Ottoman Empire and Tanzimat

Ottoman Empire and Tanzimat
Ottoman Empire and Tanzimat

The Tanzimat, meaning “reorganization,” was a series of reforms within the Ottoman Empire during the 19th century. Sultan Mahmud II initiated a number of sweeping reforms in order to strengthen the empire by centralizing administrative control and breaking the power of local provincial governors and the janissaries.

He also supported reforms to Westernize the education system and established military and engineering schools. Although Mahmud II wanted mandatory elementary education, the Ottoman government lacked the financial wherewithal and personnel to make it a reality.

Like Muhammad Ali in Egypt during the same era, Mahmud II sent students to Europe; he also hired French and Prussian army officers to train his new military. Mustafa Reshid, who served in many official positions, including grand vizier, helped to implement these reforms. Key reformers during the Tanzimat era included Mehmed Emin Ali Pasha and Kechejizade Mehmed Fuad Pasha, both of whom were mentored by Mustafa Reshid.

Ali Pasha was the son of a shopkeeper and worked his way up in government service to the position of grand vizier. Fuad Pasha came from a wealthy family; fluent in French, he negotiated with a number of foreign powers. He often served as foreign minister when Ali Pasha was vizier, and when Fuad Pasha was vizier, Ali Pasha often served as foreign minister.

The reforms were supported and enlarged upon by Sultans Abd al-Majid and Abd al-Aziz. As part of the price for their support of the empire in its struggles against Russia, the European powers pushed the Sultan to institute sweeping reforms that often favored minorities within the empire, particularly Christians, as well as European financial interests.

The Hatti-Sherif Gulhane, the Imperial Rescript of the Rose Chamber, in 1839 declared the security of life and honor of Ottoman citizens, provided for tax reforms and the end of tax farming and abuses. It also mandated orderly army recruitment, fair trials with the creation of a council of justice, and equality of religious practices.

The rescript ended the extra tax levied on religious minorities and their exemption from military service. The Hatti Humayun, or Imperial Rescript, of 1856, was forced upon the Ottoman government following the Crimean War.

It expanded on the earlier reforms and stressed that all Ottoman subjects regardless of religion were to be treated equally. Some elected local assemblies, with advisory functions, were created. Proposed new laws were debated by the Tanzimat Council and approved by the Council of Ministers.

The Ottoman Land Law of 1858 aimed to increase agricultural production but had some unforeseen social and economic results. The law forced the registration of land, but many fellaheen (peasants) were traditionally reluctant to register anything from land to births for fear of government taxation and conscription of their sons into the Ottoman military.

The educated, urban class, who had the disposable income to bribe their way out of heavy taxation and to pay for their sons to avoid the military, took advantage of the weakness of the peasantry to gain title to vast tracts of land, thereby creating a new landed gentry of often absentee land owners.

Many peasants lost their traditional land holdings and were forced to become tenant farmers. This resulted in the further impoverishment of the peasantry in many parts of the empire, particularly in greater Syria.

A civil law code (Mecelle) was put in place in 1869 and expanded in 1876. The new code, modeled on European legal systems, was largely formulated by Ahmed Cevdet Pasha. Under the new legal system, religious law was separated from civil law. A Judicial Council that included both Muslims and Christians dealt with appeals to new civil laws.

The old millet courts continued to deal with matters involving religious law. The creation of a new secular legal system to the detriment of the old shari’a (Islamic law) was opposed by many conservative and religious elements, such as the Wahhabi movement in the Arabian Peninsula, who refused to adopt civil laws and maintained the shari’a.

International investment, largely from Europe, increased in many parts of the Ottoman Empire. The 1838 British-Ottoman commercial convention granted the British highly favorable trading terms, and British commerce with the empire flourished.

However, the influx of European goods hurt many local manufacturers, especially in the textile industry. As Ottoman expenditures on the army, which grew in numbers, and new government offices created under the Tanzimat increased, so too did the Ottoman indebtedness to European banks and investors.

Foreign ownership and investments in new communication lines and railways also mounted. The capitulations, favorable legal and commercial status, including exemption from taxes, granted by the Ottomans to foreign residents in the empire, gave foreign merchants competitive advantages against local entrepreneurs.

Foreign consuls frequently exercised extensive authority in local areas, even getting legal cases against their citizens dropped. Some Ottoman citizens were able, by legal and illegal means, to secure foreign citizenship and thereby enjoy the extra privileges granted foreign nationals.

Although ports and cities, such as Izmir, Alexandria, and Beirut, grew in size, the majority of the population remained rural and continued to maintain their traditional lifestyles. In urban areas, especially in coastal cities where there were growing European populations, Ottoman elites adopted Western fashions in dress and emulated Western life styles in everything from the architecture of their homes and household furnishings to food, literature, and music.

The number of schools following Western educational models increased. Educational and social opportunities for women in urban areas improved. By the 1850s a teachers’ training school for women had been established, and many secular schools replaced traditional religious ones.

Missionary schools such as Roberts College (present-day Bogazici University) in Istanbul, Syrian Protestant College (present-day American University of Beirut) and the French Jesuit Université de St-Joseph in Beirut educated a new generation of liberal, Western-looking elites.

Many of their graduates became leaders of the cultural reforms and nationalist movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A new elite emerged, including the young Ottomans, who supported political reforms and the creation of a constitutional monarchy and a parliament along Western lines.

However, no matter how committed Ottoman sultans and officials were to implementing these sweeping reforms, the Ottoman government simply could not provide enough qualified administrators or judges to implement the reforms. The effects of the reforms were most evident in urban and coastal areas.

The vast rural hinterland remained largely untouched by the process of Westernization and secularization. As the economic and social gaps between the urban, Westernized elites and local middle class and the traditional, highly religious peasantry grew, societal tensions and conflict escalated.