Overview - Modern History of Greek Communities in Egypt
Overview - Modern History of Greek Communities in Egypt
"In 1907, the census showed 6,924 Greeks living in Egypt. By 1940, Greeks numbered about 25,120. The Greek community in Alexandria lived around the church and convent of Sabbas the Sanctified. In the same area there was a guest house for Greek travelers, a Greek hospital and later a Greek school. The Greek Orthodox bishop was based in Damietta in the church of Nikolaos of Myrna.
In Cairo, the first organised Greek community was founded in 1856, with the community based in three main neighbourhoods: Tzouonia, Haret el Roum (Street of the Greeks), and in Hamzaoui. The patriarchate was based in Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, Azbakeya. The monastery of Saint George, in Old Cairo still survives. The monastery is surrounded by a huge wall and topped by a stone tower. Within its walls there was a Greek hospital, a school and housing for the elderly and poor.
In addition to the Greek communities of Alexandria and Cairo, there were the organised Greek communities of Mansoura, founded in 1860, Port Said, founded in 1870, Tanta in 1880, and the community of Zagazig in 1850. There were fifteen smaller communities across Egypt and mainly around Cairo and Alexandria. In Upper Egypt, the oldest ancient Greek community was the one of Minia which was founded in 1812.
The first banks in Egypt were crafted by Greeks, including the Bank of Alexandria, the Anglo-Egyptian bank (Sunadinos family / Συναδινός), and the General Bank of Alexandria. Also, it was the Greek agriculturists and farmers that first systematically and with scientific planning, cultivated cotton and tobacco. They improved the quantity and quality of production and dominated cotton and tobacco exports. Notable families in tobacco commerce were the Salvagos (Σαλβάγκος), Benakis (Μπενάκης), Rodochanakis (Ροδοχανάκης) and Zervoudachis (Ζερβουδάκης). The tobacco cultivars used for cigarette manufacturing, e.g., by Kyriazi Freres, were of Greek origin. A thriving commerce between Greece and Egypt was thus established. Other areas of interest for the Greeks in Egypt were foods, wine, soap, wood crafts, printing.
In the food industry, the macaroni industries of Melachrinos (Μελαχροινός) and Antoniados (Αντωνιάδης) were well known. Another example was the cheese and butter production of Archyriou (Αργυρίου), Roussoglou (Ρουσσόγλου) and Paleoroutas (Παλαιορούτας). Chocolate-Biscuits and Toffee producers were: Daloghlou (Δαλόγλου), Russos (Ρούσσος), Repapis (Ρεπάπης); Oil-soaps-vegetable fats (Salt & Soda) producers like Zerbinis (Ζερμπίνης) were based in Kafr al-Zayat. There were many Greek theatres and cinemas. Major Greek newspapers were Ta grammata (Τα Γράμματα), "Tahidromos"(Ταχυδρόμος), and Nea Zoi (Νέα Ζωή). The Greek community in Egypt has produced numerous artists, writers, diplomats and politicians, the most famous being the poet Constantine P. Cavafy (Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης), also the painter Konstantinos Parthenis (Κωνσταντίνος Παρθένης).
During the Balkan Wars, the Greek communities of Egypt sent volunteers, funded hospitals, and accommodated families of the soldiers. During World War II (1940–1945), more than 7000 Greeks fought for the Allies in the Middle East; 142 died. Their financial contribution reached 2500 million Egyptian pounds. After the Suez Crisis, the British and French laborers left while the Greeks stayed.
Dionysios Kasdaglis, ethnic Greek Egyptian tennis player at the Athens Olympics in 1896
The emergence of a Greek aristocracy of rich industrialists, commercants and bankers created the legacy of Greek-Egyptian philanthropism. These benefactors donated large amounts for the building of schools, academies, hospitals and institutions in both Egypt and Greece. Michail Tositsas donated large amounts for the building of the Athens University, the Amalio Orphanage and the Athens Polytechnic. His wife Eleni Tositsa donated the land for the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. George Averoff also contributed to the building of the National Technical University of Athens, the Evelpidon Military Academy and the donation of the cruiser Averoff to the Hellenic Navy. Emmanouil Benakis contributed to the building of the National Gallery of Athens, while his son Antonis Benakis was the founder of the Benaki Museum. Other major benefactors include Nikolaos Stournaras, Theodoros Kotsikas, Nestoras Tsanaklis, Konstantinos Horemis, Stefanos Delta, Penelope Delta, Pantazis Vassanis and Vassilis Sivitanidis.
The exodus of Greeks from Egypt started before the revolution of 1952. With the establishment of the new sovereign regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser, rise of Pan-Arab nationalism, and the subsequent nationalisation of many industries in 1961 and 1963, thousands of Greek employees decided to abandon the country. Many of them emigrated to Australia, the United States, Canada, South Africa, Western Europe, and Greece. Many Greek schools, churches, small communities and institutions subsequently closed, but many 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 Arab-Israeli wars of 1956 and 1967 contributed to the uprooting of the sizeable Greek community in the Suez Canal cities, especially Port Said.
Today the Greek community numbers officially about 5,000 people although many of Greek origin are now counted as Egyptian, having changed their nationality. In Alexandria, apart from the Patriarchate, there is a Patriarchal theology school that opened recently after 480 years being closed. Saint Nicholas church in Cairo and several other buildings in Alexandria have been recently renovated by the Greek Government and the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation. Saint George's church in Old Cairo is undergoing restoration to end in 2014. During the last decade, there has been a new interest from the Egyptian government for a diplomatic rapprochement with Greece and this has positively affected the Greek Diaspora. The Diaspora has received official visits of many Greek politicians. Economic relationships between Greece and Egypt have expanded. As of 2010, Egypt has received major Greek investments in banking, tourism, paper, the oil industry, & many others. In 2009, a five-year cooperation-memorandum was signed among the NCSR Demokritos Institute in Agia Paraskevi, Athens and the University of Alexandria, regarding Archeometry research and contextual sectors."