Victoria College was founded in 1901 on the initiative of eight resident merchants, bankers, and shipping magnates, six of whom were British, one Syrian, and one the Austro-Hungarian president of the Jewish Community of Alexandria. The makeup of the entering classes of 1902 reflected the cosmopolitanism that was to characterize the institution up to the mid-1950s—eight of the students were Syrian, including George Antonius and his three brothers, three were Greek, three were Egyptian Muslims, one was English, and ten were identified in the language of the time as "Israelite." In those early decades the language of instruction was English, but the study of Arabic and French was mandatory. The school also placed a strong emphasis on cricket, soccer, and hockey. Under the leadership (1901–1922) of its first headmaster, Charles Lias of King's College, Cambridge University, Victoria adopted the Oxford and Cambridge Joint Board Examination, the qualifying exam for English medical and engineering schools as well as for Oxford and Cambridge. Victoria boys obtained outstanding exam results, and the school became a breeding ground for university education in England and elsewhere. For example, between 1908 and 1913, thirty-three Victoria graduates attended European or U.S. universities, including nine at Cambridge, four at Toulouse, and one at the University of Edinburgh Medical School.
In 1906 the campus moved from downtown to the city's eastern suburbs. There its stately buildings and spacious playing fields stood out as an Alexandrian landmark and were the envy of other, less privileged schools. For more than half a century, Victoria College played an important role in providing a first-rate European education along British public-school lines to successive generations of well-born Egyptians—Muslims, Copts, and Jews—as well as foreign residents in Egypt, whatever their race, color, or creed. Primary identification with the school blurred ethnic and religious differences and created an atmosphere of tolerance within the tightly knit student body. The school's prestige extended well beyond Egypt under its second headmaster, R. W. G. Reed of Oxford, and it began to attract the scions of the English-speaking ruling elite in the rest of the region: Thus, King Hussein ibn Talal of Jordan and his brother, Prince Hassan; the last Hashimite king of Iraq, Faisal II ibn Ghazi, and his uncle, the regent Abd al-Ilah; the former sultan of Zanzibar; and the king of Albania were students at Victoria.
Along with all other foreign schools, Victoria was nationalized by Gamal Abdel Nasser in the wake of the Suez War in 1956 and now survives as a pale reflection of its former self, under the label of Victory College. In the 1990s, as a coeducational institution, its 6,000 students were jammed into a campus originally built for 500.
Atiyah, Edward. An Arab Tells His Story: A Study in Loyalties. London: John Murray, 1947.
Hamouda, Sahar, and Clement, Colin, eds. Victoria College: A History Revealed. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2002.
updated by william l. cleveland