Paul Tabar


Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

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Research Article

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Before describing the patterns of migration to and from Lebanon, it is critical to lay out the geographical boundaries of the area which constitutes this paper’s focus. Mount Lebanon refers to a primary source of early emigration that existed between 1870 and 1920. Present day Lebanon, which was founded in 1920 and became independent in 1943, is dealt with later in the paper. Lebanese emigration started in Mount Lebanon, which included the major coastal cities of Jounieh and Byblos – but not Beirut. To the north, Mount Lebanon included neither Tripoli nor Akkar. The Beqaa Valley and South Lebanon (including Sidon and Tyre) were also excluded. Mount Lebanon became an autonomous administrative unit within the Ottoman Empire in 1860, and was governed by a Christian Ottoman Pasha appointed by the Supreme Port and selected from outside Mount Lebanon (now called the Mutasarrifiya).

Throughout modern history, Lebanon has experienced waves of emigration. For more than a century and a half Lebanon has sent inhabitants abroad to seek better fortunes. This is largely the result of a combination of lopsided economic development and undemocratic communal politics. In addition, Lebanon’s geographic location, in a region ridden with national and international conflicts, has contributed to emigration throughout history. The disintegration of the Muqata`aji system (a specific form of centralized feudalism) in Mount Lebanon between 1840 and 1860, and the increasing integration of the mountain economy into the expanding British and French capitalist market were two important factors that ushered in the emigration that continues today. A small number of people emigrated from Mount Lebanon prior to the 1870s. They were mostly Christians who were sent by the Maronite Catholic Church to study in Rome in order to return and serve as the clergy. In addition, a small number of Christians emigrated to “Egypt and the main centres (sic) of trade between Europe and the Near East – Livorno, Marseille, Manchester” as a result of mercantile capitalist developments in Europe and religious links (Hourani, in Hourani and Shehadi, Eds. 1992: 5). These movements formed the first wave of emigration from Mount Lebanon.

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