By: Joseph Hakim
I was born in Alexandria in 1931 and I left Egypt in 1957 after the Suez War called in hebrew - Mivtsa’a Kadesh”.
During this period - and before the year 1931 - the Jews in Egypt have passed through several situations from the best to the difficult one coming to the pick of difficulties and almost persecution since end of October 1956 when the Egyptian Authorities decided to act violently against them.
The turning point against the Jews started in fact with intensity at the end of WWII by the Islamic organization “The Moslem Brothers”, behind them a semi-nazi movement who was ready to welcome a German occupation of Egypt at the period of Al-Alamein - acted as well and gave the “Brothers” an ideological help.
Jews were about 80.000 in Egypt - half in Cairo, half in Alexandria, very few were living in Port-Said and some in small rural cities like Tantah in the Delta and Beni-Souef in upper-Egypt.
Most of the Jews were citizens - or “protégés” - of countries like France, Britain, Italy, Greece, some were Egyptians by nationality and 20000 or more were of “undetermined nationality” .
Those 20,000 were born in Egypt, with fathers or mothers born in Egypt but were not considered by the Authorities as Egyptians so with no rights like others!
The Jewish community of Egypt was very heterogeneous by origin, by education, by fortune! We were Jews from Yemen, Russia, Syria, Poland, Iraq, Greece, North of Africa, Italy etc.. most coming to Alexandria and Cairo immediately after the opening of the Suez Canal like other peoples from all over Europe - hoping to get a part of the prosperity the Suez Canal will bring to Egypt!
Indeed they did, and also they did a lot to the prosperity of Egypt itself in agriculture, textile industries, and import- export activities and even to Egyptian cinema industry during its first years! Jews in Alexandria had a very positive influence on finances - at the stock market - in banking business (Banque Zilka - Banque Mosseri), in heavy industrial equipments (Mosseri-Curiel), in cotton agriculture and industries (Dorra - Aghion - Gohar) some even in arts (painters- Andree Sasson), in sport (Maccabi Alexandria till 1949 was one the best basketball team in Egypt).The “Hopital Israelite” of Alexandria was one of the best in town with fine doctors like Meinzer, Katz, Shabatay and more)
In Education, we had the popular Aghion school, the fancy Lycee de l’Union Juive, Ecole Menache and Ecole Ben-Maymon.
During the WWII and till 1948 the chief Rabbi of Alexandria was Dr Moise Ventura one of the most distinguish personality of the Alexandrian society. Dr. Ventura has never hidden his Zionist ideology, so he was “invited” to leave Egypt with the creation of the State of Israel.
The anti-Semite attitude took a new turning point when King Farouk decided to start the 15th of May 1948 a war against the small and new-born state of Israel in order to glorify himself - (some said that he was pressed by the British to start this war. Let’s remember that the British by an English general were leading the Jordan army against Israel at the same time - so we may consider the idea that Great Britain was after the decision of the Arab countries to start that war hoping to be back in ”Palestine” with an eventual Israel disaster).
During the “Farouk” campaign, hundreds of “suspected Jews” were put in concentration camps in Alexandria and Cairo for several months some more than a year. The conditions in those camps were not very bad - at least from what I know in Alexandria.
In Cairo fanatic Moslems attacked the Jewish quarter provoking the death of 40 or 50 peoples, Jewish business in Cairo center were also under the violence of the Moslem Brothers, the authorities never did enough to stop or to prevent those acts.
The Public Opinion in Cairo - I mean the Media - was absolutely under control of the censorship in spite of the semi-democratic regime in Egypt during those years.
Consequently, Jews in Cairo and Alexandria feeling insecure decided to leave - most for Israel -, This new exodus from Egypt in the modern times was during the whole year of 1949 when more than ten thousands left Egypt. Those Jews waited at least 6 months to obtain the “exit-visa” after weeks of enquiring.
The years 50-52 brought a kind of calm for the Jews - a relative calm - since the Moslem Brothers with some young army officers were acting in the underground to destroy King Farouk personality by all ways using - as it is current everywhere - the Jews as one of the main factors of the regime corruption!
A date that no one can forget was the 26th of January 1952 in Cairo when very well organized groups attacked and set fire hundreds of Jewish business and others supposed to be Jewish: like Metro cinema, Shepherd’s hotel etc... the police staying passive. All Cairo Center and “European sites “ were in fire! Farouk accused the Wafd Government to be responsible of the disorders; he dismissed Prime Minister Nahas Pacha and named a new government headed by his pet Aly Maher Pacha!
The same day Alexandria was about to live this fate, but governor Mortada Al-Maraghy prevented the disaster and arrested the mass groups at the “doors of the City”!
Many Jews were killed during this day - including one of my relatives at Shepherd’s Hotel Mrs. Dorra -nee Sasson. King Farouk regime was vacillating, the “free” young officers as they called themselves led by Nasser became more powerful. Six months later they decided to try the July revolution, asking general Mohamed Naguib to head them!
This event had a success that no one dreamed about! Naguib was considered a hero - and Nasser - the principal actor - was certainly not pleased with that!
But the main difference between the two men was in fact that Naguib wanted a better approach with the Occident world and Nasser dreamed of a pan-Arab community headed by Egypt - and himself - in order to share with Saudi, Kuwait, Bahrain and others oil countries the petro-dollars!
Rumors said that Naguib was willing to have some a peaceful relationship with Israel but I don’t know any evidence about.
A new turning point for the Jews - not only for the Jews but for all the Near-East, Israel Egypt herself - started when J.F Dulles - secretary of state of Eisenhower - refused the loan to Egypt to build the Aswan Dam “-AL-Sad Al-Ali” in the year of 1956!
The 26th of July 1956 and after a 3-hour long speech Nasser declared the nationalization of the Suez Canal came - 3 months later - the Suez war, a doubtful campaign of Britain, France and Israel against Egypt.
The result: Thousand of Jews were put again in camps with very bad conditions and kept there several months other were expelled from Egypt in no time - a 24 hours delay All their estates, business, money in banks were confiscated. A terrible atmosphere of insecurity and a total panic for others that decided to leave almost everything and to get out alive.
The second Exodus from Egypt in the modern times started.
Almost all the Jewish community of Cairo and Alexandria left. By the end of 57 beginning of 58 no more than 4-5 thousands Jews decided to stay in Egypt!
When the six-day war begun, most of the men among them were put in jail in terrible conditions during for more than 2 years! Some died from persecutions!
I have don’t have many details about the years between 57 and 67, all I know is from what I heard later from the Jews that came to Israel. Very few remained in Egypt in spite of all, I met some of them in Cairo and Alexandria at my first visit in January 1981 after the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. They were 50 Jewish men in Alexandria at this date, the number of Jewish women was not known.
My last visit to Alexandria was in January 92, I found no more than 7-8 men of the wonderful and dynamic of what was Jewish community of this City !
As a Jew born in Egypt I consider myself twice lucky:
because I was born there as a Jew in 1931 - not in Poland, not in Germany, not in Austria, not in Greece, not in France. Since we know what happened to the Jews born in those countries!
I invite every one who wants to correct things or to ask questions to contact be at:
Joseph Hakim Pob. 13089 Jerusalem 91130 -Israel or E-mail:email@example.com