9. Opposing Camp David and Remembering the Jews of Egypt
Trends in Recent Egyptian Historical Writing
By the time of Anwar al-Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in November 1977, an entire generation of Egyptians had matured having never personally seen or known a Jew. They often had great difficulty imagining Jews as members of the Egyptian national community. There were no more than several hundred Jews in Egypt in the late 1970s. Their existence and their history had rarely been mentioned in the Egyptian mass media or in scholarly writing since the 1956 Suez/Sinai War. Those determined to do so could still find public evidence of a substantial Jewish presence in Egypt's recent past in the names of department stores throughout the country (Cicurel, Benzion, etc.), shops in the Sagha, Muski, and Suq al-Hamzawi quarters of Cairo, and the synagogues and other communal buildings that remained standing in Cairo and Alexandria. But these names and sites meant little to most Egyptians or foreign visitors. The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 prompted nationalist Egyptian intellectuals to take an interest in the modern history of the Jews of Egypt for the first time in a generation. Because Egyptian writers have been motivated by opposition to the terms of the peace treaty, the representation of Egyptian Jews in their recent work is largely negative and even anti-Semitic.
Since the appearance of Yehoshafat Harkabi's Arab Attitudes to Israel, Israeli researchers have regularly compiled catalogs of instances of Egyptian and Arab anti-Semitism. Rivka Yadlin has argued that anti-Semitic writings published in Egypt after the signing of the peace treaty with Israel expressed a “primordial, general animosity towards the Jewish-Zionist complex” conceptually equating Jews, Zionists, and Israelis. This primordial animosity persisted and perhaps even increased despite the formal peace. Such ahistorical essentialism cannot constitute an adequate explanation for any social phenomenon. The anti-Semitic elements in post-1979 Egyptian representations of Egyptian Jews examined in this chapter have been motivated not by racial or religious animosity, but by opposition to the peace agreement with Israel. The historical themes and concerns of the authors are shaped by contemporary political criticisms of the terms of the treaty, its limitations, and apprehensions about the consequences of its implementation. This contextualization does not excuse expressions of anti-Semitism; it merely historicizes them and differentiates them from ideologically or theologically based sentiments that have long histories in European culture.
The recent writings of nationalist intellectuals I survey in this chapter constitute a genre distinct from texts in the Islamic tradition. Although hatred of Jews does not have the same theological basis in Islam as in Christianity, there is an identifiable Islamic style of vilifying Jews (just as there are Islamic formulae for promoting Muslim-Christian-Jewish coexistence, though they have not been prominently disseminated recently). The public presence of this discourse has expanded dramatically as the Islamist movement has become the principal opposition to the government since the 1980s. But I do not examine it here because its main themes are much more predictable and are fairly consistent with the representations of Jews promoted by the Muslim Brothers and Young Egypt since the late 1930s (see Chapter 3).
The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty raised in Egypt at least as many fears as hopes about future relations between the two countries. The 1978 Camp David accords, the precursor to the treaty, separated the fundamental question of Palestine from the narrower issue of Egypt's recovery of its territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war in exchange for the conclusion of a peace agreement and “normalization” of Egyptian-Israeli relations. The framework for resolving of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict negotiated at Camp David was unacceptable to the PLO and the vast majority of Palestinians because it did not recognize their right to national self-determination and did not require any Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Moreover, because Israel would not then consider negotiating with the PLO, implementation of this framework was to be resolved through Egyptian-Israeli negotiations, which soon reached an impasse. Nonetheless, normalization of Egyptian-Israeli relations moved steadily forward despite the stalemate on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
For nationalist Egyptians, Israel's actions in the Arab world after al-Sadat's visit to Jerusalem—the invasions of Lebanon in 1978 and 1982, the bombing of the nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981, and the extended repression of the Palestinian intifada from 1987 on—seemed inconsistent with peace between Egypt and Israel. Even many who did not oppose the concept of peace with Israel in principle rejected the Camp David process because it did not adequately address the grievances of the Palestinian Arabs. Some feared that formally abandoning the Arab rhetorical consensus on Palestine would weaken Egypt's leading position in the Arab world. Intellectuals were particularly apprehensive that they might become isolated from their colleagues and broader Arab audiences. Symbolically and materially, the treaty expressed Anwar al-Sadat's abandonment of the Nasserist program of pan-Arab solidarity, Arab socialism, and positive neutralism in favor of local Egyptianism, opening the economy to foreign trade and capital, and alignment with the United States. Opposition to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was therefore often an element of a broader program of resistance to al-Sadat's economic, political, and diplomatic reorientation.
As an expression of their opposition to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, many Egyptian intellectuals declared a total boycott of Israel and all the consequences of the normalization of Egyptian-Israeli relations. They refused to meet official and unofficial Israeli visitors, even Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. Protests and demonstrations against Israeli participation in the Cairo Book Fair constituted an annual rallying point for proponents of a cultural boycott of Israel in the early 1980s. The Committee to Defend the National Culture was organized in response to what some leftist intellectuals considered the subversion of Egypt's authentic national culture by Zionist influences. Universities, research centers, publishing houses, and cultural institutions refused all forms of contact and collaboration with their Israeli counterparts. Nonetheless, the new political circumstances impelled journalists and others to engage in public discussion of a wide range of topics related to Israel, Zionism, and Jews.
These conditions informed the emergence of the modern history of the Jews of Egypt as an object of systematic knowledge for Egyptian intellectuals. Before the treaty, only one Arabic book on this topic (as distinct from Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict) had been published in Egypt. From the early 1980s on, Egyptians opposed to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty produced a regular stream of texts on this theme. These historical works are often based on extensive research documented in academic style, creating the effect of constituting objective, scientific knowledge. However, the history of the Egyptian Jewish community is usually presented in an antagonistic and tendentious manner as little more than a prologue to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Political opposition to the Egyptian-Israeli treaty broadened the circle of Egyptians willing to indulge in anti-Semitic representations of Egyptian Jews beyond the Muslim Brothers and Young Egypt to intellectuals with a secular, nationalist orientation. Their writings are the principal concern of this chapter.
My discussion of these texts concentrates on two themes: the Egyptianity of Jews and their role in the Egyptian economy from the late nineteenth century until 1956. These topics have been particularly prominent in the writing of secular nationalist intellectuals because they enable the exclusion of Jews from the Egyptian national community in terms that can be made to appear consistent with modern European conceptions of the nation-state and the duties of its loyal citizens. The first of these questions has been a central concern of this book, and it seems appropriate to note how contemporary Egyptian intellectuals view the matter. Representing Jews as economic parasites, usurers, and rapacious capitalists has a long tradition in Europe and has now become quite common in Egypt. But it would be incorrect to argue that Egyptians have simply imported European anti-Semitic stereotypes. Many Jews did occupy a privileged position between European capital and Egypt, and it is necessary to consider carefully its development over time to understand it adequately. My response to these accounts of the Jewish role in the Egyptian economy allows me to suggest some general ideas about how to theorize the concept of imperialism and the role of mutamassir (resident ethnic minority) entrepreneurs in Egypt, including Jews, in light of recent research.
Can Jews Be Egyptians?
The title of Siham Nassar's study of the Egyptian Jewish press, al-Yahud al-misriyyun bayna al-misriyya wa’l-sahyuniyya (The Egyptian Jews between Egyptianism and Zionism), succinctly poses the fundamental issue in most post-1979 Egyptian works on Egyptian Jewish history: Are Egyptian Jews real Egyptians? The intensification of the Arab-Israeli conflict after 1948 gradually diminished the numbers of Arab and Egyptian intellectuals and publicists willing to insist on differentiating between local Jewish communities and Zionism and the state of Israel. As noted in Chapter 4, the Egyptian government officially continued to maintain this distinction during the prosecution of the Operation Susannah network in 1954 and beyond, though during and after the 1956 war its practical significance diminished considerably. By minimizing the distinction between Jews and Zionists, Nassar effectively reverses the official position of the Egyptian government and the dominant political currents of the country in the first half of the twentieth century. According to Nassar, while Jews enjoyed all the civic rights guaranteed by the 1923 constitution, “most of the Jews, who found in Egypt every consideration, supported Zionism.” 
‘Awatif ‘Abd al-Rahman's al-Sahafa al-sahyuniyya fi misr, 1897–1954 (The Zionist press in Egypt) was issued by a publishing house associated with the Communist Party of Egypt. She uses many of the same primary sources as Siham Nassar and seems to have relied extensively on Nassar's unpublished M.A. thesis, which was readily available to her because ‘Abd al-Rahman is on the faculty at Cairo University's College of Communications, where Nassar received her degree. ‘Abd al-Rahman introduces some distinctively Marxist themes into the argument: Zionism flourished in Egypt as a consequence of a specific economic and social formation imposed by imperialism. Poorer Jews were more closely linked to Egyptian society and culture. The communists, including the Jewish Anti-Zionist League established by members of the Iskra organization, were sincere anti-Zionists. These themes lead ‘Abd al-Rahman to a less categorical condemnation of Egyptian Jews than Nassar. Nonetheless, the two books follow the same basic line of exposition, and ‘Abd al-Rahman is complicit in delegitimizing Jews as Egyptians even though Marxist theory regarded Jews throughout the Arab world as properly citizens of their country of birth, just as in Europe and elsewhere.
The main source for the research of both Nassar and ‘Abd al-Rahman is the Egyptian Jewish press in Arabic. This provides a substantial documentary basis for their work. But it also gives them great leeway to interpret texts without reference to their social context. They have little appreciation for nuances of opinion within the Jewish community, and their analysis is always open to attributing the worst of motives to Jews.
For example, Nassar acknowledges that encouraging the Egyptianization and Arabization of the Jewish community was one of the most important goals of the Arabic Jewish weekly, al-Shams, established in 1934. But she unreasonably complains that this did not extend to intermarriage with Muslims and Christians or cultural assimilation. Unsupported by any evidence, Nassar speculates that the Egyptianization campaign of al-Shams might have been an “application of a higher Zionist policy designed by the Jewish Agency.” It was not a result of the editors' “belief that the Jews were a part of Egyptian society,” but rather from their “belief in the necessity of being loyal to and being part of that society.”  Like Nassar, ‘Abd al-Rahman regards al-Shams simply as a Zionist publication.
The editor of al-Shams, Sa‘d Malki, embraced both Egyptian nationalism and moderate Zionism, as many Egyptian Jews did in the 1920s. Malki's distinction was to maintain these dual commitments until May 1948, when al-Shams was closed by the government. His outlook was internally inconsistent and ultimately untenable, but that does not necessarily make it insincere. Malki's emphasis on the Egyptian and Eastern character of Egyptian Jews was not particularly welcome in the Zionist movement and is unlikely to have been inspired by any official Zionist body. Rather, his contradictory political commitments express the hybrid identities and loyalties shared by many Egyptian Jews.
Similarly, based on al-Kalim's publication of a letter from an individual Karaite expressing his concern that there were not enough Karaites in Jerusalem to maintain their synagogue and proposing that young Karaites consider moving there to fulfill this religious duty, Nassar accused the Karaite newspaper of encouraging “the immigration of Egyptian Jews to Palestine.”  Having established that the Karaites were Zionists on the basis of this evidence, she regards al-Kalim's criticism of the establishment of the state of Israel and its repeated assertions that the Karaites were integrated among the Egyptian people as a ruse.
‘Abd al-Rahman does not appear to regard al-Kalim as a Zionist organ because she does not discuss it at all. By failing to mention al-Kalim, she avoids a topic that would have allowed her to demonstrate the existence of a community of Arabized Jews who considered themselves Egyptians, participated in Arabo-Egyptian culture, and were not, as a community, political Zionists.
Both Nassar and ‘Abd al Rahman acknowledge that Albert Mizrahi, the publisher of al-Tas‘ira, al-Misbah, and al-Saraha (see Chapter 3 and also the discussion of Maurice Shammas's “Cafe Lanciano” in Chapter 8), was not a Zionist. Nassar undermines Mizrahi's political stand by arguing that he was motivated solely by financial gain and promoted his newspapers by extortion and incitement. ‘Abd al-Rahman is willing to regard Mizrahi's political stand as sincere. Nonetheless, like Nassar, she concludes that the Zionist press successfully recruited “the great majority of Egyptian Jews to serve its propaganda objectives.” 
Both Nassar and ‘Abd al-Rahman espouse an organicist conception of Egyptian national identity that allows religious and ethnic minorities little space for any expression of collective identity. This same conception has motivated recent expressions of hostility to defining Copts and Nubians as minorities in Egypt. Nonetheless, they regard Egyptian national sentiment as extremely fragile and easily undermined by the Zionist ideas promoted in the Jewish press. Thus, some of the leading political thinkers and authors of the twentieth century, such as Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid, Ahmad Shawqi, Muhammad Husayn Haykal, and Taha Husayn, were easily duped into collaborating with Zionism (a prominent example mentioned by Nassar and ‘Abd al-Rahman is Taha Husayn's service as editor of al-Katib al-Misri, a literary journal owned by the Harari brothers).
Other recent modern histories of Egyptian Jews by ‘Arfa ‘Abduh ‘Ali and Sa‘ida Muhammad Husni follow Siham Nassar's and ‘Awatif ‘Abd al-Rahman's conception of the Jews as foreigners who overwhelmingly embraced Zionism. Nabil ‘Abd al-Hamid Sayyid Ahmad, a professor at Minya University who is not a propagandist for radical Islamist views, extends this perspective to its extreme limit by expressing a certain sympathy for the view of the Muslim Brothers, who rejected the proposition that one could and should distinguish between the Jews of Egypt and the Jews of Palestine (and later Israel). Ultimately, he argues, “reality proved that it is difficult to distinguish between a Zionist Jew and one who is not.”  Ahmad thus effectively obliterates the distinction between Jews and Zionists.
One of the few published opinions in the 1980s to insist on the importance of upholding this distinction is Shihata Harun's Yahudi fi al-qahira (A Jew in Cairo). Harun joined the Democratic Movement for National Liberation led by Henri Curiel in the 1940s and ultimately became a member of the Communist Party of Egypt. He is one of the handful of Jewish communists who continued to live in Egypt after the 1950s. His book is a collection of letters, interviews, and essays written from 1967 to 1985 in which he defines himself as an Egyptian Jew, an anti-Zionist, an Egyptian nationalist, a supporter of the national rights of the Palestinian people, and an opponent of the Camp David process. In a 1975 interview in Ruz al-Yusuf, Harun stated, “I am a Jew, yes, and a leftist, yes. But the most important characteristic is that I am an Egyptian. As far as I know, being an Egyptian is not conditional on changing either my religion or my political beliefs.” 
The interviewer, Salah Hafiz, was a former communist who was prepared to offer Harun a forum for this argument. But many of Harun's comrades were less bold. The name of the Marxist publishing house that issued Yahudi fi al-qahira was slightly altered on the title page of the book (Dar al-Thaqafa al-Haditha instead of Dar al-Thaqafa al-Jadida), suggesting that the directors of the press were ambivalent about Harun's position and unwilling to take full public responsibility for it even though it was entirely consistent with orthodox Marxist doctrine.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Harun often expressed his views to the Arab and international press and at international conferences. Nonetheless, he was arrested with all the other able-bodied Jewish males during the 1967 war; and he was arrested as a communist in 1975 and again in 1979. Neither the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser nor that of Anwar al-Sadat was willing to accept the sincerity of his anti-Zionist and Egyptian nationalist commitments or his Marxist convictions. By the mid-1980s, very few Egyptians (mainly some of those who had been strongly influenced by Marxism for a period of their lives) were willing to insist publicly on making a principled political distinction between Jews and Zionists.
Jewish Capitalism in Egypt
One of the great apprehensions among Egyptian nationalist opponents of peace with Israel was that normalizing economic relations would permit Israel's technologically more advanced and more highly capitalized economy to undermine Egypt's national economy. Israel would then be able to dominate Egypt economically, as they believed foreign capital had done in the era of British supremacy. These concerns were enhanced by the already visible negative effects of President Anwar al-Sadat's open door economic policy introduced in 1974 and by his extravagant public statements about Egyptian-Israeli relations, such as his proposal to divert part of the Nile River waters to irrigate the Israeli Negev. Al-Sadat's policy of pursuing peace with Israel was linked to his drive to reintegrate Egypt into the world capitalist market, so those who opposed his economic policies tended to oppose his diplomatic reorientation toward the West and toward peace with Israel and attempted to show the connection between the two.
One of the early and prominent expressions of this sentiment was a series of articles by Anis Mustafa Kamil on the history of “Jewish capitalism in Egypt.” These articles provided those who opposed al-Sadat's economic and diplomatic policies with a historical argument characterizing the Egyptian Jewish business elite as compradors who made their fortunes by collaborating with the economic domination of Egypt by European capital. They appeared in the respected al-Ahram al-Iqtisadi (Ahram economist), a serious weekly representing the left wing of establishment opinion. Despite Kamil's assertion that the object of his study is “Jewish capitalism” and not the Jewish faith, he promotes a conspiratorial view that resonates with anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jewish financial power.
Kamil's analysis is based on the assertion that “the Jewish groups that undertook a capitalist role in Egyptian history were predominantly non-Egyptian in origin”—a factor he regards as constant throughout the Pharaonic, Ptolemaic, Fatimid, Ottoman, and modern eras. In addition to this ahistorical conception of Jewish economic history, Kamil relies on absolutist economic and cultural categories. Thus, he classifies any firm with significant Jewish participation as “Jewish,” exaggerating the influence of Jewish investors and corporate managers (which was certainly substantial) and permitting their representation as a monolithic bloc of Jewish capital that can easily be distinguished from other blocs of capital and from the authentic Egyptian national economy, to which it is alien.
For Kamil, both Jews and capitalism are inherently external and antagonistic to the organic and authentic Egyptian political and economic community, whose parameters he never specifies. His desire to identify Jews with a capitalist ethos foreign to Egypt leads to some ludicrous misunderstandings—for example, the notion that Karaite Jews originating in North Africa were more entrepreneurial than the Rabbanite majority because they embraced a Weberian Protestant spirit. Although some Karaites did emigrate to Egypt from Tunisia in the nineteenth century, most had resided in Egypt for many centuries, and they tended to be the most culturally and economically assimilated Jews. For Kamil, the otherness of the Jews explains the comprador character of their economic activity, its nefarious effects on Egypt's national economy, and Jewish collaboration with French and British imperialism and Zionism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Thus, he concludes, “It is impossible to speak of Jewish capitalism except as a branch of imperialist capitalism.” 
Nabil ‘Abd al-Hamid Sayyid Ahmad develops Kamil's line of argument in three books, two of which are devoted exclusively to the recent history of Egyptian Jews. Ahmad received his doctorate from the premier institution for the study of the modern history of Egypt, ‘Ayn Shams University, and he is a professor of modern and contemporary history at Minya University. His books are based on extensive research in the files of the Department of Corporations (Maslahat al-Sharikat) and other archival materials. The most recent of his three volumes includes a preface endorsed by the prestigious Center for the Documentation and History of Contemporary Egypt. Both his first and third books were published by the state-owned General Egyptian Book Organization. Because Nabil ‘Abd al-Hamid Sayyid Ahmad's scholarly formation and career profile are linked to major Egyptian institutions, his research method and intellectual outlook have great credibility.
Like most Egyptians who have written on Egyptian Jewish history, Ahmad reminds us that Jews enjoyed excellent economic conditions in Egypt and were subject to no discrimination or disability until 1948. He joins ‘Ali Shalash in refuting Ada Aharoni's contention that it was impossible for Jews to obtain Egyptian citizenship except through bribery (see Chapter 8). Why then didn't the wealthy family of Inbal Mosseri use their money to obtain citizenship, he asks. This is a weak argument that hardly seems to engage the debate. It suggests that by 1991, when Ahmad's study of the economic and social life of the Jews in Egypt from 1947 to 1956 appeared, Jews had come to be considered so alien to Egypt that it was not necessary to offer significant evidence to demonstrate the point. Nonetheless, I offer this brief response.
Until the capitulations were cancelled by the 1937 Montreux Convention, there were few advantages to becoming an Egyptian citizen. This was a new political category that came into existence only in 1922, and those who had a choice were not eager to abandon foreign citizenship for it. A prominent minority of the Jewish business elite (like the Qattawis and the Cicurels) were Egyptian citizens, but most were not. Chief Rabbi Haim Nahum repeatedly urged Jews to become Egyptian citizens. However, by the late 1930s, when the advantages of Egyptian citizenship had become clear, the application of the 1929 citizenship law made it more difficult for Jews to claim Egyptian citizenship. Poor and middle-class autochthonous Jews found it difficult to prove that their families had resided continuously in Egypt since 1848, as the law required. They constituted the main group of Jews who were entitled to Egyptian citizenship, and they were often refused or subjected to lengthy bureaucratic delays when they officially applied for it.
Like Kamil, Ahmad defines Jews by their business acumen and cultural otherness. For example, he attributes the success of the Tractor and Engineering Company, in which the major investors were the Mosseri, Curiel, and Qattawi families, to “masterful Jewish thinking and proper planning.”  This firm organized dances in its social club, which Ahmad notes led some to accuse the Jews, along with a minority of the non-Jewish elite, of responsibility for introducing customs inconsistent with the conservative nature of Egyptian society. Ahmad's account of this successful firm concludes with a reminder of the role of Egyptian Jews in the establishment of Israel and the dispossession of the Palestinians, though he offers no evidence of pro-Zionist activity or sympathy on the part of the Jewish directors of the firm, and the anti-Zionism of some of them is well known. Like Kamil, Ahmad links Jewish capital with Zionism by his claim, unsupported by any evidence, that Jewish profits left Egypt “in intricate ways so that most of them contributed to building the state of Israel and thus harmed the national economy, security, and safety of Egypt.” 
Anis Mustafa Kamil and Nabil ‘Abd al-Hamid Sayyid Ahmad share the organicist and essentialist conception of Egyptian national identity advanced by Siham Nassar and ‘Awatif ‘Abd al-Rahman and recast it in a materialist form through their economic histories. The vehicle for accomplishing this is an idealized model of national economic development based on the notion that proper capitalist development can occur only under the aegis of a patriotic “national bourgeoisie.” This category was originally developed by Marxists to designate the class that would carry out a bourgeois-democratic revolution against persisting feudal forms of land tenure and politics in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Kamil, Ahmad, and historians of the Egyptian nationalist school-Marxists, Nasserists, and others—have argued that until 1952 Egypt was governed by an alliance of large landowners and foreign capital that opposed the development of a strong industrial economy in Egypt. Consequently, a national bourgeoisie would have to emerge to undertake this project and struggle to overcome foreign capital's domination of the country. Tal‘at Harb and the founders of Bank Misr are usually designated as the leading aspirants for this role. Their failure to build an autochthonous, industrialized national economy before 1952 is explained as the result of the continued influence of foreign or mutamassir capital, including Jewish capital, or defects in the composition of the Egyptian bourgeoisie. Capitalism is therefore necessarily a structurally flawed, incomplete, and perhaps inherently alien project because Egypt's capitalist class was overwhelmingly composed of foreigners, compradors, and mutamassir minorities linked to European capital.
This representation and the absolute opposition it posits between compradors and foreigners, on the one hand, and a patriotic national bourgeoisie, on the other, undermine the Egyptian identity of Egyptian Jews by identifying the entire community with its most cosmopolitan elements, who are, moreover, conceived of as being engaged in activities inimical to the national economy. Although advanced by nationalist Egyptians, it is entirely compatible with a militant Zionist outlook, which is equally committed to asserting that Jews were always aliens in Egypt. Both nationalist historiographies rely on ahistorical and essentialist conceptions of the nation and its others. In what follows, I offer an alternative approach to conceptualizing the operations of imperialism and its local allies, including the Jewish business elite, in Egypt.
Although almost all Egyptian Jews were desperately poor in the nineteenth century, a small minority had access to and was experienced in the management of liquid capital. Jews migrating to Cairo and Alexandria from Salonika, Izmir, Aleppo, or other late Ottoman cities used their family connections throughout the Mediterranean basin as a business asset in setting up circuits of commerce and credit. The commercial skills of Jews were the result of the limits and opportunities created by their history as a diasporic people. Hence, capital was both an economic category and a marker of cultural difference. There is no doubt that the Jews' use of French in their community schools, their openness to European culture, the prominence of their business classes, and the high proportion of foreign citizens among them distinguished them from most Muslim Egyptians.
Many members of the Jewish community enjoyed an array of legal, fiscal, and social colonial privileges in Egypt. No adequate account of the community can fail to acknowledge this. But the operations of foreign capital in Egypt were more complex than the Egyptian nationalist version allows. Moreover, many Jews, like Muslim and Coptic elites, did not feel that their privileges made them any less Egyptian. The most prominent members of the Jewish bourgeoisie were also among the most vocal anti-Zionists in the community. Generally speaking, the popular base for Zionism was in the Europeanized lower-middle-class elements of the community, who attended the Jewish community schools, not the upper-middle-class and business elite, who were usually educated in secular and even clerical French schools.
As ‘Asim Disuqi and Eric Davis have convincingly argued, it makes little sense to conceive of the large landholders of Egypt in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as feudalists. Cotton cultivation was an integral part of the capitalist world economy. It was based on private ownership of the means of production, production of commodities for a market, commodification of labor, rational calculation of profits, a tendency toward capital accumulation, and the emergence of bureaucratically administered, large-scale enterprises. Large cotton growers sought to maximize their profits, though this was not incompatible with maintaining elements of precapitalist social relations in the countryside. Many of the first Muslim and Coptic industrialists, including the majority of the initial investors in Bank Misr, emerged from the ranks of the large cotton growers. There was never a fundamental clash of interests between the large cotton growers and industrialists. Therefore, I concur with Anouar Abdel Malek and Roger Owen in characterizing the social formation of Egypt from the mid-nineteenth century until 1956 as “colonial capitalism.” 
Colonial capitalism was not a static social formation. Technological developments in agriculture and urban migration altered crop patterns, market relations, and the social character of village communities. The depression of the 1930s stimulated consolidation of a new economic vision and increased opportunities for import-substitution industrialization. The depression also impelled British imperial proconsuls and business managers to negotiate new political and economic arrangements with colonial politicians and businessmen. The abolition of the capitulations in 1937 encouraged Egyptian business elites to aspire to a larger share of power relative to foreign capital. Their intimate ties to the newly reorganized state facilitated, to a considerable degree, realization of these aspirations. By the 1940s, a clear tendency toward Egyptianization of capital and the skilled labor force was evident. Nonetheless, with the exception of the cotton manufacturing and export sectors, Muslims and Copts were significantly underrepresented at the commanding heights of the economy, especially the financial sector.
Was the Misr group an incipient national bourgeoisie? Reading Eric Davis's study of Tal‘at Harb and Bank Misr against the grain to emphasize Davis's own point that “Harb and his colleagues probably never thought” of themselves as seeking “to challenge fundamentally foreign capital's domination of the Egyptian economy,” Robert Vitalis argues that the Misr group sought collaboration with foreign capital and did not seek autocentric capitalist development. In 1924, Tal‘at Harb joined the board of the Crédit Foncier Egyptien, one of the most powerful foreign-controlled financial institutions in Egypt. The next year he joined the board of the Egyptian Federation of Industry, the bastion of foreign and mutamassir capital. In 1927, foreigners were admitted as directors of four new enterprises established by Bank Misr. In 1929, Bank Misr and German cotton magnate Hugo Lindemann jointly established the Misr Cotton Export Company—Misr's first collaboration with a foreign firm and one of its most profitable enterprises. An even more conspicuous departure from Misr's nationalist image was the negotiation of several joint ventures with British firms in the 1930s: Misr Air and Air Work Ltd. in 1931, Misr Insurance Company and C. T. Bowring and Company of Lloyd's in 1933, and Misr Travel and Cox and Kings Ltd. in 1935. The most substantial Misr-British joint venture established two new textile mills—Misr Fine Spinning and Weaving Company and Misr Bayda Dyers Company—at Kafr al-Dawwar in 1938. Bradford Dyers, a large but declining firm, sought an Egyptian partner to avoid the tariff on imported cotton goods enacted in 1930, and Misr was anxious to offset the advantage of La Filature Nationale, its largest local rival in the textile sector, which had established a joint venture with another British firm, Calico Printers, in 1934. All these joint ventures were undertaken while Tal‘at Harb was still the director of BankMisr, and they did not diminish the bank's nationalist image or Harb's nationalist rhetoric.
Vitalis builds on Robert Tignor's work, which argues that foreign capital made positive contributions to industrial development in Egypt. Tignor is primarily concerned with providing an empirical refutation of dependency theory, which he does quite effectively. But his focus on that objective leads him to avoid asking whether any forms of foreign investment were exploitative, based on colonial privilege, or hindered the development of the Egyptian economy. Consequently, his approach tends to eliminate the category of imperialism altogether. Vitalis usefully emphasizes the distinction between investors with an international horizon who had no particular interest in or commitment to Egypt per se, such as Sir Ernest Cassel, a business partner of the brother of Lord Cromer, the British viceroy in Egypt from 1883 to 1907, and investors, regardless of their citizenship, culture, or religion, who lived in Egypt, saw Egypt as their field of activity, and whose business success depended primarily on its future.
This latter group developed into a local bourgeoisie with interests distinct from those of metropolitan capital, though not necessarily in fundamental contradiction to it. This local bourgeoisie had close links to both Egyptian large landowners and foreign capital; it was not particularly democratic; and it often opposed the leading nationalist party, the Wafd, which cultivated a populist image. Nonetheless, one of the leading representatives of this local bourgeoisie, Ahmad ‘Abbud, was a major financial backer of the Wafd until Mustafa al-Nahhas became party leader in 1927 and again in 1950–52. ‘Abbud and others who came to be designated as compradors during the high tide of Nasserist Arab socialism in the 1960s, including the Jewish business elite, were key figures in the development of industrial capitalism and transferring the ownership of firms originally established with foreign capital into the hands of Egyptians—Muslims, Copts, and resident minorities.
There is nothing unusual about the absence of a national bourgeoisie seeking autochthonous industrial development in Egypt. In Chile and Brazil, for example, industrial development was the result of a similar mix of landed and industrial interests, local and foreign capital, and the state. Working from African cases, Gavin Kitching argues that late capitalist development strategies “never involve the total exclusion of foreign capital” and that “genuinely transformatory capitalist development…may be possible without the need of a national bourgeoisie, ” though it may occur “under the hegemony of international capital and in alliance with dominant sections of a local ruling class (an alliance not without its contradictions and tensions).”  As in many former colonial and semicolonial countries, economic development in Egypt was neither a function of nationalist political rhetoric nor directed toward serving the interests of the subaltern strata.
There are few examples of a bourgeoisie taking private risks in the interests of the nation in the formerly colonized and semicolonized world. This is not because this class is somehow defective, but because late developing capitalism has little choice but to rely on state intervention in the economy and to collaborate with the existing structures of the international market in which it can have only a subordinate position. Moreover, the propensity of entrepreneurs to seek private gain rather than national development is not peculiar to non-Europeans. As Immanuel Wallerstein has argued, the image of a risk-taking, individualistic bourgeoisie is a reification. Investors have always preferred rent over profit and sought to appropriate public resources for their private gain when they had the political influence to do so.
This conception does not make the bourgeoisie—Jewish or otherwise—the unqualified hero of Egyptian industrial development. Karl Marx proposed that the historical development of capitalism should be understood as a simultaneous process of construction and destruction, and Fredric Jameson reminds us that “the lapse from this austere dialectical imperative into the more comfortable stance of taking moral positions is inveterate and all too human.”  Capitalist development in Egypt has increased productivity, promoted a limited industrialization, expanded the ranks of the urban wage-labor force, and improved the standards of living of many workers and their families. At the same time, the Egyptian economy has remained in a subordinate position in the international economy, maintained a highly unequal division of the national income, and failed to provide adequately for the needs of a majority of the population. Nationalist approaches to the economic history of the Jewish community seek to explain the exploitation, human pain, and highly uneven results of the development of capitalism in Egypt as something unnatural or unusual, attributable to the economic or ethnic deficiencies of Egypt's capitalists. It is much less satisfying, and at the end of the twentieth century perhaps also less hopeful, to argue that this is in the nature of capitalism. As an illustration of the operation and developments of colonial capitalism in Egypt, I offer the following brief business history of the La Société Générale des Sucreries et de la Raffinerie d'Egypte (Egyptian Sugar Company), a firm in which the Jewish business group composed of the Suarès-Qattawi-Rolo-Menasce families was the leading local actor.
The Egyptian Sugar Company
The Suarèses, Spanish Jews with Italian citizenship who arrived in Egypt via Italy in the early nineteenth century, were among the wealthiest Egyptian Jewish families in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Building on the ruins of the state-owned sugar company established by Khedive Isma‘il to diversify Egypt's agroindustrial sector, Raphael Suarès (1846–1902) and two other resident foreigners built a new sugar refinery in 1881 at Hawamdiyya, about twenty-five kilometers south of Cairo. In 1893, the Suarès family bank contributed two-thirds of the capital to a new sugar partnership with the French Raffinerie C. Say to form the Sucrerie Raffinerie d'Egypte. In 1897, this enterprise merged with La Société Générale des Sucreries de la Haute Egypte to form La Société Générale des Sucreries et de la Raffinerie d'Egypte. In 1902, the Egyptian Sugar Company bought nine cane crushing mills in upper Egypt from the firm originally established by Khedive Isma‘il, now the Daira Saniyeh Sugar Company owned by an Anglo-Egyptian group led by the German-English investor Sir Ernest Cassel. Consequently, the Egyptian Sugar Company became heavily indebted to Cassel, and he secured a role in its management. This enterprise soon established a near monopoly over Egyptian sugar production.
Rapid expansion and the heavy debt to the Cassel group led to the firm's bankruptcy in 1905. The company was reorganized, and a new management team was installed, led by a Belgian, Henri Naus, and Sir Victor Harari Pasha, a Jew born in Lebanon, a British citizen, and a former high official in the Egyptian Ministry of Finance. Harari served as Ernest Cassel's local agent. Naus managed the Egyptian Sugar Company until his death in 1938.
In addition to their major investment in the Egyptian Sugar Company, the Suarès-Qattawi-Rolo-Menasce business group, in collaboration with French interests and Ernest Cassel, held an extensive complex of interests in agricultural land, irrigation, financing, and sugar production in upper Egypt centered on the sugar producing region of Kom Ombo. Thus, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the sugar industry was a colonial economic enterprise with origins connected to lands acquired by foreigners as a result of Egypt's foreign debt and bankruptcy in 1876. The Suarès family was the link between European capital and Egypt's agricultural resources. Even in this period it would be incorrect to see the Suarèses as blind tools of European interests. Though they were certainly local allies of European capital, the Suarèses operated only in Egypt, unlike Ernest Cassel or the French Say interests, who had worldwide ambitions. By World War I, the Qattawis eclipsed the Suarèses in economic and political influence, becoming the most prominent Jewish family in Egypt and the major local investors in the Egyptian Sugar Company. After several decades, the character of the ownership and management of the company changed significantly. The new relations among foreign capital, resident Jewish capital, and Egyptian Muslim capital in the Egyptian Sugar Company from the late 1930s to the mid-1950s are comparable to developments in other firms during this period.
In the late 1930s, the French shareholders, who had always exercised loose control over the firm, became even less significant in its management. When Henri Naus died, the French Embassy in Egypt tried to encourage the French shareholders, who then held 30 percent of the Egyptian Sugar Company's stock, to exert their power in determining the direction of the firm. But they could not do so. Effective control had shifted into the hands of Belgians (Henri Naus), Egyptian Jews (Qattawi and Harari), and Egyptian Greeks (a group led by the Cozzika family). In 1942, after a brief period of Cozzika preeminence, Ahmad ‘Abbud Pasha was elected to the board of directors and became managing director of the Egyptian Sugar Company. In 1948, his takeover of the firm was completed by his election as chairman of the board. During the 1940s, two Jews—René Qattawi Bey and Col. Ralph A. Harari, the son of Victor Harari,—sat on the board with ‘Abbud Pasha and several other prominent Muslim Egyptians—Sharif Sabri Pasha, Husayn Sirri Pasha, Muhammad Mahmud Khalil Bey, ‘Abd al-Hamid Badawi Pasha, Hasan Mazlum Pasha, and Sir Mahmud Shakir Muhammad Pasha. The only representative of the French interests that began the firm with the Suarès family was Baron Louis de Benoist, who was also the agent-supérieur of the Suez Canal Company resident in Egypt. Thus, in 1948, the board was composed of eight Egyptian citizens, of whom one was Jewish (Qattawi), and two foreign nationals, of whom one was Jewish (Harari).
‘Abbud Pasha began Egyptianizing the staff when he took over the management of the sugar company. By 1947, the firm had 954 administrative and technical employees, of whom 725 (76 percent) were Egyptian and 38 were mutamassirun. Another 34 claimed to be Egyptian but had no documentary proof. Less than 30 (0. percent) of the 9,000 laborers were foreigners in 1947, but they were more skilled (or at least management considered them to be so), better paid, and received better benefits than the Egyptians. These figures exceeded the minimum quotas for employment of Egyptians established by the 1947 Company Law, and no changes were required to comply with this legislation. At the top echelon of the firm, ten of thirteen members of the Managerial Committee were still foreigners in 1947. But by 1952, ten of fourteen members were Egyptians. This change probably resulted as much from ‘Abbud's desire to assert control through his own appointees as from pressure to Egyptianize. After 1947, the number of Egyptian employees and laborers in all capacities rose gradually.
The composition of the firm's capital also changed in the 1940s and 1950s. By 1955, only 26 percent of the shares of the Egyptian Sugar Company were held in France. The Qattawi family continued to maintain a substantial interest in the firm. The remnants of the Jewish Suarès-Qattawi-Rolo-Menasce interests, who had originally served as intermediaries for colonial-style direct foreign investment by Sir Ernest Cassel and the French Say firm, had become willing collaborators with Ahmad ‘Abbud, Egypt's most dynamic and successful Muslim entrepreneur.
Despite what appeared to be the successful Egyptianization of the firm, on August 24, 1955, the Egyptian Sugar Company was placed in the custody of the Ministry of Finance because of a dispute between ‘Abbud and the new regime over taxes and prices (a protective tariff had guaranteed the company's profits and market share since 1931). The government sequestered the firm and in 1956 liquidated it. After the Suez/Sinai War, it became a state-owned enterprise. The Egyptian Sugar Company was nationalized not because the government was concerned about foreign economic domination, but because ‘Abbud, an autocratic and imperious personality, would not bow to the government's economic policy demands. The Qattawis were forced to abandon their interest in the Egyptian Sugar Company when they left Egypt after the 1956 war, but their role in the firm had little to do with why it became one of the first firms of Egypt's public sector.
None of these shifts in the ethnic composition of the shareholders, management, and work force is noted by Anis Mustafa Kamil, Nabil ‘Abd al-Hamid Sayyid Ahmad, or ‘Arfa ‘Abduh ‘Ali in their discussions of the Egyptian Sugar Company. All of them regard the firm simply as a foreign/Jewish colonial enterprise. Their accounts suggest that the firm's character was forever determined by its beginnings, resulting in ahistorical accounts of the sugar company (and many other firms they discuss as well) in which the normal activity of capitalist competition and the rise and fall of rival groups of investors are absent from the analysis. This permits them to represent “Jewish capitalism” or the “Jewish bourgeoisie” as a monolithic bloc. All of them, in various ways, accuse the Jewish business elite of Zionist sympathies.
In the case of the sugar company, Kamil notes that the firm “continued until 1948 to be the basic source of sugar for the Zionists of Tel Aviv.”  This sounds very incriminating for an audience that may not know that there were many commercial ties between Egypt and Palestine until 1948 and that exporting sugar to Palestine (some of which was undoubtedly consumed by the Arab majority of the population) was both legal and beneficial for Egypt's balance of foreign trade. Moreover, the Qattawis, the leading Jewish family in the firm, were the most outspoken anti-Zionists in the Jewish community (except perhaps the communists). Their motive for exporting sugar to Palestine—most likely, simply the opportunity for profit—was certainly not sympathy with Zionism.
Was There a Jewish Bourgeoisie?
Can a conception of a unified bloc of Jewish capital with Zionist political sympathies exercising a dominant role in the Egyptian economy before 1948 be sustained by historical evidence? Statistics compiled by Thomas Philipp (see Table 1) indicate that in the 1940s, when Jews made up less than 0.5 percent of the Egyptian population, they occupied between 12.6 and 16 percent of all the directorships of Egyptian joint stock companies. Although this is a highly disproportionate overrepresentation, Philipp's figures demonstrate that Jews were a small and declining minority of the entire business elite even before the first Arab-Israeli war.
|1943||728||112 (15.4%)||1,626||262 (16%)|
|1947–48||1,103||140 (12.7%)||2,411||305 (12.6%)|
|1951||1,248||111 ( 8.9%)||2,749||264 ( 9.6%)|
|1960||1,399||7 ( 0.5%)||1,886||8 ( 0.4%)|
Although some Jewish directors left Egypt as a result of that war, a significant number remained in the country and continued to manage their businesses in the early 1950s, an expression of their lack of Zionist commitment, their desire to continue to make profits in Egypt, and their hope that their lives could be restored to normalcy. A broader measure of the weight of prominent and wealthy Jews in Egyptian society in the early 1950s can be obtained from the listing of names in Le Mondain égyptien: L'Annuaire de l'élite d'Egypte (The Egyptian Who's Who). In the 1954 edition, there were 715 Jewish names out of a total of 4,632 entries. By this indicator, Jews made up over 15.4 percent of the Egyptian elite in 1954.
Some Jewish families—Aghion, Menasce, Nahman, Pinto, Qattawi, Rolo, and Suarès—served as links between European capital and Egypt during the period of direct colonial rule, when many of the business relationships that shaped the modern economy were formed. After World War I, when Muslim Egyptians began to enter commerce and industry in larger numbers, many of these Jews eventually became willing collaborators with them and lent their experience and capital to the project of shifting control of what Tignor terms the “loosely administered firms” like the Egyptian Sugar Company and the Salt and Soda Company from Europe to Egypt. Egyptian Jews were generally not involved at the highest levels in what Tignor calls “tightly controlled companies”—the Suez Canal Company, Anglo-Egyptian Oilfields Ltd. (Royal Dutch-Shell), and Barclays Bank. These are the firms most clearly connected to British and French political and economic influence in Egypt. At the same time, other Jews, including very wealthy families like the Curiels and Cicurels, had a much narrower range of business contacts and operated their firms as family enterprises employing a high percentage of Jews and other minorities. Consequently, in terms of the categories of political economy, there was not a unified bloc of Jewish capital or a Jewish bourgeoisie with a common set of economic interests.
All businessmen in Egypt from 1880 to 1960—Jews as well as Muslims, Copts, Greeks, Italians, Armenians, Syrian Christians, and resident Europeans—adopted a similar investment strategy. They collaborated with foreign capital; they relied on the state to secure their markets and ease their access to public resources; and they diversified their operations across several economic sectors. They participated in the construction of many new industrial enterprises and by the 1940s assumed a major share of control over many enterprises established with foreign capital. There were no significant differences between the economic strategies of the leading Jewish and Muslim elements of the Egyptian haute bourgeoisie; indeed, they were often partners in the same enterprises.
Anis Mustafa Kamil regards any collaboration of Jews with other Egyptians as an ominous indicator of Jewish intention to control the Egyptian economy. For example, describing the participation of Yusuf ‘Aslan Qattawi and Yusuf Cicurel in the board of directors of Bank Misr, he concludes regretfully, “[T]he only Egyptian bank did not escape the Jewish presence which had consolidated its grip over the world of finance.”  But Tal‘at Harb's business alliances with Jews were not unique and certainly not evidence of a Jewish conspiracy to dominate Bank Misr. Qattawi and Cicurel considered themselves Egyptian patriots, and Harb collaborated with them on that basis.
The volumes of The Stock Exchange Year-Book of Egypt for the 1940s and 1950s document a thick network of prominent Muslims and Copts who collaborated with Jews in many joint stock companies in every sector of the economy. The names that appear most often in such partnerships are Hasan Mazlum Pasha, Tawfiq Duss Pasha, Muhammad Ahmad ‘Abbud Pasha, Isma‘il Sidqi Pasha, ‘Abd al-Hamid Sulayman Pasha, Husayn Sirri Pasha, ‘Ata ‘Afifi Bey, Muhammad Ahmad Farghali Pasha, ‘Ali Amin Yahya Pasha, Muhammad Mahmud Khalil Bey, and Dr. Hafiz ‘Afifi Pasha. This list includes prominent politicians, cabinet members, prime ministers, and the leaders of every major business group in Egypt under the monarchy, including what was regarded as the citadel of economic nationalism, Bank Misr.
There is little evidence of competition along rigid ethnoreligious lines among members of this group, although, of course, the interests of individuals and particular business alliances coalesced or clashed according to circumstances, and ethnoreligious affiliation remained a prominent element of personal identity. Some of the Muslims in the group were quite close to their Jewish business allies. The president of the senate, Muhammad Mahmud Khalil Bey, was affectionately known by his friends as Mahmud Mosseri because of his close ties with the wealthy Jewish Mosseri family. Isaac G. Levi was the secretary-general of the Egyptian Federation of Industries and editor of its journal, Egypte Industrielle. He and Isma‘il Sidqi were the most energetic promoters of the federation's program to diversify the Egyptian economy through reliance on the local bourgeoisie, regardless of its citizenship. Elie Politi, another Jewish publicist for bourgeois interests, immigrated to Egypt from Izmir as a young boy in 1906. He established a weekly commercial newspaper, L'Informateur Financier et Commercial, in 1929. Its first subscribers were Isma‘il Sidqi and Amin Yahya.
Uncommonly among the Jewish business elite, Politi was a Zionist. Nonetheless, he seems to have identified himself as an Egyptian and endeavored to promote Egyptian economic interests as he understood them. He tried to persuade the Belgian entrepreneur Baron Edouard Empain, one of the largest foreign investors in Egypt, to add Egyptians who had become major stockholders to the board of directors of his Cairo Electric Railways and Heliopolis Oasis Company. Empain refused Politi's “national considerations” in terms suggesting that, for Empain, Politi and his partners—Muslims, Copts, or resident minorities—were all Egyptians, unlike himself. This is the same dismissive arrogance that motivated Uncle Cicurel's hatred of Europeans and desire to continue living in Africa in Ronit Matalon's novel, Zeh ‘im ha-panim eleynu (see Chapter 8). On these grounds, Politi could feel a community of interests with his Muslim and Coptic class peers despite his enjoyment of class and colonial privileges that distinguished him from the vast majority of Egyptians.
The Arab-Israeli conflict was an important factor in the collapse of the entire Egyptian Jewish community, but it alone is insufficient as an explanation for the fate of the Egyptian Jewish business elite. Other diasporic mutamassir communities—Greeks, Italians, Armenians, Syrian Christians—played a similar economic and cultural role as the Jews. Like the Jews, most members of these communities left Egypt after 1956, and the bourgeois elements lost their property. Moreover, many of the Muslim and Coptic collaborators with Jewish and other mutamassir investors, as well as those who bought out Jewish business interests at bargain prices after the 1956 war, were also expropriated in the 1960s as part of the Nasserist Arab socialist project. The government and its supporters justified these expropriations with the argument that these businessmen were compradors who had collaborated with foreign capital and imperialism. They had not undertaken the task presumed to be the charge of an entrepreneurial national bourgeoisie: to develop an advanced industrial economy independent of foreign capital. Rather, it was argued, their economic activities had contributed to continuing Egypt's domination by European capital. Developing the data and arguments presented by Robert Tignor and Robert Vitalis, I have proposed that the behavior of the haut bourgeois elements of the Jewish community was not a function of their real or imagined cultural attributes and certainly not of their Zionist sympathies. It was circumscribed by the possibilities of capitalism in Egypt.
Contention and Dialogue Across the borders
Since 1979, Egyptian Jews residing in Israel, Europe, and North America have actively begun to revalorize their relationship with Egypt in both literary and historical texts. But to fully transcend the limits of nationalist discourse or nostalgia, this process requires an active dialogue with Egyptian interlocutors. The intransigent policies of Israel's governments toward the Arab world despite (some would argue enabled by) the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty have not been conducive to such a dialogue. However, it must also be acknowledged that the anti-Semitic character of much of what the Egyptian intelligentsia has recently written about Jews has also obstructed dialogue. Most of what has been written about the modern history of the Jews of Egypt by Egyptian intellectuals since 1979 has been in the genre of “know your enemy,” a phrase actually used by the editor of al-Ahram al-Iqtisadi, Lutfi ‘Abd al-‘Azim, in his introduction to Anis Mustafa Kamil's series of articles.
Because I did not want to appear to be joining the vocal chorus of Westerners who have been abusively critical of Egypt, Arabs, and Islam, it was only after overcoming considerable reluctance that I resolved to include a chapter on Egyptian representations of Egyptian Jews in this book. When Anis Mustafa Kamil's articles on Jewish capitalism appeared in al-Ahram al-Iqtisadi, I was living in Cairo and researching the history of the Egyptian labor movement. I sympathized with my Egyptian colleagues who opposed normalizing relations with Israel before a just resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was achieved and shared their concern about the inequities of the open door policy. I was also uncomfortable with Kamil's anti-Semitic tone. There seemed to be no constructive way to open a discussion of this issue, and so I avoided it, hoping that more open-minded Egyptian colleagues would take on the task in their own time and manner.
In the same period, an astute and politically active Egyptian friend remarked to me that he foresaw a difficult future for people like us, who supported peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict based on recognition of the national rights of both Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, but who opposed the particular terms of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty because it left the question of Palestine unresolved. He was uncomfortable about opposing the treaty in a tacit alliance with pan-Arab nationalists and radical Islamists who opposed any peace with Israel. He predicted that these elements would resort to anti-Semitic portrayals of Israel and Jews, attack the government with demagogic rhetoric, delegitimize the concept of peace with Israel, and discredit progressive and internationalist perspectives in Egyptian politics and culture. Unfortunately, this proved to be a prescient prediction.
Recent political currents and the canons of Egyptian nationalist historiography have therefore unwittingly converged with the main lines of Zionist historiography in portraying Jews as an inherently alien community whose members sojourned in Egypt only until they could emigrate to Israel. Egyptians who still remember their personal experience with Jews often know that this is an inadequate characterization. But despite the proliferation of books, articles, and even references to Jews in films and television programs, there has been little significant public debate challenging the dominant representations of Egyptian Jews as exemplified by the texts I have examined here.
There are some faint signs that a direct dialogue has begun, though it remains circumscribed by the still unresolved political tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I noted previously Nabil ‘Abd al-Hamid Sayyid Ahmad's weak effort to refute the claim of Ada Aharoni's The Second Exodus that eligible Jews could not obtain Egyptian citizenship. ‘Ali Shalash's extended rejoinder to Aharoni's novel has already been discussed in Chapter 8.
In a similar vein, Tawhid Magdi responded to Yoram Meital's guide to Jewish sites in Egypt, Atarim yehudiyim be-mitzrayim. Meital's main audience is Israeli tourists who wish to visit places of Jewish interest in Egypt. He provides descriptions of synagogues, communal buildings, and cemeteries in Cairo, Alexandria, Ma‘adi, Hilwan, and Damanhur, with brief historical sketches of those Jewish communities. The volume was produced with the assistance of several establishment Israeli institutions, including the Kaplan Chair for the History of Egypt and Israel at Tel Aviv University and the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo. The cover features an endorsement by Shimon Shamir, who has served as Israel's ambassador to both Egypt and Jordan in addition to his academic positions as holder of the Kaplan Chair and former director of the Dayan Center for Middle East Studies at Tel Aviv University. Consequently, Magdi sees Meital's guidebook as “a new maneuver against Egypt.”  He is convinced that Meital has prepared a survey of Jewish property that will serve as the basis for establishing an Israeli claim to ownership of these sites. Magdi is especially concerned that Meital includes a description of the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo, housed in a rented apartment located in a building owned by an Egyptian and over which Israel could have no rightful claim. Meital's scholarship is actually quite critical of official Israeli policies toward Egypt. He has collaborated with the Institute for Peace Research at Giv‘at Haviva directed by Ilan Pappé, one of the boldest of the Israeli “new historians.” So he is very unlikely to advocate the objectives Magdi attributes to him. Moreover, Egyptian Jews living in Israel who have tried to convince the government to press their property claims against Egypt since the 1950s are convinced that it has no intention of doing so because this would open the door to Egyptian counterclaims (see Chapter 8).
Ruz al-Yusuf, the weekly that published Magdi's article, is no longer the serious and respectable political journal it was for many years. It now regularly features yellow sensationalism and rumor mongering. Thus, it would be easy to dismiss Magdi's response to Meital's book as merely another expression of anti-Semitism. But I would argue that one of the effects of publishing Magdi's profusely illustrated, lengthy article in a popular weekly is to remind readers that there was a substantial Jewish community in Egypt. And even if Magdi is alarmed by Meital's survey of its communal sites, he has responded to a Hebrew book written by an Israeli that would otherwise have received no notice in Egypt. Moreover, Meital was immediately aware of Magdi's review of his book. Though Shalash and Magdi both consider Israel and Jews as enemies, they nonetheless felt compelled to respond directly, however polemically, to representations of Egyptian Jewish life published by Israelis.
There is a small number of signs of more productive dialogue, though their significance should not be overestimated. Anis Mansur's memoir of Anwar al-Sadat's era serialized in Uktubir relates that when Israeli President Yitzhak Navon visited Egypt in 1980, he brought, as a personal present for al-Sadat, a copy of the story of Joseph from the Hebrew Bible as first translated into Arabic by an Egyptian rabbi, Sa‘adya ben Yosef al-Fayyumi (882–942). The text was beautifully rendered in Farsi-style Arabic calligraphy by an Egyptian Jew then living in Bat Yam, Israel, described by Mansur as “the colleague Yusuf Wahba, who used to work as a calligrapher at Akhbar al-Yawm. ”  Yusuf Wahba had emigrated from Egypt after the 1956 war. He was thrilled that Anis Mansur remembered him from the days when they both worked at Akhbar al-Yawm and publicly acknowledged him as a “colleague” (zamil). Preferring to conduct our conversation in Arabic rather than Hebrew, Wahba fondly recalled his life in Egypt, proudly displayed examples of his Arabic calligraphy, and spoke warmly of the many Palestinian Arabs he had trained in the art before he retired.
Samir W. Raafat has published a chronicle of Ma‘adi, a suburb of Cairo built by Jewish investors, which offers many fond remembrances of the Jews unencumbered by the ideological agenda of most of the works examined in this chapter. Raafat also regularly contributes a column to the Saturday Egyptian Mail and occasionally other English newspapers in which he has often written about Jewish business families, their enterprises, their homes, and other topics touching on Egyptian Jews. One of his articles asking why there is no tree at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial honoring the Egyptians who gave refuge to Jewish survivors of the Nazi persecutions was translated and reprinted in the Saturday supplement of ha-Aretz.
Raafat's broader project is to revalorize the era of the monarchy by highlighting its architectural monuments, economic accomplishments, and social life, an objective regarded with suspicion by many contemporary Egyptians. He has so far operated primarily outside the circuits of Arabo-Egyptian intellectual life. And because his work has appeared only in English, it has had limited influence.
These meager indications of a positive reassessment of the history of the Jewish community by Egyptian intellectuals are disappointing for those who hoped that the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty would open a new era. It seems that hostility and suspicion toward Jews has actually increased in Egypt since the signing of that agreement. The deep dissatisfaction of important sectors of the Egyptian intelligentsia with the partial diplomatic peace with Israel and Israel's continuing exercise of its overwhelming military power to guarantee its regional hegemony have prevented the broader cultural peace that many eagerly anticipated from materializing.
Egyptian Jews have become historical subjects once again since 1979. But they remain fiercely contested by Zionist and Egyptian nationalist historiographies committed to establishing and defending the authenticity of their national communities and their cultures. This contention is likely to persist even if a more just and comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace is achieved, though such a peace would probably contribute substantially to making it a more civil and constructive debate.
1. For example, D. F. Green (ed.), Arab Theologians on Jews and Israel (Geneva: Editions de l'Avenir, 1971); Yehoshafat Harkabi, “On Arab Antisemitism Once More,” in Shmuel Almog (ed.), Antisemitism through the Ages (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1988), pp. 227–39. [BACK]
2. Rivka Yadlin, An Arrogant and Oppressive Spirit: Anti-Zionism as Anti-Judaism in Egypt (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1989), pp. 96, 100. [BACK]
3. For example, Qasim ‘Abduh Qasim, al-Yahud fi misr (Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 1993); Ahmad ‘Uthman, Ta’rikh al-yahud, vol. 1 (Cairo: Maktabat al-Shuruq, 1994). [BACK]
4. Ahmad Muhammad Ghunaym and Ahmad Abu Kaff, al-Yahud wa’l-haraka al-siyasiyya fi misr, 1897–1948 (Cairo: Dar al-Hilal ). [BACK]
5. Siham Nassar, al-Yahud al-misriyyun bayna al-misriyya wa’l-sahyuniyya (Beirut: Dar al-Wahda, 1979), pp. 8, 31. Egyptian reprint edition: al-Yahud al-misriyyun: suhufuhum wa-majallatuhum, 1877–1950 (Cairo: al-‘Arabi li’l-Nashr wa’l-Tawzi ). This work is based on the author's M.A. thesis granted by Cairo University's College of Communications in 1974. Nassar expanded her research into a doctoral thesis published as al-Sahafa al-isra’iliyya wa’l-da‘aya al-sahyuniyya fi misr (Cairo: al-Zahra’ li’l-I‘lam al-‘Arabi, 1991), which has a more Islamist tone than her earlier work. [BACK]
6. ‘Awatif ‘Abd al-Rahman, al-Sahafa al-sahyuniyya fi misr, 1897–1954: dirasa tahliliyya (Cairo: Dar al-Thaqafa al-Jadida ), pp. 11–12, 58–59, 120. [BACK]
7. Nassar, al-Yahud al-misriyyun bayna al-misriyya wa’l-sahyuniyya, pp. 103–105. [BACK]
8. See Victor Nahmias, “al-Shams: ‘iton yehudi be-mitzrayim, 1934–1948,” Pe‘amim 16 (1983):128–41, especially pp. 140–41, for a critique of ‘Awatif ‘Abd al-Rahman's treatment of al-Shams. [BACK]
9. Nassar, al-Yahud al-misriyyun bayna al-misriyya wa’l-sahyuniyya, p. 75. The reference is to a letter from Lieto Ibrahim Nunu, al-Kalim, July 1, 1945, p. 11. See Chapter 2, note 47, for further details. [BACK]
10. Nassar, al-Yahud al-misriyyun bayna al-misriyya wa’l-sahyuniyya, p. 139. [BACK]
11. Ibid., p. 82; ‘Abd al-Rahman, al-Sahafa al-sahyuniyya fi misr, pp. 47–48. [BACK]
12. ‘Abd al-Rahman, al-Sahafa al-sahyuniyya fi misr, p. 116. [BACK]
13. ‘Arfa ‘Abduh ‘Ali, Malaff al-yahud fi misr al-haditha (Cairo: Maktabat Madbuli, 1993); Sa‘ida Muhammad Husni, al-Yahud fi misr, 1882–1948 (Cairo: al-Hay’a al-Misriyya al-‘Amma li’l-Kitab, 1993). [BACK]
14. Nabil ‘Abd al-Hamid Sayyid Ahmad, al-Yahud fi misr: bayna qiyam isra’il wa’l-‘udwan al-thulathi, 1948–1956 (Cairo: al-Hay’a al-Misriyya al-‘Amma li’l-Kitab, 1991), pp. 42–43. [BACK]
15. Ibid., p. 51. [BACK]
16. Shihata Harun, Yahudi fi al-qahira (Cairo: Dar al-Thaqafa al-Haditha, 1987), p. 39. [BACK]
17. Anis Mustafa Kamil, “al-Ra’smaliyya al-yahudiyya fi misr,” al-Ahram al-iqtisadi nos. 636–42 (Mar. 23-May 4, 1981). [BACK]
18. Ibid., no. 636 (Mar. 23, 1981), p. 18. [BACK]
19. Ibid., p. 19. [BACK]
20. Ibid., no. 642 (May 4, 1981), p. 23. [BACK]
21. Nabil ‘Abd al-Hamid Sayyid Ahmad, al-Nashat al-iqtisadi li’l-ajanib wa-atharuhu fi al-mujtama’ al-misri min sanat 1922 ila sanat 1952 (Cairo: al-Hay’a al-Misriyya al-‘Amma li’l-Kitab, 1982); Nabil ‘Abd al-Hamid Sayyid Ahmad, al-Hayat al-iqtisadiyya wa’l-ijtima‘iyya li’l-yahud fi misr, 1947–1956 (Cairo: Maktabat Madbuli, 1991); Ahmad, al-Yahud fi misr. [BACK]
22. Ahmad, al-Yahud fi misr, pp. 5–6. [BACK]
23. Ibid., pp. 7–8. [BACK]
24. Ahmad, al-Hayat al-iqtisadiyya wa’l-ijtima‘iyya li’l-yahud fi misr, p. 21, n. 1. [BACK]
25. Shimon Shamir, “The Evolution of Egyptian Nationality Laws and Their Application to the Jews in the Monarchy Period,” in Shimon Shamir (ed.), The Jews of Egypt: A Mediterranean Society in Modern Times (Boulder: Westview Press, 1987), pp. 55 ff. [BACK]
26. Ahmad, al-Hayat al-iqtisadiyya wa’l-ijtima‘iyya li’l-yahud fi misr, p. 44. [BACK]
27. Ibid., pp. 48, 49. [BACK]
28. Ibid., p. 11. [BACK]
29. ‘Asim Disuqi, Nahwa fahm ta’rikh misr al-iqtisadi al-ijtima‘I (Cairo: Dar al-Kitab al-Jami‘i, 1981); Eric Davis, Challenging Colonialism: Bank Misr and Egyptian Industrialization, 1920–1941 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983). The following three paragraphs are based on my essay, “Economy and Society, 1923–1952,” in M. W. Daly and Carl Petry (eds.), Cambridge History of Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). [BACK]
30. Anouar Abdel-Malek, Idéologie et renaissance nationale (Paris: Editions Anthropos, 1969), p. 112; Roger Owen, “The Development of Agricultural Production in Nineteenth Century Egypt: Capitalism of What Type?” in A. L. Udovitch (ed.), The Islamic Middle East, 700–1900: Studies in Economic and Social History (Princeton: Darwin Press, 1981), pp. 521–46. [BACK]
31. Davis, Challenging Colonialism, p. 199; Robert Vitalis, When Capitalists Collide: Business Conflict and the End of Empire in Egypt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), p. 10; Robert Vitalis, “On the Theory and Practice of Compradors: The Role of ‘Abbud Pasha in the Egyptian Political Economy,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 22 (no. 3, 1990):291–315, especially n. 73, pp. 314–15. [BACK]
32. Robert L. Tignor, “Bank Misr and Foreign Capitalism,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 8 (no. 2, 1977):170–74, 177–78. [BACK]
33. Robert L. Tignor, Egyptian Textiles and British Capital, 1930–1956 (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1989), pp. 23–42. [BACK]
34. Ibid.; Robert L. Tignor, State, Private Enterprise, and Economic Change in Egypt, 1918–1952 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984). [BACK]
35. Vitalis, When Capitalists Collide, pp. 12–15. [BACK]
36. Maurice Zeitlin and Richard Earl Ratcliff, Landlords & Capitalists: The Dominant Class of Chile (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988); Peter Evans, Dependent Development: The Alliance of Multinational, State, and Local Capital in Brazil (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979). [BACK]
37. Gavin Kitching, “The Role of the National Bourgeoisie in the Current Phase of Capitalist Development: Some Reflections,” in Paul M. Lubeck (ed.), The African Bourgeoisie: Capitalist Development in Nigeria, Kenya, and the Ivory Coast (Boulder: Westview Press, 1987), p. 50. [BACK]
38. Immanuel Wallerstein, “The Bourgeois(ie) as Concept and Reality,” New Left Review no. 167 (Jan.–Feb. 1988):91–106. See also Robert Vitalis, “Ra’smaliyyun fi al-khayal: iydiyulujiyat al-tabaqa wa’l-zabun fi al-iqtisad al-siyasi al-misri,” Jadal 1 (Aug. 1991):54–83. [BACK]
39. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), p. 47. [BACK]
40. On the Suarès family, see Gudrun Krämer, The Jews in Modern Egypt, 1914–1952 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1989), pp. 39–41. [BACK]
41. On the Suarès family and the sugar industry, see Floresca Karanasou, “Egyptianisation: The 1947 Company Law and the Foreign Communities in Egypt” (D. Phil., St. Antony's College, Oxford University, 1992), pp. 161 ff; Tignor, Egyptian Textiles and British Capital, pp. 87–89. [BACK]
42. Information in this paragraph is based on Karanasou, “Egyptianisation,” pp. 165–66; Tignor, Egyptian Textiles and British Capital, pp. 87–89; annual volumes of Clément Levy (comp.), The Stock Exchange Year-Book of Egypt (Cairo: Stock Exchange Year-Book of Egypt, 1937–59) from 1947–48 to 1954–55. [BACK]
43. Karanasou, “Egyptianisation,” pp. 171–86. [BACK]
44. Tignor, Egyptian Textiles and British Capital, p. 89. [BACK]
45. Kamil, “al-Ra’smaliyya al-yahudiyya fi misr,” al-Ahram al-iqtisadi no. 641 (Apr. 27, 1981):30; Ahmad, al-Nashat al-iqtisadi li’l-ajanib, pp. 196–98; ‘Ali, Malaff al-yahud fi misr al-haditha, p. 98. [BACK]
46. Kamil, “al-Ra’smaliyya al-yahudiyya fi misr,” al-Ahram al-iqtisadi no. 641 (Apr. 27, 1981):30. [BACK]
47. Ethel Carasso, “La Communauté Juive d'Egypte de 1948 à 1957” (Maîtrise d'Histoire Contemporaine, Université de Paris X, 1982), p. 34. [BACK]
48. Tignor, Egyptian Textiles and British Capital, pp. 84 ff. [BACK]
49. Ibid., pp. 91 ff. The chairman of the board of Anglo-Egyptian Oilfields from 1947 to February 1950 was a Jew, Sir Robert Waley Cohen, but he had no other connection to Egypt. [BACK]
50. The following argument is based on Vitalis, When Capitalists Collide. [BACK]
51. Kamil, “al-Ra’smaliyya al-yahudiyya fi misr,” al-Ahram al-iqtisadi no. 640 (Apr. 20, 1981):11. [BACK]
52. E. I. Politi, L'Egypte de 1914 à Suez (Paris: Presses de la Cité, 1965), p. 122. [BACK]
53. Robert L. Tignor, “The Economic Activities of Foreigners in Egypt, 1920–1980: From Millet to Haute Bourgeoisie,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 22 (1980):437–39. [BACK]
54. Politi, L'Egypte de 1914 à Suez, pp. 117–18. [BACK]
55. Ibid., p. 99. [BACK]
56. Lutfi ‘Abd al-‘Azim, “Ta’rikh al-yahud fi misr…li-madha,” al-Ahram al-iqtisadi no. 636 (Mar. 23, 1981):16. [BACK]
57. Yoram Meital, Atarim yehudiyim be-mitzrayim (Jerusalem: Makhon Ben-Tzvi le-Heker Kehilot Yisra’el ba-Mizrah, 1995); Tawhid Magdi, “Amlak al-yahud fi misr,” Ruz al-yusuf, Dec. 18, 1995, pp. 39–45. [BACK]
58. Magdi, “Amlak al-yahud fi misr,” p. 40. [BACK]
59. Ibid., pp. 41, 46. [BACK]
60. Ibid., p. 40. [BACK]
61. Anis Mansur, “Hadiyya li’l-sadat: Ikhtaraha yusuf wa-katabaha yusuf ‘an hayat yusuf,” Uktubir, Feb. 2, 1992, p. 13. Wahba was responsible for calligraphic production of the headlines of the newspaper because headliners were not then used in Egypt. [BACK]
62. Yusuf Wahba, interview, Bat Yam, Mar. 3, 1993. [BACK]
63. Samir W. Raafat, Maadi, 1904–1962: Society and History in a Cairo Suburb (Cairo: Palm Press, 1994). [BACK]
64. Samir W. Raafat, “Dynasty: The House of Yacoub Cattaui,” Egyptian Mail, Apr. 2, 1994, p. 3; “Mr. Rabin, Where's Our Tree?” Egyptian Mail, Feb. 18, 1995; “The House Suares Built and How it Became the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum,” Egyptian Mail, May 6, 1995; “The Hassan Sabri Street Murders Revisited,” Egyptian Mail, Dec. 9, 1995, p. 3; “The National Bank of Egypt, 1898–1956,” Egyptian Mail, May 11 and 25, 1996; “The House of Cicurel”, Al Ahram Weekly, Dec. 15, 1994. [BACK]
65. Raafat, “Mr. Rabin, Where's Our Tree?”; “Mar rabin, ayfo ha-etz shelanu,” Musaf ha-aretz, Nov. 3, 1995, pp. 14–16. [BACK]