Popular Politics in the Medieval Middle East

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Arab & Islamic Civilizations Department

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Amina Elbendary

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Research Article

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History Compass

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Premodern Middle Eastern regimes were in general despotic, yet various social groups and communities did take part in the politics of their societies. Incidents of urban protest in Egypt and Syria in the late Mamluk period allow us to see some of their politics in practice, to understand some of the dynamics that operated in medieval Middle Eastern cities and the alliances between various groups and the social and political transformations that were taking place from the 15th century onwards. Recent research has added more nuance to understanding urban protest, not simply as reflexive reactions to economic strife but more as part of the dynamic that maintained city life and integrated various communities and which reflected new ideas of shared values and expectations of power. In riots, crowds of common people allied with and protested against military elites, religious scholars, merchants, and craftsmen. Recent studies have highlighted various roles of non‐elite urban groups in politics, analyzed urban politics in a regional and global context, and revised assumptions about unchanging autocratic Middle Eastern political culture. Some attention has also been given to the roles of peasants in rural politics. Studying popular politics allows us a better understanding of the role of various communities in pre‐modern Middle Eastern history.

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