Were Ottoman autonomous provinces nation-states in the making or signs of a semicolonial and irredeemably weak empire? Or, were they evidence of alternative arrangements of imperial sovereignty? By taking a long view of Ottoman history and examining “exceptional” provinces such as the Khedivate of Egypt, the Sharifate of Mecca, and the mutasarrifiya of Mt. Lebanon, this reflection seeks to recast new and reorganized configurations of administrative power in the nineteenth century as part of a broad repertoire of Ottoman autonomy. In lieu of characterizing these territories as flawed or imperfect sovereignties, we question the utility of these terms and argue that arrangements often referred to as exceptions were normative and central to the empire's survival. Drawing on our work on international law, autonomy, pilgrimage, and migration, we consider how Egypt and the Hijaz—two provinces that are often treated as exceptionally exceptional—serve as productive sites to examine how Ottomans engaged with the international legal order and posed alternative visions of authority that informed not only the end of the empire but also its afterlife.