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The Arab Republic (Arab: جمهورية العرب, Jumhuriyah al-Arabiyah) was a union of Arab clans and tribes established to govern the Arabian peninsula after the downfall of the Umayyad Caliphate.
After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the leadership of the Islamic community was entrusted to his cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abu Talib. However, Ali's rule was soon threatened by the governor of Bahrain, Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan, who had distinguished himself in the war against the Persians and thereby gained much support among many clans. Ali was assassinated in 661, and Muawiyah seized power by force, thus establishing the Umayyad Caliphate. Ali's eldest son and heir, Hassan, accepted the situation in order to avoid more bloodshed, but was seemingly poisoned when it became clear that Muawiyah intended to pass the caliphate on to his own son Yazid.
This act ignited much anger against the unjust rule of the Umayyads. When Muawiyah died in 680, Ali's second son Hussein refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid and instead fled to Kufa, in Roman Mesopotamia, to gather support. He was however intercepted and attacked en route at a place called Karbala, where Hussein and almost all his family were executed in cold blood.
When the news reached the wider world there was outrage among devout Muslims everywhere. King Germa Safar of Axum called for a jihad to topple the Umayyads, joined by the Emperor Constantine IV and by the remaining supporters of the family of Ali. In 681 the Axumite army landed in Yemen and began marching north to Mecca, while a small Roman contingent crossed into the northern border regions where Ali had always had much support. Within weeks all Arabia was in open revolt, and Yazid and his court had been forced to flee to his family's old stronghold in Bahrain, where he thought himself untouchable.
However, in November of that year, a small Roman special forces unit infiltrated Yazid's citadel and abducted him without any of his guards realising. In January 662 Yazid was publically tried and executed in the main square of Mecca, thus bringing an end to the Umayyad dynasty.
It was in the interests of everyone to keep Arabia united. The ideal solution would have been to install Hussein's sole remaining son, Ali al-Asghar, as caliph, but unfortunately he was still an infant at the time. It was decided therefore to create the Arab Republic to govern Arabia until al-Asghar came of age, while the Caliphship was given into the keeping of the Emperor Constantine and the heartlands of the Hejaz and Yemen were placed under Axumite occupation.
When al-Asghar did come of age, however, he proved to be more interested in religion and scholarship than in politics or warfare. He was content therefore to leave the day-to-day running of the nation in the hands of the Republic, beginning a precedent which continued almost until the end of the regime.
The ceremonial head of state and spiritual leader was the imam, descended from Ali. (The term as used here is distinct from its later usage, as a teacher and worship leader in a mosque). He was however barred by convention from playing any effective role in the government of either the state or the church, and all imams until the last were happy to respect this convention.
The actual heads of government were the two Sufta, elected by the clan chiefs every year after the annual Hajj pilgrimage. They had overall military authority, the right of legislative initiative, and the right to preside over the Khairous. The Khairous, or senate, was an assembly of all the clan and tribal chiefs and other elites, and the main legislative body. Apart from ensuring that the clans approved of governmental actions, its deliberations were useful for building consensus and settling disputes between clans and thereby preventing any return to civil war.
There was also an Assembly, the Majlis al-Sha'ab, made up of all free adult males in Arabia, regardless of wealth or social position. (In practice, though, it was dominated by Meccans, it being difficult for most others to reach the city to attend sessions). The Majlis' final approval was required for any law and, though it usually voted in whatever way was advised by the Sufta and the Khairous, it was not unknown for it to make its own decisions. It was the Majlis, for example, which returned political power to the last imam over the Khairous' objections.
Elsewhere in Arabia, political power remained in the hands of the clans, just as it had for generations previously. Each clan was left to govern itself more or less as it pleased, though they were required to keep the peace and all were subject to the laws of the Republic. On one occasion, when the Banu Asad and the Banu Numayr went to war and refused the orders of the Khairous to cease fighting, both were exterminated by the Republic as a warning to others.
In 882 Ali al-Asghar's seventh-generation descendent, Musa ibn Khaldun al-Hashemi, tried to override the Republic and seize power for himself. It was eventually agreed that, as a descendent of the Prophet, he had the right to do so, but this incident deeply divided Arab society.
al-Hashemi's rule started well, following in the footsteps of the Republic, but in his old age he grew more and more eccentric and tyrannical. Eventually dissidents started to gather in Bahrain, where they called themselves the Qarmatians and strived to establish a new republic. In 899 they revolted, establishing their own state along the east coast, and quickly grew in power.
In 930 the Qarmatians sacked Mecca, capturing both the Black Stone and al-Hashemi. The stone was eventually ransomed back for a huge fortune, while al-Hashemi remained in captivity for the rest of his life. The unified Arab state effectively disintegrated after these events, with a number of smaller emirates and sultanates arising to replace it.