In Modern Arab Kingship: Remaking the Ottoman Political Order in the Interwar Middle East (Princeton University Press, 2023), Adam Mestyan (Duke University) argues that post-Ottoman Arab political orders were not, as many historians believe, products of European colonialism. Rather, they spurred from the process of “recycling empire.” Mestyan shows that in the post–WWI Middle East, Allied Powers officials and ex-Ottoman patricians collaborated to remake imperial institutions, recycling earlier Ottoman uses of genealogy and religion in the creation of new polities, with the exception of colonized Palestine. The polities, he contends, should be understood not in terms of colonies and nation states but as subordinated sovereign local states—localized regimes of religious, ethnic, and dynastic sources of imperial authority.
Meanwhile, governance without sovereignty became the new form of Western domination. Drawing on hitherto unused Ottoman, French, Syrian, and Saudi archival sources, Mestyan explores ideas and practices of creating composite polities in the interwar Middle East and sheds light on local agency in the making of the forgotten Kingdom of the Hijaz, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, the first Muslim republic. Mestyan also considers the adjustment of imperial Islam to a world without a Muslim empire, discussing the post-Ottoman Egyptian monarchy and the intertwined making of Saudi Arabia and the State of Syria in the 1920s and 1930s. Modern Arab Kingship's innovative analysis underscores how an empire-based theory of the modern political order can help refine our understanding of political dynamics throughout the twentieth century and down to the turbulent present day.
Vladislav Lilic is a doctoral candidate in Modern European History at Vanderbilt University.