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5. Soap, Class, and State

If Hebron could boast of its glass bracelets, its big he-goat skins, and its fine grapes; if Gaza was still the granary of Palestine; if Lydda was reputed for its oil markets and mat industry; Nablus could point with pride to its soap manufactories, one of the most important factors of the wealth of that prosperous inland town.

[You claim] that Nablus is the only district in which soap merchants have refused to pay their taxes, and that they are withholding the money so that they could invest it and enjoy its profits.…As we explained previously, . . . until they are reimbursed taxes on oil that you illegally collected, they will not hand over the taxes on soap, for that is the essence of fairness and justice.

In December 1829, Muhyi al-Din Arafat—nephew of Abd al-Razzaq Arafat, the textile merchant we met in Chapter 2—bought the Hallaqiyya soap factory for 6,000 piasters.[1] The factory was sold to him by Asa‘d Beik Tuqan, the former mutasallim of Nablus, on behalf of himself and his two brothers.[2] Painfully conscious of the authoritarian rule of the Tuqan family during the reign of the seller’s uncle, Musa Beik Tuqan (1801–1823) and nervous that this prized possession might be forced out of his hand in the future, Muhyi al-Din requested that “a copy of this purchase and sale document be registered for fear of dispute and argument, and [in order] to protect the price.”[3] He also arranged for an impressive group of witnesses to acknowledge the sale. Among the nineteen witnesses were the mufti of Nablus at the time and members of the Burqawi family, leaders of the subdistrict of Wadi al-Sha‘ir.

A few months later, in March 1830, Muhyi al-Din consolidated his investment by buying from a family of artisans a number of houses (buyut), located on top of the soap factory, for 4,500 piasters.[4] The total investment amounted to a hefty 10,500 piasters. Then, on September 14, 1835, Muhyi al-Din contracted a loan from his wife Ruqayya for 27,431 piasters and put up his soap factory, along with two-thirds of the houses plus an adjacent storage area (bayka), as collateral in the form of a temporary sale; that is, she would hand over the property after he paid his debts to her.[5] Ruqayya, daughter of Sayyid Ibrahim Arafat, was Muhyi al-Din’s cousin and heir to a substantial portion of her parents’ estate. On two previous occasions she had advanced large sums of money to her husband, and, apparently, he was not able to pay her back.[6]

Ruqayya was serious about protecting her property and investments. In early January 1847 she sued Shaykh Yusuf Afandi son of Shaykh Abd al-Ghani Zayd Qadri—a leading member of the Qadriyya Sufi order, a close ally and business partner of the ruling Abd al-Hadi family and one of the most powerful and wealthy men in Nablus—over the same property.[7] Ruqayya claimed through her agent in court that exactly seven years earlier, on January 7, 1840, her husband Muhyi al-Din had sold the Halla-qiyya soap factory, along with the houses and the bayka, to Shaykh Yusuf Qadri for 50,000 piasters without her knowledge or consent, even though she was the legal owner. She produced her purchase deed of September 14, 1835, and demanded that this sale be invalidated and her property returned. Shaykh Yusuf confirmed that he did buy this property from her husband in 1840 but argued that Ruqayya knew about the sale, sanctioned it, and even signed the sales deed. He failed to produce this deed, but he did win the case by securing two male witnesses who corroborated his testimony.

The saga of the Hallaqiyya soap factory contains within it many of the elements crucial to understanding the key role of the soap industry in the transformation of Jabal Nablus during the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. To begin with, Muhyi al-Din seems to have been a shrewd businessman. Although heir to a long tradition of involvement in the textile trade, he shifted his resources to soap manufacturing in the latter half of the 1820s: precisely the time when the soap industry witnessed a vigorous expansion that only gathered steam over the next few decades. Consequently, the value of soap factories appreciated steeply. Regardless of whether Ruqayya’s story was true, there is no doubt that the price of the Hallaqiyya soap factory increased almost 500 percent over an eleven-year period!

At a time when European competition caused other manufacturing sectors to stagnate, soap manufacturing became Nablus’s dominant and most dynamic economic sector: the number of fully operational soap factories in Nablus tripled, the volume of production increased roughly fourfold, and the prices of soap factories soared (see Appendix 3). This was not part of a general revival of the soap industry in Greater Syria. In fact, soap production declined precipitously in all the other cities and towns of this region, with the possible exception of Tripoli.[8]

It is difficult to overestimate the significance of these developments to our understanding the political economy of Nablus and the changing role of the merchant community. Nablus, like most interior regions in Greater Syria during the nineteenth century, may have been overshadowed by the growing coastal cities and undermined by the importation of European manufactured goods, but as long as there was a market to be found and a profit to be made, Nabulsi merchants and manufacturers showed no hesitation or timidity about investing capital in local industries.

A multitude of factors converged to propel this industry forward. Nabulsi soap was made out of olive oil, the primary agricultural product of Jabal Nablus. This made soap production potentially the most efficient way to exploit the rural surplus, the main source of wealth in Jabal Nablus. Nablus is also located conveniently close to the east bank of the River Jordan, where the second most important raw material, the barilla plant, the burned ashes of which made a natural alkaline soda called qilw, grew most abundantly.

Soap production was also a capital-intensive industry with high margins of profit. As a field of investment, it was eminently suitable for the concentration of wealth taking place in Jabal Nablus and a tempting alternative to other manufacturing activities, such as textile production, that were beginning to feel the brunt of European and regional competition. The concentration of wealth took place not only within the merchant community but also within each merchant family. Assuming the accuracy of her story, Ruqayya’s unfortunate experience with the Hallaqiyya soap factory was only one of many instances in which females and children still in their legal minority had their resources absorbed into the “family firm,” which was invariably headed by one or two dominant male members.

Soap factories were also prized because they were the largest and most important credit institutions in Jabal Nablus and thus functioned as banks. A significant portion of the region’s olive oil was deposited in the numerous large wells dug beneath each factory. These wells were used not only for storing the olive oil destined to become soap but also for the safekeeping of deposits and withdrawals by peasants, merchants, and even local government tax collectors, who were often paid in oil. Because soap-factory owners lent money to peasants for future harvests through salam contracts, soap factories also extended high-interest credit (see Chapter 4). Just as textile merchants carved out geographical enclaves of clients in the hinterland of Nablus, each soap factory had a clientele from specific villages, as the discussion of the Bishtawi brothers below will demonstrate.

For those with large amounts of capital at their disposal and a modicum of political influence, investment in soap production was a low-risk affair, because the quality of Nablus’s soap assured a high and steady demand in regional markets, especially Egypt. In fact, Nablus was well known for its soap production since at least as far back as the fourteenth century, and the reputation of its soap was well established long before Ottoman rule.[9] In the words of Shaykh Shams al-Din al-Ansari al-Dimashqi (d. A.H.727/A.D.1326–1327), “The city of Nablus…was bestowed by God Almighty with the blessed olive tree. Its olive oil is carried by bedouins to the Egyptian and Damascene lands, to the Hijaz, and the steppes.…In it a superior soap is produced and sent to the above-mentioned destinations and to the islands of the Mediterranean Sea.”[10]

Throughout the Ottoman period and beyond, Nabulsi soap maintained its reputation as the best of its kind in Greater Syria and Egypt, if not further afield. John Bowring, writing in the late 1830s, noted that “Nablous soap is highly esteemed in the Levant”;[11] and the Syrian historian Muhammad Kurd Ali wrote a century later that “Nablus soap is the best and most famous soap today for it has, it seems, a quality not found in others and the secret is that it is unadulterated and well produced.”[12] It enjoyed such a high reputation that all similarly made soap, whether manufactured in Syria or Egypt, came to be labeled “Nabulsi Soap.” Even into the twentieth century, a modern oil factory established by Jewish settlers in Palestine during the British Mandate, Shemen Ltd., advertised that its premium brand of soap was “of Nablus quality.”[13]

Investments in soap production accelerated as merchant capital came to dominate ever-widening swaths of Nablus’s hinterland and as administrative reorganizations during the Tanzimat period increased the political weight of the merchant community. The first section of this chapter investigates the capital-intensive nature of this industry and its profitability, the timing and reasons for its expansion, the concentration of wealth in family firms of soap manufacturers, the changing division of labor between oil merchants and soap-factory owners, and the vertical integration of the various stages of production.

The saga of the Hallaqiyya soap factory also reveals three important trends in the changing social composition of soap-factory owners and the emergence of a new ruling elite in Jabal Nablus by the mid-nineteenth century—the topics addressed in the second section of this chapter. First was the growing power and self-confidence of the merchant community. By purchasing a soap factory in 1829 from the Tuqans, Muhyi al-Din Arafat, a merchant, joined a powerful and exclusive club of soap-factory owners that had long been dominated by members of the old ruling elite families, such as the Nimrs and Tuqans.

The second trend was the decline of this old elite. It was no coincidence that Muhyi al-Din purchased the Hallaqiyya from the Tuqans, for the latter’s fortunes had just suffered a serious setback. Musa Beik Tuqan, the most powerful and longest-reigning mutasallim of Nablus since at least the late seventeenth century, was assassinated by his rivals on December 20, 1823, putting an end to a prolonged period of conflict during which the Tuqan family’s material base had been seriously eroded.[14] Many of the family’s key properties, including those that were endowed as family waqfs, were confiscated after Musa Beik Tuqan’s death and still had not been returned at the time of the purchase.[15] Muhyi al-Din’s nervousness, therefore, was due to his recognition that the sale was precipitated largely by the Tuqan family’s present weakness and immediate need for money. Consequently, it was impossible for him to know whether this was a temporary situation or a permanent reality. In fact, only one year after the purchase the governor of Acre, Abdullah Pasha, ordered the release of confiscated properties that had been part of the Tuqan family waqfs.[16] Fortunately for Muhyi al-Din, this reprieve proved temporary. Soon after their occupation of Syria in 1831, the Egyptians deported the leading figures of the Tuqan family to Egypt and promoted the Abd al-Hadi family instead.

The third trend was the entry into this exclusive club of the Abd al-Hadi family and its allies. The most prominent of the latter was none other than the person who bought the Hallaqiyya soap factory from Muh-yi al-Din: Shaykh Yusuf Zayd Qadri.[17] The date of purchase, 1840, was the pinnacle of the Abd al-Hadi’s rise to power. Indeed, the Abd al-Hadis, as the key local allies of the Egyptian government, had been busy expanding and consolidating their material base since the early 1830s, and this included establishing a base in the city of Nablus itself. By the mid-nineteenth century, a new composite elite anchored by the merchant community had crystallized in Jabal Nablus.

As implied by these transactions, political power was important to soap production because factory owners needed great influence in order to bring together the various factors and forces of production. In order to secure supplies and labor, they had to construct a complex network that involved a wide range of geographically dispersed social groups: peasants in Jabal Nablus and Ajlun who produced and transported the olive oil and lime (shid, the third major ingredient); bedouins on the east bank of the River Jordan who gathered the barilla plant in huge quantities, burned it, and transported the ashes to Nablus in large caravans; teams of artisans and workers who cooked, cut, and packaged the soap; and merchants who acquired oil, commissioned cooked batches (tabkhas) of soap, and operated regional trade networks. Without a modicum of political power or, at least, access to such power, the merchant community could not invest heavily in soap production, and the city’s natural advantages in comparison to some other soap-producing centers would have amounted to little.

The intimate connection between politics and soap production took on additional significance during the era of Ottoman reforms, when the merchant community gained access to political office. Because all the Muslim members of the newly established Nablus Advisory Council were soap merchants and factory owners, the exchanges between the council and the Ottoman authorities over matters dealing directly with this industry can tell us a great deal about relations with the Ottoman government. The third section of this chapter analyzes the material bases of the politics of notables and the contradictions of Ottoman reform through two examples: a tax strike by soap manufacturers and the bitter conflicts between the council and the governor of Sidon over the allocation of bids for the purchase of olive oil collected as taxes-in-kind.

Soap and the Economy

Three elements made soap production in Nablus a capital-intensive industry. First, the fixed assets—the huge building, the wells where the oil was stored, and the large copper vat in which the soap was cooked—were expensive to purchase, construct, and maintain. Second, soap was cooked in large amounts, necessitating a substantial initial investment in raw materials. Third, anywhere from two to three years could pass before soap merchants received returns on their investment: raw materials had to be secured one year in advance in order to ensure adequate supplies, and cooking, drying, packing, shipping, and selling the soap took at least another year.[18]

Consequently, capital had to be accumulated and pooled on a number of levels in order to raise the amounts necessary for all of the stages of production. With rare exceptions, the basic division of labor in terms of capital input until the early nineteenth century was between merchants who commissioned soap and made available the most expensive raw material, oil, and soap-factory owners who provided the premises, labor, and other raw materials. Within each camp, partnerships also prevailed. Soap factories were, more often than not, jointly owned, and outside investors were recruited to cover the costs of production. Similarly, oil merchants usually combined their resources in order to contract a single batch of soap (each batch consumed more than five tons of olive oil).

No later than the mid-nineteenth century, as shall be seen in a case study of two soap factories, a process of concentration of wealth in Nablus led to the vertical integration of this industry, whereby single individuals came to finance all of the stages of production. This development did not lead to qualitative changes in the process of production, which remained remarkably the same throughout the entire Ottoman era and, to a large extent, until today (see Appendix 3). More indicative were the increases in the number and prices of soap factories, as well as in the volume of production. What needs to be addressed at this juncture are the phases of expansion and their effect on the organization of production in terms of capital input, ownership, and profits.


The Yusufiyya is one of the oldest extant soap factories in Nablus, and it was still being operated in 1994. Located in the Habala quarter next to the Nimr family compound, it was named after Yusuf son of Abdullah Pasha Nimr (d. A.H.1097/A.D.1685–1686), the founding member of the Nimr clan in Nablus. Yusuf was a sipahi officer, a government official, and, later on, an active trader and soap manufacturer.[19] In January 18, 1729, his grandson, Hajj Umar Agha (d. A.H.1182/A.D.1768–1769), endowed one-fourth of the factory as a waqfahli (family endowment). He also endowed one-half of another factory, the Sawwariyya,[20] as well as the Yusufiyya’s copper vat (due to their expense, the large copper vats merited mention as items distinct from each soap factory).[21] As mentioned in Chapter 2, endowing the family’s major residential and revenue-producing properties in perpetuity for the future descendants usually signaled the consolidation of a substantial leap in that family’s fortunes. It also helped protect these properties from arbitrary confiscation, sudden economic downturn in the family’s fortunes, and fragmentation due to inheritance and marriage.

In endowing his share of this property as waqf,Hajj Umar made a choice typical of both previous and future soap-factory owners during the Ottoman period: all, without exception, used this legal mechanism to protect this important form of property from the vicissitudes of political and economic upheavals. Among Hajj Umar’s conditions in the waqf endowment was one which stated that only his sons and their male offspring could benefit from the waqf. His clear intention was to prevent the fragmentation of this property due to inheritance laws and to make sure that other families would not be able to gain shares through marriage to his female descendants. The immediate timing, however, was triggered by an attempt to assassinate him shortly before he endowed the waqf. No doubt he felt an urgent need to protect the Yusufiyya from possible confiscation or internal bickering after his death.[22]

Hajj Umar was the mutasallim of Nablus at the time. He also served as the mutasallim of Jerusalem and Ramla.[23] The other partners in the Yusufiyya were his father, who owned one-half, and his brother Muhammad, who owned the remaining quarter.[24] The copper vat he owned outright. Most soap-factory owners during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries were like the Nimrs: ruling families that could afford the substantial capital investment and that could forge the necessary political and social connections to bring together the various forces and factors of production.

Over the next century the Yusufiyya was consolidated in a single waqf, but we are told that it had fallen into disrepair. In August 1825 Hajj Umar’s grandson, Ahmad Agha, now the superintendent (mutawwali) of the waqf, went to court to ask for permission to renovate the soap factory. He testified that due to lack of maintenance and the ravages of time, the roof of the al-mafrash (the second floor, where the liquid soap was spread to dry) had collapsed, the copper vat was useless, and the building was so full of dirt that it had become “a refuge for dogs.”[25] As standard legal procedure for waqfs dictated, this account was verified through a field visit by the judge, head of the builder’s guild, and other experts. Then, after a formal court hearing, permission was granted for renovation and for the conversion of the expenses into a right-of-use deposit (khuluw mursad), from which the usual rent payment of 15 piasters to the waqf was to be deducted annually.

The application for permission to renovate as well as the inspection were, in reality, only formalities. A detailed work-expense report in the Nimr family papers shows that the repair work actually began two months before the request was put before the court,[26] and the “repairs” included the costly construction of two new storage wells for olive oil.[27] The application, therefore, was a technical step designed to facilitate the legal deduction of the renovation costs from future rent and a political move designed to reaffirm Ahmad Agha’s status as superintendent of the waqf. The primary motivation behind the renovations, however, was an economic one: the desire to expand production through a capital investment.

The investment was substantial. According to the expense report, renovation costs reached approximately 20,000 piasters, many times the average price of an entire soap factory just two decades earlier. The investment was also efficient and profitable: renovations were finished by late January 1825, just in time for the end of the olive-harvest season.[28] By April of 1826 the factory had already made 10,000 piasters in profit from the commission of 21 cooked tabkhas of soap.[29] To put the Yusufiyya’s production during these three short months into perspective, 21 tabkhas amounted to 20 percent more than what had been produced in all of Damascus, a city many times the size of Nablus, ten years later (see Appendix 3, Table 12).

How did Ahmad Agha finance this expansion? Where did he raise the capital to pay for the labor and raw materials necessary to cook so many batches of soap, and why did he decide to expand his production facilities at this time, not before or after? In part the expansion took advantage of a changed political environment. Just two years before Ahmad Agha made his investment, Musa Beik Tuqan had been poisoned, and his long reign finally came to an end.[30] The Nimrs had opposed Musa Tuqan’s centralizing efforts for most of this period and suffered greatly as a result (they were evicted from the city in the early 1820s, though not for very long). Only after Musa Tuqan’s death in 1823, therefore, could the Nimrs (and others) divert their capital to more productive projects. Also, Ahmad Agha’s political position was strengthened in 1825, when he was appointed deputy (wakil) to the mutasallim of Nablus and elected by the local sipahis and za‘ims as their chief (mir’alay).[31]

Economic factors were also at work. Ahmad Agha was neither alone nor a visionary: roughly half of Nablus’s soap factories were renovated by leading families during the 1820s. Their endeavors suggest that in addition to the improved political atmosphere, the market for Nablus soap was expanding and large profits were to be made. In most cases the capital for this investment drive was raised through multiple partnerships. For example, three soap manufacturers from the Akhrami, Amr, and Qaddumi families applied for permission to renovate the Bashawiyya factory (Habala quarter) in exactly the same month and year (August 1825) as Ahmad Agha Nimr’s application.[32] Not as rich or as powerful as the Nimr ruling family, they shared the costs equally, as is apparent from an expense report they submitted five months later (February 1826).[33]

The system of multiple ownerships and partnerships in most soap factories was reproduced here in one of its many forms. On the one hand, the Bashawiyya factory was, as per the usual pattern, completely endowed as waqf. Half of this waqf was part of a larger charitable endowment (waqfkhayri), which supported the Prophet Abraham (nabi Ibrahim ) mosque in Hebron. Two of the partners, Shaykh Amr son of Ahmad Amr and Shaykh Hamid son of Hajj Ahmad Qaddumi, had rented this half in 1820–1821.[34] The other half of the Bashawiyya was part of a family waqf controlled by Sayyid Ahmad Fakhr al-Din Akhrami, a member of the old elite of Nablus. Sayyid Ahmad Fakhr al-Din had also applied for permission to renovate his share of this factory. In fact, three months before this application, in May 1825, he had bought out his brother’s share in the Bashawiyya—that is, the entire matter was planned beforehand to coincide with the efforts of his partners.[35] In addition, he controlled shares in the Uthmaniyya factory (Qaryun quarter), in which he was partners with the Tuqan family.[36] Half of this factory was part of his family’s waqf, and in January 1826 he submitted another application for renovation in his capacity as superintendent.[37]

Another example of expansion at this time, and of how it was financed by multilayered ownership and access rights, is the case of the Sawwariyya factory. In December 1825 Isma‘il son of Muhammad Beik Sawwar, the superintendent of the family’s waqf properties, received permission from the judge to exchange part of these properties (one-third of a garden and a water pool) for 600 piasters in cash for the express purpose of renovating this factory.[38] His partners included Sayyid Ahmad Fakhr al-Din, whose family’s waqf encompassed a share of this factory, and members of the Nimr family who also had a share in their waqf portfolio.[39] Each one of these activities, it remains to be mentioned, was timed to coincide with the olive harvest of that year.

From this first vigorous revival beginning in the latter half of the 1820s, investment in soap factories gathered steam at a steady pace until the early twentieth century. Above-average growth could be detected during the late 1830s/early 1840s and during the 1860s. The first witnessed a strong push by the Abd al-Hadi family and its allies into soap production as they gained control of some factories and rebuilt others. The second period was notable for the building of new factories and the expansion of existing ones by merchants (see below).

Organization and Profits

In addition to joint ownerships of single soap factories, each shareholder often formed partnerships with wealthy individuals (akin to venture capitalists) who, in return for a percentage of the profit, financed the cost of labor, equipment, and all the raw materials except olive oil. This pattern of organization is illustrated by the 1826 expense and income account sheet of the Yusufiyya soap factory found among the Nimr FamilyPapers.[40]

This document shows that Ahmad Agha Nimr formed a partnership with Sayyid Hasan Fakhr al-Din Akhrami, almost certainly the brother of Sayyid Ahmad Fakhr al-Din Akhrami, whom we met before. Sayyid Hasan advanced 21,500 piasters for the purchase of qilw, lime, and jift (crushed olive pits used as fuel to cook the soap), as well as labor and other miscellaneous expenses, for 21 batches (tabkhas) of soap. Oil is not listed among the expenses, which means that it was supplied by the merchants who commissioned the tabkhas. This amount corresponds roughly to the total sum (20,000 piasters) paid by Ahmad Agha Nimr to renovate and expand the factory that year. No doubt, therefore, this partnership was concluded before the renovations began.

Of the 21,500 piasters invested by Sayyid Hasan, approximately 70 percent were spent on qilw. By comparison, the cost of lime amounted to 4.5 percent; jift, 4 percent; taxes, 5 percent; labor, 4 percent; and equipment and miscellaneous expenses, 12.5 percent. These figures generally agree with those calculated from a much briefer account sheet for the Yusufiyya factory for the year 1855–1856. Of the total capital invested in that year, 64 percent went toward the purchase of qilw; jift cost 6.6 percent; lime, 4.3 percent; labor, 10.6 percent; rent, 3 percent; and miscellaneous expenses, 11.5 percent.[41]

In 1826 Ahmad Agha and Hasan Fakhr al-Din charged oil merchants 1500 piasters for each cooked batch, making a profit of roughly 476 piasters per tabkha after the costs of labor and raw materials were deducted. The profits were then split evenly: half to Ahmad Agha for renovating the waqf property of which he was the superintendent and half to Sayyid Hasan for supplying the additional capital. Their return on their initial investment (over and above the renovations), after only three months’ work, was a respectable 30 percent.

This partnership was political as well as economic, in the sense that Ahmad Agha’s connections were important for securing the needed supplies; that is, some merchants during this period still found it easier to back a large venture by an established ruling family than to bear the entire risk themselves. One needs to consider, for example, the sources of the raw materials purchased by Sayyid Hasan for the Yusufiyya factory. First, 147 out of the 166 qintars of qilw purchased came from the Salt region: consistent supplies of this raw material depended primarily on the relationship between Nablus and the bedouins of the eastern bank of the River Jordan, especially members of the Bani-Sakhr tribe. Second, the lime came from three villages east of Nablus: Awarta, Salim, and Bayt Furik.[42] As discussed in Chapter 4, these villages had been closely connected to the Nimr family since the seventeenth century as part of their timar and, later on, their tax-farming holdings.

The fact that patronage, official position, and political power defined the relationship between the Nimr family and the peasants of these villages throughout the last three centuries of Ottoman rule does not mean, however, that this relationship did not change dramatically over time. The Nimrs shifted from being sipahis, or military officers with rights to a percentage of the surplus, to becoming tax collectors (multazims) and, finally, entrepreneurs who simply took advantage of previous connections but no longer had the political influence to enforce them. It was only in the last phase of this changing relationship that merchants could begin to make major inroads into the hinterland, successfully compete with old ruling families, and eventually be able to directly decide what was produced, to whom it was sold, and for how much.

The 1855–1856 account sheet of expenses and income for the Yusufiyya factory shows that the division of labor in financing the production of soap was somewhat similar. Ahmad Agha’s son, Abd al-Fattah, put up one-quarter of the capital, and three partners put up the rest.[43] They contracted an unspecified number of tabkhas, making a profit of 20.1 percent, or a third less than in 1825–1826. Because costs averaged roughly the same percentages as in the previous account sheet, it is not clear what the reasons for the decline in profit were. Perhaps greater competition from a rising number of soap factories encouraged merchants to offer a lower fee for each tabkha. In any case, profit margins of 20–30 percent for just the short-term production stage of the soap industry are not only impressive but also similar to the figures given by Tamimi and Bahjat more than six decades later, suggesting that a steady high profit was one of the factors behind the expansion of the soap industry during the second half of the nineteenth century.[44]

As for the soap merchants, it is not known how much profit they made on the soap, but it must have been considerable. After all, it was the soap merchants who bore the brunt of capital investment in soap production. The cost of oil alone for the 21 tabkhas in 1825–1826 was more than 120,000 piasters, or more than three times the joint investment by the soap-factory owner and his partner.[45] This is not to mention the rent for storing the oil, the 1,500 piasters’ fee for each batch, the export taxes and transportation,[46] and the long waiting period while the soap was dried, packaged, and shipped. Not surprisingly, therefore, soap merchants also formed partnerships in order to defray the high costs of production.

Concentration and Integration

Closely connected to the expansion of soap production was the concentration of wealth within the merchant community, a process that led to the vertical integration of production by the mid-nineteenth century. The inheritance estate of two merchants—Sayyid As‘ad son of Yusuf Bishtawi and his brother Sayyid Sa‘id—dated July 2, 1857, provides a rare look into the organization of soap production. As it happened, Sayyid As‘ad died while the al-mafrash was still full of recently cooked soap that had not yet been distributed to the various merchants.[47] Consequently, the court’s inventory had to take account of business arrangements that were left suspended.

The income and expense columns in the inheritance estate show that the Bishtawi brothers headed what can only be described as a highly centralized family firm or, put more precisely, a corporate three-generational patrilocal household the resources of which were monopolized and concentrated by two brothers. Thus, even though only one died, the court had to take into account the estates of both because they jointly owned both commercial and personal property. For instance, they jointly financed the construction of the soap factory and evenly split all business expenses and profits. They also held equal shares in the family’s residence, shops, warehouses, agricultural lands, olive groves, fruit orchards, miscellaneous goods, cash reserves, and outstanding loans. They even jointly owned furniture, copper kitchen utensils, and the clothes they wore.[48] Putting into and eating out of the same pot, so to speak, lent itself to capital accumulation and concentration in ways far better suited to large-scale investments than if each adult family member managed his or her separate income and expenses.

The forces behind this concentration did not dissipate as a result of Sayyid As‘ad’s death, for the deceased’s oldest son, Hajj Yusuf, quickly moved to take his father’s place. In fact, Hajj Yusuf secured his appointment as the legal guardian (wasi) over his male siblings—all in their legal minority—before his father died. He also became the legal agent for his two sisters, who were in their legal majority, and represented them in court. With the competition out of the way and his father’s half of the family firm’s resources intact and centralized in his own hands, the fast-paced accumulation of property and wealth interrupted by his father’s death continued without delay. Only a few days after the estate was settled in court, Hajj Yusuf and his uncle resumed in earnest the purchase of dozens of olive groves, shops, oil presses, and houses, each paying half the cost.[49]

This reconstitution of the family firm was consolidated through an orchestrated set of appearances before the court by Hajj Yusuf’s relatives. Only four days after the settlement was recorded, his mother went to court and testified that she was entitled to nothing from the property of her husband, other than what she had received when the estate was divided.[50] That same day Hajj Yusuf bought all of her shares in twenty parcels of agricultural land—mostly olive groves and fruit orchards located just outside the city—in addition to her shares in three shops inside the city.[51] None of these shares included property in the soap factory, residence, warehouses, olive presses, or other such real estate. Because none of these properties was mentioned in the inheritance estate, one can safely assume that she (in)voluntarily excluded herself from the bulk of the revenue-producing immovable properties that the Bishtawi brothers had accumulated. This, in itself, was not an unusual situation. Women in corporate households, as Deniz Kandiyoti has persuasively argued, consider sons their most critical resource, and “ensuring their life-long loyalty is an enduring preoccupation.”[52] If a woman was to enjoy protection as well as exercise control and authority, especially over other women and certainly over her daughters-in-law, the support of her sons was absolutely essential. Handing over inherited commercial properties to her sons, therefore, could enhance both their status in the household and their loyalty to her.

A few months later Hajj Yusuf also bought one of his sister’s shares in exactly the same properties that their mother had sold. Two days after that, his other sister went to court and testified that she had no claims against her brother. Even the extended family was not spared this quest for centralization: Hajj Yusuf and his uncle put up equal capital to buy parcels of agricultural land, mostly olive groves on the outskirts of Nablus, from less wealthy relatives.[53]

The concentration of wealth was paralleled by the vertical integration of soap production. Sayyids As‘ad and Sa‘id financed the construction of their own soap factory by converting a building of warehouses and shops in the Wikala Asaliyya.[54] They also purchased shares in another soap factory.[55] Not content to cook soap for merchants in return for a fee, profitable as that arrangement was, they also cooked soap for their own account—that is, they combined the role of soap merchants with that of factory owners.

At the time of Sayyid As‘ad’s death 80 percent of the soap left on the floor of their factory’s al-mafrash was commissioned by other merchants. As illustrated in Table 8, the amount of soap commissioned varied from merchant to merchant and was measured in terms of the oil provided.

8. Commissions for Soap in the Bishtawi Estate, 1857
Name Oil Jars Value of Cooked Soap (in Piasters)
Source: NICR, 12:205-206.    
Hajj Ahmad Abi Odeh 187.5 16,875
Ahmad and Abdullah Qumhiyya 250.0 22,500
Hajj Salman Sadder 400.0 36,000
Hajj Umar Tamimi 437.5 38,765
Qasim Nabulsi 62.5 5,625
Khawaja Salim Zarifa 250.0 22,500
Khalil Mustafa Masri 5.0 450
Wife of Sa‘id Bishtawi 2.5 220
Total 1595.0 142,940

Each of these items was recorded as “To [name of merchant], oil cooked into soap [zayt matbukh sabun],” which shows that the merchant’s share of soap was measured by the amount of oil he provided. Except for the Sadder brothers, there were no joint commissions for soap production, but some merchants only commissioned parts of one tabkha.

The key point here is that the Bishtawi brothers cooked for their own account 20 percent of the factory’s entire output for that cycle (each cycle filled the al-mafrash and, as soon as the soap was dry enough to be cut and stacked, another cycle was started). This meant an investment of 40,000 piasters in this particular cycle (there were 180,000 piasters’ worth of uncut soap still lying on the mafrash floor). This was a sizable investment, but only part of the whole: still left in the storage rooms inside their factory were 297 qintars of qilw, 375 qintars of lime, and 644 piasters’ worth of jift. These amounts of raw materials were adequate for at least 28 to 30 more tabkhas of soap, or three and a half times as much as had already been cooked.

In order to secure the large amounts of olive oil they needed every year, the Bishtawi brothers pursued a two-track strategy: landownership and moneylending. They acquired numerous olive groves outside the city, along with olive-oil presses, and they established a network of salam moneylending contracts with individual peasants to cover the shortfall. At the time of Sayyid As‘ad’s death, a number of salam loans were left outstanding with peasants from eight villages: Asira, Rafidya, Aqraba, Bayta, Adhmut, Salim, Ajansinya, and Bayt Dajan. All but one are located in a single subdistrict. The geographic concentration of moneylending patterns fits with the usual practice of urban merchant networks that sought to carve out spheres of influence in the hinterland.

In short, the Bishtawi brothers had the capital and political influence to finance and organize the production of soap from the ground up. They were at one and the same time moneylenders, oil merchants, soap manufacturers, and large landowners. Their estate also showed that they traded in rice, coffee, grain, and other goods. As mentioned in Chapter 2, labels such as “merchant,” “manufacturer,” and “landowner” should not be thought of as separate categories or as denoting discrete classes. Most wealthy Nabulsi households engaged in all of these activities simultaneously, though they rarely divided their resources equally among them. Patterns of investment strategies, therefore, are important indicators of larger political and economic developments. In this particular case, the Bishtawi brothers’ heavy emphasis on soap production illustrates the shifting investment strategies that laid the material basis for the entry of merchants into the formerly exclusive club of soap-factory owners and, indirectly, the crystallization of a new ruling elite by the mid-nineteenth century.

Soap and Society

In relation to each other, the social groups involved in the process of soap production were shaped exactly like the tananir (inverted cones of stacked soap cubes left to dry) that stood like silent sentinels in the al-mafrash. At the bottom, supporting the entire structure, were the peasants who produced the olive oil, the bedouins who provided the qilw, and unskilled workers. Above them were the various groups of middlemen and small merchants who operated like the numerous suction cups of a giant octopus: small-time buyers and sellers, creditors, agents, and supervisors.

Interspersed among the second layer was a relatively small group of skilled and semiskilled soap-factory workers who held the core jobs in soap manufacturing. Their position depended on an internal hierarchy based on the type of job performed, family background, and patronage ties with the factory owners. Their ability to carve out a privileged space for themselves over time is illustrated by the fact that most of these workers belonged to families that monopolized various stages of the production process, from long before the nineteenth century up to the Mandate period in the twentieth century.

Near the very top were the soap merchants who, either individually or in groups, provided the oil, commissioned tabkhas, and marketed the soap. Many of these merchants dealt primarily in other goods. Their ranks, for example, included most of the wholesale textile merchants. At the apex were the proprietors of the soap factories who, along with their partners, provided the facilities, the equipment, and all of the raw materials except oil and who supervised the organization of production. The inner core of their ranks up to the early nineteenth century included the ruling political families and the ranking members of the religious hierarchy.

Of all the social groups involved in soap production in Jabal Nablus from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth centuries, we know the most about the soap-factory owners and, to a lesser extent, the soap merchants. These two groups left a substantial trail for historians to follow, for they generated documents every time they purchased, sold, endowed, or exchanged immovable properties. They were also involved in lawsuits and petitions and/or had their inheritance estates registered in court. Through such documents, one can trace changes in their social composition and, consequently, changes in the ruling elite of Jabal Nablus as a whole. Before embarking on a detailed look at this documentary trail, however, a few words must be said about the role of workers and bedouins in the soap industry.

Soap-Factory Workers

Soap production was not a labor-intensive process, did not require a wide range of skilled workers, and generated little by way of related industries. Aside from the fixed assets, the equipment—shovels, pails, jars, stirring oar, mortars, and pestles—was simple and required no special design or quality. Some artisans, usually from the Fatayir or Shami families, specialized in making stiff sacks designed to minimize friction between the soap cubes so that they would maintain their weight and shape over the long trip to Egypt and other regional markets. As for the copper vat, it lasted for many years, and there is no evidence that it was made locally in specialized shops.

Inside the factory itself, labor was organized in two general groups: those who worked “downstairs” in the cooking process and those who worked “upstairs” with the cooked soap. Fewer than fifteen workers were involved in the cooking process on the ground floor. The first person a peasant or merchant was likely to meet when he brought oil for sale or storage was the oil-measurer (shayyal). The shayyal placed the leather oil pouch on a slanted table and checked to see whether water collectedon the bottom. His examination of the oil determined its purity, quality, and price. It was not unusual for those who were desperate to sell their oil to pass on a little extra to the measurer, for their fate was in his hands.[56]

Deeper inside the huge building, the most prominent person—usually standing with a long, wooden, oarlike stirring stick (dukshab) in his hands—was the “chief” or “boss” (ra’is). Most of the workers around him were “his” men; that is, they were part of a team (joqa) that went from factory to factory as work slowed down in one place and picked up in another. The members of the team operated within a strict hierarchy in which the chief was the uncontested leader. For them, job security and their ability to pass the line of work down from father to son were key advantages that balanced the difficult work conditions, the unexceptional pay, the sometimes arbitrary rule of the chief, and the seasonal nature of the job. In short, it was to their advantage (considering the unskilled nature of most of the work) to be part of a patronage relationship based on long-standing ties that expressed themselves through social and kinship networks.

For the chief, acceptance of the social limitations of such an arrangement in terms of his power over who was or was not included in the team was balanced by the consequent privileges he gained as the sole mediator between proprietors and workers: status, authority, and much higher wages. The proprietors’ acceptance of this semicollective labor arrangement deprived them of total control of the workers and increased the cost of labor. At the same time, however, this arrangement reduced the surface area for friction between employer and employee, because it allowed the chief to play a strong mediating role.

The chief’s job required skills that could only be acquired through long experience, and his decisions directly affected the quality of the soap produced. His main duty, aside from supervising workers, was to closely follow the minute transformations in the coagulated liquid as it brewed in the copper vat over a number of days. He alone was allowed to stir the liquid, and he alone determined when the soap was ready. This was done by dipping a 60-centimeter-long wooden stick (shammama) into the vat and smelling the hot soap that coated it. If the proprietor did not agree with the chief’s assessment, a local expert would be called in to arbitrate.[57]

The lowest paying, least prestigious, and most difficult jobs—stoking the furnace with crushed olive pits, lifting oil from the wells, and carrying barrels of hot liquid soap up the steep and narrow stone stairs—were done by the same group of all-around menial workers. This work was physically demanding and dangerous: flying sparks and embers sometimes blinded the stokers (rashshash, pl. rashshashin), and it was not always possible for carriers to maintain their footing over the soap-caked stone surface. The rest of the workers pounded the qilw, mixed it with lime, put the mixture into fermentation pits, and channeled hot water from the bottom of the copper vat to the pits. This mixture was poured back into the copper vat, and the process was repeated dozens of times, until the alkaline content reached the desired levels. The downstairs workers were usually recruited from the Fatayir, Hudhud, Asi, Takruri, M‘ani, Marmash, or Ghalayini families. Usually the chief came from one of the first three.[58]

Upstairs the primary job was laying out, cutting, stamping, stacking, and packaging the soap (see Plate 5). Here the work was also monopolized for generations by a small number of families, such as the Hijazi, Annab, and Kukhun. But the most famous by far were members of the Tbeila family. Indeed, the name of this family became so closely identified with upstairs work that the word “tbeila” became a generic one. Until now, and even though members of this family no longer pursue this type of work as a primary occupation, it is not unusual for a soap-factory owner to ask another the question, “Who is your tbeila?”—that is, who is working upstairs for you? Ironically, the Tbeila family in the early eighteenth century produced some of Nablus’s leading merchants and religious leaders, as indicated by their titles of fakhr al-tujjar (pride of merchants), khawaja, and shaykh. They also owned a soap factory and were intermarried with the Khammash and other leading families. Apparently they were reduced to artisan status by the late eighteenth century.[59]

Soap-factory workers were paid in cash and kind after each cooked batch. There is no information on the range of wages for each type of job during the nineteenth century, but no doubt the rate differed substantially within the hierarchy of work and that there were ample opportunities to embezzle oil and other raw material. Payment in kind was in olive oil and in the finely ground, charcoallike remains of the crushed olive pits after they had been burned. The latter, called (duqq) are still used today by many as fuel for braziers.

There is also no information on the tensions between workers and proprietors or between the workers themselves and no record of lawsuits over the conditions of work or of strikes until the Mandate period. No doubt, and as suggested by anecdotal evidence in interviews, these tensions did exist; but the patronage-type arrangements typical of mobile teams of laborers meant that problems were resolved without recourse to the Islamic court for arbitration. Indeed, the impressive continuity of control over the limited number of soap-factory jobs by a few families made it imperative that disputes be handled within the informal arena of custom, precedent, and solidarity, not the abstract rules of Islamic law. Nevertheless, and as the soap-manufacturing sector expanded, family control over these jobs diminished, and by the early Mandate period the major factory owners preferred to import skilled soap workers from Egypt rather than to accede to local strikes and demands for better wages.[60]


Of all the social groups in Palestinian society during the Ottoman period, bedouins have been the most stereotyped. Advocates of modernization theory who contrast the so-called traditional period with the modern era place a heavy explanatory burden on bedouins by portraying them as the agents of backwardness, stagnation, and anarchy. For example, in setting the stage for the beginnings of modernization in Greater Syria, Moshe Ma‘oz described the period before the Egyptian invasion in unambiguously negative terms, giving bedouins the lion’s share of the blame: “[Bedouins were] the chief cause of the destruction of the countryside and the subsequent ruin of agriculture and commerce. These powerful nomads infested the Syrian provinces, pillaged caravans and travellers along the roads, ravaged large pieces of cultivated land, and even dared to raid villages that were situated on the outskirts of big towns.”[61]

In support of his view that the Egyptian occupation “put an end to a long period of confusion and backwardness, and opened a new era in Syrian history,” Ma‘oz casts the bedouin in a role similar to that of the ancient barbarians at the gates of Rome.[62] The inevitable results, we are told, were anarchy, depopulation, and a drastic decline in economic productivity.[63]

Although sometimes nomads could be very destructive, the view of bedouins as essentially predatory and a threat to civilization is no longer widely shared. The emphasis has shifted from antagonism to linkages, gray areas, and complementary roles between the settled and nomadic populations as they interacted in a larger socioeconomic system.[64] In the words of Talal Asad:

The basic opposition, therefore, is not between nomads and sedentaries, but between those who engage in the production of surplus and those who have control of such surplus.…This is especially important in the historic Middle East where pastoral, agricultural, and trade activities are interdependent parts of a single economic system, where different elements of the exploitable population are mobilized at different levels to support the power structure, and where—in consequence—popular rebellions have often involved the temporary alliance of peasants and pastoralists.[65]

There is much in the history of Jabal Nablus to support Asad’s contentions. To begin with, the lines between nomads and peasants in Palestine were blurred. M. Volney, whose work is often cited to support the view of bedouins as predators, had this to say about the interpenetration of bedouin and peasant life:

[A]s often as the different hordes and wandering tribes find peace and security, and a possibility of procuring sufficient provisions, in any district, they take up their residence in it and adopt, insensibly, a settled life, and the arts of cultivation. But when, on the contrary, the tyranny of governments drives the inhabitants of a village to extremity, the peasants desert their houses, withdraw with their families into the mountains or wander in the plains, taking care frequently to change their place of habitation, to avoid being surprised.[66]

A few pages later Volney offered a second significant observation: not all bedouins are the same. Those of the Beka valley, Jordan, and Palestine, he noted, “approach nearer to the conditions of the peasants; but these [tribes] are despised by the others who look upon them as bastard arabs.”[67] John Lewis Burckhardt, another contemporary observer, described how the nomads of the Jordan Valley cultivated wheat, barley, and dhura (a variety of sorghum). He also noted that some tribes “belonged” to Nazareth and Jabal Nablus—meaning that they were linked to the urban centers in a subordinate manner.[68]

There is little doubt that bedouin tribes were indeed within the sphere of mobilization of urban power centers. During the 1854–1858 internal conflict in Nablus, for example, both urban-led factions boasted bedouin allies and referred to them as junior—though fierce and valuable—partners.[69] The same held true during factional struggles in the Jerusalem, Hebron, and Gaza regions.[70] Nimr’s view of relations between bedouin tribes and the leaders of Jabal Nablus uncannily supports Asad’s argument: “The princes of Jabal Nablus did not subordinate themselves to the bedouin but exploited them instead. They disciplined the bedouin of neighboring regions and forced them to abide by an alliance system in order to secure the means of transportation, so that the caravans of Nablus were able to reach all neighboring regions and from there to the various parts of the Ottoman Empire.”[71]

As Nimr’s comments explain and, more important, as the prosperity of Jabal Nablus in the eighteenth century clearly demonstrates, economic life could and did thrive through continually reproduced and negotiated alliance systems.[72] The occasional breakdowns were merely the exceptions that proved the rule. If one puts aside spectacular accounts of a few bedouin raids and focuses on the routines of everyday life, mutual dependency and cooperation become clear. For instance, the area east of the River Jordan where most of the bedouins dwelled was economically integrated by Nabulsi merchants as a source of, among other things, olive oil, livestock (sheep, goats, horses, camels), clarified butter (samn), and, most of all, qilw. This district also constituted an important market for Nabulsi manufactures and trade goods, such as textiles, weapons, and metal products. This is not to mention the fact that many of the clans that made Jabal Nablus their home could trace their origins to the eastern desert. As shown in Chapter 1, this economic integration was expressed politically through the creation of a combined district in 1867 called Jabal Nablus and al-Balqa.

The social history of soap fits well with Talal Asad’s contention that interdependency of economic activities was the organizing framework. There was not a single relationship of an everyday nature that tied bedouins with Jabal Nablus in a subordinate but mutually dependent manner more thoroughly than the supply of qilw for soap production. Until the introduction of caustic soda in the 1860s, large numbers of bedouins from the Bani-Sakhr, Huwaytat, and Adwan tribes gathered barilla in the valleys of M‘an, especially around Salt and Tadmur (Palmyra).[73] In the summertime they piled these plants in towering stacks, burned them, gathered the ashes and coals into sacks, and carried them to Nablus in large caravans.[74]

Burckhardt witnessed this process in 1812, and had this to say about the complex reciprocal obligations built around the qilw trade and other economic contacts with bedouins:

The Arabs of the Belka [Balqa], especially the Beni Szakher [Bani Sakhr], bring here Kelly or soap-ashes, which they burn during the summer in large quantities: these are bought up by a merchant of Nablous, who has for many years monopolized the trade in this article. The soap-ashes obtained from the herb Shiman, of the Belka, are esteemed the best in the country…They are sold by the Arabs…but the purchaser is obliged to pay heavy duties upon them. The chief of the Arabs of El Adouan…exacts for himself five piasters from every camel load, two piasters for his writer, and two piasters for his slave. The town of Szalt [Salt] takes one piaster for every load, the produce of which duty is divided among the public taverns of the town. The quantity of soap-ashes brought to the Osha market amounts, one year with another, to about three thousand camel loads. The Nablous merchant is obliged to come in person to Szalt in autumn. According to old customs, he alights at a private house, all the expenses of which he pays during his stay; he is bound also to feed all strangers who arrive during the same period at Szalt; in consequence of which the Menzels [public taverns] remain shut; and he makes considerable presents on quitting the place. In order that all the inhabitants may share the advantages arising from his visits, he alights at a different house every year.[75]

Burckhardt’s observation that three thousand camel loads were sent to Nablus annually in the early nineteenth century seems to be fairly accurate. Each tabkha of soap required at least 7 camel loads, or qintars of qilw. Because Nablus soap production ranged, at the very least, from 100 to 400 tabkhas a year, a minimum of 700 to 2,800 camel loads arrived in Nablus annually. Merchants from Nablus and the town of Salt also exported qilw to nearby soap-producing centers, such as Gaza, Jaffa, Lydda, Jerusalem, and Acre.[76]

Nablus merchants put conditions on the type and quality of qilw as well as on the time of delivery. According to Nimr, caravan shaykhs expected, in return, a certain percentage of the overall price as commission upon delivery, as well as some “gifts” in kind. For instance, Nimr claims that for every 100 camel loads, the caravan leader received money plus one large basket (quffa) of rice, as well as one ratel each of tobacco, sugar, soap, and coffee. He also received a cloak, a pair of boots, and a fur saddle blanket.[77]

This system did not materialize overnight, nor was the web of relations connecting Jabal Nablus with Salt and the bedouin tribes so fragile that it could not overcome the bedouins’ alleged natural urge to pillage. On the contrary, the key elements of this network of mutual dependency, rights, and obligations—sometimes contested, sometimes jealously guarded—were reproduced over time and space by the conscious participation of all of its members.

This network was also flexible enough to adjust to changing conditions, such as the tripling of demand for qilw supplies to Nablus over the course of the nineteenth century. In addition, when the Ottoman state established a permanent military presence on the east bank of the River Jordan beginning in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, these relations became channels for the large flow of capital into this area. Wealthy Nabulsi families quickly established a permanent presence and soon became the region’s leading moneylenders, landowners, merchants, and, later on, public officials.[78] Not surprisingly, many of these families came to occupy important positions in the Jordanian government during the twentieth century.

Factory Owners

In a small city the size of Nablus, soap-factory owners constituted an exclusive club of powerful individuals who combined political power with wealth and high social status. Points of entry into this exclusive club were determined by two coexisting dynamics: long-term structural transformation in Nabulsi society, on the one hand, and relatively sudden shifts in the balance of political power within the ruling elite, on the other. Perhaps the words that best describe each dynamic would be infiltration and accession, respectively. Thus one would speak, for example, of the slow but steady infiltration of merchants and, at the same time, of the dramatic accession of new ruling families, such as the Abd al-Hadis.

These two dynamics were related, and they reinforced each other over time. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries their interaction had an integrative effect: they both led inexorably to the emergence of a single elite with a common material base. This integrative effect can be clearly seen in the case of old ruling families, such as the Tuqans and Nimrs, that managed to maintain a foothold in this exclusive club throughout the Ottoman period. Their continued membership was due primarily to the transformation of their material base. In all but name and reputation, these old ruling families that successfully adapted to the changing political economy of Jabal Nablus came more and more to resemble merchants or, more accurately, what it meant to be a merchant in the mid-nineteenth century.

Despite the intertwined nature of old and new, changes in the social composition of soap-factory owners can easily be detected when one compares cross-sections of the membership at different points in time. A telling (and dramatic) moment in this regard took place one day in February 1807, when the most prominent soap merchants and factory owners of Nablus gathered in the Islamic court. They had come to participate in the disposal of the estate of Sayyid Abd al-Qadir Afandi Hanbali, the naqib al-ashraf (steward of the descendants of the Prophet) of Nablus, owner of the Ya‘ishiyya soap factory, and a man deeply in debt when he died.[79]

Also present in the court was Sayyid Muhammad Afandi Daqqaq, a special envoy of Muhammad Ali Khalidi, the judge of Jerusalem at the time. The deceased’s family had used its close ties to the religious leaders of Jerusalem to make sure that a respectable outsider would oversee the disposal of the properties.[80] The family needed outside protection because Sayyid Abd al-Qadir’s death came at a very inopportune moment: his only male heir was still a child in his legal minority. This situation, combined with the inevitability of having to sell the deceased’s considerable immovable properties in order to satisfy debtors, left the family at the mercy of the wealthy and powerful of Nablus who were attracted to the court like bears to honey.

Sayyid Muhammad Daqqaq came armed with an official letter of appointment that contained clear instructions for protecting the family’s interests, especially those of the child. Facing him in the court were the mutasallim, Musa Beik Tuqan; the chief of sipahis of Nablus, Hasan Agha Nimr; the new naqib al-ashraf,Sayyid Muhammad Salih Afandi Hanbali;[81] Yusuf son of Shaykh Sulayman Afandi Bishtawi; and the latter’s brother, Salih.[82] Also present were a number of merchants, including Sayyid Hasan Tuffaha Husayni; Shaykh Mustafa Ashur; Shaykh Mahmud Arafat son of Abd al-Razzaq Arafat; and Shaykh Abd al-Ghani Zayd Qadri. Members of the former group were soap-factory owners;[83] members of the latter were oil, soap, and textile merchants who commissioned tabkhas from the deceased.[84]

First picks went to Tuqan family. Musa Beik Tuqan purchased the right of use (khuluw) of the deceased’s soap factory. He also purchased the all-important copper vat, the qilw and the lime left in the factory, and the grand new residence that the deceased had recently built. Shortly thereafter, Shaykh Ashur bought a number of properties, including half of a very large oil-storage well (bahra, lit. lake) in an abandoned soap factory owned by the deceased, plus another, smaller, oil well. Leading members of the Bishtawi, Shammut, and Arafat families, all of which had business dealings with the deceased, also bought commercial properties, mostly shops and warehouses.[85]

The events unleashed by Sayyid Abd al-Qadir Hanbali’s death neatly anticipated future trends in the social composition of soap-factory owners. First, with the exception of the Khammashs,[86] all of the soap-factory-owning families (that we know of from the sources) that did not make an appearance in court—Akhrami, Sawwar, Shafi‘i, Bustami, and Tbeila—were to lose all or most of their shares in soap factories by 1840.[87] The first three were old ruling families with timar and za‘ama holdings dating to the late seventeenth century. The Bustamis were part of the established ulama elite, and the Tbeilas, as discussed above, were both merchants and ulama who later became artisans. In contrast, the factory owners who did show up in court—Nimr, Tuqan, Hanbali, and Bishtawi—were the only members of the old Nablus elite to retain a foothold in this exclusive club.

Second, and without exception, all of the merchant families listed in the estate as having commissioned soap from the deceased were destined to become soap-factory owners (see below for details).[88] Third, it so happens that the one person who accounted for more than half of the deceased’s total debt was Mustafa al-Ahmad, a resident of Arraba village. There are no clues as to who this person was or why he was owed the then considerable sum of 13,000 piasters, but Arraba was the home village of the Abd al-Hadi family, which came to dominate the politics of Jabal Nablus in the 1830s as well as to own and operate three soap factories.

Encapsulated within this inheritance case, therefore, were the three trends in the changing composition of soap-factory owners: the decline of the old urban elite during the first two decades of the nineteenth century; the rise of a recently urbanized elite during the next two decades; and, finally, the eventual domination by the merchant community in the 1850s and 1860s. Before we consider the next three cross-sections of the social composition of factory owners—dated 1839, 1842–1843, and 1853—the timing of and dynamics behind these three trends need to be detailed.

The turn of the nineteenth century was an important watershed. The slowly eroding material base of the old ruling sipahi families over the course of the eighteenth century was suddenly subjected to intense pressures during the reign of Musa Beik Tuqan in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. Musa Beik Tuqan’s drive for political centralization was mirrored by an equally aggressive drive to dominate soap production by acquiring soap factories. To appreciate the importance of this development to the changing composition of soap-factory owners, one need only follow the paper trail in the Islamic court records, as well as note the heavy-handed exercise of power involved. For example, Muhammad son of Ali Tuqan forced a waqf exchange of the entire Shafi‘iyya soap factory from Qasim Shafi‘i for the ridiculously low sum of 150 piasters in 1801.[89] Three years earlier, in September 1798, the Tuqan family had arranged the purchase of part of the Rukabiyya soap factory by one of its followers, who then turned it over to them.[90] A few months later, in early January 1799, they consolidated their hold over the Uthmaniyya factory through a waqf exchange with a less wealthy branch of their family.[91] In February 1807 Musa Beik Tuqan gained control of the Ya‘ishiyya from the Hanbalis after the leading member of that family died indebted.[92] In mid-December 1811 the Tuqans endowed two-thirds of the Shaytaniyya as a private family waqf, the implication being that this share was newly acquired.[93] In another instance, Musa Beik Tuqan “persuaded” Muhammad son of Isma‘il Qadi-Shwayka to invalidate a previous sale of his right of use of one-quarter of the Bashawiyya soap factory to Muhammad Sa‘id Bustami in December 1815/January 1816 and to sell it to him instead.[94] Finally, in April 1817 he purchased the allegedly damaged Gharzaniyya after another waqf exchange within his own extended family.[95]

This process of concentration in the context of prolonged conflict and civil strife set the stage for fundamental changes in the social composition of soap-factory owners over the next two generations. Musa Beik Tuqan’s sudden death, coming soon after he had managed to undermine the hold of other members of the old ruling elite on Nablus’s soap factories, created a vacuum. His death also unleashed a flurry of investments that were held in reserve pending the outcome of the drawn-out political struggle. As seen in the first section, those members of the old elite who managed to hold on to some shares of soap factories during his reign—Nimr, Sawwar, Akhrami, and Hanbali—now surged forward with renewed vigor. More important, new faces emerged, both through infiltration and through accession. Muhyi al-Din Arafat’s nervous purchase of the Hallaqiyya factory from the Tuqans signaled the beginning of a sustained campaign of infiltration by merchants into the exclusive club of soap-factory owners. As to accession, the first order of business for the two subdistrict chiefs who led the fight against Musa Beik Tuqan—Ahmad Qasim Jarrar and Qasim al-Ahmad—was to acquire soap factories.[96]

These two chiefs’ accession to membership in the soap-factory-owner’s circles had more than just economic significance. Soap factories were icons of power, and the transformation of peasant-produced oil into urban-manufactured soap symbolized their own metamorphosis from subdistrict chiefs based in seat villages to mutasallims based in Nablus. Unfortunately for them, however, the Egyptian invasion of 1831 caused yet another shift in political power: that is, it precipitated another wave of accession, directly at their expense. Qasim al-Ahmad led an unsuccessful uprising against Ibrahim Pasha and lost both his soap factory and his head as a result. Ahmad Qasim Jarrar, meanwhile, plotted to assassinate Ibrahim Pasha by inviting him to see his soap factory, then throwing him into a copper vat full of boiling soap.[97] He also failed and lost his soap factory.

The plot was allegedly uncovered by Ibrahim Pasha’s right-hand man in southern Syria, the Nabulsi subdistrict chief, Husayn Abd al-Hadi, who came from the village of Arraba. Like Qasim al-Ahmad, he relocated to the city, and like all the mutasallims before him, he immediately proceeded to buy a soap factory. His first acquisition was almost literally registered in blood: he bought, for only 8,000 piasters, one-half of both the house and the soap factory of Qasim al-Ahmad on October 16, 1834, not long after the latter was executed by Ibrahim Pasha.[98]

The Abd al-Hadi’s other purchases were not so convenient: all of the prime urban properties in Nablus at that time—whether they be large residential compounds, soap factories, or shops and warehouses in the commercial districts—were already endowed as family waqfs and could not be legally sold. The only way around this obstacle was to arrange for waqf exchanges (istibdal). For this type of transaction the judge’s permission was needed, because a number of conditions had to be satisfied in order for the exchange to be valid. For example, the waqf superintendent had to prove that the property concerned was no longer revenue producing or was in a deteriorating condition due to lack of repair, lack of money, or natural disaster, among other things. He also had to show that the property he was to receive in return was equal or greater in value.

Because of their fairly sudden move into the city, the Abd al-Hadis could not wait indefinitely for the waqf superintendents of the properties they coveted to step forward and exchange these properties for cash—which was all the Abd al-Hadis had to offer in return, because they did not own any real estate in Nablus. Even if the waqf superintendents were willing to come forward, the transactions would not meet the necessary legal conditions, because most of the key commercial and residential properties were either well kept or had been renovated during the economic expansion of the 1820s. The Abd al-Hadis therefore used their power and wealth to persuade the superintendents to offer these properties, then left it to the judge and other religious scholars to supply the necessary legal cover. It was through these means, for example, that the Abd al-Hadis exchanged for cash the Sawwariyya soap factory from the Sawwar, Akhrami, and Nimr families and the very large residential complex of the Sultan family, both concluded during 1832–1833.[99]

Representing the Abd al-Hadis in court were usually members of the Jawhari and Bustami families, which had held important positions in the religious hierarchy during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The key figure, however, was the judge himself, Abd al-Wahid al-Khammash, who served longer in this position than any other judge in Nablus during the nineteenth century.[100] Early on, he formed an alliance with the Abd al-Hadis, approved all of their exchange bids, and organized a petition against the pro-Ottoman sympathies of Ahmad Agha Nimr, which led to the latter’s deportation.[101] Abd al-Wahid’s political instincts served him well: he was annually reconfirmed as judge during the entire Egyptian period, and he accumulated enough capital to become one of the few individuals at the time who could afford to build a new soap factory from scratch. Constructed sometime in the mid-1840s, the masbanant al-qadi (judge’s soap factory), as it has been called since, was still operational at the time of this writing, albeit on a much-reduced scale.[102]

Politically powerful, wealthy, and on the ascendent, the Abd al-Hadis and their allies acquired ownership of a number of soap factories during the 1830s, usually at the expense of the old elite. For example, Ahmad Agha Nimr was forced to exchange his waqf share in the Sawwariyya with Husayn Abd al-Hadi for 1,250 piasters in November 1836, at the height of the olive-harvest season.[103] The real blow for the Nimrs came thirteen months later, in January 1838, when they were forced to exchange half of the Yusufiyya, their family’s prized soap factory, which they had operated continuously for more than 250 years, with Hajj Ibrahim Muhammad Anabtawi, an ally and business partner of Husayn Abd al-Hadi, for 18,000 piasters.[104] Ironically, this waqf exchange took place exactly when the soap-making season was about to start.

The Nimrs, up to that point, had not openly protested the Egyptian occupation, despite their pro-Ottoman sympathies. Ahmad Agha had even enrolled his son in the Egyptian military.[105] Moreover, he wisely chose Sayyid Mahmud Tuffaha Husayni as a partner in the Yusufiyya soap factory. In addition to being family allies and wealthy merchants, the Tuffahas were also one of the most respected ashraf families in Nablus. Their status provided some protection for an enterprise which, only a few years earlier, had been renovated at the cost of 20,000 piasters.[106] This partnership lasted for most of the Egyptian period (1245/1829–1830 to 1253/1837–1838) but ended abruptly with the forced waqf exchange mentioned above.[107] It is not surprising, therefore, that when the end of the Egyptian occupation seemed imminent in 1840, Ahmad Agha Nimr publicly declared his loyalty to the Ottomans. Unfortunately for him, his timing was premature. He was promptly exiled to Egypt (then Sudan) just months before the final withdrawal of the Egyptian forces.[108] By the time he was allowed to return to Nablus (1841–1842), he was blind and sickly.[109]

The Nimr family did not easily forget this series of events. Abd al-Fattah Nimr, resentful over the loss of half of the Yusufiyya in 1838 and angered by the exile of his father, waited until the judge Abd al-Wahid Khammash was removed from his office in 1865, then took over the half of the Yusufiyya that his father had been forced to exchange with the Anabtawis. In a lawsuit recorded in late March of that year, Abd al-Fattah was accused by Sayyid Hasan son of Hajj Ibrahim Muhammad Anabtawi of “putting his hands” on the entire Yusufiyya factory even though half of it had been legally exchanged in 1838 and then had been endowed in 1849 as a waqf by his father, Ibrahim Anabtawi.[110] Abd al-Fattah, however, easily won the case by proving what was obvious all along: namely, that the exchange was illegal because the soap factory was operational and profitable and not without benefit, as had been claimed at the time of exchange. The exchange was invalidated, as was Hajj Anabtawi’s waqf. In return, Abd al-Fattah agreed to reimburse the 18,000 piasters to the Anabtawi family and gained full control, once again, of the Yusufiyya.

The Egyptian occupation accelerated ongoing trends and led to permanent changes in the social composition of soap-factory owners. As the second cross-section shows, the major soap-factory owners in the late 1830s were a mixed bag of old and new faces representing the various components of an emerging composite ruling elite: old ruling families, merchants, the Abd al-Hadis themselves, and their recently urbanized wealthy peasant allies.

    Leaders of the Soap-Manufacturer’s Guild
    (jama‘at al-masabiniyya), 1839

  1. Sayyid Muhammad Afandi Murtada Hanbali
  2. Sayyid Abd al-Qadir Hashim Hanbali
  3. Sayyid Mahmud Tuffaha Husayni
  4. Shaykh Abdullah Hamid Qaddumi
  5. Hajj As‘ad Shammut
  6. Hajj Isma‘il Kamal
  7. Sayyid Muhyi al-Din Arafat
  8. Shaykh Yusuf Zayd Qadri
  9. As‘ad al-Tahir Salih
  10. Yusuf son of Khawaja Ahmad Tuqan[111]

This cross-section is based on a document, drawn up on the eve of the Egyptian departure, that reported an agreement by representatives of the soap-manufacturer’s guild on a formula for payment of taxes for the fiscal year 1838–1839. It must be emphasized that this was not an exhaustive list, but rather one of representatives. The composition of the representatives was skewed in favor of the largest proprietors and/or of those who adjusted well to the political climate of the Egyptian occupation. Missing from this list, for example, was Ahmad Agha Nimr. Instead, his partner, Mahmud Tuffaha Husayni, was included, even though he did not own a soap factory at the time. In addition, the Abd al-Hadis were not mentioned as part of the guild leadership, although the whole point of the document was to exempt them from having to pay taxes on the two soap factories they owned.

Still, the key soap manufacturers are mentioned, and there is no doubt that this exclusive club was now dominated by merchants, many of whom were religious leaders as well. The first three (Hanbali, Tuffaha, Qaddumi), for example, combined a religious career with soap production. The latter activity was one they had pursued for decades. The next three (Shammut, Kamal, and Arafat) came from merchant families that also produced religious scholars. Unlike the first three, however, they were infiltrators who finally acquired factories after many years of involvement in the soap trade. The next two (Qadri and Tahir) were allies of the Abd al-Hadis, on their way to becoming two of the largest soap manufacturers in Nablus. The latter was a member of the recently urbanized rural middle class. Both became soap-factory owners after the Egyptian occupation.[112] The last person, Yusuf Tuqan, was the only representative of old ruling elite that once dominated this industry, but even he was from the merchant (khawaja), not political (beik), branch of the family.[113]

The third cross-section (Table 9) shows that, only a few years later, the ranks of the old Nablus elite had thinned further and that the newly urbanized allies of the Abd al-Hadis had reinforced their position. The number of merchants, meanwhile, remained the same, though they probably accounted for a greater share of the output.

9. Account of the Soap Cooked in Nablus’ Soap Factories and of the Amount of Taxes Assessed for Each Individual, 1842–1843
Name Tabkhas Taxes (in Piasters)
Source: Abd al-Hadi Family Papers, 1.1.4; dated 1268/1851-1852.
As‘ad al-Tahir 7 5,852
Mahmud Ya‘ish 17 14,212
Abdullah Hamid Qaddumi 8 6,688
Ibrahim Qutub 16 13,794
Yusuf Shammut 9 7.542
Ibrahim Muhammad Anabtawi 7 5,852
Hassan Tuffaha Husayni 3 2,508
Abd al-Qadir Hashim Hanbali 5 4,180
Abd al-Wahid Khammash 5.5 4,598
Yusuf Zayd Qadri 12 10.032
TOTAL 90 75,240

The aim of this document—which detailed the amount of soap cooked by proprietors of soap factories ten years earlier and the amount of taxes due from them—was to exclude the Abd al-Hadis from taxation, even though this family had expanded its ownership of soap factories even further.[114] Although the list is partial, it shows that the most important change was the expansion in the number of the recently urbanized elite allied with the Abd al-Hadis. Most of the property they acquired changed hands between 1838 and 1840—that is, just before their Egyptian backers had left. One of their new members was Hajj Ibrahim Muhammad Anabtawi, who exchanged cash for half of the Yusufiyya from Ahmad Agha Nimr in January 1838.[115] Meanwhile, As‘ad al-Tahir, who was married to the daughter of Hajj Ibrahim Anabtawi, began a seventeen-year-long piecemeal purchase and renovation of the Rukabiyya soap factory in the fall of 1839.[116] At the same time, he purchased part of the Uthmaniyya factory from the Tuqan family (mid-September 1839).[117] Yet another close ally and business partner, Shaykh Yusuf Zayd Qadri, bought the Hallaqiyya factory from Muhyi al-Din Arafat in January 7, 1840, then sold half of it to Husayn Abd al-Hadi’s son, Mahmud, in late June 1841.[118]

Of the remaining three new members, one was Abd al-Wahid Khammash, the Nablus judge and an ally of the Abd al-Hadis, who built his own soap factory sometime between 1839 and 1842.[119] The other two were merchants. Mahmud Ya‘ish was a member of an old merchant family that has maintained its strong position since at least the eighteenth century. Nothing is known about Ibrahim Qutub, the last new member, except that he was part of the Qutub family in Jerusalem and that a relative of his, Ahmad Qutub, served as the judge of Nablus in the early 1860s.[120] The last two individuals most likely entered this exclusive club largely on the basis of their wealth, which must have been considerable, because their factories accounted for over 36 percent of the total taxable production of soap outlined in Table 9.

If the 1830s and early 1840s were the best years for the Abd al-Hadis and their allies, it was wealthy merchant families that made the greatest inroads into the ranks of soap manufacturers during the rest of the century. As a rule, all of the new soap-factory owners were already oil merchants who had commissioned soap from the old political and religious elite of Nablus. They included, for example, the descendants of the soap merchants mentioned above who commissioned soap from Sayyid Abd al-Qadir Hanbali (Ashur, Shammut, and Arafat). The same held true for those merchants listed in Table 8, who commissioned soap from the Bishtawi brothers in 1857 (Tamimi, Sadder, Nabulsi, Masri, and Qumhiyya).

To these families we can add names from a list of the major soap merchants of Nablus in 1853 who signed a petition protesting the imposition of new export taxes on soap:

    Soap Merchants (tujjar al-sabun) of Nablus, circa 1853

  1. Khalil Qamhawi
  2. As‘ad Khayyat
  3. Isma‘il Ati
  4. Abdullah Kan‘an
  5. Abd al-Rahman Nabulsi
  6. Ibrahim Qutub
  7. As‘ad Bishtawi
  8. Mahmud Ya‘ish
  9. Muhammad Ashur
  10. Yusuf Zayd Qadri
  11. Abd al-Qadir Hashim Hanbali.[121]
All of these merchants who did not already own soap factories at that time would do so within a few decades. The most important of them (Nabulsi, Khayyat, Ashur, and Kan‘an[122]) had become owners by the early 1860s.

Symbolic of this trend was the Bishtawi brothers’ transformation of their shops and warehouses in the Wikala al-Asaliyya into a new soap factory.[123] Their decision illustrated the ongoing shift in the investment of merchant capital from some manufacturing and trading activities, such as in textiles, into soap. The highly centralized family firm of the Bishtawis was also symbolic of the process of concentration that was taking place in the soap industry. By the early twentieth century 75 percent of Nablus’s entire soap production was controlled by just ten families, even though 29 factories were in operation.[124] The most important was the Nabulsi family, which came to own three of the largest factories. They alone accounted for more than 40 percent of the city’s entire soap production during World War I.[125]

Some of these soap-factory owners were very wealthy. Tamimi and Bahjat estimated the average worth of a rich soap manufacturer during the early twentieth century to be about 10–15 million piasters.[126] Not surprisingly, the same individuals were also the major moneylenders, landowners, and merchants of Jabal Nablus. Moreover, they dominated the political positions in the city, especially the Municipal Council (formerly the Advisory Council). In short, these merchant families replaced the old elite of Nablus as the repositories of power, wealth, and social status.

On the surface, these three criteria for membership in the exclusive club of soap-factory owners had remained the same. In reality, the meanings of these criteria had changed along with the changing social composition of the membership. Wealth was now far more important than the other two criteria, and power no longer rested on military capability or domination of the top religious positions in the city. Indeed, the entire political atmosphere had been transformed: the rise of the merchant community and the imposition of direct Ottoman control combined to redefine the parameters of the discourse between local and central forces.

The changing social composition of soap-factory owners, therefore, reflects more than just the emergence of the merchant community into a position of leadership. The more fundamental change was the crystallization of a new elite, composed of a coalition of previously disparate elements: old ruling families and religious functionaries, tax-farmers, leading merchants, and the newly urbanized rural elite. These discrete elements maintained their social and cultural identities for a long time, in the sense that intermarriage between some of them was rare. Nevertheless, they developed common economic interests: all now were manufacturers, traders, landowners, and moneylenders.

The crystallization of this elite in the mid-nineteenth century was most evident in the united stand these groups took when it came to relations with the peasantry and with the Ottoman government, the two major sources of pressure from below and from above. On the one hand, it was imperative that they maintain their access to and control of the rural surplus in the face of increased peasant resistance. On the other hand, they wished to take advantage of the state’s protection and the opportunities offered by Ottoman reforms. At the same time, they greatly resented the central government’s efforts to undermine some of their political and economic privileges, and they were incensed by the arrival of non-Nabulsi government representatives eager to interfere in their daily business affairs.

It was these sets of circumstances that made the mid-nineteenth century a watershed period in the politics of notables of Jabal Nablus. Because soap manufacturers were the richest and most powerful members of the Nablus social elite and because the entire membership of the Advisory Council at midcentury—except for Dawud Tannus, representing the Christian community, and Salama al-Kahin, representing the Samaritan community—was composed of soap-factory owners, there is no better window on the material basis of the politics of notables and their relationship to the Ottoman state than the points of conflicts between them over issues related to soap production and trade.[127]

Soap and the State

The longevity of Ottoman rule, impressive by any standard, was based on maintaining flexible, permeable, and porous boundaries of power and privilege between center and periphery. This pragmatic approach to the exercise of authority was essential to an empire that did not have the capability or even the intention of micromanaging the vast territories under its control. From the beginning, existing local forces were coopted—by force or by persuasion—into a political arena that could potentially serve their interests, as well as those of their superiors.

This approach expressed itself most clearly in regions which, by the very nature of their location or character of their social formation, were difficult and costly to control. Palestine, especially the central hill areas, was such a region. Not until the late 1840s did the Ottoman authorities begin to effectively reassert or, more accurately, assert for the first time, direct central administrative and fiscal control over this historically autonomous enclave. At precisely the same time European political and economic influence, on the rise for decades, increased dramatically following the blazing trail of the short-lived Egyptian occupation. It was the combination of these two circumstances—Ottoman centralization and integration into the world economy—that provided the larger context for relations between the Nablus ruling elite and the Ottoman state.

Meanwhile, the changing internal grid of Nabulsi economic and political life allowed merchants to position themselves in an advantageous position vis-à-vis the ruling urban and rural families and, eventually, to anchor a new composite local elite. This elite was eager to make the most of the economic opportunities that the Egyptian occupation and Ottoman reforms offered and was quite content to participate in the molding of a new political landscape through the Advisory Council. The story of relations between the central Ottoman government and this local Nabulsi elite during the Tanzimat era, therefore, is not about the imposition of Western-inspired modernization from above and knee-jerk resistance by old-fashioned traditional elements from below. Rather, it is a story about the clashing interests of two forces that spoke the same language and that were heavily, though unequally, dependent on each other. In their discourse, both forces seized on the long history of flexible and permeable boundaries between center and periphery as well as on the exigencies of rapidly changing political and economic realities in order to expand their respective space for maneuvering and, in the process, to reinvent their mutual relationship.

Instructive in this regard are two areas of conflict between soap manufacturers in Nablus and the central Ottoman authorities that stand out in the pages of the Nablus Advisory Council records: the bidding process on and the disposal of olive oil collected as taxes-in-kind (zakhayir); and the interpretation and application of new customs regulations specifying the types and amounts of taxes soap merchants had to pay. The latter was more important because it involved the greatest amounts of money, directly affected the pocketbooks of these merchants, and led to a tax strike that remained largely unresolved after two years of continual correspondence, arguments, and veiled threats. The disputes over these and similar issues helped define the new politics of Ottoman Palestine during this formative period and, it could be argued, laid the essential groundwork for the emergence of various forms of Palestinian nationalism in the early twentieth century.

The Bidding Battle

As explained in Chapter 3, one of the main duties of the Nablus Council was to oversee the bidding process on and disposal of taxes collected in kind that were stored in government-operated storehouses in Nablus and Jenin. Merchants from outside Nablus were free to participate in the bidding process, and, theoretically, these commodities were to be sold to the highest bidder. From the point of view of the council, the participation of regional and foreign merchants—based mostly in the coastal cities of Beirut, Acre, or Jaffa—had two negative effects: it raised the prices of these commodities, and it lowered the quantities available for local trade and manufacturing. This, in turn, encouraged peasants to hold out for higher prices and forced merchants, manufacturers, and artisans to compete more intensely with each other for supplies.

The soap producers and merchants of Nablus, therefore, were threatened with losing first rights to oil and other commodities collected as taxes-in-kind and, potentially, of having their access and control of the surplus of Jabal Nablus seriously undermined. These concerns, not principled opposition to Ottoman rule, spurred them to challenge some, but not all, of the new administrative rules and regulations. Because the council members were also soap merchants and manufacturers, they resorted to various means in order to restrict the bidding process over olive oil and tried to keep prices low. They waged a polite and indirect but stubborn campaign against repeated efforts by the central government to maintain an open and effective bidding process. The Ottoman government, in contrast, was keen to promote free bidding. High prices meant more money for its coffers, a stronger hold over the networks of trade, expanded access to the agricultural surplus in the various regions, and, not least, a window of opportunity for provincial governors and administrators to build patronage networks and make money by favoring certain bidders against others.

The opening salvo of the major battle over olive oil was fired in late March 1852, when the council members responded to an inquiry by Hafiz Pasha, the governor of Jerusalem, about the amount of oil collected in kind, when it would be sold, and to whom:

Of the 1267 [1851–1852] dues, 2,745 uqqas of oil have been collected thus far.…Your Noble Command was issued that it be put up for auction and the bids sent to you…as is known and famous in the city of Nablus, the local government (miri) does not have its own wells to store the oil collected. Rather, it is an old tradition that [the oil] be put in one of the merchants’ soap-factory wells. Because the oil is collected both at the beginning and the end of the year, it is well known that it precipitates and cannot be taken out in the same pure state that it entered in. So if it is put on auction now and someone bids on it, he would want it in the same pure state as the merchants who ship it overseas are accustomed to taking it. Therefore the cloudy part that filtered down will stay as the property of the oil-well owner and the amount of oil [sold] will be less [than what was brought in]. Either way, both the soap-factory owner and the miri will be cheated. Because the oil has already been deposited with Sayyid Mahmud Fakhr al-Din, it should be sold to him. This way, it does not have to change hands and it will not be necessary to sell only the clear oil, leaving behind the cloudy [part]. Because the aforementioned cooks soap in his soap factory, it is immaterial to him whether the cloudy [part] mixes in with the clear [part], for that does not hurt the production of soap.…[Furthermore,] this way we would not have to pay a fee for storing the oil, nor the expenses of measurers and lifters or any other costs.…We asked about the price of oil in these parts…and found that each uqqa is worth 3.5 piasters.…If the Noble Order sanctions this sale, we will collect the price from the aforementioned buyer and enter it into the treasury account books.[128]

It is of crucial significance that the council cited both traditional practices and new economic circumstances to explain why open bidding, from their point of view, was impossible. They could easily have rented space for storing the oil or built, at the central government’s expense, public well(s) over the years—but this would not have been in their own interests. Rather, they seized on tradition as a defense in order to reinforce their role as the interpreters of local realities—a point that was discussed in Chapter 4. They were well aware that the Ottoman government had long recognized previous customs as a legitimate precedent in a variety of circumstances (such as in land-tenure cases). Indeed, the central government’s respect for the precedent of custom was synonymous with the autonomy that had been enjoyed by Jabal Nablus over the preceding centuries.

In addition to the argument of tradition, they cited the exigencies of international trade in oil to justify why it was not cost effective to export oil already deposited in private wells. In essence, therefore, the council members asserted their control over the bidding process by the very act of depositing oil in one of the soap-factory wells and then presenting the provincial governor with a fait accompli: no matter who was chosen, it would always have to be one of the Nablus soap-factory owners because tradition dictated that their wells be used to store the oil.

The Jerusalem governor, unhappy about the lack of choice in the matter, insisted that the oil be put on auction anyway. He also ordered that the council provide full information on the bids and send him the money as soon as taxes-in-kind were sold to the highest bidder. The council members, however, still had some tricks up their sleeves. On April 30, 1852, they wrote a letter offering three other bids.[129] All three, however, came from soap-factory owners in Nablus, and all three offered a lower price than the original bid. In other words, more bids amounted to less choice, unless Hafiz Pasha was willing to accept an even lower price.

The explanations the council members gave are very instructive, in that they took refuge in a newly invented tradition: fluctuations in prices caused by international trade. They noted that most Nablus soap-factory owners refused to bid because 3.5 piasters per uqqa was too high now. This amount reflected the price of oil two months earlier, when international demand for oil through Haifa and Jaffa ports was at its peak. International oil merchants had since loaded the ships, and local soap merchants had secured their supplies. With the slackening of demand, the price of oil dropped to its normal level.

The council members reinforced their arguments by displaying the greater freedom for maneuver afforded by their knowledge of the specificities of local customs and conditions. They noted that the oil merchants were no longer as interested in bidding because, after selling the clear oil, they had enough of the cloudy part left over to cook soap with—hence they no longer needed more oil for this season’s soap production. The important point, whether the statement was true or not, was that the local soap-factory owners alone knew the actual situation.

To reinforce their subtle threats they announced that whoever bought the oil must buy it complete and pay the rent and other expenses. They reduced the governor’s room for maneuvering even further by concluding that Sayyid Mahmud Fakhr al-Din had decided to withdraw his bid and that he no longer cared who bought the oil as long as his storage costs were reimbursed. The best they could come up with, therefore, was yet another Nablus soap-factory owner, Sayyid Ahmad son of Hajj As‘ad al-Tahir, who was willing to pay 3.25 piasters per uqqa as well as all of the other expenses. Most likely, this new offer—which was one-quarter of a piaster per uqqa lower than the previous one—was not a serious one. Rather, it was a bargaining chip to push through the original candidate without conceding anything.

The governor of Jerusalem must have construed their purpose in this light, for he fired back an angry missive in record time, lecturing the council that his intent in ordering that the oil be put on auction was “not to reduce the price, but to increase it” and stating that the second offer was “unacceptable.”[130] He further insisted that the council give the greatest consideration to having a real auction and report on the results as soon as possible.

Somewhat akin to a chess game, the council members returned to their old position, but only after securing another concession. On May 11, 1852, they sent a note assuring the governor that he should not doubt their sincerity.[131] Far from attempting to manipulate the price of oil or to keep it artificially low, they reiterated, it was forces larger than themselves, namely supply and demand for oil on the international market, that drove the price down. Second, if they were to have a real auction now, its price might slide downward even further. Therefore, and in order to dispel any misgivings about their motivations, they announced the happy news that they had managed to convince Sayyid Mahmud Fakhr al-Din to resubmit his original offer, but they had to promise him in return that he could postpone payment for four months instead of paying immediately, as the governor had requested.

It must have become obvious to Hafiz Pasha that securing a higher price for the oil through the council was hopeless. Nablus was not only ruled by native sons, but all of the council members happened to be soap-factory owners to boot. In this particular situation, they were in a very strong position to control the bidding process on olive oil collected as taxes-in-kind. Therefore, he personally searched for outside bidders, settling on a Beiruti merchant who was willing to pay a mere 5 fiddas, or one-eighth of a piaster, more per uqqa than the candidate picked by the council. Immediately afterward he sent a letter demanding that the oil be surrendered to this merchant forthwith.[132] To rub salt into the wound, he even retracted his previous demand for immediate payment and ordered that the Beiruti merchant be given the same four months’ grace period as Sayyid Mahmud Fakhr al-Din demanded. He specifically commanded, moreover, that the Beiruti merchant not be made to pay any of the storage and other costs. The last order sought sweet revenge, for it aimed at embarrassing the council members, on the one hand, and at forcing Sayyid Mahmud Fakhr al-Din to bear these expenses, on the other.

It was the council’s turn to become angry and bare its teeth for the first time. In a pointed response dated June 24, 1852, it gave a number of reasons why it flatly refused to sell the oil to the Beiruti merchant.[133] First, it noted that the governor had not answered its last letter within twenty days, as he had promised, so it had assumed agreement on his part. Second, the oil had already been sold and used to cook soap. The reason was that part of the oil-well wall had collapsed, so the sale to Sayyid Mahmud Fakhr al-Din had to be finalized immediately or else the cost of moving the oil to another well would have had to be borne by the treasury. Third, it would be unacceptable in any case that the service charges on storage and other expenses not be reimbursed, and the council could not sell oil under such conditions.

To make sure that all of the possible avenues for counterattack by Hafiz Pasha were closed, the council members went on to accuse the Beiruti merchant of attempted bribery. They claimed this merchant, during a visit to Nablus, noted the empty well and threatened to outbid Sayyid Mahmud Fakhr al-Din unless he received a bribe. In other words, even if the oil were still available, they could not possibly approve its sale to such an unethical merchant. Finally, slamming the door shut, they complained that too many letters had been written and too much time had been spent on this matter. They threatened that if such methods were employed in the future, Nablus soap-factory owners would simply refuse to store the olive oil collected as taxes-in-kind in their wells. To sweeten this blatant refusal and threat, they announced that they had managed to force their candidate to add the 5 fiddas to the original price and declared the matter closed.

This stubborn and united opposition by the council members, it must be emphasized, was not motivated by the amount of olive oil at stake. That was worth approximately 10,000 piasters—a large but relatively insignificant sum compared with the millions of piasters sunk into soap production every year. Neither was this battle motivated principally by the possibility of personal gain: council members did not stand to make an immediate and direct profit on these bids, because the entire amount would be transferred to the central treasury. Rather, they cared deeply about the outcome of the bidding process because it was, in essence, a political struggle between the central government and the local council over control of the price and movement of the rural surplus, the major source of income for both sides.

Members of the council, it must be emphasized, were not simply government representatives. They were also soap-factory owners, local businessmen, and regional traders who had a direct financial stake in who bought what and for how much, as well as a political stake in maintaining their primacy over a hinterland they considered to be theirs, not the government’s or the foreign merchants’. A crucial factor in this regard was keeping the central government in the dark about how much of each commodity was produced, where, and through what channels it was moved to its final destination. If the central government were allowed to dominate the bidding process, it would eventually be privy to the full range of information about the productive capacity of Jabal Nablus and the business connections of its merchants. Eventually, the hundreds of leaks feeding local middlemen at the expense of government revenue would be plugged up, and the material base of the merchant community would be narrowed considerably.

These were not theoretical concerns. For example, the above scenario was precisely the trap that council members found themselves in when they tried to convince the governor of Jerusalem to allow the peasants of Jenin district to pay cash for that part of their taxes that was normally collected in kind. Instead of flatly agreeing or refusing, the governor cleverly pursued the matter by demanding to know why the request was made, what villages were affected, the kind and amount of commodities they produced over the years, the range of prices offered, and so on. After a long series of evasive letters, the council members finally backtracked on their original request and practically begged that the case be closed.[134]

The Tax Strike

The most serious conflict between soap merchants and the central government revolved around the imposition of new and increased taxes on the manufacture and export of soap. The root causes of the conflict were threefold: structural changes in the Ottoman system of customs regulations after the free-trade Anglo-Turkish Commercial Convention was signed in 1838; the systematic campaign by the Ottoman government to centralize its control over historically semiautonomous regions such as Jabal Nablus after the Egyptian occupation; and the simultaneous consolidation of a cohesive ruling elite in Jabal Nablus led by the Advisory Council members.

The new customs regulations reflected the weak position of the Ottoman government as it was further integrated into the world capitalist economy and revealed the serious dilemma it faced. These regulations opened internal markets by lowering taxes on foreign imports and by exacting a higher tax on exports. At the same time, they aimed at increasing revenue through tighter control of the circulation of locally produced raw and manufactured goods. Ironically, this policy—allowing freer trade opportunities for Europeans while taxing local production and trade more efficiently—only served to undermine the government’s fiscal basis. Worse, the high profits to be made from the smuggling of locally produced commodities to overseas destinations encouraged many merchants to circumvent the government’s attempts to control the flow of commodities.[135] In short, the new regulations reduced the government’s access to the very surplus it badly needed as a source of revenue, and they were certainly a factor in the eventual bankruptcy of the Ottoman Empire in 1876.

But this puts us ahead of the story. Over the next two decades after the signing of the treaty, the government faced considerable difficulties in its attempts to enforce these new regulations, especially in semiautonomous regions of Greater Syria. Smuggling and resistance by local merchants were not the only problems. The government also suffered from lack of an adequate infrastructure in terms of port facilities and efficiently staffed customs bureaus that could track and streamline the large variety of local conditions, tax arrangements, and networks of trade.

Throughout the 1840s, therefore, all the government could do was to continuously reaffirm these new regulations and to take concrete and incremental steps to slowly enforce them by appointing nonlocal customs officials.[136] For example, on February 27, 1846, copies of a firman were sent to the all of the high officials of Damascus and Sidon provinces.[137] This firman reiterated the key elements of the trade regulations issued in 1838 and indicated the government’s main concern: namely, that the agricultural commodities collected as taxes-in-kind must start flowing back into the government storehouses instead of finding their way overseas. Specifically, the movement of basic grains needed by the mass of consumers within the empire, such as wheat, barley, and corn, were not to be taxed unless they were to be shipped overseas. Then they would be subject to a total of 12 percent in taxes (9 percent entry [amed] and export [kharaj] tax upon arriving at the ports, plus a 3 percent exit [reft] tax upon being loaded on ships and exiting the port).

Other firmans further detailed the customs regulations for other goods. For example, semiprocessed commodities, such as clarified butter (samn), cheese, molasses (dibs), honey, rice, and sesame oil, were also exempt from taxes on local movement, but not when they were traded between one province and another, such as between Egypt and Damascus. Finally, processed goods, such as textiles made from cotton or soap made from olive oil, that were imported into or exported from a locality must pay the three basic customs taxes: amed,reft, and kharaj.[138] Key to all of these goals was greater central government control of the movement of goods overland from the interior regions to the port cities and the interception of smuggling networks that took advantage of inadequate customs facilities between the provinces.

These guidelines or, more accurately, the enforcement of these guidelines, signaled a major erosion in local control of the movement of commodities. Yet, and despite repeated clarifications and explanations by the central authorities over the years, this new system was still meeting resistance from merchants in Jabal Nablus in the early 1850s.[139] The spotlight fell on soap merchants and manufacturers for a number of reasons. Soap manufacturing and trade generated, relative to other economic activities in Nablus, a substantial portion of the overall revenues—that is, this sector was a tempting target for Ottoman customs officials. Soap manufacturers and merchants, moreover, were the wealthiest elements in Nabulsi society, as well as the most prominent socially and politically. Because they also dominated the Advisory Council and were outspoken about defending their interests, their actions reverberated in the political atmosphere of Jabal Nablus as a whole.

Soap merchants and manufacturers keenly felt the burden of the new regulations. If enforced, they would mean a large increase in taxation over the trade of soap, especially the export trade with Egypt which, until recently, had been virtually exempt from taxation. These new regulations also meant a significant increase in the cost of production. Not surprisingly, the council searched for loopholes in the new regulations, and it arrived at an interpretation of their meaning that was significantly different from what the central government intended. The conflicting interpretations sparked a tax strike by soap manufacturers and merchants that remained partially unresolved when the available records ended in 1853.[140]

During this time the soap merchants and the governors of Sidon and Jerusalem exchanged a number of letters and petitions through the offices of the Nablus Advisory Council. Usually the council presented itself as a neutral vehicle that simply passed communications back and forth. But at the critical junctures it showed its true colors by openly supporting the tax strike and labeling the merchants’ position as fair and just.[141] Tensions reached such a point that the newly appointed non-Nabulsi head of the customs bureau retaliated against the strike by closing the gates and forbidding the exit of manufactured soap from the city.[142]

Two sets of economic issues were of grave concern to the soap merchants and manufacturers. The first set revolved around the most important raw material: oil. Prior to enforcement of the new customs regulations at the beginning of the 1851/1852 fiscal year,[143] all oil entering the city paid an entry (amed) tax, and all of the soap leaving the city paid only the exit (reft) tax. Now merchants had to pay both the entry and the exit taxes on soap exported from the city. In other words, oil produced in the hinterland of Jabal Nablus was not to be taxed upon entering the city, but that portion of the oil which was consumed in the soap-manufacturing process was now to be subject to taxation when it left the city in the form of soap. This tax would be collected in addition to the normal exit taxes on soap.[144]

There were three connected problems in this first set of issues. Because most of the oil that entered the city was stored in the wells of soap-factory owners, a method had to be found to calculate how much oil to tax.[145] More important, because much of the soap in the 1852/1853 fiscal year was made from oil that had already paid the entry tax the year before, soap merchants wanted those taxes reimbursed before going along with the new arrangement.[146] Furthermore, not all of the oil for soap production came from the hinterland of Nablus. Soap merchants also imported oil from Jabal Ajlun on the east bank of the River Jordan.[147] Because Jabal Ajlun was not officially part of Jabal Nablus and because oil was no longer considered one of the basic commodities exempt from interregional taxation, merchants who imported it had to pay the entry tax when it passed through the city gates. Therefore, soap made with Ajluni oil had only to pay the normal exit tax when leaving the city because the entry tax on the oil used to make this soap had already been assessed and collected.

This created further complications. Apparently, some soap merchants and manufacturers attempted to avoid paying the entry and exit taxes on oil altogether by secretly smuggling it into the city and then claiming that all their soap was made from Ajluni oil.[148] At least that was the charge made by Haqqi Afandi and Khawaja Qasbar, the newly appointed non-Nabulsi customs officials. Both the soap merchants and the Nablus Council, on the other hand, complained that the customs officials were disobeying the Sultan’s firman by continuing to charge entry taxes on all oil entering the city and, at the same time, also charging both the entry and the exit taxes on all soap leaving the city.[149] The council members complained repeatedly that the customs officials were not cooperating with them or providing information on the amount of entry taxes collected in the 1850–1851 fiscal year. They threatened that unless they received such cooperation, they could not be expected to pay both entry and exit taxes on outgoing soap.[150]

The second major set of issues concerned the export (kharaj) tax on soap destined for Egypt, Damascus, the Hijaz, Anatolia, and other regions. The Nablus soap merchants insisted that the new regulations did not necessitate their paying the kharaj tax unless the soap was to be shipped out by sea from port cities such as Jaffa and Haifa. They based this position on a literal interpretation of the third article of the new customs regulations, which specified sea transport but did not mention ground transport. They argued that if the sultan meant all exports he would not have specified port cities. Furthermore, they continued, ground transport was not mentioned in any of the fourteen articles of the new regulations.[151]

The customs officials, of course, insisted that the kharaj tax be applied to all exports regardless of the form of transportation. They knew, as did the merchants, that the major markets for Nabulsi soap—Egypt, Damascus, and Jerusalem—were accessible by land. They also knew that Nabulsi merchants paid only half of the kharaj tax when soap was shipped through the ports (export merchants in Jaffa and Acre paid the other half), whereas they would have to pay the entire amount for soap exported by land. In other words, they knew that the soap merchants wanted to avoid export taxes, especially those on land routes, at any cost.

The willingness of soap merchants and producers to challenge directly the most important of government priorities—the collection of taxes—as well as their ability to form and sustain a united front for a long period of time, underline the seriousness with which they treated this matter. In part their actions reflect their resentment over the loss of past privileges. In a firman regulating customs fees on commodities entering and leaving Nablus registered in the Islamic court records in late May 1820, for example, soap exported to Jaffa, Egypt, and Gaza was the only one out of 40 commodities listed not subject to customs fees.[152] The newly proposed taxes, in short, would cut into the profit margin of soap manufacturers and merchants, complicate their business, and slow down the expansion of this industry.

The strength and determination of soap merchants can be gauged from the fact that twelve years after the signing of the 1838 commercial convention, the customs bureau in Nablus, manned by local officials, was still, for the most part, operating according to the old system. Even those new taxes that were being assessed on oil and soap were unusually light: 4 piasters and 20 paras entry tax on each jar of oil, and only 9.5 piasters exit tax on each qintar of soap. In fact, the council members felt obligated to explain to the provincial governor why these fees were not higher.[153]

There is little doubt that it was the blatant incongruity and uniqueness of customs collection in Nablus that precipitated the appointment of new non-Nabulsi officials and, in the final analysis, sustained an equal, if not greater, show of stubbornness and determination on part of the governors in Sidon and Jerusalem. Soon after their arrival, these customs officials began to log a myriad of complaints against the soap merchants in memorandums to their superiors and to the Nablus Advisory Council. In one such letter they claimed that Nablus was the only city in which soap merchants did not pay the taxes due from them.[154]

Another economic factor that sustained the strike was the amount of money involved. In a document detailing the tax structure of Nablus, dated June 24, 1841, revenues from soap production far surpassed any other source—such as taxes on shops, olive and sesame presses, weaving establishments, tanneries, and the import of cheese and tobacco into the city—with the exception of the head tax.[155] Taxes on meat brought into the city was the only revenue source that came close. Just five months’ worth of entry and exit fees on soap leaving Nablus in 1852, for example, amounted to more than 184,000 piasters.[156]

Ironically, the council cited the large sums involved as one reason why the merchants would not pay their taxes to the head customs official. This person, they said, simply could not be trusted with so much money. Rather, they suggested that the 500–600 purses of money (250,000–300,000 piasters) be deposited in the Nablus treasury or sent directly to Jerusalem.[157] Meanwhile, Haqqi Afandi and Khawaja Qasbar accused the soap merchants of fomenting a tax strike so that they could invest the large sums of extra capital remaining in their hands and “enjoy its profits.”[158]

Finally, one must point out again that the battle over the interpretation of new customs taxes on soap and oil was only one of many similar battles which pitted a centralizing government against a new merchant-dominated elite struggling to consolidate its control over the rural surplus. For example, customs officials wrote angry letters accusing the council members of undermining the bidding process on tax-farming (iltizam) to such an extent that, in their words, “tax farms had become akin to individual malikanes [life-time grants].” They also accused the council members of, among other things, embezzlement and interference.[159] The council members, on the other hand, made no secret of their opinion that it was the customs officials who were out of line and that most of the problems would be solved if it were not for the obstinacy of these officials. On more than one occasion they accused them of extortion and lack of cooperation.[160]

The running argument between the council members and the customs officials underscored the political dimension of the conflict. Essentially, their arguments were a microcosm of the larger battle over the boundaries of power, privilege, and jurisdiction between the Ottoman government and the council members who, technically, were that government’s employees. Thus the battle over customs taxes expanded to include the role of the new non-Nabulsi customs employees appointed by the central government and the extent of their jurisdiction. For example, arguments broke out as to who had the right to control the local employees of the customs bureau, whether they be gatekeepers, inspectors, or accountants. On this and other matters, each side repeatedly accused the other of imposing its will.[161]

Although the final outcome of these disagreements is not known, indications are that it was the soap merchants and the council members who had to give in. Sensing this disturbing trend, the council members, on more than one occasion, appealed to the governor of Sidon province, urging him, in effect, to decide whose cooperation he valued more: theirs or the customs officials’. To their dismay, the governor consistently came down on the side of the customs officials. Even then, the soap merchants still withheld payment. When they were finally and directly ordered to pay up, they resisted yet again.

On May 1, 1853, the soap merchants handed a petition to the council in which they feigned obedience while actually raising the stakes by challenging the authority of the governor and casting doubt on his intentions:

Today we were called in to the council [premises]…and the Noble Order…was read to us concerning the decision of the Provincial Council that we are obligated to pay for what was and will be due in the kharaj [tax] on the soap exported from our city to all areas.…Your wish is our command…and we are ready to obey the orders of the…government at any time. But, what we know is that the government…made the new customs laws, procedures, and regulations and organized them into articles and sections that no one can transcend or change. We appeal to you once again that the [new regulations] do not mention, in any one of the articles, that the kharaj is to be paid except on goods sent to seaports. This is shown clearly in the third article.…So by what proof or argument can we be convinced that we have to pay the kharaj on all shipments to all destinations? If this is to be so just because you [arbitrarily] order it, then, in any case, we, our money, and all that our hands own are…ready to obey our superiors. But, if this is to be so because that is what the new law…[intends] then we beg clarification of the phrase in this article that says that we have to pay, and where we can find it so we can obey it.…As long as our superiors are not forcing us to behave except as outlined in the customs regulations, then please convince us [of your interpretation] of this law so we can begin to comply.[162]

This petition was turned down. The last recorded attempt of council members to hold off the final showdown was yet another petition, in which they requested that demands for payment be postponed until August 8, 1853, so that they could send a representative to Beirut to argue their case one last time. They added that they would abide by the decision regardless of the outcome.[163]

Nevertheless, there were limits to the maneuvering power of the council and the soap merchants. Gone were the days when control of the movement of oil and soap was left largely in the hands of local forces and when their immediate predecessors paid little or no taxes. Already, in April 1850, the council agreed that all oil entering the city would have to be inspected, then accompanied by an official to the soap factories.[164] They also agreed that oil destined for soap production was to be put into special wells that were closed with a wooden door and locked by the customs official, who kept the key. The door, in addition, was to be sealed by that same official and could be opened again only when he was present.

Only two days before the last petition mentioned above—that is, July 30, 1853—they also agreed that special wells were to be set aside for Ajluni oil and that these wells would be sealed according to the same procedures. Finally, the tax strike lost much of its punch once the first of the two major areas of conflict—taxes over oil processed into soap—was settled when soap merchants agreed to pay entry and exit taxes on soap leaving the city gates.[165] True, they still did not pay the kharaj taxes, but these accounted for a small portion of the total amount that had been long withheld.

The fact that the Nablus soap merchants were not able to gain any concessions from the central government in return for their partial compliance signaled the turning of the tide in favor of the latter. By the early 1860s, and after a successful military campaign to end the factional conflict that gripped Jabal Nablus during the Crimean War, the Ottoman authorities were able, for the first time, to impose a non-Nabulsi as the effective qa’immaqam of Jabal Nablus.

This does not mean that an unbridgeable gap was created between the leading Nabulsi families and the Ottoman government. In fact, the government all along viewed the local notables, including the leaders of the merchant community, as their natural local allies in the region. By the same token, these same leading families reinforced their power and political legitimacy by joining the ranks of the Ottoman government’s bureaucracy, particularly the newly established Advisory Council. The battles of will between the council members and the provincial governors, therefore, were not informed by black-and-white dichotomies that pitted, as nationalists would have it, independence versus colonial occupation, or, as modernization theorists would have it, traditional feudal leaders versus a modernizing state. On the contrary, the most striking dimension of the bidding and customs battles was the fact that both sides spoke the same language. Their discourse, in other words, was built on a shared set of assumptions, such as the primacy of market forces, and the sources of political legitimacy, though not necessarily the boundaries of political power. In their last challenge to the governor about the interpretation of the third article of the new customs regulations, for example, soap merchants did not explicitly question the government’s position on international trade or its right to collect taxes on that trade. Rather, they cited the sultan as the supreme authority on customs regulations but considered the provincial governor’s view of the meanings of these regulations as just an opinion that was no more and nor less valid than their own. In other words, they claimed equal rights before the law, like all other servants of the sultan, regardless of rank.

By the same token, these conflicts were not mere tempests in teapots. On the contrary, they went to the heart of the material interests of the local merchant community and directly affected what they considered to be their legitimate efforts to mold the ways in which state power affected the particulars of their daily existence. Being part of the state, in other words, conferred on them both advantages and drawbacks. Their discourse with the provincial governor constantly aimed at maximizing the former and minimizing the latter. The soap merchants and manufacturers in Nablus consistently underscored their obedience to higher authorities as a general principle, but, just as consistently, they also tried to exploit the permeable and porous boundaries that long characterized the relations between the Ottoman state and the leaders of semiautonomous regions by emphasizing their superior knowledge of local conditions and citing the precedent of customary practices. They used this argument, it is important to emphasize, not as objective observers or as loyal bureaucrats but as creators of meanings—that is, they chose to emphasize only those aspects of tradition that suited their purposes, then recast or reinvented them in the context of the new economic and political realities of which they themselves were a product.

What these merchants objected to the most was the Ottoman government’s attempt to harden these boundaries in a manner that cut into their material base without providing any real protection against growing European hegemony or arbitrary exactions by their superiors. True, some aspects of the government’s reforms offered merchants a place at the political table in return (the Advisory Council), and this did increase their ability to manipulate local economic forces in their favor. But other aspects of the reforms—such as the encouragement of bids by foreign merchants, the imposition of nonlocal governors and customs officials bent on squeezing the merchant’s margin of profit, and minute control over the movement of commodities—all undermined the basic pillars of this interdependent relationship between the government and its local allies. As the century progressed and new technological innovations such as railroads and telegraph lines greatly increased central government control, many in the merchant community must have felt a growing need to reconsider the advantages of Ottoman rule and to search for alternatives.


Nabulsi soap factories have been transforming oil into soap for hundreds of years, but the nineteenth century stands out as an exceptional period of dynamic growth and expansion. Precisely at a time when the interior regions of the Ottoman domains were falling prey to a new pattern of trade that used coastal cities to suck out raw materials and to heave back imported goods, an ancient manufacturing sector in a small interior city managed to grow and prosper without the introduction of new technology, the development of new techniques, the opening of new markets, or dependence on foreign investment capital. This expansion was organized by interior merchants who secured enormous and ever-increasing amounts of olive oil, who operated far-flung networks, especially with Egypt, Anatolia, and the Arabian Peninsula, and who managed relations with bedouin tribes, peasants, and townsmen on the east bank of the River Jordan, an area the Ottoman government itself did not even minimally control until the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Just as the expansion of the soap industry was paralleled by a concentration of wealth and by integration of the various factors of production, the boundaries between political power, wealth, and social status were also melting away, turning these once-discrete roads to social mobility into a single avenue in which wealth came to predominate. The infiltration of merchants into the exclusive club of soap-factory owners began before the Egyptian occupation, as did the first sustained phase in the expansion of soap production. The new political atmosphere created in the 1830s and then sustained by a centralizing Ottoman government and its program of reforms helped to crystallize a new composite elite in Jabal Nablus anchored by the merchant community and to shape its world view.

From this perspective, perhaps the most important aspect of the tax strike and the battle over bids for oil collected as taxes-in-kind is that the soap merchants and factory owners of Nablus, despite the heterogeneity of their social backgrounds and their numerous political grudges, put up a united and stubborn political front over an extended period of time. In so doing, they acted remarkably, to borrow Marx’s famous phrase, like a class in itself and for itself.

The exclusive club of soap-factory owners constituted the social core of this composite elite, and the Advisory Council served as its primary political vehicle. Drawing both on Nablus’s long tradition of autonomy and on the exigencies of new economic and political realities, the council members engaged the Ottoman authorities in a discourse which actively sought to contest, filter, and direct the impact of Ottoman reforms in ways that best suited their interests. Both they and the Ottoman government displayed an enviable degree of patience and determination, at least on paper. In many ways this give-and-take process was to continue until 1917, when the British Empire replaced the Ottoman Empire as the ruler of Jabal Nablus.


1. NICR, 8:328. Each soap factory had a name and a personality, somewhat akin to famous skyscrapers of modern cities. This one was located in the Yasmina quarter. [BACK]

2. He held the post of mutasallim for most of 1827 and 1828 (ibid., 8:289, 360–361). He and his two brothers, Abd al-Rahman and Abdullah, inherited the factory from their father, Muhammad Beik Tuqan (ibid., p. 328). [BACK]

3. Muhyi al-Din had legitimate reasons to be afraid. The Tuqans had, on more than one occasion, used their political position to extort moneys and property from merchants. Nimr recounts some incidents of expropriation and murder of some merchants by the Tuqans during Musa Beik Tuqan’s rule in the early nineteenth century (NIMR, 1:256). Two similar incidents that took place in the late eighteenth century were recounted by Ibrahim al-Danafi al-Samiri (al-Samiri, Zahir al-Umar, pp. 44, 47). [BACK]

4. NICR, 8:361. [BACK]

5. Ibid., 9:151. This form of loan, called bay bi’l-wafa, was widely resorted to. In case of default, she had the right to sell the property in order to collect the principal. [BACK]

6. Ibid., 9:151. Loans by women, especially to relatives, were common in Nablus and other cities in the Ottoman Empire. It was not unusual for women to sue delinquent borrowers in court. For example, see Ronald Jennings, “Women in Early Seventeenth Century Ottoman Judicial Records: The Sharia Court of Anatolian Kayseri,” JESHO, 18 (1975), pp. 53–114; Abraham Marcus, “Men, Women, and Property: Dealers in Real Estate in 18th Century Aleppo,” JESHO, 26 (1983), pp. 138–163; Tucker, Women, chap. 4. Also, see Tucker’s two articles on women in Nablus during the Ottoman period: “Marriage and Family,” pp. 165–179, and “Ties That Bound,” pp. 233–253. [BACK]

7. NICR, 10:267. [BACK]

8. Soap was produced in most cities and towns of the Fertile Crescent. In Palestine the most important was Nablus, followed by Jaffa (including Lydda and Ramla), Jerusalem, and Gaza. See Bowring, Commercial Statistics, pp. 19, 83; Kurd Ali, Khitat al-Sham, 4:159, 190; Schölch, “European Penetration,” pp. 50–51; Graham-Brown, “Political Economy,” pp. 138–141; and Gerber, “Modernization,” p. 256. For further details, see Appendix 3. Tamimi and Bahjat (Wilayat Bayrut, p. 54) noted that the soap industry also expanded in Tripoli, but no other sources make mention of this point. [BACK]

9. NIMR, 2:288; Dabbagh, Biladuna, 6:198. [BACK]

10. Al-Ansari, Nukhbat al-dahr, pp. 200–201. [BACK]

11. Bowring, Commercial Statistics, p. 19. [BACK]

12. Kurd Ali, Khitat al-Sham, 4:159. [BACK]

13. A copy of the advertisement can be found in Graham-Brown, Palestinians, p. 115. [BACK]

14. NIMR, 1:291. [BACK]

15. Nimr claimed that these properties were taken over by the people of Nablus (ibid., 1:295). [BACK]

16. NICR, 8:225, dated October, 1830. [BACK]

17. He came from a family of rich peasants based in the large village of Ya‘bad, though it had branches in the villages of Misilya and Qabatya as well (ibid., 7:78–79; 13A:174). The latter was one of the two largest olive-producing villages in Jabal Nablus. He moved to Nablus before the Abd al-Hadis and, along with his father, helped the Abd al-Hadis to locate and purchase dozens of prime commercial properties. Many of these properties were jointly owned with them, and Shaykh Yusuf often acted as the agent of Husayn Abd al-Hadi and his children in property purchases (for example, ibid., 9:85–86, 247, 249–251, 281–283). A relative, Abdullah Afandi Zayd al-Qadri, was appointed as a guardian over Abd al-Rahman, son of Husayn Abd al-Hadi, who was then governor of Sidon province (ibid., 10:240). [BACK]

18. This jibes with Nimr’s assessment (NIMR, 2:291). Kurd Ali stated that soap produced in Damascus was allowed to dry for three years in special places before being sold (Khitat al-Sham, 4:159). [BACK]

19. NIMR, 1:95–105. [BACK]

20. Also located in the Habala quarter. The other half of this soap factory was already endowed as waqf by Khalil Beik Sawwar; hence its name. [BACK]

21. NICR, 5:81–82. This waqf was later voided with a note saying that it had been replaced by the 1161/1748 version. Unfortunately, the Islamic court records for that year are lost. [BACK]

22. NIMR, 1:120–121. [BACK]

23. Ibid., 1:121–122, 130–142. Nimr claimed that the golden age of Nablus was during the time of Umar Agha Nimr’s rule. He also credited him with initiating the commercial trade in soap with the Arabian Gulf (ibid., 2:288). [BACK]

24. His grandfather had two sons, and his father had two sons. If there were only male children, and if they all inherited, the most that Hajj Umar could receive would be exactly one-quarter. Apparently, however, the whole soap factory was passed to his father from his grandfather, and his father, in turn, divided half of it equally between his two sons and kept the other half (NICR, 5:81–82; and Nimr Family Papers, 3.1.8). [BACK]

25. Nimr Family Papers, 3.1.8. [BACK]

26. Ibid., 3.1.5. See also NICR, 8:276. Renovation began in May 1825. [BACK]

27. They were built in 1830/1831 (NICR, 8:276). [BACK]

28. Nimr Family Papers, 3.1.5. [BACK]

29. Ibid., 3.1.6. This document was reproduced in NIMR, 2:opposite p. 288. [BACK]

30. NIMR, 1:290. [BACK]

31. Ibid., 2:301–302. [BACK]

32. NICR, 8:281. [BACK]

33. Ibid., 8:316. [BACK]

34. NICR, 8:281–283, 316, 325. The Amrs were, and continue to be, one of the most important families in the Hebron area. Hajj Ahmad Qaddumi was a leading religious figure originally from the village of Qaddum, southwest of Nablus. [BACK]

35. Ibid., 8:283. [BACK]

36. The other half of the Uthmaniyya factory was part of the Tuqan family waqf. It must be assumed that they were also coordinating this program of expansion with Ahmad Fakhr al-Din, because it made little sense to renovate only one-half of a factory. [BACK]

37. NICR, 8:316. [BACK]

38. Ibid., 8:329. [BACK]

39. Umar Agha Nimr, whom we met previously, endowed one-quarter of this soap factory as a family waqf on January, 18, 1729 (ibid., 5:81–82). See also ibid., 8:329. The Abd al-Hadis gained portions of this factory through waqf exchanges with the Sawwar and Fakhr al-Din Akhrami families in the 1830s (ibid., 9:77–78, 254–255). [BACK]

40. Nimr Family Papers, 3.1.6. [BACK]

41. Ibid., 3.1.2. The implication that labor became more expensive is misleading, because some labor costs were included in the miscellaneous column of the 1825–1826 account sheet. [BACK]

42. The jift was supplied by a merchant, by the “people of Asira,” by the Qaryun quarter, and “from outside.” [BACK]

43. Nimr Family Papers, 3.1.2. This document shows continuity in the patterns of partnerships, but with even greater fragmentation. This situation, as we shall see below, was the exception that proved the rule, for it had more to do with the declining power of the Nimr family than with the overall trends. [BACK]

44. Tamimi and Bahjat, Wilayat Bayrut, p. 120. In calculating the costs of production and sale prices of soap, they came up with three possible margins of profit, all of which were between 20 and 30 percent. [BACK]

45. Calculated at 250 jars of oil per tabkha at a market price of 23 piasters per jar. The price per jar was determined from the account sheet. [BACK]

46. In 1825/1826 and 1842/1843 taxes on each tabkha of soap were 614 and 836 piasters, respectively (Nimr Family Papers, 3.1.6; Abd al-Hadi Family Papers, 1.1.4). [BACK]

47. NICR, 12:205–206. The family name suggests that they were, at one time, makers and sellers of bishts (see Chapter 3). [BACK]

48. This degree of concentration of an extended family’s resources was not necessarily typical just a few decades earlier. The four sons of Arafat Abd al-Majid Shahid, discussed at length in Chapter 2, each established their own household and did not centralize the extended family’s resources. When one of the sons, Abd al-Razzaq Arafat, died indebted in 1810, his property was sold to other rival families even though his brothers were rich at the time. [BACK]

49. Some examples of the dozens of purchase cases can be found in NICR, 12:73, 208, 216, 218, 229–231, 235–236, 263. The first document cited, for instance, was a purchase of oil presses in the nearby villages of Rafidiya and Bayt Wazan. [BACK]

50. Ibid., 12:207. It is important to note here that the inheritance estate, like all others in the Nablus Islamic Court, did not include immovable properties. [BACK]

51. Ibid., 12:207. [BACK]

52. Deniz Kandiyoti, “Islam and Patriarchy: A Comparative Perspective,” in Keddie and Baron, eds., Women in Middle Eastern History, p. 33. See also her article, “Bargaining with Patriarchy,” Gender and Society, 2 (1988), pp. 274–290. [BACK]

53. NICR, 12:208, 210. [BACK]

54. Ibid., 12:162–165. On July 23, 1856, they endowed this factory as a family waqf. The Asaliyya, as it came to be called, was located in the Aqaba quarter. [BACK]

55. Ibid., 10:83–85. [BACK]

56. Interview with Hasan Fihmi Masri, July 20, 1990. Born in 1933, he started working in soap factories at the age of nine, and at the time of this writing, was operating the Yusufiyya soap factory. [BACK]

57. In the early twentieth century Hajj Isma‘il Arafat’s son, Shaykh Amr, was considered to be the local authority on this subject (see Chapter 2). [BACK]

58. Interviews with Hasan Masri; and with Husam Sharif, November 29, 1987. Nimr provided an almost identical list but did not mention the specializations (NIMR, 2:292). [BACK]

59. For example, Salah Tbeila, identified as “the pride of merchants,” bought more than two-thirds of the Gharzaniyya soap factory in late November 1723 (NICR, 4:39); and in February 1726 Abd al-Wahid Khammash’s grandfather married the daughter of Khawaja Salih Tbeila (ibid., 4:308). [BACK]

60. Interview with Hasan Masri. Masri’s father was one of the Egyptian artisans recruited to Nablus for this purpose. Ironically, his father tried to form a soap-workers’ union in 1958, and he also became active in the union movement in the late 1970s. [BACK]

61. Ma‘oz, Ottoman Reform, p. 9 (emphasis added). [BACK]

62. Ibid., p. 12. [BACK]

63. Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, Historical Geography, p. 62; and David H. K. Amiran, “The Pattern of Settlement in Palestine,” Israel Exploration Journal, 3 (1953), p. 69. [BACK]

64. For example, Cynthia Nelson, ed., The Desert and the Sown: Nomads in a Wider Society (Berkeley, Calif., 1974). [BACK]

65. Talal Asad, “The Bedouin as a Military Force: Notes on Some Aspects of Power Relations between Nomads and Sedentaries in Historical Perspective,” in Nelson, ed., Desert, p. 71. [BACK]

66. Volney, Travels, 1:382–383. [BACK]

67. Ibid., p. 391. [BACK]

68. Burckhardt, Travels, pp. 344, 346. [BACK]

69. NIMR, 2:361, 365; Finn, Stirring Times, 1:241. [BACK]

70. For example, see Finn, Stirring Times, 1:252, 2:42. [BACK]

71. NIMR, 2:543. [BACK]

72. For an example, see Finn, Stirring Times, 1:317. [BACK]

73. Raouf Sa‘d Abujaber, whose ancestors worked in the qilw trade, argues that this trade was no longer an important source of income for bedouins by the 1860s due to the introduction of industrially produced caustic soda, which was both cleaner and cheaper (Abujaber, Pioneers, p. 135). [BACK]

74. NIMR, 2:289. Sometimes the barilla plants were sent directly to the soap factories and burned there. [BACK]

75. Burckhardt, Travels, pp. 354–355. [BACK]

76. Indicative of the importance of the qilw trade was the attempt by the Egyptian government to monopolize it during the occupation in the 1830s. The Egyptian commanders forced the Bani Sakhr and other Arab tribes to bring all their qilw to Gaza, where the government bought and stored it. The soap merchants in Nablus and Jerusalem were obliged to buy their provisions from government offices in Gaza at a higher price. Both the bedouins and the soap-factory owners, however, complained bitterly about this arrangement and the extra costs involved, especially in transportation. The Egyptians quickly realized that this monopoly caused a drop in soap production and, consequently, in taxes on soap. Therefore, after only one year, they rescinded the order and allowed bedouins to deliver the qilw directly to Nablus and Jerusalem (Asad Rustum, Al-Usul al-arabiyya li-tarikh Suriyya fi ahd Muhammad Ali basha [Materials for a Corpus of Arabic Documents relating to the History of Syria under Mehemet Ali Pasha] [5 vols.; Beirut, 1933–1936], 2:133–134). [BACK]

77. NIMR, 2:289. As usual, he does not specify the period. [BACK]

78. For a detailed account, see Rogan, “Incorporating the Periphery,” part 2. In the mid-nineteenth century, Palestinian merchants exerted pressures on the Ottoman governor of Jerusalem to facilitate cultivation of the Jordan plain and to undertake infrastructural projects (Finn, Stirring Times, 2:17). [BACK]

79. NICR, 6:260–263. [BACK]

80. The deceased was married to the daughter of the naqib al-ashraf of Jerusalem. [BACK]

81. His was only a temporary appointment, and the deceased’s son, Muhammad Murtada, took his father’s position when he reached his legal majority. Muhammad Murtada went on to become not only a soap factory owner but also the longest-serving religious official in Nablus: he held the position of naqib al-ashraf for forty consecutive years (1823–1863). For the first and last documents which mention him in this capacity, see ibid., 8:238, 311; 13A:239. For details, see Doumani, “Merchants,” chap. 3. [BACK]

82. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Bishtawis were important timar holders, but they shifted gradually to trade and soap production. In January 1729 Muhammad Beik Nasrallah Bishtawi and his wife, Aysha, daughter of Ibrahim Tuqan, endowed a soap factory as a family waqf (NICR, 5:84–85). In April 1810 a member of the Bishtawi family purchased approximately 1/12 of this factory from the Shafi‘i family (ibid., 7:40). By the late 1850s, it seems that this factory was entirely in the hands of Sayyid As‘ad Bishtawi, whose inheritance case was discussed in the previous section (ibid., 12:122). [BACK]

83. Muhammad Salih Afandi Hanbali owned a soap factory, or part of one, in 1213/1798–1799 (ibid., 6:24). Hasan Agha Nimr’s recently deceased brother, Abd al-Latif Agha, also owned a soap factory (ibid., 6:324). [BACK]

84. Ibid., 6:260–264. [BACK]

85. Ibid., 6:264, 269–273. [BACK]

86. A waqf endowment by Abd al-Wahid’s father and paternal uncle—Mustafa and Hasan, respectively—mentions that they had renovated the Sultaniyya factory, located in the Yasmina quarter, sometime before 1806 (ibid., 6:348). [BACK]

87. Sayyid Muhammad Hashim Hanbali bought shares in the Tbeiliyya soap factory between 1802 and 1811, and it does not seem that the Tbeila familyheld any more shares after that point (ibid., 6:165, 7:84). In the early eighteenth century the Bustami family owned a soap factory, but they had no shares left by 1825 (ibid., 4:307). The fate of the Sawwar, Shafi‘i, and Akhrami familieswere discussed earlier. Members of the Qaddumi, Qadi-Shwayka, and Tuffaha Husayni families also operated soap factories at this time, but as renters, not owners. The first two rented part of the Bashawiyya soap factory from a charitable waqf (ibid., 7:363, 8:281), and Sayyid Hasan Tuffaha Husayni was a financial backer of the Nimr family’s soap factory (ibid., 6:324). For more details, see below. [BACK]

88. To the above list of merchants one must also add the Ya‘ish family, one of the few merchant families to own a soap factory in the eighteenth century. There is no evidence that they remained soap owners at the turn of the nineteenth century, however. The Ya‘ishiyya soap factory, named after them, was already the property of the deceased. [BACK]

89. NICR, 6:98; located in the Qaysariyya quarter. The same sum was paid by Muhammad, son of Ali Tuqan, for a small, ruined shop next to the soap factory (ibid., 6:107). [BACK]

90. Ibid., 6:11, 18, 48; located in the Habala quarter. The purchase of this soap factory was quite complicated, and it changed hands a number of times during that year. [BACK]

91. Ibid., 6:23; located in the Qaryun quarter. [BACK]

92. Ibid., 6:260–264. It is not clear where this factory was located, and it could possibly be the same as the Husniyya or Ayshiyya factory. [BACK]

93. Ibid., 7:92–93; located in the Qaryun quarter, next to the Nasr mosque. [BACK]

94. Ibid., 7:363. [BACK]

95. Ibid., 7:346; located in Spinner’s Street, Gharb quarter. [BACK]

96. Both served briefly as mutasallims of Nablus. Qasim al-Ahmad even moved his residence to the city proper, purchasing a large complex which included an entire soap factory called the Shaqrawiyya. [BACK]

97. Asa‘d Mansur, Tarikh al-Nasira, p. 70. Descendants of Qasim al-Ahmad claim that his son planned the assassination. [BACK]

98. NICR, 9:180. The house, which still stands, is very large, and the soap factory was considered but a part of it. The other half of the property was sold to a rich merchant, Hajj Dawud, son of Hajj Mahmud Kan‘an, for 55,000 piasters on May 3, 1860 (ibid., 12:334–335). [BACK]

99. Ibid., 9:77–78, 206–207, 254–255, and ibid., 9:85–86, respectively. [BACK]

100. Between 1830 and 1864 he served for a total of 28 years. He died in 1876. For more details, see Doumani, “Merchants,” chap. 3. [BACK]

101. The petition was signed on April 20, 1840. For the text and context of the petition, see NIMR, 1:338–341. [BACK]

102. Located in the Yasmina quarter, adjacent to the family’s residence, it was endowed as a private family waqf, along with a substantial number of other properties (NICR, 11:121–123; dated September 1848). This was not a new departure for the Khammash family: Abd al-Wahid’s father and uncle had invested in the renovation of the Sultaniyya factory in 1806 (ibid., 6:348). [BACK]

103. Ibid., 9:206–207. [BACK]

104. Nimr Family Papers, 3.1.1. [BACK]

105. NIMR, 1:333. [BACK]

106. As mentioned earlier, a close relative, Sayyid Hasan Tuffaha Husayni, was a partner of Ahmad Agha Nimr’s cousin in a soap factory during the first decade of the nineteenth century. [BACK]

107. Nimr Family Papers, 3.1.4(A). Also reproduced in NIMR, 2:292–293. [BACK]

108. NIMR, 1:341. [BACK]

109. Ibid., 1:341–342. [BACK]

110. Nimr Family Papers, 3.1.1. For the waqf document, see NICR, 12:67–70. [BACK]

111. NICR, 9:393; dated January 14, 1839. [BACK]

112. Two other allies of the Abd al-Hadis who acquired shares in soap factories at this time, but who were not mentioned in the list, are Tahir al-Musa and Shaykh Salah al-Baqani. For example, in September 1839 Tahir al-Musa purchased one-sixth of the Uthmaniyya factory from Salah al-Baqani (NICR, 9:399). The former came from Arraba, the hometown of the Abd-Hadis, and he was appointed deputy to the mutasallim of Nablus in early May 1836 (ibid., 9:174). Salah al-Baqani served briefly as a judge and signed the petition against Ahmad Agha Nimr (NIMR, 1:340). [BACK]

113. He endowed two-thirds of the Shaytaniyya factory as a private family waqf in mid-December 1811 (NICR, 7:92–93). [BACK]

114. The name of the third soap factory, added to their holdings sometime between 1839–1841, is not known, but it was located in the Habala quarter. It was endowed as a family waqf by Mahmud Beik Abd al-Hadi in late June 1841 (ibid., 12:48–50). [BACK]

115. Hajj Anabtawi, originally a wealthy peasant from Anabta, was a business partner with the Abd al-Hadis and jointly owned a number of properties with them, such as a flour mill in Wadi al-Tuffah (Apple Valley), which extends westward from the city (ibid., 9:172). He also represented them frequently in court (for example, ibid., 9:191, 253, 259, 262, 273). In 1852 a letter by the Nablus Advisory Council claimed that he and Shaykh Yusuf Zayd Qadri were two pillars of the merchant community. This was part of an application to have them approved as the financial backers of Mahmud Beik Abd al-Hadi’s reappointment as the mutasallim of Nablus (NMSR, p. 249). [BACK]

116. NICR, 13A:162. In 1856 he endowed 80 percent of this factory as a private family waqf (NICR, 12:175–176, 306–307, 372). [BACK]

117. Ibid., 9:399. [BACK]

118. Ibid., 10:267; 12:48–50. [BACK]

119. Ibid., 11:121–123. [BACK]

120. Ibid., 13A:220, 265; 13B:7, 115, 128. [BACK]

121. NMSR, p. 293; dated May 1, 1853. [BACK]

122. Respectively, NICR, 13B:144, 164–165; 13B:115; 13B:19–20; 13A:30–36, 74–75, 110–111. [BACK]

123. Ibid., 12:162–165. This factory was endowed as a family waqf on July 23, 1856. Fourteen years earlier, in August 1842, they endowed a small share of the Husayniyya soap factory as a family waqf (ibid., 10:83–85). [BACK]

124. Tamimi and Bahjat, Wilayat Bayrut, p. 119. [BACK]

125. Ibid., p. 119; Darwaza, Mi’at am, p. 77. [BACK]

126. Tamimi and Bahjat, Wilayat Bayrut, p. 120. Darwaza noted that they outdistanced by far all other merchants in Jabal Nablus (Mi’at am, pp. 77–79). [BACK]

127. On April 30, 1850, for instance, four soap producers—Hajj As‘ad Tahir, Sayyid Mahmud Tamimi, Hajj Amin Hashim Hanbali, and Abd al-Fattah Agha [Nimr]—were appointed as new members of the council. The other membersat this time included the qa’immaqam, Sulayman Beik Tuqan; the qadi, Abdal-Wahid Khammash; the naqib al-ashraf Muhammad Murtada Afandi Hanbali;and the mufti SayyidAbu al-Hida Khammash—all of whom were soap-factory owners (NMSR, p. 46). For background and details, see Doumani, “Merchants,”chap. 3. [BACK]

128. NMSR, p. 186 (emphasis added). [BACK]

129. Ibid., p. 196. [BACK]

130. Ibid., p. 210. His letter is summarized in the council’s answer detailed below. [BACK]

131. Ibid., p. 210. [BACK]

132. Ibid., pp. 221–222. [BACK]

133. Ibid. [BACK]

134. Ibid., pp. 53, 66, 72–73, 94. [BACK]

135. The central government condemned smuggling and threatened violators on a number of occasions (ibid., pp. 12, 14, 41, 56). See also below for a discussion of the smuggling of oil from Jabal Ajlun into Nablus. [BACK]

136. They were spelled out in NICR, 10:199–200, 289–290; 11:141–142, 180. [BACK]

137. An Arabic translation of the firman issued by the sultan was registered in the Nablus Islamic Court on May 7, 1846 (ibid., 10:199–200). The officials addressed specifically included governors, head scribes, judges, customs officials, Advisory Council members, and muftis in the two provinces and their districts. [BACK]

138. Ibid., 11:141–142, 180. [BACK]

139. Further detailed clarifications, sent between 1849–1851, can be found in NMSR, pp. 38, 92, 132. [BACK]

140. See Ibid., pp. 92 and 304 for the first and last cases. [BACK]

141. For example, ibid., p. 227. [BACK]

142. Ibid., p. 235. [BACK]

143. Fiscal years began in March and were calculated on the basis of a solar calendar. This calendar was first introduced in 1740, and by 1794 it was applied to all financial matters (Kemal Karpat, Ottoman Population, 1830–1914: Demographic and Social Characteristics [Madison, Wis., 1985], pp. xi–xiii). [BACK]

144. NMSR, pp. 132–133. [BACK]

145. Ibid., pp. 38, 304; NICR, 11:141. [BACK]

146. NMSR, pp. 153–154, 183, 221, 227, 235–236. The soap merchants also claimed that some of the 1851/1852 soap was made from old 1266/1849–1850 stocks, so they really had a double grievance (ibid., pp. 153–154). [BACK]

147. Ibid., pp. 264–265, 304. [BACK]

148. Ibid. [BACK]

149. Ibid., p. 153. Apparently there was some truth to this allegation, for the customs officials were warned not to do so by the central government (ibid., pp. 132–133). [BACK]

150. Ibid., p. 153. [BACK]

151. Ibid., pp. 92, 195, 202, 221, 227, 235–236, 275, 293, 304. [BACK]

152. Soap exported to Safad, on the other hand, was taxed at the very light rate of 8 paras per load, and perfumed soap manufactured in Jerusalem and on its way to Damascus paid 1 piaster in customs for each load when passing through Nablus. The very low taxes on soap are more readily apparent when compared, for example, with tobacco and garlic, which were assessed 1 and 5.5 piasters per load, respectively (NICR, 8:389). [BACK]

153. NMSR, p. 50. [BACK]

154. Ibid., p. 227. The anger of the central government is also transparent in ibid., p. 70. [BACK]

155. NICR, 10:289–290. [BACK]

156. NMSR, pp. 259, 274–275. This means that at least 1.5 million piasters’ worth of soap was exported during this period. [BACK]

157. Ibid., p. 240. [BACK]

158. Ibid., p. 227. [BACK]

159. Ibid., pp. 226–227. [BACK]

160. Ibid., pp. 11, 153, 240, 242, 294, 313. [BACK]

161. Ibid., pp. 226–227, 274. [BACK]

162. Ibid., p. 293. [BACK]

163. Ibid., p. 304. [BACK]

164. Ibid., p. 38. [BACK]

165. Ibid., pp. 259, 274–275, 304. [BACK]

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