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MUSLIMS in the MIDDLE EAST, 1700 to 1837 (1 of 3)

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Muslims in the Middle East, 1700 to 1837

Economic Stagnation and Growth | Iran, 1700 to 1828 | The Ottoman Empire: Reforms and War against Europeans, 1800-37

Economic Stagnation and Growth

Muslims in the Middle East were to wonder what happened that the West surpassed the Islam in power and influence. Islam's great Ottoman Empire, centered in the old Roman city of Constantinople, ruled over what had been Roman Empire in North Africa and since the 1400s ruled part of Europe, and in the 1500s the Muslim world led or was at least even with the West economically.

Since the 1500s the Ottoman Empire had not changed as much as the West. War had been income for the Muslims, and by the 1700s their ability to wage war had diminished vis-a-vis European powers. It was no longer just courage, good hand made steel or archery and quick mobility on animals that made a military able to succeed. The Ottoman Empire's lag in technology and economic growth compared to the West weakened it militarily. The Ottomans had advanced themselves economically by war, but warring had developed into an economic drain. And while the British and some other Europeans had a growing agriculture, most Muslim agriculture continued to be subsistence farming. The advance in agriculture that fed Europe's rise in manufacturing and growing consumerism had not been happening in the Ottoman Empire. And the empire remained capital poor – with little money being invested in technological development.

In the early 1700s, Muslims were asking themselves why Christian were defeating them, and it was decided that European methods of warfare should be studied.

Some thought was given to economic development. In 1727 a printing press began to operate, a move inspired by contact with Europe, but that was just a pittance. There was domestic cotton growing, and between 1750 and 1789 cotton exports increased, but not enough to have much of an impact. Exports of semi-processed goods to northwest Europe also increased. The Muslim's remained minor players in world trade, well behind Great Britain. Trade for the Ottomans was largely local, and internal trade was dominated by Muslim merchants. Foreign merchants and Ottoman non-Muslims dominated the empire's growing international trade, and among the latter were Greeks with their tradition in merchant shipping.

Sultan Mustafa III (r 1757-84) is described by Wikipedia as, energetic and perceptive ruler [who] sought to modernize the army and the internal state machinery to bring his empire in line with the Powers of Europe. Unfortunately the Ottoman state had declined so far that any general attempts at modernization were but a drop in the ocean.

About Sultan Selim III (r 1789-1807) Wikipedia writes that he had talents and energy and that he "had associated much with foreigners, and was thoroughly persuaded of the necessity of reforming his state" but that "Austria and Russia gave him no time for anything but defense." There was Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and Syria, and there was internal warfare. The Ottomans were trying to maintain their hold on people in Arabia and fighting the Saud family and those Muslims called Wahhabi (Wahabi), who captured the Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Mecca in 1802.

Into the 1800s there were still oppressive taxations, an unfavorable balance of trade and diminished local industries with foot-operated treadle reels, hand-operated looms and silk-twisting machines

Selim III asked for those working in government institution for suggestions regarding reforms. Interested in advancing his realm and education, he had Western literary works translated. He created colleges that taught medicine, engineering, political science and government, and a Ministry of Education provided primary and secondary educations that led to university studies.


The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East, by Timur Kuran, Princeton University Press, 2011

"The Functioning and Decline of the Ottoman State," Chapter 15, The Origins of Political Order, by Francis Fukuyama

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