The rise and fall of the Tujjār councils of representatives in Iran, 1884-85

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In July 1884 Nāsir al-Dīn Shāh approved the establishment of councils of representatives of the big merchants (majālis-i wukalā-yi tujjār) in the main commercial centers of Iran. Within three to four months, the tujjār elected their councils in eighteen cities and towns in the country. These councils were to supervise commercial activities in Iran, encourage investments in new projects by big local merchants, and above all limit the involvement and interference of both the provincial governors and the local religious leaders in business matters. The establishment of the councils prompted hostility and resistance by both governors and 'ulamā' from the very beginning. Events in Tabrīz in November-December 1884 struck a decisive blow to the councils. The institution at that town disbanded in late December, and several weeks later most of the other councils followed suit. In light of these developments, the shah, in February or March 1885, nullified his instructions concerning the establishment of the councils. This article analyzes the conditions and circumstances that prompted the shah and the tujjār to take a step that was without precedent in nineteenth-century Iran or elsewhere in the Middle East. It also studies in detail the events that brought about the end of a promising and significant development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)639-674
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I am grateful to Dr. Marina Morozov (University of Haifa) and to Ms. Sara Yontan Musnik (Bibliothèque nationale de France) for their indispensable help with this study. The last part of this article (“The tujjār confront their foes”) was presented at the Sixth Biennial Conference of Iranian Studies held at SOAS, University of London, in August 2006. I am indebted to Prof. Abbas Amanat (Yale University), Prof. Shireen Mahdavi (University of Utah) and to Dr. Soli Shahvar (University of Haifa) for their significant comments on the paper. My thanks also go to Dr. Maurits van den Boogert ( JESHO) for his kind editorial assistance. This research was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, grant no. 865/06.


  • 'Ulamā'
  • Economic development
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Merchants
  • Nineteenth century
  • Political reforms
  • Qājār Iran
  • Tujjār

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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