF is concerned and is working to address the problem of child trafficking in Yemen. [Willems] Yemen has been identified as country where the trafficking of women takes place. This includes both Yemeni women sold domestically as well as women belireved to be sold in Saudi Arabia. There are also reports of women from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia being sold in Yemen. [U.S. State Department] Yemeni girls fleeing arranged and forced marriages or abusive families often wind up in the clutches of traffikers. Often these girls can not go to authorities who would return threm to their families. Poor and orphaned boys are sometimes sold for forced begging, forced unskilled labor, or street vending. Yemeni children are reportedly trafficked into Saudi Arabia or the larger cities (mostly Aden and Sana'a) here they are forced to beg and turn over their earnings to their owners. This appears to involve boys from about 7-16 years of age. Saada is one of the closest main Yemeni cities to Saudi Arabia and is one of the hubs of the child trafficking. [Willems]


(El) Hamel. Chouki. Blak Morocco: A History of Slavery, Race, and Islam (African Studies series). Many Islamic schokars avoid or activel;y cover up information that does mot throw Islam in a positice sence. Nor surperisingky El Hamel works in the United Sates, currently at Arizona State University.

Willems, Peter. "Rude awakening," Yemen Times (May 17-19, 2004).


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Created: 12:21 AM 4/19/2007
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