The Paris Review

On Beirut, the Unsung Capital of Arabic Modernism

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Arabic Modernism was a literary movement of exiles and émigrés who planted their flag in West Beirut during the mid-’50s, when the Lebanese capital became a meeting ground for intellectuals from across the region. West Beirut, a neighborhood known as Hamra, was “the closest the Arab world could ever get to having its own Greenwich Village.” For a brief twenty-year period, until the outbreak of civil war in 1975, Hamra was a contact zone for artists and militants from the far Left to the far Right, nationalists and internationalists, experimentalists and traditionalists. In this highly politicized , journals of ideas flourished, and each coterie had its own café. Local banks were flush with deposits from the newly oil-rich states of the Gulf, helping to finance a construction boom that quadrupled the built area of the city in the decade following World War II. This intellectual and economic ferment turned Beirut into a magnet for disaffected thinkers from within Lebanon as well as from neighboring countries.

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