Untold lives blog

19 November 2019

Annals of the Middle Eastern Press in the India Office Records (Part II)

The India Office Records (IOR) that are related to the Gulf and the Middle East contain some articles, clippings and extracts from the region’s early press materials.  Here at the BL-Qatar Foundation partnership programme, we created a list of Middle Eastern press materials for copyright purposes.  To put these materials together we needed to trace their history answering the who, when and why.  Even though the extracts available in the IOR come from early 20th century editions, our research established that a number of press materials were in fact 19th century items.  Following on from part I of this blog, this part examines examples of these items.

The press in the first half of the 19th century was a medium that served governments’ interests.  One of the earliest examples available in the IOR is the Ottoman language official gazette Takvım-i Vekayi (Calendar of Affairs, Istanbul, est. 1831).  The paper was initiated by Sultan Mahmud II as part of his reform policy, and was undoubtedly influenced by the Egyptian official gazette al-Waqa’i‘ al-Misriyya (Egyptian Affairs, Cairo, est. 1828) initiated by Muhammad Ali Pasha.  Takvım-i Vekayi became the official medium of publicising new laws and decrees issued by the government.  It also played a crucial role promoting the Ottoman Tanzimat (reforms that were carried out between 1839 and 1876).

Translated extract from Takvım-i Vekayi about railway construction in AnatoliaTranslated extract from Takvım-i Vekayi about railways in Anatolia IOR/L/PS/10/166, f 139r

The second half of the century witnessed the publication of many private sector and independent newspapers.   Nationalism, independence and relations with Europe were the most compelling questions of the time.  Some publications adopted a liberal voice against the traditional Ottoman authority, such as the private daily Ottoman language gazette İkdam (Istanbul, est. 1894), founded by Ahmet Cevdet Oran.  Among its lead columnists was Ali Kemal effendi, great grandfather of politician Boris Johnson.  İkdam was known for being critical of the İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress). 

Extract from the Oriental Advertiser about the Damascus-Mecca RailwayExtract from the Oriental Advertiser about the Damascus-Mecca Railway IOR/L/PS/10/12, f 222r

Another example is the weekly English language Levant Herald (Istanbul, est. 1859).  This was published by British subjects and circulated in the UK and Europe.  Both publications were severely critical of the Ottoman Government, particularly the policies of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.

Letter concerning an article in the Levant Herald about the Hedjaz Railway FundLetter concerning an article in the Levant Herald about the Hedjaz Railway Fund IOR/L/PS/10/12, f 176r

Other materials available in the IOR come from 19th century Egypt.  Among the prominent Arabic language publications is the weekly, later daily, al-Ahram (Alexandria and Cairo, est. 1875), founded by the Lebanese brothers Bshara and Salim Taqla.  Among its early writers were the renowned Muslim scholars Muhammad ‘Abdu and al-Afghani.

Report of an article in al-Ahram  concerning Bedouin tribes buying cereals from IraqReport of an article in al-Ahram concerning Bedouin tribes buying cereals from Iraq IOR/R/15/2/178, f 351r

Another Egyptian example is al-Muqattam (Cairo, est. 1889), founded by Ya‘qub Sarruf, Fares Nimr and Shahin Makariyus.  Al-Muqattam was openly pro-British.  Its rival, al-Mu’ayyad (Cairo, est. 1889), founded by Mustafa Kamel, was a popular pan-Islamic, anti-British newspaper, with lead columnists such as Qasim Amin and Sa‘d Zaghlul.  

A correction of information published in al-Muqattam relating to an alleged dispute between Saudi Arabia and KuwaitA correction of information published in al-Muqattam relating to an alleged dispute between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, dated 1937, IOR/R/15/5/121, f 11Ar

Extract from al-Mu’ayyad about the situation in Iraq 1910An extract from al-Mu’ayyad about the situation in Iraq, dated 1910, IOR/R/15/5/26, f 71r

Among the English language press in Egypt was the weekly, later daily, Egyptian Gazette (Alexandria, later Cairo, est. 1880–).  This Gazette was used to spread British propaganda in Egypt.

For extracts of these and other materials, I encourage readers to visit the Qatar Digital Library.  Part III of this blog post will explore the 20th century Middle Eastern press materials found in the IOR.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language
British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership


Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/10/166 ‘File 3047/1909 'Railways: Asiatic Turkey; railway construction in Asia Minor'
IOR/L/PS/10/12 ‘File 3142/1903 'Hedjaz Railway'
IOR/R/15/2/178 'Articles in Press on Gulf Affairs'
IOR/R/15/5/121 ‘I Riyadh (VII) Colonel Dickson’s v[isit] to Riyadh (Includes visits of other Europeans to Riyadh’
IOR/R/15/5/26 'File X/3 Disorders & Raids near Basra & in Koweit [Kuwait] Hinterland'

Anthony Gorman and Didier Monciaud. The Press in the Middle East and North Africa, 1850-1950: Politics, Social History and Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

 

Image from The Life of the Buddha

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