Jewish History

Egyptian Jewish History

The Jewish presence in Egypt extends back to biblical times.  Egypt was a place of refuge following the destruction of the kingdom of Judah in 597 BCE and a safe haven from persecution for the Jewish people. During this time, Jewish communities developed Talmudic schools and prospered intellectually.

From 1805-1956 Jews played a dominant role in Egyptian society, contributing significantly to the development of finance, industry, urban development, and culture.  The British, who colonized Egypt from 1882 to 1956, treated the Jews well and as a result, many European Jews who were suffering persecution in their own countries immigrated to Egypt, bringing the number of Jews in Egypt from 25,000 in 1900 to over 80,000 by 1948. Despite their contributions, Jews in Egypt, under the British rule, were denied citizenship.

With the rise of Nazi Germany and Arab Nationalism in the 1930’s attitudes toward the Jews began to change.  In 1938 massive anti-Jewish demonstrations commenced, prompting the ensuing annihilation of Egyptian Jews. 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.

As of 2005, only 100 Jews were left in Egypt. Today there are estimates that only 5 remain.

Thanks to Justice for Jews from Arab Countries for contributing this summary to the JIMENA Egyptian Experience website:

“Discriminatory Decrees and Violations of Human Rights
(Intended merely as a sampling and not an exhaustive compilation)

The first Nationality Code was promulgated by Egypt on May 26, 1926. Entitled to Egyptian nationality were only those who “belonged racially to the majority of the population of a country whose language is Arabic or whose religion is Islam.” [1] This provision served as the official pretext for expelling many Jews from Egypt.

On July 29, 1947, an amendment was introduced to the Egyptian Companies Law which made it mandatory for at least 75% of the administrative employees of a company to be Egyptian nationals and 90% of employees in general. This resulted in the dismissal and loss of livelihood for many Jews since only 15% of them had been granted Egyptian citizenship.[2]

A mass departure of Jews was sparked when Egypt passed an amendment in 1956 to the original Egyptian Nationality Law of 1926. Article 1 of the Law of November 22, 1956, stipulated that “Zionists” were barred from being Egyptian nationals.[3] Article 18 of the 1956 law asserted that “Egyptian nationality may be declared forfeited by order of the Ministry of Interior in the case of persons classified as Zionists.” Moreover, the term “Zionist” was never defined, leaving Egyptian authorities free to interpret as broadly as they pleased.

Provision both in the 1956 and 1958 laws permitted the government to take away citizenship of any Egyptian Jew absent from UAR territory for more than six consecutive months. That this provision is aimed exclusively at Jews is shown by the fact that the lists of denaturalized persons published time and again by the Official Journal contains Jewish names only, despite the fact that there were many non-Jewish Egyptians who stayed abroad for over six months.[4]

Economic Discrimination and Strangulation
(Intended as a sampling and not an exhaustive compilation)

Law No. 26 of 1952 obligated all corporations to employ certain prescribed percentages of “Egyptians.” A great number of Jewish salaried employees lost their jobs, and could not obtain similar ones, because they did not belong to the category of Jews with Egyptian nationality.

Between November 1-20 1956, official records reveal that by a series of sequestration orders issued under Military Proclamation No. 4, the property of many hundreds of Jews in Egypt was taken from their owners and turned over to Egyptian administrators.[5] Proclamation No. 4 was carried into effect almost exclusively against Jews; and though a number of Copts and Moslems were also interned, their assets were never sequestered.[6]

Of the published lists of 486 persons and firms whose properties were seized under Military Proclamation No. 4, at least 95 per cent of them are Jews. The names of persons and firms affected by this measure represented the bulk of the economic substance of Egyptian Jewry, the largest and most important enterprises and the main sustenance, through voluntary contributions, of Jewish religious, educational, social and welfare institutions in Egypt.[7]

In addition to the vast sequestration of property and other discriminatory treatment, Directive No. 189 issued under the authority of Military Proclamation No. 4, authorized the Director General of the Sequestering Agency to deduct from the assets belonging to interned persons, 10% of the value of the sequestered property, presumably to cover the costs of administration. Hence, without regard to the question of whether a property is legally sequestered, the Jews of Egypt were being taxed to pay for the machinery or improper sequestration and withholding.[8]

The Jews leaving Egypt were subjected to additional deprivations and inconveniences. A regulation was established which only authorized Jews leaving Egypt to take with them travellers checks or other international exchange documents up to a value of 100 pounds sterling per capita. The Bank of Egypt provided Jews leaving the country with instruments specifically drawn on Egyptian accounts in Britain and France, when Egyptian authorities knew well that those accounts were blocked in reciprocation for the Egyptian blocking of British and French assets in Egypt and were not freely negotiable abroad.[9]


1. Article 10(4) of the Code. See: Maurice de Wee, La Nationalite Egptienne, Commentairo de la loi du mai 1926, p. 35.

2. H.J. Cohen, “The Jews of the Middle East, 1860 – 1972.”

3. Law No. 391 of 1956, section 1(a). See Revue egyptienne de Droit International, Vol. 12 (1956), p. 80.

4. Confidential Memorandum provided to the UNHCR, Feb, 26, 1960.

5. Confidential Memorandum provided to the High Commissioner, Mr. Auguste Lindt, on Feb. 21, 1957

6. Confidential Memorandum provided to the UNHCR, Feb, 26, 1960.

7. Egyptian Official Gazette, No. 88, November 1, 1957.

8. Confidential Memorandum provided to the High Commissioner, Mr. Auguste Lindt, on Feb. 21, 1957.

9. Ibid.”