The story so far….

This story, an extract of which we are reproducing here, was just published (February 2024) in the newsletter of The Friends of Malta GC, formerly the Association of Maltese Communities of Egypt and, before that, the Nile Association which had succeeded 4 other Maltese clubs around Egypt. The original club was founded in Alexandria in Egypt, way back in 1854 and transferred to London in 1956. The story was penned by Herbert Magri-Overend and provides his personal recollection of, and reflections on, events in Egypt before and after the expulsion of all British and French subjects, in 1956 during the Nile crisis. Maltese immigrants to Egypt were caught up in this, being then British subjects. The delight I had with encountering this story was tempered with the realisation that it also leads to the imminent demise of this association of our fellow members of the Maltese diaspora, doubly dispersed from our mother country.

I have a lovely story to tell. I believe you know most of it already. It concerns the formation of our Association. There may be one or two people, however, who aren’t aware of where it started, who by, what it did, and how. Some of the
story is extra-ordinary, but most it is just about normal life.

What I do know is that the group were Maltese, that they were all from the same local Church in Alexandria, Egypt, that they formed La Konfraternita tal Madonna tal Karmnu, and that the year was 1854. This Konfraternita became so popular that through the years its activities included Mutual Help, Benevolent Societies, Clubs, Philodramatic & Philharmonic Groups, Ladies Unions, Scouts, Guides, Football teams, etc. The Maltese in Cairo, Port Said and Suez, followed suit, and I remember, as a little boy, some of the functions I was allowed to take part in.

I remember my Nonna Lina – Dad’s Mother – getting my brother, Randolph, and I dressed in Maltese garb and wearing earrings. She had taught us some Maltese songs whose meanings we did not know, and there we were standing on a rostrum, with a microphone in front of us, singing the songs without expression whilst the crowd listened and laughed in places. In later years, Nonna told me that the songs were a little bit saucy!

I believe Nannu Giuzi and Nannu Durante – Dad’s father – were Presidents of the Club at some stage, but I can’t be sure of that. We lived on the second floor of a four-storey residence, in Abdin – Shariah Toubgiyah – and I could
see Cairo burning from my bedroom window.

The Club was on what would have been the second (and top) floor, and every time a function was held the veranda would be covered throughout. Alas! The Club was burnt down during the terrible riots of 26 and 27 January 1952.

Front page of The Friends of Malta GC newsletter, penultumate edition 123, February 2024

We were in the school bus, returning home, and there were several riots in the centre of Cairo. We didn’t take much notice, as there were nearly always riots in Cairo. This one, however, became serious. Any building that was British or Jewish was burnt down, and our Club was above a Jewish firm. The luxurious Sheppard Hotel was razed to the ground. I don’t think any Cinema was spared, either. Also, the Turf Club – a British Club – was burnt down and anybody trying to escape was shot, despite its Egyptian porter trying to get the mob to stop. We didn’t go to school for a month. Abdu, our porter, who had an apartment on the ground floor, locked the entrance to our building and wouldn’t allow anyone in. Only Cairo had the riots. I think that the centre of Cairo was the only one affected. I don’t think that the suburbs of Shoubra, Heliopolis, Saptieh, and Zamalek, were affected.

We lived on the second floor of a four-storey residence, in Abdin – Shariah Toubgiyah – and I could see Cairo burning from my bedroom window.

The Maltese Club in Cairo never reopened again, and all its records were destroyed in the fire. I believe the Committee continued meeting using the Crypt in our Parish Church of St Joseph.

Going back to the beginning, I am guessing that in the mid-nineteenth century Malta was over-populated and that work was hard to come by. So much so that many Maltese sought work overseas.

I expect they came over to Egypt in response to a call from Mohammed Ali for Europeans to modernise the administration in Egypt. A few years later in the early 20th century, maybe 50 years later, my two Grandfathers, Giuseppe Bonello and Durante Magri-Overend, came over. Perhaps, some of your ancestors also came over, and it would be interesting to share your recollections in the next newsletter.

In the 1930s the four Associations grouped themselves together and came under the umbrella of the Central Council of the Maltese Communities of Egypt.

The membership started to dwindle. Many went to Australia, with others going to Canada, the UK, the USA, South Africa, and I know one family went to Argentina. From what used to be a membership of 20,000 (according to my Dad) in the 1920s, the numbers decreased to about 5,000 by the 1950s.

Then came Col Nasser. He nationalised the Suez Canal, and after the retaliation by the French and British troops, in 1956, all their subjects were expelled from Egypt. Their assets were stripped and people were allowed one suitcase
per person and a certain amount of money to take with them. Most Maltese went to Britain, where they were accommodated by the British Government.

Meanwhile, Dad and other Maltese who were already in Britain, contacted the Home Office and one or two Ministers, asking them to assist in claiming the return of the seized assets of the Clubs, also those belonging to the people that were expelled.

I believe the Government gave every family £500 and a certain amount of money for each child.

The Association was regrouped and called itself the Nile Association.

Before the ink dried on the STATUTES of The Nile Association, on 25th April 1959, which later became The
Association of the Maltese Communities of Egypt, its dissolution became predictable. Article III sub-para (1) stated that membership was open to “British nationals of either sex formerly established residents of Egypt (particularly of Maltese descent), who must be proposed and seconded by Members of the Association and his or her admission approved by the Council.”

Sub-para (2) allowed Membership to their descendants under the age of 21 but did not permit them to vote or be on the Council. The remaining sub-paras referred to Maltese of other origins who had no votes.

These clauses were amended in later AGMs but remained the same in essence. In other words, persons not the descendants of Maltese from Egypt, could not be Members, also as the original members left the country, or ceased their memberships, and their descendants didn’t wish to continue the membership, the fate of the Association had been decreed.

The final Article of the Statutes – ARTICLE IX – stated: “The Association can only be dissolved if 75% of the members decide to do so, and the funds shall then be disposed of as the members shall decide.”

At the AGM, held on-line in October 2023, the unanimous vote was to dissolve the Association.

The disposal of our Assets now has to be decided. The co-Trustees, Messrs Lawrence Bugeya and Herbert Wirth, are responsible for the release of the Government Bonds, and the Members will need to put their minds into deciding which Charities will be sent the Association’s assets. Furthermore, the Council will have to decide the amount to be kept in reserve for future administrative purposes. All of this has to be completed by October 2024.

Thinking caps on now, Members. Please, please, remember that the recipients have to be Charities that are recognisable by the Council. They have to be registered with the Charities Commission, and you will need to quote the registration number.

Straightaway, I will recommend the Charities that we’ve been donating to over the past few years; the question now is to decide on how much to donate. That too is the Council’s decision.

The £10 Subscription for 2024 is needed to pay for the cost of printing and distributing the two Newsletters. I ask you now to concentrate. and inform me, of where to distribute our Assets.

End of Lovely Story.

*Written by Herbert Magri-Overend. Published at Newsletter of The Friends of Malta GC, Issue No 123, February 2024. Original piece not subject to copyright, only a request for an acknowledgement. Our entire republication of the article herein follows the same principle as a sign of respect.

**The Voice of the Maltese extends its invitation to all remaining members of The Friends of Malta GC, and the remnants of the Maltese diaspora of Egypt wherever they may now be, to utilise our newspaper, which aspires to be the voice of the Maltese diaspora everywhere, to keep in touch and tell their stories here, after the forthcoming demise of their beloved association.

By TVOTM Community Desk