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  Book review

Sultan Ali bin Salah al-Qu’aiti 1898-1948:
Half a Century of Political Struggle in Hadhramaut

by Dr Muhammad Sa’id al-Qaddal
and Abdulaziz Ali bin Salah al-Qu’aiti

University of Aden Press, 1999. Arabic. Pp. 194. Illus. Notes. Bibliog. Pb.

Sultan Ali bin Salah al-Qu’aiti was a senior member of the Qu’aiti dynasty which until 1967 ruled most of the territory known as Hadhramaut — formerly part of Britain’s Eastern Aden Protectorate. He was a great grandson of ’Umar bin Awadh al-Qu’aiti, a Yafa’i tribesman from Southern Arabia, whose wealth and influence as hereditary Jemadar of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s armed forces enabled him to establish the Qu’aiti dynasty in the latter half of the 19th century, winning British recognition of his paramount status in the region, in 1882.

Sultan Ali bin Salali headed the branch of the Qu’aiti ruling family which was settled at al-Qatn, near Shibam, in Wadi Hadhramaut. During the 1 930s, as Governor of Shibam, he administered the hinterland of the Qu’aiti Sultanate on behalf of his second cousin, Sultan Salib bin Ghalib al-Qu’aiti, who divided his time between Hyderabad and the coastal capital, Mukalla.

By the late l930s Sultan Ali had lost the favour and confidence of Sultan Saleh (with whom H.M.G. signed an advisory treaty in 1937) and was removed from office. This book discusses the social and historical factors which influenced his outlook and intellectual development, and his role in the local life and politics of Hadhramaut. The last fifty-four pages comprise an appendix of documents intended to illuminate aspects of this role, including his relationship with Sultan Salib bin Ghalib, and with other local, Arab and foreign personalities.

Sultan Ali bin Salah entertained and assisted a number of European visitors to what was then a little known and largely unexplored area of the Aden Protectorate. They included Lieut-Colonel the Hon. M. T. Boscawen (who paid three visits to Hadhramaut between 1929-1933), Daniel Van der Meulen, the Dutch diplomat and traveller (1931 and 1939), Freya Stark (1935 and 1937) and H. St. John Philby, the British Arabist and explorer (1936). In his book Sheba's Daughters (1939) Philby wrote:

Intellectually he [Ali bin Salali] is definitely a scholar more than a king, though his activity as an administrator — constantly on the move to one part or another of his territories — tends somewhat to correct that impression. He is deeply interested in his duties as a ruler and in the peace and development of the country under his charge. But, when he relaxes and is free to please himself, one can see at once that his personal tastes incline to hooks and thoughts and knowledge. For one who has never been out of his own country, his intellectual outlook and his wide knowledge of the world are surprising. And he enjoys the advantage of being an easy, natural talker with plenty to say. It is obvious that he reads widely, and I found him perhaps the easiest person to converse with generally of all I met in his country.

Van der Meulen and Freya Stark spoke of Sultan Ali with similar warmth; Harold Ingrains, however, was less complimentary, and his doubts about Sultan Ali’s political judgement seem to have been borne out by the latter’s covert support for the separatist ambitions of ’Ubaid Salim Bin ’Abdat of al-Ghurfa, which in 1945 led to Sultan Ali’s arraignment in Mukalla and exile to Aden.

Dr Muhammad al-Qaddal is a Sudanese historian whose knowledge of Hadhramaut dates from the mid-1950s when his father Shaikh Sa’id al-Qaddal was appointed State Secretary in Mukalla. His co-author, Abdulaziz bin Ali al-Qu’aiti, born only a few years before his father’s death in 1948, is a younger son of Sultan Ali. Their book will be of interest to area specialists and would reach a wider readership if it were translated into English. It is a pity that this Arabic edition is marred by the generally poor quality reproduction of the photographs (with the exception of the colour print facing page 38) and of the manuscript documents in the appendix.