by Caesar E. Farah
I. B. Tauris, 2002. Pp. xxii + 392. Maps. Annex. Notes.
Glossary. Bibliog. Index. Hb. £39. 50. ISBN 1-86064-767-7.
The author is Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the
University of Minnesota. His book, which is the fruit of many years’
research, deserves particular attention because Ottoman Yemen has
hitherto been the subject of limited study, and Professor Farah has
drawn on a wealth of previously untapped material in Ottoman
The main focus of his work is on Ottoman efforts to maintain
sovereignty over Yemen in face of constant challenges from within
and without. The book chronicles in considerable detail the whole
range of Ottoman concerns, from the incursions of British and then
Italian forces in the south and Red Sea, domestic rebellions (more
often abetted by the Italians than the British), to the Ottoman navy’s
desperate attempts to stop the smuggling of weapons into the
highlands via the powerful and defiant Zaraniq tribes of Tihamah.
All the while the cost of pacifying Yemen in economic and physical
terms kept mounting. Eventually it became unsustainable, which led
the Ottomans to negotiate a settlement with Imam Yahya in 1911, thus
securing his passive support during the First World War.
Professor Farah’s book is more for the specialist than the
general reader, but his chapter, for example, on ‘Smuggling and
International Politics in the Red Sea’ will certainly interest
The book’s colour jacket depicts the western facade of the
Kathiri Palace in Seiyun, with the tall minaret of the adjacent
modern mosque dominating the foreground. One wonders why the
designer chose architecture which owes nothing to Ottoman influence
(Hadhramaut was never under Ottoman occupation) instead of a scene
from the Ottoman north (Zabid or Sana’a). But the picture catches
the eye, which perhaps these days is all that matters.