The British Empire Library

The Sultan's Yemen - 19th Century Challenges To Ottoman Rule

by Caesar E Farah

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Peter Hinchcliffe (Honorary Fellow, Edinburgh University and Queens University, Belfast HMOCS Aden Protectorate 1961-67)
For anyone who would like to know how Britain acquired more territories to colour pink in 19th Century atlases Dr Farah's study of the Yemen in Ottoman times is worth much more than a cursory look.

Aden was the first Imperial acquisition of Queen Victoria's reign and its seizure in January 1839 by Captain Haines RN on behalf of the Government of Bombay was little more than an officially sanctioned act of piracy for the sake of obtaining a strategic foothold in South West Arabia. The pretext for invasion was to demand compensation from the local ruler, the Sultan of Lahej, following the plundering by local tribesmen of a British registered cargo vessel, wrecked on the coast near the then small fishing village of Aden. Previously the Sultan had been pressurised by the British into leasing Aden, which once occupied by British troops passed permanently into crown possession despite the armed opposition of local tribesmen allied to the Lahejis.

Dr Farah describes how the British consolidated their position in their new colony establishing a cordon sanitaire bolstered by local tribal alliances aimed at protecting their tiny enclave of eighty square miles. Most of the other tribes, not in British pay, were equally willing mercenaries recruited in their turn by the authorities in Istanbul and the Imams (Priest/Kings) of the Yemen to oppose the British presence and to curtail the spread of European colonial influence. All this in the context of attempts by the Ottomans' to enforce their largely nominal authority in the Arabian Peninsular in direct competition with the Imams who were flexing their muscles against their distant overlords in Istanbul. Dr Farah spins a fascinating (and well-written) tale of intrigue and counter intrigue with the tribesmen of the Yemen being recruited by the three main parties involved to further their interests. The Great Game of Arabia was as convoluted as that of the North-West Frontier if of lesser international significance.

British Empire Book
Caesar E Farah
I B Tauris
1 86064 767 7


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