Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2009

Theater and Radical Politics in Beirut, Cairo, and Alexandria: 1860-1914

Ilham Makdisi

October 2006

Center for Contemporary Arab Studies


In the last days of October 1909, a play celebrating the life and work of Francisco Ferrer
was performed in Beirut. Ferrer, a Spanish social and political activist whose ideas combined
elements of anarchism and socialism, had been executed three days before. Ferrer
was a pedagogue who had created a modern curriculum and established modern schools
in Barcelona based on the principle of "class harmony," a project very similar to the ideas
behind the Université Populaire that appeared in France at the same time. Ferrer's ideas
enjoyed tremendous popularity throughout the world3 both because of his pedagogy as well
as his ideology, which combined Freemasonry, free thinking, a strong class consciousness,
anarchism, and anticlericalism. He became an icon of the world's leftist movements in 1909,
when he was falsely accused by the Spanish Church and condemned to death because of his
alleged involvement in an anarchist "terrorist" attack. His trial and condemnation triggered
demonstrations and protests throughout the world, from Italy to Mexico.