Antun Saadeh in the mahjar, 1938-1947



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Antun Saadeh (1904-1949), the founder of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, has often been labelled a political and ideological imitator of European fascism. This association has led many to gloss over an important feature of his career: the mahjar, or Arab diaspora, particularly in Argentina and Brazil where he spent much of his life. This thesis contends that Saadeh's illiberalism emerged not as a mere echo of European fascism but from a diverse set of ideas and experiences. Central among these was his experiences and perceptions of the mahjar, which became a symbolic foil for Saadeh’s Syrian Social Nationalism. On the one hand, Saadeh conceived of the mahjar in terms that paralleled the historicist ideal of Phoenician trading colonies in Lebanese nationalism. However, Saadeh also had reservations about the dedication of migrant communities to the national cause. Reflecting this ambiguity, Arabic-language periodicals published in Argentina show how Saadeh was received in 1940s migrant society, where he found both supporters and detractors. There, Saadeh’s initially positive reception was followed by a turn against him in public debates. Nonetheless, Saadeh and his party had some success in establishing their movement in the mahjar, where younger supporters connected Saadeh to local discourses of national liberation. Viewing Saadeh from the perspective of his transnational influences and migrant audiences allows us to see him not as an exception in midcentury Levantine politics but within the wider context of nationalist politics in Lebanon, Syria, and the mahjar at the end of the Mandate era.