Levantine Trajectories: The Formulation and Dissemination of Radical Ideas in and between Beirut, Cairo, and Alexandria, 1860-1914

Thesis Type:

PhD dissertation


My dissertation investigates the articulation and dissemination of radicalism in and between Beirut, Cairo and Alexandria in the late 19th and early 20th century. It argues that there existed a deep connection between the brand of radicalism that emerged in these cities, its dissemination, and the movements of various social and intellectual networks between the three cities. It establishes the existence of a geography of contestation, or a special radical trajectory linking Beirut, Cairo and Alexandria, and underlines the strong similarities between the brands of leftist thought, projects, and militant practices that emerged in each of these cities, and in particular in Beirut and Alexandria.

This work emphasizes the role of subversive and potentially subversive social practices in facilitating or predisposing the emergence of radicalism. Specifically, it links radicalism to the rise of new genres, new forums and new spaces, and in particular to the press and the theater. It also emphasizes the establishment of trans-national networks of intellectuals, dramastists, and workers, that allowed for the circulation of people and radical ideas especially between Beirut, Cairo and Alexandria, and the emergence of a geography of contestation linking the three cities. This study also suggests reading radicalism partly as the appropriation, by emerging new classes and categories, of discursive spheres that had hitherto been reserved to specific and “traditional” sources of authority, namely political and cultural elites. With this appropriation came the right to perform, consume, and hence re-interpret religious, political, contemporary, and international topics.

One central argument of this study is that radicalism was linked to globalization. Indeed, we suggest viewing radicalism as simultaneously an indicator and a shaper of the first wave of globalization that was characterized first and foremost by extensive and unprecedented movement: of people, commodities, information and ideas. This dissertation explores the radical and subversive implications in the movement of people and information, through the press, the theater, and through labor networks. In particular, it shows how Beirut, Cairo and Alexandria attracted a number of networks whose members were attracted to, articulated, and promoted various brands of socialism and anarchism. It sheds light on the links established between these networks of intellectuals and workers on one hand, and internationalist and radical institutions throughout the world on the other. Specifically, it argues that there existed a privileged set of linkages between the three cities in question, which magnified radicalism in each one of them.

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