Jews have lived in Egypt since Biblical times. Israelite tribes first moved to the Land of Goshen (the north-eastern edge of the Nile Delta) during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep IV (1375-1358 B.C).

Over the years, Jews have sought shelter and dwelled in Egypt. By 1897, there were more than 25,000 Jews in Egypt, concentrated in Cairo and Alexandria. In 1937, the population reached 63,500.

In the 1940’s, with the rise of Egyptian nationalism and the Zionist movement’s efforts to create a Jewish homeland in adjoining Israel, anti-Jewish activities began in earnest. In 1945, riots erupted – ten Jews were killed; 350 injured, and a synagogue, a Jewish hospital, and an old-age home were burned down. After the success of the Zionist movement in establishing the State of Israel, between June and November of 1948, violence and repressive measures by the Government and Egyptians began in earnest. Bombs were set off in the Jewish Quarter, killing more than 70 Jews and wounded nearly 200. Rioting over the next few months resulted in many more Jewish deaths. 2,000 Jews were arrested and many had their property confiscated.

In 1956, the Egyptian government used the Sinai Campaign as a pretext to order almost 25,000 Egyptian Jews to leave the country and confiscated their property. They were allowed to take only one suitcase and a small sum of cash, and forced to sign declarations “donating” their property to the Egyptian government. Approximately 1,000 more Jews were sent to prisons and detention camps. On November 23, 1956, a proclamation signed by the Minister of Religious Affairs, and read aloud in mosques throughout Egypt, declared that “all Jews are Zionists and enemies of the state,” and promised that they would be soon expelled (AP, November 26 and 29 1956; New York World Telegram).

By 1957, the Jewish population of Egypt had fallen to 15,000. In 1967, after the Six-Day War, there was a renewed wave of persecution, and the community dropped to 2,500. By the 1970s, after the remaining Jews were given permission to leave the country, the community dwindled to a few families.

Jewish rights were finally restored in 1979 after President Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Accords with Israel. Only then was the community allowed to establish ties with Israel and with world Jewry. Nearly all the estimated 200 Jews left in Egypt are elderly and the once proud and flourishing Jewish community is on the verge of extinction.

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.

See: Historical Society of Jews from Egypt