Economic Harbingers of Political Modernization: Peaceful Explosion of Rights in Ottoman Istanbul
59 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2019
Date Written: August 8, 2019
The modernization drive of the late Ottoman Empire is typically attributed to visionary officials and pressures they faced from foreign powers. This paper ascribes a fundamental role to prior shifts in wealth toward non-Muslims and away from conservative groups, including Muslim clerics. These shifts, all under way in the 1700s, motivated Ottoman political leaders to begin, with the Gülhane Edict of 1839, to dismantle traditional institutions grounded in Islamic law and sultanic customs of governance. Despite its momentous provisions, the edict generated only minor resistance, because it addressed widespread and chronic grievances, legitimated trends unfolding for generations, and offered Muslim political elites, who had been losing ground, opportunities to catch up with rapidly advancing local Christians. The data, which come from Istanbul’s Islamic courts, allow the tracking of changes in the distribution of wealth, as measured by the founding of waqfs (Islamic trusts) and ownership of equities known as gediks.
Keywords: financial innovation, legal reform, discrimination, property rights, religion, Islam, Ottoman Empire
JEL Classification: N2, G10, P50, O1, K40
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