Anti-Semitism in Egypt and Surrounding Countries

When first reading the Egyptian Gazette, one can see how many times death is mentioned. This can be easily understood; as humans have been interested in death for centuries. However, I wanted to delve deeper into the kinds of deaths that were mentioned in the newspaper. Unfortunately, I came across a telegram that talked about a Jewish person’s death because of Anti-Semitic reasons. Because of this, I was moved to look into the Jewish condition in Egypt, as it is a relevant topic today and it had not been looked into my another classmate. According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, they believe that “Alexandria in Egypt was the birthplace of anti-Semitism’s ideology. There also the first pogrom in history-as we now would call it-took place” (in 38 C.E.) (Horst). The Center also talks about how the first indication of a negative attitude towards the Jewish people stemmed from the writings of the Egyptian Priest, Manetho. He writes that “Jews are dangerous and enemies of humankind” (Horst). But, in an article in the Gazette, a writer states that “while the feeling of antagonism towards a race so unlike the rest of the world undoubtedly gained intensity and bitterness from misdirected Christian sentiment and passion, long before the Christian faith had gained ascendancy the streets of cities inhabited by Jews bad been reddened with Jewish blood” (“Egyptian Gazette,” 11/11/1905). Though many of these ideas and allegations happened long before the early twentieth-century, it is easy to see how effects of these beliefs may have still affected Egyptians during this time as well. Ironically, though, especially before the war, many Jews moved to Egypt to escape the strict regime of the Ottoman Empire, as Egypt was seen as “a safe haven and land of opportunity” (Takla 28). There was an increase in the number of Jewish refugees to Egypt during this time because of the increase in Anti-Semitic ideologies in surrounding countries. Because of this, I would like to see the extent in which Anti-Semitic ideologies are evident in Egypt during this time. Therefore, I will seek to answer the question: what Anti-Semitic ideas or events does the Egyptian Gazette include in their newspaper?

To do this, I conducted several queries of the entire Egyptian Gazette using a series of keywords, including Anti-Semitism, Jews, Jewish, and Anti-Semitic. Though I did specify in my query that I wanted to look in the telegram and local and general section, I realized that, because there were only so many mentions of Anti-Semitism, this specificity was not necessary for every search. With those searches, I found 18 solid, relevant results, ranging from articles discussing the Jewish condition in Russia to riots in Warsaw and Anti-Jewish attacks. To organize and analyze my data, I collected all the different locations that telegrams came from and categorized these events into instances of deaths, attacks, rallies, and support, to see what is actually happening in Egypt during the time.

To start, I looked at the places where these mentions are coming from, according to the dateline in the telegrams section. Most of the reports came from St. Petersburg and Warsaw; St. Petersburg was mentioned in the dateline eight times and Warsaw was mentioned six times. This information did present an interesting perspective on the Russian Revolution of 1905 and how that political freedom sparked Jewish freedom and, consequently, Anti-Semitic beliefs. Because this is such a major event and Russia’s geographical closeness to Egypt, it is understandable why this information made it into the “Gazette.” Some researchers also say that the freedom that happened in Russia stirred the Warsaw Jewish population to become more organized and prevalent. Because of the rapid readjustment of power, objectively it makes sense that it would be met with more resistance that would be documented in the newspaper. The Russian Revolution’s effect on its neighboring countries is also evident in two of the mentions of Anti-Semitic attacks that happened in Riga, which is part of Latvia, and Homel, which was a part of Belarus. In both of these places, natives pillaged Jewish shops, and, at Riga, the chief of police was killed. However, both of these events only had one sentence descriptions, which is very small compared to at other places. Perhaps it is because these cities are a lot smaller and less politically important than St. Petersburg and Warsaw. This shows that, though the Gazette is interested in documenting tragic events, they do focus on bigger cities and more well-known places. Therefore, the data I was able to collect may be skewed compared to the actual number of attacks that occurred. It is also interesting though, that Anti-Semitic events are more widely documented in the Gazette than the Jewish political growth. Perhaps this has to do with most people’s interest in death and other destructive elements.

Anti-Semitism in Egypt was only mentioned once, on February 10, 1906, at Damanhour. At Damanhour, a number of Jews were making a pilgrimage to a Rabbi’s tomb where they were attacked by some natives. The attackers ended up being sentenced to prison for one to eight months. One thing that strikes me about history, especially as I am learning about history, is the fact that we can never truly know the full information about an event. For instance, it strikes me as odd that there was only one mention of and Anti-Semitic attack in Egypt when Anti-Semitic ideas were on the rise in almost all neighboring countries. Is it, in fact, that the attack at Damanhour was the only Jewish attack in Egypt? If not, which I doubt it was, why weren’t other attacks mentioned in the Gazette? To what extent does the Gazette censor its information to better present Egypt’s the newspaper’s reputation? Because I only have access to the Gazette for micro-historical data, I may not be able to answer these questions; but, they do impact the way I look at the information presented. To see a complete visualization of the places mentioned, see the map included below.

Next, I categorized my results based on the information; these categories included articles, killings, pillages, and attacks, as this helped me better see the data. Though the number of times each category of event is mentioned is relatively spread out between all categories, there were more mentions of riots, attacks, and articles. Though it is unfortunate that there were so many riots and attacks that occurred and were reported, it is also interesting that there were the same amount of articles talking about the Jewish condition as the attacks and riots. At first, I thought that this might be a good thing, as there is a discussion about the Jewish situation. However, upon further reading these articles, only two of them actually discuss the details of the Jewish people; the other one is an Anti-Semitic writing about “the Jewish peril” and how they bring poor to the streets of Egypt (Singer, “Egyptian Gazette,” 1/6/1906). Though there may still be more objective discussion about this situation, the underlying Anti-Semitic attitude in Egypt is made clear.

I believe that it is also important to note that, even with the updated content of the Gazette, there were only eighteen mentions of Anti-Semitic attacks, destructive actions, or articles about the Jewish condition. Since, as mentioned earlier, there was a huge growth in Jewish political power and Anti-Semitism in Egypt and surrounding countries, it is interesting that this topic did not take up more space in the newspaper over the span of two years. But, sports events, golf tournaments, art reviews, got mentioned every day. Though I am still curious about why this is, perhaps it is because, as much as people like to know the dramatic and important events that are happening, they do need a bit of an emotional escape that they can get when they are talking about sports or a show. I think that that reason is why we have these events in the first place; they distract from everyday life and present a more active and interesting story. This discovery made me think about the function of the Gazette as well; though it is a way to spread information, it is also about entertainment. The Gazette might have needed a more variety of entertainment to satisfy the readers, which could be one reason why there was such a lack of information about Anti-Semitism.

Fortunately, though, there were several mentions of the Jewish people in the Gazette, so the population is not going unnoticed. In fact, when I queried the word ‘Jewish,’ there were 219 results. Though the rest of these results were not directly related to Anti-Semitism, they are still of value in terms of how the Jewish people were receiving representation. Though I do not have the ability to study how many times the Jewish population was discussed in previous years, I would assume that the representation is rising similarly to that in other, neighboring countries as well.

In conclusion, though there is some talk about Jewish people in Egypt and surrounding countries, most of it presents the negative side of the situation, with reporting the number of attacks, riots, destructive actions, and Anti-Semitic writing. Though the harsh Anti-Semitism that occurred centuries ago is well in the past, it appears that some of those ideologies are not.

Faith Northcutt
Faith Northcutt

The author, a student at Florida State University, was enrolled in the digital microhistory lab in spring 2018.