For almost 400 years, Egypt was a province of the Ottoman Empire. Mohammed Zli Pasha, who was a former officer of the Turkish Army, became Viceroy of Egypt early in the 19th. Century (1805-1848) and established a dynasty of kings, the last one being King Farouk.
In his efforts to modernise the country, Mohammed Ali Pasha invited foreigners to settle in Egypt in order to contribute to its development. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 increased the influx of foreigners, and especially Jews who lived in other areas of the Ottoman Empire, particularly Turkey, and Syria. By the end of the 19th .Century, there were scores of rich Jewish families, a phenomenon, which did not exist in other Middle East countries. The earliest known rich family was that of the Cattauis who are believed to have come from Holland. They were the first Jews to leave the Harer el Yahoud ( Jewish quarter) and to live in Shubra which at that time was a new suburb of Cairo. Other areas where Jews built and moved include Maadi, Zamalek, Heliopolis, and Garden City, Roda, Giza, etc..
The oldest established families functioned as "Sarafim", moneychangers, coin testers, and collectors of taxes. The transition to regular banking made it possible for them to reach high positions in the Egyptian Government. Jews contributed to the development of the Egyptian National Bank, Egypt Crédit Foncier, Misr Bank, and the Mosseris established their own bank, J.N. Mosseri et Compagnie. These banks assisted in international trade, land development, building of industrial plants, infrastructure, etc.
Sephardi Jews coming to Egypt during the latter part of the 19th Century and early 20th Century went into commerce and started opening department stores. It is to be noted that marriages among the wealthy Jews tented to be frequent. While many of these Sephardi Jews, were sophisticated in high finance, they included a respectable number of scholars, many having attended European universities.
Besides focusing on the development of the economy of the country, the major families presided over Jewish communal affairs, in Cairo and Alexandria and were involved in philanthropic activities. Because of close relationships with European businessmen, they were able to persuade them to invest in Egyptian enterprises. In spite of their small number, Jews dominated the financial and economic life of Egypt. Other nationalities were involved in this development; the French, Belgian, British, Greeks, Italian, Armenians, etc. also participated in this development. Each group had a speciality, but Jews dominated banking. During World War I and World II, Jews developed local industries, which contributed to the national income and created jobs for Egyptians? As recognition for their efforts, many members of these Jewish families were given the title of "Bey" or "Pasha" by the sovereigns of Egypt.
I have the honour to inform you that the Historical Society of Jews from Egypt has been re-established. In the course of our recent discussion, it was decided that among other activities, to have an annual scientific review dedicated to the history of Jews in Egypt...
(translated from the French).
Unfortunately, a few years later with the political situation deteriorating for the Jews, this dream was never accomplished in Egypt. This task of writing a yearly history of Jews of Egypt was never realised. Documenting the history of Egypt was recently undertaken by The International Association of Jews from Egypt which had a very successful conference at The Middle East Institute of Columbia University in December 4th ,1997, where scholars from around the world gave papers on Egyptian Jewry. The proceedings of the Conference will be available in the fall. René Cattaui Bey was the last of the Cattauis to preside over the Jewish Community. Members of the Cattaui family had presided over Jewish communal affairs for almost 100 years.
Other rich families include the ####Suares####, which had an important square in Cairo named Suares Square; the ####Menasce#### family established the Menasce Free Schools, one member of family was elected president of the Alexandria Jewish community; the ####Rollo#### family were involved in the Helwan railway, Robert Rollo was director of the National Bank of Egypt.
Dr. Victor Sanua is Research Professor at St. John's University.
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