A Jan. 13th article at The Times (“Prayers to be held as Jews mark return of synagogue”) touched upon the fact that over 99% of Egypt’s Jewish population left the country in the years following WW2.
During the liberal era in Egypt in the first half of the 20th century, Jews played important roles in Egyptian political, economic and cultural life, with 25,000 of the country’s estimated population of 80,000 Jews living in Alexandria. Nearly all left after the founding of Israel in 1948 and during subsequent conflicts between the two countries. Magda Haroun, the head of the community in Egypt, says only five remain, all of them elderly women, plus another 100 who converted at some point to Christianity or Islam.
This fails to note precisely why nearly 80,000 Jews left: the government’s imprisonment, torture and expulsion of Jews, anti-Jewish violence and other anti-Jewish policies that made it impossible for Jews to stay.
The website of JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) provides a good summary:
With the establishment of Israel, in 1948, the Egyptian government began enforcing aggressive and repressive measures against Jews including; confiscation of property, imprisonments, torture and institutionalized discrimination. Riots against Jews were common leaving many injured and some dead. Black Saturday, on January 26, 1952 started as a demonstration against the British and resulted in riots against Jews which left 500 businesses destroyed and many Jews injured or dead.
Gamal Abdel Nasser was appointed the second President of Egypt, from 1956 until his death in 1970, and with his rule began widespread pan-Arabism and worsening conditions for the Jews. The Suez Crisis, in 1956 was an attack on Egypt by the French, British and Israelis. As a result, Nasser declared that the Jews were enemies of the state and the massive expulsion of the Jews continued with 25,000 Jews fleeing. Jews were given 2 days to evacuate their property, which was later confiscated by the government, and were forced to leave with one bag and no more than twenty dollars in hand. Nearly 1,000 of those who remained in Egypt were imprisoned or tortured. Jewish refugees who had once prospered in Egypt were left with nearly nothing.
The Six-Day war occurred in 1967 in Israel. Again, there was an insurgence of violence toward Jews in Egypt based on ethnic cleansing ideology. During the war, all Jewish males over the age of 16 were imprisoned in interment camps or tortured and only 2,500 Jews remained in Egypt. In the 1970’s, as a result of international pressure, Jews were given permission to leave the country. The Jews in Egypt were among the wealthiest Jews in all of the Middle East. In 1971 it was estimated that Jews lost $500 million in personal property, $300 million in communal religious property, and $200 million in religious artifacts. As more and more Jews were forced out of Egypt the numbers continued to rise.
(Also, see this informative timeline from the blog Point of No Return)
As the Times’ own Mid-East correspondent Richard J. Spencer noted in an article just last year (‘Egypt shows signs of rebuilding Jewish links’, April 8th) “Waves of hatred after Israel was established were accompanied by expulsions under Nasser and by 1970 most Jews had fled.”
We’ve complained to Times editors, and requested that new information be added to the article.