still more from the Green Guides: Lebanese social classes
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 11, 2008
Its a glum Thursday in New York – rainy and cold. So I can’t resist writing a bit more about life in sunnier climes, like … Lebanon.
Here’s another excerpt from The Green Guides: Beirut and the Republic of Lebanon, from which I’ve been stealing shamelessly this past week. This one is a short bit on Lebanon’s social classes:
There are no social classes in Lebanon, in the strict meaning of the term, namely, exclusive segregated groups. The practically equitable distribution of land abolished social distinctions. However, there is still a remnant of feudalism in some regions in Lebanon, but it is less prominent than in other Arab regions, and is disappearing.
The well-to-do class is, on the whole, constituted by businessmen. The absence of distinct classes and the happy distribution of land are the causes of the high social and intellectual standard of the Lebanese people.
To fully understand Jamil’s description of Lebanese social classes, I had to do a bit of research here – thank you, Google Scholar and Google Books. Apparently many scholars define social classes with respect to their residences: in cases of strict social class division, rich people and poor people do not live side by side. This is an important distinction – the inner cities of many American urban areas and the suburbs of many European cities show what happens to the level of city and social services when middle- and upper middle-class residents leave.
I do think that there were social classes in Lebanon in the 1940s, but I can understand that the existence of multi-class neighborhoods helped to even out the financial gaps – both because wealthier neighbors insisted on city services (electricity, street cleaning, police protection, …) and because their proximity to poorer neighbors might have encouraged them to provide gifts of money or food – or to help them get jobs – when times were tough.
Its also very interesting that Jamil describes the wealthiest class as composed largely of “businessmen”, and not the feudal aristocrats of the 18th and 19th centuries. I don’t know enough about the politicians of the 1930s and 1940s to be able to answer this question myself, but I am curious: Who was more involved in politics then – the “old” families or the “business” (trade, commerce, import/export – however you call it!) families?