Maltese in Egypt
|Regions with significant populations|
|Formerly Alexandria, Cairo, Rosetta, Suez, Port Said|
|Maltese, Arabic, English, French|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Italians in Egypt, Syro-Lebanese in Egypt, Greeks in Egypt, Armenians in Egypt|
The Maltese of Egypt, also known as Maltese-Egyptians, are an ethnic minority group in Egypt. They are immigrants, or descendants of immigrants, from the islands of Malta, who settled in Egypt largely during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but have been present in the country as early as the era of Napoleon and his conquest of Egypt. The proximity between the two countries and the similarity between the Maltese and Arabic languages have led many Maltese to settle in Egypt in the past, mainly in Alexandria. Like the Italians who settled in Egypt, the Maltese-Egyptians constituted a portion of Egypt's Roman Catholic community. Most of the Maltese community left Egypt in 1956 due to Gamal Abdel Nasser's new policies towards Egypt's non-native citizens.
Catholic Malta and predominantly Muslim North Africa have had troubled relations since at least the Crusades, when Malta became the final stand against the Turks by the Knights Hospitallers. Malta held, and after the Crusades many attacks against Arab and Turkish coastal towns were launched from it. Not all of the Maltese who joined the Knights in these attacks returned home. Some lost their liberty, settling against their will in North Africa.
The Knights remained in possession of Malta until its seizure by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. Bonaparte formed a troop of Maltese--the number of men varies in sources from 400 or 500 to 2000--who went with him into Egypt as part of the Mediterranean campaign of 1798. Many of these men settled in the Eastern Mediterranean after Napoleon's loss at the Battle of the Nile, becoming some of the first Maltese settlers in Egypt. Opportunity for work with the British drew more Maltese into the area thereafter, although there was an exodus of Maltese refugees back to their native land in 1822, when Alexandria was besieged by the British. Nevertheless, Alexandria, Cairo, Suez, Rosetta and Port Said continued to be a draw for Maltese settlers.
Maltese immigrants joined the many others who flocked to the area for work in 1859 with the construction of the Suez Canal. The Egyptian Maltese community was heavily employed in such construction areas as masonry, carpentry, and smithing. As English was known to some and they proved quicker than Europeans to learn Arabic, they proved useful to British employers. Language became a major focus of the Maltese work force. While many had left their homes illiterate, they sent their children to French Catholic schools where they developed fluency not only in their own tongues, but in English, Arabic and French. This education made them useful both in consular work and to European companies entering the area.
Relations between the Maltese immigrants and the Egyptian population were not always easy. In 1882, a fight between a Maltese immigrant and an Egyptian donkey driver, in which the donkey driver was killed, led the Egyptians to riot. Because of Malta's occupation by Great Britain, they considered the Maltese European, and as word spread that the Europeans were killing Egyptians the residents took to the streets. They met return fire from Europeans, Greeks, Syrians, Maltese and miscellaneous Christians, with violence continuing until finally the army was called in to intervene.
In 1926, there were nearly 20,000 Maltese residents living and working in Egypt. However, the Suez Crisis of 1956, when Malta was used as a point of deployment by the British and French for troops to invade Egypt, was followed by the expulsion of Maltese immigrants, along with many other groups, from the country.
- Cassar, George. "Welcome Note: The Embassy of Malta in Egypt".
- "Napoleon Bonaparte and His Maltese Soldiers". The Malta Independent. 12 October 2003. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
- McGregor, Andrew James (1 January 2006). A Military History of Modern Egypt: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-275-98601-8.
- Asprey, Robert B. (2000). The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. Basic Books. p. 259. ISBN 978-0-465-04881-6.
- McGregor (2006), p. 166
- Attard, Lawrence E. (1989). The Great Exodus, 1918-1939. Publishers Enterprises Group.
- Tal, David (2001). The 1956 War: Collusion and Rivalry in the Middle East. Psychology Press. p. 175.