Egypt

Timeline. Through history.

If we don’t understand the past, how can we understand our present and future? To truly absorb, appreciate, and reflect on the country we are visiting, we need to look at pivotal moments in history. Begin your journey through the ages now.

  • Jewish timeline
  • General timeline

THE GIFT OF THE NILE

  • 6000 Settlement begins on banks of Nile, then & now the fertile hub of country
    3150 Menes, Egypt’s legendary first king, unites Upper and Lower Egypt
    3000 A cradle of civilization: Trade, government, agriculture, hieroglyphics develop
    2500 The pyramids, tombs for pharaohs, built (probably by paid laborers not slaves)
  • Biblical account: Moses leads Israelites out of Egyptian slavery to Land of Israel
  • 1570 Ancient Egypt at its peak: Remarkable temples constructed around Luxor
  • 1200 Scholars suggest a small group known as Habiru (perhaps Hebrews) leave Egypt
  • 669 Start of the foreign dynasties. Assyrians from Mesopotamia rule Egypt
  • 586 After Babylonians conquer Jerusalem, Jeremiah leads Jewish groups to Egypt
    525 Jews establish community near Aswan; soldiers for Persian rulers of Egypt

GREEK & ROMAN RULE, JEWS FLOURISH IN ALEXANDRIA

  • 332 Alexander the Great conquers Egypt, establishes Alexandria. This city becomes intellectual & cultural center of ancient world
  • 200 Alexandria also a great Jewish center, prosperous and religiously tolerant
    Community influenced by traditional Jewish and Hellenistic (Greek) culture
    Greek replaces Hebrew and Aramaic as major language of Egyptian Jews
    The Septuagint: Jews translate Torah into Greek
    170 Jews build replica of Jerusalem temple in Heliopolis for worship & sacrifices
    73 Romans destroy Jerusalem and then the Heliopolis Temple
    45 Philo, “the Jewish Plato,” born in Alexandria
  • 30 Roman rule begins as Cleopatra, last Ptolemaic (Greek) pharaoh, commits suicide
  • Jewish population in Egypt large, some claim as many as 1 million  

  • 100 Rome smashes Jewish revolt in Egypt. Jewish population & influence plummet
  • 300 Christianity dominant in Egypt; has displaced traditional local religions

ARAB EGYPT, ISLMIC EMPIRES

  • 641 The Arab conquest: Over time, most Egyptians adopt Sunni Islam, Arabic language
  • Jews’ dhimmi status: protected but inferior minorities subject to special taxes
    In return, Jews have religious and considerable communal autonomy
    882 Karaite community (follow Jewish Bible but not rabbis) established in Egypt
  • 969 Fatimid caliphate conquers Egypt, establish Cairo (Fustat) as capital
    Egypt center of powerful, religiously tolerant, Fatima kingdom
    Al-Azhar, one of world’s first universities, established in Cairo
  • A golden age for Egyptian Jews. Pop. 20,000, thriving culture & scholarship
    Prosperous community includes courtiers, physicians, traders & craftsmen
    1165 Maimonides, great religious scholar & physician to Sultan, settles in Cairo
  • 1250 Mamluks, Turkic slave-soldiers, establish kingdom in Egypt
    Black death kills about 40% of Egyptians
  • The good times end: Jews suffer religious discrimination, population plummets
    1492 Following Spanish expulsion, a new Sephardi community emerges in Egypt
  • 1517 Egypt absorbed into the Ottoman Empire. Initial economic growth
  • Jewish community benefits from religious tolerance & economic upsurge
    1524 Feared attack on Cairo Jews averted, sparking new holiday: the Cairo Purim
  • 1640 A period of famines, economic stagnation begins as Ottoman Empire weakens
  • Pop. drops to 6000. Many follow “false messiah” Shabbatai Zevi
    1734 Situation for Jews declining. Anti-Jewish riots in Cairo kill many

UNDER PRESSURE FROM THE WEST

  • 1798 France invades Egypt but repelled by British & Ottoman troops in 1801
    1805 An Enlightened Despot: Muhammad Ali seizes power
    Inspired by west, he establishes modernizing dynasty
    Agriculture, infrastructure, education, govt, army reforms
    Power of Ali & his descendants increasingly limited by French & Britain influence
    1869 Suez Canal built. This vital transport hub creates new economic opportunities
    It also helps bankrupt Egyptian govt. and brings Egypt under western influence
  • Economic opportunities attract Jews from Ottoman Empire and Europe
    An era of Jewish peace, prosperity, & population growth in Egypt begins
    Modern (French) Jewish schools established; literacy rates rise dramatically
  • 1882 Britain occupies Egypt. Direct control of country until 1922, indirect until 1950s
    1898 Egyptian pop. 9.7 million. Most are Sunni Muslims, 10% Christian (mainly Coptic)
    Two Egypts: Multi-cultural Cairo & Alexandria but most still live in rural areas
    Land inequality: Most land owned by large-scale owners, peasant majority poor
  • Jewish pop. 25,200. Play significant role in culture, commerce, professions
    Jewish life based in Cairo & Alexandria. A few Jews in smaller towns
    The most urban, educated Jewish community in any Islamic country
    Sephardi elite speak French, send children to British schools
    Ashkenazi immigrants initially poorer but increasing prosperity and influence
    Diverse communities speaking Arabic, French, Ladino, Yiddish, Italian
    Cairo Geniza, vast manuscript collection, transferred from Ben Ezra Synagogue

ARAB NATIONALISM…

  • 1916 Britain & France secretly carve up control of Middle East
    1919 Egypt formally British “protectorate.” Egyptian revolution against Britain begins
    1922 “Semi-independence.” King Fuad rules; Britain retains control over Suez Canal
  • Zionism movement grows; many Jewish-Egyptian nationalists, left-wingers
  • 1928 Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic, anti-imperialist political movement, founded
    Poverty and government corruption contribute to political unrest
    Egyptian population: 15.8 million
  • 1936 Jews’ position remains good but Egyptian unrest over Palestine increases
    1945 First modern anti-Jewish riots in Cairo, over 30 killed and many injured
    1947 Anti-Zionist riots after UN adopt Israel partition plan
    Pop. has grown to 65,639. Many Jews are not Egyptian citizens, leaving them vulnerable as anti-foreigner laws passed
    Famous Jewish actress & singer Leila Mourad converts to Islam

…LEADS TO NASSER & A MODERN EXODUS OF EGYPTIAN JEWS

  • 1948 Egypt, Syria, Jordan, & Iraq attack new State of Israel
    Failure in war weakens rule of King Farouk. State of emergency declared
  • Govt. accuses local Jews of disloyalty: Attacks, arrests, property confiscations
    25,000 Jews leave in next two years; 14,000 go to Israel
  • 1952 Gamal Nasser leads coup by army officers. King abdicates, Egypt a republic
    1953 Major but ultimately unsuccessful land reforms launched
    1954 Nasser takes control. Bans political parties, suppresses Islamic & leftist groups
    He adopts a pan-Arabist, pro-Soviet, anti-British, anti-Israel approach
  • 1954 The Lavon Affair: Israeli agents plant bombs in western-frequented parts of Cairo, blame
    Egyptians & call on Britain to keep control over Suez Canal
  • 1956 Britain & US withdraw finance to help Egypt build the massive Aswan Dam
    Nasser responds. Nationalizes Suez Canal & closes Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships
    Israel, Britain & France invade, seeking to regain Canal & bring down Nasser
    US pressure forces withdrawal. Britain humiliated; Nasser triumphant
  • 1957 Jews deported, harassed. Population drops to 8,500
  • 1958 Nasser the champion of Pan-Arabism: Egypt & Syria unite as United Arab Republic
    1961 The union doesn’t stick. United Arab Republic dissolved
    Nasser launches program of economic centralization, industrialization
    1967 Six Day War a huge defeat for Egypt. Israel seizes control of Sinai and Gaza Strip
    Nasser’s standing in Arab world plummets
  • More Jews leave after suffering arrests, abuse
  • 1970 Nasser dies. Replaced by close confidant and fellow army officer, Anwar Sadat
  • 1971 Just 400 Jews remain. In last 30 years, 65,000 have left, incl. 35,000 to Israel
  • Aswan Dam completed with Soviet help, major boost to industrialization

MILITARY RULERS MARCHING IN A NE W DIREC TION?

  • 1972 Sadat expels Soviet advisers and looks to rebuild relations with west
    Tries unsuccessfully to liberalize economy, attract western investment
  • 1973 Seeking return of lost territories, launch surprise Yom Kippur War with Israel
    Do not recover lands but inflict heavy casualties on Israel
  • 1975 The Suez Canal is reopened for first time since 1967 war
    1977 End of food subsidies lead to “bread riots”
  • Sadat shocks many by visiting Israel, beginning peace talks
    1979 Peace treaty with Israel leads to return of Sinai Peninsula
  • In response, Egypt suspended from Arab league but gains major aid from US
    1981 Sadat assassinated by Islamic extremists. Replaced by Hosni Mubarak
    Egypt remains poor, authoritarian state ruled by military leaders
    Economy remains centralized. Massive debts, urbanization, poor education
  • 1984 Last Jewish wedding in Egypt takes place. By 1996, pop. is down to about 100
  • 1988 Naguib Mahfouz wins Nobel Prize for Literature
    1991 Egypt joins US-led Gulf War. In return, receives massive aid and loans
    Moving to the global market: Privatization & economic reforms launched
    1992 Islamic attacks on government and western targets increase
    1999 Ahmed Zewail first Egyptian to win Nobel Prize in scientific field (chemistry)

GROWING PAINS

  • 2005 Egyptian pop. 77 million, doubled since 1970, and growing fast
    One of world’s youngest populations, high youth unemployment
    Economic liberalization leads to growth but corruption, inequality rises
    Moving to a democracy? Muslim Brotherhood win 20% of seats in parliament
    Growing Islamic political might & terrorism alarms army rulers
    2009 Global financial crisis hits Egypt. Soaring food prices
    2010 But tourism at a high: 14.7 million tourists compared to just 2.9 million in 1995
    2011 The Arab Spring. Protests break out throughout Arab world. Mubarak resigns
    2012 First democratic elections won by Mohamed Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood
    2013 Street protests, economic downturn, liberal concerns about Islamic rise
    Hundreds killed as army retakes political control. New president Abdul el-Sisi
    2014 Constitution bans parties, including Muslim Brotherhood, based on religion
    Islamic State supporters increase attacks in Sinai and on Coptic Christians
    2015 Morsi sentenced to death. Later dies in jail while appealing sentence
    2016 Massive IMF loan as financial crisis deepens. 28% of pop. below poverty line
  • A cold peace: Egypt-Israel agreement holds but strong public anti-Israeli feelings
  • 2018 Cairo population 21 million; was 2.5 mil in 1950
  • Govt. allocates funds to restore Jewish heritage sites in Egypt
    Non-Jews join Cairo’s Sha’ar Hashayamim synagogue to celebrate Hanukkah
  • Literacy rate 71% (was 38.2% in 1976). Life expectancy 71.5 years (48 in 1960)
    2019 Egypt’s population 99 million, the largest in Arab world
  • Jewish population 15-100
 

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