Elder of Ziyon
18 August '10
Oroub al-Abed has spent her career documenting the endemic and systematic discrimination against Palestinian Arabs in Egypt, writing numerous articles and a book on that topic. Yet it is practically unknown.
A book review summarizes the main points of their history up until 1978:
El-Abed notes that prior to Israel’s independence in 1948 there were approximately 75,000 Palestinians living in Egypt. Most had settled in Cairo and Alexandria and lived close to other Palestinians, and were from the middle and upper classes, and some had acquired Egyptian citizenship. Their residency was considered temporary, and many believed, with the encouragement from Arab governments, that they would return to Israel. However, after the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948, Egypt became responsible for the welfare of two separate Palestinian communities; the Palestinians living in Egypt proper, which numbered approximately 87,000 and the 200,000 Palestinians living in the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip, a small, densely populated territory seized by Egypt during the war. Palestinian living conditions in the Gaza Strip were harsh. They remained stateless, their travel was restricted, and an Egyptian governor ruled the territory with an iron fist.
President Gamal Abdel Nasser attempted to improve the quality of life for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by granting them free education in public schools and many worked as businessmen, merchants, mechanics, farmers, and fishermen. He also allocated subsidies for students to enter Egyptian universities and helped create the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, although the latter was more out of his desire to control Palestinian affairs than out of benevolence.
After the 1967 War, the Gaza Strip fell under Israeli control and approximately 13,000 additional Palestinians entered Egypt. Their stateless condition persisted after Nasser’s death in 1970, and new, harsh measures enacted by President Anwar Sadat sought to draw clearer distinctions between Palestinian and Egyptian identities. Sadat revoked some privileges Palestinians enjoyed under Nasser and in 1978, he enacted a law which banned Palestinian children from free public schools, forcing them to switch to costly private schools. He also imposed Law 48, which prohibited Palestinian workers from the public sector. Palestinians were also viewed with suspicion and persecuted, particularly after Egyptian Minister of Culture Yusuf al-Sibai’s assassination by the Palestinian terrorist group Abu Nidal in 1978.
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