Egyptian Minorities: Europeans

Figure 1.--Until after World War II, Egypt had important Europen communities. The Armenians, Greeks, and Italians were especially important. Many of the Europeans were clustered in Alexandria and played a major role in the city after it was refounded in the early-19th century. The European children here, probably in the 1930s were from Cairo. We are not sure about their nationality, perhaps Italian. A reader thought they may have northern Italian origins.

Egypt until after World War II had a substantial European community, centered in Alexandria more than Cairo. One might think that the British would have been the largest group, but in fact they were a relativelty small group. The two largest groups were the Greeks and Italians, giving Alexandria a Mediterranean flavor. [Haag, p. 3.] Another important group was the Armenians. Many of the Greeks and Armenians came from Anatolia, refugees if rising Turkish nationalism. Both were very entrprenurial groups, envigorating the local economy with both small shops and business. The Italians provided much of architechts and enginners who helped build the modern city after it was refounded in the early-19th century. The tolerant atmpsphere and lack of radical nationlism or religious sentiment as well the rule of law attracted Europeans to Alexandria. The Italians were affected by World War II when Mussolini declared war on Britain and then invaded Egypt. The sutuation in Alexandria further changed after World War II with the rise of Egyptian nationlism fueled by Nassar. Egyptian Jews were thec first target and eventually expelled, but many of the Europeans also left Egypt as a result of the less tolerant atmophere and a decline in the rule of law. Many Egyptians felt that they would benefit by expelling Jews and the flight of the European communities. In fact the economy suffered from the loss of so many talented people and the economic consequencs of Nassar's Arab Socialism. There is a rich photographic record of these Eyuropean communities.


Armenians have a long history in Egypt. They have lived in Egypt for centuries, primarily an urban population. Most Armenians lived in Egypt's two largest cities. Cairo was traditionally the principal center of Armenian culture, but Alexandria was also important. Armenians tended to be better educated than average Egyptians. They tend to pursue careers as private businessmn and craftsmen rather than seek employment in the public sector. Armenians have heir own language, churches, and social institutions. The number of Armenians have declined in recent years as a result of integration with larger Egyptian Arab Muslim society and intermarriage with both Muslims and fellow Christian Copts. Armenians have also been emigrating. This process began with substnial numbers leaving Egypt since the 1952 Revolution. The Armenian community in Egypt was estimated at only 12,000 (1989). This process has since intensified by risingIslamic fundmentalist extremism and attacks in Christians in general. There are now only about 6,000 Armenian left in Egypt (2014). This is a substantial decline in only one generation.


Britain played an important role in Egypt for several decades. The major role at first was the supression of the slave trade. With the construction of the Suez Canal (1859-69), Egypt became vital to Empire security. India ws the most valuable imprial possession. Cutting the sailing time in half had valable strategic and economic consequences. Poor funancial management and heavy military spending by the Khedivate caused European financeers to took control of the treasury of Egypt. The Europeans forgave debt in return for taking control of the Suez Canal, and reoriented economic development toward economic development. Rising nationalist sentiment caused Britiin to establish what is often called a 'veiled' protectorate (1882). Britain did not turn Egypt in a colony, but did exert a significant influence through advisers placced in the various ministries. We are not sure, however, how many British subjects moved to Egypt. We are sure data exists on this, but we hav not yet found it. Unlike many colonies, we are not sure many British peoples moved to Egypt or became involved with large investments in the Egyptian economy. There were diplomats and civil servants advisting the Egyptian Governmnt. There was also the Army, but unlike diplomats and civil servnts, not many soldiers brought their fmily with them. We do not know, however, of many businessmen. We think most of the businessmen were involved in shipping and transport or associated with managemnt of the canal. Thus our initial asessment is the number of British subejcts was fairly limited. Hopefully we can eventully find some data. And the number would have declined when Egypt moved toward independence after World War I. Virtually remaining English subjects left when Nassar seized the Canal (1956).


Data on Greeks in Egypt is confusing. We see one estimate of 0.3 million Greeks making it the country's largest ethnic minority with exception of the Bedouin. Other sources suggest only a fraction of this number. There is a long historical relationship betweem Egypt and Greece. Greeks have lived in Egypt since ancient times when they were an important trading people. Egypt was a wonder to the ancient Greeks and an important influence. The Greeks were a trading and sefaring people and as a result had early contacts with the Egyptians. The cultural and academic contacts between the two peoples were an important aspect of the current Mediterranean mosaic. Early Greek art shows a strong Egyptian influence. Alexander the Great of course brought Greek rule to Egypt and after his death, a Greek dynasty (the Poltolmies) ruled Egypt until after Ceasar's asasination, Octavian defeated Anthony and Cleopatra and annexed Egypt into the Roman Empire. Since that time, the Greeks have remained culturally, linguistically, and religiously separate from the larger Egyptian socuety. This continued after the Arab invasion (7th century). The majority of Egyptian Greeks lived in Alexandria and to a lesser extent Cairo. We see, however, Greek communities in many smaller cities as well. They tended to remain culturally destinct from the Egyptian people, especially after the Arab Islamic conquest. The major Greek presence ended in the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. Egyptian officials forced many to leave ending the unique relationship. Nassar and other Egyptian nationalists as well as Muslim clerics were convinced that expelling the Jews would benefit Egypt. This additude although not as extreme has affected other minority groups, especially non-Muslim groups like the Greeks. In fact the expelling of many talented individual, was one factor in the abject failure of the Egyptian economy. Unfortunately, many Egyptians like Arabs in genheral do not understand the value of tolerance and diversity and are intent on making Egypt a uniformally Muslim country with little or no diversity of thought and behavior. The exodus of Greeks from Egypt started before the revolution of 1952. The rise to power of Gamal Abdel Nasser, rise of Pan-Arab nationalism, and the subsequent nationalisation of many industries (1961-63) caused thousands of Greeks to flee the country. Major destinatins were Australia, the United States, Canada, South Africa, Western Europe, and Greece. Many Greek schools, churches, small communities and institutions subsequently closed, but some still continue to function to this day. The Nasser regime saw a big exodus of the Greeks from Egypt, but most of the minority left the country either before or after the period 1952-1970. The Greek community may now only amount to 5,000 people. POartly because of this, as oneauthor writes, "Alexandria, once the pulsing cosmopolitan heart of the Arab World, is now the base of Egypt’s Salafists, a hardline Islamist movement ...." [Traub]


Italians seem the largest European community in Alexandria. The Italians provided much of architechts and enginners who helped build the modern city after it was refounded in the early-19th century. The Italians were affected by World War II when Mussolini declared war on Britain and then invaded Egypt.


Traub, James. "The lighthouse dims," Foreign Policy (2018).


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Created: 8:18 AM 11/7/2016
Last updated: 9:08 AM 7/2/2018