Modern times (since 1919)

Demonstration in Egypt in 1919 holding the Egyptian flag with Crescent, the Cross and Star of David on it.

During British rule, and under King Fuad I, Egypt was friendly towards its Jewish population, though Egyptian nationality was denied to 90 % of Egyptian Jews regardless of how many generations they resided in the country. Jews played important roles in the economy, and their population climbed to nearly 80,000 as Jewish refugees settled there in response to increasing persecution in Europe. A sharp distinction had long existed between the respective Karaite and Rabbanite communities, among whom traditionally intermarriage was forbidden. They dwelt in Cairo in two contiguous areas, the former in the harat al-yahud al-qara’in , and the latter in the adjacent harat al-yahud quarter. Notwithstanding the division, they often worked together and the younger educated generation pressed for improving relations between the two.

Individual Jews played an important role in Egyptian nationalism. René Qattawi, leader of the Cairo Sephardi community, endorsed the creation in 1935 of the Association of Egyptian Jewish Youth, with its slogan: 'Egypt is our homeland, Arabic is our language.' Qattawi strongly opposed political Zionism and wrote a note on 'The Jewish Question' to the World Jewish Congress in 1943 in which he argued that Palestine would be unable to absorb Europe's Jewish refugees.

Nevertheless, various wings of the Zionist movement had representatives in Egypt. Karaite Jewish scholar Murad Beh Farag (1866–1956) was both an Egyptian nationalist and a passionate Zionist. His poem, 'My Homeland Egypt, Place of my Birth', expresses loyalty to Egypt, while his book, al-Qudsiyyat (Jerusalemica, 1923), defends the right of the Jews to a State. al-Qudsiyyat is perhaps the most eloquent defense of Zionism in the Arabic language. Farag was also one of the coauthors of Egypt's first Constitution in 1923.

Another famous Egyptian Jew of this period was Yaqub Sanu, who became a patriotic Egyptian nationalist advocating the removal of the British. He edited the nationalist publication Abu Naddara 'Azra from exile. This was one of the first magazines written in Egyptian Arabic, and mostly consisted of satire, poking fun at the British as well as the Monarchy which was a puppet of the British. Another was Henri Curiel, who founded 'The Egyptian Movement for National Liberation' in 1943, an organization that was to form the core of the Egyptian Communist party. Curiel was to play an important role in establishing early informal contacts between the PLO and Israel.

In 1937, the government annulled the Capitulations that gave foreign nationals a virtual status of exterritoriality the minorities groups were mainly from Syrian, Greece, Italy, Armenia (this also affected some Jews who were nationals of other countries). The immunities from taxation to foreign nationals mutamassir (minority groups) trading within Egypt had given them highly favourably trading advantages.

The impact of the well-publicized Arab-Jewish clash in Palestine from 1936 to 1939, together with the rise of Nazi Germany, also began to affect the Jewish relations with Egyptian society, despite the fact that the number of active Zionists in their ranks was small.

The rise of local militant nationalistic societies like Young Egypt and the Society of Muslim Brothers, who were sympathetic to the various models evinced by the Axis Powers in Europe, and organized themselves along similar lines, were also increasingly antagonistic to Jews.

Egyptian Banks were a common destination for European Jews transferring money from central Europe and a for those Jews escaping the Fascist regimes.

By the 1940s, the situation worsened. Sporadic pogroms took place in 1942 onwards. In 1945, the Jewish quarter of Cairo was severely damaged. As the Partition of Palestine and the founding of Israel drew closer, hostility strengthened, fed also by press attacks on all foreigners accompanying the rising ethnocentric nationalism of the age. In 1947, the Company Laws set quotas for employing Egyptian nationals in incorporated firms, requiring that 75% of salaried employees, and 90% of all workers be Egyptian. As Jews were denied citizenship as a rule, this constrained Jewish and foreign owned entrepreneurs to reduce recruitment for employment positions from their own ranks. The law also required that just over half of the paid-up capital of joint stock companies be Egyptian.


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