El Zaím: Youth, Authority, and Syrian Nationalism in the Mahjar, 1938–1944


  • Joseph Leidy Brown University




Antun Saadeh, mahjar, youth, zaʿāma, politics of notables, transnational middle class


This article explores Antun Saʿadeh’s campaign to establish the Syrian Social Nationalist Party among Syrian and Lebanese migrants in the Americas. Diasporic press sources from Argentina and Brazil indicate that the Syrian Nationalists continued to foreground Saʿadeh as a figure whose authority derived in part from a youthful following. The support of the young distinguished him from other leaders, or zuʿamāʾ, and in particular from the late-Ottoman notables whose command over anti-imperial politics was increasingly contested in the 1930s and 1940s. Syrian Nationalist recruitment in South America, and subsequent polemics with local public figures that it inspired, revealed ambivalences in this narrative of a transformative youth politics. The relationship between young nationalists and the leaders who claimed to galvanize them was both celebrated and called into question. These anxieties coincided with doubts about the contributions of mahjar print culture and associational life to nationalist mass movements. In this way, youth rhetoric reflected a transnational middle-class reckoning with interwar popular politics. In tracing the mobility of a political imaginary that pitted youthful nationalists against incumbent elites, the paper proposes a new reading of the politics of notables framework itself as one among several forms of interwar middle-class worldmaking.

Author Biography

Joseph Leidy, Brown University

Joseph Leidy is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Brown University whose research explores social and cultural histories of modern Lebanon and its diasporas. His dissertation examines the category of youth in modern Lebanese history, linking its political significance to popular politics, social transformation, and projects of cultural modernization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


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