A Coptic mass in Cairo (photo: Amr Nabil/AP)
Jewish leader to Coptic pope: “do not let your people leave.” That’s the message that Magda Haroun, whose Jewish community is almost extinct, has tried to convey to the leader of Egypt’s Copts fleeing in droves. But Haroun does not address the real problem: the state’s failure to protect its minorities. You can’t blame them for leaving, if staying means risking life limb and property.
Paul Marshall filed this report for Fox News:
If you walk down bustling Adly Street in downtown Cairo, it is easy
to miss the large gray building. But if you trace the address and stop
there, you’ll notice the Stars of David carved on the walls. And then
you’ll see the security checkpoint and the guards.
If you want to go into the Adly Street Synagogue and its offices, you must surrender your passport or other identity documents.
Certainly, the plainclothes security men are there to protect the
synagogue and those close by — but they are also able to keep a detailed
record of all those who visit.
My colleague Sam Tadros and I visited there in February to meet Magda
Haroun, the leader of Egypt’s tiny remaining Jewish community. In living
memory there were nearly 100,000 Jews in Egypt. Just weeks ago there
were 15 left in all the country: 12 in Cairo, three in Alexandria. All
were aged, and only one was a man.
Last month, after the death of Magda’s sister, Nadia, there are only 14.
There is no rabbi, so there are no Jewish marriages, even if there were any Jews of marriageable age and prospect.
When we met Magda, a part of her seemed tired and weary, a jaded
realist knowing all too well the bleak prospects for her people in
Egypt. Yet she was also full of energy, and even of guarded hope.
She told us she did not work to preserve her living community, which
dates back to Moses and is probably the second oldest Jewish community
in the world. That community will end very soon; and for the
foreseeable future, it will not return.
What she works for instead is to protect and preserve the heritage
and memory of Jewish life in Egypt. She takes care of 17 synagogues in
Cairo, and she hopes she can help create a museum of Egyptian Jewish
She is driven by the commitment and hope that people will not be able to forget that “there were once Jews in Egypt.”
Magda was also the first leader of the Jewish community to be invited
to the installation of Pope Tawadros, chosen in 2013 to head the Coptic
Orthodox church, home to over 90 percent of Egypt’s Christians. The
term “Copt” is simply a brief form of “Egypt,” and this church traces
its origins back to St. Mark, the author of Mark’s Gospel.
Egypt’s Christians, some 10 percent of the population, are by far the
largest non-Muslim minority in the Middle East, and they are now also
On Aug. 14 last year, in one single day, 41 churches in Egypt were
razed in a matter of hours. This was probably the largest single pogrom
against Egypt’s Christians in the last 700 years.
Amnesty International reports that over 150 other Christian buildings
were attacked on that day and the two days that followed. The attacks
came from Muslim Brotherhood supporters after the Egyptian military
attacked their armed camps and demonstrations in Cairo. Many Brotherhood
members have apparently decided to make Christians the scapegoats for
the army’s removal of their political leader, President Mohamed Morsi,
and their attacks on Copts continue to this day.