Migratory flows (16th–19th century)

The choice of Egypt

The relations between the Nile Valley and the coast, the mountain and the hinterland of what makes up today's Syria and Lebanon go back to antiquity. Be they commercial or cultural, they have never broken down regardless of the conflicts that affected the region. The migratory flows were more frequent in one direction than in the other. Thus, in 1724, the schism that split the Syrian Greek Orthodox community upon the creation of a patriarcat[1] attached to Rome resulted in a migratory flow which saw Melkites (Greek-Catholic) from Damas Alepo, Zahle or Sidon move to Egypt. Those were mostly middle class family arrived with their employees, who invested some of their capital in trade or in the nascent cotton industry. Patriarch Mazlum[2] who obtained from the Sultan recognition for his church in civilian and ecclesial matters supported the development of his church in Alexandria where he appointed a bishop and encouraged the creation of charitable foundations and the construction of churches.

The reforms decided by Muhammad Ali as well as Egypt's growing autonomy from Istanbul were both favourable to the installation of the Shawam. Khedive[3] Abbas Ist[4] sought to impose restrictions on the newcomers but his attempt was not met with success. His successor Sa'id Pasha[5] set up close links of dependence with Europe, an orientation pursued, voluntarily at first then under duress from the British occupier (1882), by Ismaïl[6] and Tewfik[7]. The development of the Northern Mediterranean rim was pointed out as a model to follow. This orientation required the knowledge of foreign language. The Shawam seized this opportunity since a respectable number of their group mastered other languages than Arabic, not least among them French. They coincidentally reconnected on Egyptian soil with the types of schools and religious orders (Christian Brothers[8], Jesuits[9]) in which their parents might have been educated.

Thus exile also turned out to be the result of an attraction. Levantines were frequently first to be taken on by European and North-American major societies and banks. The same causes yielding different effects according to the regions, the opening of the Suez Canal saw the banks of the Nile take off economically. The Shawam played an active part in the development of the private sector. They were successful in cotton and mulberry farming like in the professions where they thrived as accountants, magistrates, lawyers, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, translators and political advisors. They settle in Alexandria, Damietta, Mansoura, Tanta and Cairo. They took advantage sooner than the Copts[10], of the Egyptian constitution that established the juridical equality of all citizens and granted the Christians the fullness of civil rights. The cultural and political liberalism, more marked in the Egyptian capital, especially after Sultan Abdul Hamid II[11], suspended the Ottoman constitution, encouraged Arab speaking intellectuals to launch a press activity that was soon flourishing.

The Levantine community in Egypt counted more than 100,000 members at the turn of the 20th century : civil servants, hairdressers, cobblers, drivers, engineers, dentists, doctors, shopkeepers, painters. Their aggregate wealth was reckoned at one and a half billion francs, that is 10% of the Egyptian GDP. Those who had capital invested it in small businesses (oil, soaps, tobacco, patisserie...). Others created more important companies trading or producing salt, sodium, textiles, perfume, wood, silk. This economic success lead to the foundation of schools, clubs, charities, generally linked to a place of worship which was most of the time a church. A minority returned to their home village but the majority remained “semi-detached”, settling for several generations in Egypt without for all that involving themselves fully in the host society.

  1. Patriarchate

    An authority embracing several ecclesial subdivisions (dioceses) run by bishops who are considered the successors of the apostles and of Jesus. This structure took shape in the Roman Empire between the 4th and the 6th century, driven by religious, cultural and political factors, with sharp tensions arising around the see of Rome. During the reign of Emperor Justinian (482-565), the patriarchal sees were given the following order of precedence : Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem. New patriarchates would be instituted in the centuries to come.

  2. Maximos III Mazlum

    Melkite patriarch. A powerful figure, he set out on the occasion of synods in Ayn Traz (1835) then in Jerusalem (1849) the discipline and structures of the Melkite church, linking the Eastern tradition to Roman assent. The development of his church thereafter was swift.

  3. Khedive

    Ottoman title with a Persian origin often translated by viceroy in English. By claiming it, Ismail Pasha makes it the symbol of a promotion to a higher rank than that held by other vassals of the Ottoman Sultan, as well as a confirmation of Egypt's autonomy. The title will disappear in 1914 to be replaced first by “Sultan”, then “King of Egypt”.

  4. Abbas I (1848-1854)

    Grandson of Mohammad Ali, in his youth, he fought in Syria under the command of Ibrahim Pasha, his uncle (supposedly so). Thanks to the British, he succeeded him in November 1848. Fiercely opposed to the modernisation and reforms brought in by his predecessors, he expelled European advisors, suppressed trade monopolies, closed down factories, and schools and reduced the size of the Egyptian army bringing its strength down to 9000 men. Closer to the Porte, he sent troops to the Crimea. He was seen as an uncouth, old-fashioned and silent man who rarely left his palace. He was murdered in 1854 by two slaves and his uncle Said Pasha succeeded him.

  5. Sa'id of Egypt (1822-1863)

    4th son of Muhammad Ali and viceroy of Egypt from 1854. The death of his nephew Abbas gave him the opportunity to rule Egypt. He was instated in Constantinople and endeavoured to win the trust of the imperial diwan. Back in Cairo, he raised a 10000 strong force toward supporting the Sultan in his fight against the Tsar. During his reigns, the British built the Cairo-Suez railway line and Ferdinand de Lesseps obtained the concession for the construction of the Suez Canal.

  6. Ismail Pasha (1830-1895)

    Viceroy of Egypt, granted the title of Khedive by the Porte (1867). His reign was marked by economic growth and the opening of the Suez Canal grandly celebrated by the highest international powers of the time, as well as a politics of conquest navigating up the river Nile (into today's Sudan) and a serious financial crisis. In 1857, Ismail had to sell his Suez Canal shares to the United Kingdom and the following year Egyptian finances were placed under direct Franco-British control. A movement of contestation of these two European powers spread but Paris and London obtained from the Sultan the destitution of the Khedive in 1879 and his replacement by his son Tewfik.

  7. Mohamed Tewfik Pasha (1852-1892)

    Khedive of Egypt (1879-1892). Son of Ismail, he did not have at his command the means to oppose the Franco-British control. From the beginning of his reign, Egyptian nationalism found its voice under Urabi Pasha's leadership ; after his appointment as a minister he led a revolt but was defeated by British troops in 1882 whereupon London instituted over Egypt a de facto protectorate.

  8. Christian (Lasallian) Brothers

    Members of a Catholic religious order founded by St Jean-Baptiste de la Salle (1651-1719). Members of this order are committed to teaching, giving particular attention to the most disadvantaged population whose schools are funded by those schools attended by more wealthy pupils.

  9. Jesuits

    Religious order which has the particularity to make a special vow of obedience to the pope. They are a noted presence in the fields of education, scientific and spiritual research and mission.

  10. Copt

    Term originating from the Arabic Qubt, itself drawn from the Greek Aiguptos, it refers to members of the Coptic Church, who speak the Coptic language, derived from ancient Egyptian. The Coptic Church adheres to Cyril of Alexandria's formula “One Nature of God the Logos Incarnate”. Because of this doctrine it was called monophysite notably following the Council of Chalcedon in 451. In the 18th century it would spawn a Catholic Coptic church that abandoned the monophysite doctrine but upheld its traditional liturgy, and, in the 19th century, a protestant one. The Copts consider themselves the descent of the ancient Egyptians.

  11. Abdul Hamid II (1842-1918)

    34th Ottoman Sultan (1876-1909) known to his opponents as the “Red Sultan”. He acceded to power following a palace revolution lead by the reforming Grand Vizier Mithat Pasha whom he no less dismissed ; and he suspended the 1876 constitution which had established a parliamentary monarchy and guaranteed individual and religious freedom. His reign evinced an authoritarian orientation. Upon suspending the constitution the Sultan would not hesitate to resort to violence against a background in which the Ottoman Empire threatened to implode, squeezed between internal forces voicing national aspirations and the Powers' greed. Several revolts were quelled in blood. The Sultan was deposed then imprisoned by the Young Turks in 1909.

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