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.