Ottoman Tanzimat (1840-1876)

The period of Ottoman Tanzimat (i.e. the “reorganization” of the Ottoman Empire) began after the abolition of Egyptian rule over Palestine and Syria by Egypt’s Muhammad Ali, who rebelled against the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul and led a military campaign reaching Anatolia. At this time, the Ottoman Empire gradually ceased to be a feudal, imperial regime and became more modern; its first constitution was endorsed, a parliament was established, and a number of reformist principles dealing with the rule of the law, citizenship, and land ownership were adopted. In addition to these changes, commonly referred to as the Ottoman Tanzimat, the Ottoman Empire’s ties with Germany were strengthened and European influence within the empire increased significantly, allowing, among other things, free trade between both parties.

Due to its unique status and its strong, direct ties with Istanbul, Jerusalem was one of the sites most influenced by these radical changes in the empire – not only did the fez begin to replace the turban among the city’s elite, but a number of its members were appointed in supervisory positions across the country and roads linking Jerusalem with adjacent cities were paved. Consequently, the city went through a period of economic prosperity. Tourism increased proportionally, and new construction sites outside the city gates began to appear. Jerusalem and the southern parts of Palestine (which included Ramallah, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Jericho, Hebron, and Beersheba) soon become a unique entity, and, in 1871, were considered – as a unit – a great Sanjak directly governed by the center of the empire in Istanbul.

During this period, the Al Husseinis’ relationship with the government and its sultans in Istanbul solidified further and the state’s trust in them increased. Not only were Al Husseinis granted the highest positions in Jerusalem (such as fatwa-issuing clergy, administration of the elites’ syndicate, and the chiefdom of the Al Aqsa Mosque), but they were also granted other supervisory and greatly influential positions (such as governance and decision-making positions outside of Palestine in regions such as Aseer, Najd –which are located in what is now known as Saudi Arabia–, and Fezzan –in what is now known as Libya– as well as mayoralty in the reformed municipality). Their youth, moreover, were taught modern sciences in newly-constructed modernist schools in Istanbul. The family also began to invest, purchasing real estate in Jerusalem and farmlands, which, under expert management, they quickly began to profit from by producing commercial crops.

In this period as well, Mousa Taher –who did not enroll in religious science classes like his brothers and family members– began working in agriculture and dried olives fuel businesses. From these humble beginnings, he would go on to flourish, managing a major trade that enabled him to purchase lands and start a process of reclamation. He produced crops in bulk and exported them to Europe by sea, while also working in sesame oil extraction. Later, he became one of Palestine’s richest businessmen. In 1865, he was elected Chairman of the Board Of Trade and was appointed a member of the Great Board Of Directors Of The Jerusalem Sanjak. In addition to the many awards he would win, in 1874, he was named mayor of Jerusalem and the president of the Court Of Commerce. Mousa had three children, Aref (1858), Ismail (1860), and Shukri (1863).


Mousa Taher �Abdul-latif Al Husseini