A little piece of Greece in Egypt

A general view of the Egyptian port city of Alexandria. (AFP/File photo)
Updated 03 June 2019

A little piece of Greece in Egypt

  • Greek Club remains an important symbol of the history of Alexandria
  • Egypt’s Minister of Immigration Nabila Makram says the government is paying tribute to everyone who once lived in Egypt and left a positive impact on it

CAIRO: The Greek Club, near Alexandria’s Qaitbay Citadel, is a marriage of two cultures. It opened in 1909 and quickly became a playground for visitors from across the Mediterranean and the city’s residents, as much for its glorious views as for the food that brought together the culinary heritage of two major civilizations. While it is no longer a sports venue, it remains an important symbol of the Greeks’ presence in Alexandria.

“The Greeks lived everywhere in Egypt, but the largest number were in Alexandria, then Cairo, Port Said, Assiut and Aswan,” the head of the Greek community in Alexandria, Edmund Nicola Acasimatis, told Arab News. “There were about 400,000 before the 1950s.”

The Greek community was founded in Alexandria in 1843 by economists who lived in Egypt, with diasporas later popping up in other cities. The Greeks had two aims. The first, unsurprisingly, was to promote their own interests. The second was more unusual. The Greeks wanted to serve Egypt through their professional and philanthropic efforts.

“When the Greeks arrived in Egypt they did not care to be like the British, Italians or any other population who wanted to work as senior diplomats,” said Acasimatis. “The Greeks worked as tailors, carpenters, taxi drivers and chefs. They excelled at their jobs and passed on these trades to the Egyptians.”

FASTFACT

 

• The Greek community was founded in Alexandria in 1843 by economists who lived in Egypt, with diasporas later popping up in other cities.

• The Greeks wanted to serve Egypt through their professional and philanthropic efforts.

• The community set up churches, hospitals, health centers, orphanages and schools.

• President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi inaugurated a Hellenism revival week in Alexandria, with the aim of recalling the memories and heritage of the cultures.

 The Greeks set up churches, hospitals, health centers, orphanages and schools. Such buildings bear the hallmarks of classical Greek architecture and contribute to Egypt’s already-rich history. 

But the Egyptian revolution of 1952, together with the rise of nationalism and nationalization under Gamel Abdel Nasser, had a dramatic impact on the country’s Greek population and its commercial activities. Greeks were either asked, encouraged or even forced to leave the land they had come to consider home. Their exit also had consequences for industries and trades that were not yet fully fledged in Egypt.

“There are only around 5,000 Greeks in Alexandria now,” said Acasimatis, “but generally speaking, the community remains one of the most integrated and influential in Egyptian society. The Greeks have been the most similar to the Egyptians throughout history and the Greek Club reflects the Greeks’ kiss on Alexandria.”

Acasimatis said there were differences between the club’s past and present and that these were an indication of Alexandria’s current situation. The city used to be clean. Its population was smaller and life was simpler. Transport was better and someone could go to the club and eat and drink to his heart’s content. “Now a young man would only be able to sample what he could afford,” he added.

Writer and journalist Nancy Habib frequents the club to learn more about the Greeks in Egypt. 

“My mother used to tell me about her Greek friends, how she learned some of their national recipes, in addition to some traditions about etiquette and clothes,” she told Arab News. “The club is a place to encounter different cultures, which is very important. Cairo is one of the most important cities for making more friends and getting closer to cultures that lived alongside the Egyptians in the past.”

History researcher Abdul Majeed Abdul Aziz said the club was an important meeting place for the Greeks who lived in Egypt. By the 1930s and 1940s the venue also attracted many Egyptians amid rising liberalism, creating a blend of traditions from both sides.

“Many of the habits of the people in Alexandria are now similar to what was once done by the Greeks,” he told Arab News. 

Egyptian media reported last year that President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi and his Greek and Cypriot counterparts inaugurated a Hellenism revival week in Alexandria, with the aim of recalling the memories and heritage of the cultures.

Egypt’s Minister of Immigration Nabila Makram was quoted as saying that the program paid tribute to everyone who once lived in Egypt and left a positive impact. “Everyone was always welcomed to come and live in Egypt and they still are,” Makram said in a statement to media outlets. 


Lebanon’s Aoun vows to tend to economic, financial reforms

Updated 59 min 49 sec ago

Lebanon’s Aoun vows to tend to economic, financial reforms

  • Aoun said this aimed “to guarantee political stability in cabinet and outside it and to secure the greatest amount of productivity”
  • He expected “the implementation path” to begin “with the start of October"

BEIRUT: Lebanon is expected to begin implementing in October a set of economic and financial measures agreed by its top leadership that will boost economic growth, President Michel Aoun said on Sunday, vowing that he would to tend to this himself.
He was referring to decisions taken at a top-level meeting earlier this month with the aim of reviving an economy that has been growing slowly for years and is struggling with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.
After the Aug. 9 meeting, Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri said agreed steps included finishing the 2020 budget on time, drawing up a plan to start $3.3 billion of projects approved by parliament, full implementation of a power sector reform plan, and laws to fight tax evasion and regulate public tenders.
“I will personally tend to the implementation path of the decisions of the financial and economic meeting” in cooperation with Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and other parties in government, Aoun said.
In written comments to Reuters, Aoun said this aimed “to guarantee political stability in cabinet and outside it and to secure the greatest amount of productivity,” including in the implementation of the 2019 budget and its reforms.
Aoun said he expected “the implementation path” to begin “with the start of October after the conclusion of the current preparations ... which will lead to lifting of the growth rates, reflecting positively on the economic and financial situations.”
After years of backsliding on economic reform, the impetus to act has grown due to economic stagnation and a slowdown in the flow of dollars into Lebanon’s banks from abroad. Lebanon has depended on such flows from its diaspora to finance the current account and the state budget deficits.
Foreign governments and donor institutions last year pledged $11 billion in financing to Lebanon for major infrastructure at the so-called Cedre conference in Paris, on condition that it carries out reforms.
Measures to reduce the budget deficit and reform the power sector, which bleeds public funds while inflicting daily power cuts on Lebanese, are seen as two vital tests of the government’s ability to reform.
The International Monetary Fund said in July this year’s deficit is likely to be well above a targeted 7.6% of national output.
It said the power reform plan and a budget to reduce the deficit were “very welcome first steps” and “further substantial fiscal adjustment and structural reforms” were needed.
Aoun said work was underway to approve the 2020 budget in the constitutional timeframe.
It would include “new, resolute reforms” agreed at the Aug. 9 meeting to reduce the power sector deficit, improve tax collection and fight customs and tax evasion.
Aoun also said frameworks must be put in place for implementing a plan drawn up by management consulting firm McKinsey for revamping the economy and this should coincide with the start of projects outlined at the Cedre conference.