- The Arabs and the Scramble for Africa by John C. Wilkinson, and: The Ottoman Scramble for Africa: Empire and Diplomacy in the Sahara and the Hijaz by Mostafa Minawi, and: Identifying With Nationality: Europeans, Ottomans, and Egyptians in Alexandria by Will Hanley
Nationality, Empire, and Africa in the Age of High Imperialism
The three new books under consideration here show the payoffs of a new kind of comparative imperial historical framework for world history that mediates between local, regional and global scales. All three books are indebted to the pioneering works of Fred Cooper, Ann Stoler, Mahmood Mamdani and Khaled Fahmy, among others in the [End Page 264] field of imperial and colonial history.1 In a groundbreaking work that opened up many of the theoretical questions investigated in these works, historian Fred Cooper argued that Ottomans and other non-European states, "began to act more colonial in the late nineteenth century, trying to impose an imperial civilization along the edges of empires, although constrained by the practical necessity of working with local elites" (2005, p. 28). More recently, in his magisterial history of the long nineteenth century, Jurgen Osterhammel argues that one characteristic of the nineteenth century is that the world was colonized, governed and ruled with more intensity than ever before, a process not only limited to projects of European expansion.2 Though vastly different, the three books are woven together by their focus on aspects of this process, what is often called in the historiographical literature, "secondary empire" or "new imperialism."
John C. Wilkinson's book is the most encyclopedic in scope, a study of Omani Arabs in East and Central Africa over several centuries, with a particular focus on the Omani state in Zanzibar and its sphere of influence in the African interior in the nineteenth century. Will Hanley's monograph is a micro-level case study of nationality in colonial Alexandria, using a trans-imperial framework to capture Alexandria's position between different imperial regimes. Mostafa Minawi's slim but dense volume is an ambitious re-imagining of the "scramble for Africa" through the lens of the Ottoman empire, based on original sources from the Ottomanarchives. Minawi is similarly explicit about his use of a trans-imperial framework. Wilkinson and Minawi's books are the most geographically diffuse in scope, spanning continents and empires, as well as seas and oceans. Hanley, although focused on the city of Alexandria, also draws the reader into a wider Mediterranean world. Hanley and Minawi share a focus on the Ottomans, while their citational practice makes evident the deep reading both have done in the existing historiography on colonialism and empire.
Wilkinson has previously written a number of important studies in the field of Omani history; his Imamate Tradition of Oman is a towering work in the fields of Ibadhi and Islamic Studies. In his newest book, Wilkinson turns his attention to the Omani presence in east and [End Page 265] central Africa and the trading networks they established as far as eastern Congo. He shows how the Omani state in Zanzibar attempted to leverage these networks to assert its sovereign power in the African interior against Belgian, German and British rivals. He previously addressed this subject in a chapter of The Imamate Tradition, but here he seeks to transcend previous studies by emphasizing Omani religious and cultural distinctiveness.
In particular Wilkinson takes historian Norman Bennett to task for failing to distinguish internal differences among coastal Muslims along the east and central African trade routes. One of the central weaknesses of Bennett's earlier work Arab Versus European was its lack of detailed documentation of its source material. Wilkinson's work certainly surpasses Bennett's in its attention to detail, in particular with its use...