|Governor of Safad
Sheikh of Acre and Galilee
Emir of Nazareth
Portrait of Daher al-Omar, Ziad Daher Zedani
|Died||August 21, 1775
Daher el-Omar (also: Dhaher, Dhahar) (Arabic ظاهر آل عمر الزيداني ẓāhir Āl ʿumar az-zaydānī, ca. 1690 – August 21, 1775) was the autonomous Arab ruler of Northern Palestine during the mid-18th century. The founder of modern Haifa, he fortified many cities, among them Acre.
Early life and family
Daher was born to a family of local Qaysi notables in the Tiberias area in a village called Arraba ('Arrabat al-Battuf), with strong connections to Arab-Bedouin tribesmen in the Galilee, which at that time was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. He was the youngest of the four sons born to the Sheikh ʿUmar az-Zaydānī. He grew up in the village of Saffuriya.
Daher's father and grandfather had both served as multazem (chief tax collector) of Tiberias, having been appointed by the Druze emirs of the Maan family which governed the area from Mount Lebanon. In 1698, ʿUmar az-Zaydānī was appointed governor multazem of the Safad region by Emir Bashir Shihab I, who succeeded the Maan emirs as governor of Mount Lebanon. The Zaydani family maintained commercial trade extending from the Galilee to Aleppo and members of the family held several tax farms in the area, such as Daher's uncle Ali who held the tax farm of al-Damun. Daher's elder brother, Sa'd became the head of the family when their father died. However, the family's tax farms were transferred to Daher, who was still a teenager. This was done as a precautionary measure, so that in the event of a default in tax payments, the government would not be able to hold the actual owners of the tax farms accountable. This gave Daher considerable power within the clan.
In 1707, Daher killed a man in a fight in Tiberias. As a result, Sa'd opted to move the family to Arraba, after being offered safe haven there by the Saqr tribe. It was there that Daher gained a degree of formal education under the tutelage of a scholar named Abd al-Qadir al-Hifnawi. During his youth, he also learned how to hunt and was trained in fighting. When the village of Bi'ina was besieged by forces dispatched by the governor of Sidon sometime between 1713 and 1718, Daher played an important role in defending the village and also managed to escape pursuit by the governor's troops. According to chroniclers at the time, this event turned Daher into a folk hero in the region. He continued to gain the respect of the local peasantry throughout the 1720s for his martial skills. Along with Sa'd, he also gained prestige among the people of Damascus with whom he continued the commercial relationships his father initially established.
The contacts he made in Damascus included the scholar Abd al-Ghaffar al-Shuwaki who introduced Daher to Sayyid Muhammad of the al-Husayni family, which provided the sharifs (religious notables who traced their lineage to the Islamic prophet Muhammad) of Damascus at the time. Daher married Sayyid Muhammad's daughter and moved to Nazareth because she found Arraba to be too small. Daher inherited Muhammad's fortune when the latter died.
Power base in Tiberias
Around 1730 Daher and his brother Yusuf took control of the town of Tiberias, with the backing of the Saqr tribe. Prior to seizing the town, Daher made arrangements with the governor of Sidon that included his appointment as the multazim of Tiberias and Arraba. This marked a significant change from the past appointments of his relatives as multazims of Tiberias, because it came directly from the governor of Sidon rather than the rural chiefs of Mount Lebanon. Daher worked to make Tiberias his principle base of power. He was joined by other members of the Zaydani clan, and eventually maintained a brigade of 200 horsemen from his clan. He appointed his cousin Muhammad ibn Ali, the multazim of al-Damun, as their commander.
Daher extended his rule to southward toward Nazareth and the Marj ibn Amer region between Galilee and Jabal Nablus. Capturing these areas was likely a drawn-out process, and Daher's efforts to wrest control of Nazareth (a town officially in the Safed district, but under the control of the Jabal Nablus-based Jarrar clan) caused the ruling clans of Jabal Nablus, along with Daher's erstwhile allies in the Bani Saqr tribe, to challenge these moves. Daher, meanwhile, relied on his Zaydani and Maghrebi forces and the support he received from Nazareth's residents. In 1735, Daher's forces defeated the Jarrars in Marj ibn Amer, killed their leader Sheikh Ibrahim, and captured Nazareth.
Following his victory at Marj ibn Amer, he pursued the Jarrars to their fortified village of Sanur, but withdrew because he did not have the means to capture the fortress. This defeat marked the limit of Daher's influence south of Marj ibn Amer and made the Jarrars the dominant force of Jabal Nablus over their rivals, the Touqans. While the Jarrars and Daher eventually concluded a truce, the former continued to mobilize the clans of Jabal Nablus to prevent Daher's southward expansion.
In 1738, his forces captured the fortress at Jiddin, and the villages of Abu Snan and Tarshiha. After negotiations, Muhammad al-Naf'i, the multazim of Safad, surrendered the city to Daher. Bi'ina, which was also fortified, was captured in 1739 after a siege. Daher also married the daughter of Bi'ina's leader, further solidifying his rule over northern and eastern Galilee. In 1740, Daher fortified Tiberias and made an agreement with the neighboring Bedouin tribes to prevent their looting raids. By then, Sa'd had taken control of Deir Hanna and Muhammad ibn Ali captured Shefa-'Amr, entrenching the presence of the Zaydani clan in western Galilee.
While Daher used force to strengthen his position in the region, local inhabitants generally took comfort in his rule, which historian Thomas Philip described as "relatively just and reasonably fair". Accounts from that time tell of the great admiration which the people had for Daher, especially for his war against bandits on the roads. Richard Pococke, who visited Tiberias in 1727, witnessed the building of a fort to the north of the city, and the strengthening of the old walls, and attributed it to a disagreement with the pasha (ruler) of Damascus.
Daher, similar to many other strong local leaders under the Ottoman Empire who did not owe their power to the central Ottoman authorities, was disliked by the Ottoman administration. The Ottoman Sultan sent an order to the governor of Damascus, Sulayman Pasha al-Azm, to put an end to Daher's rule in the Galilee. In September 1742, a military force led by the governor of Damascus came to the Galilee and laid siege to Tiberias. 83 days later, the siege was lifted due to the departure of the Hajj pilgrimage caravan. In July 1743 the governor returned with a larger force. A month later the governor died of kidney disease and the siege was lifted for good.
Ruler of Acre
The town of Deir Hanna became his first administrative center as he gradually brought the Galilee, as his "Iltizam", under his control. Parts of the fortress, mosque and Khan that he built can still be seen in the town. For most of his rule Daher was not a target for the Ottomans, as for his entire period of rule he continued to act as proxy Ottoman tax collector (Multazem), paying a portion of the taxes raised to the Imperial capital in Constantinople.
Acre was taken over and fortified by Daher, and became the main city of the area he governed. When Haifa was conquered by Daher, its location wasn't considered defensible, so that the city was razed and rebuilt at a new location 3 km away, with improved fortifications and a new seaport. Now controlling the major seaports in the area, Daher made contact with Maltese pirates.
Daher, unlike many governors and rulers in the Middle East at the time, was very aware of the importance of a flourishing economy to provide a stable basis for his rule — he tried to refrain from squeezing the peasants with extortionately excessive taxes, and established a state monopoly on cotton-growing in the Galilee. The city of Acre underwent an economic boom (partly based on its role in exporting cotton grown in the Galilee to France).
In 1768 the central Ottoman authorities partially recognized or legitimized his de facto position by granting him the title of "Sheikh of Acre, Amir of Nazareth, Tiberias, Safed, and Sheikh of all Galilee".
From 1769 to 1775 Daher got involved in a war that led to his downfall. In 1760 his Mamluk friend Ali Bey Al-Kabir was appointed as governor of Egypt, and soon got into an argument with the Ottoman administration, causing assassins to be sent to kill him in 1768. In response, Ali Bey killed all the other beys and declared Egypt to be an independent country. Daher helped Ali Bey by blocking an Ottoman force heading south to suppress the rebellion in Egypt. Bey sent a force of 30,000 which conquered most of the Sanjak of Jerusalem and the Vilayets of Tyre and Damascus (Palestine) as well as Damascus from November 1770 to June 1771. In 1771 they routed an army led by the governor of Damascus, Muhammad al-Azm, in the Hula Valley.
After the troops arrived at Damascus (with help from Daher) in 1771, the commander of the troops, Abu al-Dhahab, refused to continue fighting against the Ottomans, and turned against Ali Bey. When these troops returned to Egypt, Ali Bey fled to Acre to shelter under Daher's protection. The combined forces of Daher, Ali Bey, and Russia (which was at war with the Ottoman Empire that time) kept the majority of the Galilee free of Ottoman influence, and Daher was able to temporarily extend his rule along the coast as far south as Jaffa and as far north as Sidon. By 1773 the area under his control extended from the Litani River to Beersheba, though he never took formal control over Jerusalem. In 1773 Ali Bey returned to Egypt, but was defeated by the rebels against his authority and died. In 1774, the war between Russia and the Ottomans came to an end, and Daher was left without any outside support. In 1771 and 1773, he had Nablus, controlled by the pro-Ottoman Touqan clan, besieged.
Daher had the following fortifications built:
- 1727: strengthened the walls of Tiberias and added a fort north of the town
- 1745: fort on the hilltop above his home town of Saffuriya
- 1750: rebuilt walls at Acre, followed by various other structures
- 1760: fort at Shefa-'Amr to secure the entrance to Galilee
- 1761: relocated Haifa to a new fortified site
- a fort on Crusader foundations at Khirbat Jiddin (now in Yehi'am Fortress National Park)
- rebuilding on the Crusader site of Casal Humberti at Az-Zeeb (Achziv)
- a castle and walls at Deir Hanna
- fortifications at the ancient village of Arbel
The Ottomans ordered Abu al-Dhahab to attack Daher from Egypt, but Abu al-Dhahab died suddenly before this could happen, so the Ottomans launched a mainly naval invasion instead, besieging Acre. Daher's capital city of Acre was captured by the Ottomans in August 1774, and a year later Daher died in an attempt to flee on August 21, 1775.
Politics and legacy
Daher el-Omar is considered by many Arab nationalists as a pioneer of the Arab liberation from foreign occupation. He succeeded in creating an autonomous territory in the Galilee, helped by the governors of Mount Lebanon (the Vilayet of Tyre), Egypt, Russia, and to some extent the consuls of France.
He is also remembered in reference to his approach to minorities, showing tolerance towards and encouraging Jews and Christians.
Historically, his family was linked to the Qaysi party to which belonged the governors of Mount Lebanon, the Maans (1518–1697) and the Shihabs (1697–1842) whose territory included the Galilee. As allies of those powerful governors, members of Daher's family had been appointed sheiks of some parts of the Galilee since 1518. The autonomy achieved by the governors of Mount Lebanon played an important role in forming the political views of Daher el-Omar.
Through marriage, he sealed the alliances with the Bedouin sheikhs and the prominent notables of Galilee. He encouraged Jewish families to settle in Tiberias around 1742. The newcomers helped him with the influence of their network in Damascus and Constantinople. Also, Daher maintained excellent relationships with the Greek Orthodox church in Nazareth and Acre which secured for him the sympathy and support of Russia. Daher understood early on the importance of a multi-confessional society as a means of prosperity and political support.
Constantin-François Volney, who wrote the first European biography of Daher in 1787, lists three main reasons for Daher's failure. First, the lack of "internal good order and justness of principle". Secondly, the early concessions he made to his children. Third, and most of all, the avarice of his advisor and confidant, Ibrahim Sabbagh.
English popular mathematics writer Karl Sabbagh also makes a lot of Daher el Omar's legacy as a forerunner of the Palestinian national movement in his book Palestine: A Personal History which was widely reviewed in the British press in 2010.
- Encyclopaedia of Islam, article "Zāhir al-`Umar al-Zaydānī".
- Pappe, Illan (2010) The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty. The Husaynis 1700-1968. Saqi, ISBN 978-0-86356-460-4. p.35.
- Philip, 2004, p. 31.
- Moammar, Tawfiq (1990), Zahir Al Omar, Al Hakim Printing Press, Nazareth, pp. 43-44.
- Philip, 2004, pp. 31-32.
- On the banks of the Kinneret. Jerusalem Post.
- Philip, 2004, p. 32.
- Philip, 2004, p. 33.
- Pappe. p.35.
- Doumani, 1995, pp. 41-42.
- Richard Pococke: A Description of the East and Some other Countries, p. 460
- Moammar, Tawfiq (1990), Zahir Al Omar, Al Hakim Printing Press, Nazareth, pages 71-82
- Morris. p.35.
- Morris, p.38.
- Morris. p.38.
- Doumani, 1995, pp. 43-44.
- Moammar, Tawfiq (1990), Zahir Al Omar, Al Hakim Printing Press, Nazareth, see preface
- Moammar, Tawfiq (1990), Zahir Al Omar, Al Hakim Printing Press, Nazareth, page 70
- Summary of the history of Daher, son of Omar, who governed Acre from 1750 to 1776, chapter XXV in Travels Through Syria and Egypt, in the Years 1783, 1784, and 1785
- LeBor, Adam. Land of my father. The Guardian. 2006-06-02.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Daher el-Omar.|
- Encyclopaedia of Islam, article "Zāhir al-`Umar al-Zaydānī".
||Ruler of Galilee