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Saʿīd ibn Sulṭān

Born in 1791, Saʿīd succeeded his father jointly with his brother Salīm in 1804, but their cousin Badr immediately usurped the throne. In 1806 Saʿīd assassinated Badr and became virtual sole ruler, though Salīm, a nonentity, had titular status until his death in 1821. Although Europeans frequently called him imam and sultan, Saʿīd himself used the style sayyid. He was never elected to the purely religious office of imam that all his predecessors held.

Rise to power

At this time the eastern African coast was divided into numerous small states owing allegiance to Oman because Oman had expelled the Portuguese from them in 1698. At Saʿīd’s accession Omani weakness made this allegiance little more than nominal, for at Mombasa the Mazarʾi family had set up a virtually independent dynasty. In 1822 Saʿīd sent an expedition that drove them from Pemba Island. A British naval force occupied Mombasa irregularly from 1824 to 1826, when the action was repudiated by the British government. In 1827 Saʿīd went to assert his authority in person: one effect was greatly to increase the revenues remitted. There ensued a struggle between Saʿīd and the Mazarʾi for Mombasa that ended only in 1837 when, by a ruse, he took some 30 of the enemy captive. All were deported and some were killed. If he preferred peaceable settlements, Saʿīd could show himself as ruthless as any Mamlūk.

Saʿīd first visited Zanzibar in 1828; he shortly acquired the only two properties on which cloves were then grown. He lived to make the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba the largest clove producers in the world. By 1834 it was believed that he intended to transfer his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar, but, until the 1840s, he divided his time more or less equally between them. His interest in East Africa was not simply to gain increased tax revenue: it was primarily commercial. From the 1820s caravans from Zanzibar reversed the immemorial system of trade by which African products had been brought to the coast by African caravans. Now the Zanzibar caravans,

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