Lecturer at Université de Paris X and specialist in the work of
Lawrence Durrell. Author of numerous articles concerning literature and
Edouard el Kharrat
Native of Alexandria, novelist, translator and critic. Three of Kharrat’s
novels have appeared in English: Rama and the dragon, City of Saffron
and Girls of Alexandria.
Born in Alexandria, a former journalist with Le Monde and editor with
El Pais. Since 1988 Balta has been a director of the Centre d’Etudes
de l’Orient Contemporain at the Université de Paris III.
Born in Alexandria and now resident in Paris. Errera, a scholar of Arabic
and Hebrew, is a writer and sociologist.
Born in Alexandria, Hassoun is a psychoanalyst and historian of the Jews
of Egypt. He has published Juifs du Nil, a novel entitled Alexandries
and numerous specialist articles.
Professor at the Université de Provence and the Institut Universitaire
de France, where he occupies the chair of Contemporary Mediterranean History.
Anne Le Gall-Kazazian
Historian and graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure. Author
of numerous articles on the construction of Armenian identity, her PhD
thesis covered the Armenian community of Egypt, 1863-1930.
Graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, assistant lecturer at
the Institut d’Etudes Politiques, Paris. Author of a thesis on the
Italian community of Egypt, 1919-1939.
Graduate of the Faculty of Arts, Athens University. Her PhD thesis covered
the Greek colony of Alexandria and the educational politics of the community.
Architect and research fellow with the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique.
Author of L’architecture moderne en Egypte et la revue “al-Imara”
as well as numerous other articles.
Born in Cairo and now a lecturer in history and international relations
at the Université de Lille III.
has become as Lawrence Durrell put it "The capital of memory", if there
exists such a thing as the Alexandrian myth, it is because she stood,
for the best part of a century, as the symbol of an open Mediterranean
unlike the sea of today, sealed along all its coasts by petty nationalism.
This openness was not simply cosmopolitanism. Alexandria was neither New
York nor Paris. What was important was not the multiplicity of nationalities
represented in the town but rather the interaction between it and those
various peoples who came from all the different shores of a sea nominally
Ottoman but indelibly marked by western imperialism. Alexandria was one
of the last places where one could marry individual expansion to liberalism
to traditional community ties. As a centre of interaction, Alexandria
also had her shady side, her tensions, her crises. The important thing,
however, is to grasp the multitude of threads that made the fabric of
the town. For, if not a model, then at least she can serve as a reference
point in the debate that runs in Europe today over the position of "foreign"
communities and their integration or otherwise. From both sides and according
to the angle of approach, Alexandria can well serve as a mirror.
1) A PLURALIST SOCIETY
A certain sense of citizenship
Alexandria taught that a pluralist society could in fact function if based
upon the recognition of the autonomy of different groups. The sessions
of the municipal council showed that these differences could be managed
by emphasising a community of interest.
2) A MEDITERRANEAN MOSAIC
The city in all its stages, open or closed, as seen through the inhabitants.
Minorities organised as communities or 'colonies'. The community as a
key to opening the incomparable richness of a life united and divided.
The jigsaw puzzle of a happy and helpful sense of citizenship.
The Jews, a community of contrasts
Craftsmen, joiners, compositors, peddlers, haberdashers, labourers, agents,
brokers of all sorts, formed the majority of the Jewish population whose
means would place them amongst the so-called 'petit bourgeois'.
To be an Armenian
Anne Le Gall-Kazazian
The integration of Armenians into Alexandria during the period 1900 to
1920 was very much a question of survival, made more urgent by the gradual
dissolution of their 'homeland'. Arriving as exiles, they slowly settled
in as another layer of a community that was already part of the fabric
of the city.
The Greeks : the parikia of Alexandria
Katerina Trimi and Ilios Yannakakis
The 'Parikia' of Alexandria was the most powerful in all Egypt and the
largest of all the foreign colonies.... The Greeks were the last to say,
"goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing".
Italians, Italianity and fascism
An autonomous microcosm regulated according to its own authority, the
Italian community or colony of Alexandria was ambiguous, contradictory
and proud of its long history in Egypt. After the First World War it was
to experience a decline in fortunes and community solidarity contained
a certain fear of the future. From 1917, the first calls for help were
directed towards the distant motherland. The home state's response to
these appeals introduced fascism into an already unstable situation.
3) TATTERED MEMORIES
How can one say farewell to the memory of a place both unique and
many sided? How did the events pile up and demand definitive decisions?
Political turmoil, separation and exile crashed in on a now impossible
idea, the echoes of which reach us as if from another world.
Alexandria, 26th July 1956, 7-40pm. Gamal Abdel Nasser addresses a crowd
of some 250,00 people. In his speech he explains that economic independence
is just as necessary as political independence. Suddenly, with a peal
of laughter he announces, "the nationalisation of the International Company
of the Suez Maritime Canal".
The communities, coexisting peacefully, the one beside the other, in a
spirit of tolerance and openness to the modern world, presented the model
of a micro-society implanted on foreign soil. They offered psychological
protection and a recognisable religious and linguistic environment.....
But, above all, they were centres of culture, in the broadest sense of
The second exodus
They forget that their memories, as marked as they could be by the bountiful
life of this community, only retain vague shades of their true history.
Will it be around the burning memory of these fading traces that old Alexandrians
will flutter, forgetting that the departure meant, once and for all, a
definitive break with the past?
If the Alexandrian myth is, primarily, literary, it is still to this
day part of a living and necessary heritage. Though writers are the midwives
of the town, have founded and fed its imaginary existence, they who gave
it life are in turn possessed by it. This twist of fate forms a link between
Cavafy and Ungaretti, Fausta Cialente and Edwar el Kharrat, Egypt and
the world, the Mediterranean and literature.
The dream of Alexander and the literary myth
In Alexandria itself the legend is cherished. There is not a writer, searching
for the poetic world of Durrell or Cavafy, a historian searching for the
last traces of ancient Alexandria, nor a freshly landed diplomat, who
has not encountered a cicerone ready to guide him through the city he
had imagined. No one knows better than an Alexandrian just what the traveller
has come looking for and none but he knows how to respond.
Passages selected by Anouchka Lazarev
The novelist Fausta Cialente was born in Cagliari and spent the inter-war
period in Alexandria where she was an active antifascist. There, she wrote
Cortile a Cleopatra though Alexandria continued to haunt her for
many years after. In 1961, Ballata levantina was published in Milan.
What follows are extracts from a preface written by Cialente for a re-edition
of Cortile 37 years after it was first published in 1936.
Tracks, remains, reminiscences.
Perhaps there also remains from this past era a relative liberty of manner,
of comportment, which stands well in the face of the current norms of
Egypt's capital where unbending respect for conformity becomes, every
day, more restrictive. There is still a taste for the bon mot, the amusing
story, and it is even said that they are for sale, like the blackmarket
goods, along the Corniche.
The enigma of the Quartet
"Five races, five languages, a dozen creeds: five fleets turning through
their greasy reflections behind the harbour bar. But there are more than
five sexes and only demotic Greek seems to distinguish among them."
From Cavafy to Shahine
An interview with Youssef Shahine
"In Alexandria, I believe that one was gentler, more understanding, far
from that stupid racism, that absolutely primitive nationalism…. A spirit
of … I don't mean cooperation, the word is too small. Love."
My city, sacred
Edwar el Kharrat
Translated from Arabic by Hala Halim
When the Alexandria where he grew up finally appeared in the writing of
Edwar el Kharrat, it was already well past. Only a few short stories are
scattered throughout a career built upon a silence of sorts. For long,
Edwar el Kharrat had been an author of few words, albeit a prolific translator.