Remembering Sednaoui

Ahram Online , Thursday 30 Apr 2015

In memory of the Sednaoui family, Ahram Online reminisces about the popularity of their department store and what it represented in the cosmopolitan Egypt of a bygone era

Sednaoui 460

Last week, Selim Sednaoui, the grandson of Samaan Sednaoui, the founder of the department stores with the same name, passed away. In honour of his memory and effort to document his family’s legacy, Ahram Online remembers Sednaoui, Egypts great department store, and all that it stands for.

Selim Sednaoui
Selim Sednaoui, one of the founders of Sednaoui department stores

El-Sira atwal men el aomr, (A person’s tales outlive him) goes the Egyptian proverb. Sednaoui department store- and the history of its founders- is the perfect manifestation of that saying.  

The Sednaoui stores are more relics from a golden era, representing the shimmering cosmopolitan society from a bygone era in Egypt. The first Sednaui department store opened in Al-Khezindain in 1913, yet the efforts and energy behind that store started in 1878, when Samaan Sednaoui, a street vendor fled to Egypt in-order to escape the prosecution of Greek Catholics in Ottoman Syria. The founding of a small haberdashery shop with his brother was the first step in their business that soon bloomed into a chain of over 70 branches nationwide.

Sednaoui Add in the fifties

Furniture on display in Sednaoui stores

In 1891, the Sednaoui brothers announced in Al-Ahram newspaper their new summer collection included the latest fashionable fabrics imported from Europe. By 1906, Samaan and Selim Sednaoui had already established a successful store with a very high sense of corporate social responsibility. In 1907, they transformed one of their stores into a company with a capital of some 215 thousand sterling pounds. By this time they had stores in Cairo, Alexandria, Mansoura, Lieon and Paris, as well as a small office in Manchester, England on 102 Bloom Street. However, the head office remained the architectural gem in Moskey district, one of the busiest districts of Cairo. Unfortunately in 1908, Selim Sednaoui passed away. Many commemorated his passing with a deep sense of sorrow, including of course the Egyptian Chamber of Commerce.

Sednaoui women fund raising in action in the 1940ies

Sednaoui public hospital built in the forties also known as Dar Al Shefa, located in Al-Abbassia

The Sidnaoui's social responsibility was as efficient and successful as their business. Aside from their generous contributions to both Coptic and Islamic charities, the Sidnaouis built a charity hospital in their name, also known as Dar Al-Shefa in Al-Abbassia, which was built in 1940.

Sednaoui with Mohammed Naguib
With president Mohamed Naguib in the fifties

Hanna Sednaoui and his bride Audet Faroukh

Unfortunately, the Sidnaoui stores were nationalised in 1961, consequently bringing the family business to an abrupt end in Egypt after operating for decades as a business and social success. What remains are the branches, with their unique architectural designs and the memories they preserve of an Egypt many of us continue to yearn for.

George Sednaoui
Youssef Sednaoui


Compiled by Amira El-Noshokaty

Al-Ahram Digital Archive project 

Al-Ahram digital photo Archive


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