The Levantine business community—the Sursuqs, Bustruses, Tuenis, Khuris, Debbases, Trads, Tabets, Naggiars, and Farahs—created large agricultural estates in the Levant and established company branches in Beirut, Alexandria, Haifa, London, Liverpool, Paris, and Marseille in the mid-nineteenth century. Against both culturalist and new institutional paradigms, I argue that the trajectories of the Levantine firms were much like those of their European counterparts; Dutch and English capitalism—what came to be recognized as modern forms of capitalism—developed out of long-distance trade and relied on forms of coerced and semi-coerced labor as well as other so-called “non-capitalist” or “precapitalist” elements. Beirut-based companies relied on tenant contracts, sharecropping, and other forms of labor control rooted in the Ottoman social formation. Drawing upon the unexplored private papers of these business families in Beirut and a diverse collection of documents from Istanbul, Beirut, Jerusalem, London, Liverpool, and Marseille in Arabic, German, Ottoman Turkish, and French, this paper examines the parallels and the links between the business practices of the Levantine joint-stock companies and their European partners. It contends that the development of nineteenth-century capitalism relied on several different institutions and relations of production formulated and articulated on both sides of the Mediterranean and in the competition between them. Only after World War I, because of settler-colonialism, the settlement of nomads, and large-scale European capital investment backed by imperial power, did Levantine capital accumulation begin to take a form that was subordinate to Europe.
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