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Arab Poetry in Brazil

When the Druze Lebanese Emir Fakredin ascended to the power, he decided immediately to establish contact between Rome and the East. Therefore the Maronite School was created in Rome, where Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian seminarians would study. That was how the ideas of Christian thinkers such as Savonarola, Roger Bacon and Campanella, among others, were introduced in the Arab world.

The contact with the West was only possible due to the strong personality of Fakredin, who forced Turks to given him certain autonomy, limited to Beirut and nearby area. The fact that Fakredin was Druze, that is, a non-Orthodox Muslim, made him look for support outside the country to avoid the Turk control.

In this environment with Western influence appeared Germanos Ferhat (1670-1732), the Maronite archbishop of Aleppo, considered the predecessor of the modern Arab Renaissance.

At that time, the Arabic was increasingly losing space to the Turk. Ferhat wrote the summary of one of the oldest known Arab dictionaries, filling it with Arab words related to Christian rituals. His work made the book readable to people from his time. He also wrote a small grammar that became a key to teaching in the Arab world.

Indebted with Europe, the Ottoman Empire, already known as the “sick man of Europe”, pretended to be unimpressed with this draft of Renaissance that was out of its control.

If the Renaissance began thanks to a Druze emir and to the Maronites, the religious conflicts that took place in Lebanon in 1860 opposed Maronites to Druzes.

About the author:
Slimaine Zeghidour was born in Jijel, in the northeast of Algeria. Painter, illustrator, journalist and writer, he studied Arabic and French in Argel. He was the founder member of the first comic book in the Arab world, M’Qidech. Since 1978 he works for the French television, as he immigrated to Paris in 1974 due to an exhibition that would happen there. In 1981, he made a study for UNESCO on the subject "Mutual influence between contemporary Arab and Latin American literatures”. In 1982, he published an anthology of modern Arab poetry.

Renaissance and Immigration

The conflicts in 1860 in Lebanon ended with the massacres organized by the Turks of Sunni Muslims against Alawite Muslims, Catholics against Orthodox etc.

These facts led intellectuals converted to laicism and supporters of the French Revolution to choose between living clandestinely or the exile in Egypt, where there was certain internal autonomy and where the expedition of Bonaparte (1798) influenced the development of the intellectual life. Therefore, Egypt received several intellectuals and their families that fled from Syria and Lebanon.

The exiled created in Egypt the first Arab newspapers, such as Al Ahram (1875), which is the largest Arab newspaper to date.

Under the influence of several European ideologies, different literary groups and political movements arouse between the Arabs. The Arab Renaissance began this way and was a strong opponent to the Ottoman Empire and Europe.

France sent Jesuitical missions, the Russians, Orthodox missions, and the British, Protestant missions. As the aid offered was only accessible to the believers of those religions, the Catholic and Muslim Arabs were converted into Protestants, among others, to be able to use the missionary “works”. That was one of the ways Europe used to avoid losing the control in the East, as, according to the French, “it is necessary to make the Maronites French”.

Egypt reveled to be a fragile exile as well, when the country suffered Ottoman oppression.

The immigration was beginning.

British ships transported families to Italy at no cost. From there, there was already an immigration circuit to South America.

It is impossible to precise the dates and conditions of the first Arab immigrants that came to Brazil, but it is possible to see that the first groups of immigrants were contemporary to the disturbances of 1860. That hypothesis is confirmed by the fact that the first Brazilian writer of Arab origin was born in 1861: He was Manuel Said Ali, who died in 1935.

In the 1880s, French and British already occupied the Middle East due to the passivity of the Turkish power. The Renaissance of Arab poetry and literature, more and more affected by internal conflicts among multiple groups, was threatened both by Turks and the European powers.

The contact with some of the immigrants that went to Brazil seemed an option for intellectuals that looked for exile. They felt the need to temporarily leave the environment of foreign occupancy.

The first Arab immigrants in Brazil settled at Alfândega and Ouvidor Streets in Rio de Janeiro. They came to America and to other continents for political reasons and aimed at making a fortune and returning to their country of origin to have a better life.

In the chosen country, the Arabs faced language and cultural barriers. As their culture and language were very different from those of other immigrants, they frequently suffered discrimination.

The entire community that moved to another country needed to preserve their origins and maintain bonds with the other members. Clubs and press are ideal tools and all communities in Brazil had their press with that end.

In the case of the Arab press, it also met other needs, as represented the continuation of the Arab Renaissance, which aimed to free the motherland and to promote a project of civilization. To that, the immigrants had to deal with the suffering of the exile, the discouragement due to distance, the difficulty to promote the Arab cause on the West and to overcome internal conflicts, among others.

One consequence left by Ottoman control was the feudal structure based on familial references from the country of origin.

Another example of familial reference was the first clubs created in Brazil that had local connotations: Clube Zahlé, Clube Homs, Clube Marjayun. They were named after Syrian-Lebanese villages and received people from these areas.

Previously to open clubs and found newspapers, the immigrants had to work on other functions. Among these works, there is one to which they were dedicated and under which name they are known in the Arab world: Ahl Al Kacha (people from the box). It is the peddler, who carried a box. And they were always called “Turks” because they had Turkish passports.

The Arabs were known as "Turks of installments" in a derogatory manner.

After some efforts, the first Arab newspaper in Brazil was founded in Rio de Janeiro: the Al Nakib (01/17/1896) by the initiative of Naum Labaki with the help of Assad Khaled.

Between 1890 and 1940, a meaningful number of Arab newspapers, magazines and journals appeared in Brazil.

The press movement would spread all over the Brazilian territory.

In Manaus, Al Siham newspaper is founded (01/04/1912). In Porto Alegre, appears the Al Fawaid (1909). In Belo Horizonte, there is the Al Sawab (1900). In Campinas (countryside of the state of São Paulo), the Al Fiha (1894 or 1895), which may have been the first Arab newspaper in Brazil. In Santos (coast of São Paulo) the Al Barazil (1896) is founded. In Campos (Rio de Janeiro), the Al Fajr (1911). In Salto Oriental, the Umnia Al Arab (1913). In Niterói (state of Rio de Janeiro), the Al Kharbar in 1921. And many others.

During the Second World War, the Brazilian government temporarily forbad that papers in languages different from the Portuguese were printed. Therefore, the magazine Al Usba, founded by the Lebanese Michel Maluf and distributed to all America and also in the Arab world, was not printed during that time. After the war, the magazine resumed publishing until 1953, date of the last issue.

In the 1940s, armed conflicts against the French in Syria and in Lebanon achieved a dangerous level. At that time, associations of all Arab communities in America and in Brazil sent drugs, flour and oil to the needy in Syria and Lebanon.

Also in the 1940s, immigration stabilized as the pioneers were becoming older and their children became Brazilians. During that time, the Arab countries fought for their independence. Simultaneously, the immigrated literature began to decline.
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