Sultan Ali bin
Salah al-Quaiti 1898-1948:
Half a Century of Political Struggle in Hadhramaut
by Dr Muhammad Said al-Qaddal
and Abdulaziz Ali bin Salah al-Quaiti
University of Aden Press, 1999. Arabic. Pp. 194. Illus. Notes. Bibliog. Pb.
Sultan Ali bin Salah al-Quaiti was
a senior member of the Quaiti dynasty which until 1967 ruled most of the territory
known as Hadhramaut formerly part of Britains Eastern Aden Protectorate. He
was a great grandson of Umar bin Awadh al-Quaiti, a Yafai tribesman from
Southern Arabia, whose wealth and influence as hereditary Jemadar of the Nizam of
Hyderabads armed forces enabled him to establish the Quaiti 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 Quaiti 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 Quaiti Sultanate on
behalf of his second cousin, Sultan Salib bin Ghalib al-Quaiti, 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 Alis
political judgement seem to have been borne out by the latters covert support for
the separatist ambitions of Ubaid Salim Bin Abdat of al-Ghurfa, which in 1945
led to Sultan Alis 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 Said al-Qaddal was appointed State Secretary in
Mukalla. His co-author, Abdulaziz bin Ali al-Quaiti, born only a few years before
his fathers 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.