From the Ottoman Millet to Neo-milletism: Israel and Lebanon in Comparison

The proposed article introduces the main features of the millet system of personal laws, which is considered the most emblematic and oldest example of personal federalism adopted by the Ottoman Empire and maintained, in different forms, in some contemporary States. The first part of the contribution outlines the origin of the millet system, founded on the Islamic institute of dhimma, as well as its fundamentals and functioning under the Ottoman Empire. In so doing, particular emphasis is placed on the logic underlying the Ottoman millet system, as well as the main differences between this prototype of personal federalism and the protection of minorities, as conceived within the Western legal tradition. Moreover, the proposed contribution foregrounds a rather complex picture of Ottoman pluralism. Although, in principle, the millet system portrayed the society as made up of homogeneous communities, each millet was characterized by multiple ethnic, linguistic, and cultural realities. Indeed, intra-millets dynamism and the interactions between different tai’fe – i.e., smaller units within the millets – allowed for the crossing of identity boundaries within the religious groups. The second part of the paper addresses the influence of the Ottoman millet in Israel and Lebanon, where neo-millets systems grant recognized religious communities a large degree of administrative and jurisdictional autonomy, as well as, in Lebanon, the right to be represented in the parliament, the government and the public administration.

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