The Egyptian Jewish Remnant, Against Israel
CAIRO: At this upscale Cairo café, Sam and Amira, brother and sister, are the last two who would be seen as Jewish. They walk, talk, and discuss their country with as much confidence as any young Egyptian professional. They say they don’t get many questions about their ethnicity: their parents gave them names that are common in Egypt, not identifiable as Jewish.
“Egypt is a strange country,” Amira says, “because while we have seen so much anger toward Israel, and rightfully so, at the same time even those people who find out we are Jewish have little problem hanging out and dealing with us.” Amira works in Egypt’s Smart Village, an international IT complex just west of Cairo. She is a call center specialist, part of a team that works for a U.S. corporation and serves North American users.
“Work is great,” she says. “I speak English and Spanish, so my language skills are useful.” Nobody in the office even questions my religion, because they don’t know. I mean, who would, with Amira as my name? It’s a great name to have, really, especially if you are Jewish here.”
Most of Sam and Amira’s ancestors in Egypt—at least the recent ones—fled the country following the founding of Israel, then the crackdown on Jewish businesses and the Jewish community in general with the ascension of President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956. But Sam and Amira’s family has never taken Egyptian citizenship. Though Sam and Amira seem Egyptian in every sense of the word—they have lived their entire lives in Cairo, speak Arabic, and joke like Egyptians—they hold European passports. “This is probably a large part of the reason why our family was able to stay in the country and not face the crackdown that came in the Nasser era,” says Sam (it’s his nickname). When the pogroms against the Jewish community began in earnest in the early 1950s, the government went after those business-owning families who were officially documented as Jews; Sam’s was not.
According to rough estimates, the Jewish community in Egypt numbered around 80,000 in 1922. Today, after the attacks and the exile forced by the Egyptian government, fewer than 100 documented Jews remain in Egypt. But Amira and Sam, because they are not documented, don’t count in this estimate. “We have a few friends who are in positions similar to ours,” Sam explains, “living and working in Egypt as residents but technically not Egyptian.”
Egyptian Jews are now scattered across the globe, but their historical connection with the country is old and strong. Jews have lived in Egypt continuously since post-Exodus Jews were documented there in the 7th century B.C.E. As late as the 1920s and 1930s, there were Jews who were integrated into the political and intellectual life of the country: Jewish figures were part of the struggle against the British, who continued to dominate the country after it was nominally declared independent in 1922. One of these figures, Murad Beh Farag, was a co-author of the first Egyptian constitution, adopted in 1923. He was an outspoken opponent of the idea of a Jewish state.
But the history of the Jewish community in Egypt has been filled with intrigue, exile, and uncertainty. The most recent chapter, since the establishment of Israel, has been especially dark. There have been more than 50 years of anger—attacks and forced exile by the government and widespread antagonism from the general population for the Jews’ alleged connections with the Israel. In 2004, as documented by Rami Mangoubi in the Middle East Times, nearly all of the Jewish males in Egypt were jailed or forced into exile for their purported connections with Tel Aviv and the Jewish occupation of Palestinian lands after 1967.
With the removal of long-time Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in February, 2011, times are changing in Egypt once again. The country is coming to terms with its new democratic future, one fraught with tensions born of the struggle between conservatives and liberals vying for control of the world’s largest Arab nation. The recent demonstrations at the U.S. Embassy have occupied the attention of Americans; but in Egypt itself, optimism is growing after a tumultuous 18 months.
Sam and Amira think Egypt can once again be the tolerant and open society it once was. Amira hopes that in the new Egypt, the country’s Jewish history will become more widely known. She says, “I really think that Egyptian Jews had a great role in the formation of this country, and it has been lost sometimes as a result of the anger toward what Israel does to Palestine; so I think that if people can start talking honestly about our participation in Egypt, it will help see the return of many Jews in exile.”
“Egyptians are welcoming people by cultural heritage and our upbringing,” Sam adds. “So, I don’t think it is out of the question to be able to have a flourishing Jewish society as part of the greater Egyptian culture. It isn’t as if we are foreign to the country. We have a long history of living with Muslims and Christians.” He says he knows dozens of Egyptian Jewish families, living abroad for decades, who would love the opportunity to return to their native Egypt. “Even after all these years, with the tensions and even with Israel, I believe there are opportunities to have a strong Jewish community here once again.”
In fact, Amira believes that people like her and her brother can be instrumental in showing Egyptians that Egyptian Jews are Egyptian first and have no love for what Israel is doing to the Palestinians: “At first glance, too often people think ‘Jew’ and immediately think we are supporting Israel. This is not the case, and trying to tell our history and show how we were mistreated can do a lot to end this misunderstanding.”
Sam and Amira finish their coffees and offer to pay for all the drinks at our table before they head back into Egyptian society.
Joseph Mayton is a seasoned journalist and the editor-in-chief of Bikya Masr, usually based in Cairo, Egypt.
Jews living in Egypt after the Arab conquest were subject to the dhimma laws which were fiscally exploitative, humiliating and oppressive, along with the native Egyptian Christians, the Copts. Read what Karsten Niebuhr and Edward Lane wrote about the treatment of Jews in Egypt in the 18th and 19th centuries, long before the renewed State of Israel.
I'm sad that so many people lack the patience to her Amira and Sam out. They have a lot to teach us, if we'll listen.
Hopefully, someday the local atmosphere will be what these two describe but as of today it definitely is not. I wonder who really wrote it. If the two who wrote are its real authors and it is found out they are in deep trouble.
I am sure, however, that it is simply a piece of attempted artful, but unsuccessful proganda.
Mr. Mayton, an American living in Egypt, wrote only days ago, "If we are to have an honest look at this recent crisis, the context of decades of Western oppression, support for dictators and the continued struggle for economic success among the populations in these countries must be mentioned. If not, we fall victim to the same cyclical pandering to those who already believe Islam is the problem." (Understanding the Unrest in the Islamic World) http://www.progressive.org/understanding-unrest-in-islamic-world
So herein we learn that Mr. Mayton does not think that "Islam is the problem" and those who do are panderers to another view than his. Given that the brother and sister have no last names in his human interest article, one wonders why if Islam is not the problem there would be any reason to not tell the tale of Sam and Amira "no-name" with names.
But let's be realistic here. Sam and Amira were born in Egypt, and they were raised in Egypt. Yet, they have no citizenship, simply because of their religion. If they openly practice their religion, regardless of what they might claim, we know and they know they'll probably be lynched. We have all just seen what happened on Egyptian Television when one of the guests thought he might be talking to a Jew. Even blood libel is a commonly held view broadcast on their television stations. If anything the average Egyptian is more anti-Semitic than Mubarak, so the idea that his fall will change things for the better is patent nonsense. And yet, for all that, Sam and Amira claim that Egypt is a haven for Jews and all the Egyptian Israelis have a desire to move back.
It's not surprising that everyone has seen this for the BS it is.
The sad thing is that they think that Jews were ousted because of Israel.
The Egyptians hate Israel because it is Jewish. They do not hate Jews because of Israel.
I hope for these 2 young folk that they do not end up like German Jews. They loved their country but their country did not love them.
However, according to Wikipedia:
"[V]arious wings of the Zionist movement had representatives in Egypt. Karaite Jewish scholar Murad Beh Farag (1866–1956) was both an Egyptian nationalist and a passionate Zionist. His poem, 'My Homeland Egypt, Place of my Birth', expresses loyalty to Egypt, while his book, al-Qudsiyyat (Jerusalemica, 1923), defends the right of the Jews to a State. al-Qudsiyyat is perhaps the most eloquent defense of Zionism in the Arabic language. Farag was also one of the coauthors of Egypt's first Constitution in 1923.
I have returned twice to Egypt in 56 years and they have managed to obliterate the contribution of the jewish community over the 2500 years of presence. Egypt like most arab countries has succeeded in its "ethnic cleansing" where the Nazis failed...and the rest of the world watched in silence.
No one among the many thousands of jews still alive or their children or grandchildren wishes to go back to a country which made us live in fear and where our parents where second class citizens, denied even the citizenship of their country of birth, only because they were jews.
this article is just BS and shame on the person who wrote it for propagating such an idyllic image of that country
What could the Jews expect in Egypt, where xenophobia is reigning, and where the good Egyptian Copts citizens are persecuted, massacred, and their churches burned ?
Levana Zamir - a Jewish refugee from Egypt, living in Israel.
By the way, Anwar Sadat wrote a book about 1954 --Revolt on the Nile-- in which he frankly talks about he and his associates in the so-called "Free Officers" group --including Nasser-- being pro-Nazi. He also expresses disappointment that the Germans did not win the war. His lesser disappointment is that he and his "Free" friends could not effectively collaborate with the Germans and help them win the war in North Africa. And who does he blame for the failure of the pro-Nazi officers? He blames Egyptian Jews who supposedly informed the Germans of the plot that he and his gang were trying to execute. He speculates that the pro-Nazis' failure in Egypt may have led to Rommel's defeat in the war in North AFrica, especially at el-Alamein, and that this in turn led to the Nazis' defeat overall. So, if Sadat was right, Egyptian Jews can take credit for the final defeat of the German armies in the war.
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