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Ottoman Infrastructures of the Saudi Hydro-State: The Technopolitics of Pilgrimage and Potable Water in the Hijaz

  • Michael Christopher Low (a1)

The provisioning of potable water was a microcosm of the Ottoman state's incomplete projects of technopolitical modernization on the Arab frontier. Water questions sat at the intersection between international pressures surrounding cholera, drought, Wahhabi and Bedouin disorder, and the inability of the state to impose its will on the semi-autonomous Amirate of Mecca. To be sure, Ottoman public health reforms and increased attention to water infrastructure were partly a product of the intense international attention generated by the hajj's role in the globalization of cholera. However, like other projects with more overt military and strategic implications, most notably the Hijaz telegraph and railway, the Ottoman state also saw an opportunity to harness the increasing medicalization of the hajj to serve a broader set of efforts to consolidate the empire's most vulnerable frontier provinces. Through the lens of the technopolitical frontier this essay seeks to tell a larger story about the evolution of state building and development in Arabia, one that would otherwise be obscured without reference to both its late Ottoman and Saudi histories. By viewing the evolution of hydraulic management in the Hijaz as a continuous process unfolding across the long nineteenth century, we gain a new perspective on the role that Ottoman technopolitics played in shaping the Saudi state that eventually succeeded it. We find that the quest for water security in the Hijaz, particularly in Jidda, played a critical role in setting the stage for the discovery of the Saudi Arabia's massive petroleum reserves.

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1 Edward Frankland, “The Cholera and Hagar's Well at Mecca,” Lancet, 11 Aug. 1883, 256–57.

2 Gülden Sarıyıldız, Hicaz Karantina Teşkilatı, 1865–1914 (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 1996), 77. For more on Bonkowsky's career, see Feza Günergun, “XIX. Yüzyılın İkinci Yarısında Osmanlı Kimyager-Eczacı Bonkowski Paşa, 1841–1905,” I. Türk Tıp Tarihi Kongresi (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 1992), 229–48; Mesut Ayar, Osmanlı Devletinde Kolera: İstanbul Örneği, 1892–1895 (İstanbul: Kitabevi, 2007), 295–319, 347–66.

3 Ibid., 77–79.

4 Frankland, “The Cholera,” 256.

5 “Statement Regarding Mr. Yuseff Kudzi's Protection,” Mar. 1887, The National Archives of the United Kingdom (hereafter TNA): Foreign Office (hereafter FO) 78/4335.

6 Sarıyıldız, Hicaz Karantina, 77–79, 121. Similar suspicions applied to Britain's Indian Vice-Consul Dr. Abdur Razzack, whose status as a Muslim was referred to as a “great sham” (fesad-ı azime). See Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi (hereafter BOA), İ. HUS, 30/60 (19 R 1312/20 Oct. 1894); BOA, BEO, 499/37373 (21 R 1312/22 Oct. 1894).

7 Peter Baldwin, Contagion and the State in Europe, 1830–1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 228–31.

8 H. Hill to India Office, “History of Quarantine and Cholera in Europe from 1878,” Apr. 1885, TNA: FO 881/5155X.

9 Valeska Huber, Channelling Mobilities: Migration and Globalisation in the Suez Canal Region and Beyond, 1869–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 204–38.

10 On British anti-contagionism, see Watts Sheldon, “From Rapid Change to Stasis: Official Responses to Cholera in British-Ruled India and Egypt, 1860 to c. 1921,Journal of World History 12, 2 (2001): 321–74.

11 Michael Worboys, Spreading Germs: Disease Theories and Medical Practice in Britain, 1865–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 38–39.

12 Coleman William, “Koch's Cholera Bacillus: The First Year,Bulletin of the History of Medicine 61 (1987): 315–42.

13 See Dr. John Wortabet, “The Holy Places of Arabia: Their Water-Supply and General Sanitary Conditions,” Lancet, 14 May 1892; “Dr. Hart in Hyderabad,” Moslem Chronicle, Mar. 1895, in BOA, Y. A. HUS, 323/84 (9 Ş 1312/5 Apr. 1895).

14 Kasım İzzeddin, Hicaz'da Teşkilat ve Islahat-ı Sıhhiye ve 1330 Senesi Hacc-ı Şerifi: Hicaz Sıhhiye İdaresi Senevi Rapor (İstanbul: Matbaa-ı Amire, 1911/1912), 39–51.

15 On “centralization through sanitation” in the Hijaz and Iraq, see Birsen Bulmuș, Plague, Quarantines and Geopolitics in the Ottoman Empire (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 5, 152–76.

16 For useful definitions of technopolitics, see Gabrielle Hecht, The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998), 15–17; Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-politics, Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 12, 15.

17 Thomas Kuehn, Empire, Islam, and Politics of Difference: Ottoman Rule in Yemen, 1849–1919 (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 36–37.

18 Selim Deringil, The Well-Protected Domains: Ideology and Legitimation of Power in the Ottoman Empire, 1876–1909 (London: I. B Tauris, 1999), 44–67.

19 William Ochsenwald, Religion, Society, and the State in Arabia: The Hijaz under Ottoman Control, 1840–1908 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1984), 131–52.

20 Benjamin Fortna, “The Reign of Abdülhamid II,” in Reșat Kasaba, ed., The Cambridge History of Turkey, vol. 4 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 47, 52–53.

21 Makdisi Ussama, “Ottoman Orientalism,American Historical Review 107, 3 (2002): 768–72.

22 Deringil Selim, “‘They Live in a State of Nomadism and Savagery’: The Late Ottoman Empire and the Post-Colonial Debate,Comparative Studies in Society and History 45, 2 (2003): 311–12, 317–18.

23 Tahsin Paşa, Sultan Abdülhamid: Tahsin Paşa'nın Yıldız Hatıraları (İstanbul: Boğaziçi Yayınları, 1999), 205.

24 Kuehn, Empire, 91–145, 207–26, 213–14, 251; Tahsin Paşa, Sultan Abdülhamid, 205, 341–42.

25 Manneh Butrus Abu, “Sultan Abdülhamid II and the Sharifs of Mecca, 1880–1890,Asian and African Studies 9, 1 (1973): 121 , 5.

26 For Osman Nuri's career, see BOA, DH. SAİD, 18, p. 277; Hülagü M. Metin, “Topal Osman Nuri Paşa Hayatı ve Faaliyetleri, 1840–1898,Ankara Üniversitesi Osmanlı Tarihi Araştırma ve Uygulama Merkezi Dergisi 5 (1994): 145–53.

27 For the full text of the report, see Selçuk Akşin Somel, “Osman Nuri Paşa‘nın 17 Temmuz 1885 Tarihli Hicaz Raporu,” Tarih Araştırmaları Dergisi (1996): 1–38.

28 Deringil, “‘They Live in a State of Nomadism and Savagery,’” 327–29.

29 Rogan Eugene L., “Abdulhamid II's School for Tribes (1892–1907),International Journal of Middle East Studies 28, 1 (1996): 83107 ; Alişan Akpınar, Osmanlı Devleti'nde Aşiret Mektebi (İstanbul: Göçebe Yayınları, 1997), 20–28.

30 Somel,“Osman Nuri,” 11, 25–26.

31 Mitchell, Rule of Experts, 12, 61.

32 On environmental history's potential to reframe the Ottoman center-periphery, see Alan Mikhail, Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt: An Environmental History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 15–27.

33 Diana K. Davis, “Imperialism, Orientalism, and the Environment in the Middle East,” in Diana K. Davis and Edmund Burke III, eds., Environmental Imaginaries of the Middle East and North Africa (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2011), 3–4.

34 Mitchell, Rule of Experts, 15, 210.

35 Deringil, “‘They Live in a State of Nomadism and Savagery,’” 327–29.

36 Ufuk Gülsoy, Hicaz Demiryolu (İstanbul: Eren, 1994), 33–35; Murat Özyüksel, The Hejaz Railway and the Ottoman Empire: Modernity, Industrialisation and Ottoman Decline (London: I. B. Tauris, 2014), 63–64, 162–63.

37 William Ochsenwald, The Hijaz Railroad (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1980), 23.

38 See Ahmed Muhtar Paşa's memo on the Hijaz Railway, BOA, Y. EE, 118/10 (3 C1315/30 Oct. 1897).

39 Bekta Yakupș, “The Sultan's Messenger: Cultural Constructions of Ottoman Telegraphy, 1847–1880,Technology and Culture 41, 4 (2000): 669–96; Sean McMeekin, The Berlin-Baghdad Express: The Ottoman Empire and Germany's Bid for World Power (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010); Shahvar Soli, “Tribes and Telegraphs in Lower Iraq: The Muntafiq and the Baghdad-Basrah Telegraph Line of 1863–65,Middle Eastern Studies 39, 1 (2003): 89116 .

40 Mostafa Minawi, “Lines in the Sand: The Ottoman Empire's Policies of Expansion and Consolidation on Its African and Arabian Frontiers, 1882–1902” (PhD diss., New York University, 2011), 38–43, 162–63, 209–12, 251–58.

41 Davis, “Imperialism,” 3.

42 Eyüp Sabri Paşa, Tercüman-ı Hakikat, 17–25 June 1880. For more on Eyüp Sabri, see Mehmet Akif Fidan, Eyüp Sabri Paşa ve Tarihçiliği (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 2011).

43 Eyüp Sabri Paşa, Mirat ül-Haremeyn (İstanbul: Bahriye Matbaası, 1301–1306/1883–1888).

44 On Ottoman-Wahhabi relations, see Frederick F. Anscombe, The Ottoman Gulf: The Creation of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Evered Emine Ö., “Rereading Ottoman Accounts of Wahhabism as Alternative Narratives: Ahmed Cevdet Paşa's Historic Survey of the Movement,Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 32, 3 (2012): 622–32.

45 BOA, HRT, 541 (29 Z 1264/26 Nov. 1848).

46 Eyüp Sabri Paşa, Tercüman-ı Hakikat, 25 June 1880, 3; Eyüp Sabri Paşa, Mirat ül-Haremeyn, vol. 1, 748.

47 Eyüp Sabri Paşa, Mirat ül-Haremeyn, vol. 1, 748–50. Johann Ludwig Burckhardt's account of his three-month sojourn in the Hijaz in 1814–1815 confirms Eyüp Sabri's claim that the damage to the waterworks was not merely a product of neglect, but a direct result of the Wahhabis' intentional cutting of Mecca's water supply. See Burckhardt, Travels in Arabia, vol. 1 (London: Henry Colburn, 1829), 194–95.

48 BOA, HAT, 344/19624 (29 Z 1232/9 Nov. 1817).

49 Eyüp Sabri Paşa, Tarih-i Vehhabiyan (İstanbul: Kırk Ambar Matbaası, 1296/1879); repr., edited by Süleyman Çelik (İstanbul: Bedir Yayınevi, 1992), 62.

50 BOA, HAT, 1359/53403 (29 Z 1220/20 Mar. 1806).

51 Eyüp Sabri Paşa, Mirat ül-Haremeyn, vol. 1, 748–53. Eyüp Sabri somewhat exaggerates the level of neglect. Ottoman authorities did carry out a number of repairs between the 1840s and 1860s. See Ömer Faruk Yılmaz, Belgelerle Osmanlı Devrinde Hicaz, vol. 1 (İstanbul: Çamlıca, 2008), 145, 172–73, 188–89; ‘Adil Muhammad Nur ‘Abd Allah Ghubashi, al-Munsha'at al-Ma'iyya li-Khidmat Makka al-Mukarrama wa-l-Masha‘ir al-Muqaddasa fi-l-‘Asr al-‘Uthmani: Dirasa Hadariyya (Makka: Wizarat al-Ta‘lim al-‘Ali, Jami‘at Umm al-Qura, 2005), 227–32.

52 For example, in 1861 Mecca experienced its most “disastrous flood” (sel felaketi) of the century, which destroyed hundreds of homes and left the Haram and the city's water system filled with debris. BOA, İ. DH, 486/32805 (19 Ş 1278/19 Feb. 1862); BOA, A. MKT. UM, 548/17 (14 N 1278/15 Mar. 1862); BOA, A. MKT. NZD, 407/65 (17 N 1278/18 Mar. 1862).

53 John F. Keane, Six Months in Mecca: An Account of the Muhammedan Pilgrimage to Mecca (London: Tinsley Brothers, 1881), 176–86.

54 Eyüp Sabri Paşa, Mirat ül-Haremeyn, vol. 1, 748–51.

55 BOA, Y. PRK. UM, 5/96 (30 Ca 1300/8 Apr. 1883).

56 On the project's funding, see BOA, YA. RES 6/68 (19 Ra 1297/1 Mar. 1880); BOA, YA. RES 9/91 (19 Ra 1298/19 Feb. 1881); BOA, İ. DH 800/64862 (22 Ra 1297/4 Mar. 1880); BOA, Y. PRK. UM, 5/96 (30 Ca 1300/8 Apr. 1883); BOA, İ. DH 901/71633 (4 M 1301/5 Nov. 1883); Vice-Consul Dr. Abdur Razzack to Consul Thomas Jago, Jidda, 10 Jan. 1885, TNA: FO 195/1514; Eyüp Sabri Paşa, Mirat ül-Haremeyn, vol. 1, 750–53.

57 BOA, Y. PRK. UM, 5/96 (30 Ca 1300/8 Apr. 1883); Muhammad el-Emin el-Mekki, Osmanlı Padişahlarının Haremeyn Hizmetleri (İstanbul: Çamlıca, 2008), 25–26; Selman Soydemir, Kemal Erkan, and Osman Doğan, eds., Hicaz Vilayet Salnamesi, H. 1303/M. 1886 (İstanbul: Çamlıca, 2008), 51–52.

58 el-Mekki, Osmanlı, 25–26; Sarıyıldız, Hicaz Karantina, 72–74; Soydemir, Erkan, and Doğan, Hicaz Vilayet Salnamesi, 120.

59 Kasım İzzeddin, Mekke-i Mükerreme'de Kolera ve Hıfzıshha (İstanbul: Mahmud Bey Matbaası, 1327/1911), 96–101.

60 On pre-bacteriological understandings of waste disposal and public space, see David S. Barnes, The Great Stink of Paris and the Nineteenth-Century Struggle against Filth and Germs (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 78–82.

61 TNA: FO 195/1514, Vice-Consul Dr. Abdur Razzack to Consul Thomas Jago, Jidda, 10 Jan. 1885.

62 Gülden Sarıyıldız and Ayşe Kavak, eds., Halife II. Abdülhamid'in Hac Siyaseti: Dr. M. Şakir Bey'in Hicaz Hatırları (İstanbul: Timaş Yayınları, 2009), 130–31.

63 “Report by Dr. Abdur Ruzzack on the health and sanitation of pilgrims to Mecca, 24 June 1879,” 22–24, British Library, Asia, Pacific, and Africa Collections, W 4087.

64 Vice-Consul Dr. Abdur Razzack to Consul Thomas Jago, Jidda, 10 Jan. 1885, TNA: FO 195/1514.

65 “Mecca Water Supply and Egyptian Ministry of Wakfs Grant,” 1920, TNA: FO 686/68.

66 Sarıyıldız and Kavak, Halife II, 165–67.

67 Abdul Qaddous al-Ansari, History of Aziziah Water Supply, Juddah & Glimpses on Water Sources in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Fayez Audeh Ilyas, trans. (Jidda: Administration of the Aziziah Water Supply, 1972), 157–58.

68 Sarıyıldız and Kavak, Halife II, 165–67, 243–72. Mehmed Şakir's 1890 report explicitly cites Koch's findings on the cholera bacillus.

69 On the notion of milieu and the social mediation of nature, see Paul Rabinow, French Modern: Norms and Forms of the Social Environment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 31–34.

70 Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 23.

71 “Report by Dr. Abdur Ruzzack on the Health and Sanitation of Pilgrims to Mecca, 24 June 1879,” 18, 40, British Library, Asia, Pacific, and Africa Collections, W 4087.

72 Sarıyıldız and Kavak, Halife II, 62–64.

73 Soydemir, Erkan, and Doğan, Hicaz Vilayet Salnamesi, 120.

74 el-Mekki, Osmanlı, 26.

75 BOA, MV, 21/65 (19 Ş 1304/11 July 1887); BOA, DH. MKT, 1456/90 (5 S 1305/23 Oct. 1887); BOA, YA. HUS, 207/103 (17 S 1305/4 Nov. 1887).

76 Sarıyıldız and Kavak, Halife II, 62–64.

77 Bulmuş, Plague, 165.

78 El-Hac Hüseyin Vassaf, Hicaz Hatırası, Mehmet Akkuş, ed. (İstanbul: Kubbealtı, 2011), 71–72.

79 During the 1890s, water scarcity was exacerbated by the coincidence of the hajj season falling between April and August.

80 BOA, İ. HUS, 20/68 (26 R 1311/2 Feb. 1894); BOA, Y. A. HUS, 294/41 (13 Ş 1311/19 Apr. 1894); Ömer Faruk Yılmaz, Hicaz'da Deniz Suyu Arıtma Tesisleri Projesi (İstanbul: Çamlıca, 2012).

81 BOA, BEO, 571/42805 (21 Ş 1312/17 Feb. 1895); BOA, BEO, 577/42360 (29 Ş 1312/25 Feb. 1895).

82 Sarıyıldız, Hicaz Karantina, 127–28.

83 İzzeddin, Hicaz'da, 39–51, 77.

84 Barry Andrew, “Technological Zones,European Journal of Social Theory 9, 2 (2006): 239 , 241, 246.

85 Toby Craig Jones, Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010), 250–51. For examples of this narrative, see David E. Long, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1997); and Thomas Lippman, Inside the Mirage: America's Fragile Relationship with Saudi Arabia (Boulder: Westview Press, 2004). For a more nuanced picture of the role of religion, see David Commins, The Wahhabi Mission and Saudi Arabia (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2006).

86 Jones, Desert Kingdom, 7–8, 15–16.

87 Ibid., 13–15.

88 Hecht, Radiance of France, 15–17.

89 Arun Agrawal, Environmentality: Technologies of Government and the Making of Subjects (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), 8.

90 Jones, Desert Kingdom, 10. See also Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977–1978, Michel Senellart, ed. (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004).

91 Jones, Desert Kingdom, 32.

92 For annual oil revenues, see Alexei Vassiliev, The History of Saudi Arabia (London: Saqi Press, 1998), 401.

93 In 1932, the hajj accounted for 60 percent of government revenue. Mai Yamani, Cradle of Islam: The Hijaz and the Quest for Identity in Saudi Arabia (London: I. B. Tauris, 2009), 54.

94 Jones, Desert Kingdom, 9–10; Kiren Aziz Chaudhry, The Price of Wealth: Economies and Institutions in the Middle East (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 59.

95 David Edwin Long, The Hajj Today: A Survey of the Contemporary Makkah Pilgrimage (Albany: State University of New York, 1979), 72–79.

96 Jones, Desert Kingdom, 24–31.

97 Abdul Qaddous al-Ansari, Mawsu‘at Tarikh Madinat Jidda (Cairo: Dar Misr li-l-Taba‘a, 1982), 20, 38, 169, 375, 389, 467, 594; Muhammad Jam‘an Dad Ghamidi, Jidda fi ‘Ahd al-Malik ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, 1925–1953 M. (Riyadh: self-published, 2000), 75–76.

98 al-Ansari, History of Aziziah Water Supply, 48–49; Andrea H. Pampanini, Desalinated Water in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: The History of the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (New York: Turnaround Associates, 2010), 3–4.

99 TNA: FO 371/16876, in Anita L. P. Burdett, ed., Water Resources in the Arabian Peninsula, 1921–1960, vol. 1 (Slough, UK: Archive Editions, 1998), 695–96.

100 Pampanini, Desalinated Water, 3–4.

101 al-Ansari, History of Aziziah Water Supply, 15–16.

102 Ibid., 54–55, 156–60.

103 Karl S. Twitchell Papers, 1911–1967, Public Policy Papers, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library, ser. 1, box 3, fol. 8.

104 Karl S. Twitchell, Saudi Arabia: With an Account of the Development of Its Natural Resources (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), 139–40.

105 Ibid., 140–41.

106 Sarıyıldız, Hicaz Karantina, 142.

107 Twitchell, Saudi Arabia, 140–41.

108 Twitchell Papers, ser. 4, box 27, fol. 3.

109 Twitchell, Saudi Arabia, 35.

110 TNA: FO 371/16875; FO 371/16876, in Burdett, Water Resources, 692–97.

111 Twitchell Papers, ser. 1, box 3, fol. 8. On the kingdom's growing debt, see also Vassiliev, History of Saudi Arabia, 312.

112 Ibid., ser. 4, box 27, fol. 3.

113 On the history of Aramco, see Robert Vitalis, America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Sauid Oil Frontier (New York: Verso, 2009).

114 Toby C. Jones, “State of Nature: The Politics of Water in the Making of Saudi Arabia,” in Alan Mikhail, ed., Water on Sand: Environmental Histories of the Middle East and North Africa (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 239–40.

115 Report of the United States Agricultural Mission to Saudi Arabia (Cairo: Misr Press, 1943), 112–16.

116 al-Ansari, History of the Aziziah water supply, 75–76; TNA: FO 371/62088, in Burdett, Water Resources, 726–27.

117 Mitchell, Carbon Democracy, 103.

118 Jones, Desert Kingdom, 3.

119 Pampanini, Desalinated Water, 10–11.

120 Mitchell, Carbon Democracy, 40.

121 Choudhury Masudul Alam, “Oil and Water Do Mix: The Case of Saudi Arabia,Journal of Developing Areas 37, 2 (2004): 169–79.

122 Mitchell, Carbon Democracy, 1–2; Fernando Coronil, The Magical State: Nature, Money and Modernity in Venezuela (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 5–6.

123 Erika Lee, “Saudi Arabia and Desalination,” Harvard International Review, 23 Dec. 2010,; “Saudi Arabia Lifts Oil Output to Record 10.5 Million bpd: PIRA,” Daily Star, 30 Aug. 2013,

124 Hassan H. Shawly, “Urban Water: Integrated Resource Planning to Meet Demand in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,” (PhD diss., Stuttgart University, 2007), 154–55.

125 Mitchell, Rule of Experts, 42–43.

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