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Issue 05 – Saint Anselm 2021

Brass Rubbings

Torn From Love

On Egypt’s Catholic cemeteries.


Cairo has always seemed to me a city of ghosts. This is odd, considering that it now has twenty million people in it, the largest city in Africa, the largest Middle Eastern city, and one of the largest in the world. But entering her, as I have done many times over the past thirty-five years, you see them as you are driven along the elevated Sixth of October Bridge into the heart of the city. These specters are the dusty, polluted architectural remnants of Belle Epoque Cairo, the city built by mostly French, Italian, and Levantine architects in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for an ambitious cosmopolitan ruling dynasty of Albanian origin.

Underneath the grime generated from the exhaust of Cairo’s four million vehicles, you glimpse the elegant arch or balcony of an apartment building or commercial establishment, and also the spires and crosses of Catholic churches and schools. Most Egyptians are Muslims, with a large Coptic Orthodox Christian minority, but an essential part of this faded old Cairo is the story of a minority within a minority, the lively communities that were neither Copts nor Muslims: Levantine Christians (Syro-Lebanese or Shawam) coming from what is now modern Lebanon and Syria, Greeks, Jews, Armenians, Maltese, French, and Italians. Under the cosmopolitan rule of Muhammad Ali Pasha and his descendants (1805-1953) a benign Egypt welcomed tens of thousands of these workers—rich and poor—and for decades they flourished.

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About the author

Alberto M. Fernandez

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