The Greeks and the Making of Modern Egypt


From the early nineteenth century through to the 1960s, the Greeks formed the largest, most economically powerful, and geographically and socially diverse of all European communities in Egypt. Although they benefited from the privileges extended to foreigners and the control exercised by Britain, they claimed nonetheless to enjoy a special relationship with Egypt and the Egyptians, and saw themselves as contributors to the country’s modernization.

The Greeks and the Making of Modern Egypt is the first account of the modern Greek presence in Egypt from its beginnings during the era of Muhammad Ali to its final days under Nasser. It casts a critical eye on the reality and myths surrounding the complex and ubiquitous Greek community in Egypt by examining the Greeks’ legal status, their relations with the country’s rulers, their interactions with both elite and ordinary Egyptians, their economic activities, their contacts with foreign communities, their ties to their Greek homeland, and their community life, which included a rich and celebrated literary culture.

Alexander Kitroeff suggests that although the Greeks’ self-image as contributors to Egypt’s development is exaggerated, there were ways in which they functioned as agents of modernity, albeit from a privileged and protected position. While they never gained the acceptance they sought, the Greeks developed an intense and nostalgic love affair with Egypt after their forced departure in the 1950s and 1960s and resettlement in Greece and farther afield. This rich and engaging history of the Greeks in Egypt in the modern era will appeal to students, scholars, travelers, and general readers alike. 

Alexander Kitroeff focuses on the special relationship of the Greeks of Egypt with that country and its population. His twofold argument is noteworthy: that Greeks have played a particular role in the making of modern Egypt, contributing to its economic life as exceptional merchants, but also in its cultural and social arenas.

The book is organized chronologically into eight chapters from Muhammad Ali,
who invited a group of Greek merchants to cross the Mediterranean and settle in Egypt, to the Nasser era when the Greeks began to lose the privileges that helped them rise to prominence. The book concludes by shedding light on the nostalgia that the Greeks of Egypt feel about their past.

Alexander Kitroeff well-researched and eloquently written book will be of interest to academics in many different disciplines addressing Greece, Egypt, diasporas, colonialism, and more. The book is also accessible to the interested layman. Finally, the timing of Kitroeff’s work is auspicious. First, by highlighting the special relationship between Greeks and Egyptians, he usefully emphasizes Egypt’s cosmopolitan past. Second, he provides important background to growing networks of cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean between Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt, and increasingly with Israel.

Interview with Dr. Alexander Kitroeff: Greeks in Egypt – Egypt Migrations

Alexander Kitroeff is associate professor of history at Haverford College, where he teaches courses on Modern European and Mediterranean history. Born in Greece, he studied in Britain, where he received his doctoral degree in history at Oxford University. His research focuses on nationalism and ethnicity in modern Greece and its diaspora, from politics to sports. He is the author of four books, including The Greeks in Egypt: Ethnicity and Class 1919–37 and Wrestling with the Ancients: Modern Greek Identity and the Olympics.