restricted access Performers or Prostitutes?: Artistes during the French Mandate over Syria and Lebanon, 1921–1946

Analyzing memoirs from the Arab diaspora and Mashriq, colonial archives, interviews, League of Nations reports, and mandate legal literature, this article tracks the circulation and regulation of mobile women engaging in performance and sex work in French Mandate Syria and Lebanon (1921–46). The French metropolitan system of regulated prostitution was imported yet transformed in the mandate region as women performers were sorted into legitimate, if morally suspect, foreign artistes and autochthonous performers defined as prostitutes by decrees and codes. Regional and transnational mobility and the institutionalization of borders by colonial administrations destabilized their own distinctions between foreign and autochthonous, however. Women used these contradictions, overlapping legal frameworks, and artistry to continue to work and limit the extraction of their resources by a variety of institutional actors who nevertheless expected sexual and entertainment services to be afforded to foreign and local men.