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.