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Syro-Lebanese Migration (1880-Present): “Push” and “Pull” Factors  October 31, 2018 – 02:12 am
This map shows the internal migration in Brazil. Pull factors here

The earliest examples of modern Lebanese migration date to the 1850s with Anthonius al-Bishalani, who migrated to the United States. However, scholars consider the 1880s to be the beginning of a larger migration phenomenon. A few decades after al-Bishalani set foot in America, Michel Chiha asserted that “we could not be able to live without emigration, but if emigration became too vast, it would be the end of us.”After five waves of emigration, Lebanon today faces just such a dilemma.

The First Wave: 1880-1914

According to Charles Issawi, migration from Lebanon to the New World began to intensify during the second half of the 19th century, when Mount Lebanon was the scene of several regional and international conflicts that led to civil wars, notably between Maronite Christians and the Druze in 1840 and 1860.After 1861, peace also had its share in promoting migration: Missionaries founded medical dispensaries and schools that helped to reduce mortality and raise the level of education to meet the needs of a flourishing tertiary sector. This led to a demographic boom in the Mount Lebanon area, spurring an “internal exodus, ” mainly to Beirut, while the number of educated people outnumbered the available jobs, pushing those who were less educated to seek employment outside Lebanon. Furthermore, Beirut’s population, which had quadrupled between 1830 and 1850, doubled between 1865 and 1920, as a result of the internal exodus from the over-populated Mount Lebanon area.

The Mutasarifiate brought new challenges: The new political regime allowed free trade, which led to an influx of European goods into the Lebanese market. As a result, Mount Lebanon’s economy shifted rapidly from an autarchic regime to enmeshment with the world economy, which required the use of cash whereas Lebanese relied on barter and exchange of goods. Peasants tried to compensate for this deficiency by taking personal loans to buy mulberry trees, necessary for the production of silk — then the backbone of the Lebanese economy, accounting for 82% of Mount Lebanon’s exports.At that time, 40% of cultivated land was allocated to growing mulberry trees. This resulted in an export-driven monoculture, and Mount Lebanon had to resort to importing raw foodstuffs such as wheat in a period of demographic expansion and heavy debts. In 1890, 18 years after the silk boom, the economy was heavily challenged: A “silk crisis” occurred, as cheaper and better quality Chinese silk products flooded European markets, previously the main destination for Lebanese silk.

This crisis corresponded with the 19th-century coastal revival, “owing to growth of trade with Europe following the industrial revolution and the development of steam navigation.” At least ten steam navigation lines operated regularly from the port of Beirut. Migrants could thus easily go back and forth, carrying home success stories from America and attracting more young, and ambitious but unskilled men seeking wealth and prosperity in the New World.


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