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Introduction 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; the Ottoman governor would arrive in Cairo from Istanbul and divide up all the provincial offices between the two factions . This started sometime around 1640 and continued until about 1730, when the Faqaris finally vanquished the Qasimis. But some claimed that the factions really originated with the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. The paragraph you have just read is a précis of the conventional scholarly wisdom regarding the Faqaris and Qasimis, two large, rather diffuse military and political factions whose rivalry divided Egyptian society during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries of the Common Era. With a few contextual changes, however, it could just as easily describe the Blues and Greens of the late Roman Empire, the Guelphs and Ghibellines of medieval Tuscany, or even the Hatfields and McCoys of the postbellum United States. The bilateral character of this instance of factionalism differentiates it from earlier and later forms of multilateral rivalry in Egypt and elsewhere, leading one to suspect that the same sorts of factors that led to the emergence of better-studied two-faction systems also contributed to the appearance of the Faqaris and Qasimis. This consideration is of some significance because historically, bilateral factionalism has shaped the political culture of numerous premodern societies. Neither late Roman nor medieval Tuscan politics and customs would be explicable without reference to the two-faction political scheme that divided these societies.1 In early Islamic history, the Qays (northern Arab) and Yemen (southern Arab) factions, under 1 2 A Tale of Two Factions a variety of synonymous appellations, utterly dominated the politics of the Umayyad caliphate (661–750 C.E.).2 Thus, when a similar phenomenon appears in seventeenth-century Egypt, it seems only reasonable to examine it through the same lens as that through which we typically view the just noted systems. In other words, no matter how many permutations the two factions undergo, their salient feature is their insistent bilateralism, and that feature should remain in the foreground of our analysis. Yet this turns out to be an almost insurmountable challenge where Egypt’s factions are concerned. For the Faqaris and Qasimis took shape in a society whose political culture had been dominated by households , that is, conglomerations of patron-client ties that culminated in the household head.3 Such a household culture had likewise been a feature of the Mamluk sultanate, which ruled Egypt from 1250 until the Ottoman conquest in 1517. These households are frequently called “factions” in secondary scholarship,4 hence the temptation to treat the Faqaris and Qasimis as simply two factions among many such. More generally, a pervasive tendency exists in secondary scholarship on Ottoman Egypt to assume that the political culture that emerged during the Ottoman era was fundamentally similar to that of the Mamluk sultanate, even if it were not a continuation or revival of Mamluk usages but contained undeniably Ottoman elements.5 By this logic, the template of Mamluk sultanate-era political culture as constructed in secondary scholarship—featuring powerful emirs, multiple factions, and a foreign elite alienated from the “indigenous” population—should suffice to explain Ottoman-era political culture. This tendency is compounded by the influence of nationalism, specifically Egyptian nationalism , and the hegemony of the Egyptian nation-state’s current territorial boundaries in secondary scholarship on both Mamluk and Ottoman Egypt.6 As a result, the distinctive bilateralism of the Faqaris and Qasimis is overlooked or explained away as yet another example of “the old pattern of Mamluk factionalism.”7 But these two factions are different from the multiple factions of the Mamluk sultanate. Their essential character and the manner in which they operated are inextricably linked to the period in which they emerged. Indeed, if we look outside the boundaries of presentday Egypt, we see other Ottoman provinces and regions just outside Ottoman territory where bilateral factionalism emerged during the same general period. In Ottoman Lebanon and Palestine, the ancient Northern and Southern, or Qays and Yemen, Arab factions were the focus of Ottoman administration; Ottoman governors by and large tended to favor the Qaysis, although this was by no means a strict 3...


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