Introduction In January 1913, a long essay entitled ‘al-Ishtirākiyya al-ṣaḥīḥa’ appeared on the pages of al-Muqtaṭaf, one of the most formative and inﬂuential opinion makers among Arabic readers during the period under study.2 Written by Shiblī Shumayyil (1850-1917),3 a man of many talents who was a doctor, a scientist, the foremost popularizer of Darwinism and evolutionary theory in the Arab world, a writer,4 and a committed socialist, the article sought to explain socialism in fairly simple terms and to connect it to reform (iṣlāḥ), natural science, and civilization (tamaddun). However, if this article stood out and still does as a particularly forceful and lucid piece of writing on socialism, it was certainly neither the ﬁrst nor the last of its kind to appear in the years between 1880 and 1914 in the Ottoman Arab world. Indeed, while articles, booklets, or utterances on socialism did not appear all too frequently among the published material produced in Beirut, Cairo, and Alexandria in the period under study, they still constituted a relatively signiﬁcant body of material, and received enough attention to warrant ours.5 The increasing number of articles and opinion pieces on socialism (and related issues such as anarchism and labor struggle)6 attests to a growing interest in such topics, especially on the eve of the First World War, as illustrated in the publication of four long and seminal articles on the topic in the last few months before the war.7 In any case, their publication should prompt a reevaluation of sweeping claims made by some historians of the Modern Middle East that socialist ideas had attracted little attention or had gained very little support in the Arab world by 1920.8 In fact, throughout the Ottoman world and notably in its Eastern Mediterranean provinces, just as in many parts of the world, the period between 1880 and 1914 seems to have been ripe in radical thought and interest in socialism, anarchism, and other leftist ideas. Indeed, throughout most of the world, and connected to the 1870-1914 wave of globalization – and speciﬁcally, as I have argued elsewhere, to the establishment of Diasporic networks of workers and intellectuals9 – the ﬁn de siècle witnessed a ‘radical moment’ and the elaboration of a radical worldview, which can
be best described as follows: it was made up of selective, hybrid adaptations of socialist and anarchist principles, including calls for social justice, wealth redistribution, workers’ rights, mass education (and speciﬁcally workers’ education), and a general challenge to the existing social and political order, at home and abroad. Signiﬁcantly, such causes were usually combined with seemingly less radical (or non-leftist) demands, such as female education, the establishment of a constitutional and representative government, freedom of speech, the curbing of religious and clerical authority, the seizing of church property, anti-imperialist and/or national liberation struggles in certain parts of the world, and a criticism of European political and economic encroachments. Overall, then, radical ideas and radicalism can be best described as a package combining various elements from socialism and radical leftist movements in general, with very local claims for social change. Assessing the impact of an idea or an ideology is an extremely vexed project. Rather than concentrating on measuring the popularity of radical leftist ideas among the reading populations of Beirut, Cairo, and Alexandria, the three cities that constituted a nexus which made up the heartland of the Nahḍa, this article initially focuses on identifying expressions of interest in them, and showing how present and vivid the discussions on socialism were. In a second instance, it seeks to explain the increased sympathy expressed toward socialism and actual endorsement by a growing number of intellectuals and publicists on the pages of the two periodicals. While it is obviously impossible to mention and analyze every single instance in which socialism was discussed in the years between 1880 and 1914 and in the above-mentioned three cities – and I will here be limiting myself to writings in Arabic – this paper focuses on the discussions on socialism on the pages of two periodicals, al-Muqtaṭaf (Beirut/ Cairo:1876-1952)10 and al-Hilāl (Cairo:1892-present),11 for the following reasons: ﬁrst, until 1914, many if not most Arabic writings on socialism and anarchism came in the form of articles, many of which were published on the pages of these two periodicals. Second, the two periodicals were imbued with discursive authority – to use Bourdieu’s expression – while simultaneously shaping and representing the ideas circulating among a larger network of writers and readers whose members were found in the Arab Ottoman world and beyond (including in North and South America). Therefore, a study of the manner in which socialism was covered in these periodicals says something larger than the two periodicals in question. Third, and connected to the previous point, this sustained interest in and engagement with socialist ideas was an integral aspect of the intellectual framework that was being constructed in the Arab world and beyond, namely, the Nahḍa. Given the place that these periodicals occupied in the construction and dissemination of seminal ideas that lay at the core of what the Nahḍa came to represent, an analysis of the place given on the pages of these periodicals to discourses on socialism sheds light on the relationship between the Nahḍa and socialism. Perhaps more than that, by analyzing this relationship, this chapter shows how ingeniously intellectuals of the period engaged with modern political (and Western) ideas, domesticated12 and hybridized them, and in the
process creatively created a local intellectual worldview or sets of references that were simultaneously and self-consciously global.