Mass petitions as a way to evaluate ‘public opinion’ in the late nineteenth-century Ottoman empire? The case of internal strife among Gaza’s elite

in Turkish Historical Review
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This article evaluates collective petitions (arz-ı mahzars) sent to Istanbul from Gaza at the end of the nineteenth century as a way of assessing the political mood of the elite in Ottoman provincial towns. Gaza was the theatre of considerable tension, cleavages, and rivalry among its elite. One of the key questions in this context is the implications of sending collective petitions from towns such as Gaza to the imperial centre given the political censorship and the absence of free press at a time when there was nonetheless greater communication between the centre and the provinces, and an altered relationship between the state and its subjects. Thus more than ever before collective petitions represented local political alignments and what could be very cautiously defined as ‘public opinion’ among the elite in provincial Ottoman towns such as Gaza.




Büssow, Johann, Hamidian Palestine: Politics and Society in the District of Jerusalem, 1872–1908 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011), pp. 258-301; al-Tabbaʽ, ʽUthman, Ithaf al-aʽizza fi ta’rikh Ghazza [Presenting the Notables in the History of Gaza], Vol. I-IV, ed. ʽAbdullatif Abu-Hashim (Gaza: Maktabat al-Yazijii, 1999).


 See Ben-Bassat, Yuval, Petitioning the Sultan: Protests and Justice in Late Ottoman Palestine, 1865-1908 (London: I.B. Tauris, 2013), chapter 3, forthcoming.


Herbst, Susan, “On the disappearance of groups: nineteenth and early twentieth-century conceptions of public opinion”, in Public Opinion and the Communication of Consent, ed. Theodore L. Glasser and Charles T. Salmon (New York and London: The Guilford Press, 1995), p. 92.


 See Kırlı, Cengiz, “Coffeehouses: public opinion in the nineteenth-century Ottoman empire”, in Public Islam and the Common Good, ed. Armando Salvatore and Dale Eickelman (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2004), pp. 95-6.


Zaret, David, “Petitions and the “invention” of public opinion in the English Revolution”, American Journal of Sociology, 101/6 (1996), p. 1517.


Zaret, “Petitions”, pp. 1541-2; recent research has demonstrated how printed petitions were used to mobilize public opinion in regions which had just gained independence from Ottoman tutelage, and how these affected Greek populations remaining within Ottoman borders during the early Tanzimat period. See Papataxiarchis, Evthymois, “Reconfiguring the Ottoman political imagination: petitioning and print culture in the early Tanzimat”, in Political Initiatives ‘From the Bottom Up:’ Halcyon Days in Crete VII, A Symposium Held in Rethymno 9-11 January 2009, ed. Antonis Anastasopoulos (Rethymno: Crete University Press, 2012), pp. 191-226.


 See Abu-Manneh, Butrus, “Jerusalem in the Tanzimat period: the new Ottoman administration and the notables”, Die Welt des Islams, 30/1 (1990), pp. 1-44.


Ben-Arieh, “ha-Nof ha-yishuvi shel Eretz-Yisrael ‘erev ha-hityashvut ha-tsiyonit”, pp. 88-90.


Ben-Arieh, “ha-Nof ha-yishuvi shel Eretz-Yisrael ‘erev ha-hityashvut ha-tsiyonit”, pp. 88-90; Kark, Ruth, “The rise and decline of coastal towns in Palestine”, in Ottoman Palestine, 1800-1914: Studies in Social and Economic History, ed. Gad Gilbar (Leiden: Brill, 1990), pp. 74-80; Büssow, Hamidian Palestine, pp. 272-3.


Gerber, Haim, Ottoman Rule in Jerusalem, 1890-1914 (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1985), pp. 168-9 (particularly as regards the Gaza region); Büssow, Hamidian Palestine, pp. 283-301; at the provincial level the administrative councils approved the provincial budgets, initiated infrastructure projects and held tenders for implementing them, supervised the activity of the various governmental offices in the provinces, made decisions regarding the ownership of land, conducted land surveys to evaluate property tax (vergi), supervised the collection of land taxes in the provinces including bids for the tithe tax, dealt with various issues concerning endowments, addressed appeals from lower-instance councils, and supervised the movement of people in and out of the district in addition to conducting censuses. Lower instances of the administrative councils dealt with similar tasks to those carried out by the administrative council at the provincial level. They were dominated by powerful families in Palestine’s secondary towns, at times in concert with the Jerusalem elite. See Gerber’s Ottoman Rule (particularly pp. 123-30, and elsewhere throughout the book).


 About this figure, see Kushner, “The Ottoman governors of Palestine, 1864-1914”, p. 277 (the governor was fired in 1877 due to allegations regarding oppression and corruption as well as the dismissal of his patron in Istanbul, the former grand vezir Mahmud Nedim Paşa [1818-1883]).


  • BOA, Y. MTV., 77/140, 10 Nisan 1309 (April 22, 1893) (p. 1)

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  • BOA, Y. MTV., 77/140, 10 Nisan 1309 (April 22, 1893) (2)

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