The Greek Exodus Egypt: Diaspora Politics and Emigration, 1937–1962 by Angelos Dalachanis (review)
- Mashriq & Mahjar: Journal of Middle East and North African Migration Studies
- Moise A. Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies
- Volume 6, Number 2, 2019
- Additional Information
Mashriq & Mahjar 6, no. 2 (2019), 178–181 ISSN 2169-4435 ANGELOS DALACHANIS, The Greek Exodus from Egypt: Diaspora Politics and Emigration, 1937–1962 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2017). Pp. 288. $97.50 cloth, e-book available. ISBN 9781785334474. REVIEWED BY LAURIE A. BRAND, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, email: email@example.com On 12 January 2019, Al-Ahram reported that the Egyptian foreign minister and the Greek deputy foreign minister were meeting to prepare for the third round of the Roots Revival initiative. Bringing together Egypt, Greece, and Cyprus,1 the goal was to honor foreign communities that had lived on Egyptian soil. The initiative had been first announced by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during a visit to Cyprus in November 2017, and was then launched in April 2018 by inviting delegations of Greeks and Cypriots who had once lived in Egypt to a “homecoming.” Cairo made explicit the underlying “soft power” goals of this initiative: to build or reinforce political, social, cultural, and economic bridges to communities around the Mediterranean; to profile “Egypt as a country of refuge that has opened its arms to foreign communities throughout its history;” and to highlight that these “communities in turn have enriched Egypt’s cultural diversity.”2 It has become increasingly common over the past several decades for states to seek greater involvement in the communities of their nationals abroad for a range of political, economic, and cultural reasons. What is far less common is for states to reach out to former residents who are members of departed, non-national minority communities. It may seem unsurprising that attempts to court such minorities have been rare. Indeed, in the case of Egypt, the received wisdom regarding the history of these communities—Greeks, Italians, Armenians, and Jews—is that independence, the rise of nationalism, the 1956 Suez War, and the subsequent wave of nationalizations drove them out. However, as Angelos Dalachanis underlines in the introduction to this finely detailed study, this portrayal of the fate of Reviews 179 the Greeks in Egypt, known as Egyptiots, is both reductive and inaccurate: while most Egyptiots did ultimately leave Egypt, the reasons for doing so were complex, movement was not unidirectional, and not only the Egyptian, but also the Greek state played an important role in shaping the population movements. Dalachanis’s study draws on a rich set of primary materials: the archives of the Greek koinotites (communities) of Alexandria, Cairo, Suez, and Tanta; French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other diplomatic archives; newspapers of the Egyptiot community; as well as a wealth of Greek government, UK Foreign Office, International Committee of the Red Cross, and World Council of Churches archival material. What the study does not include—with the exception of a handful of speeches by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser—are materials from local Arabic sources. The picture the book paints, therefore, is rich in its detail regarding the population, daily life, and communal governance of the Egyptiots, but offers less context regarding the broader Egyptian environment. Nevertheless, the author’s careful mining and deployment of the Greek and other nonEgyptian sources makes this a valuable study. In constructing his tale, Dalachanis’s primary goal seems to be to revise the faulty “memory” or received wisdom regarding the Egyptiot communities’ (koinotites) post-1937 evolution by constructing a much more complex migration and diaspora story than the stylized version of events supports. Such an account is important for scholars of the Greek diaspora, as well as of Egyptian history. For other scholars, the value of Dalachanis lies, not in a theoretical frame or argument— something the book lacks—but in the way his story of the koinotites illustrates the problems involved in writing about diasporas as unitary actors or in presenting their histories as stories of linear development. Indeed, one of the most fascinating aspects of this work is the way the author uses his materials to portray not just a series of Egyptiot communities across Egypt, but also the differences in class background, political orientations, regional origins (the Balkans, Asia Minor, Aegean islands, etc.), and Egyptianization they embodied. It also shows how such differences shaped and were in turn shaped by...