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Charles Gleyre, Three Fellahs (fr. Trois fellahs), 1835

Fellah (Arabic: فِلاح‎) (plural Fellaheen or Fellahin, فِلاحين), also alternatively known as Fallah (Arabic: فَلاح‎) (plural Fallaheen or Fallahin, فَلاحين) is a peasant, farmer or agricultural laborer in the Middle East. The word derives from the Arabic word for ploughman or tiller. During the time of the spread of Islam, it was used to distinguish between Arab settlers who were usually nomadic (i.e, bedouin), and the indigenous rural population (i.e, fellahin) of the conquered territories, such as the Egyptians, the Syriacs of the Levant and the Cypriots[1]. In later centuries, however, it came to be the ordinary term describing the rural working people, or farmers, of the region.[2]


The rural people of the Middle East

Fellahin was the term used throughout the Middle East in the Ottoman period and later to refer to villagers and farmers.[3] Nur Masalha translates it as "peasants". [4] They were distinguished from the effendi, or, landowning class,[5] although the fellahin in this region might be tenant farmers, smallholders, or live in a village that owned the land communally.[6][7] Others applied the term fellahin only to landless workers.[8] The term fellahin applied to Christian, Druze and Muslim villagers.[9] The term fellah was applied to people from several regions in the Middle East, including those of Egypt and Cyprus.[1]

Comprising 60% of the Egyptian population [3], the fellahin lead humble lives and continue to live in mud-brick houses like their ancient ancestors. Their percentage was much higher in the early 20th century, before the large influx of Egyptian fellahin into urban towns and cities. In 1927, anthropologist Winifred Blackman, author of The Fellahin of Upper Egypt, conducted ethnographic research on the life of Upper Egyptian farmers and concluded that there were observable continuities between the cultural and religious beliefs and practices of the fellahin and those of ancient Egyptians.[10]

Historical use of the term Fellahin in Egypt

"Fille Fellahin." A Victorian-era postcard of a young Fellahin girl of Egypt.

After the 7th-century Arab invasion of Egypt a social hierarchy was created whereby Egyptians who converted to Islam acquired the status of mawali or "clients" to the ruling Arab elite, while those who remained Christian, the Copts, became dhimmis. The privilege enjoyed by the Arab minority continued in a modified form into the modern period in the countryside, where remnants of Bedouin Arab tribes lived alongside Egyptian fellahin. One author describes the social demographics of rural Upper Egypt as follows:

Egyptian fellah.

Upper Egypt comprises the country's eight southernmost governorates. ... the region's history is one of isolated removal from the center of national life. The local relationships resulting from this centuries-old condition gave Upper Egypt an identity of its own within the modern Egyptian state. Alongside the even more ancient presence of Copts, tribal groupings dating from the Arab conquest combined to form a hierarchical order that placed two [minority] groups, the ashraf and the Arab, in dominating positions. These were followed by lesser tribes, with the [Egyptian] fellah at the bottom of the social scale(28) [...] Religion was central to the development of Upper Egyptian society. The ashraf claimed indirect descent from the Prophet, while the Arabs traced their lineage to a group of tribes from Arabia. On the other hand, the status of the fellahin rested on the belief that they descended from Egypt's pre-Islamic community and had converted to Islam, a history that placed them inescapably beneath both the Ashraf and Arabs. [...] In Muslim as well as Christian communities, and particularly at the lower socio-economic levels, religious practices are strongly imbued with non-orthodox folk elements, some of pharaonic origin.[11]

See also

  • Falah Kafr El-Hanadwa, a cartoon character that appears on Elakhbar.


  1. ^ a b "The Island of Cyprus; Climate, Soil, and Present Condition of England's New Acquisition", The New York Times, July 29, 1878
  2. ^ Land for the Fellahin: Land Tenure and Land Use in the Near East, Raymond E. Crist, Published by Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1961
  3. ^ Yemen into the twenty-first century: continuity and change By Kamil A. Mahdi, Anna Würth, Helen Lackner, Garnet & Ithaca Press, 2007, p.209 [1]
  4. ^ Catastrophe remembered: Palestine, Israel and the internal refugees : essays in memory of Edward W. Said (1935-2003), Nur Masalha, Zed Books, 2005, p. 78
  5. ^ State lands and rural development in mandatory Palestine, 1920-1948, Warwick P. N. Tyler, Sussex Academic Press, 2001, p. 13
  6. ^ Hillel Cohen, Army of Shadows, Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917–1948, University of California Press, 2008, p. 32
  7. ^ Healing the Land and the Nation: Malaria and the Zionist Project in Palestine, 1920-1947, Sandra Marlene Sufian, University of Chicago Press, 2007, p. 57
  8. ^ Lords of the Lebanese Marches: Violence and Narrative in an Arab Society, Michael Gilsenan, I.B.Tauris, 2003, p. 13
  9. ^ Syria and the Holy Land, George Adam Smith, George H. Doran company, 1918, p. 41 [2]
  10. ^ Faraldi, Caryll (11-17 May 2000). "A genius for hobnobbing". Al-Ahram Weekly.  
  11. ^ Dan Tsczhirgi (1999). "Marginalized Violent Internal Conflict In The Age Of Globalization: Mexico And Egypt". Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ) 21 (3): 3–34.  


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