[MGSA-L] Nostos: Greeks and Cypriots return to their roots in Egypt

Karen Van Dyck vandyck at columbia.edu
Sun May 6 07:30:28 PDT 2018

Very interesting post, Saffo. For background Kitroeffs 1989 book on the
Greeks of Egypt is very helpful. I also see he has a new book the Greeks
and the making of Egypt coming out.

On Sun, May 6, 2018 at 2:40 PM Saffo Papantonopoulou <
saffo at email.arizona.edu> wrote:

> Thank you for sharing this, June.
> I didn't know about this project. It's really interesting, but also
> strikes me as a bit neoliberal. The focus here is on business which reminds
> me a bit of Boutaris' "multicultural" project in Thessaloniki. I do like
> the last comment, though, about how the history of the community has not
> been studied enough. I haven't focused on Greek-Egyptians in my own
> research but one thing I do know from my own family and that never seems to
> get addressed in literature on Greek-Egyptians is how we became "Greeks."
> That is, how the Romioi became Ellines in Egypt. My family moved to Egypt
> at some point in the mid-19th century, one side from the Peleponnese, one
> side from Limnos, and one side from somewhere in Anatolia. I am pretty
> certain, then, that most of my family did not think of themselves as
> "Ellines" at the time they arrived in Egypt. I've always found the ways in
> which Greek-Egyptians get cast as part of the Greek "diaspora" who
> originate from "Greece" as a bit problematic, since many of us were Ottoman
> Rum who became Hellenized in Egypt. I think it's similar in some ways to
> the ways in which the Lausanne treaty posited Mikrasiates as "Greeks" who
> were to be "returned" to their "homeland", and Muslims in Greece as "Turks"
> in the same way. Again, like I said this is not my area of research focus
> so I don't know if there's anyone out there who has traced a genealogy of
> "Greek" identity in Egypt, I would be really curious to learn.
> Thank you again for sharing.
> Best,
> Saffo Papantonopoulou
> Dual PhD Student
> Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies
> Graduate Student Affiliate
> Institute for LGBT Studies
> University of Arizona
> On Sat, May 5, 2018 at 6:03 PM, June Samaras <kalamosbooks at gmail.com>
> wrote:
>> Nostos: Greeks and Cypriots return to their roots in Egypt
>> http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/151/298823/Egypt/Features/Nostos-Greeks-and-Cypriots-return-to-their-roots-i.aspx
>> The Greeks crossed the Mediterranean in the 19th century to Egypt 'not
>> just to work: they came to live and work,' and they left a lasting mark on
>> the culture of a country
>> Dina Ezzat , Thursday 3 May 2018
>> Egypt signs economic cooperation protocols with Greece, Cyprus on
>> sidelines of Nostos week
>> Egyptian, Greek, Cypriot presidents inaugurate 'Nostos' cultural heritage
>> event in Alexandria
>> Emigration Minister Nabila Makram on the 'Nostos' project to host Greeks,
>> Cypriots who once lived in Egypt
>> This week’s first round of the Nostos Programme in Alexandria brought
>> back many memories for the former Greeks of Egypt. The visit was held in
>> collaboration with the ministries of emigration of Egypt, Greece and Cyprus.
>> It started in Alexandria with an event inaugurated by the presidents of
>> the three countries who made statements to acknowledge the shared
>> Mediterranean history and culture of the three countries and the influences
>> of the Greek and Cypriot communities in Egypt.
>> According to Maha Salem, spokesperson of Egypt’s Ministry of Emigration,
>> the remainder of the visit of the mostly elderly women and men who had come
>> to Alexandria, not just from Greece and Cyprus but from all over Europe and
>> North America, was designed to include a visit to Cairo and Giza,
>> especially the Pyramids area, and then to Sharm El-Sheikh, especially the
>> Greek Orthodox Church affiliated to St Catherine’s Monastery.
>> “These are not just the places that the Greeks and Cypriots of Egypt once
>> lived in, because they lived in many parts of the country, including the
>> Suez Canal Zone. This is the path designed for the first round of the
>> Nostos Programme,” Salem said.
>> Nostos is a Greek word that literally means a return to roots, or
>> homecoming, particularly to roots near the sea.
>> “It makes perfect sense because Alexandria has always been perceived as
>> the Hellenistic centre of the Mediterranean, and while the Greeks of Egypt,
>> or the Egyptiotes as we call them, lived all over Egypt, they lived mostly
>> in Alexandria,” said Michael Diamesis, ambassador of Greece to Egypt.
>> “The visit is not just about nostalgia but is also about our long common
>> history. There was always a connection between our people, and there is
>> plenty of archaeological proof for relations that in their modern phase
>> started in the late 19th century. They go back centuries before that,” said
>> Mortisis Charis, ambassador of Cyprus to Egypt.
>> By the early decades of the 20th century there were over half a million
>> Greeks and Cypriots living in Egypt. Today, there are around 5,000 Greeks
>> and 500 Cypriots. However, as both Diamesis and Charis agree, the Greek
>> presence is still there and not just in the imprint of the monuments,
>> churches and restaurants. The Greek and Cypriot communities, with their
>> leaders and institutions, are still very active in Egypt, unlike some other
>> former foreign communities.
>> Andreas Mavromotis is a third-generation Cypriot of Egypt who currently
>> heads the Cypriot community in Cairo. Mavromotis’ grandfather was born in
>> 1873, “the date when the Cypriot Community Association was established,” he
>> said.
>> Mavromotis grandfather came to Egypt in 1915. “He came to live and to
>> work — not to work and then to leave,” he said.
>> It was in Mosky, a Cairo neighbourhood known to have hosted
>> representatives of the middle and lower-middle classes of several foreign
>> communities, that the first Mavromotis married and lived for several years.
>> “He was starting a button-making business, and at that time Mosky was the
>> commercial hub of the city,” Mavromotis recalled.
>> One decade down the road, the family moved to the then new suburb of
>> Heliopolis, also at the time a place that housed many foreigners.
>> Today, Mavromotis lives in Heliopolis and is still running the same
>> business that was started by his grandfather. Born in 1954, however,
>> Mavromotis does not have the company of many Cypriot families as his father
>> and grandfather did. Today, there are just a few families in Cairo and a
>> few more in Alexandria.
>> These families share with their Greek counterparts “almost everything” in
>> terms of social and religious life.
>> “We share and complement one another as a community of people who came
>> from the Mediterranean to live in Egypt. Like the Greeks of Egypt, we feel
>> at home here,” he said.
>> Mavromotis was looking forward to the Nostos Programme. “It is a unique
>> reunion event, and it could well be the beginning of the return of the
>> Cypriots to Egypt, not just to visit and walk in the paths of the good old
>> days, but also to start a new beginning of cooperation and social and
>> cultural engagement,” he said.
>> Dimitri Cavouras, a fourth-generation Greek of Alexandria, also has high
>> hopes of Nostos.
>> Cavouras hopes the event can offer an opportunity to those not familiar
>> with the history of the Greeks of Egypt to learn more about it.
>> “I think many people in Alexandria, maybe most, know about this history
>> as the buildings are there and the names and venues of old restaurants and
>> patisseries still survive. But outside of Alexandria, I am not sure that
>> many people know what the Greeks of Egypt were about,” he said.
>> One thing that Cavouras is keen that people should learn about the Greek
>> community of Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is that this
>> was a people who settled in and belonged to Egypt, who spoke Arabic, “as
>> most of us do fluently,” and who “loved this country as their homeland and
>> nothing less”.
>> As Lilianne Eissa, half-Greek and half-Lebanese and an Alexandria
>> resident, put it, the Greeks never lived in ghettos.
>> “Not at all — they integrated widely, with Egyptians as well as with
>> other foreigners,” Eissa said.
>> The marriage of Eissa’s father, a third-generation Lebanese who lived in
>> Alexandria, with her mother Fotini Hamos was a story of this integration.
>> Today, the name Hamos still survives as one of the most popular
>> patisseries in Alexandria. While the Hamos of today is in the Sporting
>> neighbourhood, “where it has been for over ten years,” the first was in
>> Ramleh, the centre of the eclectic Alexandrian Greek community, and then in
>> Ibrahimiya, which also had a high foreign presence, especially of Greeks,
>> until the late 1950s. Hamos is famous today for its classic recipes that
>> include French items, Greek delicacies including Easter brioche and finikia
>> (or mellomakarona, Greek honey biscuits) and kahk Al-Eid (traditional
>> Egyptian biscuits).
>> For Eissa, the Greeks of Alexandria are there to share the diverse
>> culture they belong to.
>> Some, such as dentist Lilika Thlivitis, is Greek-Egyptian. A
>> third-generation Greek by birth and Alexandrian by history, Thlivitis and
>> her husband and three children became Egyptian nationals in the late 1970s.
>> “It was late president Anwar Al-Sadat who honoured us with the
>> nationality, and today we are hoping that under President Abdel-Fattah
>> Al-Sisi there will be a very close cooperation between Egypt and Greece. We
>> have a heritage to share and so much in the future to look forward to,”
>> Thilvitis said.
>>  “There is still room for people to come and build their lives and have
>> their businesses here, and of course so much cooperation,” said Georges
>> Eleftheriou, a member of the Cypriot Community Association in Alexandria.
>> Eleftheriou said Egypt has “very promising business opportunities that
>> just need promotion”. This was the reason he had chosen to come back to
>> Egypt, where he was born as a third-generation Cypriot, after having
>> graduated and started a business in Europe. “I came back because I liked
>> the country and the people, but also because I saw a business opportunity
>> here,” he said.
>> Business cooperation is a top issue on the agenda of the three presidents
>> meeting for the Nostos event in Alexandria. Cultural cooperation is
>> particularly important, according to organisers at the Ministry of
>> Emigration.
>>  Starvoula Spanou, head of the Greek Cultural Centre in Alexandria, who
>> was born in Greece and has been working in Alexandria for over 20 years,
>> and Papadopoulos Christos, head of the Greek Cultural Centre in Cairo,
>> share a firm belief in the growing volume of cultural cooperation between
>> Egypt and Greece because of Nostos.
>> “Already we have a lot of cooperation with the Ministry of Culture, and
>> when Nostos meets in Alexandria a delegation from the Alexandria Greek
>> Cultural Centre will be in Athens for a literary event. I am confident that
>> because of Nostos there will be keener interest on both sides at the
>> official and civil society levels to promote cultural cooperation, which is
>> the key to relations around the Mediterranean,” he said.
>>  This cooperation does not exclude the Cypriots. “We keep on saying that
>> we have all lived around the Mediterranean, and we are very close to one
>> another,” he said.
>> It is this proximity, not just geographical but also cultural, that made
>> the men and women who crossed the Mediterranean come to Alexandria and be
>> able to live and integrate in their new home, argues historian Khaled Fahmi.
>> At the end of the 19th century, when waves of immigration from the north
>> to the south of the Mediterranean started, there was no separate country of
>> Cyprus and parts of Greece and Cyprus were part of the Ottoman Empire.
>> Egypt too was part of the empire, but under the rule of the Mohamed Ali
>> dynasty it enjoyed a kind of autonomy and a booming business life.
>> “For those coming from Athens to Alexandria, they were in fact coming to
>> the dolce vita… Egypt was a magnet at the time, and Alexandria was perhaps
>> the most active of all the Greek communities around the Mediterranean,”
>> Fahmy said.
>> Until the 1920s, Fahmy explained, it was much more interesting for many
>> Greeks to be in Egypt. Then, he added, it became interesting for them to
>> start going back to Greece again.
>> However, Fahmy noted, as many of the Greeks were integrated in the
>> societies they lived in, some chose to stay on.
>> “They came to live and to die in Egypt. They had their schools, their
>> houses, their shops, their churches and their cemeteries here,” Fahmy
>> noted. “They belonged in Egypt, and this was part of their choice to stand
>> with Egypt upon the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956,” he said.
>> Fahmy also notes the socio-economic profile of the Greeks of Egypt as
>> another indication of the nature of the history that the community had in
>> Egypt. “Some had big companies and others had small jobs. They lived all
>> over the country, and they conducted their lives and affairs without the
>> support of the colonial presence of the French and the British,” he said.
>> If they had legal problems or fell on the wrong side of the law, they
>> were dealt with like any other Egyptian.
>> Today, Fahmy believes, re-visiting the history of this community entails
>> reading its history carefully.
>> “I don’t think that the history of this community has been written as
>> thoroughly and efficiently as it deserves to be. It is a huge endeavour
>> that will require time and resources and above all access to the documents
>> and archives,” he concluded.
>> * This story was first published under the title 'Back to their roots' in
>> Al-Ahram Weekly
>> --
>> June Samaras
>> (For Books about Greece)
>> 2020 Old Station Rd
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