Realpolitik & Sectarian strife: A re-appraisal of Fatimid rule in Syria – Shainool Jiwa’s Presentation at MESA 2014 Conference, Washington, DC

Using Fatimid involvement in Syria during the reign of al-‘Aziz bi’llah as a case-study, this paper examines the extent to which religious ideology beyond realpolitik influenced Fatimid fortunes in the region.

Realpolitik & Sectarian strife: A re-appraisal of Fatimid rule in Syria during the reign of the Fatimid Imam-caliph al-‘Azīz bi’llāh (365-386/975-996) by Jiwa, Shainool

Abstract:

The inception of Fatimid rule in Syria in 970/1 elicited victories and defeats, rebellions and reconciliations. Upon their arrival in Egypt, a Fatimid presence in Syria became inevitable since it was in the Syrian buffer zone that the regional rivalries between the Fatimids in Egypt, the Buyids in Iraq and the Byzantines to the north of Syria were fought out. The contest for Syria was compounded moreover by a competing array of local Syrian factions, among them the Shia Hamdānids, independent military governors, Bedouin confederations, Qaramita contingents and local Syrian militias, each of whom sought patrons and protectors amongst the neighbouring empires, thus adding to the fractiousness of the shifting alliances between them. During the reign of al-‘Azīz bi’llāh Syria became the principal focus of Fatimid foreign policy, yet its fortunes there vacillated through the course of his 21 year reign. In interpreting the Fatimid presence in Syria, the resistance of the local elements is often framed in their opposition to the Fatimid Caliphate on account of its Ismaili Shi‘ism. The Sunni-Shi‘i rivalry, manifest in the Fatimid-Abbasid dialectic, is thus projected onto the dynamics of Fatimid rule in Syria. Using Fatimid involvement in Syria during the reign of al-‘Aziz bi’llah as a case-study, this paper examines the extent to which religious ideology beyond realpolitik influenced Fatimid fortunes in the region. Through a close reading of Syrian and Egyptian primary sources, including Ibn al-Qalānisī (d. 555/1160), Ibn ‘Asākir (d. 571/1176), Ibn al-Athīr (d. 630/1233), al-Maqrīzī (d. 845/1442) and Ibn al-Taghrī Birdī (815/1470), this paper reveals the interests of some medieval Sunni sources in presenting events pertaining to Fatimid rule in Syria in a predominantly sectarian hue.

Dr Shainool JiwaDr Shainool Jiwa is the Head of Constituency Studies at The Institute of Ismaili Studies. Prior to this, she was the Head of the Department of Community Relations from 2005 to 2012. She was also the founding coordinator of the Qur’anic Studies Project at the IIS (2002-2005). Dr Jiwa is a specialist in Fatimid history, having completed her Master’s degree from McGill University and her doctorate from the University of Edinburgh. As a senior faculty member, Dr Jiwa teaches on the IIS graduate programmes (GPISH & STEP) and contributes to the development of the IIS Secondary Curriculum.

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About MESA:

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is a private, non-profit, non-political learned society that brings together scholars, educators and those interested in the study of the region from all over the world. MESA’s 48th annual meeting will be held in Washington, DC at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.

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