"The Suspension of Print is the Hand of Tyranny”: Freedom of the Press in Ottoman Iraq?

By Annie Greene
Submitted to Session P4853 (Regulating Print in the Late Ottoman Empire: A New Look into the Question of Censorship, 2017 Annual Meeting
Iraq; Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
With the restoration of the 1908 Ottoman constitution and the reinstatement of the parliament, there was a surge in the private press. This press surge caused the perception that press censorship was lifted, relegated to the Hamidian Era. This rosy sentiment did not last long because the Committee for Union and Progress (CUP) got involved in local politics and reformist individuals and institutions began to counter the CUP’s centralizing policies. Until recently, most attention has been placed on Istanbul and its journalists and newspapers. However, issues of censorship and creative freedom due to ad-hoc practices of local bureaucrats happened all across the empire. Looking to a case from the Iraqi provinces can also illustrate the relative freedom of the press under the CUP.

This paper examines press suspension in Ottoman Basra in 1909. Public intellectual Sulayman Faydi opened his al-Iqaz/Ikaz (“Reveille”), a bilingual journal, in Basra in 1909, but several months later it was closed due to censorship. He had published a political incident and included the text of a petition and official complaint to the Basra vali. The decisions of the Basra vali and the Provincial Press director led to the order of censorship. As the editor and license-holder, Faydi petitioned Istanbul to reopen the journal. Upon receiving permission to continue, he wrote about the entire ordeal and published it in al-Iqaz.

In this paper, I argue that Faydi’s relative liberties were both an indication of specific local tensions with the Provincial Press Director, and more general problems with corruption of ministers, the disconnect between the center and the provinces, and the clash between the CUP and other individual streams of reform outside of it. While there were ad-hoc decisions within censorship and press regulations, Sulayman Faydi interpreted them as systemic failures and critiques the era of progress. To explore this moment of liberty and tyranny, I utilize Faydi’s memoirs, excerpts of al-Iqaz, and records from the Ottoman Archives.