Phoenicianism is a form of Lebanese nationalism, especially popular from the 1920s through the 1950s. It promotes the theory that Lebanese people are not Arabs and that the Lebanese speak a distinct language and have their own culture, separate from that of the surrounding Middle Eastern countries. Supporters of this theory of Lebanese ethnogenesis maintain that the Lebanese are descended from Phoenicians and are not Arab. Some also maintain that Lebanese Arabic is not an Arabic dialect, but has become a distinctly separate language.

Lebanese contextEdit

Professional historians have a consensus summed up by Lebanon's most prominent historian, Kamal Salibi: "between ancient Phoenicia and the Lebanon of medieval and modern times, there is no demonstrable historical connection".[1] Phoenicianism embraces Phoenicia as an alternative cultural foundation by overlooking 850 years of Arabisation.

The earliest sense of a modern Lebanese identity is to be found in the writings of historians in the early nineteenth century, when, under the emirate of the Shihabs, a Lebanese identity emerged, "separate and distinct from the rest of Syria, bringing the Maronites and Druzes, along with its other Christian and Moslem sects, under one government."[2] The first coherent history of Mount Lebanon was written by Tannus al-Shidyaq (died 1861) who depicted the country as a feudal association of Maronites, Druzes, Melkites, Sunnis and Shi'ites under the leadership of the Shihab emirs. "Most Christian Lebanese, anxious to dissociate themselves from Arabism and its Islamic connections, were pleased to be told that their country was the legitimate heir to the Phoenician tradition," Kamal Salibi observes, instancing Christian writers like Charles Corm (died 1963), writing in French, and Said Aql, who urged the abandonment of literary Arabic, together with its script, and attempted to write in the Lebanese vernacular, using the Roman alphabet.

Phoenician origins have additional appeal for the Christian middle class, as it presents the Phoenicians as traders, and the Lebanese emigrant as a modern-day Phoenician adventurer, whereas for the Sunni it merely veiled French imperialist ambitions, intent on subverting pan-Arabism.[3]

Criticism of PhoenicianismEdit

Critics believe that Phoenicianism is an origin myth that disregards the Arab cultural and linguistic influence on the Lebanese. They ascribe Phoenicianism to sectarian influences on Lebanese culture and the attempt by Lebanese Maronites to distance themselves from Arab culture and traditions.

The counter position is summed by As'ad AbuKhalil, Historical Dictionary of Lebanon (London: Scarecrow Press), 1998:

Ethnically speaking, the Lebanese are indistinguishable from the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean. They are undoubtedly a mixed population, reflecting centuries of population movement and foreign occupation... While Arabness is not an ethnicity but a cultural identity, some ardent Arab nationalists, in Lebanon and elsewhere, talk about Arabness in racial and ethnic terms to elevate the descendants of Muhammad. Paradoxically, Lebanese nationalists also speak about the Lebanese people in racial terms, claiming that the Lebanese are "pure" descendants of the Phoenician peoples, whom they view as separate from the ancient residents of the region, including — ironically — the Canaanites.


The Dutch university professor Leonard C. Biegel, in his 1972 book Minorities in the Middle East: Their significance as political factor in the Arab World, coined the term Neo-Shu'ubiyya to name the modern attempts of alternative non-Arab nationalisms in the Middle East, e.g. Aramaeanism, Assyrianism, Greater Syrian nationalism, Kurdish nationalism, Pharaonism, Phoenicianism.[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Salibi, Salibi, A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered, 1988:177; Salibi is equally critical of an "Arabian" cultural origin.
  2. ^ Kamal S. Salibi, "The Lebanese Identity" Journal of Contemporary History 6.1, Nationalism and Separatism (1971:76-86).
  3. ^ Salibi 1971:84.
  4. ^ Dutch: Leonard C. Biegel, Minderheden in Het Midden-Oosten: Hun Betekenis Als Politieke Factor in De Arabische Wereld, Van Loghum Slaterus, Deventer, 1972, ISBN 978-90-6001-219-2

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Phoenicianism. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.