Payitaht Abdülhamid with Urdu Dubbing EPISODE 12
This is Episode number 12 of Payitaht Sultan Abdul Hameed. The Shaykh ul Islam, as the chief religious functionary of the state, had oversight authority over mosques, madrasas, orphanages and religious publications. He interpreted the Shariah and ensured that its dictates were implemented in the Shariah courts. The shaykh, along with the grand vizier, the khedive of Egypt and the prince of Bulgaria formed the highest echelon of functionaries at the court of the Sultan.
The modernization programs sought by Abdul Hamid required sufficient funds for their implementation. The Sultan was hamstrung by the enormous accumulated debt that he had inherited. In 1876, the foreign debt alone stood at over 12 billion kurush. The Russian-Turkish war of 1876-1878 and its aftermath added another 4 billion kurush to this enormous burden. Together with unpaid interest, the total foreign debt stood at 23 billion kurush. In addition, the internal debt stood at another four billion kurush. Interest payments alone consumed more than 80% of the budget.
There was a real possibility that the Ottomans would succumb to this debt burden just as had Egypt and Tunisia. Sultan Abdul Hamid’s first priority was to renegotiate the loans in conjunction with much needed economic reforms. Through negotiations, the total foreign debt was reduced from 23 billion to 12 billion kurush. The interest payments were negotiated down to about 20% of the budget. In return, specific revenues from tobacco, spirits, silk, salt, document fees and tributes from Bulgaria, Montenegro, Cyprus and Greece were turned over a Public Debt Commission consisting of representatives from the principal European powers and Ottoman functionaries.
To compensate for the lost revenues, the Sultan embarked upon a wide range of economic reforms. He instituted a budgetary process and established an audit department. The department heads were encouraged to trim their budgets. The Sultan removed his personal expenses from the budget and met them through his own resources. The privy purses of the princes were reduced. To increase revenues, agriculture and industrialization were encouraged. An agricultural bank was established to provide low interest loans to farmers. Surplus from the bank was used to finance education, to meet extraordinary budget requirements such as refugee resettlement and to pay for modernization of the armed forces. Password for this Episode is PayiabdUr11. Foreign investment was encouraged for building railroads, telegraph lines and building silk, tobacco and fabric processing factories. The Hijaz railroad, linking Damascus with Madina, was built entirely with domestic funds and contributions from Muslims worldwide, facilitating the movement of pilgrims from the eastern Mediterranean regions to Mecca and Madina. The net result of these reforms was that the Sultan succeeded in holding debt payments to about 7% of the budget while increasing revenues by almost 40% between 1878 and 1908, the last year of his reign. A side benefit of industrialization was that the European powers were deflected from seeking political military hegemony over the Ottomans to economic competition for mutual benefit.
The needs of the armed forces, and a civilian bureaucracy required to administer the vast empire, demanded an efficient, trained work force. Sultan Abdul Hamid knew that the Ottomans could not catch up with the West unless the educational system was reformed and expanded. Education was therefore given the highest priority. The Sultan saw to it that the education reforms that were initiated during the tanzeemat were completed during his reign. Since the debt burden was overwhelming, the Sultan invested from his personal resources to upgrade the standards of education in the Muslim religious schools, expanding their syllabus to include instruction in physics and mathematics. The millet schools as well as the missionary schools run by foreigners witnessed a similar increase in attendance. A surtax of 39% on agricultural produce was imposed, with two thirds of the revenues so generated earmarked for agricultural improvements and the remaining one-third for public education. Enrollment in the army Rushdiye schools was greatly expanded. The army took the lead in improving technical education. With a better cadre of students available, the War Academy, the Army Engineering School, the Army Medical School and the Merchant Marine School embarked on a program of modernization. Army instructors from Germany and agricultural instructors from France were brought in to upgrade the faculty. Enrollment in the technical schools increased four fold. The University of Istanbul was reopened in 1900 with the faculties of Mathematics, Physical Sciences, Religion and Social Sciences. Performance-based examinations replaced the old system of favoritism for admission to the technical schools and the university. The Sultan’s educational reforms opened the doors to children of the less affluent classes giving them an opportunity to compete for the higher posts in civil service and the army. Predictably, the rise of an educated class which sprang from the lower ranks of society gave rise to demands for increased political participation and ultimately led to the Young Turk revolution and the overthrow of the Sultan himself (1909).
The greatest tribute to Sultan Abdul Hamid is that even today many Muslims around the world invoke his name with nostalgia for a bygone era when a venerated caliph provided a semblance of political focus for the global Islamic community and gave it a sense of universal brotherhood. Muslims as far away as India and Nigeria looked to him for guidance in matters small and large. His office radiated religious, political, cultural and social influence across the Islamic world. The Ottoman fez became not only a hat for the Turks but for Indian Muslims, Egyptians, Moroccans and Malaysians. His failure was that he pursued his modernization program through a highly centralized, personal style, which opened him to charges of despotism.