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Key moments

Lebanon’s Popular Uprisings (‘ammiyyat)


Mount Lebanon, a semi-autonomous Ottoman mountainous territory stretching along the eastern Mediterranean coast between Tripoli and Saida, witnessed a series of peasant revolts between 1821 and 1861. These revolts assumed the form of collective protests and rebellions that came to be known as the ‘ammiyyat. The term ‘ammiyya (from ‘amma, commoner), designated non-elite groupings distinct from the feudal lords and notables (manasib; a’yan).

These revolts challenged the legitimacy of the feudal hereditary nobility (muqata’jis) who controlled Mount Lebanon’s tax districts (muqata’a) and acted as tax collectors on behalf of Emir Bashir Shihabi (1767-1850), who held sway over Mount Lebanon between 1788 and 1840. As tax farmer-in-chief, the Emir remitted the taxes to the Ottoman governor of Saida. By challenging the authority of the tax-holding elites (muqata’ji) these uprisings ushered in social and political change and altered the society of Mount Lebanon.

The peasant protest and resistance movement in Mount Lebanon occurred in three historical moments: The Ammiyya of 1821, The 1840 Ammiyya, and the Kisrawan Peasant Rebellion of 1858-1861. Maronite peasants from the northern districts of Mount Lebanon led and dominated these protests.

The Ammiyya of 1821 (in Antylias and Lihfid) erupted against the unfair distribution of extra taxes imposed by Emir Bashir on the peasants. Two insurgencies lasted half a year. Emir Bashir brutally suppressed the uprising with the help of the feudal lords.

The 1840 Ammiyya occurred during the Egyptian occupation (1830-1840) and enlisted widespread participation from all of Mount Lebanon’s districts and towns. The protest of 1840 was a reaction to the decision of Ibrahim Pasha to disarm and conscript Christians, pushing them to rally against the Egyptian army and end the foreign occupation. This was achieved with the assistance of British, Austrian, and Ottoman troops on the side of the insurgency. It put an end to the reign of Emir Bashir and ushered in the permanent presence of European powers in Lebanon’s political landscape.

The 1858 peasant rebellion in Kisrawan was directed at the local muqata’ji family, the Khazins. It was localized to the district of Kisrawan and was the last peasant movement in Mount Lebanon in the 19th century.

The peasant revolts marked the entrance of “common people” as political actors in the otherwise elite-dominated political culture of Mount Lebanon. It created new forms of organization and language. Villages were asked to select a representative (wakil) as a spokesman who could act on their behalf and negotiate with other representatives and authorities. Written pacts were drawn and oaths were taken to bind the collective together in its determination to oppose additional taxes and act collectively in the country's interest (maslahat al-bilad). These pacts articulated a new form of authority that shifted ties of kinship and loyalty to those based on communal and public interest.

Antilyas-Lihfid ‘ammiya
Egyptian Alliance with Emir Bashir
Revolt against Emir Bashir
Druze-Maronite Strife
Jan. 13 1842
End of the Emirate of Mount Lebanon
Double Qaimaqamate
Renewed Druze-Maronite Strife
Reglement de Shakib Efendi.
Tanzimat Edict
Kisrawan Peasant Rebellion
Massacre of Christians in Damascus
The Mutasarrifiya of Mount Lebanon

Antilyas-Lihfid ‘ammiya, crushed by joint forces of Bashir Shihab and Bashir Jumblat

Key moments
The Ammiyya revolts of 1821

In January 1821, Abdallah Pasha, the Ottoman governor of Saida, asked for an advance payment of the annual tax from Emir Bashir. Unable to fulfill this obligation, Emir Bashir passed on the extra tax burden to the Christian peasants of Mount Lebanon’s northern districts (Metn, Kisrawan, Batrun, and Jbayl). He spared the Druze-dominated southern districts of Mount Lebanon (Shuf, and the four regions (iqlim) of Jezzin, Tufah, Kharrub and Jabl al-Rihan), for fear of alienating the Druze lords.

The peasant resistance to Emir Bashir’s exorbitant tax demands consisted of two movements: the Ammiyya of Antilyas (winter-spring 1821) and the Ammiyya of Lihfid (summer 1821). The Maronite archbishop, Yusuf Istifan (1759-1823), led a group of Maronite commoners, with some Druze and Shiites, and gathered at the Church in Antilyas (Havemann 1983). They swore to resist the payment of taxes and demanded that the land and poll taxes be levied once a year. Historians estimate that more than 6,000 rebels were present at this meeting (Havemann 1983). They vowed not to betray one another and to struggle together for the common good. They produced a convenant between them. In the covenant, the insurgents emphasized that they were acting for the sake of the general interest and public welfare (al-salih al-ummumi) (Havemann, 1983). Villages that were taking part in the movement elected deputies (wukala) from the ranks of the commoners, who negotiated for them.

Faced with the commoners’ resistance, Emir Bashir went into exile to Hawran with his retinue, at which point he renegotiated his return with the Ottoman governor and enlisted the support of the Druze and Maronite notables. He rejected all the commoners’ demands and reimposed his tax policy on Mount Lebanon’s northern districts. The commoners in Jubayl, Batrun, and Akkar rose again and gathered in Lihfid, a village in the district of Batrun. They demanded to be treated on equal terms with the Druze concerning taxation and other matters. They also called for the tax collectors assigned by the ruling Emir to be from the same respective region. With the support of the muqata’jis, Emir Bashir brutally crushed the resistance in a battle near Lihfid, putting an end to the insurgency. One leader of the movement, Antonious Abu Khattar al-Ayturini, a notable historian of Mount Lebanon, was caught and tortured. He died soon after. Maronite Archbishop Istfan died of poisoning in 1823. While the 1821 ‘Ammiya failed to change the conditions of Mount Lebanon’s peasants, it was the first articulation of a majority community that undermined the traditional ties of kinship and loyalty between the commoners and their feudal lords.

The 1840 Ammiyya

The 1840 resistance movements in Mount Lebanon occurred in the context of the Egyptian occupation of Lebanon (1830-1840). In 1830, the forces of Egypt’s ruler Muhammad Ali occupied Syria, under the leadership of his son, Ibrahim Pasha, and the cooperation of Emir Bashir. Although the presence of the Egyptians pointed to a new era of unprecedented development following the implementation of modernization policies, the permanent state of emergency, harsh taxation, forced labor, enforced military conscriptions, and disarmament alienated a wide sector of the population.

In 1840, Muhammad Ali ordered the disarmament of the Christians of Mount Lebanon in preparation for general conscription. This decision was received with apprehension by the Druze and Maronites who decided to rebel against Muhammad Ali’s rule. On June 8, 1840, Maronites, Druze, Sunni, and Shi’a representatives met at a church in Antilyas and took a solemn oath to support each other and to remain “one voice one mind.” (See document). They called for a reduction in tax, the abolition of compulsory labor, the restitution of firearms, administrative reform, and the representation of religious communities in the council (diwan) of Bayt al-Din (Emir Bashir’s Palace in the Shuf). In that council, two elected representatives from each denomination (ta’ifa) would advise the ruling Emir and support him in his politics. This marked the first intimation of confessional representation in Mount Lebanon’s political organization. The movement of 1840 included participants from different social classes, peasants, disgruntled muqata’jis, Maronite clergy, and traders of the newly emergent bourgeoisie merchant class living in urban centers. The Maronite Patriarch urged monks and priests to support the popular uprising (al-qiyam al-jumhuri). This assumption of political leadership by the Maronite Church was an important aspect of the 1840 rebellion (Havemann, 1983).

Put down by Ibrahim Pasha, the insurgency reignited again in August 1840 with British and Ottoman support. On July 15, 1840, the London Agreement formalized the policy of the European power (except France) to expel the Egyptians from Syria. The translator (known as a dragoman), Richard Wood (1806-1900), was dispatched to manage the affairs of Mount Lebanon (Ozvaci 2021). It involved large military action with French and British agents supplying weapons and logistical support. These European powers promised the Lebanese the restitution of their ancient privileges and introduced new rights as proclaimed by the Gulhane Edict of 1839 if they paid allegiance to the Sultan. By September, the British had assembled twenty-two warships and mobilized an allied ground force. On September 6, the British bombarded Beirut from the sea, followed by the landing of the troops in Jounieh. By November, the Egyptian army had withdrawn from Syria. A new history of interventionism in the East was thus inaugurated, in which European powers felt compelled to intervene by a sense of duty and right (Ozavci 2021).

Following the reinstitution of Ottoman power, the political and administrative status of Mount Lebanon underwent several important changes. Conflicting demands or requests were put forth, with the Maronite Church insisting that the ruler of Mount Lebanon should be a Maronite from the Shihab family, a proposition rejected by the Druze. The Druze shaykhs saw the restoration of Ottoman sovereignty as the restitution of their old privileges, whereas the Maronite commoners wanted a rupture with the past, and demanded rights of protection and equality, guaranteed by the Tanzimat edits. Intercommunal violence erupted in 1841 Dayr al-Qamar, ushering in what Ussama Makdisi (2000) has called “the age of sectarianism”, followed by more sectarian strife in 1842 and 1845.

Following protracted discussions between European powers, the Ottomans, and the local elites over the reorganization of Mount Lebanon, a joint Ottoman-European decision was reached in January 1843 to divide Mount Lebanon along communal lines. Two sectarian divisions were created, the northern Christian district, under a Maronite district governor (qa’immaqam), and a southern Druze district under a Druze district governor.

The Kisrawan Peasant Rebellion of 1858-1861

The peasant rebellion of 1858 was the most sustained popular mobilization in 19th-century Mount Lebanon (Makdisi 2000). It drew support from poor and landless peasants from the district of Kisrawan, who rose in protest against heavy taxation and mistreatment. A poor harvest in 1858 and an economic downturn in Europe (the collapse of the global silk trade because of the Crimean war) aggravated the economic condition in Mount Lebanon. The Khazins, impoverished, with reduced political power, were imposing harsh taxes and forced labor on their peasants. The unrest started in 1858 in many villages of Kisrawan, where young men held meetings to discuss their grievances against their feudal lords, the Khazin shaykhs. The rebellion began in earnest in January 1859 with the election of Tanyus Shahin (1815-1895), a muleteer and blacksmith, as leader of the movement. He rallied the peasants in the expulsion of the entire Khazin family from their properties, stripping them of their possessions.

The term ‘ammiya does not occur in the sources to refer to the peasant revolts of 1858. This may be explained because the movement was confined to Kisrawan (Havemann 1983). The commoners’ demands in 1858 went beyond fair taxation. They demanded the overturn of the feudal relationship of political, economic, and social subordination that existed between the muqata’ji class and the commoners. In direct reference to Ottoman Imperial reform edicts promulgated in 1839 (The Gulhane Edict) and 1856, they demanded complete equality between the commoners and the noble families. Economically, they asked to repeal customary obligations and payments, abolish forced labor, and more favorable tenancy terms (Havemann 1983). They insisted on electing their representatives and creating a place for themselves within the realm of traditional elite politics. The peasants’ revolts threatened both entrenched privileges of the old muqata’ji class and Muslims’ superior status, as defined by the Shari’a law.

In taking the revolution outside of Kisrawan to the southern districts, Shahin’s movement took a sectarian turn as he assumed a Christian rhetoric of solidarity that was not well received in the mixed southern districts with its Druze landowners (Makdisi 2000). The peasant rebellion ended in sectarian violence between Druze and Maronites which erupted between May-June 1860. The Ottoman peace treaty in July 1860 put an end to the conflict, and the movement was dissolved. A new Règlement of 1861 abolished feudal privileges and created a new system of rule, the Mutasarrifiya of Mount Lebanon, which lasted till 1915 (Akarlı 1993)


"Bombardment of Beyrout, by the Combined Forces". 

The first Royal Navy warships anchored off the coast of Beirut on August 12, 1840, under the command of Captain Charles Napier. By September 9, 33 British, Austrian, and Ottoman ships were anchored before the city. From September 11, 1840, Beirut was bombarded repeatedly by the combined forces, demolishing its walls and defenses. On October 8th, the Egyptian army evacuated Beirut. Published in The Lebanese British Association. Romantic Lebanon. The European View 1700-1900. Leighton House, 10 February-8 March 1986. London: The Lebanese British Association, 1986, pp. 64-65.


"Princess Charlotte" at the English camp at Djouni, Syria in 1840, Colored lithograph.

From September to November 1840, the British Royal Navy acted at Sidon, Beirut, and Acre, during the Ottoman-Egyptian war. Open war broke out on September 11, when Beirut was bombarded, and a landing of British, Austrian, and Ottoman soldiers was undertaken at Jounieh.  This colored lithograph shows the HMS Princess Charlotte, a naval warship, in the Jounieh Bay, with the English camp shown in the background, and a two-decker sailing vessel, the Powerful, to the left. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. https://www.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/rmgc-object-102870

Blondel, Antoine-Lucien, Associated Name, et al. Map of Lebanon According to Reconnaissance Information Collected by the Topographical Group from the Syria Expedition of -1861. Paris: Lemercier & Company, 1913. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2021668659/.

Al-Muqata’ji Sheikh Francis al-Khazin, head of the elder Khazin family branch (Ajaltoun) and two members of the family (Louis Vignes, October 1860).

Published in Badr el-Hage and Samir Moubarak. Beirut 1840-1918. A Visual and Descriptive Portrait. Volume 2: Photographs and Images (Beirut: Kutub Publishing, 2022), p. 240. Nabu Collection.

The Besh’alah Document

The reason for its composition and the necessity of its writing (consist of the following):

We, the undersigned, all residents of Bash’alah in general (bi-wajf al-'umum), old and young, have voluntarily consented, and entrusted ourselves and our expenses and also what is required of us in relation to the interest (salih) of the 'Ammiya, in detail and in the whole to our 'paternal cousin.' Tannus al-Shidiaq. His word shall be binding for us in all financial obligations and losses. As for recruiting men, we will obey him according to our interest and that of the 'great majority' (jumhur) of the 'Ammiya. There will be no opposition and no neglect from us; and whoever is opposed or neglectful against what we have written (here), we shall deal with it with severe punishment.

Hereupon, consent and agreement were reached between us and him; he shall act according to his responsibility (or: obligation) and his knowledge that he should be prioritizing no one and not neglecting the affairs of our interests. We shall accept anything he sets for us (duties); and wherever he neglects our well-being, we shall hold him responsible for it. Neither we nor he will act against it in any way. God be our witness and his witness.

Should a loss occur, let it affect us all equally. We all want to be brothers, have one soul and one interest, speak in one voice, strike the same 'strike’ and have the same honor. Who violates it and despises it or behaves treacherously or acts hypocritically against it, God the Exalted and the Holy Elias will be his opponents, in this world and in the hereafter.

We have written this contract for ourselves, for the (common) good, and to hold on to him absolutely.

Written on August 15, 1821, Christian era.

The scribe: Yusuf Shidiaq Mikhail from Besha’lah, Accepted by the inhabitants of Besh’alah in general

The Antalyas Document

The reason for its composition:

On the day of its date, we have come to Mar Ilyas (to the Church of Saint Elias) in Antilyas, we whose names are mentioned below, in general cause (bi-wajh al-umum), Druze, Christian, Shiite (matawila) and 'Muslim' (i.e. Sunni), known in the Lebanon mountains, from all villages. We have taken an oath on the altar of the aforementioned saints that we will not let one another down and will not betray one another to the detriment of one of us all;· but it will only be one word (qawl wahid) and one mind (ra’y wahid) - And we, the Druze 'great majority' (jumhur al-duruz), if the slightest negligence on our part goes out, then we will be excluded from our religion and cut off from the community of the Druze and 'the five khutut’. Our wives are divorced according to the seven rites (mazahib) and forbidden to us in every respect. - And Saint Elijah be our witness, and be our enemy (i.e. if we do not act according to this oath).

We have set up a shaykh (as a guide) for us, 'His Excellency' Shaykh Francis, son of his Excellency Shaykh Hanna Haikal al-Khazin from Gusta. And we, the 'great majority (jumhur) of Christians: whoever of us will be a traitor, his opponent shall be Holy Elijah and his death shall happen according to the religion of the Messiah (i.e. thus he deserves death according to the precepts of the Christian religion)

(This text) was written on 8 Rabi II, 1256.

Agreed with the content: the 'great majority' (jumhur) of the Druze in Mount Lebanon, the Christians, the Shi’as and the Sunnis, in general (or: all together) (bi-wajh al-umum).

The undersigned above have come and swore an oath on the altar of Saint Ilyas according to what is written verbatim above, and for notification, we have written this by their authority (or: under their guidance) on 7 July 1840 of the Christian era.

The scribe: the priest Speridon ‘Aramuni, servant of Saint Elias in Antilyas Antuniyani

Paul Zghreib
Dr. Peter Hill

Chalcraft, John. Popular Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

A sweeping historical account of popular mobilization in the Middle East that begins in 1798 and ends at the dawn of the Arab uprising. This book covers the revolt of Kisrawan placing this revolt in its historical regional context of bottom-up mobilizations. Chalcraft argues that this revolt laid the foundations for the Mutasarrifiyya of 1861 and was therefore central to shaping the Lebanese polity.

Havemann, Axel. Rurale Bewendegen im Libanongebirge des 19. Jahrhunderts: Ein Beitrag zur Problematik sozialer Veranderungen. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 1983.

This is an exhaustive study of the three rural protest movements of 1821, 1840, and 1858-61 and their significance for the history of the region. It uses a wealth of archival sources related to the ammiyyat, with translations of key documents.


Hill, Peter. “How Global was the Age of Revolution? The Case of Mount Lebanon, 1821,” Journal of Global History 16 (2021), 65-84.

In this paper Peter Hill places the uprisings of 1821 in the scope of the ‘age of revolutions’ (1750-1850). Hill uses Mount Lebanon to expand the age of revolution beyond the Euro-Atlantic zone arguing that there was not a shared intellectual genealogy but similar politico-economic dynamics.

Makdisi, Ussama S. The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

A magisterial study that historicizes the practice of sectarianism in Mount Lebanon society under the late Ottoman empire. Neither immutable nor primordial, Makdisi argues that sectarianism was the result of historical contingencies unfolding in a time of profound crisis in the Ottoman Empire and is connected to the introduction of Ottoman reforms. The study unravels the politics of European, Ottoman, and local elites in the social transformation of Mount Lebanon and is essential in understanding the mutation of Tanyus Shahin’s revolt of 1858 from a class into a sectarian struggle, that resulted in the catastrophic massacres of 1860.


Ozavci, Ozan. Dangerous Gifts. Imperialism, Security and Civil Wars in the Levant, 1798-1864. Oxford, 2021.

The book is a dense diplomatic history of the Eastern Question and European interventionism in the Middle East from the perspective of local actors. In his examination of sectarian strife in Mount Lebanon in the 1840s and 1860, Ozvaci provides an exhaustive account of the entanglement of European, Ottoman, and local actors in the unfolding of the events, and argues that sectarianism, contra Ussama Makdisi’s argument, predates the Egyptian invasion of Syria and Ottoman reforms.


Traboulsi, Fawwaz. A History of Modern Lebanon. London: Pluto Press, 2007.

The book is a key reference for the history of Lebanon from the Ottoman conquest in 1523 to the end of the civil war in 1990. The first part covers the Ottoman period and includes a condensed but insightful analysis of Mount Lebanon’s peasant revolts and their role in bringing an end to the feudal (muqata’ji) regime by the end of the 19th century.

Akarlı, Engin. The Long Peace. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

‘Aqiqi, Antun Dahir. Thawra wa fitna fi Lubnan: Safha majhula min tarikh al-jabal min 1841 ila 1873. Ed. Yusuf Ibrahim Yazbak. Beirut: Matba‘at al-Ittihad, 1938.

Farah Caesar. The Politics of Interventionism in Ottoman Lebanon, 1830-1861. Oxford: Centre for Lebanese Studies and I.B. Tauris, 2000.

Chalcraft, John. Popular Politics in the Making of the Modern Middle East. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Havemann, Axel. Rurale Bewendegen im Libanongebirge des 19. Jahrhunderts: Ein Beitrag zur Problematiksozialer Veranderungen. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 1983.

Havemann, Axel. The Impact of Peasant Resistance on Nineteenth-Century Mount Lebanon." In Peasants and Politics in the Modern Middle East, ed. F. Kazemi and J. Waterbury, 85-100. Miami: Florida International University Press, 1991.

Hill, Peter. “How Global was the Age of Revolution? The Case of Mount Lebanon, 1821,” Journal of Global History 16 (2021), 65-84.

Khalaf, Samir. Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon: A History of the Internationalization of Communal Conflict. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Makdisi, Ussama S. "Corrupting the Sublime Sultanate: The Revolt of Tanyus Shahin in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon." Comparative Studies in Society and History 42 (January 2000): 180-208.

Makdisi, Ussama S. The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Mishaqa, Mikhail. Al-Jawab ‘ala iqtirah al-ahbab. Ed. and Tr. Wheeler M. Thackston Jr. as Murder Mayhem, Pillage, and Plunder: The History of the Lebanon in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988.

Ozavci, Ozan. Dangerous Gifts. Imperialism, Security and Civil Wars in the Levant, 1798-1864. Oxford, 2021.

Porath, Yehoshua. “The Peasant Revolts of 1858-61 in Kisrawan,” Asian and African Studies (1966), 77-157.

Shidyaq, Tannus ibn Yusuf. Kitab akhbar al-aʿyan fi Jabal Lubnan (Tales of the Notables in Mount Lebanon). Beirut:al-Maktaba al-Sharqiyya, 1970.

Traboulsi, Fawwaz. A History of Modern Lebanon. London: Pluto Press, 2007.

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