The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860-1914
By Ilham Khuri-Makdisi
(University of California Press, 2010) p. 279

Reviewed by Wyndham E. Whynot, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, Livingstone College

When one considers the rise of radical and leftist movements in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Ottoman Empire as represented by the Eastern Mediterranean probably does not spring to mind. Yet Khuri-Makdisi, argues that three cities – Beirut, Lebanon and Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt – acted as focal points not only for the development of radicalism in the region, but also in its spread throughout the world. After initially examining late 19th century world history and various social and radical movements, as well as various leftist intellectual networks in the Eastern Mediterranean, the author shifts to an analysis that specific institutions played in these movements in the region.

Focusing on separate but synergistic institutions in the three cities, the author demonstrates how newspapers and theaters played a significant role in occurrences of radicalism in the region and among their citizens spread throughout the world. An intervening section on two regional networks, a Mount Lebanon and Beirut group and the Italian Anarchist group in Alexandria, separate the third significant institution that of labor movements and worker unrest’s impact on the spread of global radicalism, primarily within the Eastern Mediterranean.

Primarily relying on al-Muqtataf and al-Hilal, the author argues that not only did these works provide an avenue for socialist/radical ideals to spread within the region, but in other parts of the world as well. She notes that the practice among members of the community reading the articles aloud to the local populace, including illiterates, gave access to the information in the newspapers and provided a greater “readership” than circulation figures would support. Local theaters offered a similar opportunity to expand the movement to the general populace and the elites. Labor unions and unrest served as an alternate institution for expressing socialist and other leftist ideas; the multi-ethnic make-up of the populations of the three cities provided a variety of options of radicalism and socialism within the region.

Although the examination of the role of two significant networks provides some evidence of a reshaping of leftist ideologies, the first network, located in Lebanon provides a stronger case of Syrian/Lebanese involvement in establishing an Eastern Mediterranean form of radicalism. The author argues the Italian Anarchist group, although primarily consisting of Italians, had an impact on various radical organizations within Alexandria; but especially benefitted from the multicultural nature of the city, as well as the fact that the city was “… a major player and participant in the story of globalization and radicalism. (p.131)

Historiographic assumptions concerning a dearth of leftist and radicalism movements in the region are wrong according to the author. She concludes and demonstrates that “radicalism was alive and well in the three cities.” (p. 165) Throughout the text, she provides multiple instances not only of the spread of radical/socialist/leftist ideology within the region, but also the assimilation and adaptation of these ideologies by the various ideological networks in the region. Furthermore, she argues the diversity of the local populace, i.e. the various Mediterranean peoples such as the Italians, Egyptians, etc. significantly impacted the how these leftist movements were perceived and shaped within the three cities.

Khuri-Makdisi’s book is heavily documented; she uses archival sources from Lebanon and Egypt as well as archival material Italy, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Socialist and radical newspapers and periodicals form a large part of the primary sources used in the work. Furthermore, a large number of other primary and secondary sources have been utilized, with the notes and bibliography running approximately 70 and 20 pages, respectively.

Khuri-Makdisi clearly has targeted her book towards academics who have a fair understanding of social history and radical movements. Individuals, who have a general interest in the field, especially as it relates to the Eastern Mediterranean, will find this work useful. Unfortunately, this book presents a number of potential obstacles to readers who lack either knowledge of the various radical movements or French, as the author assumes the reader already knows many of the specific facts that she discusses, and she provides French quotations without translations. Furthermore, at times the author’s specific grammar and stylistic choices interrupt the flow of the text. This reviewer argues that the author relies too often on parenthetical information within the text, occasionally fails to include the first names of individuals when first mentioned, and is inconsistent in her use of block quotes. Despite these minor flaws, this book is a welcome addition to the study of social and political institutions in the Eastern Mediterranean region from the late 19th to the early 20th century.