“Baltajiah”


Jawad N. Adra

It would be interesting to study how and why certain words and expressions become widely used at a certain time and suddenly they disappear to perhaps appear again. In the case of Obama, “change” is the word. During the Syrian presence in Lebanon, no politician would make a statement or speech without mentioning “the unity of the two tracks” or “destiny and the path” or “the Syrian alternative”. When the American troops arrived in Baghdad, the then Iraqi Minister of Information used the word “uluj”. This word became popular for a while and now we hear it no more. Recently, in most political articles and interviews, the word “harak”, meaning movement, is “a la mode”. And following the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Cairo, the word “baltaji” has entered the political lexicon in the Arab World.
Following are some observations about the word “baltaji”.

First: the Baltaji family
It would perhaps be beneficial for the March 14 supporters who are popularizing this word in Lebanon to remember that the Baltaji family is Sunni and did not participate in the attack on the demonstrators in Tahrir Square nor in the famous 7th of May 2008 in Beirut. Perhaps they might be offended by the derogatory use of this word, but who cares, their number doesn’t exceed 130 voters.

Second: the word “baltaji” in Egypt
In the Turkish language, the word refers to an axeman, or a butcher or a logger. There used to be a battalion in the Ottoman army that would use the axe as a weapon. In the Sultan Diwan, there used to be a “baltaj” who would “discipline” people if they upset the Sultan. After the occupation of Egypt by the Ottomans in 1517 and when law and order broke down, a criminal would be referred to as a “baltaji”.

Third: the etymology of the word “baltaji” according to Ibn Manzour
“Balatnahom” means we fought them and “ablata” means bankrupt or broke, which confirms that a “baltaji” is a poor man. “Balat” is the axe in Arabic, which also confirms that he is the axeman.

Fourth: who are the real “baltajiah”?
The real “baltajiah” who attacked the demonstrators in Tahrir Square are those who ruled Egypt for more than thirty years. The real “baltajiah” in Lebanon are those warlords who committed atrocities and then procured an amnesty law for their crimes, and those who robbed and embezzled the Public Treasury and seized public property while watching Israel bombard their people. The real “baltajiah” are Western leaders who sold arms to dictators knowing well they will only be used to crush and oppress the people of this region.

Fifth: “Al Mubaya’ah”
It would be interesting for the researchers to study this word and its origin, according to Ibn Manzour again. In Islamic history, this word is a proof of a democratic tradition where people “youbayi’oun” i.e. support a ruler or a Khalif. Ibn Manzour tells us that although this word means a contract that one can romantically fantasize is a “social contract”, it could also be a sales contract where “one would sell what he has or himself” and obey … And that is “the deal”.

The roots of two words “baltajiah” and “mubaya’ah” might explain the way we are: “thugs” and “deals” do not build nations.

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