Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education has made a series of modifications to its history textbooks altering the legacy of the Ottoman Empire and its former rule over parts of the Arabian Peninsula.
While the former curriculum taught the topic referencing the Ottoman Caliphate, the new curriculum will now cover the Empire’s “occupation”, crimes and subsequent collapse to pupils in the lower years of high school.
Among the crimes the Saudi text books will level against the Ottoman rule are “Fighting with the first and second Saudi states; supporting some local leaders against King Abdul Aziz; destroying Diriyah and surrounding towns; as well as many parts of Zahran and Asir, besides torturing Imam Abdullah Bin Saud, the last imam of the first Saudi state, and assassinating him after taking him to Istanbul.”
The curriculum also accuses the Ottoman government of having divided the Arabs of the Peninsula, stating: “The Arab land that came under the subjugation of the Ottoman administrative regime were divided into at least 15 states and each state was administered by a governor. The regime also sought to impose many taxes on the population and agricultural crops as well as on land, goods and services with collecting money to serve the Ottoman state and its sultans without leaving any significant revenues for these states.”The Ottomans, as the new narrative puts it, governed primarily by a policy of divide and rule, enforcing “political domination and sowing discord in order to prevent the Arabian Peninsula from being united, transferring skilled craftsmen and builders from Egypt and the Levant to Istanbul, building fortresses and forts to protect the state soldiers and their states, and prevalence of instability and insecurity within these countries and along the pilgrimage routes.”
Saudi Arabia’s official defamation of the Empire – or Caliphate, as it is widely known – signals a heightened sense of nationalism, as well as a strong anti-Turkish sentiment which has dominated the kingdom’s narrative in recent years.
Critics of the move by the Saudi ministry have likened it to the similarity of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s popular narrative of the Ottoman Empire, exploiting a rising sense of Arab nationalism while countering the perceived increasing influence of Turkey in the region by attacking and defaming its imperial history.
Over the past few years, relations between Saudi and Turkey have been increasingly strained by diplomatic differences and by each other’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, and especially by Turkey’s support of Qatar following the ongoing blockade imposed on it by the kingdom, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt in 2017.
Relations reached breaking point with the murder of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October last year. Following months of investigations into the murder and a UN report concluding that Saudi agents killed Khashoggi under the direct command of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Turkey has repeatedly called for those responsible to be brought to justice.
Consequently, the Kingdom has been pushing a campaign to encourage its tourists to boycott Turkey through all possible means, including the purchase of products, consumption of foods, sale of properties, dealings with Turkish companies, and especially tourism to the country. The campaign has garnered support amongst Saudi royals and figures, a famous case being when Riyadh’s influential governor Faisal bin Bandar declined an offer of Turkish coffee, triggering a call for a boycott of Turkish products.