AAHA = Amicale Alexandrie Hier et Aujourd'hui : www.aaha.ch


Ahsan Nas

EFES Restaurant, Lunch, Sunday 1st March 2009

Photo 1. The Ahsan Nas Group

Photo 2. l > r : Paul Newnham, Renée Banoun, Gaby Nahmias, Suzy Sidi, Arlette Gotkine, Solly Gabbay

Photo 3. l > r : Lawrence Bugeya, Eddie Pinto, Claude Newnham, Denise Lichaa-Cohen, Fawzi Lichaa, Paul Newnham

Photo 4. l > r : Oscar Vella, Giovanna Vella, Ivan Vella, Flavio Centofanti, Margherita Agatone


Photo 5. l > r : Anne-Marie Centofanti, Piero Centofanti, - - 

Photo 6. l > r : Jenny  Schlegel-Briffa, Gérard Briffa, Ann Robinson, Reynold Briffa 

Photo 7. l > r : Marlène Grech, Paula Sapiano, Jenny  Schlegel-Briffa, Gérard Briffa, Alan Grech 

Photo 8. l > r : Rosaria Grech-Coombo, Yseult Camalich, Marie-Thérèse Smith, Gérard Briffa, Ann Robinson, Reynold Briffa, Sergio Camalich 

Photo 9. l > r : Aneurin Coombes, Jackie Kyan, Mario Kyan, Lino Banoun, Simeon Masmanian, Madeleine Coombes

Photo 10. l > r : Flavio Centofanti, - -, Ronnie Harounoff, Suzy Webb, Harold Beaton 

Photo 11. l > r : Eva Masmanian, Fouad El-Mekabaty, Caroline Hazan,  Jwaydan Anwar

Photo 12. l > r : Eva Masmanian, Laura Centofanti, Fouad El-Mekabaty

Photo 13. l > r : Michael Arwas, Alec Caruana

Photo 14. l > r : Herbert and Veronica Magri-Overend

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What a magnificent turnout - as expected of you, the AHSAN NAS were all faithful to our rendez-vous!

Eddie Pinto and Solly Gabbay were pacing up and down Great Portland Street when I tried to park on a double yellow line in front of Efes!  They greeted me warmly at the entrance with Kazim who reassured me, in his deep Turkish voice, that ALL was just as I had asked.  What more could I wish for, everything was meticulously in place for the most enjoyable day that lay ahead.

By the time I arrived at the scene, the room was already filled with colour and the sound of many ‘ahlan wasahlans’, ‘buon giorno carissimi’, 'quel plaisir de vous revoir’, beneath the warm oriental lighthing.  Enthusiastic habituées Marlène Grech, Marie-Therèse Smith, Alan Grech and compagnia bella were busily making sure that their new guests Paula Sapiano, Charlie, Dulce and Christine Camilleri were given the best seats at their table. 

It felt like a royal venue when guests were coming in two by two and introducing themselves - many I had not yet met.  In came Fawzi (Victor) and Denise Lichaa friends of Alphonse and Irene Saleh (who regrettably had to cancel on that morning) Mario and Jackie Kyan, Madeleine and Aneurin Coombes.

There was an overwhelming Maltese presence as a result of the combined venues between the Friends of Malta and the AAHA London group - Herbert and Veronica Magri-Overend,  Ivan and Giovanna Vella, Oscar and Marjorie Vella, Lawrence Bugeya (who is an old Aahaian in his own right - Ahlan ya Renzo!),  Reynold Briffa who regrettably apologised for his brother Edmund and Ingeborg Briffa who were unable to attend. Harold Beaton also apologised on behalf of his wife Patricia who could not come at the last minute - we missed you Patricia!  Gerard Briffa, for whom this was not the first time, came with Ann Robinson and Jenny Schlegel. Rosaria Grech-Coombo who went out of her way to be with us - brava Rosie!  Yseult and Sergio Camalich, Eddie Malfiggiani and Josephine Byde.

My son Fouad honoured me with his presence and his technical expertise as he looked for the appropriate socket into which to plug my lap-top for the slide show of our past AAHA lunches and Friends of Malta gatherings.  My brother Flavio, who had told me he was unable to attend, turned up unexpectedly and to my great relief - el hamdulellah!  Surprises do happen!  David and Caroline Hazan who did a lot of the last minute calls and who took many photos, were there and so was Susan Willock, who maintains an active interest in the Middle East, mingled freely collecting a few nostalgic musings from some of our fascinating guests like Ronnie Harounoff, Arlette Gotkine and Harold Beaton (see separate account attached herewith).  Susan is interested in putting together two or three accounts each time we meet which could be collated separately to form a collection of memoirs. So if anyone is interested in submitting memories, please don’t hesitate to e-mail her directly:-  swillock925@yahoo.co.uk

When lovely Gaby Nahmias, who came back from Alsace to be with us, took over ‘La Caisse’. I immediately felt I could finally relax, secure in the knowledge that the practicalities were in capable hands.

The wonderful warm Margherita Agatone arrived and I felt I was back in Alexandria.  It was a lovely surprise to see Michael Arwas walk in unexpectedly and wonderful to meet Suzy Sidi at long last - welcome ya Suzy!  It was nice to see you both Paul and Claude Newnham, Arlette Gotkine and later Stuart.  I was happy to see Ronnie Harounoff and Suzy Webb. Renée Banoun came in at first followed later by Lino who was noticed for mingling with the guests. Simeon Masmanian arrived with his beautiful and bright daughter Eva followed by our young  and talented  Jwaydan Anwar who came in like a breeze of fresh air. Alex Caruana walked in while I was trying without faltering to put the appropriate names to the faces and introduce people without making any gaffes.  Lovely to see you with us Alex.

Uncharacteristically, my own mother Anne-Marie and my brother Piero Centofanti were the retardataires!  I am still wondering what held them up but, of course I was grateful they made it!

While the maître d’hôtel tried discreetly to serve the welcoming drinks and take down the orders everyone was finally seated.

We were 55.

From then onwards it was the usual plentiful array of dishes and plentiful they were. 

At this stage it is only fitting to thank Kazim and his brave maîtres who, on every occasion, go out of their way to attend to our every need dodging our unruly people traffic from one table to the other without causing any disasters.  Well done and thank you for your excellent cuisine and very pleasant service.

By the time I plucked up courage to say a word or two I imagined the presence of the Master himself from the above trying to get hold of my microphone! Lord knows, I would have been only too happy to pass it to him!  I missed Teddy as I tried to read my own notes without my glasses! Great Start!  I decided to first thank my son, Fouad for coming forgetting to tell everyone that Fouad is a true born and bred young Alexandrian. Shukran ya Waladi for coming with me.

With Teddy Nahmias on my mind, I so very much want to tell all of you who knew him well and not so well, what a fantastic unique friend I had found in him in such a short time.  Nothing was too much for him even during his short devastating illness he would find the time to be kind and trusting and talk to me at length with advice and exciting solutions.  He was generous with his time, with his he art - he was Special.  May he rest in Peace.

We remembered Georges Adib who also left us since we last met.  He too so enjoyed coming to our lunches and reminisce about his life and friends in Alexandria.  He has left a big gap within our circle of friends and especially within my family.  His best friend Alex Caruana
 wrote a lovely tribute for the funeral.  May he rest in Peace.

And last but not least, we remembered Gaby Nassif who, although he had never attended our lunches, he was always in touch with me and insisted on being kept informed of all events.  Margherita Agatone was his close friend and companion, she told us a little about Gaby’s life.  She also spoke fondly and emotionally about her life in Alexandria.

Before I passed on the microphone to my brother, Flavio I informed everyone that we will be holding a special lunch/dinner in October on the occasion of Sandro and Anne-Marie Manzoni’s (founders of the AAHA Group) forthcoming visit to the UK.  In view of this, I would welcome any special ideas you would like to put forward to me.  I would also recommend maximum attendance - especially from those of you who have not yet attended our meetings.

Flavio, who when in contact with a microphone has the knack of starting up debates - this time he spoke about how it is possible to always find a bit of what we loved in our Egypt of today.  This created many opinions of pro and anti across the room and the microphone became a hot commodity.

Herbert Magri-Overend, President of the Friends of Malta introduced his group and spoke about the role he and his father Ivan had had in the changing of the name of the Association and he told us of a few anecdotal episodes relating to his e ar ly life in Egypt .

Lawrence Bugeya who managed to find himself seated next to two friends he had not seen since his teenage years talked about his interest in tracing his ancestry.

The microphone was passed on from hand to hand to Reynold Briffa then to Alex Caruana who spoke about his best friend Georges Adib to Paula Sapiano who did not agree with Flavio’s theory then to Suzy Sidi to Harold Beaton.  Harold had the room erupt in a burst of uproarious laughter by telling us a story of typical Alexandrian folklore which he said could not be printed in the Friends of Malta newsletter and all things considered, neither shall it be here! All in all, many of you had something to say and the microphone continued from Yseult to Sergio Camalich to Gerard Briffa and Charlie Camilleri.

It felt like it had turned out to be a fun and enjoyable Sunday even though I kept feeling that I had missed out on some obligations or not always found the Bon Mot, but I hope that was just me being over-anxious and that you all enjoyed it too.  

But enough of all this - thank you all for making this day a very special one indeed. 

Laura Centofanti

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On the day of the 4th AAHA lunch p ar ty the weather was grey all day, in sh ar p contrast with the animated, beautifully dressed 55 or so people who arrived at Efe's at 12.30 on Sunday Mar ch 1.  The Friends of Malta Association were also invited and every seat was occupied.  Laura greeted everyone w ar mly in her characteristically charming manner and whilst lunch was served some of the members talked about their association with, and memories of Egypt.

Ronnie Harounoff told of how his father was born in Jerusalem where he married and then went to Alexandria to open a shop in Rue Cherif selling antiques and Persian carpets.  His family lived by the Corniche at Cleopatra.  Ronnie really loved life in Alexandria and particularly enjoyed his school days where he attended a mixed school although the girls were taught in an adjacent building.  'Certainly cosmopolitan Alexandria had reached its peak in the 1920s and 1930s. The population reached 600,000 of whom 100,000 were foreigners... Greeks, Italians, Maltese, Armenians, Jews and other foreigners flooded into the rapidly expanding Ramleh area.' Like so many of this culturally diverse community in Egypt, Nasser's presidency changed their idyllic lives. The nationalisation of the  Suez Canal and the Suez War of 1956 led to the decimated of the foreign community. 'Fortunes were left by fleeing foreigners and often entire life savings.'

Ronnie recalled a sudden and dramatic leave-taking when his parents and their four children left for Geneva on the first boat out of Alexandria. They were fortunate to be granted refugee status in Switzerland where his family settled, and he went on to England to live with his Grandfather where he attended a Grammar School.  His parents lived a successful and fulfilling life in Geneva until they died.  He also spoke very fondly of Teddy Nahmias who had been his friend from kinderg ar ten in Alexandria.  They stayed very close even living around the corner from one another in London, and met for lunch regularly, the last occasion being two days before Teddy's death. Ronnie remembers especially his prodigious memory. Ronnie and his wife hope to go back and see Alexandria again later this year.

Harold Beaton talked of his father who had been in the Royal Air Force and was stationed in Abu-Qir. He married a Maltese woman.  He recalled how his Grandfather and other Maltese nationals went back to Malta during the 'Urabi revolt against Western, Turkish and Christian influence in Egypt in 1881-1882. Britain sent an expedition army force to quell the riots - leading to the re-occupation of Egypt.  Harold attended a British Boys' School which was dedicated to British children and was established by the British High Commissioner in 1928. This meant that when Harold went to school later on in England he did not find things were very different from what he had experienced in his school in Egypt.

David Hazan talked about how he was born in Cairo.  His family arrived there from Turkey and Syria - fleeing from the chaos of the First World War . He attended a French school in central Cairo and lived a truly happy life there.  He emphasised how uniquely multi-cultural and tolerant Egypt was at that time. He feels it was a period of history which has not been successfully replicated anywhere.  In Alexandria for example, 'the French language dominated...the number of children attending French schools doubled in the space of ten years.  [In the 1920s and 30s] this phenomenon was explained by the 'Frenchification' of Egyptian Jews and Turco-Arabs...likewise for the "local subjects" of diverse ethnic origins, who followed the same path.  A further sign was the increased circulation of French language publications. (La Bourse Egyptienne, Le Journal d'Alexandrie and other periodicals).  David mentioned that when he studied at the College de la Salle a  quarter of the students were Egyptian.  He studied Chemistry at Cairo University and has spent his career as an industrial chemist in England.  He still enjoys a close friendship with an Egyptian chemist he met as a student.

Arlette Gotkine was born in Alexandria, Egypt. In her case her Mother's parents came from Turkey and her Father's from Greece after the First World War.  Arlette's father was a banker and she attended the Lycee de l'Union Juive in Alexandria.  She has fond memories of her childhood, her school friends, her teachers and the times enjoyed at the beach, especially Stanley Bay and San Stefano.  Her nostalgia for Alexandria is recorded in her poem published on the AAHA website entitled CINQUANTE ANS SONT PASSES [Fifty Ye ar s Have Gone By].  She left Egypt in 1957 and managed to maintain contact with a number of her childhood friends. One of them, Teddy Nahmias whom she met at school - it was uncanny how their paths seemed to cross after they left Egypt, first in Nice and then in Milan where they both resided and finally in London. Teddy was unique in his knowledge of the whereabouts of a tremendous number of people and his input, as we know, has been invaluable to a number of Associations of ex-Egyptians, including AAHA London.  Arlette is in no doubt that st ar ting her life in Egypt, and mixing in a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural society where everyone spoke two or three languages [and took it for granted] was a great asset and was the reason why they could so well integrate in the countries where they later found themselves.

One or two people mentioned that the reason Israel was not particular ly attractive to the Jewish community in Egypt was because they were very cosmopolitan, having more in common with Europe than the new Jewish state. Certainly they enjoyed a very culturally varied life in Egypt - at one time, extreme affluent Jews were central to Egypt's economy.  'Jews were ... involved in banking, cotton and sugar production, tourism gold and silver jewellery, they also ran large departmental stores... Joseph Qatawi was the Jewish Minister of Finance in Zaghlul's cabinet [1924] and another Jew was appointed Egyptian Consul to France ..."

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Margherita AGATONE

Jwaydan ANWAR

Michael ARWAS

Lino & Renee BANOUN


Lawrence BUGEYA


Reynold BRIFFA

Josephine BYDE

Yseult & Sergio CAMALICH









Madeleine & Aneurin COOMBES



Stuart & Arlette GOTKINE


Marlene GRECH



Caroline & David HAZAN

Mario & Jackie KYAN

Denise and Fawzi LICHAA

Herbert & Veronica MAGRI-OVEREND


Simeon & Eva MASMASIAN


Claudie & Paul NEWNHAM






Marie-Therese SMITH

Oscar & Marjorie VELLA

Ivan & Giovanna VELLA



Suraya ANWAR

Moustapha ANWAR

Patricia BEATON



Edmund and Ingeborg BRIFFA

Gerard DE BOTTON (in Mougins)


Tony and Beryl CAMILLERI



Ken & Huguette HARROP



Tony and Helen MOUSSALLI




Cecile PULIS

Richard & Hilda SACHETT

Alphonse & Irene SALEM


Alexandra VELLA

Joan & Marcel VITALI

Gilbert WIRTH

Herbert WIRTH



AAHA = Amicale Alexandrie Hier et Aujourd'hui : www.aaha.ch