Migratory flows (16th–19th century)

Cohabitation but no integration

The Maronites, like the other Christian groups, integrated in their distinct way into Egyptian society. They shared with the host society's people a language, even if dialectal variations held good, a number of customs, and some mindsets. However, they generally moved into specific neighbourhoods and never lived in isolation. They had their schools, their clubs, their associations. They married within their own community, rarely with Orthodox Copts and almost never with the Muslims who made up the vast majority of the population. Their lifestyle was attractive to the Egyptians to the extent that part of their elite made a habit of spending the summer in Lebanon in the regions of Bikfaya, Aley or Bhamdoun. Meanwhile dissimilarities endured three generations down the line.

The nationality question, which arose as Britain imposed a de jure protectorate on Egypt cast a sharp light on the limits of the integration process. Under the 1869 Law, everybody enjoyed Ottoman citizenship but in 1914 the legal bound between Istanbul and Cairo was irrevocably broken. The 1923 Lausanne Treaty gave the subjects of the ex-Empire the option to choose the nationality of their home or their host country. While awaiting the framing of Egyptian law on nationality a Franco-Egyptian modus vivendi was arrived at whereby Syrian and Lebanese citizens living in Egypt came under French diplomatic protection by virtue of Article 3 of the French Mandate in Syria and Lebanon. They would however not benefit from « any legal or fiscal immunity or privilege, or more broadly any prerogative pertaining to the Capitular regime they had hitherto enjoyed » (Article 1). This arrangement did little to overcome the legal and political obstacles barring access to citizenship in the context of Egypt's struggle towards full independence, to wit: laws and amendments between 1926 and 1929 ; suppression of the confessional millet courts[1] ; readjustment of personal status in line with Sharia law ; nationalisation of personal estates and real assets by Nasser's government. From this time onwards, many leave the country and the number of Maronites living in Egypt at the beginning of the 21st century stands at 5,000, that is barely twice as many as at the end of the 18th century.

The sweeping migratory movement that led several tens of thousands of Shawams to settle in Egypt, from Damietta and Alexandria to Cairo via Tanta and Mansourah or Ismailia, was not attended by a social integration that would favour the merging of populations or the acquisition of full citizenship bar for a small minority. Over three quarters of a century, the role of the immigrants was momentous, in the fields of administration as among the professions. At faith level, the migrants were in significant majority Christians : it is only at the end of the 19th century that some Shia, Sunni and Druze families joined the trend. Politically, their presence had a lasting impact on the Arab world : at the end of World War II, amidst the tumultuous effervescence working up to breaking the relations of domination set up by the colonial and mandatory powers, be they British or French, the constitution of the League of Arab States[2] was drafted in Alexandria and its headquarters are in Cairo.

  1. Millet

    Turkish modelled on the Arabic milla, meaning religion, community, nation. In our context it refers to the faith communities.

  2. League of Arab States

    Organisation founded on 22 March 1945 with 7 members (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Transjordan). In 1993, the league counts 22 states. It has four main instances : the Council of Heads of States, the Council of Ministers, the standing committees and the General Secretariat.

AccueilAccueilImprimerImprimer Karam Rizk, professeur à l'Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik (Liban) Paternité - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de ModificationRéalisé avec Scenari (nouvelle fenêtre)