Saturday May 6, 2017
By Alexandra Kinias
Black and white photos evoke nostalgia to another life that had once been. A life reminisced by older generations who witnessed it firsthand, and envied by the younger ones who watched its elegance in black and white movies, often not believing their eyes.
Black and white photos depict an era when Egypt was a cosmopolitan country with large French, Italian, British, Belgian, Polish, Greek, Armenian and Levantine communities, to mention a few.
All communities played an essential role in the development and enrichment of the country, its economy, culture and arts. In Alexandria alone, Greeks constituted one fourth of the city’s population.
Egypt was the safe haven for European Jews fleeing the Nazis, just as it was for the Armenians fleeing the Ottoman genocide at the turn of the century. It also welcomed the Greeks expelled from Constantinople at the end of the 19th century.
With their many languages, ethnicities and religions these foreign communities had one thing in common. Egypt was their home. In this diverse society, ethnic and religious tolerance were practiced. Mosques, churches and synagogues adorned the skylines of cities across Egypt.
They all lived in harmony. Their culture, language, music and food, blended together and weaved the unique tapestry of the society. This uniqueness was reflected in the heritage of the movies, books, music, architecture, fashion and social life that was left behind, and captured in the black and white photos.
This environment was a driving force for women to thrive. In the 1930s Egyptian women were already studying in universities in Great Britain and France at the same time when women could not receive degrees from some German universities.
In the forties, women were driving cars, flying planes, receiving their PhDs in Egyptian and Western universities. In the fifties and sixties, they were gaining political, economic and social rights and making advances in every sector of the work force.
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