Community in Egypt - World Jewish Congress

Only 100 Jews remain in Egypt out of a population that topped 80,000 in 1948, following a decades long decline in which Egyptian Jewry has dwindled to near extinction. There is currently no Jewish representative body in Egypt, though the community is formally affiliated with the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate


The history of Jews in Egypt traces back to Biblical times. Israelite tribes first moved to the Land of Goshen (the northeastern edge of the Nile Delta) during the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep IV or Akhenaten (1375-1358 BC). During the reign of Ramses II (1298-1232 BC), they were enslaved for the Pharaoh’s building projects. His successor, Merneptah, continued the same anti-Jewish policies, and around the year 1220 BC, the Jews revolted and escaped across the Sinai to Canaan. This is the biblical Exodus commemorated in the holiday of Passover.

Over the years, many Jews in the land of Israel who were not deported to Babylon sought shelter in Egypt, among them the prophet Jeremiah.  A Jewish population in Alexandria emerged during the Ptolemaic era (3rd century BC), but was largely diminished by the Roman emperor Trajan’s army during a revolt.

Not much is known about Egyptian Jewry between the Arab conquest in 640 C.E. and the end of the 10th century, but there was a definite Jewish presence with ties to the academies of Babylonia. Saadia Gaon, the rabbinic sage and founder of medieval Jewish-Arabic literature, was born in Egypt toward the end of the ninth century.

Jews played a more important role in Egyptian society following the country’s conquest by the Fatimids in 969. Based on information recorded by Benjamin of Tudela during his visit to Egypt around 1171, the number of Egyptian Jews at that times\ is estimated at between 12,000 and 20,000, and there was a noted academy in the city of Fustat, today part of Cairo.  Maimonides settled in Fustat around 1168, and was named the Nagid, or leader, of Fustat in 1171.

Egyptian Jews experienced persecutions during the following centuries, interspersed with periods of relative tolerance. During the late 19th century and first part of the 20th century, Egyptian Jews enjoyed a period of prosperity, with substantial numbers of European Jews settling in Cairo and Alexandria. According to the 1897 census, 25,200 Jews lived in Egypt. By 1917, the number had increased to 59,581, and in 1937, there were 63,550, with 34,103 in Cairo, and 24,829 in Alexandria. A Jew, Joseph Cattaui, served as minister of finances and communications in 1923, and a number of Jewish newspapers were published in different languages, including one in Ladino.

British rule saw Jews treated as important members of society, with little to no instances of anti-Semitism. However, the effects of British imperialism during the years of the Mandates (post-World War I) and the events of World War II saw a rise of Egyptian nationalism. A cultivation of anti-Western and anti-Jewish sentiment became linked to the Egyptian struggle for self-determination, and in 1945, riots erupted. During the course of the violence, 10 Jews were killed, 350 injured, and a synagogue, a Jewish hospital and an old-age home were burned down.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 exacerbated local anti-Jewish sentiments. 2,000 Jews were arrested and the state began confiscating Jewish property. A number of Jews were killed during the course of months of rioting, leading to an exodus of Egyptian Jews.

The Egyptian Jewish population continued to decline in the wake of the Sinai Campaign of 1956, which resulted in more rioting and arrests.  By the following year, only 15,000 Jews were left in the country. The Six-Day War in 1967 saw a further wave of persecution, and as a result, the population dropped to only 2,500 persons. By the 1970s, after the remaining Jews were given permission to leave the country, the community dwindled to a few families. Jewish rights were finally restored in 1979 after President Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David Accords with Israel. Only then was the Egyptian Jewish community allowed to establish ties with Israel and with world Jewry.

Today, the Egyptian Jewish community is incredibly small and almost entirely concentrated in Cairo. Nearly all the Jews are elderly, and the community is on the verge of extinction.


Only 100 Jews are left in Egypt and are primarily concentrated in Alexandria. There are a few community members left in Cairo, but outside of those two cities, Jewish life in Egypt is entirely non-existent.

Community Life

Due to the small and rapidly aging status of the Egyptian Jewish community, there is no official communal representative organization. The community is represented by the dedicated individual members that help facilitate some form of Jewish life in the country. Magda Shehata Haroun is considered the leader of the Jewish community in Egypt, while Youssef Gaon leads the Egyptian Jews residing in Alexandria. Jewish life in Egypt is almost entirely conducted out of the two active synagogues in Egypt: Sha’ar Hashamayim in Cairo and Eliahu Hanabi in Alexandria.

Religious and Cultural Life

Both synagogues in Egypt – Sha’ar Hashamayim and Eliahu Hanabi – are Sephardic and Orthodox leaning. Due to the small size of the Egyptian Jewish community, there is no official rabbi in the country; instead, the community has a rabbi brought in to conduct various religious services. The community’s synagogues are seldom used.

Kosher food is now extremely scarce, if not non-existent in Egypt. This is due to companies refusing to export kosher food to Egypt. However, there are a few kosher restaurants in Cairo.


Information for Visitors

There are many Jewish historical sites throughout Egypt. The Maimonides Synagogue in Cairo, named after the famous rabbi and philosopher, stands as one of the more prominent Jewish attractions in the capital. The Bassatine Cemetery in Cairo is considered one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the world.

Relations with Israel

Egypt and Israel officially have diplomatic ties (per the Camp David Accords in 1980), but relations between the two countries have been tense since Israel’s founding in 1948. Security concerns have recently seen the withdrawal of the Israeli ambassador to Egypt, though there have been discussions between the countries about the Israeli ambassador returning.  

Embassy of Israeli in Egypt
6, Sharia Ibn-El Maleck
Telephone: (+20) 2 333 21500
Fax: (+20) 2 333 21555

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter
The latest from the Jewish world