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Tale of Two Factions, A

Myth, Memory, and Identity in Ottoman Egypt and Yemen

Jane Hathaway

Publication Year: 2003

This revisionist study reevaluates the origins and foundation myths of the Faqaris and Qasimis, two rival factions that divided Egyptian society during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when Egypt was the largest province in the Ottoman Empire. In answer to the enduring mystery surrounding the factions’ origins, Jane Hathaway places their emergence within the generalized crisis that the Ottoman Empire—like much of the rest of the world—suffered during the early modern period, while uncovering a symbiosis between Ottoman Egypt and Yemen that was critical to their formation. In addition, she scrutinizes the factions’ foundation myths, deconstructing their tropes and symbols to reveal their connections to much older popular narratives. Drawing on parallels from a wide array of cultures, she demonstrates with striking originality how rituals such as storytelling and public processions, as well as identifying colors and emblems, could serve to reinforce factional identity.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

Note on Transliteration

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pp. xi-xii

List of Illustrations

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xvi

I love historical mysteries, and this book is the product of my obstinate desire to solve one of the more perplexing ones within my own specialty, the study of Ottoman Egypt. Egyptian society in the seventeenth century was riven by the rivalry between two factions, the Faqaris and Qasimis...

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pp. 1-20

Centuries ago, in the land of Egypt, there were two factions: the Faqaris and the Qasimis. They had always been enemies; anything one faction got, the other had to acquire. Hence, they divided all the subprovinces of Egypt, along with all the wealth that the subprovinces produced, between them. In those days, Egypt was the largest province of the Ottoman Empire...

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Appendix: Origin Myths of the Factions

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pp. 21-24

Below are translations of two of the three origin myths of the Faqari and Qasimi/Sa˜d and Haram factions. The first myth appears in the chronicle of Ahmed Çelebi while the second occurs in different versions in three of the chronicles of the Damurdashi group. A third myth, in which Dhu’l-Faqar...

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1. Bilateral Factionalism in Ottoman Egypt

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pp. 25-44

What makes a faction more than a group, a sect, or a household? In the case of the Faqaris and Qasimis, to say nothing of competing pairs of factions in numerous earlier, later, and contemporaneous societies, the defining characteristics...

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2. Bir Varmıs, Bir Yokmus: Folklore and Binary Oppositions in the Factional Origin Myths

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pp. 45-60

A key indicator of the bilateral character of the Faqari and Qasimi factions is the origin myths associated with them, all of which stress the mutual enmity of two individuals or parties. The most insistent on this point is the origin myth presented, with numerous variations, in the Damurdashi group of chronicles...

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3. Sa'd and Haram: The Factions’ Bedouin Equivalents

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pp. 61-78

In the origin myths transmitted in the Damurdashi group of chronicles and in al-Jabarti’s Ajåib al-åthår, the division between Sa˜d and Haram predates and even seems to take precedence over the division between Faqari and Qasimi. Although none of the chroniclers in question explicitly states that the Sa˜d and Haram are bedouin tribal groupings, this becomes...

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4. The Yemeni Connection to Egypt’s Factions

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pp. 79-94

The last chapter demonstrated that Sa˜d and Haram supply an unmistakable Yemeni connection to Egypt’s factionalism, not least because the two tribal blocs may have originated in Yemen. The unquestioned hegemony of the boundaries of the modern Egyptian nation-state in the historiography of Ottoman Egypt...

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5. Red and White: The Colors of the Factions’ Banners

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pp. 95-110

Absolutely critical to the contrasting identities of the Faqaris and Qasimis are the different-colored banners that the two factions carried. The various origin myths, in fact, give the impression that the factions were initially differentiated...

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6. The Knob and the Disk—The Factions’ Standards

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pp. 111-122

In addition to different-colored flags, the Faqari and Qasimi factions carried different sorts of javelins (Arabic s. mizråq). The origin myths transmitted by the Damurdashi group of chronicles, in fact, assert that these javelins, as opposed to the red and white flags, were the chief identifying characteristic of the two factions; it was from their javelins, the chroniclers tell us, that they recognized...

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7. Selim and Sudun in the Origin Myths

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pp. 123-134

Almost without exception, the various origin myths of the Faqari and Qasimi factions assign a pivotal role to the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. “Faqari and Qasimi appeared among the soldiers and bedouin and villages of Egypt only under...

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8. The Mulberry Tree in the Origin Myths

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pp. 135-142

Ahmed Çelebi’s account of the origin of the Faqari and Qasimi factions, wherein Sultan Selim plays such a pivotal role, is both the fullest version of the origin myth and the most perplexing. As I have noted elsewhere,1 this origin myth abruptly interpolates itself into the chronicler’s account...

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9. The Competitive Feasts of Qasim and Dhu’l-Faqar Beys

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pp. 143-148

In the Damurdashi group of chronicles and in al-Jabarti’s narrative, an alternative origin myth appears that does not draw on the tradition of Sudun and his sons. According to this myth, the Faqari and Qasimi factions originate in two...

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10. Qasimi Genesis?: Qansuh’s Slave Troop and Ridvan’s Circassian Geneaology

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pp. 149-164

Thus far, we have been treating the Faqari and Qasimi factions in tandem, as part of a single two-faction phenomenon whose roots we are seeking. Yet in the introduction, I hinted that in “reality,” the two factions may have come into being through two very different, nonparallel processes, which could explain why the factional labels “Faqari” and “Qasimi” do not appear to come into...

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11. Faqari Genesis?: 'Ali Bey’s Mosque and the Ottoman Dhu’l-Faqar Sword

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pp. 165-184

In the mid-seventeenth century, at roughly the same time that the Qasimi faction was apparently beginning to coalesce around Qasim Bey and his followers, the germ of what would later be known as the Faqari faction becomes vaguely discernible...

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pp. 185-192

I started this project with the aim of solving the mystery of the origins of the Faqari and Qasimi factions. I think I have done this; at least I have proposed a solution that I think is more plausible than any previously put forward. The Qasimi faction, indeed, originated with the influential early seventeenth...


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pp. 193-252


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pp. 253-276


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pp. 277-295

E-ISBN-13: 9780791486108
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791458839
Print-ISBN-10: 0791458830

Page Count: 311
Illustrations: 4 b/w photographs, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: SUNY series in the Social and Economic History of the Middle East (discontinued)
Series Editor Byline: Donald Quataert

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Yemen (Republic) -- History.
  • Yemen (Republic) -- Economic conditions.
  • Yemen (Republic) -- Social conditions.
  • Egypt -- Economic conditions -- 1517-1882.
  • Egypt -- Social conditions.
  • Egypt -- History -- 1517-1882.
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