chapter  12
10 Pages

The city and the stranger: Jeddah in the nineteenth century


This chapter considers the question of migration in the case of Jeddah in the nineteenth century. Its thesis is that there was considerable change, both with regard to who actually lived and worked in the city, and with regard to the notions about and the status of ‘outsiders’. These were mostly affected, it will be argued, by Ottoman administrative modernisation and European expansion. These intertwined developments have to be considered in the framework of socio-economic changes. After a brief description of Jeddah in the early nineteenth century, the chapter will discuss major changes in the city’s history in the course of the nineteenth century, and discuss the impact of these changes on three distinct groups, namely resident Muslims, Muslim pilgrims and Christians. In the early nineteenth century, Jeddah had two main and distinct, albeit

intertwined functions: it was the main port for pilgrims en route to the holy city of Mecca, who arrived mainly (albeit not exclusively) during the annual pilgrimage season, and it served as the main Red Sea entrepôt in the trade between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean.2 The Wahhabi incursions into the Hijaz between 1802 and 1811 affected Jeddah, although it was not conquered by Wahhabi troops owing to its fortifications. Merchant families left for Suakin and other destinations and the number of pilgrims diminished dramatically, so that the town’s population sank temporarily to 5,000, only to recover to its earlier volume of 15,000-20,000 by the early 1830s.3 Temporarily under Egyptian control, the Ottoman status of the region was unambiguously restored by 1840. Politically, this meant a return to the rivalry between the Meccan-based

sharīfs and the governors, whose seat shifted between Jeddah, Mecca and the summer residence of Ta’if. More relevant for our topic are various measures of the Tanzimat that were launched by the Ottoman sultan in 1839, as will be shown in the following. Economically, the liberalisation forced by the application of the Convention of Balta Liman of 1838 between the Ottoman and British Empires deprived Jeddah of its status as the legitimate entry point into the Ottoman Empire for all trade arriving from the southern Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Its use as a coaling station seems to have compensated for losses thus incurred. In the long run, however, this, combined with the opening of

the Suez Canal in 1869 led to a serious decrease in its role as an entrepôt, while the number of pilgrims increased as travel became quicker and, eventually, cheaper.4

Even if estimates of pilgrims varied greatly and depended on a good number of variables, their numbers increased after 1869. Similarly, the number of pilgrims arriving by sea, although varying dramatically, shows a fairly sustained overall increase.5