Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – CLXIX. The Second Exodus (4 of 6)

The foreign population 

Name a country on the planet, and chances are it had representatives living in Egypt! Finnish? Norwegians? Australians? Yes, we had a few families that came from those countries, and chances are they lived in Alexandria rather than Cairo; and that indeed is what made Alexandria (back then) the most cosmopolitan city in the Middle-East.

That said, some nationalities were in the majority: Greeks, Italians, Armenians, French, and British (I believe in this order). You no doubt noticed that I didn’t include Middle- Eastern or North African countries. The reason is simple, they were not considered as Khawagat (foreigners), they were not far removed from the average middle-class Egyptians. If you were, say, Syrian or Tunisian, you were very close to the true Egyptian.

All of these oddities were discussed in the parts related to the historical and societal factors that impacted Egypt’s society at that time. Suffice to reiterate here that there is no such thing as an “untrue” Egyptian! A Greek “khawaga” speaks Egyptian Arabic without an accent, enjoy a hearty meal of foul medames with baladi bread, and can cook a mean molokhea; chances are he is a third or fourth generation Greek born in Egypt. In other words, by any standards one may wish to use, he is Egyptian. So how did that whole confusing situation arose?

Foreigners (in origin only, but I will refer to them as foreigners since this is how they were viewed) looked down at the average Egyptian, not all of them mind you, many considered themselves as part and parcel of the Egyptian psyche, but, nevertheless, were never fully embraced by Egyptian’s society. Why?

For a number of reasons: Foreigners were multilingual, for instance an Italian person can speak Arabic, French, and Italian.

As well, foreigners, in general, were better educated. Many had gone into business and have done well; and here you will hear nonsensical generalizations: “All Greeks are rich, they own half of the restaurants and pastry shops in the city!” Of course, there were many poor Greeks that survived on a small monthly salary. “All big department stores are owned by Jews.” Most big department stores were indeed owned by Jews (and they were lumped with the rest of the foreigners), but let me assure you that many Jews were living in dire poverty.

Finally, many foreigners has had to retain their passport since, as already mentioned, they could not secure the Egyptian nationality.

And so two solitudes persisted for over a century. They were bound to collide, and the collision eventually happened in 1956.

While Egypt nationalized many entities belonging to foreigners, they were securing a body without a soul! A factory with expensive machinery, equipment, and inventory was largely useless if it was not competently run. In other words, without the know-how of its owners and their contacts across the globe, its value was greatly diminished. Yes, in some cases, Egyptian managers were able to carry on, and avoid job losses, but for every success story, there were many sad tales.

How did the foreign population differed from the Jewish one?

Foreigners had a country to go to. But there were exceptions to this rule. For instance, Armenia was part of the Soviet Bloc, therefore, I doubt any Armenian was considering going back home. It’s debatable whether they had any kind of passport, accordingly, I suspect most of them were stateless. Conceivably, people of other nationalities no longer had a passport, not having renewed their passport on time, and again they were stateless. Even with a passport the question was, “do I want to go back to my country?” Italy and Greece were still recovering from WWII. Therefore for many Greeks and Italians the plan was to go back as a temporary measure, and from there they intended to immigrate to another country, say Argentina or Australia.

French and British were in a better position; economically, their countries were, in relative terms, better off than the rest of Europe. France had introduced a whole raft of social measures that were attractive to new immigrants; England had introduced socialized medicine. Both countries economies could, and did, provide jobs for newcomers. But it wasn’t easy at the beginning, it never is.

Egyptian Jews scattered across the globe. Preference went to the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Brazil. For the first time in their galut (exile) Jews had a country that was ready to receive them with open arms; if you’re Jewish you can immigrate to Israel, no questions asked. It’s the law of the land, the Law of Return, the first law legislated by the Knesset (Parliament).

Perhaps the question of difference was redundant; we were all on the same boat; we had to leave our native country, and we did. We scattered across the world, reestablished ourselves in new countries, and managed to make a new life for ourselves. We are a testimony to human resiliency.

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