AH Vignette: Saladin at Jerusalem

Beit Hanina, 1866


Baudouin rode into camp and found that he was late.

“He’s looking for you,” said the sentry as Baudouin swung down from his horse, pointing to the tent at the center of the camp. “The sayyid needs to see you,” said a Taibeh man who recognized his face. “The emir – he’s been asking for you,” said one of the Syrian officers two tents down. And Raymond, his fellow French lieutenant, put down his bottle long enough to say “get in there, because the king is about to send out a search party.”

The Frenchman needed no more warning, and he ducked into the command tent without stopping for breath. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw that all the staff officers were sitting around the table. They were an even more motley assortment than the last time he’d seen them: some from the great families of Damascus and Aleppo; Bedouin sheikhs who led troops of scouts; mountain Druzes; Algerians; one or two of the other officers who led his five hundred Frenchmen. Men from the local tribes and towns had come to join them: their fathers had rebelled against Mehmet Ali thirty years ago, and now they’d rallied to a new banner in exchange for the promise that they could rule their own affairs.

And at the head of the table was a bearded man in a hooded cloak. He was nearing sixty, but his hair was still black and his features strong; his burnoose was unadorned and he had a bandolier of ammunition over his shoulder. He looked more like the fighting man he still was than the prince he had become, but still, every eye around the table was on him: Abd-el-Kader, these past ten months King of Syria.

Once, in Algeria twenty years ago and more, Baudouin had fought this man. Now, he called him lord.

#​

“Ah, my brave Baudouin, at last you are here,” the king said. “Have you been in the city?”

“I have, lord.” The words came easily, but there was something fearful in them: now that Baudouin had gone to Jerusalem and returned, he realized what a hideous risk he had taken. Pilgrims still came in and out even with Abd-el-Kader’s army approaching, and the garrison still hesitated to molest Europeans, but if anyone had realized why Baudouin was in the city, he’d have died… eventually.

“I suppose it’s too much to expect that the tunnel is still open?”

“It’s closed, and the Turks are guarding its ghost.” The peasant rebels had used the Dung Gate tunnel to break into Jerusalem in ’34, and when Mehmet Ali’s soldiers had retaken the city, closing it had been nearly the first thing they’d done.

“Then what did you see? More than that, what did you hear?”

“The mutasarrif is in the citadel with the regulars. There are men on the wall, but most of them are conscripts, and they’re complaining that they’ll be the first to die.”

Abd-el-Kader leaned in intently. “They don’t think they can win?”

“The officers promise them victory. The men don’t believe. Even the regular troops – in the coffee-houses, all of them say they want to go home.”

“And the people?”

“They have no love for the Turks. They won’t fight, but they'll welcome you in: the Muslims know the local tribes are with you, the Christians know what you did in Damascus, and the Jews remember how you treated them in Oran.”

Abd-el-Kader’s face broke into a smile. “Then we’ll sweep the Turks out, Baudouin. You and Raymond and Godfrey will enter Jerusalem with me.” The smile, in turn, became laughter: Abd-el-Kader was endlessly amused that his French officers had the names of Crusader kings, and he lamented that Bohemond had gone out of fashion.

“But there’s the Citadel, sayyid,” said Ibrahim Barghouti: he was from Bani Zeid, the newest of the king’s lieutenants, and he knew the city well. “With forty thousand men, we can sweep the Turks from the walls, but the mutasarrif has cannon and his soldiers are well-armed. We’ll have to lay siege to him, and we don’t have time.”

Baudouin nodded involuntarily. The Sultan was gathering another army, and Abd-el-Kader would soon have to guard his northern marches. If Syria’s borders were to meet Egypt’s as its new king intended, he would have to finish the campaign quickly, and that left no time to besiege David’s Tower.

“You’re right, Ibrahim ustaz. I’ll have to consider this. But Jerusalem will be mine.”

#​

Outside the tent, Baudouin went to find a meal. The rush of his escape from Jerusalem was behind him, as was the staff meeting, and he felt strangely drained.

The smell of cooking came from the Ta’amirah men’s encampment, and the route there took him past the artillery. Godfrey was there, in the uniform of a French captain: unlike Baudouin and Raymond, he was still a serving officer, and the cannon were a gift from the Emperor. He saw Baudouin and gave him the briefest of acknowledgments: he said nothing, but his opinion of Abd-el-Kader and the Frenchmen who followed him was clear.

He may call himself a king, but he will be the Emperor’s man, was written on his face. Baudouin, as he’d done before, shook his head. He knew enough of Abd-el-Kader by now to know that, while the Algerian honored his debts, he was no one’s puppet. He might take Napoleon’s aid, but he would be a king in truth.

Once, the thought might have given Baudouin pause, but his loyalty was no longer to France, whether empire, kingdom or republic.

#​

It had been in Damascus, in 1860… There was fighting between Druze and Maronites in Mount Lebanon, so of course there was fighting in Syria, and Baudouin saw flames and smoke as the mobs rampaged through the Christian quarter. Man, woman and child were put to the sword and driven into the fire, and the air echoed with screams. Baudouin huddled in a small church with his Marie and their six-year-old Thérèse, knowing there was nothing he could do to protect them.

But then Abd-el-Kader and his men had come, driving away the mobs and leading the Christians to shelter. The emir had been exiled by a French government that feared what he would do if he returned to Algeria, but that didn’t deter him: he took French citizens under his wing just as he did the Christian Arabs, and that night, Baudouin’s family had slept in his house protected by his soldiers' guns.

Baudouin owed Abd-el-Kader three souls, and when the zu’ama of Syria had offered the emir a throne, the Frenchman’s life was his for the asking.

#​

Night had fallen and Baudouin stood at the edge of the camp. The hills of Jerusalem stood in the shadows, and on them, he could see the outline of the city.

There were holy places within. Thérèse had dreamed of coming here: she’d so wanted to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land. But business, and Baudouin’s diplomatic post, had never allowed…

He felt the touch of a hand on his shoulder. “Are you thinking of them?”

“Yes, lord.”

“I know what it is to miss a wife and child.”

Baudouin nodded but said nothing. The lives Abd-el-Kader had saved, God had taken three years later when the fever came. That was the other reason why there was nothing tying Baudouin to France, and why he had nothing to live for but the man he’d chosen as his king.

“I will make you whole, Baudouin. We will find a Melisende for you. Maybe in Jerusalem, maybe somewhere else, but she will be there.”

There it was, the Crusades again. Abd-el-Kader’s joke grew old sometimes. But Baudouin understood what was behind the words: it was something that neither of them ever said, but that the Algerian was wise enough to know and that the Frenchman admitted to himself in his moments of clarity. Having only one allegiance was a sickness, and a man needed more than a king: he needed a family.

His answer, when it came, was oblique: “We might both die tomorrow.”

“We might, but with God’s will we won’t, not if the Turks do as I hope.”

“You have a plan then, lord?” asked Baudouin. The staff meeting had been inconclusive.

“Yes, I have decided. You will get your orders in the morning. Now find your tent and go to sleep.”

The King of Syria had commanded, and his French lieutenant gratefully obeyed.

#​

Baudouin rode out at dawn, Raymond mounted next to him and his men at his back. His orders, given minutes before, were to advance through the villages west of Jerusalem and invest the city from the south. A Druze cavalry troop rode with him: they, too, were to take the high ground above the Hinnom and Kidron valleys while others garrisoned the western villages themselves. The main body of the army was stirring, and it would soon advance from the north.

“It will be a siege after all,” said Raymond.

“It looks that way.” Baudouin wondered what Abd-el-Kader was thinking. Did he truly think he could reduce the citadel so quickly? Had he decided to use artillery after all, even if it put the holy places at risk? That would go against everything Baudouin knew of the emir’s character, but what other explanation could there be, especially with him leaving a gap in the line to the northeast…

A bullet whistled and cracked past Baudouin’s head, and more gunfire erupted from the Turkish patrol that had hidden itself just south of a village. Men and horses fell, and for a second, Baudouin was paralyzed. But it was only a second, and then he drew his saber and kicked his horse into a gallop.

His men followed and the charge went home. Baudouin was face to face with an officer, trading saber strokes: he narrowly parried a cut at his face and pressed forward in a flurry of strikes. The Turkish captain fought back fiercely, shouting curses and battering at Baudouin’s guard, but then he broke off and fled as a Bedouin troop came to the French soldiers’ aid. The rest of the patrol broke off with him, a few turning to shoot backward at their enemy but most fleeing pell-mell up the valley.

Baudouin called a halt to regroup. He counted five of his men dead and several others wounded, and he told off a squad to carry the injured ones to the rear. A troop of townsmen from Jenin rode past him and their officer called out to see if anything was wrong, but he waved them onward.

There was gunfire elsewhere as other troops encountered the enemy, but none of it seemed to be slowing the investment of the city. “We should advance that way,” Raymond said, pointing at Abu Tor and the ill-named Hill of Evil Counsel. There was a small Ottoman garrison there, but if they took it, they would command the heights that guarded Jerusalem from the south.

Baudouin nodded and saw that his troops had regrouped and were ready to ride. He began to shout an order but trailed off as he saw a scout riding up at the gallop.

The man was from the Fawaghrah tribe – the foie gras, as some of the Frenchmen called them – and his horse was lathered. “Stop the advance!” he called. “Stop the advance! The Turks are leaving the city!”

Baudouin looked and saw that it was true: soldiers were evacuating the citadel and the conscripts were leaving their positions on the walls. Suddenly he understood the reason why Abd-el-Kader had left a gap in the northeast. He hadn't wanted to surround the city: he'd wanted the Turks to see that they were about to be surrounded. Backed into a corner and ordered by their commander, even demoralized soldiers would fight, but if they were left a path home, they might force their officers’ hand, especially if the officers were uncertain themselves…

“Without a battle,” Raymond said, and for the first time since Baudouin had met him, there was something like awe in his voice.

“Does the king want us to pursue?” Baudouin asked.

“No,” said the Fawaghrah man. “He said they won’t come back. We might need to chase them out of Abu Tor if they don’t leave on their own, but that’s for later – he wants you and the other commanders with him when he enters the city.”

“Think of that, Raymond – we Crusaders will ride into Jerusalem at last.” But this wasn’t a Crusade, Baudouin realized: here was Saladin come again, and this time the Franks would be at his side.

#​

The French lieutenant rode north at the command of his Saladin, the king he had chosen. But later, as he passed the gate of Jerusalem, it was Thérèse’s face he seemed to see.
 
Last edited:
Fantastic- Abd-el-Kader is a fantastic character, it's good to see him get some attention.
I'm curious how the Victorian love of things medieval will play out in this timeline- Saladin will be even more romanticised, and you can picture more young French- and English - adventurers deciding to serve as Knights Errant in the Holy Land.
 
Fantastic- Abd-el-Kader is a fantastic character, it's good to see him get some attention.
He really is a fascinating character. My original idea was for him to keep the princely state he ruled in Oran in the 1830s, but then I read the part about his exile in Damascus and this story wrote itself.

I'm curious how the Victorian love of things medieval will play out in this timeline- Saladin will be even more romanticised, and you can picture more young French- and English - adventurers deciding to serve as Knights Errant in the Holy Land.
I'd imagine that many Europeans' conception of Abd-el-Kader will come from accounts of people like Baudouin, who, as can be seen from the story, already romanticizes him a great deal. I suspect he won't be the only one to identify Abd-el-Kader with Saladin - the emir's chivalry virtually invites the comparison - and that this will indeed affect Victorian medievalism and popular literature.

As for knights-errant in the Holy Land, this isn't the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but young Europeans might serve as civil servants or army officers as they did in Egypt under the Mehmet Ali dynasty.

I almost thought this was an ASB with the Crusaders transported into the future. This is way better. :3
No, just historical memory playing out in unexpected ways.

Any other thoughts?
 
Aye, this is delightful.

A couple of geopolitical questions, which I appreciate there may not be answers to: how much territory does Kader's Syria control, and does he plan to keep his capital in Damascus or move it to Jerusalem or another city?
 
I love this, Jonathan. Good show.
A couple of geopolitical questions, which I appreciate there may not be answers to: how much territory does Kader's Syria control, and does he plan to keep his capital in Damascus or move it to Jerusalem or another city?
Thanks! As you correctly guessed, I haven't given the kingdom's borders a great deal of thought; I'd imagine that they would roughly match the area marked as Syria on this map, although the northern part of Aleppo eyalet (as it then was) might not be included and I suspect that the Transjordan would be loosely controlled.

My guess is that Abd-el-Kader would keep the capital in Damascus, which aside from being his power base is centrally located and is in one of the richer and more populous parts of the kingdom. If he moves the capital, it will probably be to a port city.
 
As for knights-errant in the Holy Land, this isn't the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but young Europeans might serve as civil servants or army officers as they did in Egypt under the Mehmet Ali dynasty.
Absolutely- I meant more in terms of how that service would be conceptualized. An officer who goes to serve with the Turks is just taking the Sultan's coin. An officer who serves in Jerusalem is the glorious heir to Ivanhoe and so on and so forth.
 

The Sandman

Banned
I'd think the capital would stay in Damascus. Aside from the importance of the city, it has the advantage of not being within range of European gunboats.

And Jerusalem, I suspect, is too centered on religion to be an entirely comfortable capital. Best to make sure pilgrims of all three faiths can come and go as they please, then keep the business of governance and diplomacy well away from the inevitable inter- and intrafaith disputes.

I do wonder how this Syria's diplomacy will adjust if events in Europe still occur more-or-less per OTL, with the German Empire formed atop the corpse of the French Empire. The Third Republic is likely to have a less romantic view of Syria's new ruler than the Second Empire.
 
Brilliant start!

I do wonder how the Eastern Question will be affected by a Syrian Kingdom. While the resources of Syria aren't quite crucial, it would be a bit of a problem for the Ottomans. I do wonder how relations between the Ottomans and Abd-el-Kader are like.
 
I do wonder how this Syria's diplomacy will adjust if events in Europe still occur more-or-less per OTL, with the German Empire formed atop the corpse of the French Empire. The Third Republic is likely to have a less romantic view of Syria's new ruler than the Second Empire.
Nothing about Abd-el-Kader's rise will change either Bismarck's ambitions or the institutional weaknesses of the French Empire, so I'd imagine that even if the Franco-Prussian War doesn't happen exactly as IOTL, there will be a similar conflict that will end more or less the same way. By then, though, Abd-el-Kader may be firmly enough established to do without French patronage or find other patrons - I'd imagine, for instance, that the British might make a deal with him if it means regaining influence in Palestine.

Speaking of which, I wonder what Abd-el-Kader's adventure might do to Franco-British relations. The UK wasn't as involved in Palestine in the 1860s as it would be later, but it did consider itself the informal protector of the region since its intervention in the Ottoman-Egyptian war in 1840. I'd guess that both France and Abd-el-Kader would make assurances to protect British interests, but depending on who the PM is, Britain might still see the seizure of Palestine as poaching, which might translate into a greater British buildup in Egypt or a shift toward pro-Prussian foreign policy.

Please continue the TL.
Brilliant start!

I do wonder how the Eastern Question will be affected by a Syrian Kingdom. While the resources of Syria aren't quite crucial, it would be a bit of a problem for the Ottomans. I do wonder how relations between the Ottomans and Abd-el-Kader are like.
This was intended to be a one-off vignette, not a timeline, but since there's interest (for which I am as always grateful), I may add some more stories showing the further development of Abd-el-Kader's Syria.

In terms of the Ottomans, I can't imagine that the Sultan would be any happier about Abd-el-Kader than about Mehmet Ali, especially since a Syrian rebellion will cut him off from Hejaz and make western Arabia harder to hold. There may be a rapprochement later, especially if Abd-el-Kader retains a nominal allegiance to the Sultan as the Egyptian khedives did. I'd also guess that this would increase the Ottoman state's fear of dismemberment and make it less willing to let go of its European territories, which could bring on an early Russo-Turkish War -- but if the Ottomans reform their army in the wake of the Syrian revolt, then it's a war they might win. I haven't really thought that far down the line: these are all things I'll have to think through if I write more stories.
 
I'm not the expert on this subject, but this is one of the best TLs I’ve read on the middle east. I'm very fascinated.:D
 
Really nice and fascinating, as others say.
I have some doubts about the POD, though, as in, what exactly makes Syrian elites to rally so cohesively around 'Abd al-Qadir, his unquestionable skill and charisma aside? I don't think he would be in character for him to begin a rebellion on his own initiative (as suggested in the vignette, he'd been asked to do that). There was, at the time, hardly much in the way of Syrian national feeling, or even Arab consciousness in a political sense. Conversely, the Ottomans consistently regarded Syria as core territory, and local separatism there would be seen as an existential threat (interestingly, the French had fought on the OE side just some years before).
By the way, does this French little adventure in the East butterfly the Mexican debacle?
 
I have some doubts about the POD, though, as in, what exactly makes Syrian elites to rally so cohesively around 'Abd al-Qadir, his unquestionable skill and charisma aside? I don't think he would be in character for him to begin a rebellion on his own initiative (as suggested in the vignette, he'd been asked to do that). There was, at the time, hardly much in the way of Syrian national feeling, or even Arab consciousness in a political sense. Conversely, the Ottomans consistently regarded Syria as core territory, and local separatism there would be seen as an existential threat (interestingly, the French had fought on the OE side just some years before).
Very good question (and again, one that I didn't think through very far because I wanted to tell a story).

Let's start with the fact that Arabs did rebel against Ottoman rule on occasion, usually over conscription and/or taxes, and that the rebellions sometimes led to temporary unity such as among the Palestinians in 1834. (The Palestinian revolt was against Mehmet Ali, but the rebellions against the Sultan were for similar reasons.) So maybe we can posit a "black swan" chain of events in which multiple factors combine to make a Syrian revolt in the 1860s more intense than usual. Say there's a Balkan rebellion, or maybe a war with Serbia or Greece, that results in conscription and a war tax... and that the draft is then enforced in Syria by a bad governor who has already made himself unpopular for other reasons. This governor starts grabbing every young man in sight for the army and visiting atrocities on anyone he suspects of resisting. The Syrian notables decide that they might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb, and rise up.

At that point, they turn to Abd-el-Kader, who is (a) a hero, (b) of proven military skill, (c) who is respected by all religions, and (d) who the European powers would regard as an acceptable ruler. John Kiser suggests that the Syrian notables actually did this in 1877-78 when they feared that the Ottoman state might break up, and though I take Kiser with several grains of salt, it seems like a fundamentally reasonable thing to happen. And then Napoleon III, seeing a chance to put an independent Levantine kingdom in his debt, decides to stir the pot, which helps Abd-el-Kader build a strong enough force to withstand the force that the Sultan sends to reconquer Syria.

In the meantime, the rebellion begins to engender a Syrian national consciousness, somewhat as Kimmerling and Migdal argue the 1834 rebellion did among Palestinians. Such a consciousness would still be embryonic in the 1860s, but would become more developed (and would incidentally include the Palestinians) if the new Syrian state can survive.

Does this sound plausible?

By the way, does this French little adventure in the East butterfly the Mexican debacle?
It might... or on the other hand, if Napoleon succeeds in Syria, that might only encourage him to engage in other irresponsible adventures. Given the man's character, it could go either way.
 

Rosenheim

Donor
It might... or on the other hand, if Napoleon succeeds in Syria, that might only encourage him to engage in other irresponsible adventures. Given the man's character, it could go either way.
I personally think the history of this world would be more interesting if he did not, as even if/when Nap 3's empire crumbles, you would likely see the French sucessor state continue to think of backing foreign interventions in very interesting ways if they don't have the example of failure Mexico would provide. If Abd-el-Kader's Syria stabilizes, I could see attempts being made to replicate it across the world, wherever France seems to increase its influence.

Either way, if you mean for this to be only a oneshot , don't feel that you have to produce more only to feed us. Write when you're inspired to. :smileskisses:
 
Very good question (and again, one that I didn't think through very far because I wanted to tell a story).

snip

Does this sound plausible?
A long shot, but yes. In particular, I expect the Ottomans to put out a fierce opposition. However, if they are enganged in a Balkan tangle, with both Russia and France against them, their means to resist would be limited.
However, given the importance of Greater Syria to their overall imperial structure, I suppose that this opens the door to a general collapse of the imperial periphery, probably followed by a carving of spheres of influence. London would be pissed, to say the least. Huge opportunity for St. Petersburg, and perhaps Vienna and Florence.
Also, Abd al-Qadir might be interested, at this point, in establishing some sort of suzerainity over Hijaz itself.
 
I like the story, AH plausability aside.

I agree with Falecisus regarding the Hejaz- also, I don't think the Ottomans have much of a chance of holding on to southern and central Iraq if Syria stabilizes as an independent stae, especially if el-Kader extends his writ to the Cilician gates.

Don't see much chance for an Ottoman victory, even if the army is reformed, and even if Milyutin's reforms in Russia have less time to take effect absent British intervention or an ealier breech between Austira and RUssia. Given that the war OTL was sparked by the Bulgarian rebellions and the serbian invasion of Bosnia, themselves sparked by the resettlement of the circassians Milyutin ethnically cleansed in the Balkans (incidentially, Will El-Kader be offering them a home in Syria or will his secession preclude that?) I don;t see it happening much earlier. 1874-1875 is about the earliest which seems likely. If Iraq is wobbly at that point Russia may successfuly incite Persia to join in the partition of the Ottoman empire- they were considering it OTL.

P.S. I was wondering, do you know what happened to Abd-el-Kader's sons OTL? Did some of them end up settling in Syria with him? relevent to my "execution preempted" TL.
 
A long shot, but yes. In particular, I expect the Ottomans to put out a fierce opposition. However, if they are enganged in a Balkan tangle, with both Russia and France against them, their means to resist would be limited.
That was more or less what I had in mind - for the Porte to be too distracted elsewhere to give full attention to the Syrian rebellion. Later, the Ottomans would be able to direct more resources to Syria, but by that time Abd-el-Kader would have time to dig in.

However, given the importance of Greater Syria to their overall imperial structure, I suppose that this opens the door to a general collapse of the imperial periphery, probably followed by a carving of spheres of influence. London would be pissed, to say the least. Huge opportunity for St. Petersburg, and perhaps Vienna and Florence.
I don't think the Ottomans have much of a chance of holding on to southern and central Iraq if Syria stabilizes as an independent stae, especially if el-Kader extends his writ to the Cilician gates.
Getting as far as the Cilician Gates would be hard - the country around there would be unfriendly, and he wouldn't be able to depend on local support as in Syria and Palestine. On the other hand, as you say, tandem losses in Syria and the Balkans might be enough to start a collapse, with Russia peeling off Armenia, Persia seizing much of Iraq, and Italy or possibly Austria making a play for Libya (although I'm not sure Italy would be ready in the 1860s or 70s).

I doubt that Abd-el-Kader would make a formal agreement with Russia against the Sultan, but there's room for a lot of under-the-table cooperation, especially if Paris mediates it. And yeah, the UK won't be a happy camper - I'd guess that it would at least try to strengthen its position in Egypt, and I wonder if it might not try to take Iraq and/or go for Libya or Tunisia itself as a check against French expansion.

Also, Abd al-Qadir might be interested, at this point, in establishing some sort of suzerainity over Hijaz itself.
I agree with Falecisus regarding the Hejaz
He might take the Hejaz if he could do so without provoking war with Egypt - it would be a very prestigious territory to hold, but I don't think he'd want a major war in the south as long as the Sultan's armies continued to threaten him from the north. Even so, he would at least consider the Hejaz as a possible later conquest and do what he could to put the Sharif in his debt in the meantime, and I assume there would be plenty of Banu Qatadah notables willing to intrigue with him.

incidentially, Will El-Kader be offering [the exiled Circassians] a home in Syria or will his secession preclude that?
I'd imagine that in the early days, he'd offer a home to anyone willing to fight for him, and he's certainly someone who would sympathize with exiles. He might actually settle them in many of the same places the Ottomans did IOTL, using them to guard his southern marches.

P.S. I was wondering, do you know what happened to Abd-el-Kader's sons OTL? Did some of them end up settling in Syria with him? relevent to my "execution preempted" TL.
The accounts of the Damascus massacre mention that some of his sons were there and helped him rescue the Christians, and he had descendants in Syria as late as the Algerian independence struggle. I wasn't able to find out which of his sons were in Syria and which stayed in Algeria, but some were definitely in Damascus with him.
 
Top