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The departure of the Greeks from Egypt, 1961: the perspective of Greek diplomacy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 December 2020

Evanthis Hatzivassiliou*
University of


The departure of the greater part of the Greek community from Egypt is one of the many sad stories of the post-war Mediterranean. This article focuses upon the reports of the Greek Consul-General in Alexandria, Byron Theodoropoulos, regarding the Egyptian ‘Socialist Laws’ of summer 1961, which gave the coup de grâce to the Greek community. It argues that the expulsion of the Greeks was part of a wider redistribution of power in the region. This episode, together with similar experiences in other parts of the Mediterranean, evidently cemented the determination of a younger generation of political leaders and diplomats to seek Greece's future in the cosmopolitan, post-nationalist West, rather than in a ‘Near East’ rife with nationalism and economic failure.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies.

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1 Kitroeff, A., The Greeks in Egypt, 1919–1939: Ethnicity and Class (Oxford 1989)Google Scholar; Kitroeff, A., The Greeks and the Making of Modern Egypt (Cairo 2019)Google Scholar; Karanasou, F., ‘The Greeks in Egypt: From Mohammed Ali to Nasser, 1805–1961’, in Clogg, R. (ed.), The Greek Diaspora in the Twentieth Century (Basingstoke 1999) 24–57Google Scholar; E. Soulogiannis, Η θέση των Ελλήνων στην Αίγυπτο (Athens 1999); Kazamias, A., ‘The “purge of the Greeks” from Nasserite Egypt: myths and realities’, Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 35 (2009) 13–34Google Scholar; Y. Sakkas, Η Ελλάδα, το Κυπριακό και ο αραβικός κόσμος, 1947–1974 (Athens 2012); Hatzivassiliou, E., ‘Greece and the Arabs, 1956–1958’, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 16 (1992) 49–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Koumas, M., ‘Greek policy in the Levant and the Greek community of Alexandria, 1947–1961’, in Yangou, A., Kazamias, G. and Holland, R. (eds.), The Greeks and the British in the Levant, 1800–1960s: Between Empires and Nations (London 2016) 203–15Google Scholar; Dalachanis, A., The Greek Exodus from Egypt: Diaspora Politics and Emigration, 1937–1962 (New York 2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Koumas, M., ‘Cold War dilemmas, superpower influence, and regional interests: Greece and the Palestinian question, 1947–49’, Journal of Cold War Studies 19 (2017) 99–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The term ‘community’ is used in this article to describe the Greek minority in Egypt as a whole; however, the same term was used to define the local social organization (‘communities’) of the Greeks in many Egyptian cities, the most prominent of which was the one in Alexandria.

2 On the impact of the Suez crisis and the 1957 Egyptianization decrees on the Egyptian economy and international position, see Tignor, R. L., Capitalism and Nationalism at the End of Empire: State and Business in Decolonizing Egypt, Nigeria, and Kenya, 1945–1963 (Princeton 1998) 128–41Google Scholar. For the evolution of Nasser's policies, see also O'Brien, P., The Revolution in Egypt's Economic System: From Private Enterprise to Socialism, 1952–1965 (New York 1966)Google Scholar; Tignor, R. L., ‘Decolonization and business: The case of Egypt’, The Journal of Modern History 59 (1987) 479–505CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Ntalachanis, A., ‘The emigration of Greeks from Egypt during the early post-war years’, Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 35 (2009) 35–44Google Scholar.

4 See this argument in Kazamias, ‘The “purge of the Greeks”’, 26–7.

5 Note (unsigned), 19 February, and Note (Liatis), 9 August 1957, in Athens, Konstantinos G. Karamanlis Foundation, Karamanlis Archive, file 3A (hereafter KA/3A). See also the speech by the Minister for the Prime Minister's Office, Constantinos Tsatsos, in Επίσημα Πρακτικά των Συνεδριάσεων της Βουλής, 12 February 1957 (Athens 1957).

6 Note (Brown), 4 January 1957, London, The National Archives (hereafter, TNA), FO 371/125604/1; Porter (ΝΑΤΟ) to Foreign Office, 10 January 1957, TNA/FO 371/130018/7⋅ Peake (Athens) to Selwyn Lloyd, 8 February 1957, TNA/FO 371/130018/1. See also Soulogiannis, Η θέση των Ελλήνων στην Αίγυπτο, 224–31. There is a discrepancy in the sources regarding the size of the ‘Greek community’. The figure of 75,000 is mentioned in Greek sources but does not appear in official Egyptian statistics, which refer to the presence in 1960 of 47,763 persons with Greek citizenship. The Egyptian sources do not include in the figures those Greeks with British/Cypriot or Egyptian nationality, but they give smaller numbers for those with Greek nationality as well. See the table in Dalachanis, The Greek Exodus from Egypt, 3.

7 For the internal debates within the community see, among others, S. Chrysostomidis, ‘Η ελληνική παροικία της Αιγύπτου: η Έξοδος’, Αρχειοτάξιο 4 (2002) 117–32; C. E. Daratzikis, Διπλωματικές σημειώσεις από την Αίγυπτο (1955–1976) (Athens 2000) 64–77; Dalachanis, The Greek Exodus from Egypt, 61–7.

8 Xydis, S. G., Cyprus: Conflict and Conciliation, 1954–1958 (Columbus, OH 1967) 185 and 230Google Scholar; Hatzivassiliou, ‘Greece and the Arabs’. On the notion of the Cold War lens, see Connelly, M., ‘Taking off the Cold War lens: visions of North–South conflict during the Algerian War of Independence’, American Historical Review 105 (2000) 739–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Note (unsigned), 19 February, Lambros (Cairo) to Foreign Ministry, 2 August, and Greek Memorandum to Nasser, 3 March 1957, KA/3A; Karamanlis to Nasser, 20 February 1957, in C. Svolopoulos (ed.), Κωνσταντίνος Καραμανλής: Αρχείο, γεγονότα και κείμενα [hereafter Καραμανλής], II (Athens 1993) 287. See also Sakkas, Η Ελλάδα, το Κυπριακό και ο αραβικός κόσμος, 89–94.

10 Chrysostomidis, ‘Η ελληνική παροικία’, 122–5; Sakkas, Y., ‘Greece and the mass exodus of the Egyptian Greeks, 1956–66’, Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 35 (2009) 101–15Google Scholar; see also the sub-chapter ‘The Athens–Cairo connection’ in Kitroeff, The Greeks and the Making of Modern Egypt.

11 On the visit to Egypt, see Καραμανλής, II, 399–408; ‘Visits abroad: Egypt, 1957’, KA/ 343A; Hatzivassiliou, ‘Greece and the Arabs’; Chrysostomidis, ‘Η ελληνική παροικία’, 128–9; E. Soulogiannis, ‘Ο Κ. Καραμανλής και ο ελληνισμός της Αιγύπτου (1957 κ.ε.) με κάποια αναφορά στις ελληνοαιγυπτιακές σχέσεις’, in C. Svolopoulos, K. E. Botsiou and E. Hatzivassiliou (eds.), Konstantinos Karamanlis in the Twentieth Century, II (Athens 2008) 364–72.

12 Καραμανλής, II, 406–7.

13 Allen (Athens) to Selwyn Lloyd, 29 August 1957, TNA/FO 371/130018/5.

14 Stefanidis, I. D., Stirring the Greek Nation: Political Culture, Irredentism and Anti-Americanism in Post-war Greece, 1945–1967 (Aldershot 2007)Google Scholar; Stefanidis, I. D., ‘“Telling America's story”: US propaganda operations and Greek public reactions’, Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora 30 (2004) 39–95Google Scholar.

15 Hatzivassiliou, E., Greece and the Cold War: Frontline State, 1952–1967 (London 2006) 110CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Brands, H. W., The Specter of Neutralism: The United States and the Emergence of the Third World, 1947–1960 (New York 1989) 296–303Google Scholar.

17 Rakove, R. B., Kennedy, Johnson and the Nonaligned World (Cambridge 2013)Google Scholar.

18 Note (Ministry of Commerce), ‘Commercial Exchanges with Egypt’, 12 May 1960, and Note (Foreign Ministry, Economic Affairs directory), ‘On Commercial and Economic Relations with Egypt’, 21 May 1960, KA/12Α; Report (National Tobacco Organization), 23 September 1960, KA/13A; press cutting, Journal du Commerce et de la Marine (Alexandria), 20 February 1959, TNA/FO 371/144541/1; see also, Cairo to Foreign Office, 10 May 1960, TNA/FO 371/152987/1.

19 Athens to Foreign Office, 23 April 1960, TNA/FO 371/152969/2.

20 E. Hatzivassiliou, ‘Σουέζ και Ουγγαρία, φθινόπωρο 1956: η πρόσληψη της κρίσης στην Ελλάδα’, Αγορά χωρίς Σύνορα 12 (2007) 324–47.

21 Note (Foreign Ministry), no date [evidently of spring 1959], ‘East–West competition in the Middle East – the position of Greece’, in Athens, Konstantinos G. Karamanlis Foundation, Evangelos Averoff Political Archive, file 6 (hereafter APA/6).

22 Note (Cairo Embassy), 25 May 1960, and Note (Stratos, no date), KA/12Α.

23 Ταχυδρόμος, 29 February 1960.

24 Simon (Athens) to Foreign Office, 31 December 1959, TNA/FO 371/144523/7; Allen to Sarrel, 1 April 1960, TNA/FO 371/152969/1.

25 Karamanlis, note (late 1960s) in Καραμανλής, IV, 322–3.

26 Baizos (Alexandria) to Foreign Ministry, 31 May 1960, KA/12Α.

27 Cairo to Foreign Office, 26 May 1960, TNA/FO 371/152969/4.

28 Note, ‘Egyptianization of Banks’, 30 May, Note (Foreign Ministry, Economic Affairs directory), ‘On Commercial and Economic Relations with Egypt’, 21 May, and Lambros to Foreign Ministry, 20 May 1960, KA/12Α.

29 Editorial, ‘Η κρατικοποίησις και αι ιδιωτικαί επιχειρήσεις’, Ταχυδρόμος, 18 February 1960.

30 Notes, ‘Egyptianization of Commercial Agencies’, 30 May and ‘Work of Foreigners in UAR’, 25 May 1960, KA/12Α.

31 Note (Cairo Embassy), 20 May 1960, KA/12A.

32 Note, 30 May 1960, KA/12Α.

33 Allen to Selwyn Lloyd, 14 June 1960, TNA/FO 371/152969/6.

34 Editorial, ‘Η Εβδομάς Νάσερ εις την Ελλάδα’, Ταχυδρόμος, 6 June 1960.

35 See Ταχυδρόμος, 7–11 June 1960, and Y. Terencio, ‘Εντυπώσεις των Αθηναίων από τον Πρόεδρον Νάσερ’, 8 July.

36 See Ταχυδρόμος, 10 June, and the editorial ‘Αδελφικαί συναντιλήψεις’, 11 June 1960.

37 Cairo to Foreign Office, 22 September 1960, TNA/FΟ 371/152969/8; Cairo to Foreign Office, 6 January 1961, TNA/FO 371/160195/1; Daratzikis, Διπλωματικές σημειώσεις, 124; Dalachanis, The Greek Exodus from Egypt, 202–3 and 204–6.

38 Greek Memorandum to the UAR government, attached to Lambros to Foreign Ministry 10 August 1961, ΑPΑ/8.

39 Quoted in Dalachanis, The Greek Exodus from Egypt, 201.

40 Ταχυδρόμος, 3, 4, 18, 20 and 21 July 1961.

41 O'Brien, The Revolution in Egypt's Economic System.

42 Tignor, Capitalism and Nationalism, 157.

43 Giannakakis (Cairo Consulate) to Cairo Embassy, 25 July, and Lambros to Foreign Ministry, 27 July 1961, ΑPΑ/8. For a discussion of the new laws and their impact upon the Egyptiots, see also Sakkas, ‘Greece and the mass exodus of the Egyptian Greeks’; and the sub-chapter ‘Flight from Egypt’ in Kitroeff, The Greeks and the Making of Modern Egypt. Kitroeff notes that, unlike the 1957 Egyptianization measures, the 1961 laws ‘left little room for the Greeks to maneuver’.

44 Theodoropoulos (Alexandria) to Cairo Embassy, no. 740, 24 July 1961, ΑΑ/8.

45 Theodoropoulos to Cairo Embassy, no. 747, 26 July, and 28 July 1961, ΑPΑ/8.

46 Theodoropoulos to Cairo Embassy, nos. 745, 746 and 748, 26 July 1961, ΑPΑ/8.

47 Theodoropoulos to Cairo Embassy, no. 745, 26 July 1961, ΑPΑ/8.

48 Theodoropoulos to Cairo Embassy, no date (copy) and attached notes, APA/8.

49 Ταχυδρόμος, 23–29 July 196

50 Ταχυδρόμος, 6 and 7 August 1961.

51 Averoff (Cairo) to Karamanlis, no. 7425, 6 August 1961, KA/16Α.

52 Averoff to Karamanlis, no. 7425b, 6 August 1961, KA/16Α.

53 Averoff to Karamanlis, no. 791, 7 August 1961, KA/16A.

54 Lambros to Foreign Ministry, no 7461, 10 August 1961, ΑPΑ/8.

55 Averoff to Foreign Ministry, 8 August 1961, ΑPΑ/8.

56 Lambros to Foreign Ministry, no. 7461, 10 August, and no. 7461b, 11 August 1961, ΑPΑ/8.

57 Theodoropoulos to Cairo Embassy, 14 and 19 August 1961, APA/ 8.

58 Theodoropoulos to Cairo Embassy, 21 and 24 August 1961, ΑPΑ/8.

59 Athens to Foreign Office, 16 November 1961, TNA/FO 371/160410/3.

60 Dundas to Duck (Cairo), 3 November 1961, TNA/FO 371/158866/1.

61 Curle (Athens) to Home, 1 January 1962, Greece: annual report for 1961, TNA/FO 371/163442/1.

62 Dalachanis, The Greek Exodus from Egypt, 170–1.

63 Soulogiannis, Η θέση των Ελλήνων στην Αίγυπτο; Daratzikis, Διπλωματικές σημειώσεις, 137–50; Sakkas, Η Ελλάδα, το Κυπριακό και ο αραβικός κόσμος, 97–101; Sakkas, ‘Greece and the mass exodus of the Egyptian Greeks’.

64 Pilavakis (Cairo) to Foreign Ministry, 8 October 1958, APA/ 5.

65 See mostly, Alexandris, A., The Greek Minority of Istanbul and Greek–Turkish Relations, 1918–1974 (Athens 1983)Google Scholar.

66 Dalachanis, The Greek Exodus from Egypt, 67–9; Kazamias, ‘The “purge of the Greeks”’, 18.

67 Dalachanis, The Greek Exodus from Egypt, 202–3.

68 See among others, Koumas, ‘Greece and the Palestinian question’.

69 Hatzivassiliou, ‘Greece and the Arabs’; Y. Sakkas, ‘Η ελληνική πολιτκή στη Μέση Ανατολή επί κυβερνήσεων Κωνσταντίνου Καραμανλή’, in Svolopoulos, Botsiou and Hatzivassiliou (eds.), Karamanlis in the Twentieth Century, II, 348–363.

70 G. Theotokas, ‘Μεταξύ Ανατολής–Δύσεως’ (1958), in G. Theotokas, Στοχασμοί και θέσεις: πολιτικά κείμενα, 1925–1966, II (Athens 1996) 839–41.

71 His report of the September 1955 pogrom was published in K. Sarioglou and E. Sarioglou-Scott (eds.), Πενήντα χρόνια από τα Σεπτεμβριανά (Athens 2012).

72 In his memoirs concerning his ministerial term, during which Greece started its accession negotiations with the EEC, Bitsios insisted on the country's Western identity; he praised the aim of the Arabs to secure an international position of ‘dignity, respect and influence’, but distanced himself markedly from ‘the personal ambitions of Arab leaders to monopolize the leadership of the Arab movement, the outbreaks of nationalism in one or another part of the Arab world’. See D. Bitsios, Πέρα από τα σύνορα (Athens 1983) 150.