The count was a man of catholic enthusiasms, and in addition to archaeology and horse racing and slave girls, there was one that Germany’s imperial rivals in the Near East found particularly irksome: Max von Oppenheim wanted to rearrange the regional political chessboard through stoking the fires of Islamic jihad.
He had begun formulating the idea shortly after taking up his consular position in Cairo. In Oppenheim’s estimation, the great Achilles’ heels of Germany’s principal European competitors—Great Britain, France, and Russia—were the Muslim populations to be found within their imperial borders, populations that deeply resented being under the thumb of Christian colonial powers. As the only major European power never to have attempted colonization in the Muslim world, Oppenheim propounded, Germany was uniquely positioned to turn this situation to its advantage—especially if it could forge an alliance with the Ottoman Empire. If it came to a Europe-wide war, Oppenheim posited in a flurry of reports to the German foreign ministry, and the Ottoman authorities in Constantinople could be persuaded to call for a holy war against the Christian occupiers of their former lands, what would happen in British-ruled Egypt, or French Tunisia, or the Russian Caucasus?
One person who was itching to find out was Kaiser Wilhelm II. Forwarded some of Oppenheim’s “war by revolution” treatises, the German emperor quickly became a committed proponent of the jihad notion. Wilhelm saw to it that Oppenheim, “my feared spy,” was promoted at the Cairo embassy, assuming the somewhat ironic title of chief legal counsel.
Until the blessed day of pan-Islamic jihad came, there was plenty of work to be done in British Egypt. Through the early 1900s, Oppenheim spent much of his time—and not a little of his personal fortune—quietly wooing a broad cross section of the Egyptian elite opposed to British rule: tribal sheikhs, urban intellectuals, nationalists, and religious figures. While he had already won the kaiser to his jihadist ideas, in 1907 Oppenheim gained another adherent in the form of his new subordinate, Curt Prüfer. Enough with scholarly articles and Egyptian shadow plays; under the tutelage of his charismatic supervisor, Prüfer now saw the opportunity to spread gasoline over the region, put a match to it, and see what happened.
15 January 2014
Germans Fomenting Jihad in the Early 1900s
From Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson (Doubleday, 2013), Kindle Loc. 768-786: