I.M.Lapidus, an American specialist of Middle Eastern history, argued that the ruling Mamluks' role of combining the 'ulama' (religious and legal scholars) and the common people into one political and social unity, was characteristic of the structure of urban society during the Mamluk dynasty. He called such a system of political and social relations the 'Mamluk regime' and insisted that it worked well even after the rise of the Ottoman dynasty. At the end of the Mamluk era, that is during the time from the accession of Sultan Qa'itbay to the decline of the dynasty (1468-1517), the state suffered from a severe financial crisis due to the decrease of iqta revenue and the increase in the payment of salaries for soldiers and civil officials. Also at that time, impoverished Mamluks often revolted against the Sultan for the fulfilment of these payments. These social instabilities forced the Mamluk state to reform its financial and military regime, which had solely depended on the iqta' system and the Mamluks. This article examines those reform policies and their influence over administration and control of cities in the Mamluk state, in an attempt to reinterpret Lapidus' thesis on the structure of urban society. First, concerning financial policy, Sultan Qa'itbay started taxation on property of citizen and waqf endowment. The state intended it to absorb the accumlated wealth in cities for the betterment of bugetary conditions. For the same purpose the state adopted a policy to take bribes at appointments of officials and to confiscate their property during their tenures of office. It accelerated both a plutocratic tendency among officials and the prevalence of bribary in the administration. This tendency was especially noticeable in the legal administration of cities. The chief judge (qadi al-qudat) appointed many legal officials such as deputy-judges (na'ib), notaries (shahid) and executors (naqib, rasul) and formed them into his own faction (jama'a). He and his party gained profits on the legal system by means of bribary, services charges and so on. In Damascus the governor (na'ib) often levied taxes on its quarters (hara). Especially on expeditions, he conscripted both the arquebusier infantries and their wages from each quarter. He adopted this policy to resolve at once the problems of the financial crisis and the defense of the city. Administrators of each quarter (arif) and the governor's subordinates, such as the majordomo (ustadar) and executive secretary (dawadar), were in charge of collecting taxes. The governor managed to rule the city by embracing these officials and private mercenaries in his faction. As for the commn people, inhabitants of each quarter took remarkable political actions. They almost overwhelmed the military power of the Mamluks in the rebellion of the year 903 / 1497 and in the revolt of 907 / 1501. It was a social group called the zu'r that set up these popular movements. They were outlaws who lived on plunder and assassination. They were employed as infantry and private merconary by the governors, while they dominated markets and stores in their quarters and prevented the governor from taxation in exchange for protection fees. In the cities at the end of the Mamluk era, both the governor, a military-executive, and the chief judge, himself a civil official, formed their own factions (jama'a) and strengthened their domains and exploitation of the people. The commom people coudn't seek shelter anywhere other than under the protection of the zu'r, who built their bases of power in each quarter. The urban society in this period was co structured that various factions and groups were struggling with each other forcibly. Lapidus began his thesis by assuming that the Mamluks, the 'ulama' and the common people were the major strata and actors in the cities.
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