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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