- The Greek Exodus from Egypt: Diaspora Politics and Emigration, 1937–1962 by Angelos Dalachanis
During the first half of the twentieth century, there were more than 100,000 Greeks living in Egypt. They were the second largest Greek diaspora community, after the Greeks in the United States. They were also the richest Greek diaspora community, thanks to the prominent role the wealthiest of them played in Egypt’s cotton export and banking sectors. Their affluence was due in large part to the special privileges foreigners enjoyed—along with the protection offered by Britain—in Egypt’s economic affairs. Their numbers dipped a little bit on the eve of World War II and then started dropping precipitously after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. Within a decade, the total number of Greeks had dropped to below 30,000, and by the early 1970s, it had gone down to 15,000. Angelos Dalachanis’s book, which is based on his doctoral dissertation completed at the European University Institute, offers an explanation for the sharp decline in the size of the Greek presence in Egypt. This topic has been debated extensively among the Greeks of Egypt, especially journalists and writers who lived through that process, as well as by academics. One of the main reasons why there is a lively debate is that the Greeks were not expelled by government decree the way the British, Belgians, French, and Jews were, but they instead left incrementally throughout the 1950s and the early 1960s.
The various explanations for the exodus of the Greeks from Egypt include the assertion that Gamal Abdel Nasser, the leader who emerged in the wake of the revolution, implemented nationalist and then socialist policies that chased the Greeks away. Another interpretation is that the Greek leadership in Egypt had underestimated the effects of the government’s so-called Egyptianization policies that were implemented before 1952, failing to use schools and other means—such as encouraging the Greeks to learn Arabic or skills that would help them find jobs in Egypt’s changed economy—to prepare the Greeks to adapt to an environment in which they would be without privileges [End Page 400] and integrated into Egyptian society. A third explanation suggests that Nasser’s policies were in no way to blame for the exodus, which was the outcome of choices made by the Greeks themselves.
Dalachanis, whose study is the first book-length examination of the Greek exodus, offers his own interpretation. He treats this topic as a succession of departures that took place over two decades, beginning at the end of World War II. By classifying the exodus as a process rather than event, the author introduces the reader to a microlevel analysis that studies the departures over time and contextualizes them according to the particular policies pursued by actors within the community, the Egyptian government, and the Greek government. In focusing on the policies emanating from Athens, Dalachanis goes beyond an assessment of Greco-Egyptian diplomatic relations, which were important throughout the 1950s due to Egypt’s support of the Greek-Cypriot struggle for union with Greece. The book demonstrates that Athens was vitally concerned with the possible or probable departure of the Greeks in Egypt and prevented the poorer Greeks from repatriating. As a result, this generated a stream of Greek emigrants from Egypt to Australia, which itself became a reason for more and more Greeks to decide to leave Egypt because they were losing their clientele or their employees
The book is divided into four parts and begins by exploring the “Politics of Remaining in Egypt (1937–60)” in the period prior to the revolution of 1952 up through to the events that unfolded in the 1950s. Dalachanis states that the years just before the revolution were an “End of an Era” (the title of Chapter 1) in the sense that the Egyptian nationalist movement, which had gathered strength in the 1920s, began to dismantle the apparatus of privileges granted to foreign residents, while it pursued its main goal of ending...