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THE WONDROUS WORLD OF OMAR EL-ZEENNI

With translations by Fatima Kassem Moussa

الدنيا قايمة والشعب غافل / راحت بلادكم ما حد سائل  

The world is in uproar and the people oblivious / Your land is lost and no one notices

—Omar el-Zeenni, “Al-Dunya ‘Aymi”[1]For el-Zeenni’s poetry and songs throughout this essay, I used the book el-Zeenni el-Saghir, Omar el-Zeenni, Molière al-Sharq. (Beirut: Dar al-Farabi, 2010). 

 

In 1918, Omar el-Zeenni looked around him and declared “The world is madness” Indeed, by the end of the First World War, el-Zeenni’s world was turning upside down. The wider political world that el-Zeenni and past generations of his ancestors had belonged to, the Ottoman Empire, was disintegrating under the pressure of military loss and western conquest. For el-Zeenni, military defeat was compounded with the loss of close friends and several of his classmates at the hands of the Young Turks. Western occupation and guardianship that loomed over the former Ottoman world at the end of the war was preceded by decades of aggressive economic integration of local markets into the modern global capitalist market. In 1920, el-Zeenni’s last glimpse of hope in the project of Faysal’s kingdom in Damascus was crushed under the marching boots of French soldiers in an internationally-imposed occupation and mandate over Lebanon and Syria. Born in Beirut in 1895, Omar el-Zeenni belonged to the “last Ottoman generation”[2]This term was coined by Michael Provence in The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
that had come of age in the last few years of the Ottoman empire’s existence and whose politicization occurred during the First World War. This generation’s political awakening, and ultimately el-Zeenni’s, came at the intersection of these circumstances. 

As a young man in early 20th century Beirut, el-Zeenni studied at al-Kuliyya al-Islamiyya (Islamic College, also known as al-Kuliyya al-‘Uthmaniyya, or the Ottoman College) and served in the Ottoman army during the First World War after graduating from the military school in Homs in 1914. A lawyer by training, a graduate of Saint Joseph University, he later worked in the public sector until he started writing poetry. By the 1920s, he was setting tunes to his poetry and singing them. His songs would become a living witness, a historical record, to the circumstances his generation lived through, primarily reflecting the massive changes occurring in the newly founded state of Greater Lebanon.

Under the French Mandate, the world that el-Zeenni occupied was deconstructed and remade on an almost daily basis, so much so that by the 1930s, “Beirut could almost have passed for a new city.”[3]Kassir, Samir. Beirut. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 286. Beirut was planned by the French powers and an emerging local elite as a “western-modeled” city. The commercialization of the entertainment industry, where el-Zeenni found himself recording and performing by the 1920s, was one node in this urban planning of Beirut. Technological advancements that had already started changing the face of Beirut by the turn of the century also revolutionized the entertainment industry, with electricity and ease of mobility contributing to the flourishing nightlife. The radio, the gramophone, and the ability to listen to music both at home, by owning these devices, or going out to cabarets and theaters, all marked the extent of “modernity” that a new middle class performed. While the late Ottoman period saw entertainment limited to the upper classes, confined mostly within private salons, the mandate era revolutionized entertainment by providing public venues for this purpose. In fact, Beirut was built by and for a burgeoning middle class that performed its modernity and status by attending concerts and plays in the heart of a culturally booming city. The new bars, restaurants, beach clubs, and night clubs that opened in Beirut most often allowed for the mixing of the sexes and young people, who made use of the extended opening hours until 2 a.m. under the French instead of the 10 p.m. closing time under Ottoman law. 

All of this was strictly controlled by the nascent state under the supervision of the French high commissioner, in the forms of permits, censorship, and regular health screening for prostitutes in the red-light district. By organizing this sector, the French mandatory powers increased their surveillance and control over the Lebanese population. Colonial interests were also very much present through capital and investment in Lebanon. Luxury hotels were managed by foreign companies. By the 1930s, the seaside district of Minat al-Hosn and the Zaytuna area, financed by French and Lebanese investors, boasted major hotels, bars, and beach clubs, including the prestigious Hotel Saint Georges and the Kit Kat Club, both which opened their doors for upscale clientele in 1934.  

The political and social contexts from which el-Zeenni emerged also explain the artistic and cultural genres to which el-Zeenni simultaneously belonged. He drew upon numerous artistic influences prevalent in the eastern Mediterranean at the turn of the 20th century, including the French chansonnier, the Egyptian mawwals as exemplified and popularized by Sayyid Darwish, and the growing genre of Lebanese-Syrian zajal[4]For more on el-Zeenni’s placement within the various emerging genres of the time and his influences see Tarif Khalidi, “Umar al-Z‘inni and Mandate Lebanon” in Baalbaki et.al (eds) Poetry and … Continue reading. The genre that el-Zeenni helped create and popularize was the “monologue”, a comic text written preferably in various dialects of the vernacular, usually sung by one person and put to a simple tune often using western instruments, melodies, and tempo.[5]For more on the monologue genre and el-Zeenni’s contribution to it, see Abbani, Diana. “Ghina’ Beirut Zaman al-Indtidab.” Bidayat (Issue 23-24, 2019). El-Zeenni particularly developed the satirical monologue, a genre that used the text-turned-song as a tool for social and political critique. The use of songs as political tools was already popular among Arab nationalists of that period, who developed a genre of anthems and patriotic songs as an answer to the political upheavals at the end of World War One. These songs that glorified the nation and described the patriotic sacrifices of the martyrs of Arab nationalism were also a social and disciplinary answer to the taqtuqa and other forms of music that had developed in the early 20th century, first in Egypt and later in Bilad al-Sham. The satirical monologue of el-Zeenni did not fit in either of these oppositional genres. It was meant as a political act, disguised in satire; yet, it also ridiculed the seriousness of the patriotic anthems and nationalist songs. This was done through a clever combination of a political subject matter with the use of vernacular Arabic, specifically a Beiruti-Lebanese dialect. 

El-Zeenni’s poetry/songs reflected the reality that people were living. He wrote and sang about class inequality and the absurdity of class differences, the French mandate and colonialism, and changing social customs and tradition. His anti-colonial lyrics and his criticism of Lebanese politics and politicians’ complicity particularly struck a chord with people and also pushed the state to detain him multiple times. His most famous satirical song ridiculed the power of the presidency under the French High Commissioner’s mandate, “Badna Bahriyya Ya Rayyis” (“We Need True Sailors, O Captain!), which he wrote when Charles Debbas assumed the office of first president of the Republic of Lebanon in 1926.[6]The last verse of the song goes:
“God’s decree it was, and his judgment, O rayyis! / And they handed you the flag, O rayyis!
With a stroke of a pen, O rayyis / They made you a rayyis, O rayyis!
 

El-Zeenni’s choice of vernacular contributed immensely to his popularity, making him available to a wider audience that crossed class, regional, and sectarian boundaries. It also placed al-Zeenni at the margins of what was considered high culture, upheld by the doyens of Arabic literature. Dubbed by the Lebanese writer and literary critic Omar Fakhoury, who also happened to be his classmate and friend, as the Poet of the People (Sha‘ir al-Sha‘b), el-Zeenni belonged to a revisionist and discursive literary movement in the early to mid-20th century that taunted the boundaries between high and low culture. Placing him within these literary debates of the nahda is necessary both for  expanding the field as well as understanding his wide appeal. 

It is this characteristic of el-Zeenni as a “dissident” that has contributed to his revival by contemporary youth as a subversive figure. There is indeed something in el-Zeenni’s critique that captures the way Lebanese economic and political structures were created around the mid-20th century, particularly the emergence of an oligarchy that concentrated wealth and built an economy based on the services sector at the expense of industry and agriculture. This also went hand in hand with a consorted plan to develop the urban centers, particularly Beirut, at the expense of the rural areas across the country. El-Zeenni therefore captured something in the way modernity was playing out in Lebanon that became a systemic problem in Lebanese society throughout the 20th century and until the present day: the obsession with appearances, wealth, and progress at any expense as well as unequal unsustainable socioeconomic development. 

 

El-Zeenni’s Box of Wonders 

 

شوف تفرّج آه يا سلام / شوف أحوالك بالتّمام / شوف قدّامك عجايب / شوف قدّامك غرايب

Come and see! / Oh! You've got to watch / How you look, how you sound / See the wondrous, see the odd

 

*

In an homage to the storyteller who carried the wooden box – or, sanduq – of wonders on his back from town to town offering children and adults alike glimpses into wondrous unknown worlds, Omar el-Zeenni began his poem “Sanduq al-Firji” (“The Box of Wonders”), written in 1924, with the script often used by the storyteller. Sanduq al-‘ajayib or sanduq al-firji, a box with holes that offers viewers glimpses of photographs, objects, and sometimes even puppets, was the predecessor of the magic lantern and other photographic and cinematic contraptions. These “boxes of wonder” became popular in the 17th and 19th centuries and remained so in the Middle East throughout the 20th century. As the storyteller himself in this case, el-Zeenni invites us to peer into the sanduq; however, rather than offer scenes from worlds unknown, the sanduq in the poem offers an honest self-portrait. In it, we see ourselves as we become both the observer and the observed.

يا حبيبي لو بتشوف / شوف أحوالك عالمكشوف

Hey honey, if only you could see / See how you appear from here

" In el-Zeenni’s Sanduq”, things were changing at a very fast pace and time was deceiving. First, came political change through occupation and colonization:

شوف جبال وشوف وديان / سوريا وجبل لبنان / كانت قطعة من الجنان / أمّا اليوم يا حسرة / الأرض حفرة نفرة / ما فيها عشبة خضرة / يا حفيظ ويا أمين / من غدرات الزّمان

See the mountains, see the valleys / Of Syria and Mount Lebanon / Descended from heaven to land / Pity, how they look today / Deserted lands / colorless grass / Oh my lord, / Horrific are the twists of fate

This also led to overnight shifts in political fortunes:

شوف ملوك بني عثمان / كانوا ملوك على الزّمان / وناموا عامخدّة أمان / علّوا ناس وطّوا ناس / وطرفهم عمره ما انداس / كانوا ملوك وصاروا ناس

See the Ottoman Kings? / They were rulers of time / They slept in peace / Turned slaves into masters / Never once, did anyone dare touch them / They were kings once, but now, they are nothing but men

In that world, the peasant, who once had control over his labor, became an employee with no agency over his life.

الفلّاح شلح التّبّان / وعاف السّكة والفدّان / وراح تعيّن عند فلان / […] صار مأمور ماله صوت

The farmer took off his garb / Abandoned his tools and land / Got a job with so-and-so / […] Became a servant with no tongue


At the heart of el-Zeenni’s complaints about the changes in his world, including social and political upheaval, are concerns about money and financial stability.

بعشرة فول وبخمسة زيت / كنت تعشّي أهل البيت / أمّا هالأيام يا ريت / ليرة واتنين ما بيكفيك / يا محْلا يوم المتليك

With 10 nickels for beans and 5 for oil / You once would feed an entire household / But these days, no way / One or two silvers are not enough / Oh sweet were the days of cheap brass![7]The term matlik, which comes from the English word “metallic,” refers to the cheap brass coins that the Ottoman Empire had to produce in lieu of the more expensive gold and silver coins that the … Continue reading

In this poem, one of the first that he wrote, el-Zeenni comes across as confused, disillusioned, and disappointed: 

والدّنيا صندوق فرجة / لا تغرّك منها البهجة / من يوم ما خلقت عوجة / لا تبكي عليها وتنوح / ما بتحرز ما فيها روح / تفرج في عينيك وروح

Life's a box of wonders / Let it not fool you with the joy it brings / It's been crooked since its inception / Do not cry over it nor weep / It's not worth it, it has no soul / May you find relief and leave

 

The Sounds of Melancholia and Anxiety 

Arguably one of the most prominent songs of el-Zeenni is “Beirut,” written in 1933. Covered by Yasmine Hamdan and interpreted by Ahmad Kaabour, the poem is a melancholic ode to a world that el-Zeenni felt was slipping through his fingers. 

بيروت زهرة في غير أوانها / بيروت ما أحلاها وما أحلى زمانها / بيروت يا حينها ويا ضيعانها / تدبل على امها وتموت بيروت

Beirut, a flower blooming before its time / Beirut, oh for its beauty and its good times / Beirut, what a loss / Beirut, it withers away and dies

El-Zeenni’s words carry a backlash against the changing nature of the city reflected through a very gendered reflection on the “female” city, the flower, that needed to be protected and safeguarded from the immorality brought about by modernity.[8] Abbani, Diana. “Ghina’ Beirut Zaman al-Intidab.” Bidayat (Issue 23-24, 2019). In this poem, much like the rest of his repertoire, el-Zeenni lamented a particular Beirut, one where boundaries and spaces were neatly and clearly demarcated, particularly boundaries between rich and poor, the urban and the rural, and men and women. El-Zeenni was nostalgic for a time when these distinctions and categories were not only known and clear but respected and observed. His repertoire reveals compounded anxieties over modernity, money, sex and sexuality, politics, urbanization, women’s liberation, and technology. 

When it came to money, el-Zeenni expressed in his monologues his anxiety over who earned money, how it was earned, and how it was spent. He showed particular suspicion towards money that was easily earned, and specifically ridiculed those who showed any signs of social mobility, al-Noforish (the Nouveau Riche). In 1946 he wrote about this particular type:

كان جلبوط وأشلاميش / صار له لحم، وصار له ريش /  جمع المال بالحِيل / وبنى قصور بالعَجل / في البلد والجبل

He was scrawny, he was a bum / Now he has feathers, now he’s plum / Through deception, he piled cash / And in the city and the village / Built castles in a rush

But el-Zeenni did not stop at ridiculing the social mobility of this “nouveau riche” and describing them in derogatory terms, but he also framed these new social climbers as a threat to the “order”:

واجا يندس بالعِيل /  ويخفي عيوبه والعلل / بالهدايا وبالبخشيش / [...] ريّش عا أهون سبب / ما في علم ولا أدب /  ولا في حسب ولا نسب / سعدان وما له دَنَب / جلده محشي بالدّهب

He creeps amongst good families / And conceals his flaws / With gifts and bribes, he earns an easy buck / [...] He has no education, no propriety / No good lineage or pedigree / Like a monkey with no tail[9]He is a fraud. / His skin is filled with gold

This “order” had a clear demarcation of social classes and an acceptable gap between them. El-Zeenni remarked on this gap in his sharp and sarcastic “Law Kunt Husan.” By mid-century, horse racing in Lebanon had been revived and reorganized by established Beiruti families under the guardianship of President Chamoun. The prominent Sursock and Pharaon families owned most of the racehorses and profited immensely from the legal and illegal gambling that took place across the country. El-Zeenni mocked the high status and treatment that these families’ horses received by imagining the luxury he would have if he were one of them. 

لو كنت حصان في بيت فرعون /  كان لي بانسيون عشرين كرسون / ما كان بالكون مثلي انسان/ لو كنت حصان لو لو

If I were a horse of the Pharaon family / I would have had a pension and 20 butlers / I would be one of a kind / If I were a horse, if only I were a horse

El-Zeenni criticized the way money was spent, appalled by the fact that people spent money they did not have: 

شي بيحيّر، شي بيطفّر/ شي بيكفّر، شي بشيل الدّين / منعمّر، منثمّر، وطفرانين / منصيّف، ومنكيّف، ومديونين / مناكل حاف، وبلا لحاف، ومبودرين

It’s baffling, infuriating / It makes one blaspheme and lose faith / We build, we grow, though broke on change / We vacation, we indulge, though in debt / We barely eat, we barely sleep, but lo, our cheeks are blushed

He also expressed his weariness of increased consumerism, and the idea that money could buy anything, “Bil Fulus Kil Shi Fi,” the title of one of his monologues.

بالفلوس كل شي في / في شوارع مرصوفة / وتاكسيّات مصفوفة / في بضائع مستوفة / ومستوردة ومكشوفة / ومشهورة وموصوفة / ومن هالنّمرة المعروفة / يا ما في يا ما في

With money, the world is your oyster / There are cobbled streets / Lines of taxis / There is merchandise in stock / That is imported and on display / Renowned, admired / And brand-named / There is anything, everything

This excessive consumerism was coupled with his suspicion of “trashy merchandise” that replaced expensive but quality products. Imports, and particularly low-priced western products, had begun invading local markets by the 19th century, with the balance of trade reaching its highest deficiency by the end of that century. By the end of the war and the imposition of the French mandate over a newly created Lebanon, the local markets had already been fully immersed in the modern global capitalist market. The loss of control over the economy was compounded with political loss to create anxieties over western economic “penetration” into local markets in the form of foreign capital but also products. Not only were these products cheaper, but often they were new substitutes to more expensive material. For el-Zeenni, nylon, a 1930s invention that replaced silk among other materials, exemplified this disruption of quality standards.  

وَيلن للنّاس وَيلن / من شرّ بلاد النايلون/ [...] نايلون / على كلّ فاترين/ [...] كل شي سلعة / البضاعة خسعة / نايلون/ [...] كلّ مأكولك / كل مشروبك / كل ملبوسك / من طربوشك / لبابوجك / نايلون

Oh, the woes of these people / From the evils of nylon-land / [...] Nylon in every storefront window / [...] Everything's a commodity / Merchandise is trashy / Nylon / [...] All your food / All your drinks / All your clothes / From head to toe / Nylon

El-Zeenni’s poetry personified this debilitating feeling of loss through substitution: the old with the new, the expensive with the cheap, the high quality with low quality, and the local with the foreign. This binary framework through which el-Zeenni saw the entire world was also gendered. To him, women were substituting men in public life and taking on masculine roles. Therefore, his monologues also reflect anxiety over sex and sexuality, with a particular backlash against women breaking the “order.” He argued that it had all become Bil Ma’lub (Topsy-Turvy): 

كلّ شي صاير بالمقلوب/ [...] البنت بتخطب لحالها / وبدال ما الشّب يسعى لها / ويترجّى أبوها وخالها / هي بتعرض راسمالها / بتضحّي حالها ومالها / وبتدفع لعريسها دهوب

Now everything is topsy-turvy / [...] The girl proposes marriage / Instead of being pursued by a young guy / Who begs her father and uncle for her hand / She offers her own capital / Sacrificing herself and her money / And pays her husband with gold

Women were therefore upsetting the order as well, and earning money was one of the main culprits of this problem. 

شوف الحال كيف صاير / النسوان الحراير / تتوظّف في الدواير / والشّبّ الجدع الشاطر / عايش بطّال وداير / ليل ونهار حاير باير / من همه طافش عالدروب

Look and see what came to be / Women who are free / Employed in offices / While the tough smart guy / Is unemployed and wandering off / Day and night higgledy-piggledy / He escapes from his worries roaming the streets


El-Zeenni criticized women’s presence in the workforce, and he also linked it to women’s sexual liberation, reproducing normative roles for women, but also shaming women’s bodies:

شوف الحقيقة المُرّة / آدم حقّه يتعرّى / من تَوبه جوّا وبّرة / وحوّا اللي كلها عَورة  / كان الأولى والأحرى / تتستّر أجمل سترة / من راسها حتّى الكرعوب

This is the bitter truth / Adam has the right to strip / His garb in private and in public / But for Eve whose nakedness is shameful / It is first and foremost / That she wear the most gorgeous robe / But from her head to her heels

El-Zeenni saw this disorder as threatening and therefore in need of ridiculing and disciplining. Women had crossed conventional gender lines, a case in point his poem “Imm al-Jakit wi-l-Bantalun,” which today has been revived and popularized by the Lebanese band Mashrou‘ Leila. In this poem, he expressed confusing a woman for a man “khammantik shabb ya matmozal” since she was not only wearing men’s clothes “jacket wi-l-bantalun” and had her hair cut short, but also had dared leave her house without makeup on, thus breaking all standards of the traditional normative feminine appearance. This was a time when female artists such as the Egyptian Munira al-Mahdiyya were touring the Levant and stepping onto stages in male roles while not shying away from dressing the part. El-Zeenni was not only appalled by women in men’s clothes, but also with “Shubban Chic” (“Chic Young Men”), who spent all their money on their cologne and champagne. 

Anxiety over gender was also in relation to the mixing of the sexes, as he lamented in “Kullu Ndif, Kullu Zarif”(“All is Clean, All is Swell”) the loss of the concept of ‘ayb, the ultimate social and moral disciplinary term:

ما في شي إسمه عيب / إيد البنت بإيد الشّب / بعلم الأم، وعلم الأب

There is no such thing as shame / A girl and a boy hold hands / The mother knows, so does the dad

This poem probably best brings all of el-Zeenni’s anxieties together, and so tellingly frames them under the issue of “cleanliness,” the one thing el-Zeenni craved, the neatness of categories. Without these clear divisions, el-Zeenni felt not only confused but also cheated. 

والنّسوان عالترتوارات / مبودرات محمّرات / طول النهار أوادم / وطول اللّيل نطناطات

And women on sidewalks / Powdered and lipsticked / Chaste during the day / And hopping around all through the night

All of this was taking place at the “lukandat / tiyatrat / barat / ‘al saffayn khammarat,” the epitome of Beirut’s urbanization and modernization in the interwar period. Therefore, el-Zeenni’s anxieties over money, consumption, and class overlapped with his anxieties over gender and sexuality. In el-Zeenni’s world, “Ikhtalata al-Habil bi-l-Nabil” (“All is Confusion,” written in 1930), and one could not differentiate anymore between men and women (sa‘b ktir ba’a tfarri’/ bayn al-shabb wi-l-matmozal), between rich and poor (bayn el-bayk wi-l-karson), between the educated and the ignorant (bayn al-‘alim wi-l-jahil) and between “good” and “bad” girls (bint al-hawa wa-bint al-bayt). 

The fact that these anxieties were compounded is emblematic of the times el-Zeenni lived in. Following the First World War, societies around the world witnessed shifts in gender roles primarily tied to income and money. As men went to fight in the war, often forcibly conscripted to the war effort, women started becoming the primary breadwinners of their families and the heads of these families. By the end of the war and mens’ return home, women could not retreat to their “domestic” confines. The masculinity crisis that this situation created was therefore inherently tied to money and financial independence. El-Zeenni’s repertoire embodied this masculinity crisis in all its anxieties. 

 

What to Do with Anxiety?

Omar Fakhoury declared that “[…] were it not for [el-Zeenni], this age would be mute [abkam], with no one to testify for it or about it. He is then the poet of our age.”[10] Omar Fakhoury, al-Bab al-Marsud. (Beirut: Dar al-Afaq al-Jadida, 1984), 46. El-Zeenni was a witness to the profound political and social change occurring around him; but he was also a testament to the anxieties and reactions that emerge from such change. Perhaps what el-Zeenni testified for the most was loss in all its debilitating essence and the helplessness it inflicts upon those who suffer it. 

يا ضيعانك يا بيروت /  يا مناظر غشاشة /  يا عروس بخشخاشة / يا مصمودي بالتابوت / يا ضيعانك يا بيروت 

What a loss, oh Beirut / Oh deceptive appearances / Oh bride in the tiny grave ) / Or showcased in a coffin / What a loss, oh Beirut!

Through his satirical monologues, el-Zeenni created a space where what was lost could be lamented. His monologues not only allowed social and political issues to be raised on a popular and wide scope, but also to be dissected, and most importantly, ridiculed. Yet, el-Zeenni could not confront the contradictions that shaped him and possibly made him who he was. His fame, style, and media were a direct product of the francophonization and “modernization” of Beirut. He indeed critiqued the very structures that made his voice heard. The genre he expressed himself through, the stages on which he performed, and the content of his expressions, all exemplify contradictions in el-Zeenni’s very existence. These contradictions prompted el-Zeenni’s anxieties over money, sex, and modernity, among other issues, and he gave in to these anxieties. 

As Beirut passes through another seismic shift of profound change and loss, what will we do with all our anxieties? Do we dare start new lives? Will we stand as guardians to the past, lamenting our loss(es)? Or do we create new avenues for expression, new genres and languages for our aspirations as al-Zeenni did? 

Contributor
Sana Tannoury-Karam

Sana Tannoury-Karam is a writer and a historian of the modern Middle East. She is writing a book on the cultural and intellectual history of the left in Lebanon during the Mandate period. Her work has appeared in a range of publications including the Journal of World History, Rusted Radishes, Jadaliyya, Megaphone, and Trafo-Blog for Transregional Research. She lives between Beirut and Berlin and is currently a EUME fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien.

Footnotes:

Footnotes:
1 For el-Zeenni’s poetry and songs throughout this essay, I used the book el-Zeenni el-Saghir, Omar el-Zeenni, Molière al-Sharq. (Beirut: Dar al-Farabi, 2010).
2 This term was coined by Michael Provence in The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).
3 Kassir, Samir. Beirut. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 286.
4 For more on el-Zeenni’s placement within the various emerging genres of the time and his influences see Tarif Khalidi, “Umar al-Z‘inni and Mandate Lebanon” in Baalbaki et.al (eds) Poetry and History: The Value of Poetry in Reconstructing Arab History (Beirut: American University of Beirut Press, 2011).
5 For more on the monologue genre and el-Zeenni’s contribution to it, see Abbani, Diana. “Ghina’ Beirut Zaman al-Indtidab.” Bidayat (Issue 23-24, 2019).
6 The last verse of the song goes:
“God’s decree it was, and his judgment, O rayyis! / And they handed you the flag, O rayyis!
With a stroke of a pen, O rayyis / They made you a rayyis, O rayyis!
7 The term matlik, which comes from the English word “metallic,” refers to the cheap brass coins that the Ottoman Empire had to produce in lieu of the more expensive gold and silver coins that the Empire could no longer afford.
8 Abbani, Diana. “Ghina’ Beirut Zaman al-Intidab.” Bidayat (Issue 23-24, 2019).
9 He is a fraud.
10 Omar Fakhoury, al-Bab al-Marsud. (Beirut: Dar al-Afaq al-Jadida, 1984), 46.
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Sana Tannoury-Karam is a writer and a historian of the modern Middle East. She is writing a book on the cultural and intellectual history of the left in Lebanon during the Mandate period. Her work has appeared in a range of publications including the <em>Journal of World History</em>, <em>Rusted Radishes</em>, <em>Jadaliyya</em>, <em>Megaphone</em>, and <em>Trafo-Blog for Transregional</em> <em>Research</em>. She lives between Beirut and Berlin and is currently a EUME fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien.

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