Are there two conflicting narratives when it comes to discussing Jews in Arab countries? Did they enjoy tolerance and coexistence, or were they discriminated against and abused? Elder of Ziyon has turned up a fascinating passage from a book dating back to 1871, in which both narratives are present. As colonial rule became entrenched in the late 19th century, the position of the Jew became less arbitrary and more secure: (with thanks: Emet)
The Jews have eight synagogues in their quarter in Cairo; and not only enjoy religious toleration, but are under a less oppressive government in Egypt than in any other country of the Turkish empire. In Cairo, they pay for the exemption of their quarter from the visits of the Mohtesib; and they did the same also with respect to the “Walee, as long as his office existed. Being consequently privileged to sell articles of provision at higher prices than the other inhabitants of the metropolis, they can afford to purchase such things at higher rates, and therefore stock their shops with provisions, and especially fruits, of better qualities than are to be found in other parts of the town. Like the Copts, and for a like reason, the Jews pay tribute, and are exempted from military service.
Sounds like things were pretty good. But then the authors dig a little deeper:
They are held in the utmost contempt and abhorrence by the Muslims in general, and are said to bear a more inveterate hatred than any other people to the Muslims and the Muslim religion. …It is a common saying among the Muslims in this country, “Such a one hates me with the hate of the Jews.” We cannot wonder, then, that the Jews are detested by the Muslims far more than are the Christians.
Not long ago, they used often to be jostled in the streets of Cairo, and sometimes beaten merely for passing on the right hand of a Muslim. At present, they are less oppressed; but still they scarcely ever dare to utter a word of abuse when reviled or beaten unjustly by the meanest Arab or Turk; for many a Jew has been put to death upon a false and malicious accusation of uttering disrespectful words against the Kur-an or the Prophet. It is common to hear an Arab abuse his jaded ass, and, after applying to him various opprobrious epithets, end by calling the beast a Jew.
A Jew has often been sacrificed to save a Muslim, as happened in the following case.—-A Turkish soldier, having occasion to change some money, received from the seyrefee (or money-changer), who was a Muslim, some Turkish coins called ‘adleeyehs, reckoned at sixteen piasters each. These he offered to a shopkeeper, in payment for some goods; but the latter refused to allow him more than fifteen piasters to the ‘adleeyeh, telling him that the Basha had given orders, many days before, that this coin should no longer pass for sixteen. The soldier took back the ‘adleeyehs to the seyrefee, and demanded an additional piaster to each; which was refused: he therefore complained to the Basha himself, who, enraged that his orders had been disregarded, sent for the seyrefee. This man confessed that he had been guilty of an offence, but endeavoured to palliate it by asserting that almost every money-changer in the city had done the same, and that he received ‘adleeyehs at the same rate. The Basha, however, disbelieving him, or thinking it necessary to make a public example, gave a signal with his hand, intimating that the delinquent should be beheaded. The interpreter of the court, moved with compassion for the unfortunate man, begged the Basha to spare his life. “This man,” said he, “has done no more than all the money-changers of the city: I, myself, no longer ago than yesterday, received ‘adleeyehs at the same rate.” “From whom?” exclaimed the Basha. “From a Jew,” answered the interpreter, “with whom I have transacted business for many years.” The Jew was brought, and sentenced to be hanged; while the Muslim was pardoned. The interpreter, in the greatest distress of mind, pleaded earnestly for the life of the poor Jew; but the Basha was inexorable: it was necessary that an example should be made, and it was deemed better to take the life of a Jew than that of a more guilty Muslim.