The Jewish Slaves of the First Sugar Plantation

In a prelude to the discovery of the New World, Iberian sailors ventured to a number of islands in the Atlantic. One of these is Saõ Tomé, an island 150 miles off the African coast that was uninhabited when the Portuguese discovered it in 1470. M. Dores Cruz, Larissa Thomas, and M. Nazaré Ceita report on their recent archaeological investigation of a sugar mill and estate house—and include a tantalizing detail:

In the 16th century CE, São Tomé was a major nexus between Europe and Africa, yet the island was perceived as remote and lethal; early settlement was rarely voluntary: it primarily involved degredados (transported convicts), and Jewish children from Portugal, and enslaved people from the African coast.

Sugarcane fields [on the island] are first documented in 1506, and by 1517 production had taken off, with two sugar mills in operation and plans to build ten more. Although enslaved Africans had been brought to populate the island, since 1495, the labor-intensive nature of sugar production spurred the importation of far greater numbers, mainly from Benin, Congo, and Angola. São Tomé became the first plantation economy in the tropics based on sugar monoculture and slave labor, a model exported to the New World where it developed and expanded.

There were hundreds of these Portuguese Jewish children, mostly refugees from Spain—whence they had been expelled a year before—who were exiled to São Tomé in 1493 by King John II. John’s successor, Manuel I, decreed in 1497 that all Portuguese Jews had to convert to Catholicism, or be forcibly baptized, and in 1506 deported thousands of these converts to São Tomé.

Read more at Antiquity

More about: Portugal, Slavery, Spanish Expulsion


Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy