chapter  2
Cosmopolitan imaginaries: urban life, schools and feelings of belonging Anti- Semitism, cosmopolitanism and the making of an Alexandrian
Pages 40

When Baron Jacques de Menasce – President of the Jewish Community of Alexandria, a renowned philanthropist and member of one of the most important families of the Egyptian Jewish elite – died in 1916, his funeral ceremony gathered ‘a huge crowd, in which all ranks were confused and where all nations seemed to form one same family, mourning one of its chiefs’ and ‘one of the best among the true Egyptians’.1 Hundreds of cars followed the coffin, together with students from the Ecole de Menasce, the Ecole Aghion, the Ecole des Arts et Métiers, not to mention notables like the Governor of Alexandria Ahmed Ziwar pasha, the Minister of Education Adly pasha and various diplomats. The newspaper La Réforme seemed to agree with what an AIU teacher had written a few years earlier: Alexandria – but similar insights could be drawn for Cairo as well – was the cosmopolitan city par excellence and a place where different ethno-religious groups lived together.2 But were Jews and Muslims, poor and rich, Egyptians and foreign nationals really part of one same family? Having reconstructed the history of the Alliance, in this chapter I will explore the making of a modern Egyptian Jewish identity through the lens of cosmopolitanism and focus on the ways in which relations between Jews and their surrounding worlds were described and envisioned at an urban level, in schools and in relation to politics and nationalism during colonial and monarchical times. I will look at ideas of transcommunal relations and see how these were mobilised in the formation of what might be called a social imaginary – that is, the ways in which people imagine their existence, the notions and images that underlie their life and, in other words, ‘the cultural elements from which we construct our understanding of the world’.3 Cosmopolitanism has become by now a much-debated category for the analysis of modern Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean. According to Fuhrmann, the term indicates:

(1) a publicly visible diversity; (2) an ability of individual or collective agents to navigate between different coded spheres; (3) an active practice of sociabilities that cross community borders; and (4) a belief and a policy of enhancing cohesion without a monolithic base.4