The Greeks formed the largest European community in Egypt before the First World War: 62,973 Greeks were counted in the 1907 census. As well as Alexandria, Cairo, Ismailia and Port Said, Greeks settled and lived in smaller towns such as Damietta, Edfu, Helwan, Kantara, Mansoura and Tanta.
Alexandria, along with Constantinople and Smyrna, was one of the great hubs of Greek business and culture outside Greece in the period leading up to the First World War. A Greek Consulate was set up in Alexandria as early as 1833, immediately after Greek independence in 1832, and the population flourished with the cotton boom of the 1860s. Many among the earliest waves of immigrants came from those cosmopolitan Greek families which had business as well as kinship connections throughout the Mediterranean and beyond to, for example, Britain and Switzerland. And the Greeks came to Alexandria not just from Greece but of course from the Greek regions of Turkey-in-Europe and Asia Minor. Indeed, a disproportionate number arrived in Alexandria from the Greek islands such as Chios, Crete, Cyprus and Lemnos which were Ottoman possessions throughout the 19th century.
in Alexandria, popularly known as Alex, the Greeks settled especially in the downtown Ramleh and Shatby (the so-called Quartier Grec) neighbourhoods, where their businesses – whether small grocer’s or international finance – prospered and attracted further immigration. Even when immigration eased off (for instance, when Greeks started emigrating en masse to USA, or after the 1907 financial crash), the number continued to swell by natural increase – there were between 1,000 and 2,000 Greeks born annually in Alexandria during the 1910s and 1920s. At the time of the 1917 census, 25,393 Greek citizens were counted in Alexandria – and it should be noted that this figure excludes those who were British, Ottoman or of course Egyptian subjects. By the next census in 1927, which was about the time the Greek population in Egypt peaked, this figure had reached 37,106 (approximately 6% of Alexandria’s total population).
Overwhelmingly, Greeks in Egypt were of the professional and merchant class. In the cities, Greeks were bankers and financiers, lawyers and doctors, architects and engineers; however, they played no role in the civil service. Everywhere they were cotton factory owners and exporters, traders, money-lenders, food manufacturers, tobacco merchants, distillers, millers, hoteliers, innkeepers, victuallers, restaurateurs and cafe owners. They also had shipping interests in Alexandria and along the length of the Suez Canal. Of course, there were working class Greeks too, many of whom arrived in the mid-19th century as immigrants from the Ottoman Empire (for instance, from the Greek islands in the Aegean, such as Kasos) rather than from independent Greece, labouring on the Canal and finding work as cooks and sailors.
The Greek communities in Egypt today are dwindling. There was a mass exodus after the July 1952 Revolution and an estimated 70% of the community is thought to have emigrated from Egypt during the years 1957-62. Of course, many headed for Greece, even if only temporarily; many more emigrated to Australia and North America.
We have created a Google Map showing the locations of the principal Greek communities in Egypt from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries, as well as some of the source locations from which the immigrants hailed. Many came from islands and from those Greek areas of population still at that time within the Ottoman Empire.
This map shows (red pins) the location of Greek communities formed in Egypt during the mid-C19th to early C20th, and also (blue pins) the source locations of many of those migrants. As mentioned above, the Greeks who went to Egypt often came from outside the mainland of the independent Kingdom of Greece formed in 1832, in other words from the territory of the still extant Ottoman Empire of which Egypt was still technically a part.
Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, vol 35.2, pub Pella, 2009
Alexander Kitroeff, “The Greeks in Egypt 1919-1937: Ethnicity and Class”, pub Ithaca Press, 1989
This is a revised version of text and map which originally appeared on the bluebirdresearch website in 2010.