Henry Mourad

My name is Henry Mourad and I am an Egyptian Jew. I was born in 1945 in a middle class neighborhood in Cairo. My family was driven out of Egypt, along with its 80,000 Jews. Here is my story.

During the 18 years I lived in Egypt, until 1964, I experienced hatred, brutality, humiliation and abuse that most people do not hear about in their lifetime. As early as the age of three, I experienced immense fright every Friday afternoon when the Muslim Brotherhood took to the streets in riots and demonstrations against the Jews. Threats of slaughter and mutilation were vehemently shouted denouncing the Jews. The uproar intensified after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Routinely, bombs were placed in the Jewish quarters and casualties were in the hundreds. As a result, I lived through repeated nightmares, leaving me with indelible scars, especially after a bomb was placed in my school.

When I was seven, in 1952, the Muslim brotherhood orchestrated a coordinated inferno, which inflicted severe damage on prominent Jewish stores, banks, movie theaters and synagogues. My school – the Israelites Community School of Cairo – was, of course, targeted. Out of our dining room window, I watched in disbelief the unfolding drama before my eyes. Engulfing flames roared loudly and towered into the sky, sending pillars of black smoke. Our synagogue’s ornate interior, its beautiful stained glass, its lavish woodcarving and the sacred Torah scrolls, all were reduced to smoldering ashes. On the way to school, I was physically attacked several times, showered with pebbles and called every four-letter word that existed in the Arabic language followed by “dirty Jew.” No matter which route I took for school, the violence remained unabated.

At the age of eleven, I changed school to the Lycees Francais whose curriculum was in French. In 1954, Nasser assumed power as President and two years later, and soon after that, he illegally nationalized the Suez Canal and in a casus belli, blocked the entrance to the Canal. As a result, war broke out between Egypt and Britain, France and Israel. Nasser began confiscating Jewish owned businesses, including our family. Worse, my uncle was interned in a detention camp and my aunt was evicted from Egypt with a 48-hour notice. Every spiteful act was condoned because we were Jewish. To boost his popularity, Nasser gave long and passionate speeches of hatred, arousing the masses against the Jews. In planting the seed of anger in the minds of the population, he put the blame on the Jews and made them responsible for the masses’ poor economic and social condition.

At the end of the Suez war in late 1956, all my foreign teachers were evicted and replaced with Egyptian nationals. We were forced to absorb new patriotic slogans and anyone who did not conform was severely punished. When the school implemented religious classes for Muslims and Christians students in its curriculum, we were sent to an empty room, shunned for being Jewish, until the conclusion of the class. As a result, I was identified as a Jew to my fanatic Arabic teacher. Before I was identified as a Jew, I consistently ranked first in class, obtaining the top grade in Arabic studies, but afterward the teacher consistently gave his Muslim students higher grades. In addition, he made every effort to degrade and humiliate me in class.

At the age of sixteen, I graduated from high school and ranked first in the national exam – a test given in a different school to mask the student identity – not only in my school, but also in the overall school district. Because of my high score, I was admitted to Cairo University School of Engineering. Because Cairo University is a public entity, I did not have to disclose my religion. I remained undercover for nearly three years, pretending to be a Muslim, and avoided the risk of any possible confrontation. However, at the beginning of my third year in college, the family business was nationalized without, of course, any possible reparation or compensation. My father was given a meager salary, and thus, we had no choice but to get ready to leave Egypt. This was economic strangulation.

Worse yet, the government boasted in the newspapers the seizure of the family’s business and thus exposed our religion. I was finally discovered as being a Jew. A difficult confrontation with my friends arose at the University. And as soon as we applied to leave Egypt, we were stripped of our Egyptian nationality, which was had through five generations. Our personal assets—bank accounts, homes, etc— were also confiscated, and were told never to return.

The peak humiliation, took place at our departure at Cairo Airport. For example, the officers in charge harassed and insulted us during the inspection. This left me with difficult emotional scars but after that scary episode, we finally were allowed to leave. The thought of arriving to freedom in France lifted our spirits and gave us hope. And although we were quite poor there, we made up for it mostly with peace of mind.

Life was sweet and the ugly experience of my formative years in Egypt became a distant memory. After several years of contented married life, I was blessed with the birth of my daughters, Joelle and Michelle. Also, feeling secure and confident, I took a courageous step and founded my own telecommunications company. With diligent hard work and many sacrifices, the company flourished and became a public entity. Rapid economic growth in the telecommunications industry sharply expanded my business.

It was as if I wanted to prove to the world that whatever Egypt took away was inconsequential. I had to leave the past behind for I did not have the power to change it. Instead, my attention was focused on the future. As the chief executive in charge for fifteen long years, I was rewarded handsomely by what I was able to achieve in the venture. Finally, when the time was ripe, the Board of Directors decided to seek a buyer. In conclusion, I spent a couple of years under the new regime before I relinquished my duties and decided to finally retire and pursue other interests. America was indeed the land of opportunity.