Jews ‘find more tolerance in Egypt’

This article in The Times of Israel  seems to credit two films with thawing attitudes to Jews in Egypt since the Arab Spring. The truth is that the American Jewish Committee was a regular visitor in President Mubarak’s time, and funded restoration to synagogues. Amir Ramses’ film lifted the lid on Egyptian antisemitism without advocating acceptance of Israel. The Ramadan series ‘Jewish Quarter’ blames the Muslim Brotherhod for antisemitism, although the worst excesses were perpetrated by a secular, socialist regime. (With thanks: Michelle)


The
AJC meeting at the presidential palace came at a time when Egyptian
attitudes about Jews are changing. Egyptians are reassessing 1950s-era
nationalization policies that squeezed out the Jewish community and
other ethnic minorities. The word “Jew” is used less frequently as a
curse word, and the historical TV drama “Jewish Quarter” was a breakout
hit during Ramadan. The series cast the Islamist group the Muslim
Brotherhood as a greater threat to Egypt’s unity and security than the
Jews and, sometimes, even the Zionists. (Past TV series during Ramadan
have traded in negative tropes and stereotypes about Jewish “treachery”
and hostility, so “Jewish Quarter” represented a major departure.)

A scene from the Egyptian drama Haret al-Yahood, or Jewish Quarter, scheduled for Ramadan 2015 (YouTube screenshot)

A scene from the Egyptian drama Haret al-Yahood, or Jewish Quarter, scheduled for Ramadan 2015 (YouTube screenshot)

“I find more tolerance,” said Isaacson,
referring to the period since Sissi came to power in 2013. “I find more
respect for Israel and more feeling of commonality between Egyptian and
Israeli strategic concerns with common attitudes towards Hamas,
especially toward the connections between Hamas and other extremist
groups.”

Officially, fewer than eight Jews remain in
this capital city — all of them elderly women. The community’s leader,
Magda Haroun, last month opened the heavily guarded and rarely used
Shaar Hashamayim synagogue in downtown Cairo for an interfaith Ramadan
Iftar event, the daily break-fast meal during the holy month. (There
were some 75,000 Jews in Egypt before 1948, but in the 1950s the Jewish
population was largely stripped of citizenship and assets by then
President Gamal Abdel Nasser.)

The meeting also coincided with a warming
trend between Sissi, the strongman who leads the world’s most populous
Arab country, and Israel. In June, Egypt appointed Hazem Khairat as its
new ambassador to Tel Aviv. Sissi’s predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, long
affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, had recalled the previous
ambassador in November 2012 after the Israeli Air Force struck and
killed a top Hamas military commander and launched an eight-day
offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s war last summer in Gaza threw in
sharp relief just how far from favor Hamas, founded as an offshoot of
the Muslim Brotherhood, has fallen in official Cairo since Sissi’s
ascent to power. (Morsi was removed in a 2013 military takeover
orchestrated by Sissi, who became president the following year.) As
Israel’s Operation Protective Edge unfolded, Egypt’s state-sanctioned TV
stations specifically deployed the term “terrorist” to describe
Hamas-launched missile attacks on Israel. And in the wake of increased
activity in the Sinai by affiliates of the Islamic State, the Israel
Defense Forces’ Southern Command and the Egyptian Army in Sinai are
increasingly sharing intelligence on the movement of for-profit weapons
smugglers and ideologically motivated militants.

Sissi’s administration has also been widely
criticized in the West for clamping down on free speech and press
freedoms, and for jailing political opponents. Washington withheld funds
and equipment from Egypt after a particularly violent confrontation in
August 2013 between government troops and supporters of Morsi, a clash
that left more than 600 dead on the streets of Cairo.

In March, President Obama restored most of the
$1.3 billion in annual military funding, and the Pentagon resumed
shipments of new Harpoon missiles, F-16 fighter jets and replacement
kits for Abrams tanks. The Egyptian Air Force’s ability to deploy F-16s
allowed government troops to beat back the assault against Sheik Zuweid
by Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, an ISIS-affiliated group.

US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo
Monday, where he co-chaired a “Strategic Dialogue” meeting with Egypt’s
minister of foreign affairs, Sameh Shoukry.

Screen capture from a trailer for the Jew of Egypt. (screen capture:Youtube/jewsofegypt)

Screen capture from a trailer for the Jew of Egypt. (screen capture:Youtube/jewsofegypt)


If any one figure in Egypt deserves credit for
the contemporary shift in attitudes, perhaps it is Amir Ramses, whose
recent two-part documentary project “The Jews of Egypt” and “End of a
Journey” explores the rise and demise of the Jewish communities of Cairo
and Alexandria between the late 19th century and the middle of the 20th
century.

Ramses, a middle-class Muslim from Cairo,
battled official censors here under the administrations of both Morsi
and Hosni Mubarak, and Islamists were particularly rankled by the
documentary’s revisiting of the “Balfour Day” riots instigated by the
Muslim Brotherhood in 1945. They coincided with the anniversary of the
Balfour Declaration, the 1917 letter declaring Britain’s intention to
set up a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Yet last year, Ramses’ films were
screened in Egypt to critical acclaim.

Ramses said he was intrigued by stories from
his grandparents about Jewish, Greek and Italian neighbors whose
different foods and folkways added an international flair to the
metropolis — a flair that is now decidedly absent.

“The big picture I am trying to draw,” he
said, “is an image of the pre-1952 society through the window of the
diversity of a cosmopolitan way of living in Cairo.”

Read article in full

Ramses’ biased but sympathetic film 

Ramadan TV series ‘unfaithful’ to truth

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