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Dhaher al-Omar

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Title: Dhaher al-Omar  
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Subject: Galilee, Acre, Israel, Tiberias, Nablus, Sakhnin, Al-Bassa, Khirbat Jiddin, Shefa-'Amr, Basilica of the Annunciation, Yehiam
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Dhaher al-Omar

Daher el-Omar
ظاهر العمر
Governor of Safad
Sheikh of Acre and Galilee
Emir of Nazareth
Portrait of Daher al-Omar, Ziad Daher Zedani
Reign 1730-1775
Born ca. 1690
Birthplace Tiberias area
Died August 21, 1775
Place of death Acre
Predecessor Umar al-Zaydani
Successor Jezzar Pasha
Dynasty Ottoman Empire
Father 'Umar al-Zaydani
Religious beliefs Islam

Daher el-Omar (also: Dhaher, Dhahar) (Arabic ظاهر آل عمر الزيداني ẓāhir Āl ʿumar az-zaydānī, ca. 1690 – August 21, 1775) was the autonomous Arab ruler of the Galilee region during the mid-18th century. The founder of modern Haifa, he fortified many cities, among them Acre.

Early life

Daher was born to a family of local Qaysi notables in the Tiberias area in a village called Arraba ('Arrabat al-Battuf), with strong connections to Arab-Bedouin tribesmen in the Galilee district, which at that time was under the control of the Ottoman Empire. He was the youngest of the four sons born to the Sheikh ʿUmar az-Zaydānī. He grew up in the village of Saffuriya.[1] In 1698 ʿUmar az-Zaydānī had been appointed governor and chief tax collector (Multazem) of the Safad region by Emir Bashir Shihab the First (1698–1705), governor (Wali) of Mount Lebanon. At his death in 1703, his sons jointly succeeded him as rulers of Safad.[2] During those formative years, Daher was confronted by the greed of the Ottoman governors of Saida and the attacks of the Bedouin tribes against the villages of the family fiefdom. Those elements shaped his political and military actions as an adult.


Around 1730, Daher and his brother Yusuf settled in the town of Tiberias. [3] In 1740, he fortified the town and made agreement with the neighbouring Bedouin tribes to prevent their looting raids. Accounts from that time tell of the great admiration which the people had for Daher, especially for his war against bandits on the roads. Richard Pococke, who visited Tiberias in 1727, witnessed the building of a fort to the north of the city, and the strengthening of the old walls, and attributed it to a disagreement with the pasha (ruler) of Damascus.[4] By 1735 he had extended his rule to include Nazareth, Majd ibn Amr and Nablus.[5]

Daher, similar to many other strong local leaders under the Ottoman Empire who did not owe their power to the central Ottoman authorities, was disliked by the Ottoman administration. The Ottoman Sultan sent an order to the governor of Damascus, Sulayman Pasha al-Azm, to put an end to Daher's rule in the Galilee. In September 1742, a military force led by the governor of Damascus came to the Galilee and laid siege to Tiberias. 83 days later, the siege was lifted due to the departure of the Hajj pilgrimage caravan.[6] In July 1743 the governor returned with a larger force. A month later the governor died of kidney disease and the siege was lifted for good.

In 1750 he took control of Haifa and Tantura.[7]

The town of Deir Hanna became his first administrative center as he gradually brought the Galilee, as his "Iltizam", under his control. Parts of the fortress, mosque and Khan that he built can still be seen in the town. For most of his rule Daher was not a target for the Ottomans, as for his entire period of rule he continued to act as proxy Ottoman tax collector (Multazem), paying a portion of the taxes raised to the Imperial capital in Constantinople.

Acre was taken over and fortified by Daher, and became the main city of the area he governed. When Haifa was conquered by Daher, its location wasn't considered defensible, so that the city was razed and rebuilt at a new location 3 km away, with improved fortifications and a new seaport. Now controlling the major seaports in the area, Daher made contact with Maltese pirates.

Daher (unlike many governors and rulers in the Middle East at the time) was very aware of the importance of a flourishing economy to provide a stable basis for his rule — he tried to refrain from squeezing the peasants with extortionately excessive taxes, and established a state monopoly on cotton-growing in the Galilee. The city of Acre underwent an economic boom (partly based on its role in exporting cotton grown in the Galilee to France).[8]

In 1768, the central Ottoman authorities partially recognized or legitimized his de facto position by granting him the title of "Sheikh of Acre, Amir of Nazareth, Tiberias, Safed, and Sheikh of all Galilee".[9]

From 1769 to 1775, Daher got involved in a war that led to his downfall. In 1750, his friend Ali Bey Al-Kabir was appointed the governor of Egypt and soon got into an argument with the Ottoman administration. Assassins were sent to kill Ali Bey, for fear of him attempting to rebel against the Ottoman Empire (1769). In response, Ali Bey declared Egypt to be an independent country. Daher helped Ali Bey by blocking an Ottoman force heading south to suppress the rebellion in Egypt. Bey sent a force of 30,000 which conquered most of the Sanjak of Jerusalem and the Vilayets of Tyre and Damascus (Palestine) as well as Damascus from November 1770 to June 1771. In 1771 they routed an army led by the governor of Damascus, Muhammad al-Azm, in the Hula Valley.[10] After the troops arrived at Damascus (with help from Daher) in 1771, the commander of the troops, Abu al-Dhahab, refused to continue fighting against the Ottomans, and turned against Ali Bey. When these troops returned to Egypt, Ali Bey fled to Acre to shelter under Daher's protection. The combined forces of Daher, Ali Bey, and Russia (which was at war with the Ottoman Empire that time) kept the majority of the Galilee free of Ottoman influence, and Daher was able to temporarily extend his rule along the coast as far south as Jaffa and as far north as Sidon. By 1773 the area under his control extended from the Litani River to Beersheba, though he never took formal control over Jerusalem.[11] In 1773 Ali Bey returned to Egypt, but was defeated by the rebels against his authority and died. In 1774, the war between Russia and the Ottomans came to an end, and Daher was left without any outside support.


The Ottomans ordered Abu al-Dhahab to attack Daher from Egypt, but Abu al-Dhahab died suddenly before this could happen, so the Ottomans launched a mainly naval invasion instead, besieging Acre. Daher's capital city of Acre was captured by the Ottomans in August 1774, and a year later Daher died in an attempt to flee on August 21, 1775.

Politics and legacy

Daher el-Omar is considered by many Arab nationalists as a pioneer of the Arab liberation from foreign occupation.[12] He succeeded in creating an autonomous territory in the Galilee, helped by the governors of Mount Lebanon (the Vilayet of Tyre), Egypt, Russia, and to some extent the consuls of France.

He is also remembered in reference to his approach to minorities, showing tolerance towards and encouraging Jews and Christians.

Historically, his family was linked to the Qaissite party to which belonged the governors of Mount Lebanon, the Maans (1518–1697) and the Shihabs (1697–1842) whose territory included the Galilee. As allies of those powerful governors, members of Daher's family had been appointed sheiks of some parts of the Galilee since 1518. The autonomy achieved by the governors of Mount Lebanon played an important role in forming the political views of Daher el-Omar.

Through marriage, he sealed the alliances with the Bedouin sheikhs and the prominent notables of Galilee. He encouraged Jewish families to settle in Tiberias around 1742.[13] The newcomers helped him with the influence of their network in Damascus and Constantinople. Also, Daher maintained excellent relationships with the Greek Orthodox church in Nazareth and Acre which secured for him the sympathy and support of Russia. Daher understood early on the importance of a multi-confessional society as a means of prosperity and political support.

Constantin-François Volney, who wrote the first European biography of Daher in 1787,[14] lists three main reasons for Daher's failure. First, the lack of "internal good order and justness of principle". Secondly, the early concessions he made to his children. Third, and most of all, the avarice of his advisor and confidant, Ibrahim Sabbagh.[15]

English popular mathematics writer Karl Sabbagh also makes a lot of Daher el Omar's legacy as a forerunner of the Palestinian national movement in his book Palestine: A Personal History which was widely reviewed in the British press in 2010.[16]

See also



Preceded by
Ruler of Galilee
Succeeded by
Jezzar Pasha

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