A Lebanese online archive chronicles Arab immigration to Latin America

Special Members of the Lebanese community marching and waving flags in downtown Sao Paulo. (AFP)
Members of the Lebanese community marching and waving flags in downtown Sao Paulo. (AFP)
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Updated 06 May 2022

A Lebanese online archive chronicles Arab immigration to Latin America

A Lebanese online archive chronicles Arab immigration to Latin America
  • Most of the migration occurred in the final decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th
  • Project of Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Jounieh highlights individual journeys of the Arab pioneers

SAO PAULO, Brazil: Although an estimated 18 million Latin Americans can trace their ancestry to the Arab region, little effort has been made to chronicle and conserve the writings, photographs and news clippings that document the history of their migration and settlement — until now.

Most of the Arabs who moved to Latin America did so in the final decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, with the majority of them traveling from Syria and Lebanon in search of fortune and a fresh start far from the Ottoman Empire.

To collect and highlight the individual journeys of these Arab pioneers and their contribution to the New World, an archive dedicated to telling their stories has been created by the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, also known as USEK, a private, not-for-profit Catholic university in Jounieh, Lebanon.

Inaugurated at the end of March this year, the collection currently includes about 200,000 pages from Arab newspapers and magazines, stacks of photographs, and other illuminating documents that help shed light on the diaspora’s presence in Latin America.

Brazilian-born Roberto Khatlab, director of USEK’s Latin American Studies and Cultures Center, or CECAL for short, conceived the project after spending several years working in the cultural department of the Brazilian embassy in Beirut and conducting independent research on Lebanese migration to Brazil.




Some of the documents that have been digitized and now are part of USEK's archive, including magazines Oriente and A Vinha. (Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce (CCAB) / USEK / Supplied)

“Over the years, I gathered lots of documents concerning that history,” he told Arab News.

During a trip to Latin America a few years ago, Khatlab realized a wealth of important historical material was at risk of being lost unless it could be properly collected and collated.

“Over time, such documents end up in the hands of grandchildren or great-grandchildren who do not speak Arabic and do not know what to do with them,” he said.

As a result, many people end up throwing away family collections or donating them to local libraries, which are not always equipped or qualified to adequately catalog them.

In addition, newspapers produced by early Arab immigrants were often printed on cheap, poor-quality paper that does not always stand the test of time, and so surviving copies can be extremely fragile.

“I have received 100-year-old newspapers which literally disintegrated as we tried to take them out of the envelope,” said Khatlab.

Syrian-Lebanese immigrants created the first Arabic-language Latin American newspaper, called Al-Fayha, in 1893 in the Brazilian city of Campinas.

In the local Portuguese language, its name was Mundo Largo, which translates as Wide World. As the author of several books about Brazil’s historical relationships with Lebanon and the wider Arab world, Khatlab recognizes the value of such historical documents for academic study and posterity.




Latin America has close to 18 million people of Arab origin, most of them in Brazil. (AFP)

“Under the Ottoman Empire, many intellectuals were not able to publish their ideas in the Arab world at the end of the 19th century,” said Khatlab. “In the nascent Arab press in countries like Brazil and Argentina, they found the space they needed.

“Many times, the articles published in the Arab press in Latin America by such thinkers were sent back to the Arab world and disseminated there in intellectual and political circles.”

Most of the early Arabic newspapers in Latin America were produced by Syrian or Lebanese migrants but there were also a number of Egyptian publications. Over the years, the Arab community launched newspapers that reflected a variety of viewpoints based around political ideologies, religious creeds, social clubs and the arts.

“Many poets and writers published works in the Latin American Arab press,” said Khatlab. “Some of them were renowned in the Arab world, while others disappeared. But their production and the ideas conveyed in their texts have great importance to Arabs, even now.”

The archive has attracted the support of institutions across Latin America that have connections to the Arab community and they have provided small teams who are helping to collect and digitize materials, using equipment donated by USEK.

INNUMBERS

Estimated Arab population by country

Brazil: 7-12 million

Argentina: 4.5 million

Venezuela: 1.6 million

Mexico: 1.5 million

Colombia: 1.5 million

Chile: 800,000

Source: Atlantic Council

One such institution is the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, or CCAB for short, which helped to collate full collections of magazines, including Revista Oriente (Orient Magazine), one of the most prominent publications produced by the Arab diaspora in Brazil during the 20th century.

“Different libraries and institutions had partial collections of Oriente,” Silvia Antibas, the director of CCAB’s cultural department, told Arab News. “Now, we managed to gather and digitize all of them for the first time.”

The Brazilian team also managed to assemble a collection of the magazine Al-Carmat, known in Portuguese as A Vinha (The Vineyard). It was edited for many years by a female Syrian-Brazilian author called Salwa Atlas.

The CCAB has also contributed to the archive an illuminating collection of photographs that provide a window on the social and domestic lives of the diaspora through the years.

“The pictures we collected show not only the community’s social events but also the architecture of houses, the fashion trends of those years, and how immigrants financially progressed and integrated into Brazilian society over time,” said Antibas.




The cover of one edition of A Vinha, published for years by Syrian-Brazilian intellectual Salwa Atlas, who was a pioneer among female intellectuals of the Syrian-Lebanese community in Brazil. (Clube Homs / USEK / Supplied)

The Jafet family — who ranked among the most illustrious families in Sao Paulo in the early 20th century — contributed a superb collection of photographs depicting the palatial homes built around that time by the city’s industrial bourgeoisie.

“Benjamin Jafet, my great-grandfather, came to Brazil in 1890 and worked as a ‘mascate’ (a word used in Brazil for an Arab door-to-door salesmen) for a few years in the countryside until he founded his first shop in downtown Sao Paulo,” Arthur Jafet, a 38-year-old lawyer and businessman, told Arab News.

Over the years, Benjamin and his brothers built one of Brazil’s greatest textile manufacturers and became wealthy leaders of the Lebanese community in the country.

As important philanthropists in Sao Paulo, the Jafets helped to fund not only Arab institutions such as the local Orthodox cathedral, the Syrian-Lebanese Hospital, and the Mount Lebanon Club, but also publications such as Revista Oriente.

“Their small palaces pointed to a rather European taste, with visible influences of the French neoclassical style but also oriental aspects,” said Jafet.

One of the photos in the collection shows Camille Chamoun, Lebanon’s president between 1952 and 1958, staying at one of the Jafet family’s opulent homes during a trip to Brazil.

As director of the Institute of Arab Culture in Sao Paulo and an adviser to the CCAB, Jafet is part of a new generation of Arab Latin Americans taking a renewed interest in their cultural origins.

Paulo Kehdi is the executive director of Chuf magazine, the in-house publication of the Mount Lebanon Club. He is among a number of Lebanese community leaders who launched Lebanity, a movement dedicated to encouraging Lebanese-Brazilians to rediscover their cultural roots.

“There has been a deliberate effort to reconnect Lebanese-Brazilians to their motherland, incentivizing them to obtain Lebanese citizenship, to visit the country and to help it during donation campaigns,” he told Arab News.




Lebanon's President Camille Chamoun with members of the Jafet family in São Paulo. He visited Brazil in 1954 and stayed at one of the family's palaces. (Arthur Jafet / Supplied)

The situation is similar in Argentina, which is home to an estimated 3 million people with Syrian or Lebanese roots.

For several years, Ninawa Daher, a journalist of Lebanese descent, hosted a TV show in the country devoted to reviving the interest among younger generations in their Lebanese origins. After her death in a car accident at the age of only 31 in 2011, her mother, Alicia, created the Ninawa Daher Foundation to continue her legacy, and it has partnered with USEK for the archive project.

“With Ninawa’s contacts, within a very short time we had already been able to obtain access to several wonderful collections of the community in Argentina,” Alicia Daher told Arab News.

The team has gathered stacks of newspapers, photographs and other rare materials, including two books written and autographed by renowned Lebanese-American writer, poet and visual artist Khalil Gibran.

“The Syrian and Lebanese people had a tremendous cultural impact in Argentina,” said Daher. “Now, more and more people and institutions are approaching us in order to offer materials about the immigration.”

In Beirut, meanwhile, Khatlab is hopeful the archive will continue to grow as the work on it expands to other Latin American countries and to include other types of documents, such as letters, film footage and even passenger manifests of the vessels that brought Arabs to the region.

Access to the archive is free and it is open to the general public.


Egyptian president meets Bahraini king on 2nd stage of Gulf tour

Egyptian president meets Bahraini king on 2nd stage of Gulf tour
Updated 22 sec ago

Egyptian president meets Bahraini king on 2nd stage of Gulf tour

Egyptian president meets Bahraini king on 2nd stage of Gulf tour
  • Following his visit to Oman, El-Sisi met the Bahraini monarch to discuss regional issues and strategic cooperation
  • Egypt’s leader reiterated his country’s, “keenness to develop cooperation with the Kingdom of Bahrain in all fields”

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi held talks with Bahrain’s King Hamad on the second stage of his Gulf tour.

Following his visit to Oman, El-Sisi met the Bahraini monarch to discuss regional issues and strategic cooperation.

During their meeting — that was also attended by Bahrain’s Prime Minister Crown Prince Salman Al-Khalifa — at Sakhir Palace, in Manama, Egypt’s leader reiterated his country’s, “keenness to develop cooperation with the Kingdom of Bahrain in all fields.”

Welcoming El-Sisi to the capital city, King Hamad said: “(Your visit) reflects the uniqueness of the distinguished bilateral relations and embodies the keenness of the two leaderships to communicate, coordinate, and consult on regional issues of common concern to serve the interests of the two countries and the issues of the Arab nation,” the Bahrain News Agency reported.

The king hailed the “efficiency” and contribution of the Egyptian community in his country toward the development of Bahrain and noted that the two nations had “a long history and a developed present,” while sharing a “constant aspiration to advance bilateral cooperation toward broader horizons.”

King Hamad pointed out that, due to El-Sisi’s approach, Egypt was witnessing, “a pioneering development renaissance and vital projects, and the qualitative achievements it has achieved in all fields.”

He also praised Egypt’s, “pivotal and firm role as a fundamental pillar of security and stability in the region and its appreciated efforts in supporting the nation’s causes and strengthening the course of work for the common Arab in facing the current challenges in the region.”

El-Sisi’s foreign tour comes after it was recently announced that US President Joe Biden will visit Saudi Arabia in mid-July and while there would be attending a joint summit with Gulf state leaders.

The official spokesman for the Egyptian presidency, said: “The current stage requires concerted efforts to protect Arab national security and confront attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of Arab countries and destabilize them.”


Five killed in Aden blast targeting security official

Five killed in Aden blast targeting security official
Updated 34 min 52 sec ago

Five killed in Aden blast targeting security official

Five killed in Aden blast targeting security official
  • An improvised explosive device planted in a car went off when a vehicle carrying Lahj province Security Chief Saleh Al-Sayed passed through Aden’s Khormaksar neighborhood
  • Al-Sayed, who is loyal to the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council, narrowly escaped death as the explosion burned his car and many other vehicles

AL-MUKALLA: At least five people were killed and several others wounded on Wednesday when a blast targeted a security official in Yemen’s southern city of Aden, the country’s interim capital and the seat of its internationally recognized government, a local security source and residents said. 

An improvised explosive device planted in a car went off when a vehicle carrying Lahj province Security Chief Saleh Al-Sayed passed through Aden’s Khormaksar neighborhood, killing five people — four civilians and a bodyguard — and wounding seven others, a security source told Arab News by telephone. 

Al-Sayed, who is loyal to the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council, narrowly escaped death as the explosion burned his car and many other vehicles that were passing through the street.  

Al-Sayed is known for leading troops that purged the Lahj province of Al-Qaeda, Daesh and other armed groups in 2016 and also commanded troops that battled the Houthis in Aden in 2015. 

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but local officials blame terrorist groups for such attacks. 

Wednesday’s explosion in Aden is the latest in a string of deadly attacks that have shaken the city during the past two years. 

This month, a Yemeni journalist was burned to death in Aden when an IED blast ripped through his vehicle. 

In May, the commander of joint operations at the Aden-based 4th Military Region escaped death after a blast hit his armed SUV in Aden’s Mualla. 

In November, a pregnant journalist was killed when an explosion blew up her vehicle in Aden.  

The latest attack in Aden came a day after Aden Gov. Ahmed Hamed Lamlis told a group of UN officials based in Yemen that the city is “safe” to host their offices.  

Lamlis pledged during a meeting with Diego Zorella, UN deputy resident coordinator for humanitarian affairs in Yemen, to protect the UN delegations that visit or settle in Aden, urging them to intensify their humanitarian operations in the city.


Populist Turkish politicians stoke tensions over Syrian refugees as elections loom

Populist Turkish politicians stoke tensions over Syrian refugees as elections loom
Updated 55 min 29 sec ago

Populist Turkish politicians stoke tensions over Syrian refugees as elections loom

Populist Turkish politicians stoke tensions over Syrian refugees as elections loom
  • Umit Ozdag, the leader of the nationalist Zafer (Victory) Party, was stopped from entering Hatay after he pledged to place a “symbolic” mine at the border with Syria
  • Turkish police, the gendarmerie and officials from the Hatay governorate prevented Ozdag from entering the city

ANKARA: A toxic and dangerous anti-refugee discourse is gaining momentum in Turkey. Umit Ozdag, the leader of the nationalist Zafer (Victory) Party, was recently stopped from entering the southern border town of Hatay after he pledged to place a “symbolic” mine at the border with Syria to prevent crossings.

Turkish police, the gendarmerie and officials from the Hatay governorate prevented Ozdag from entering the city, as his move could provoke hatred and incitement against the refugee population in the city. Hatay is home to some 400,000 Syrians.

Experts have warned about far-right politicians using Syrian refugees as a political card ahead of general and presidential elections scheduled for next year.

Ozdag’s party is mainly based on anti-Syrian ideology, pursuing a campaign against the presence of refugees in Turkey and accusing them of causing the country’s dire economic and financial problems.

The Zafer Party, having an insignificant share of votes according to the polls, also criticizes the high birth rates among the refugees, which it terms a “silent invasion” of Turkey.

Ozdag has tweeted controversial videos, claiming he would expel all refugees from Turkey once he comes to power.

He also said that his party would quit the international treaty banning anti-personnel mines and would replant them on the borders to stop refugees.

Ozdag added that every Turkish citizen who wants the Syrian refugees to stay in Turkey is a “traitor.”

According to Friedrich Puttmann, a researcher at the Istanbul Policy Center, Ozdag’s latest statements appear to be inspired by far-right nationalists in the EU, such as the German party Alternative für Deutschland, which also suggested in the heat of Germany's refugee debate in 2016 that its borders should be defended with military means against the arrival of asylum seekers.

“Ozdag can be considered a political entrepreneur, trying to gain power by basing his party 100 percent on a single new issue in Turkish politics, and doing everything he can to make this issue as big as possible to generate votes from it,” he told Arab News.

Puttmann said that by deploying this strategy, Ozdag is seeking to exploit not only Turks’ grievances with regard to the hosting Syrian refugees but also their strong sense of nationalism.

“To counter this, his critics should therefore not fall into his trap by defending the refugees themselves but rather challenge him on the grounds of what it means to be Turkish,” he said.

Syrian refugees in Turkey have been banned from visiting their families back home during Eid Al-Adha, while new quotas have been applied to residence permits. As of July 1, Turkey will limit permits for foreigners to a ceiling of 20 percent of the population of some neighborhoods.

Puttmann noted that much of the Turkish debate on the Syrian refugees is an extension of the debate on the meaning of Turkish identity.

“If Ozdag’s critics can present a vision of Turkishness that is not divisive but speaks to values shared across different segments of Turkish society, they can also convince the public that planting mines on the Turkish-Syrian border would be the most ‘un-Turkish’ thing to do,” he said.

Turkey currently hosts about 3.7 million Syrian refugees within its borders, apart from more than 200,000 Syrians who were granted Turkish citizenship in a decade. Turkey also provides security and humanitarian assistance to over 3 million Syrians in Turkey-controlled regions in Syria.

According to the latest surveys, anti-refugee sentiment is gaining popularity in Turkey.

A recent survey by the İstanbul Ekonomi Arastirma (Istanbul Economics Research) organization revealed that 61 percent of respondents favored a harsher stance against refugees. The repatriation of Syrians is believed to be among the top topics of the impending election commitments of the opposition parties.

Prof. Murat Erdogan, director at Ankara University’s Migration Research Center and a CATS-SWP Fellow in Berlin, told Arab News that the anti-refugee discourse cannot be resolved by stopping someone from entering a city where the refugee population has reached more than 20 percent of the local population.

“Ozdag and his party are bringing up the existing concerns and anger that are deeply rooted in Turkish society following a large influx of refugees in a short period of time,” he said.

According to the academic, who predicts the development of new political formations, the high levels of attention directed to anti-refugee perspectives has caused the Syrian issue to become associated with discussion surrounding Turkey’s national security.

“The indefinite nature of the immigration process creates a sense of insecurity and fuels concerns in Turkish society that the domestic borders cannot be protected and the immigration wave cannot be managed,” he said.

“While the government frames the refugees as the elements of religious or cultural solidarity as part of its humanitarian foreign policy, the opposition criticizes this policy by securitizing this issue. This is a reality and has been used by populist politicians in recent years,” Prof. Erdogan added. 

“It is very important to boost the resilience of Turkish society in the coming period and to implement cohesion policies for Syrians at the local level to prevent further conflicts,” he said.

Two young Syrians — Sultan Abdul Baset Jabneh and Sharif Khaled Al-Ahmad — were killed in Istanbul in June, while a 70-year-old Syrian woman was hit in the face in the southeastern province of Gaziantep last month, triggering an outcry on social media.

On May 31, an immigrant sexually harassed a 10-year-old Turkish boy in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district hosting a large population of refugees. The immigrant was arrested, but local anger swiftly poured into the streets.

As part of a new project, the Turkish government recently committed to voluntarily relocating 1 million Syrians to northern Syria by establishing necessary infrastructure.


Jordanian Ministry of Transport announces five-year public transportation strategy for 2022 to 2027

Jordanian Ministry of Transport announces five-year public transportation strategy for 2022 to 2027
Updated 53 min 16 sec ago

Jordanian Ministry of Transport announces five-year public transportation strategy for 2022 to 2027

Jordanian Ministry of Transport announces five-year public transportation strategy for 2022 to 2027
  • The ministry stated that it will be forming partnerships with the private sector to close a significant funding gap for transportation projects

AMMAN: The Jordanian Ministry of Transport has announced a five-year public transportation strategy for the years 2022 to 2027, Jordan News Agency (Petra) reported on Wednesday.

The ministry's goal is to increase the sector's employment by 18 percent and increase its current GDP contribution from 2.6 percent to 7 percent in that time.

The ministry also said in a statement that it will collaborate with its partners at the World Bank and the European Union to align its new five-year strategy with the recently released Economic Modernization Vision recommendations.

As the strategy sources additional funding, the ministry stated that it will be forming partnerships with the private sector to close a significant funding gap for transportation projects.

The strategy also aims to cut down on the use of cars, increase the percentage of people who use public transportation from 12 to 17 percent, and reduce household spending on transportation to 5 percent.

It also aims to reduce the cost of losses caused by traffic accidents by 35 percent, the energy used by the transportation industry by 7 percent, and the emissions produced by the industry by 125 percent.


Migrants in Libya forced into rape for food: UN

Migrants in Libya forced into rape for food: UN
Updated 29 June 2022

Migrants in Libya forced into rape for food: UN

Migrants in Libya forced into rape for food: UN
  • Investigators described how migrants in detention face “acts of murder, torture, rape and other inhumane acts”
  • A flimsy rubber boat collapsed and sank off Libya's coast, leaving at least 30 people missing and feared dead

GENEVA/CAIRO: Migrants detained in Libya face horrific abuse, with women especially facing sexual violence, and often forced to submit to rape in exchange for food, UN investigators said Wednesday.
In a fresh report, the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya reiterated that the worst crimes under international law were likely being committed in the war-ravaged country, with migrant women suffering some of the worst abuse.
“The mission has reasonable grounds to believe that the crimes against humanity of murder, torture, imprisonment, rape, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts have been committed in several places of detention in Libya since 2016,” it said.
Migrants are routinely detained by authorities, human traffickers and others in Libya — a key departure point for tens of thousands of people mainly from sub-Saharan Africa hoping to reach Europe.
Human traffickers have profited from the chaos that has raged since the 2011 toppling and killing of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Talks between rival Libyan governments are being held in Geneva this week over the rules for long-awaited elections, with an aim to end the chaos.
The fact-finding mission report, to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council next week, said it had gathered broad evidence of “the systematic use of prolonged arbitrary detention” of migrants in Libya.
The investigators, who made several trips to Libya, described how migrants in detention face “acts of murder, torture, rape and other inhumane acts.”
The report highlighted “sexual violence at the hands of traffickers and smugglers, often with the aim of extorting families.”
“The mission has also documented cases of rape in places of detention or captivity whereby migrant women are forced to have sex in order to survive, in exchange for food or other essential items,” it said.
In fact, the known risk of sexual violence is considered too great, the report said, that “some migrant women and girls get fitted with a contraceptive implant before traveling there to avoid unwanted pregnancy due to such violence.”
The investigators relayed some heartbreaking stories heard from migrants in Libya.
One woman, who was held in the northern town of Ajdabiya, “described how her captors demanded sex in exchange for access to water she direly needed to wash her six-month-old sick child’s soiled clothes,” the report said.
“I let them rape me. I had no choice. It was for my daughter. I could not leave her like that,” she said, according to the report.
The fact-finding mission, which was created by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2020, will see its mandate expire in a few days.
But a group of African countries has presented a draft resolution to the council that would allow it to continue its work for another nine months.
Meanwhile, a flimsy rubber boat collapsed and sank in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya’s coast, leaving at least 30 people including women and children missing and feared dead, an international charity said Wednesday.
The vessel sank in the deadly central Mediterranean Sea route, said Doctors Without Borders, also known by its abbreviation MSF for the French name of the group.
A rescue ship operated by MSF reached the boat, and managed to rescue dozens of other migrants including some women. A pregnant woman died on board the rescue ship, Geo Barents, it said.
Among the rescued migrants from Monday’s boat sinking was a woman who lost her child in the sinking and another one who said she lost two children, the charity said.
The charity has called for Italian and Maltese authorities to determine a port of safety to allow the disembarkation of survivors.
* With AFP and AP