Cities of Salt Characters
The main characters in Cities of Salt include Miteb al-Hathal, Ibn Rashed, and Emir Khaled al-Mishari.
- Miteb al-Hathal is a Bedouin tribesman who warns the emir about the Americans to no avail, ultimately disappearing into the desert to become a mythologized figure.
- Ibn Rashed is a resident of the wadi who joins forces with the Americans, recruiting Bedouin workers with false promises of prosperity.
- Emir Khaled al-Mishari is a local leader who becomes entranced by modern Western technology and eventually suffers a mental breakdown.
Last Updated on February 24, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 384
Miteb al-Hathal is an older resident of Wadi al-Uyoun who resents the presence of Americans in the wadi. He is suspicious of the Americans who have come to look for oil, and he later disappears into the wilderness and becomes a symbol of resistance and of the past....
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Miteb al-Hathal is an older resident of Wadi al-Uyoun who resents the presence of Americans in the wadi. He is suspicious of the Americans who have come to look for oil, and he later disappears into the wilderness and becomes a symbol of resistance and of the past. He continues to haunt the desert and shows up in moments of conflict. His son, Fawaz, eventually goes to Harran.
Umm Khosh is a widow whose son has left the wadi. She refuses to abandon the wadi when given the order to do so, and she dies and does not join the diaspora of people leaving the wadi. She and her belongings are buried in the desert.
Ibn Rashed is a resident of Wadi al-Uyoun who is pro-American and supports their extraction of oil. Later, he serves as a conduit between the men from the wadi who leave the desert to live in the coastal city of Harran and the Americans who control and modernize Harran.
Abdu Muhammad is a baker in Harran who starts putting pictures from Western magazines, some of them of suggestive poses between men and women, up in his bakery. He is overcome by lust for an American woman he sees on a ship brought to Harran.
Muffadi al-Jeddan is a traditional healer in Harran who is targeted by the police and is eventually murdered. His partner is a woman named Khazna al-Hassan. He is challenged by Dr. Subhi al-Mahmilji, whose background is obscure but who clearly comes from an elite family. The doctor arrives in Harran with his wife. Though he tells the emir he has humanitarian reasons to come to Harran, Dr. Mahmilji’s real motives are that his grandfather left him land in Arabia and he has a passion for discovering new places.
The emir is a man who is obsessed with modern technology. For example, he looks with wonder at the doctor’s stethoscope. He is, however, not attuned to his people’s suffering and does not truly care about them.
Ibn Naffeh is a devout Muslim who sees the destruction of the wadi and the construction of Harran and who complains to the emir about the infidels, as he refers to the Americans.
Last Updated on February 24, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1118
Miteb al-Hathal is a Bedouin tribesman with a special passion for the Wadi al-Uyoun desert oasis, where he and his family live. The appearance of Americans, who were invited by the Arabian government to explore and drill for oil, changes Miteb’s previously stoic and optimistic attitude toward life. With characteristic boldness and candor, he warns people about impending disaster and even stands up to the regional emir, but no one heeds him. When the Americans level the orchards and gardens to force people to leave what will henceforth be an oil-drilling site, Miteb mounts his Omani camel and disappears for good. Reports of his visitations come from various parts of the region.
Ibn Rashed is a man from Wadi al-Uyoun who acquiesces to the American presence and decides to join the forces of change. He encourages the local population to relocate and becomes a personnel recruiter for the Americans, bringing Bedouins from all over to Harran with promises of good salaries and homes. The workers find only dehumanizing tents and later barracks. He loses his struggle against Dabbasi for local influence and power and comes to fear paranoically the specter of Miteb al-Hathal. He dies a broken man, an example of an Arab who has broken his ties and traditional fidelity to tribal values.
The Americans are oil workers at Wadi al-Uyoun and Harran, and at the pipeline camps in between. These one-dimensional characters, almost caricatures of American workers and managers abroad, seem superficially interested in local culture and customs but are quick to defend and implement company policy in the face of local traditions and concerns.
The Bedouin Workers at Harran
The Bedouin workers at Harran are people lured by the promise of good wages, houses, and a future for their families. These people come from all over to work for the Americans. Hard workers and good Muslims, but unaware of the facts of life in the modern world beyond their personal experience, they seem simple and uncouth animals to the Americans and Westernized Arab company men.
The Harrani Townspeople
The Harrani townspeople are generous, uncomplicated people unaware of much that is transpiring in the modern world beyond their region. Some accede to Ibn Rashed’s entreaties that they sell their land to the Americans; however, Dabbasi convinces some of them to hold onto their land at least, in the face of the foreign takeover of their community.
Naim Sh’eira is the Americans’ Arab translator, who, like other Arab company men, learns American disdain for his fellow Arab Bedouins.
Emir Khaled al-Mishari
Emir Khaled al-Mishari is a middle-aged, heavyset, and dark-skinned man who replaces an earlier emir who had refused to stay in Harran once he saw changes and the Americans there. Ignorant, indecisive, timorous, and self-indulgent, Khaled is fascinated by a succession of such modern gadget gifts as a telescope, a radio, and a telephone. The climactic workers’ strike and the community uprising lead to his mental breakdown. People see him yelling into his unconnected telephone in his car, speeding from Harran with his entourage.
Fawaz, Miteb al-Hathal’s eldest son, is somewhat responsible for the family after his father’s disappearance. Feeling the youthful Bedouin urge to travel, however, he leaves home on a brief trip, during which he has a vision of Miteb in a storm. On a second trip, he accepts Ibn Rashed’s offer of a job in Harran. At the novel’s end, he leads a charge of striking workers and Harranis toward the American compound.
Dabbasi is a round-faced man with a small beard, in his mid-fifties. He comes to Harran and there wins the hearts of the emir and the populace. He marries a Harrani and marries his son Saleh to one as well. His own wedding party is the social event of the day. He eventually defeats Ibn Rashed in their competition for local power and influence.
Abdu Muhammad is Harran’s first baker, who falls pathetically in love from a distance with one of the American women brought by boat to the Americans in Harran.
Hajem is a boy assigned with his elder brother, Mizban, to sea-rock cutting in the Harran port expansion project because they are the only Bedouin workers who can swim. After Mizban drowns by catching his foot on an underwater rock, Hajem becomes simple-minded and unable to communicate. The crowd at Mizban’s funeral displays community desperation, sadness at their own plight, and their sense that the Americans are responsible for all untoward events. Terminated from his employment, Hajem is sent back inland by Ibn Rashed to his uncle, who later comes to Harran to demand justice and compensation. The uncle is astounded by the disrespectful and untraditional treatment he receives. Their detainment by the deputy emir upsets the workers, which leads ultimately to Ibn Rashed’s downfall. The uncle takes his nephew back inland without fanfare and without compensation.
Akoub is a short, middle-aged Armenian truck driver from Aleppo who dies in his truck in Harran some time after newer vehicles and more commercial operations have driven him out of business. All of Harran goes to Akoub’s funeral, his death marking the end of an older and more personal way of transporting people and things.
Raji, Akoub’s fellow truck driver, is a tall, skinny, bald, contentious man, quick to anger but good-hearted. He and Akoub eventually become best friends. Akoub’s death devastates him. At the novel’s end, Raji carries the wounded in his old truck from Harran to Ujra.
Mufaddi al-Jeddan, a traditional practitioner of medicine, is a dervish who treats people for free and seeks only such goods as sandals, other clothing, and food as he needs them.
Dr. Suhbi al-Mahmilji
Dr. Suhbi al-Mahmilj is a physician who has lived in Tripoli and Aleppo and has also served as a hajj pilgrimage physician before coming to Harran. Suhbi becomes a favorite of the emir, who chooses him to give the welcoming speech for Crown Prince Khazael, the sultan’s deputy, on the occasion of the opening of the Wadi al-Uyoun-Harran pipeline.
Johar is one of the emir’s bodyguards. Later, as the chief security officer for the emir, he establishes a paramilitary organization and terrorizes Bedouin workers and townspeople. He is assumed to have ordered or committed the murder of Mufaddi al-Jeddan.
Khazna al-Hassan is a Bedouin midwife and healer who treats women and children and thinks of Mufaddi al-Jeddan as her brother. She worries about him when he is arrested, cares for him after he is beaten, and is disconsolate at his death.
Last Updated on February 24, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535
Characterization in this novel serves the primary objective of providing a panoramic view of Bedouin society as it undergoes radical transformation. To realize this intention, the narrative point of view constantly shifts from one scene to another, describing each barely long enough to record the effects of the cataclysmic change on the face of the desert and its dwellers. The net result is akin to a set of group photographs as opposed to individual portraits. No Bedouin character displays any significant psychological depth, and none is given to introspection. In fact, no clear line appears to separate the private from the public realm in the life of this nomadic society. The characters who display any degree of roundedness stand out as typical, rather than unique, individuals.
This may explain, at least in part, Miteb’s disappearance at the end of volume 1. The Bedouin patriarch tries to stem the ravishing of the desert through the only means available to him, namely, public remonstration with the prince. When that fails, there is little else he can do as an individual. Disappearance into the desert in the thick of night invests him with mythic qualities and enables him to carry on the fight.
The same strategy of characterization is applied to the American engineers and personnel. They always appear together and are described as a group. The reader never gets a direct glimpse of their personalities and conduct. Instead, Abdelrahman Munif shows the reaction of the indigenous population to the presence of the Americans. From such a distance, all the characters appear to be stereotypes rather than realized individuals.
Among the major characters of the novel, only the physician appears as a well-rounded character. For this reason, he, and not the sultan, should be considered the main character of the novel. This is particularly true of volume 2, which dramatizes his methodical and painstaking pursuit of power and his sudden fall from it.
There is evidence to suggest that the physician may be a composite of a number of historical figures who served in various capacities under Sultan ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, the founder of the Saudi monarchy. As a fictional character, however, the physician is interesting because he simultaneously combines in his personality the omnipotence of every creator over his creation and the ability to subordinate himself completely to the will of those whom he installs in power. His obscure origins and mysterious arrival into the nascent desert kingdom and his admiration for “the German way of doing things” are also intriguing.
Hammad, the Bedouin whom the physician handpicks to head the secret service of the new state, develops to full stature in the course of the novel’s action. His character demonstrates precisely how knowledge can be transmuted into power. While the physician was the first to detect Hammad’s talent, it is the CIA which cultivates it for systematic application. Hammad’s initiation into the sophisticated methods of intelligence-gathering and the effective wielding of knowledge and power takes place during his first trip to the United States. From that point on, his visits to the United States increase steadily in frequency and length. Toward the end of volume 2, he emerges as the undisputed power behind the throne.