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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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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Sheldon Watts , “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

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

Yakup Bekta ș, “The Sultan's Messenger: Cultural Constructions of Ottoman Telegraphy, 1847–1880,Technology and Culture 41, 4 (2000): 669–96

Soli Shahvar , “Tribes and Telegraphs in Lower Iraq: The Muntafiq and the Baghdad-Basrah Telegraph Line of 1863–65,Middle Eastern Studies 39, 1 (2003): 89116

Emine Ö. Evered , “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

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

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

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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