Communists don't normally believe in God, yet Youssef Darwish, a key figure in Egyptian Communist party - whose life was celebrated, according to Masri al-Youm, at the weekend - considered it necessary to convert from Judaism to Islam. His conversion might have gained him the acceptance he craved, but two generations later, the Jewish roots of his grand-daughter, the actress Basma, were held against her in April this year when she was attacked in the Egyptian press. Once a Jew, always a Jew ?
Dozens of intellectuals and labor activists gathered on Saturday to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the birth of Youssef Darwish, a former Jew who became one of the most influential figures in Egypt's nascent communist movement.
Darwish passed away on 7 June, 2006, at the age of 96.
Darwish, who hailed from an Egyptian family of Karaite Jews, converted to Islam in 1947 after becoming an influential lawyer with leftist affiliations.
Journalist Sayed Mahmoud, who attended the commemorative event, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Darwish had witnessed much of the 20th century.
Mahmoud, who is also the writer of a documentary movie--"Shepherd of Hope"--about the life of Darwish, said that Darwish's importance stemmed not only from the fact that he was an anti-Zionist Egyptian Jew, but that he had also struggled against the British occupation of Egypt and had been a pioneering advocate of workers' rights.
Before the 1967 war with Israel, Egypt had seen the flourishing of its Jewish community, the representatives of which could be found within government cabinets, newspapers, business circles and the local arts scene. (Not true - the great majority of the community had left Egypt by the 1950s - ed) (..)
In April, a journalist at state-owned daily Al-Ahram wrote an editorial in which he attacked well-known actress Basma*, Darwish's granddaughter.
Egyptian actress Basma, Darwish's grand-daughter
"If you have a Jewish grandfather, then cover yourself [for being indecently exposed by a scandal]," he wrote.
The event honoring Darwish was held at the Journalists Syndicate's Cairo headquarters, which is frequently used as a platform from which to air the grievances of Egypt's political opposition.
Women's rights activist Azza Kamel, who also participated in the event, described Darwish as "a champion both of the rights of women and the rights of workers."
"In my long discussions with Darwish, I discovered the ways by which he put the issue of equality between men and women in his agenda for struggle," she added.
Fahmy, for his part, hailed Darwish's efforts to fight Zionism within Egypt's pre-war Jewish community.
"Before converting to Islam, Darwish wrote an article entitled 'you will not pass,' in which he argued that the Zionist movement was a racist phenomena and predicted its inevitable downfall," Fahmy recalled.
*Comment by the Egyptian chronicles blog (with thanks: Roger B)