Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Egyptian liberals flaunt antisemitic credentials

Egyptian opposition politician Ayman Nour (photo AP)

There's one comforting aspect to this eloquent Wall Street Journal piece slamming Egyptian liberals as opportunistically or viscerally antisemitic: the authors, Amr Bargisi and Samuel Tadros, themselves Egyptian liberals, are not. (with thanks: Lily)

Later this week, Egypt will play host to the 56th Congress of Liberal International, which bills itself as the world federation of liberal and progressive democratic parties. Among the nearly 70 parties represented by LI are Britain's Liberal Democrats, Germany's Free Democrats, and the Liberal Party of Canada. In the U.S., LI's Web site cites the National Democratic Institute as a cooperating organization since 1986.

In Cairo, the visiting delegates will be hosted by the Al-Gabha, or Democratic Front Party. Western liberals (in the old-fashioned sense of that word) are always delighted to discover like-minded people in the Third World, and perhaps nowhere more so than in Arab countries. Yet, at least in Egypt, there's a dirty little secret about these self-described liberal parties: They are, for the most part, virulently anti-Semitic, sometimes opportunistically but just as often out of deeply-held rancorous convictions.

Consider the case of Sekina Fouad, a well-known journalist who also serves as the DFP's vice president. In an article published earlier this year, Ms. Fouad dismisses any distinction between Jews and Israelis, the reason for which is "the extremity of the doctrine of arrogance, distinctiveness and condescension [the Jews] set out from and seek to achieve by all means, and on top of which blood, killing, terrorizing and frightening." She corroborates this argument with an alleged statement by "President" Benjamin Franklin, asking Americans to expel Jews since they are "like locusts, never to get on a green land without leaving it deserted and barren."

Needless to say, Franklin never made any such statement, not that a journalist like Ms. Fouad would bother to check. She also asks the question "Are Zionists Human?" which offers backhanded credit to Jews for having "helped [her] understand a history full of examples of their expulsion, getting rid of them and their unethical and inhuman methods." In earlier writings, Ms. Fouad has written about what she calls "Talmudic teachings that determine types of purity unachievable by the Jew unless by using Christian human sacrifice" for the making of "blood pies." Not surprisingly, she also dismisses the Holocaust as part of an "arsenal of Jewish myths."

Nor is Ms. Fouad some kind of outlier in the Egyptian liberal movement. Take Ayman Nour, who contested the 2005 presidential election under the banner of his own party and was subsequently jailed for nearly four years, becoming something of a cause célèbre among Western officials, journalists and human-rights activists.

Immediately after his release earlier this year, he attended a celebration organized by opposition groups—including the Muslim Brotherhood—in the northern city of Port Said, commemorating "the first battalion of volunteers from the Egyptian People setting off to fight the Jews in 1948." The word "Jews" was stressed in bolded black lettering on the otherwise blue and red banner hanging above the conference panel. Yet far from trying to distance himself from that message, Mr. Nour got into the spirit of the conference, talking not only about his solidarity with Palestinians but also "the value of standing up to this enemy, behind which lies all evils, conspiracies, and threats that are spawned against Egypt."

Then there is the case of Egypt's oldest "liberal" party, Al-Wafd, whose eponymous daily newspaper is one of Egypt's most active platforms for anti-Semitism. Following President Obama's conciliatory Cairo speech to the Muslim world, columnist Ahmed Ezz El-Arab faulted Mr. Obama for insisting that the Holocaust was an actual historical event and gave nine historical "proofs" that it had never happened. He concluded that "the evil Jewish lies succeeded in creating an atmosphere of hatred for Germans that resulted in the death of millions."

These examples are, sadly, just the tip of an iceberg. What makes them all the more remarkable is that, contrary to stereotype, they do not have particularly ancient roots in Egypt. Until Egypt's Jews were expelled by Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s and '60s, Egypt had a millennia-old, thriving Jewish community. As late as the 1930s, Jewish politicians occupied ministerial posts in Egyptian governments and participated in nationalist politics.

But all that changed with the rise of totalitarian and fascist movements in Europe, which found more than their share of imitators in the Arab world, both among Islamists and secularists. When Egypt's monarchy was overthrown in 1952 by a military coup, anti-Semitism became an ideological pillar of the new totalitarian dispensation.

Since then, Egypt has evolved, coming to terms (of a sort) with Israel and adopting at least some elements of market-based economic principle. But anti-Semitism remains the political glue holding Egypt's disparate political forces together. Paradoxically, this is especially true of the so-called liberals, who think they can traffic on their anti-Semitism to gain favor in quarters where they would otherwise be suspect or unpopular. They have taken to demonizing Jews with the proverbial zeal of a convert.

Read article in full

Ayman Nour rejects antisemitism charge (with thanks: Lily)


victor said...

This article confirms what I already knew -- that Egypt is nothing more than a seething cauldron of hate. There is nothing redeeming or worthwhile about that society. Although I have never had the misfortune of being in Egypt myself, I have family members who were ethnically cleansed from Egypt. They now live in Israel, Brussels (Belgium) and here in California (Los Angeles). My cousin in Los Angeles is an accountant and speaks Arabic with his Egyptian (Coptic) clients. There is not one from among these family members who regrets leaving Egypt behind. Although the dispossession of Egypt's Jews was a terrible crime which has never been atoned, there is one aspect to it that is a blessing: it got my family AWAY from the Arab world, and there's a lot to said for that.

Samuel Tadros said...

First of all, Thank you for taking interest in our article and your words.

It is indeed heartbreaking to see that this is the current state of Egyptian Liberalism. (I use Liberalism in its original sense and not in light of any current political debate).

The struggle against such hatred is indeed not an easy road, but one that must be taken.

As to Victor's comment: Your pain is understandable. Your anger is indeed well deserved. The betrayal of the Jews in Egypt is a disgrace that we Egyptian live with.

One of the toughest questions of my life is how my grandparents generation stood their watching and sometimes actively participating while their Jewish neighbors were terrorized and driven out of Egypt.

The fight against Anti Semitism is not a Jewish issue. It is a moral battle that we all must fight. Anti Semitism has been the catalyst of building totalitarianism in Egypt and as such the fight against it is very much a fight for Egypt's future as well as cleaning its past from that crime.

The crime against Egyptian Jews has been committed and can't be changed today. History can not be changed, but the future is still for us to shape.

I hope one day, that your family can return to Egypt and be welcomed as an integral part of Egypt and that one day we would be able to ask for their forgiveness.

bataween said...

Dear Samuel
Thanks for popping up and congrats on your article again. The Jews are indeed the canary in the coalmine for a healthy society, but it's over for them in Egypt. I do not believe they will return, except to visit. But the fight is not over for the 15 million Copts (and from your name I'm assuming you may be Copt). Which Liberal in Egypt is fighting for their rights?

an egyptian muslim said...

'Anti Semitism has been the catalyst of building totalitarianism in Egypt.'

sadly as you have so eloquently mentioned in your article:

1 it is the glue that keeps the 'liberal opposition together.'

2 the bond that keeps 'copt and muslim fighting side by side.'

3 provides fodder for 'ramadan entertainment.'

4 oils the machine of that perpetuates the violence, hate and the ignorance!

victor said...

Samuel Kadros (and also "egyptian muslim"): Thank you for your very kind and thoughtful words. People such as yourself help me to check my own tendency to stereotype and to paint all Egyptians with the same brush.
Best wishes,