In the turbulent political and economic atmosphere of the eighteenth century when the Ottoman Empire was enfeebled and deeply wounded by internal corruption and attacked on three fronts by the Persian, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires, local leaders far from Istanbul began to take matters into their own hands. At first, these leaders only regulated local trade and tax collection, but soon, leaders like Shaykh Zahir al-‘Umar — a district tax collector in Palestine for the Ottoman government — saw opportunities to amass great wealth and power while providing autonomous government and safer roads to their local followers. Zahir first spread his control over northern Palestine, and later allied himself with Ali Bey of Egypt, a semi-independent leader who dreamed of re-establishing the Mamluk sultanate. When challenged by the Ottoman government, which was at the time at war with Catherine the Great’s Russia (1768–74), Zahir and Ali Bey did not hesitate to ally themselves with Imperial Russia. A gripping and fascinating read, Dr. Ahmad Joudah’s biography of Shaykh Zahir is crucial for scholars seeking to contextualize developments in modern Palestinian history within the power politics of the late Ottoman Empire.
Ahmad H. Joudah was born in 1934 in the village of Isdoud in southern Palestine. He completed his higher education at the University of Cairo (BA 1955), University of Texas - Austin (MA 1964), and the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (PhD 1971). Dr. Joudah was the first curator of the Middle East collection at UT-Austin (1969-72), after which he returned to the Arab world to serve as Professor of Modern Arab History at the University of Benghazi (1972-79) and King Saud University in Riyadh (1979-1991). In 1991, for political reasons, he and his family immigrated to the United States where he and his wife taught Arabic language and culture until 2004. He is currently residing in Houston, TX and writing a history of his village, Isdoud, as well as his personal memoirs.