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Abdel Razzaq Takriti, Monsoon Revolution: Republicans, Sultans, and Empires in Oman, 1965–1976

Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013, 352 pages
Matthew MacLean
Référence(s) :

Monsoon Revolution: Republicans, Sultans, and Empires in Oman, 1965–1976 / Abdel Razzaq Takriti .- Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013 .- 352 pages (Oxford Historical Monographs).

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1The Dhofar Revolution (1965–1975), one of the major challenges to monarchical rule in the twentieth-century Arabian Peninsula, has long been something of an enigma for regional historians. Our only sources were the memoirs of British soldiers involved in its suppression, histories of Omani state and society which take an outsider’s perspective on the revolution, and Fred Halliday’s Arabia Without Sultans, a sympathetic and informative 1974 account which nonetheless lacks the scholarly distance that comes with the passage of time. Until now there has been little understanding of the Dhofar Revolution from within, or in terms of its place in the wider pantheon of Arab nationalist and leftist movements in the post-colonial world. Monsoon Revolution successfully fills many of these gaps; Takriti contributes greatly to our knowledge of the Dhofar Revolution, as well as Omani history and the politics of the Arabian Peninsula in the 1960s and 1970s.

2Takriti sets out three aims in his introduction: the retrieval and protection of the accounts of those involved in the revolution, the revision of the dominant “Anglo-Sultanic” narrative of modern Omani history centered on Sultan Qābūs b. Sa‛īd, and the contextualization of the revolution in the Bandung-era. By using a variety of heretofore unexamined Arabic-language revolutionary pamphlets, images, films, and newspapers in concert with more traditional British archival sources, Takriti paints a rich picture of a multifaceted, complex, and transnational revolutionary movement. His account is further enlivened by several interviews with surviving revolutionaries. Woven throughout is the tension between two concepts of sovereignty — revolutionary popular sovereignty and Anglo-Sultanic absolutism rooted in British imperialism. Along the way, Takriti’s work touches on and draws from a variety of subfields: environmental, military, and cultural analysis, to name a few. The reader encounters an array of interesting characters and vignettes which alone ought to inspire future researchers.

3Monsoon Revolution is divided into ten chapters. The first two describe the geography, politics, and social structure of Dhofar until the beginning of the revolution in 1963. Sultan Sa‛īd b. Taymūr was the first to attempt to unify all of what is now Oman and treated Dhofar as if it were his private estate. The precarious subsistence economy of the mountainous region meant that Dhofaris living there depended on exchange with the coastal plain, where the Sultan exercised more direct control. Accounts of modern Oman often attribute Sa‛īd b. Taymūr’s despotism solely to his personality quirks, but Takriti demonstrates how structural factors also contributed to the impoverishment of Dhofar during his reign.

4The next three chapters cover the birth and multiple transformations of the revolution through the 1964–1970 period. Takriti is especially adept at tracing the intersecting intellectual genealogies and political networks that shaped revolutionary consciousness. Collective migration to the oil-rich Gulf states — especially Kuwait — was key to Dhofari politicization (Chapter 3). There Dhofaris encountered members of the Movement of Arab Nationalists (MAN) and ideas such as popular sovereignty, republicanism, and self-determination, and formed the Dhofar Liberation Front (DLF). Formed abroad, the DLF made it possible to imagine a supra-tribal civic space; at home, the DLF organized geography along military instead of tribal lines. In other words, the revolution was not simply an outgrowth of local grievances against an oppressive Sultan, but a movement very much in tune with regional trends and with a radically different vision for Dhofari society.

5In chapters 4 and 5 Takriti traces the DLF’s transformation into the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf (PFLOAG) and accompanying radicalization. This shift was a response to several events: the 1967 naksa (displacement of the Palestinian people after the Six Day War), the independence of Marxist South Yemen, the announcement of British withdrawal from “East of Suez,” and a turning towards China after Arab support for the revolutionaries ceased. Ties to MAN were broken and tribally-oriented revolutionaries were sidelined in favor of those who sought to apply Marxist theory to Dhofar. The accounts of two 1968 conferences, in Dubai and Wādī amrīn, are particularly useful in understanding these changes, as is his description of the double vernacularization process by which Marxist thought was transmitted, first to revolutionary cadres via Mao and derivative Arabic sources (p. 113) and then to the Dhofari people. Slavery and tribalism were abolished and various steps toward gender equality were made in the PFLOAG-governed or liberated areas — the last of which would prove highly controversial. This section might profitably be read in tandem with the ethnographic detail and flair of Halliday’s Arabia Without Sultans (1974).

6With the revolution at its high point, Chapters 6-8 narrate the development of absolutist “Anglo-Sultanic” sovereignty. The “colonial modernists”, who sought to pursue a policy of development, ended up winning against the “colonial conservatives” attempting to preserve the political culture of the British Raj– via the July 1970 coup of Qābūs b. Sa‛īd against his father. Of the many accounts of the coup, Takriti’s is undoubtedly the most detailed thus far. Based on archival sources that escaped British censors, Takriti reconstructs in minute detail what happened on that fateful day and shows how the revolution’s spread to northern Oman shaped British internal debates about the coup’s planning and timing. Takriti challenges the conventional view of July 23, 1970 as the beginning of “al-Naha al-Mubāraka,” or Oman’s Blessed Renaissance. Like his father, Qābūs was the product of British imperial political culture. Possible alternatives to Sultanic absolutism were foreclosed in the early 1970s as Qābūs sought support from regional monarchs and resisted āriq b. Taymūr’s project for a constitutional monarchy. Qābūs, unlike previous sultans, had the material means and the foreign support to construct a unitary state that could extend his sovereignty over all of Oman.

7Chapter 9 breaks the historical narrative to describe Dhofar and Dhofaris in terms of revolutionary and Anglo-Sultanic political cultures. Revolutionary films, images, songs, poems, and newspaper articles equated Dhofar with Palestine, firmly placing the revolutionaries in the regional context. This is contrasted with the pro-Sultanic discourse which had long imagined Dhofaris as savage barbarians, glorified the Sultan, and portrayed the revolutionaries as godless atheists and Israeli agents. Interestingly, both discourses contributed to the Arabization of Dhofari politics and culture.

8Chapter 10 describes the end of armed revolutionary struggle in the face of overwhelming armed intervention by pro- Qābūs forces, the exploitation of tribal divisions among rank-and-file revolutionaries, and internal divisions within PFLOAG ranks. A 1970 mutiny by members of the Ma‛shanī tribe was crushed in favor of heavy-handed centralized control by the PFLOAG General Command. This internal violence and reawakening of tribal divisions was exploited to devastating effect by Anglo-Sultanic forces. One might ask, then, whether the revolution’s 1968 Marxist turn left it incapable of creating a civic order flexible enough to accommodate local diversity while also resisting absolutist rule. Was this, like Qābūs’ defeat of Ṭāriq, a missed opportunity for a more pluralist revolution? In spite of material inducements to defect, it was five years before Qābūs could declare victory. Compared with the pre-1970 period, Takriti’s treatment of the decline of revolutionary sovereignty is fairly brief. By contrast, most other sources focus on this period of revolutionary defeat. But this is a quibble; Monsoon Revolution breaks much new ground and provides a baseline for future research on the Dhofar Revolution. Any subsequent histories of Oman will have to refer to this book.

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Matthew MacLean, « Abdel Razzaq Takriti, Monsoon Revolution: Republicans, Sultans, and Empires in Oman, 1965–1976 », Arabian Humanities [En ligne], 3 | 2014, mis en ligne le 10 octobre 2014, consulté le 15 février 2019. URL :

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Matthew MacLean

PhD Candidate, New York University

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Ce document est mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International.

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