British Understandings of the Sanussiyya Sufi Order’s Jihad against Egypt, 1915–17

Slight, John (2014). British Understandings of the Sanussiyya Sufi Order’s Jihad against Egypt, 1915–17. The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, 103(2) pp. 233–242.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00358533.2014.898506

Abstract

This article considers the Sanussiyya Sufi order’s 1915–16 jihad on Egypt from a fresh perspective, analysing British understandings about the attack that soldiers and officials fashioned as the conflict progressed. By incorporating aspects of imperial and Islamic history and a focus on British perceptions, the article presents new directions in the study of the war in the Middle East that move beyond the concerns of older military histories. It analyses three key areas of British thinking in relation to this jihad. First, the belief that local fighters joined the campaign as a result of economic factors, chiefly the famine that swept the Western Desert from November 1915 as a result of an Anglo-Italian blockade, and that the order had little support from the local population owing to their policy of requisitioning goods. Second, the important set of perceptions that the Sanussiyya were pressured by the Ottomans to attack the British as part of their overall call for jihad against the Allied powers. Third, the divided nature of British views around the broader threat posed by the order to Egypt and the wider war effort. Finally, it examines the broader religious and ideological context of the Sanussiyya as an organised reformist Sufi order, engaged in a struggle for resistance to and survival against European imperialism—a struggle that collided with the changed strategic landscape of a region rent by conflict between the Ottoman and British empires from November 1914.

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