Point-blank: Syrians in Egypt

Mohamed Salmawy
Wednesday 19 Jul 2023

Are Arab refugees in Egypt taking jobs away from Egyptians? The statistics say no, at least with regard to Syrians, many of whom brought along large sums of money which they invested in various enterprises.


As a result, we have seen, for example, a proliferation of Syrian food outlets in Cairo, Giza, Alexandria and other towns and cities.

Many of the employees in these enterprises are also Syrians but, according to a World Bank report on Syrian investments in Egypt, over half the employees are Egyptians.

The report, which came out in 2017, said that recorded investments made by Syrians in Egypt that year came to $880 million. It added that the real volume was probably much higher because some Syrians registered their projects under the names of Egyptian partners or did not register them at all. 

According to this year’s report by the International Organisation for Migration in Egypt (IOM Egypt), Syrians have transferred around $1 billion to Egypt since 2013.

It states that Syrians have contributed more effectively than other nationalities to boosting employment in Egypt. In addition to the more visible enterprises, such as restaurants and other food outlets, Syrians have invested in other sectors, such as clothes, furniture and plastic manufacturing. 

And why should this come as a surprise from the descendants of Selim and Samaan Sednaoui, George Abyad, Aziz Eid, Sami Shawa and the many other Syrians that came to Egypt over the centuries and made indelible marks here.

They, like the Zananiri, Lutfallah, Zeidan and other families that settled in Egypt and became Egyptian, contributed to our country’s economic prosperity and to the development of the press, the arts and other areas of life. They were merchants, farmers, manufacturers, writers, lawyers, poets and journalists. 

Selim and Samaan Sednaoui originally came from the Syrian village of Seidnaya. When they arrived in 1870, they barely had enough money to open a small clothing shop, the items in which Samaan made himself.

By the time they died, they had bequeathed the largest department store in Cairo. The elegant building on Khazendar Street was designed by the same architect who designed the Galeries Lafayette in Paris.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 20 July, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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