Building the means of trade and forging a center of commerce in Beirut (1834-1936)

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McAmis, Ellen Pauline

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This thesis seeks to reassess the rise of the city of Beirut and its place as a central city in the Levant. From 1834-1939, Beirut built a number of infrastructure improvements which reoriented trade through Beirut and made it a central gateway of between Europe and the Middle East. In the Ottoman Era, local merchants allied with French concessionary companies to build a roadway, a rail line and a port which brought increased prosperity and trade to the city. The merchants had to petition the Ottoman state to secure these improvements, and the business elite continued using and developing these tactics of negotiation under the French Mandatory government. By negotiating and allying with the French state, Beirut instigated the development of a modern port and an air terminal in Beirut, securing her commercial centrality in the Middle East. The development of this infrastructure was powered by moments of economic competition from regional cities like Sidon, and most notably, Haifa. Beirutis saw any transportation development in a Levantine city not their own as a direct threat to the prosperity and commerce of Beirut. To counter these threats, Beiruti merchants and press organized to build competing structures as seen in the construction of the 1938 port. Through a combination of local agency, French capital, and alliances and negotiations with the state, Beruitis successfully developed the infrastructure which redirected the trade routes through Beirut, making it an indispensable gateway to the Levant.




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