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Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: House of Al-Busaid


In 1505, a Portuguese naval expedition established control over the island of Zanzibar, long a trade destination in the Western Indian. Archaeological evidence indicates that the island has been used as a way station since Assyrian times. The first mosque was established in the 12th century. The Portuguese ruled the island for 190 years, until the Sultan of Oman pushed the Portuguese out and took control of Zanzibar. The island continued to be a commercial hub, now servicing mainly the clove and slave trades.

The Al-Busaid dynasty, descended from Yemeni tribal chieftains, achieved power in Oman in 1744. Zanzibar came to occupy an ever more important place in their empire, and in 1840 Said bin Sultan shifted his capital from Muscat to Stone Town. After Said bin Sultan’s death, several of his 36 children struggled over succession to the throne. In April 1861 the realm was divided, with Zanzibar going to the sixth son (Majid Ibn Said), and Oman going to the third.

Zanzibar controlled a fair portion of the close East African coastline, but German and the British slowly cut into this territory. The British in particular took a strong interest in Zanzibar, not only because of the cloves but also the slaves; the British Empire had taken it upon itself to destroy the slave trade. By 1890, Zanzibar became a British protectorate. A succession crisis in 1896 led to a brief war between the British and the Zanzibari, resulting in British victory and the formal end slavery in Zanzibar.

On December 10, 1963 Zanzibar received formal independence from the United Kingdom. Sultan Sayyid Jamshid bin ‘Abdu’llah became the first independent Sultan of Zanzibar in 73 years. However, his independent reign (he had come to the throne in July 1963) would last only one month. On January 12, 1964, a revolutionary government headed by former bricklayer John Okello deposed the Sultan and established control over the country. Okello, an odd duck in his own right, was shortly thereafter expelled from Zanzibar, and was probably murdered by Idi Amin in 1971. Okello ordered the Sultan to kill himself and his family, but the Sultan had already escaped to Britain. Three months later, Zanzibar would be annexed into Taganyika, the resulting state being called Tanzania. It is believed that roughly 5000 Arabs were killed during the revolution.

Jamshid continues to live in Great Britain, where he has seven children. The Al-Busaid dynasty continues to rule Oman, where the current occupant of the throne is Sultan Sayyid Qaboos bin Sa’id. Prospects for a return to the throne of Zanzibar appear grim. Oman had indicated neither the interest nor capacity to “take back” Zanzibar from Tanzania, and no apparent pro-monarchy groups exist in either Zanzibar or Tanzania.

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