Italiani in Egitto
History of the Italian emigration in Egypt during the 19th century

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Archaeologists and Explorers
Public administrators
Engineers, Architects and Artisans
Literates and Artists








The Italian presence in Egypt date from remote time, but a large comunity well fitted in the social and economic life of the country grew up when Mohammed Ali, with his reforms put the premises for a constant flow of european migration.

The major contribution to the Italian migration towards Egypt came, in the first instance, from hebrews which originate from Tuscany and from the Church State before the Unity of Italy. Then, since 1821, came the people who were banished for political reasons (fighting for the Unity of Italy), and they settled in Alexandria where they found a fertile ground for their works. They were an élite of professionals, technicians, military and artists, mostly of them freemasons. This élite had a great importance on the modernization process wanted by Mohammed Ali for the transformation of Egypt from a poor and weak turkish colony into a modern free State.

The presence in Egypt of these exiled people (overall 5,000 persons) had a very important and long-lasting effect on the Italian community, like the foundation in 1845 of the first italian newspaper, "Lo Spettatore Egiziano", and the construction, through the Lodge Iside, in 1858 of the first Italian school in Alexandria, opened not only to the sons of Italians, but also to the Egyptians.

At the death of Mohammed Ali, in 1849, the Italian community counted not less than 10,000 persons. Italian was the language used in Egypt by the Government for foreign matters, in the business world and in the relations between the foreign Consuls. The first postal stamps were written in italian and arabic. The first book printed in Egypt, in the famous printing house of Bulaq, was an Italian-Arabic dictionary commissioned by Viceroy Mohammed Ali to its author, father Raffaele Zakkur.

When the Risorgimento ended and Italy finally get united, many exiled decided to return in their native country, but a fairly good number of them remained in Egypt. A second flow of migrated people added to them after 1860 when a serious economic crisis followed the Unity of Italy. They were engineers, technicians and laborers attracted by the works for the huge construction of the  Suez Canal. Many of them, at the end of the construction, decided to settle definitely in Egypt.

In the purpose to continue to attract European migration, indispensable for the project of the transformation of Egypt, the Egyptian government,  assured them protection and peacefulness and moreover tolerated the very large interpretation of the foreign Consuls in their application of the capitular privileges, with the consequence of the people intolerance growing towards the Europeans and the rise of the nationalist movement of Orabi Pacha..

In 1882, with the bombardment of Alexandria, began the English occupation of Egypt which lasted seventy years later. The Italian community amounted then to18,000 persons, the 70% of which was living in Alexandria and the remaining 30% in Cairo. With the English presence began the regression of the Italian positions, both in the language and in the Public Administration. But the very important public works carried out (the first Assuan Dam, the Delta Reservoir, the large steel bridges over the Nile) continued to attract many other Italians in Egypt.

From the 35,000 Italian residents in Egypt in 1907, the comunity grew up till 52,000 in 1927, but now it was formed by 75% of laborers which in many cases they succeeded to become owners of important flourishing construction firms.

MuseoAntichita.GIF (23962 byte)
Museum of Antiquities of Cairo in 1901, the year of its completion by the Garozzo-Zaffarani construction firm

The Italian community prospered in the esteem and the great consideration of the Egyptians and the other European communities, particularly in the years from 1930 till 1939 when the support and the appreciation of Italy was greater. To the eve of the World War II the Italian residents in Egypt were approximately 55,000.

Then came the II World War. Egypt was under the protection of England and Italy had declared war to Great Britain. Consequently all the adult Italians were imprisonned in concentration camps for civilians in the desert during four long years.

At the end of the war started the economic boom which lasted only seven years. In 1952 the "Free Officials" turned page definitely to the History of Egypt with the Coup d'Etat, the overthrow of the monarchy, the nationalizations, the new laws against the European employments in the public administration and even in the private Firms. The counter-migration started for all the Europeans included the Italians which many of them were borned there and never considered themselves as colonialists but, on the contrary, considered Egypt as their second homeland.

During the 150 years going from 1802 to 1952, many Italians became famous in their activity carried on in Egypt. They deserve to be remembered even if in Italy very few people is aware of these fellows-countrymen which contributed to grew up a strong friendship between Italians and Egyptians.