Egyptians in Uproar over Film Documenting History of the Nation’s Jews

From the film "Jews of Egypt"

A documentary film about a bygone era screened at a film festival seems like an innocent enough proposition. Throw in the subject of the Jews, the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s relations with Israel and a controversy is bound to ensue. That’s what happened in Cairo this week after the film “Jews of Egypt” was screened, which Al Arabiya reports led to an “uproar.”

The film examines – in the words of Variety – “one of the darkest chapters in modern Egyptian history,” that is, the persecution and eventual migration of the Jews from Egypt. Of the 75,000 who lived there before 1948, fewer than 100 reside in Egypt today.

Al Arabiya reports on the backlash after the film was screened:

Amir Ramsis, director of the film, was accused of promoting normalization of ties with Israel through attempting to gain the audience’s sympathy for Jewish Egyptians, currently seen as Zionists by many Egyptians.

“Those accusations are absolutely groundless,” Ramsis told Al Arabiya. “Those who think the film promotes normalization either did not watch it or analyzed it very superficially.”

It is very obvious, Ramsis explained, that the documentary is against Israel and against normalization.

“The film showed how Jewish Egyptians were against the creation of Israel before the July 23, 1952 Revolution and that many Egyptian anti-Israeli institutions were actually led by Egyptian Jews.”

The film’s director said he aimed to erase negative stereotypes many Egyptians hold regarding Jews. He said, “Many people do not distinguish between being Jewish and being Israeli or Zionist. Many Egyptians automatically consider Jews enemies.”

Though the film is historical, its theme of how minorities are treated in Egypt is playing out again today. Muslim Brotherhood leaders have at times trumpeted anti-Semitic pronouncements, including vowing “one day we shall kill all the Jews.” Another minority is even more worried today. Since the “Arab Spring,” Egypt’s Coptic Christians have been living in fear. Coptic Christians make up 10 percent of Egypt’s population, and those who can afford to have steadily been emigrating since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power.

Variety Arabia’s Joseph Fahim writes:

The xenophobia that both the media and political leaders instilled into Egyptian society echoes with the same wave of chauvinism spread during and after Egypt’s January25 [2011] Revolution by the same agents. History repeats itself, and the viewer gets the impression that the fate of Jews could strike any minority group surviving in a non-democratic country.

Even though Fahim wrote his review before the film was screened at the festival and the “uproar” occurred, he may as well have been writing about those reacting to the film: “What we’re left with is a shameful history and a cautionary tale of a country ravaged by fascism, a self-righteous nation that continues to drown in the bottomless oceans of intolerance.”

Watch the trailer for Jews of Egypt with English subtitles here: